Andrew Keen and Robert Phillips talk to Sarah Churchwell

Andrew Keen is the author of ‘The Internet is Not the Answer ‘ which argues that the internet is having a negative effect on our culture. Robert Phillips, ex CEO of Edelman, a leading global PR firm, has written ‘Trust Me PR is Dead’.

I have to declare an interest here; I’m a PR person and I’m on the board of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, so I don’t entirely subscribe to Robert’s assertion.

Actually he starts by saying that PR isn’t dead. What Phillips asserts is that the problem is that PR doesn’t speak to the common good and doesn’t focus enough on trustworthiness.

Whilst Robert Phillips is concerned with a failure of trust revealed by the transparency brought about by the internet, Andrew Keen believes that internet itself is a cause of inequality and injustice. The internet does away with top down elitist structures but it also sweeps away the trusted frameworks that support society. Keen described the world as flat, one in which we have contempt for leaders yet long for leadership.

Leadership failure is a subject that Robert Phillips covers too. He cites the recent disastrous corporate performance of Thomas Cook.  It has been characterised as a PR failure but as Robert implies, it was actually a corporate failure.

Andrew Keen has the final word and applauds Robert’s appeal for greater values and morality but also says we must become less self obsessed. The problem with the Internet is that when we look at it we see ourselves.

It was a captivating, intellectual debate, but I’m no more convinced about the failures of the Internet or the Public Relations industry, than I was at the beginning. Who would have imagined.

Simon Singh

by Virginia

SinghA lot was riding on Simon Singh tonight.  I had chosen his talk over Simon Armitage,  Laslo Krasznahorkai  and Germaine Greer, who I’d have loved to see, because I enjoyed ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ so much.   Then I’d had a frustrating time getting here due to a missed turn en-route adding an hour to the journey.   High winds on arrival, and a broken pole mean it took longer than expected to erect t the tent, and so I missed my first event. If the day was going to be redeemed, Singh’s talk had better be good…

I’m delighted to say that it was way better than that, and meant after hours of frustration, my Hay has kicked off in style. Which was particularly pleasing as my eldest, Beth (16) decided to come along at the last minute and I would have also hated to disappoint her.

For those unfamiliar with Singh’s book, it tells the story of Andrew Wiles, a mathematician who was obsessed with solving Fermat’s Last Theorem. That puzzle was laid down by Fermat, who liked to writ e notes in the margins of his copy of Arithmetica. In one, he claimed to have proved a particular equation, but there wasn’t space to write the proof, thereby setting down a challenge for mathematicians for 350 years. 

Tonight’s talk was a celebration of twenty  years since Wiles’ tremendous achievement. Fittingly, it began with an excerpt from the BBC film of the story in which Wiles is filled with emotion as he remembers the moment he knew he’d completed the proof.  ‘We’ve all had occasions when maths made us want to cry’ Singh commented wryly, before taking us through the story and why it mattered so much to the mathematician.  An obsession formed when he was ten, led to him spending years studying the theorem, till a breakthrough in a new field of mathematics gave him the tools for a possible solution. For the next seven years Wiles toiled away in secret, until he finally worked out a proof. Even that wasn’t the end of the story as the proof later turned out to have an error and it was another eighteen months before it was absolutely watertight.

Singh is as an engaging a presenter as he is a writer, and he told the absorbing tale with verve and energy. Beth loved it. And when we met the author afterwards, he proved as engaging in person as he is on stage and page.  So look out for his books, he’s well worth a read.

After a somewhat wobbly start, my festival has begun.

Galina Timchenko, Mikhail Zygar, and Oliver Bullough talk to Nataliya Vasilyeva.

Nataliya Vasilyeva, Oliver Bullough, Mikhail Zygar.The influence and impact of Russian authority is evident before the session even begins when we learn that Galina has had passport issues and joins the session via a live link from Moscow.

Who is Putin? That’s the question everyone asked when he rose to power and to a great extent that is still the salient question.  When Putin came to power and restored Russian control over Chechnya, he was genuinely popular but he was also ruthless in eliminating opposition; “opponents just vanished” said Bullough.

Putin’s approval rating remains in the high 80% range, but Galina questions the way the polls are conducted and thinks that his real approval is “maybe half of the population”. Bullough reminds us that the opinions polls in the UK haven’t been too accurate of late.

At the beginning of his presidency Putin wanted to join NATO and build alliances with Bush and Blair. He felt rebuffed by both. This was one of a number of blows that included the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that shaped a more hard line approach to Russian foreign policy. The annexation of Crimea was a piece of ruthless opportunism but it was exercised so efficiently that it had probably planned for some time.

Mikhail Zygar runs an independent TV station that in January was effectively shut down by the authorities. The government banned advertising from non state channels in a direct challenge to the continued existence of the station. The viewers responded by raising $2m to keep the station on air.

Sally Wainwright and Sarah Lancashire Talk to Alan Yentob

The Hay Festival assembled the writing and acting talent behind two of the top TV dramas of recent years; ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘Last Tango in Halifax’.

