Tom Shakespeare

Photograph by Belinda Mason

Sic transit

(Radio 4, 17 March 2017)
Tom Shakespeare on why – in today’s world of uncertainty and fear – it may give us some political consolation to remember that while everything positive in life is short-lived, so too is everything negative. He argues that believing that the best is behind us stops us making the most of present opportunities. “To wallow in the past is to be sentimental, to seek an impossible return”, he writes. “Our task is to create something different but equally fulfilling in future”.
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A Point of View: Dementia rights

(Radio 4, 2 April 2017)
Tom Shakespeare argues that viewing dementia as a disability could help those living with the condition win greater rights. In the last few decades, he writes, we have seen many impairment groups unite to demand a better deal from government. “But when it comes to dementia, we are still thinking in terms of disease and tragedy and passivity”. He believes treating dementia as a disability – with all the legal ramifications that involves – may help us change our attitudes and our policies.
Listen to Dementia rights

The power and peril of stories

(Radio 4, 26 March 2017)
Tom Shakespeare reflects on how all the political populists who now occupy our imaginations are master story tellers. People need stories and these stories appeal to us, he says. But he argues that as well as persuasive stories, more than ever we need facts. “The plural of anecdote is not data, as a professor used to tell me”, he writes.
Listen to The power and peril of stories

Free Thinking: Art as a tool for thinking

(Radio 3, 14 January 2010)
Matthew Sweet presents a talk given at The Sage Gateshead as part of Radio 3’s Free Thinking festival, in which bioethicist and disability specialist Tom Shakespeare asks how art can help us understand today’s difficult moral issues. He believes that in many of today’s contentious and emotional public debates – for example around disability, ante-natal screening or even the heated discussion of the right to die – there are often no clear answers. Neither science, nor social research, nor ethical reasoning can tell us what to do – much as we may wish for them to do so. Instead, Tom argues it is not science, but rather art that can help us think through these modern dilemmas by making space for the emotion and complexity they need. He demands we think of art as a ‘tool for thinking’, explaining why as a scientist he believes we need to involve art in some of our most difficult social and ethical decisions – because it will help us in unexpected ways.
Listen to Free Thinking: Art as a tool for thinking

A Point of View: Canaries in the coal mine

(Radio 4, 31 July 2016)
Tom Shakespeare gives a very personal view of the implications for society of a prenatal screening technology due to be announced shortly. Tom inherited the genetic condition, achondroplasia, or restricted growth from his father and passed it on to both his children. Soon we will have to decide, he writes, what sort of people we are prepared to accept in our families and in our society.
Listen to Canaries in the coal mine

A Point of View: Who cares about independence?

(Radio 4, 18 September 2016)
Wheelchair user, Tom Shakespeare, reflects on what it feels like to be dependent on others. He says care often leaves the recipient in a devalued state. He calls for society to respond to the challenge of delivering help “without creating domination and infantilisation” and for care to be funded properly.
Listen to Who cares about independence?

A Point of View: Parliamentary roadshow

(Radio 4, 4 September 2016)
Tom Shakespeare argues that the upcoming refurbishment work on the Palace of Westminster provides a perfect opportunity for taking it out of London. “My vision is of the Houses of Parliament as a travelling caravan, a charabanc of power, spending a year here and a year there throughout our United Kingdom”. He says it would enable our leaders to see at first hand what they are legislating about and who they are legislating for. He quotes Cromwell at the sacking of the Rump Parliament in 1653: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go”!
Listen to Parliamentary roadshow

A Point of View: Every dog has its day

(Radio 4, Sunday 28 August 2016)
Tom Shakespeare – a new dog owner – reflects on what dogs can teach us about contentment. Remembering his childhood obsession with the Peanuts cartoon, he quotes Snoopy “My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m Happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?” Dogs, writes Tom, have a much greater capacity for contentment than people and we can all learn from this.
Listen to Every dog has its day

A Point of View: Expert by experience

(Sunday 31 January 2016)
After hearing a former political prisoner in South Africa and a holocaust survivor tell their stories, Tom Shakespeare concludes that personal experience is the most powerful form of expertise. “Hearing their testimonies affected me more deeply than any lecture, book or film. They were unforgettable authentic encounters.”
Listen to Expert by experience

A Point of View: Face to Face

(Radio 4, Sunday 24 January 2016)
Tom Shakespeare is concerned by the growth in cosmetic procedures and the pressure more and more women and girls, in particular, feel to conform to a face and body type. “My anxiety is about the society that first generates body dissatisfaction and then provides surgery as the solution to that cultural problem”.
Listen to Face to Face

