Professor Alice Roberts star Q&A

Round & About

Wycombe Swan

Academic, TV presenter and author Alice Roberts tells us about her Crypt theatre show, based on her latest book, which visits Guildford’s G Live and Wycombe Swan this month…

Q: Hello Alice. You’re taking your new show, Crypt on the road. What is it about?

“The show is all about my new book, Crypt, illustrated with lots of great images and packed full of intriguing stories and surprising revelations. I’d like to say it’s an all-singing, all-dancing romp through the worst injuries and diseases of the Middle Ages, but – my audiences will be thankful – there’s no singing and dancing in it. But I can promise plenty of plague, syphilis and leprosy, gruesome murders, archery and sword fights. Crypt is the final instalment in a trilogy that started with my books Ancestors and Buried. It pulls together some of the threads from the first two books but also moves us on in time. Ancestors focused on prehistory, while Buried was about the first millennium: Romans, Anglo Saxons and Vikings. With Crypt, I move into the Middle Ages, but once again I’m looking at how archaeology is being radically transformed by new science, from chemical techniques which allow us to analyse tooth composition and work out where out where somebody grew up, to ancient DNA – where we’ve now entered the era of “archaeogenomics”.

Q: Can you tell me more about why ancient DNA is so exciting?

“Yes – we’re now sequencing entire genomes – in other words the entire set of genetic information contained in an organism. And that’s providing us with all sorts of revelations when it comes to human history – allowing us to trace family relationships between individuals in cemeteries and communal tombs, and to track migration in the past. But the focus in Crypt is on diseases and what this genetic investigation can tell us about them. It’s completely transforming our understanding of how diseases have affected human societies in the past because we’re suddenly able to make definitive diagnoses using DNA – and see how diseases have changed genetically over time, too. During COVID, we used similar techniques – PCR and sequencing – to test for the disease and to track the emergence of new mutations and strains of the virus, and we can do the same with ancient pathogens.”

Q: Does it have any relevance to today?

“Yes, absolutely. It means we can understand the impact of disease on past populations much better – and that’s very useful information for archaeologists and historians, but it also means we understand more about how diseases actually work.”

Q: Do you draw comparisons between disease in the Middle Ages and COVID?

“Not explicitly, but it’s interesting to look at how epidemics and pandemics emerged and spread in the past – and how society responded. You might think that, 500 years on, we’d be dealing with infectious disease very differently – but actually, up until the point we had vaccines, the only protection we had available was similar to what people had in the Middle Ages – quarantining, keeping away from people, wearing a mask.”

Q: Do you look at how diseases were treated in the past?

“Yes – I’m interested not only in how we can use new science to look at old diseases but also the experience of those individuals with diseases – how they were treated by society and the management options available to them. If you had leprosy, for example, there was certainly no curative treatment available but there were hospitals – more like the hospices of today – where you could be cared for.”

Q: What is the genome research you cover in the book and talk about in the show?

“I focus on the exciting 1000 Ancient Genomes Project at the Francis Crick Institute in London, led by Pontus Skoglund – and already generating some incredible results. It’s the most ambitious ancient DNA project in Britain to date. But there’s lots of other genetic research mentioned in the book, too.”

Q: Can you give us an example?

“One really fascinating case is the Justinianic Plague of the sixth century CE. Through DNA research, we now know that the three big pandemics of history – the 19th-century Hong Kong Plague, the 14th-century Black Death and the Justinianic Plague – were all caused by the same pathogen, Yersinia pestis. It’s a great example of how DNA can lead us to a precise diagnosis of diseases in the past – and a sobering lesson about how diseases can lie dormant for centuries, then re-erupt into a pandemic. If we can understand why that happens – that will help us combat disease today.”

I love campervanning – heading off on adventures, and not necessarily knowing where I’ll end up.”

Q: Do the audience need to be science boffins to follow the things you mention?

“Definitely not. I’m interested in sharing science in a way that’s detailed and interesting but accessible to everyone. That’s not about dumbing down – but just about explaining technical terms and not using impenetrable jargon! I want to open up this amazing science and history – to tell these brilliant stories and reveal secrets – without talking down to people.”

