Gagarin statue

Gagarin statue

Gagarin statue

What follows is a transcript of the specially recorded podcast you can hear in the embedded player below.

The Exchange – Episode 2 – Yuri Gagarin by British Council

NARRATION
Welcome to our online radio programme, The Exchange – an exchange of views and ideas between you and the British Council.

My name’s Rosie Goldsmith and I’ll be telling you about some of the British Council’s people and projects, in the UK and round the world – and in exchange you tell us what you think.

Today we’re celebrating a great man and a great event – – the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and his heroic space flight 50 years ago.

The sun is shining, everyone’s smiling, Russian school girls in folk costume are waving flags. British Royals Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are here, as well as politicians, tourists, astronauts and journalists from both Russia and the UK.

We’re all gathered outside the British Council offices near Admiralty Arch in central London, to witness the unveiling of a statue to Yuri Gagarin.

Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British CouncilMartin Davidson, British Council CEO, speech extract
“The very first man to travel into space holds a unique place in human history. The flight was a genuine breakthrough, combined the determination of mankind to stretch the boundaries of science and technology, together with the incredible bravery of an individual, Yuri Gagarin, in stepping into the unknown.”

 

NARRATION
Martin Davidson, the British Council’s Chief Executive, speaking on this historic day for Britain and Russia: 14 July 2011.

50 years ago to the day, Yuri Gagarin, then the world’s most famous man, visited London, just three months after his pioneering mission.

On 14 July 1961, Gagarin met Prime Minister Macmillan and had lunch with the Queen. In both London and Manchester he was mobbed like a rock star by thousands of people. No matter that he came from the Communist Soviet Union – Gagarin united nations with his charm and courage.

The statue of Gagarin is a gift from the Russian Space Agency, Roskomsos. Its director, Vladimir Popovkin, has also brought a message from the Russian President.

 Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Vladimir A. PopovkinMessage, read by Vladimir Popovkin
I am sure that the erection of a monument in London that Yuri Gagarin visited half a century ago will serve to strengthen the friendship and collaboration between Russian and Great Britain and the new generation of researchers and specialists from both our countries will honourably continue the traditions of their predecessors.
I wish you all the very best.
The president of Russia, Dimitri Medvedev

NARRATION
Yuri Gagarin was 27 when he orbited the earth. He died only seven years later, aged 34 – tragically young. He left behind two young daughters – and one of them, Elena, is guest of honour in London.

Elena Gagarina, General Director of Moscow Kremlin MuseumsElena Gagarina, speech extract
I greet all the people who came today to the ceremony. I would like to express my gratitude to all Londoners and to the UK for making Gagarin a Londoner. Thank you very much.

NARRATION
Gagarin The Londoner is a life-sized statue standing on a globe. He’s shown in his space suit, his arms outstretched. Made from aluminium and zinc, the statue looks light and friendly.

There are statues of her father all over Russia, so I asked Elena Gagarina how this one compares.

Elena Gagarina, speech extract
There are something like 50 statues all over the country, all different – some just portraits, some look like my father very much, some are symbolic representations of flight into space.

Rosie Goldsmith
Do you like the statue of your father?

Elena Gagarina
Yes I like it very much! This monument combines the two aspects: it looks like my father and it has symbolic meaning.

Rosie Goldsmith
It’s wonderful – it looks as though he’s inviting the world to dance with his arms open wide.

Elena Gagarina
Well, not to dance but to go into space! He thought this was very exciting. He wanted to continue exploration into space many times and was ready for that.

His job was so important. It was absolutely new. He was the first man who was able to discover something unexpected. Having this statue in London is a symbolic message of friendship and very good relations between our people.

NARRATION
Inside the British Council, we are treated to further examples of British/Russian cultural cooperation: an exhibition of rare photos and Soviet space memorabilia, and – to great excitement – a video message from astronauts currently working on the International Space Station.

NARRATION
The fact that any of this is happening today is largely thanks to the long, close collaboration and friendship between Elena Gagarina – also Director of the Kremlin Museums in Moscow – and Andrea Rose, the director of Visual Arts at the British Council.
For Andrea, the erection of the statue in London is a milestone.

Andrea Rose
There’s been no Russian statuary – other than an Imperial eagle – ever brought over from Russia. The significance is manifold. We are an international relations organization. To be able to host probably the greatest and most untarnished icon of the Soviet era is an extraordinary thing to be able to do. Gagarin was unreservedly admired for his bravery, youth, extraordinary endeavour and venture into the unknown.

