02 Sep 2014

BBC/OU Series uncovers the secrets behind famous works of fiction

Cerys Matthews explores medieval Welsh tales, the Mabinogion

Cerys Matthews explores medieval Welsh tales, the Mabinogion

A new BBC Four series starting today (8.30pm, BBC Four) called The Secret Life of Books, produced in partnership with The Open University (OU), sheds new light on some of the greatest works of British literature.

Presented by writers and performers, the six-part series examines original manuscripts, letters and diaries to bring personal insight to the individual writers and their classic works. The presenters are former EastEnders writer Tony Jordan, actor Simon Russell Beale, scientist Professor Alice Roberts, singer and broadcaster Cerys Matthews, journalist and author Bidisha and award-winning writer and Virginia Woolf expert, Dr Alexandra Harris.

A colourful and creative app will be available for viewers to download and explore, to get a personal tour of the books. The app offers users the opportunity to examine original manuscript material and discover additional video content from the series. This is the first OU/BBC co-produced app and is available to download after the first episode from http://www.open.edu/openlearn/secret-life-books.

Those contributing their thoughts in interviews across the series include theatre and film director Sam Mendes; writer and literary critic Terry Eagleton; Director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner; and writer and 18th-century literature expert Professor John Mullen.

Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor for BBC Four, said: “The Secret Life Of Books is a celebration of some of the most influential works of fiction in the world. We’ve gathered together six incredibly interesting writers and performers to offer us their own deeply personal take on famous and much-loved classics.”

Simon Russell Beale examines Shakespeare’s First Folio of plays; Dr. Alexandra Harris celebrates Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway; Bidisha asks awkward questions of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; Cerys Matthews explores the amazing collection of medieval Welsh tales, the Mabinogion; and Professor Alice Roberts explores Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The Secret Life Of Books (6x30) was commissioned by Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor for BBC Four and Mark Bell, Head of Arts Commissioning. The Executive Producer is Richard Bright and the Series Producer is Allan Campbell, both for the BBC. The Series was commissioned for The Open University by Caroline Ogilvie, Head of Broadcast. The University’s Academic Consultant for the programmes was Professor Nicola Watson.

Notes to Editors:
About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.8 million students and has more than 200,000 current students, including more than 15,000 overseas.

The OU is rated in the top ten of UK universities for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey, since the survey began in 2005. In 2013/14 it had a 91% satisfaction rating. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

In the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) The Open University was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed in the RAE as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.

The OU has a 41 year partnership with the BBC and has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to co-producing prime-time series such as Frozen Planet, Bang Goes the Theory, Britain’s Great War, I Bought a Rainforest and Business Boomers. Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which received 5.2million unique visitors in 2012/13, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded more than 66 million downloads.

For further information please visit: www.open.ac.uk

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