Q: What else happens in the show?

“I can promise a very entertaining evening, which may sound weird to say when it’s about death and disease. There’s a lot of new science, and it really is this collision of science and history that for me is very exciting. There’s also a Q&A with the audience and a book signing afterwards.”

Q: Has an audience member ever asked a question in a Q&A that stumped you?

“Yes, of course! There have been times when I’ve genuinely never thought of a particular question and it’s really exciting to be challenged. I find that with my university teaching too – I love being asked interesting questions. If I can’t answer a question, it means I either have to go away and find out – or if the answer doesn’t exist that could be a whole new avenue for research. And some questions can be more philosophical or ethical – and those questions invite everyone in the audience to form an opinion.”

Q: You’re a qualified doctor, who once treated living patients. Do you think of the skeletons you work on as dead patients, as it were?

Yes I do. When I’m looking at a skeleton I’m not just looking at a bunch of old bones, I’m very much looking at a person. I’m looking for the traces of that life, written into the bones. It’s a kind of biography.”

Q: You’ve packed a lot into your career – doctor, academic, author, television presenter, artist and now children’s author. Do you have a favourite?

“I enjoy all the strands of my career, and feel very lucky to be exploring ideas I find fascinating in my writing and broadcasting – and sharing those ideas with an enthusiastic audience. The different aspects of my work might seem quite separate, but they all flow together. I started writing because of television, and I started doing television because of my academic work, by writing bone reports on Channel 4’s Time Team, back in the day. I really enjoy the teamwork and camaraderie when I’m making documentaries, but I also enjoy the monastic solitude of writing, and I also love teaching medical students. It sounds like a lot of different things, but they all inform each other and are quite synergistic. I also really enjoy ranging across different disciplines – bringing together ideas from biology and history, genetics and archaeology.”

Q: Will people get to see your art in the show?

“I’ve drawn chapter headings for the new book, so I’ll certainly be sharing those images. I’ve always enjoyed art, but have been making more time to develop new techniques and use new media in recent years, and I’ve recently been made an honorary academician of the Royal West of England Academy. I offer some of my artwork as giclee prints which people can buy via my website.”

Q: What projects are you working on at the moment?

“I’m writing the sequel to my children’s novel Wolf Road, and I’m currently working on a series for History Channel called Royal Autopsy, where we explore the medical histories and causes of death of various monarchs. We’ve already autopsied Elizabeth I and Charles II, and in the new series we’ll delve into the insides of Henry IV, Mary Tudor, Queen Anne and George IV. We interrogate what was written about their deaths at the time, but also approach them with modern eyes. There’s also a new series of Digging for Britain – series eleven – and it will be available on iplayer, of course – where viewers can also catch up with my earlier landmark series such as Ice Age Giants and the Incredible Human Journey. I’ve also got an exciting programme on the Herculaneum scrolls coming soon on Channel 5. And I’m very much hoping to embark on a science podcast soon with my good friend, the geneticist and broadcaster Adam Rutherhood. So I’m keeping myself busy!”

Q: You’re famously part of the campervan community– how did that start?

“It’s all down to the wonderful, late Professor Mick Aston, of the University of Bristol and Time Team fame, who used to have a campervan which he used to drive to filming locations. I bought it from him – it was a very special Type 25 Syncro – and I sprayed it a lurid green! I’m now the proud owner of a slightly younger VW T5 California. I love campervanning – heading off on adventures, and not necessarily knowing where I’ll end up!”

Q: Do you use your camper van when you’re on tour?

“Yes I do – on my last book tour I stayed in some fantastic campsites across the UK. I had a great time touring round northern Ireland and found some really special places to stay in the Yorkshire Dales too. Our ancient ancestors were nomadic hunter-gatherers – perhaps that’s why I love camping so much!”

Buy tickets for Alice Roberts’ CRYPT tour here

Pre-order CRYPT here

Poirot heads to Wycombe

Round & About

Wycombe Swan

David Suchet makes his eagerly-awaited return to The Wycombe Swan in Poirot and More: A Retrospective

Audiences have been invited to experience a rare opportunity with one of the world’s most celebrated and fascinating actors of our time.

