[In Our Time] Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia

05/12/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=88980751
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p07wzmw7.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss T.E. Lawrence (1888 – 1935), better known as Lawrence of Arabia, a topic drawn from over 1200 suggestions for our Listener Week 2019. Although Lawrence started as an archaeologist in the Middle East, when World War I broke out he joined the British army and became an intelligence officer. His contact with a prominent Arab leader, Sharif Hussein, made him sympathetic to Hussein’s cause and during the Arab Revolt of 1916 he not only served the British but also the interests of Hussein. After the war he was dismayed by the peace settlement and felt that the British had broken an assurance that Sharif Hussein would lead a new Arab kingdom. Lawrence was made famous by the work of Lowell Thomas, whose film of Lawrence drew huge audiences in 1919, which led to his own book Seven Pillars of Wisdom and David Lean’s 1962 film with Peter O’Toole.

In previous Listener Weeks, we’ve discussed Kafka’s The Trial, The Voyages of Captain Cook, Garibaldi and the Risorgimento, Moby Dick and The Thirty Years War.


Hussein Omar
Lecturer in Modern Global History at University College Dublin

Catriona Pennell
Associate Professor of Modern History and Memory Studies at the University of Exeter

Neil Faulkner
Director of Military History Live and Editor of the magazine Military History Matters

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2020-02-04


  • I was listening to the introduction and initial segments with some degree of annoyance and resentment, thinking ‘Great, thanks to Lawrence having romantic notions of the noble savages of the desert, we’re now stuck with the Saudi Arabian monarchy,’ and then found myself corrected later on – the current Saudi Arabian monarchy isn’t who LoA was plumping for, but rivals whom the bureaucrats put in. Maybe the noble savages would have worked out better…
  • The story of how Hussein and Co joined the British war effort expecting a kingdom of their own after WW1 sounds similar to how all the princely states and the British Indian Army signed up for WW1 expecting freedom afterwards. Everybody got slimed.
  • Lawrence as early celeb, and how the Arabia documentary kept getting edited to be more about him as he got popular was fun.
  • The exasperation with which the panel dismissed the horror over the Sykes-Picot agreement as overblown and ahistorical was fun.
  • In general, I agree with the panel that the stories of the local people involved in West Asian freedom struggles of the time are probably more interesting, and that Lawrence of Arabia is just a Western fan favourite who’s crowding out proper history.


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