Culture talks: sites for stimulation
May 17, 2012 | By:
Ignore the lure of the sofa and trash TV: Britain is alive with interesting speakers and debates. Michael Prodger picks the most mind-expanding sites for talks
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Happy talk: on matters of art, conservation, literature, architecture and more. Photo from Corbis


This imaginative concept has five speakers talking for 15 minutes each, without a script. Future speakers include Salman Rushdie, Simon Jenkins and Rosie Boycott. The site gives details of venues and ticket prices as well as videos of previous speakers, who include Geoff Dyer and Penelope Lively. Visit 5×15 Stories

Intelligence Squared

This site immodestly bills itself “the world’s premier debating forum” but its roster of talks is undoubtedly impressive: Stephen Fry (as usual) and Tristram Hunt debate the return of the Elgin Marbles; Robert Macfarlane covers landscape and the heart. The site offers tickets and clips. Visit Intelligence Squared

London Review Bookshop

The spiritual home of bien pensant literary types. The events take place among shelves of the best new books (with free wine afterwards for those who find listening thirsty work). Previous speakers/debaters include Martin Amis, John Lanchester and Alan Bennett. Visit LRB Shop


The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies comprises 360 local groups, most with regular talks and day study-trips that are open to non-members (affiliate membership costs £10). It has 300 accredited lecturers on its books talking about every aspect of heritage, art and conservation. Visit NADFAS.


Most universities give public lectures, and the variety is huge: Sussex for a debate on skills, Cambridge for smart cities and ‘smart drugs’, and  a glimpse of the future at Liverpool. The speakers tend to be those costing unlucky parents £9,000 a year in fees.