Rosie Goldsmith
The British Council has had a very rocky relationship with Russia in recent years. How do you think a project like this can help?

Andrea Rose
I don’t deny the British Council’s difficulties with Russia, but during this difficult period cultural programmes have remained. I put on a big Turner exhibition in Moscow the year British Council relations with St Petersburg were severed [2008]. So we have always been able to maintain war cultural relations of considerable warmth even when diplomatic relations were rather cold.

Our relations with Russia are complicated. I believe the Russians think the British look down on them. A statue helps, as statues for Russians carry an iconic meaning which we don’t have really any more. It will help Britain to see them in a different way.

NARRATION
Part of the British Council’s commitment to the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight is to support a whole host of commemorative space-linked science and arts projects. Music, theatre, cinema, books, lectures, exhibitions – and First Orbit, a film by Christopher Riley, a specialist in space and science documentaries.

Chris Riley
I grew up completely excited by this whole aspect of human nature and human exploration. But I was disappointed that very first human being who flew into space didn’t film the view of earth that he had.

NARRATION
So, 50 years later, Chris Riley made the film Gagarin might have made of his first orbit, all 108 minutes of it, overlaid with specially commissioned music, Radio Moscow’s commentary at the time, and Gagarin’s original voice messages to Earth, which the British Council in Moscow helped to find and fund.

Chris Riley
We’re all familiar with the things that are said from space – the famous words, like Armstrong’s step on the moon – but no one had ever really heard what Gagarin had said seeing the Earth for the first time. Here for a wide audience is his voice set against these wonderful new pictures. I’m thrilled.

NARRATION
Chris Riley’s aim was to film Gagarin’s exact same journey today at the exact same time so that we can see exactly what Gagarin saw then. But to do that Chris needed an astronaut. Paolo Nespoli became his space cameraman.

Chris Riley
We had to use real astronauts to film it, even though Id love to have done it. I could have had astronaut training or paid 20,000 dollars – but that was not really an option.

I must say astronauts are notoriously bad at using cameras. They don’t clean the lenses, they put everything on automatic, focus, exposure. So you very often don’t get good focus – or a perfectly focused window but a blurred Earth beyond it. So right at the start of filming I made a list: clean the lens etc. Paolo, brilliant though he was, didn’t have time to do all that, but that’s human – what that adds to the film is reality.

NARRATION
And in a unique global event, Chris Riley premiered his film online on 22 April 2011, the very day 50 years after Gagarin’s famous flight.

Piers Bizony
Yuri Gagarin, to me, is a fascinating figure because we all know his name but very few know much about his life after he came home.

NARRATION
Piers Bizony, one of Britain’s leading space historians, has been closely involved with the British Council’s Gagarin projects. He’s also the first non-Russian to write a biography – with Jamie Doran – of Gagarin. Called Starman, it uncovers new sides of the man, his mission and the secretive Soviet space programme.

So for starters, how does Piers Bizony explain how a poor farmer’s son became the first man in space?

Piers Bizony
One of the great flaws or myths is that Gagarin was the son of peasant farmers. He lived on a collective farm, born in 1934, but collective farms were drawn from all strata of society. His mother was very well educated, she read to him every night, she loved Russian literature; his father was a skilled craftsman. So to say he came from peasant origins is a bit of a myth.

Rosie Goldsmith
Did Yuri Gagarin have any faults?

Piers Bizony
If there were some dark moments in Gagarin’s life that were caused by the pressures of superstardom. After his epic journey, when he returned to earth, women threw themselves at him, there was pressure on his family, he never returned to the job he loved most, being a astronaut.

Rosie Goldsmith
Did you feel the Russian side of the story had not been told?

Piers Bizony
When we are dealing with NASA, it’s been told, because American society, for all its flaws, is relatively open. When you deal with the Soviet Union you realise that so much of the story has not been told. Getting behind the propaganda is difficult. I did feel that no-one in the west really knew who Gagarin was as a man, a person, and that nobody had ever heard of the man who had put Yuri Gagarin into space, Sergei Korolev.

NARRATION
Sergei Korolev, the genius behind the Russian space programme, was a prime victim of Soviet secrecy . His name was never mentioned publicly for fear he would be kidnapped or his ideas stolen by the Americans.