Sally Wainwright reveals that ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ was actually her mother’s story. In Oxford, rather than the Yorkshire town where the series was set, she met and fell in love with a boy from school. The working title was ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ but with Derek Jacobi on board there was concern that the audience would think it was Shakespeare.

After the run throughs for the show, before filming, Sarah Lancashire got a call from her Director to tell her that Caroline, the character she was playing was gay. It seemed appropriate, on the day that Ireland has voted for gay marriage, to be discussing one of the most rounded gay central characters that has appeared on a prime time UK TV series.

Wainwright gives some insight into the challenges of writing for TV. Writing characters and even dialogue can be easy, plots are where the real challenge lies.

Tributes were paid by the whole ‘stage party’ to soaps and Coronation Street in particular, where both Sarah and Sally honed their talents.

Sally revealed that she wrote ‘Happy Valley’ when she was given the green light to write whatever she wanted after the success of ‘Last Tango’. It was a kind of ‘Juliet Bravo’ for the 21st century. The lead role was witten for Sarah Lancashire, something that the actress said she found “very scary”. The insight for the role came from ‘Lisa’ a Greater Manchester Policewoman who happened to be an old school friend of Sally Wainwright, who this time directed, as well as wrote, the powerful psychological crime drama.

Edith Hall – Introducing the Ancient Greeks

20150523_152434The genesis of this book was the 2008 Cheltenham Literary Festival and a battle with Mary Beard over the relative merits of the Greeks and Romans. Edith won the debate and resolved to take a break from academic books and write something for a wider audience, a book that might help pay her children’s university tuition fees.

Her enthusiasm for the subject started early. Most eight year olds were reading the Beano when Edith first became interested in the ancient Greeks.

The Greeks were seagoing. The Ancient Greek words for ship and mind were almost identical and they anthropomorphised their vessels. To understand the Greeks you have to appreciate how important the water is to Greek civilisation. In Greek mythology many of the heroes are sea captains and great swimmers.  The Odyssey is a prime example. Greek myths are also unlike any others with their stories about the raw pursuit of power and influence.

Edith claimed to be nervous but a more animated, enthused and confident classicist would be hard to imagine.

Hay Festival Live and On-line on BBC Arts

BBC Arts Online is broadcasting live streams of some of the events at this year’s festival as they did for the first time last year.  The live on-line broadcasts can be watched on the BBC Arts site. Click the links for further details.  Here’s the schedule:

23 May 2015 24 May 2015 25 May 2015
Cressida Cowell

Andrew O’Hagan

Stephen Fry

Irvine Welsh

Live 17:30: Germaine Greer: Liberation.

Live 19:00: Ian Bostridge

Yuval Noah Harari

Karen Armstrong

Live 19:00: Germaine Greer: Shakespeare’s Women

Tom Holland
26 May 2015 27 May 2015 28 May 2015
LIVE 17:30: Alexander McCall Smith  Alan Bennett & Nicholas Hytner Tinariwen
29 May 2015 30 May 2015 31 May 2015
Ben and David Crystal

Live 14:30: David Mitchell

Antonia Fraser Celia Imrie & Terry Waite

Call The Midwife

QI’s Greatest Hits

Stunning Aerial Shots of The Hay Festival Site

Hay Festival Site

Hay Festival Site

The Wye Sky Eye @thewyeskyeye has been up and running for just a couple of weeks showcasing the stunning scenery of the Wye Valley from a new perspective.  Two images were taken on Tuesday afternoon of the Hay Festival site, in a rare moment of sunshine between the recent showers.

Hay Festival Site

Hay Festival Site

This  second picture shows the propeller blades a-blur of TheWyeSkyEye as it approaches the Festival grounds. Its a DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus drone.  Follow on TheWyeSkyEye on Twitter or on Instagram here for more shots of the Wye valley and maybe some more of the Festival site in the coming days.

Are you a Blogger and a Hay Festival Go-er?

20120604-190150.jpgIf you are a Hay go-er and you’d like to review a session or two this year we’d love to hear from you.

‘Making Hay’ is an unofficial blog about the the Hay on Wye Literary Festival.  The blog started in 2009 as a hobby.  In its first year it attracted a few hundred views. Last year it was over 20,000 and at the last count we had 20,809 Followers on Twitter.  Lyndsey, Jill and Pete were all guest bloggers in 2014.

You don’t have to be a writer or blogger but it you know your way around WordPress that’s an advantage (if not I can post the text for you and add your by-line).

I can guarantee it adds to the experience.  Get in touch if you want to know more at

2015 Hay Festival Early Bird Tickets on Public Sale

The first batch ot serssions for the 2015 Festival from the 21 -31 May are on sale now to the general public.  The sessions are

  • Stephen Fry
  • Germaine Greer
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Antony Beevor
  • Karen Armstrong
  • Dan and Peter Snow
  • Michael Morpurgo
  • Jacqueline Wilson

Click here to book

This year the Festival has added advance car park booking which can be selected at the same time as tickets.