Celebrating 10 years of The Reeth Lecture

Celebrating 10 years of The Reeth Lecture

By Malcolm Creese, Artistic Director

In 2008, I wanted to find a suitable event to hold in Reeth’s Methodist Chapel during the 2009 Swaledale Festival. Performance events were problematic because of the layout; it was designed for one person talking in the pulpit, so I decided on a lecture and set about finding someone to deliver it. Then the pun hit me and the Reeth Lectures were born.

Since 1948, BBC Radio’s annual Reith Lectures have been given by leading figures on a variety of subjects to mark the contribution to broadcasting by Sir John (Lord) Reith, the corporation's first director-general. Following the BBC’s lead, I decided that well-known personalities would be ideal for our Reeth Lectures and I decided that they should talk expertly about something other than themselves, and avoid politics, religion and sport - mainly because I didn’t want fights breaking out. 

The first Reeth Lecturer was Sir Roy Strong who spoke about saving English Parish Churches, which was appropriate because many are used as Festival venues. Roy was followed in 2010 by his old friend Brian Sewell who chose ‘What is the point of Art History’. (I had just embarked on an Art History degree course at the time, but Brian didn’t put me off.) Brian was controversial and hilarious. We spent an extremely enjoyable day together, during which he launched our children’s art exhibition at Bowes Museum. We kept in touch until his death a few years later. 

Loyd Grossman spoke about conservation in 2011, and while he was here he went searching for the chapel’s original harmonium - eventually finding it in Swaledale Museum where he gave an impromptu recital! In 2012, Time Team archeologist Carenza Lewis’s talk on her ‘Big Dig’ project inspired the SWAAG diggers to set up a Big Dig event in Reeth and Grinton, which Dr. Lewis launched.

In 2013, Lucinda Lambton spoke eloquently about toilets (mostly fancy Victorian ones). Meteorologist Michael Fish’s 2014 talk on climate change made us think, and made us laugh when he blamed his infamous 1987 hurricane gaff on Bill Giles! 2015’s guest Adam Hart-Davis, whose father had lived in Marske, asked ‘Are we alone in the universe?’, and in 2016, Andrew Graham-Dixon gave a brilliantly entertaining talk on ‘Appreciating Art’. In 2017, the pianist and musicologist Professor David Owen Norris cleverly echoed Brian Sewell’s lecture with ‘What is the point of classical music?’.

The series has developed a special character, partly because the shameless pun seems to encourage a certain humour in talks which otherwise can be rather serious, and because the lecturers have mostly been a little eccentric, to say the least.

I like the fact that people talk about the Reeth Lectures throughout the year and  approach me with suggestions for the next one. Do keep the ideas coming but don’t be disappointed if they don’t materialise. The Reeth Lecture is very difficult to programme; I probably invite ten people for every one that says ‘yes’. Well-known personalities are reluctant to commit to a talk in Yorkshire months in advance in case they have to down a television series later. Some wait for months before telling me they can’t come, and I have to start again.

It’s sad that the Methodist Chapel - the venue for the first eight lectures - has closed. We are fortunate, however, that the good people of the Congregational Church have welcomed us warmly and saved the Reeth Lecture from extinction.

I’m pleased to say that every Reeth Lecture has sold out, but I often meet people who left it too late to book. Well here’s a heads-up: 

The 10th Reeth Lecture will be given by the popular mathematician Marcus du Sautoy on 7 June 2018. His talk, ‘A Song to Symmetry’, revolves around the symmetry and hidden codes in the music of J.S. Bach, especially in his iconic keyboard masterpiece ‘Goldberg Variations’ which will be performed twice during the Festival. Online booking opens on 26 March, so please mark these dates in your diary. 

If you are particularly worried about missing out on this, or any other events, you might consider subscribing to our Festival Friends scheme. Members benefit from an exclusive advance booking period, amongst other things. 

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