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The Pinball Champion Defying Expectations

Canadian Robert Gagno's success has helped him prove that autism doesn't define him.

Last year a 27-year-old Canadian called Robert Gagno won the World Pinball Championship. Robert has autism so taking part in the sport has been a way of building an independent life.

Image: Robert Gagno



Phil Ellis Is Trying

Series 2 Pinball

Phil will solve your problems. Well, he'll try. Sitcom also starring Johnny Vegas.

Ghosts from Phil's past catch up with him, when he discovers Parbold is hosting the World Pinball Championships.

When Phil discovers Parbold is hosting the World Pinball Championships, he sees a way to solve his money troubles by winning the big cash prize. But it's not just him who wants the money, as Phil's past catches up with him. Meanwhile, Polly starts a pet-walking business as a sideline.

Written by Phil Ellis and Fraser Steele.


Phil Ellis as Phil

Johnny Vegas as Johnny

Amy Gledhill as Polly

Terry Mynott as Barry Bean

Katia Kvinge as Ellie/Barber

Sunil Patel as Announcer/Bear owner

and with special guest star Sean Lock as The Dragon

Produced by Sam Michell

A BBC Studios production


Short Cuts

Series 11 The Leap

Josie Long hears stories of people who take a leap of faith.

Josie Long presents stories on people taking a leap of faith - from acts of love and courage to pinball wizardry. From 2017.

Josie Long hears stories of courage, fresh hope and pinball wizardry - from two lawyers who pursue a sudden courageous career change in middle age to the pursuit of new love after loss.

The items in the programme are:

Go For It!

Featuring Rev. Zenji Nio

Produced by Just Be Cuz

Geis and Geis: Pinball Machine Distributors

Featuring Ruth and Jim Geis

Produced by Sarah Geis


Featuring Laura Barton

The Understudy

Produced by Sophie Townsend with Mira Burt-Wintonick and Cristal Duhaime

Originally made for the CBC podcast series Love Me

Series Producer: Eleanor McDowall

A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in March 2017.

Health Matters

A Lesson In Fertility

Report from the Infertility Maze exhibition at the Science Museum in London

Report from the Infertility Maze exhibition at the Science Museum in London. A pinball machine is used to help children learn about the medical and moral issues surrounding infertility. The exhibition is aimed to improve understand among all ages. Also in the programme, sex education books aimed at younger people.

Last Word


John Wilson on Davy Jones, Jean Pateman, Steve Kordek and Betty Parsons.

John Wilson on singer Davy Jones of The Monkees, Jean Pateman who saved Highgate Cemetery from closure, pinball machine engineer Steve Kordek and childbirth guru Betty Parsons.

John Wilson on

Davy Jones - the child actor from Manchester who became a Monkee in California. Last Word hears from his bandmate Peter Tork.

Jean Pateman who led the campaign to save Highgate Cemetery from closure in the 70s, remained the guardian of the place for 30 years and became the basis of a character in a bestselling novel by Audrey Niffenegger


Steve Kordek, the man who, in the 1940s, revolutionised the game of pinball by adding the electric flippers.

And childbirth guru Betty Parsons whose clients included the Queen and Princess Diana.


Last Word


The Pharmacist Who Took on the Mafia

Italian Rita Borsellino took up her brother's work after he was murdered by the mafia.

Italian Rita Borsellino took up her brother's work after he was murdered by the mafia. She told Matthew Bannister her story.

Italian Rita Borsellino's brother was a top anti-mafia judge in Sicily. When he was murdered by the group, she quit her job as a pharmacist and continued his work.

Oscar Ekponimo grew up with very little food in Nigeria. He then became a software engineer and has invented an app that aims to end food waste by connecting retailers with charities who distribute provisions to the hungry.

Last year a 27-year-old Canadian called Robert Gagno won the World Pinball Championship. Robert has autism so taking part in the sport has been a way of building an independent life.

Image: Rita Borsellino

Credit: Marcello Paternostro /AFP/Getty Images




Jean-Claude Juncker

Mark Coles profiles the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mark Coles profiles the man who will pull the strings during Brexit negotiations, the President of the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has been called 'the chief Eurocrat' by the British press and accused of looking to bully Britain during the Brexit negotiations. But what do we know about the man Theresa May has promised to be 'a bloody difficult woman' to?

