This is the 13th year that Dean Close School has supported the 10 day Festival which seems to engulf the whole Town with its exciting array of visitors and buzz. The School purchased over 250 tickets, sponsored four speakers, introduced three events, attended a literary lunch in the Writers’ Room, hosted a visit from Prue Leith and met several speakers along the way. There were groups of pupils coming and going throughout the week and below is a sample of some of the events attended.

Lunch with Head of scheduling – Nicola Tuxworth

Dan and Peter Snow Waterloo

This was an entertaining and enlightening event on Waterloo, delivered by father and son, Peter and Dan Snow who were introduced by A level History student, Dominic McClaran, who gave a truly passionate synopsis of their book. It goes without saying that the pacing of this address was quite superb, as the duo swapped near-seamlessly from Napoleon’s side of the battle (told by Peter) to Wellington’s decisive victory (told by Dan). The pair’s incredible knowledge around their subject flowed straight into their presentation and was most prominent in the questions asked afterwards. The crackling cheekiness that came from Dan was only possible with their father-son relationship, a near excellent performance which thrilled the audience. Lower Sixth Former, Linus Holmes, said that it was the most educational and witty lecture on the end of Napoleon’s reign that he had ever seen.

Alison Weir

This was a “right royal event” (to quote the interviewer Caroline Sanderson). Alison spoke about ‘The Lost Tudor Princess’, Margaret Douglas, and Countess of Lennox. She lived through 60 years of intrigue, where love was both her saviour and her curse. It appears that she is the missing link in all of the Tudor stories. Pupils heard a gripping tale of Margaret’s life, how she befriended various noble ladies, how she coped with serving most of Henry VIII’s wives and her assorted love affairs. They learned that she was thrown in the Tower more times than most and survived them all. They heard stories of her family life and the tragedy of each of her losses as lovers, children and her mother all died and of her complex relationship with Elizabeth I. At the end Sixth Former, Mel Ferro, asked Alison why she thought we hadn’t heard of this great lady before, if she was as key as she appeared to be? The only reason she could come up with was that perhaps it was because she had died peacefully in her bed at home and so did not appear as interesting to historians – until now.

Dynasty – the rise and fall of the house of ceasar

Tom Holland’s talk introduced his audience to several of the great questions which will always hang over the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Right at the start of Tiberius’ reign, the only surviving grandson of Augustus was killed; news reached Tiberius on his return to Rome and he seemed to be utterly dumbfounded by the messenger’s report that his instructions had been carried out. Holland believes that this fact has to point to Livia – Tiberius’ mother who may perhaps have had a hand in several premature deceases which eventually led to Tiberius’ accession. The other usual suspects are rounded up – but Augustus is exonerated, though some believe he feared that ‘supporters’ might elevate this inadequate young man to the throne as their puppet and consequently gave an order, to be deferred till news of his own death was published.

At the outset, Holland discussed briefly the nature of the main sources; both Tacitus and Suetonius, whom he characterises by their similarities to a couple of modern daily newspapers, lived some while after the events which they recount. They had lived through challenging times, and Tacitus in particular may well have been working through some issues that he had faced during his career. Like all really interesting questions, most of these issues will not ever admit of a definitive solution.

Sophocles: Live and loud

This was a wonderful hour spent in the company of one of the world’s foremost experts in Greek Tragedy. Professor Oliver Taplin, formerly Tutor in Classics at Magdalene College, Oxford, spoke eloquently about the sustained relevance of ancient drama for the modern world. Reflecting upon the number of plays that have revisited the Classical world recently (the Oresteia at the Globe and the Almeida, Hecuba at Stratford, Medea at the National), Professor Taplin spoke powerfully about Sophocles’ insistence on the fragility of human happiness and the ways in which truth can collide with ignorance with terrible consequences.

Rewriting History

Professor Mary Beard of Newnham College, Cambridge has a new history of Rome, SPQR, published during the Festival. Ancient Rome matters. Its history of empire, conquest, cruelty and excess is something against which we still judge ourselves. Its myths and stories – from Romulus and Remus to the Rape of Lucretia – still strike a chord with us. And its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty today. SPQR is a new look at Roman history from one of the world’s foremost classicists. It explores not only how Rome grew from an insignificant village in central Italy to a power that controlled territory from Spain to Syria, but also how the Romans thought about themselves and their achievements, and why they are still important to us. Covering 1,000 years of history, and casting fresh light on the basics of Roman culture from slavery to running water, as well as exploring democracy, migration, religious controversy, social mobility and exploitation in the larger context of the empire, this promises to be a definitive history of ancient Rome.

Our sunburned Planet

Climate change is a harsh reality for those on the front line of the battle. Leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett, journalist Oliver Morton (The Planet Remade) and climate scientist Chris Rapley presented their views on how we, as a planet, could be dealing with the effects of global warming. Natalie Bennett was particularly opinionated on the view that as a community we are not doing much to save the planet and blamed governments for not encouraging their countries to use public transport or to walk more. She spoke of how in Australia, people drive everywhere, even for a five minute journey down the road, and how small things can combine to destroy the planet. The other speakers, Oliver Morton and Chris Rapley, spoke more about scientific developments to save the planet and what individuals can do in their everyday lives to reduce the impact of climate change, creating a really in-depth and interesting discussion.

Prue Leith

Prue Leith, who was at the Festival to promote her latest book, Food of Love, kindly agreed to visit Dean close to meet some of the students currently studying her certificate. The Leiths chefs were excited to welcome her to their kitchen one evening for a chat over tea and cake. Prue quickly got to know the pupils, going around the table and asking them what their favourite foods were to cook and to eat. She talked about her own life and love of food, giving secrets away behind the scenes of her current role on the Great British Menu. It was a lovely evening and she was very generous with her time, staying to have photos taken and sign the cook books of all the Leiths students.