The chance to hear David Suchet in conversation is an unmistakably unique event. A retrospective look at David’s career will have you witness some of his most beloved performances in a new and intimate light. 

For over 25 years he captivated millions worldwide as Agatha Christie’s elegant Belgian detective. Beyond Poirot, this Emmy award-winning actor has been celebrated for his portrayal of iconic roles such as Lady Bracknell, Cardinal Benelli and Freud. David has also graced the world’s stages bringing literary greats to life, including Shakespeare, Wilde and Albee.

Meet the actor behind the detective and the many faces he’s portrayed on stage and screen over a career spanning five decades. Discover why David Suchet is renowned for not only becoming the role, but also taking on the personalities of some of television, film and theatre’s most fascinating characters.

Take your seat at this once-in-a-lifetime event, and go behind the screen and curtain with a legend.

Poirot and More: A Retrospective comes to the Wycombe Swan on Friday February 16th. Tickets available here

Q&A: Judi Love

Round & About

Wycombe Swan

Comedian & TV star Judi Love shares her thoughts ahead of her The One Like tour which visits The Anvil in Basingstoke, Wycombe Swan & Aylesbury Waterside Theatre as well as many more venues near you.

Judi Love is one of the UK’s most stand-out performers, and she’ll be taking her fresh, unapologetic and charismatic real talk to theatres across the country on her first ever stand-up tour in 2023.

Judi takes everyday relatable situations that resonate with audiences and brings them to life in hilarious routines. Marking herself a firm favourite on the comedy circuit, Judi is also known for producing a host of hilarious online comedy sketches that have gone viral on an international scale. Judi can be seen as a regular panellist on ITV’s Loose Women, including being on the first episode to feature an all-black panel, which received a prestigious RTS Programme Award for the Daytime category. She has also appeared on a number of TV shows, including Taskmaster, The Royal Variety Performance, This Morning, Good Morning Britain, Celebrity Juice, BBC’s This Is My House, The Graham Norton Show, The Ranganation and more. Bruce Dessau asks her whether she was nervous before starring on Strictly, twerking on Saturday night primetime TV: “I was definitely nervous because I wasn’t doing comedy, there was physical aspect. But it was such an amazing show and a great opportunity. When I twerked I felt my mission was complete.”

Q. How do you manage the work/life balance as a mother with two teenagers?

“I struggled with babysitting when they were younger. And now I worry for them when they have exams. But I try to put my foot down and not compromise. It’s a struggle and I definitely have mum guilt thinking I should be home with them. You don’t want them to grow up and say I was never there.”

Q. You can be frank about your sex life and what it’s like to be a woman on stage. Have they heard your material?

“When I was doing stand-up in clubs and couldn’t get babysitters they used to come with me so they know what I talk about. Now they are older they’ve probably heard worse with their friends. But they know ‘Judi Love’ and they know ‘mummy’. I might be extreme or cheeky on stage but I’d never talk like that in my private conversations with them.”

Q. What does self-care mean to you?

“It’s so important. We live in a society where we are so frightened to say ‘no’ we end up on a treadmill. Relaxation is important. I get a facial, take a walk, connect with friends not in entertainment. The other week I just got up, showered, put my houseclothes on, no make-up, no wig and watched all of The White Lotus. And it was beautiful.”

“We live in a society where we are so frightened to say ‘no’ we end up on a treadmill.”

Q. You previously worked in social care. Did your job help you as an entertainer?

“I’ve worked with some of the most deprived people. It’s easy to see someone and judge them and think you’d never end up like that but doing social care you get to see how people end up in certain scenarios. It gives you the empathy and understanding. When I’m tired from doing three jobs a day it’s not trauma. I’ve worked with people in crisis and trauma and it’s not that.”

Q. There were hard times in your early years of comedy, weren’t there?

“I moved to south London when my children were young and I left everything behind. We were in a house with nothing, just mattresses and a cooker. I had to get work quickly so I found a zero-hours job assessing parents. I remember going on a TV discussion programme early in the morning then going to work and they said ‘didn’t we just see you on TV?’. I was doing TV but in the evening my emergency electricity would run out. There’s always more to the story, it’s not all glamour.”