One of the longest serving democratically elected leaders in the world, Juncker was Prime Minister of Luxembourg for eighteen years. A workaholic, with a famously informal greeting style that sometimes involves affectionately slapping world leaders, Juncker has developed a political reputation as a negotiator, skilled at finding compromises between two sides.

But in his spare time, he's a pinball wizard.



Sue Lawley's castaway is writer Ian Rankin

Sue Lawley's castaway is writer Ian Rankin.

Sue Lawley's castaway this week is the writer Ian Rankin. Ian Rankin is an award-winning writer of crime fiction and the creator of the Scottish detective John Rebus who has featured in 17 novels to date.

Born in Fife, Rankin came from a working-class background in a coal-mining town where he says he spent most of his childhood trying to "look like he fitted in". In his bedroom he would live out a fantasy life, writing poems, stories and creating strip-cartoons. He admits there are many parallels between himself and Rebus - they lived at the same Edinburgh address, both are fond of a drink and now they even share the same taste in music, though unlike Rebus, Rankin has never smoked. However all that is about to change; Rebus has reached the age of retirement in the police force and Rankin's next novel will be the last in the series.

[Taken from the original programme material for this archive edition of Desert Island Discs]

Favourite track: Solid Air by John Martyn

Book: A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

Luxury: Pinball machine (traditional American one)


Sue Lawley
Interviewed Guest
Ian Rankin

Alan Johnston with personal insights from Peter Svaar in Norway and Hugh Thomson in Peru

Alan Johnston presents insights from correspondents abroad. Today, Peter Svaar on what became of his schoolmate Anders Behring Breivik; Hugh Thomson on what Peru's new President has to offer the poor

Alan Johnston introduces personal insights and analysis from correspondents around the world. In this edition, Peter Svaar reflects on what happened to the Anders Behring Breivik he once knew at school, while Hugh Thomson asks what Peru's newly inaugurated President will be able to offer the country's poor.

Crossing the path of a killer - twice

Countless words have been said or written about what happened in Norway. But still we struggle to understand the man who set off the bomb in Oslo, and then murdered so many more on Utoya island.

What shaped the mind of Anders Behring Breivik? More than most of us, Peter Svaar would like to know the answer to that question. He was one of the first reporters on the scene of the bomb, and for him everything that's happened feels especially close to home.

Political pinball in Peru

The former army officer, Ollanta Humala was sworn in as Peru's new president on just a few days ago. It might seem like a good moment to rise to power: the country is largely at peace, and prospering economically.

But all the same, the relatively inexperienced Ollanta Humala will face some major challenges. As Hugh Thomson explains, fullfilling the dreams of those who put him in the presidential palace won't be easy.



Bill Kenwright, Joe Brown, Katrina van Grouw, Liam Carson

Libby Purves meets theatre producer Bill Kenwright and musician Joe Brown.

Libby Purves meets musician Joe Brown, theatre producer Bill Kenwright, artist and taxidermist Katrina van Grouw and writer Liam Carson.

Libby Purves meets musician Joe Brown; theatre producer Bill Kenwright; artist and taxidermist Katrina van Grouw and writer Liam Carson.

Joe Brown MBE is one of the original rock 'n'roll stars to come out of the UK. Over the last five decades he has played guitar with Gene Vincent; Eddie Cochran and Johnny Cash and topped the charts with his band Joe Brown and the Bruvvers. His new album, 'The Ukulele Album', is a tribute to the instrument and includes his version of Pinball Wizard; Mr Blue Sky and The Ace of Spades. Joe Brown is currently touring the UK.

Bill Kenwright CBE is a leading West End theatre producer and film producer. He is also chairman of Everton Football Club. He is currently a judge on a new Sky Arts series, the Nation's Best Am Dram. During the course of the series amateur theatre groups compete to perform in the West End helped by celebrity mentors including Roger Allam; Richard Wilson and Dame Harriet Walter.

Katrina van Grouw is a fine artist; taxidermist and a former curator of the ornithological collections at the Natural History Museum. Her book, 'The Unfeathered Bird', features over 300 drawings representing 200 bird species. Each drawing is based on an actual specimen that she prepared. 'The Unfeathered Bird' is published by Princeton University Press.

Writer Liam Carson is the founder and director of the IMRAM Irish Language Literature Festival which showcases the Irish language in modern literature. In his memoir, 'Call Mother A Lonely Field', he writes about his father's love of language and the complex relationship between a son thinking in English and a father dreaming in Irish. 'Call Mother A Lonely Field' is published by Seren.

Producer: Paula McGinley.


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