Charleston Festival offers another weekend of superb talks

Tina Brown. Picture by Brigitte Lacombe
Tina Brown. Picture by Brigitte Lacombe

It’s been a sizzling week at Charleston, with the marquee packed and the sun shining most days.

The festival comes to a head this weekend with Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights, speaking this evening at 7.30pm on The Challenge of Climate Justice. Following her talk she will be presented with the John Maynard Keynes Prize.

Other events on Friday include Tim Bouverie and Cressida Connolly on Peace for our Time? at 12.30pm. Chaired by Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow, they will discuss the build up to the Second World War.

At 3pm legendary editor Tina Brown reveals all in her book The Vanity Fair Diaries. She will be joined by social historian Virginia Nicholson.

At 5.30pm Maria Balshaw, director of Tate, and sculptor Hazel Reeves will discuss Popular Culture and Protest.

On Saturday at 12.30pm novelist Rupert Thomson will be in conversation with art historian Frances Spalding about his new book Never Anyone But You – the story of two artists who campaigned against the Nazi occupation of Jersey.

At 3pm novelists Elizabeth Macneal and Amy Sackville present Chiaroscuro – a discussion on the challenges of transforming artists and their milieu into fiction.

At 5.30pm it’s the turn of author-illustrator Posy Simmonds, who will give an illustrated talk on her latest book Cassandra Darke.

Can poetry change the world? asks award-winning author Adam Nicolson at 7.30pm. His new book delves into the year in which Wordsworth and Coleridge lived together.

Sunday sees a change from the advertised programme when former MP Kenneth Baker looks at the Seven Deadly Sins (11.30am).

The story of a young girl’s struggle to survive Nazi prosecution is told in The Cut Out Girl, by Bart van Es, at 1.45pm. Winner of the Costa Book of the Year, Bart will be in conversation with chair of judges, BBC journalist Sophie Raworth.

Channel 4 news presenter Cathy Newman, offers a fast-paced history of pioneering women at 4pm.

To celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary, at 6.30pm actors Eileen Atkins and Vanessa Redgrave present a dramatised reading of Vita and Virginia, premiered at Charleston in 1992.

On Bank Holiday Monday, the final day of the festival begins at 12.30pm with Sue Roe, Antony Penrose and Frances Spalding discussing the birth of Surrealism in Paris in the 1920s.

The natural world is celebrated at 3pm in Pastoral Symphony with Melissa Harrison on her book All Among the Barley and Isabella Tree on Wilding, the story of a remarkable experiment to re-wild the Knepp Estate in West Sussex.

The scene changes at 5.30pm when Tessa Hadley and Sofka Zinovieff compare their new novels. Innocence and Experience is chaired by Juliet Nicolson.

The day ends at 7.30pm when Michael Palin gives a talk on HMS Erebus, which came to grief in Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition in 1845.

A shuttle bus runs direct to Charleston from Lewes railway station for all events.

Visit charleston.org.uk/festival or call 01323 815150 (Friday only).

A provocative and entertaining look into the seven deadly sins

Carole Buchan meets Kenneth Baker ahead of his talk, The Seven Deadly Sins, at Charleston Festival on Sunday, May 26 (11.30am).

If you think that a Sunday morning spent pondering on the seven deadly sins might be a step too far, think again.

In the hands of former MP Kenneth Baker, now Lord Baker, all is not doom and gloom – rather, his matter-of-fact approach and a sense of humour, promises a provocative and entertaining hour at Charleston this weekend.

Lord Baker will be discussing his lavishly illustrated and engaging book on sin since the time of the Greeks and Romans, to today.

It was in the Middle Ages that dire warnings of burning in everlasting Hell had its heyday. Yet how relevant are the seven today – pride, anger, sloth, envy, avarice, gluttony and lust?

According to Kenneth Baker they are every bit as relevant, even if they do go under other names.

We all know that although pride can be a virtue, it also goes before a fall – and he lists Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Blair and Bush among his examples.

“It can actually be the most dangerous,” he says. Anger can be righteous, for it has helped to end many injustices, but there is domestic abuse and Daesh terrorism to counter that, plus pub fights and the rise in knife crime.

Also, although many of the original sins might seem outdated, you realise that three at least have helped to create our wealth and culture today – think of the hugely profitable advertising industry persuading us of eternal happiness if we spend, spend, spend; the food industry which has turned us into one of the most obese nations in the world.

Finally – and Kenneth Baker doesn’t pull his punches on this one – think of the politicians and celebrities brought down by lust.

It’s all very sobering – up to a point. His book, published by Unicorn, includes some wonderfully entertaining cartoons, many from the golden age of the cartoon right up to the present day.

He also compares eastern and western religions, where belief in an afterlife is much more fundamental to the former and not so much in the latter.

“Hell is not one of our preoccupations,” he says. “Any wrongdoing is punished in this life, rather than the next.” If you get caught.

It was much easier in earlier centuries, he says in the epilogue to his book. Having a religious belief fashioned human behaviour. In today’s more secular, consumerist and individualistic world, we have to fashion new ways, new incentives and learn to face the consequences.

Of the future, he fears the 21st century will be much more difficult than the last. He sees the growth of artificial intelligence, of robots doing the work of humans, as the fourth industrial revolution.