Prague’s Old Town Square is a location so full of historical sights that one almost doesn’t know where to look first. But at the moment, one of the landmarks, a monumental sculptural group on the north side of the square, is hidden from sight. The bronze memorial to the Czech church reformer Jan Hus is under scaffolding and covered by a tarpaulin because it is undergoing much needed renovation. The sculpture, unveiled in 1915, is the best-known work by the Czech sculptor Ladislav Saloun.
This week in Mailbox: we reveal the name of our November mystery man and announce the names of the winners of our monthly listeners’ competition. Listeners quoted: Keith A. Simmonds, Bart Caspers, Constantin Liviu Viorel, Christine Takaguchi-Coates, Keith Wixtrom, David Eldridge, Ciaran Parker, Lola Hamrayeva, Charles Konecny, Annette Harris.
Josef Lada’s paintings have reached iconic status here in the Czech Republic, and you may be familiar with them too, without even knowing it. Lada was the illustrator who gave the smiling, rotund, Good Soldier Svejk his form. In the course of his career, he illustrated over 200 books - some, fairytale anthologies for children, others, like Svejk, intended for grown ups. Now Josef Lada is the subject of a major new retrospective in Prague.
Internationally the Czech writer Karel Capek is best known as the inventor (together with his brother Josef) of the term “robot” in his 1920 play R.U.R. With his novels, stories and plays combining humour, satire and a strong humanist vision, Karel Capek was hugely popular in pre-war Czechoslovakia. But this was a time when Hitler’s Germany was casting a dark shadow over Central Europe and it is hardly surprising that one of the few recordings of Capek in our archives - speaking on Christmas Eve 1937 - does not bear a cheerful message.
At this time of year, Prague’s cemeteries are carpeted with red and yellow leaves, and in this chilly weather, you are quite unlikely to bump into that many other visitors. Prague’s thirty-or-so city maintained cemeteries offer a step back from the hustle and bustle and traffic jams of the metropolis - and provide the visitor with a glimpse into the Czech capital’s history as well.
Jaroslav Jezek, who died in wartime exile in New York at the age of just 35, is one of the legends of twentieth century Czech music. He is best known for the songs he composed for the famous pre-war satirical cabaret, the Liberated Theatre, and he was also one of the pioneers of Czech jazz, fearlessly crossing the borders between popular and classical music. In November 1934, the young composer – he was 28 at the time - came into the radio and talked about jazz.
Robbie Williams vs. Liam Gallagher, Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera; high-profile fall-outs are pretty common in the world of pop music. But perhaps less so on the folk music scene. But the bust-up between Czech folk singers Jaromir Nohavica and Jaroslav Hutka has just become even bigger. Last week, Mr Hutka, who lived for ten years in exile in the Netherlands, having been forced out of communist Czechoslovakia in 1978, laid into fellow singer-songwriter Jaromir Nohavica for his collaboration with the secret police at the end of the 1980s.
Jan Antonin Bata was a man of mixed fortune: a man of wealth and influence who stood at the head a shoe empire, but also a man forced to flee his homeland where he was labeled a Nazi collaborator and sentenced to 15 years in prison. But now, more than four decades after his death, the Czech judiciary has cleared his name.
Originally from Olomouc, central Moravia, singer-songwriter Jaroslav Hutka established himself as one of the most original figures in Czech folk music in the late 1960s. In 1978, he was forced out of the country by the communist regime only to return in November 1989 when he became one of the faces of the Velvet Revolution.
In the 1930s Prague was a modern city, with a passion for innovation. New buildings were springing up, celebrating the technology of steel, chrome and glass, jazz and swing were playing on the radio, and despite the impact of the world economic crisis, the Czech love of the motor-car was growing fast. One of the gems in our pre-war archives is a report from 1st January 1936 on the city's first traffic light. The intrepid reporter is standing at a busy Prague crossroads, and we hear the traffic roaring around him.