A Point of View: Sing a new song

(Radio 4, Sunday 17 January 2016)
Tom Shakespeare argues that we need a new national anthem, one that celebrates what’s great about the whole country, reflects the diversity of the population and the values of modern society. He suggests that existing anthem-like hymns such as Jerusalem, or the likes of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory won’t do. Jerusalem, for example, talks of walking on England’s mountains green, excluding the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish.  A new anthem, written and composed for the purpose, would actually mean something and would make us proud of what’s great about the United Kingdom. It would be in tune with our times.
Listen to Sing a new song

A Point of View: Peerless

(Radio 4, Sunday 10 January 2016)
Tom Shakespeare argues the House of Lords should be completely reformed and turned into a Senate of 300 members (down from over 800). He suggests they should consist of 100 politicians, selected in proportion to parties’ showing in the previous general election, 100 cross-benchers, chosen for their expertise, and 100 members of the public, selected from the electoral roll like juries.
Listen to Peerless

A Point of View: Trial by select committee

(Radio 4, Sunday 22 March 2015)
Tom Shakespeare thinks our reformed Select Committees have revitalised Parliament but he warns against the temptation to play to the gallery and to cross examine unfairly.
“Their main business is the worthy task of holding the government and the civil service to account, even if it’s more fun holding unpopular public figures’ feet to the fire.”
Listen to Trial by select committee

A Point of View: Cognitive decline

(Radio 4, Sunday 15 March 2015)
Tom Shakespeare says increasing wisdom in middle age is at least some compensation for declining cognitive powers. “Wisdom is not the amount you know, it’s how you see and how you interpret what you see.”
Listen to Cognitive decline

A Point of View: The price of independence

(Radio 4, Sunday 29 March 2015)
Tom Shakespeare says that disabled people’s right to independent living is under threat as a result of the imminent winding up of the Independent Living Fund. “I hope that whichever parties are in government after May will have a rethink about social care. The ILF may…have been an anomaly, but one of the glories of living in Britain is that we have a high tolerance of historical anomalies.”
Listen to The price of independence

The immortality of the crab

(Radio 4, 20 September 2014)
To be human is to seek immortality, whether by freeing the soul or freezing your brain. It’s the root of religion, the inspiration of philosophy and the driving force behind music, art and literature. At the beginning of the 21st Century, immortality is a serious business. We’ve always wanted to live just a little longer, and through exercise, diet and medicine we’re getting surprisingly good at it. Life expectancy is rising and rising – children born today in the West have a life expectancy of 100. And this has changed our future in ways we’re yet to really understand. Tom Shakespeare goes in search of that future – and in search of what we can do now to negotiate with that future. We’ll need new foods, like insects. We’ll need to rethink relationships, and family dynamics. Will we be more reckless, feeling that life just goes on and on? And will we grow old disgracefully, rather than seeing the maturity that used to come with years? The statistics don’t tell the whole story of what our future will be. But perhaps we need to think again, and work a little harder on our changing relationship with death rather than celebrating the length of life? And then there are the layered meanings in a phrase of Spanish… just what is “the immortality of the crab”?
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A Point of View: Bring back the heptarchy!

(Radio 4, Sunday 8 June 2014)
Scotland could become independent. So, asks Tom Shakespeare, should England consider returning to an earlier order – a heptarchy of seven independent jurisdictions?
Listen to Bring back the heptarchy!

A Point of View: Should we be frightened of disability

(Radio 4, Sunday 1 June 2014)
Many people assume that disabled people must be unhappy. But the empirical evidence doesn’t back this up. In A Point of View, Tom Shakespeare argues that disability is nothing to fear.
Listen to Should we be frightened of disability

A Point of View: Why we should be religious but not spiritual

(Radio 4, Sunday 25 May 2014)
A growing number of people are describing themselves as spiritual but not religious. This is not a trend of which Tom Shakespeare approves. In this week’s Point of View he argues, rather, that we should be religious but not spiritual.
Listen to Why we should be religious but not spiritua

A Point of View: Anyone for art?

(Sunday 30 June 2013)
Isn’t it time to democratize art? Shouldn’t we, the public, be allowed to borrow works of art from our national collections? That way we could have an affair with art, rather than a one-night stand. Tom Shakespeare presents the last of his four essays.
Listen to Anyone for art?

A Point of View: A midsummer day dream

(Radio 4, Sunday 30 June 2014)
In Britain many of our holidays and festivals are rather dull – bank holidays for example. Tom Shakespeare, presenting the third of his four essays, says that when he looks at other cultures he feels a strong sense of festival envy. He wants Britain to have better festivals. To start with, shouldn’t we celebrate Midsummer?
Listen to A midsummer day dream

A Point of View: Fish, fly, mouse and worm

(Radio 4, Sunday 15 June 2013)
Scientists commonly use just four species to investigate the basic processes shared by all living creatures. Tom Shakespeare explains how the fruit fly, the zebra fish, the roundworm and the mouse found themselves at the forefront of scientific research.
Listen to Fish, fly, mouse and worm

A Point of View: Can compassion be taught?

