Aired: 29 October 2012, BBC Radio 4
Curator: Jimmy Carr
Steering Committee: Dr Irving Finkel, Dr Helen Czerski and Sean Hughes
Dr Irving Finkel
Archeologist & Curator
at the British Museum
Irving Finkel is Assistant Keeper for Ancient Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian) script, languages and cultures at the British Museum in London. He is responsible for the largest collection of ancient Cuneiform clay tablets in any modern museum - some 130,000 pieces in all - and can them by sight.
Irving is a man of many and varied interests, including the history and preservation of board games, ancient and modern. He was especially delighted to discover a clay tablet from 177 BC that explained how to play the Royal Game of Ur, which was popular in Mesopotamia 4,600 years ago. The rules had long been forgotten but can now be played again. When chess legend Garry Kasparov visited the museum, Irving gave him a copy of the game. Kasparov's agent later phoned to say that he had spent an entire weekend in Moscow playing it with the French chess champion. 'The Frenchman won by something like 36 games to 29', recalls Irving, 'And so, I suppose, became the new world champion'.
He is the author of several books for children including The Lewis Chessmen, and What Happened to Them, The Hero King Gilgamesh, and The Incredible Writing Box (with Oliver Moore), which explains how to spell English words and sentences in ancient Babylonian, ancient Egyptian and Chinese. He also recently started a collection of diaries because he believes that they are important historical documents. 'A diary has great power', he explains. 'It allows the writer to write about themselves in a private place. If written with real candour the diary is the safest place to honestly reveal and explore our purest self. In time, maybe all we will leave are references to our dentist appointments and diets but that will be as fascinating to future generations as the minutiae of Aztec life is to us now'.
Helen Czerski is a physicist and oceanographer based at the Institute for Sound and Vibration Research at the University of Southampton. Her specialism is bubbles; particularly the optics and acoustics of ocean bubbles, the structure of the bubble plumes caused by breaking waves, and the influence of ocean bubbles on the atmosphere. She attended Churchill College, Cambridge, and graduated with degrees (BA and Msci) in Natural Sciences and a PhD in experimental explosives physics.
Helen has worked in the USA as well as the UK and currently works at the University of Southampton where she makes replica ocean bubbles in a large glass tank in her laboratory. Her work also involves carrying out experiments on board research vessels, sometimes spending weeks at sea. She loves to scuba dive, and is a PADI divemaster and a certified scientific diver.
She co-presented Orbit: Earth's Extraordinary journey; a three part series on BBC2 and a special Horizon program on the transit of Venus. She also joined a team of scientists as they investigate the birth, life and death of icebergs for the series Operation Iceberg. They were on the ice and at sea for six weeks, investigating the science of glaciers, how glaciers produce icebergs and why icebergs matter for our polar regions.
Sports play a large part in Helen’s life, and she’s always happy to learn new ones. Current favourites are badminton, running and swimming, with sailing and diving thrown in when she gets the chance.
Sean Hughes is a popular comedian, writer, poet and actor. Born in London, but spending most of his youth in Firhouse, Dublin, he began appearing at the Comedy Store in 1987 and his show A One Night Stand With Sean Hughes won the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award. At the time he was the youngest person ever to have won the award. He marked his 30th birthday with the Sean Hughes Is Thirty Somehow tour, which was broadcast on Channel 4, in 1995. Hughes returned to stand-up, touring the UK and Australia in 2007 with his show, The Right Side of Wrong followed by What I meant to say was… in 2009 and Ducks and other mistakes I’ve made (2010).
As well as comedy, he has also written collections of prose and poetry and two novels: The Detainees (1998) and It's What He Would Have Wanted (2000). In 1992 he had his own TV show, Sean's Show, ostensibly set in his own home. It received a nomination for the 1992 British Comedy Award for Best Channel 4 Sitcom. From 1996 to 2002 he was a team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and, in 2007, he played Eileen Grimshaw's love interest – the serial womaniser Pat Stanaway - in Coronation Street. He also appears in the ITV series The Last Detective, alongside Peter Davison. Sean plays his friend, the perpetually unemployed and well-read Mod Lewis who spends all his time at the library to save on heating. Sean has also worked in radio and has appeared in films including Spike Milligan's film Puckoon and the 2010 British film version of Tony Hawks' best selling book, Round Ireland with a Fridge.
A close friend of the late American comedian Bill Hicks, Hughes wrote the foreword to Cynthia True's biography, American Scream. The Bill Hicks Story. Hughes wrote about Hicks, 'Being a genius is a heavy burden and he's the only one I'm ever likely to meet. I still miss you Bill'.