Mention famous polar explorers to most people and they will probably come up with the names Scott and Amundsen. But really there should be another name before these, Fridtjof Nansen, a man who can be viewed as a true pioneer of intrepid, indeed death-defying expeditions to the freezing, bleak extremities of the world. He ventured closer than anyone else before him towards the North Pole but this Norwegian national hero was so much more than a character from a boys-own adventure annual. He was a scientist, an early oceanographer, a top class skier, a bestselling author, a diplomat, a humanitarian who spearheaded the repatriation of nearly half a million starving First World War prisoners, a tireless fundraiser for famine relief, the man who gave thousands of stateless people passports and a Nobel Peace prize winner.
Rajan Datar recounts Nansen's remarkable life with the help of historians Robert Marc Friedman and Carl Emil Vogt, writer Marit Fosse and polar explorer Paul Rose.
Picture: Explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen. Credit: The Print Collector/Getty Images
Rudolf Nureyev: Superstar Russian dancer
From the moment the seven-year-old Rudolf Nureyev saw a ballet on stage in his local theatre, he lived and breathed dance. That overwhelming desire to be on stage carried him throughout his life – from his student days in Leningrad to his defection to the West in a blaze of publicity, from theatres around the world to his final curtain in 1992 when his gaunt body was ravaged by Aids. He made good on his promise: “the main thing is dancing, and before it withers away from my body, I will keep dancing till the last moment, the last drop.”
In a career spanning more than three decades, he brought new audiences to ballet, and gave new meaning to the role of male dancers. He was a pin-up, a performer whose stage presence and artistry was so mesmerising that those who saw him perform in the 1960s have never forgotten the experience. His leaps defied gravity; he gave the impression of floating through the air. But his demands for perfection could make him a difficult person to be with. His temper was as legendary as his dancing.
Bridget Kendall explores how Nureyev’s commitment to transcend his childhood in grinding poverty made him one of the world’s most celebrated dancers, with writer Julie Kavanagh, author of Rudolf Nureyev: The Life; writer and translator, Irina Klyagin, who looks after Harvard University’s extensive theatre collection and specialises in Russian ballet; and Thierry Fouquet, vice chair of the board of trustees of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation who worked with Nureyev during his time at the Paris opera, the home of France’s leading ballet company.
(Photo: Rudolf Nureyev In 'Aureole'. Credit: Linda Vartoogian/Getty Images)
John Harvey Kellogg: The ‘wellness’ pioneer
John Harvey Kellogg is best known, along with his brother, for changing the way the world ate breakfast. But cornflakes were actually a by-product of Dr Kellogg’s lifelong mission to improve the dietary health of patients at his Battle Creek Sanitarium, a once world-famous medical centre and spa in the US state of Michigan that he ran from 1876 to 1943. Here Kellogg preached the art of ‘biologic living’: a healthy vegetable-based diet, avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and meat, and getting plenty of exercise and fresh air. This was a revolutionary way of living at the time in the US, and Kellogg’s work influenced many of our current ideas about food and its relationship to bodily health, and the concept of ‘wellness’.
Rajan Datar discusses John Harvey Kellogg’s life story with Howard Markel, Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan; Laura J. Miller, Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts; and Brian C Wilson, Professor of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University.
Image: John Harvey Kellogg
Credit: Library of Congress/Getty Images
Indigo: the bluest blue
Indigo: not only one of the seven colours of the rainbow and the dye that makes your jeans look like they do but and a highly valued pigment which is naturally found in some plants and whose use can be traced back at least six thousand years to Peru. Such was the desirability of indigo that along with sugar, cotton, coffee and tobacco it became a major driver for globalised trade and the horrors of slavery. In India it was the source of so much exploitation that a lawyer called Gandhi rose to fame standing up for indigo farmers.
Rajan Datar explores the rich history of the dye with Jenny Balfour-Paul, an Honorary Research Fellow at Exeter University and author of Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans; Lucille Junkere, an artist and textile researcher with a particular interest in the history of indigo in Nigeria and the Caribbean; and Andrea Sella, a professor of chemistry at University College London who delights his students with all kinds of colourful experiments with indigo.
Photo: Detail of adire indigo cloth from Nigeria. Credit: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
The Cat: In from the wild
Domesticated cats are thought to have started living alongside humans more than 9000 years ago. Unlike dogs, it's believed cats domesticated themselves, entering the homes of early arable farmers in the Fertile Crescent to control the rodent population. Since then, they've been worshipped, vilified and revered by various societies around the world. Today, they are one of the world's most popular pets, living on every continent except Antarctica and a favourite on the internet, and yet, they will never have that image of loyalty that is associated with dogs.
Rajan Datar welcomes three experts in science, culture and archaeology to discuss the history of the domesticated cat: Katharine Rogers - a Professor Emerita of English Literature from City University of New York and author of numerous books including 'Cat' and 'The Cat and the Human Imagination'; Eva-Maria Geigl - an Evolutionary geneticist at the French National Research Institute CNRS; and John Bradshaw - an anthrozoologist from Bristol University, UK, and author of the book 'Cat Sense'.
Photo: Copy of wall painting from private tomb 52 of Nakht, Thebes (I, 1, 99-102) cat eating fish, 20th century
Credit: Ashmolean Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images