(Radio 4, Sunday 9 June 2013)
Tom Shakespeare presents the first of his four essays. There have been several recent scandals in the health service, with appalling cases of abuse and neglect coming to light. Not surprisingly, this has led to calls for people in the medical profession to be taught compassion. But Tom is sceptical. This week he asks whether compassion can and should be taught.
Listen to Can compassion be taught?

From Our Own Corrrespondent: Boda boda

(Radio 4, Thursday 3 November 2016)
In the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Tom Shakespeare discovers why a brand new fleet of buses is simply parked up and failing to provide a service.
Listen to Boda boda

The Essay: Al Ma’arri: Visionary free thinker

(Radio 3, Monday 18 April 2016)
Abul ‘Ala Al-Ma’arri became visually impaired in childhood and went on to become the most famous poet in the Arab world, but is still barely known in Britain. He was born near Aleppo in the year 973. Although welcomed in the literary salons of Baghdad, al-Ma’arri became an ascetic, who avoided other people, and refused to sell his poetry. Al-Ma’arri was notable as a religious sceptic; he deemed it a matter of geographical accident what faith people adopted, and rejected the idea that Islam had a monopoly on truth. He opposed all violence and killing, becoming a vegan and avoiding the use of animal skins in clothing and footwear. Al-Ma’arri is a distinguished, if rare, example of a rationalist in the Islamic world, and one who was writing half a millennium before the Enlightenment thinkers of the West such as Voltaire.
Listen to Al Ma’arri: Visionary free thinker

The Essay: Bryan Pearce: What would I do if I didn’t paint?

(Radio 3, Tuesday 19 April 2016)
Bryan Pearce, a painter from St Ives in Cornwall, was one of the very few people with learning disability who has achieved fame in their own right. He was born with the metabolic disorder Phenylketonuria. In 1929, the condition was unknown, and as a result, Bryan Pearce experienced intellectual impairment and other health problems.  As a teenager, Bryan was encouraged by his mother and other artists to paint. Although he painted slowly, producing perhaps one picture a month, he had a long and very successful career, exhibiting throughout the UK. Bryan Pearce was limited in his ability to learn and communicate verbally. But alongside his deficits was a huge talent to see and communicate through art. As he said to his mother: “What would I do if I didn’t paint? What would I do?”
Listen to Bryan Pearce: What would I do if I didn’t paint?

The Essay: Artur Bispo do Rosario: The sculptor who saved the world

(Radio 3, Wednesday 20 April 2016)
The visionary Brazilian sculptor Arthur Bispo do Rosario spent fifty years of his life on a Rio de Janeiro psychiatric ward, and did not even think of himself as an artist.  He’d been a sailor and an odd-job man when, in 1938, he had a vision of angels bathed in light. He felt that the Virgin Mary had guided him to record the universe in visual form, in preparation for the Day of Judgement. The same year, he was hospitalized for treatment for paranoid schizophrenia. For Bispo do Rosario, this creative outpouring was a spiritual, not an artistic task: he saw it as his duty to prepare for the Last Judgement.  Bispo do Rosario’s work is reminiscent of surrealism, of the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp, of the fabric creations of Louise Bourgeois, the solitary confinement of Kurt Schwitters: all the more extraordinary in that Bispo do Rosario was entirely self-taught, worked in an artistic vacuum, and generated all this extraordinary art through his own originality and imagination.
Listen to Bispo do Rosario: The sculptor who saved the world

The Essay: Goya, Klee, Matisse: Leaving the best till last?

(Radio 3, Thursday 8 January 2015)
The majority of people become disabled in later life, and artists are no exception. In this programme,Tom Shakespeare discusses how the lives of three artists – the painters Goya, Klee and Matisse – show how restriction created by ageing or disease can open up new creative possibilities.
Listen to Goya, Klee, Matisse: Leaving the best till last?

The Essay: Lucy Jones: Crawling to glory

(Radio 3, Thursday 21 April 2016)
Lucy Jones may well be the best British painter you’ve never heard of. There is no doubt about her disability, because she was born with cerebral palsy. But she has no intention of identifying as a disabled artist. Cerebral palsy and dyslexia and depression are part of her biography, but they’re not on the label for the artwork, any more than being a woman or living in Ludlow should define her or explain what she does. She wants her portraits to offer a universal comment on humanity.
Listen to Lucy Jones: Crawling to glory

Great Lives: Antonio Gramsci

(Radio 4, 5 September 2014)
Dr Tom Shakespeare, lecturer at the Medical School in the University of East Anglia and prominent campaigner for the rights of the disabled, explains to Matthew Parris why the life and work of the Italian left-wing revolutionary Antonio Gramsci means a great deal to him personally. They are joined in the studio by Professor Anne Sassoon.
Listen to Great Lives: Antonio Gramsci