Today, with the Cold War over, and the space race between East and West at an end, these secrets are being exposed. But Gagarin’s character and heroism remain firmly intact: he really was a remarkable man.

How does Elena Gagarina remember her father?

Elena Gagarina
He was a person who was interested in everything. He wanted to know everything. He was not like other people. He never sat at home watching TV, he did sport and he was very healthy.

Rosie Goldsmith
How was he as a father?

Elena Gagarina
He was always very busy. He had so many abilities. He told us important stories of his life about the war, World War II, he spent childhood in an area occupied by German troops. He wanted us to be healthy, to do sports, to get up early every morning to do exercises. We didn’t like it very much, but it was the rule! He thought it very important, and all my life I have continued doing that.

Sergei Krikalev
Right now some people say, well it was a relatively short flight, and not much science was done during that flight – but that’s not completely true.

NARRATION
Sergei Krikalev is also here in London for the unveiling of the statue. He is one of Russia’s most famous living cosmonauts – he’s flown on six missions and spent more time in space than any other human being. Today he’s director of Star City, the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre. As a fellow astronaut, how does he assess Gagarin’s legacy?

Sergei Krikalev
People forget that there was serious doubt if a human was even able to survive in space. Weightlessness was like falling down, we didn’t know if people could breathe normally. Gagarin proved it with his flight.

Ofcourse it was done during Soviet Union time and I think because of all this excitement towards science, technology and education then that motivation was high. People were ready to go to the unknown. That’s why Gagarin is an ambassador not only for the Soviet Union but for humankind.

Rosie Goldmsith
Are there many young Russians today wanting to be astronauts?

Sergei Krikalev
We are training 40 Russian cosmonauts in training. But we also have a lot of foreigners, because some Russians are training fro flight also in Ho9uston or with the European Space Agency. Now we have a return of interest.

Rosie Goldsmith
Mars of the Moon next? Will you go?

Sergei Krikalev
For sure!

NARRATION
On this beautiful summer’s day outside the British Council’s London Headquarters, the crowds are still thronging round the newly unveiled statue of Gagarin. He was a handsome man, physically small but with a smile that lit up the Cold War. A figurehead, then and now, for human endeavour and of friendship between nations.

Gazing up at his statue with me is Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman.

Helen Sharman
Gagarin’s always been really significant. Ever since I first set foot in Star City and saw a huge statue of Gagarin I knew that he is a way of life for all cosmonauts. I was out one night and came back after a party – the snow was falling and the statue was lit up. It was a special moment which comes back to life when I see this statue outside the British Council offices.

Rosie Goldsmith
It’s extraordinary to think that even today we are still worshipping this man from 50 years ago.

Helen Sharman
Gagarin kicked us off 50 years ago but we’ve already started a new phase for the next 50 years. Space flight has become commonplace but we are making new discoveries, new collaborative ventures, many different countries are involved.

Rosie Goldsmith
How do you answer the critics that say that space is a waste of time and money?

Helen Sharman
Anything is a waste of time if you are not interested in it. We go into space to explore, not just to do science. Pushing forward our boundaries, seeing how we can live in different environments, moving further and further onwards. It’s what humankind has always done, what the British nation has always done, and I don’t see why we should stop.

NARRATION
It’s been a good day for the British Council. The last few years have been difficult for UK/Russian relations. Chief Executive Martin Davidson tells me he hopes that the goodwill generated over the Gagarin statue bodes well for future UK/Russian cooperation.

The British Council already has a busy programme of joint events planned for the year ahead.

Martin Davidson
We’re incredibly excited by the opportunity to symbolize a shift in the relationship, but a shift in the relationship which is around the things we care about, which is the scientific, educational and cultural relationship, not just the political one.

Rosie Goldsmith
But this does have political implications?

Martin Davidson
Yes, it does. I hope it does! We know that Russia is gong to be one of the most important partners for the UK in the foreseeable future. It’s a country we must have close relations with. And that means a relationship across the entire piece – so our contribution is to emphasize the part that the educational, scientific and cultural relations make towards the rest of it.

NARRATION
That’s it from this edition of The Exchange.

Do email, blog, tweet or Facebook us. What are your views on Space Research? Or of Yuri Gagarin? Do you think scientific and cultural cooperation between the UK and Russia actually matters?

This is the Exchange with me Rosie Goldsmith – brought to you by the British Council.

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