Q. You once said laughter is healing. Is that your philosophy?

“When you think about all the adversity people go through, laughter is what connects us. People say if you don’t laugh you’ll cry, so let’s keep laughing!”

AniMalcolm magic! Family theatre

Round & About

Wycombe Swan

Join animal-hating Malcolm on his trip to a farm and see how life changes at Wycombe Swan on Sunday, 17th February.

Malcolm doesn’t like animals even though his family love them. The house is full of pets which are of no interest to Malcolm who only wanted a laptop for his birthday.

A Year Six trip to a farm is the last thing he wants but during he learns a lot about animals and what it’s like to be an animal. Something amazing happens to him and he finds out how wild life as an animal can be.

AniMalcolm is a vibrant, energetic and funny musical, based on David Baddiel’s book. “AniMalcolm was my third book for children, and I think it’s my funniest,” says self-confessed animal-lover David, who has four cats and a guinea pig. “Animals are loveable, cute, sweet, friendly, and nice to cuddle, but they are also, always, funny. They are deadpan – their faces never really change… Which, if they’re falling off a sofa, or running into a plate-glass window, is definitely the funniest face to make.”

The production by Story Pocket Theatre combines physical theatre, puppetry and storytelling to bring the comic tale to the stage.

The show is suitable for children aged seven years and up and tickets cost £12, £10 concessions or £35 for a family.

    To book tickets for AniMalcolm at 2pm or 6pm call 01494 512000 or visit

For the full tour, which also includes shows at Aylesbury Waterside in March, visit

We have a family ticket (four tickets) to give away too, to see the show at a venue of the winner’s choice!
Click here to enter before 12pm on 11th February 2019.

Live & Direct

Liz Nicholls

Wycombe Swan

Historian, broadcaster and TV presenter Dan Snow tells us more about his upcoming History Guy tour…

Q:What will you be talking about in your show? “A large chunk will be about local history, with direct relevance to the place we’re in…”

Q: Do people want to recount their personal histories, too? “Yes, they often want to tell me all about their family or the part their family played in history, such as a soldier in the First World War. A huge number of people tell me stories about their ancestors. They’ll say something like ‘My father was the first black RAF pilot’. Listening to them, you realise how many firsts there are.”

Q: Is your hope that you can captivate audiences with your infectious enthusiasm? “Yes! History is not all about dead kings, old libraries and dust: it’s everything! It’s your parents’ eyes meeting across a crowded room and why we are who we are and why we are speaking English and why it’s acceptable for women and men to mingle together. I hope people walk out of the theatre saying that they had a really good time. I also hope they leave having thought deeply about the past of their town, their country and their world. I just love this country – there is so much character and history here. Wherever you go in Britain, there are so many stories.”

Q: What do you think are the benefits of studying history? “It’s very good for your mental health to go to these places. When I went to Odiham Castle recently it was a beautiful sunlit morning – not a bad way to spend 20 minutes. Being a historian is a lovely job, but we can all do it at any time.”

Q: Tell us about your channel, History Hit TV. “Life is very exciting at the moment. Our podcasts have a million listeners. I love doing the podcast because of its simplicity and speed.”

Q: What you do in your spare time? “We go on holiday and visit historic sites! The kids are more manageable when you’re doing stuff with them. Having them around the house in winter is brutal. Looking around Winchester or Basingstoke is great fun. Walking around the Roman walls of Chester is a really good day out. You’re a better parent if you take your children to these historic places; it makes better citizens. We’re also on the water all the time. I often row with the kids near our house.”

Q: Did you inherit your love of history from your family? “Yes. My dad is fantastic on the heritage side. I inherited that from him. He has relentless energy. Also, my Welsh grandma, Nain, was a huge storyteller. She taught me to give history a human element and to bring it alive. I hope my history is real and vivid because of her.”

Enjoy Dan Snow: An Evening with “The History Guy” at The Swan in High Wycombe on Thursday, 7th July. For tickets, visit or call 01494 512 000.