Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Confessions of a philosopher: Bryan Magee’s final interview – Audio Long Reads

As a broadcaster, politician and thinker, Magee led a rich and restless life to the very end.

By Jason Cowley

As a philosophy student in the 1980s, the New Statesman’s editor-in-chief Jason Cowley learned more from Bryan Magee than from any seminar or lecture. Magee’s 1987 BBC television series The Great Philosophers, described by one critic as “two boffins on a sofa”, examined some of life’s most recondite questions in an accessible way. Magee was also a prolific author (of philosophy, poetry and fiction), a Labour and then an SDP politician. But when Cowley later met Magee, sent to interview him by the Times in 1997, he was struck by something the philosopher said as he left: “I get the impression that you feel I am lonely and unfulfilled.” 

Was he? Eleven years later, now editor of the New Statesman, Cowley visited Magee in a nursing hospital in Oxford, shortly after publication of the 87-year-old’s book Ultimate Questions. The issues that had made Magee restless in his sixties still loomed large: “What the hell is it all about?” he asked, and compared himself unfavourably to Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper, men he had known (“they were a whole class above me in intelligence”). In this rich and beautifully observed profile, Cowley explores these themes, as well as the formative years of one of Britain’s most interesting thinkers. 

Written and read by Jason Cowley. 

This article originally appeared in the 08 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman. You can read the text version here.

If you enjoyed listening to this, you might enjoy Grayson Perry on the rise and fall of the Default Man

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Subscribers can get an ad free version of the NS Podcast on the New Statesman app

Podcast listeners can subscribe to the New Statesman for just £1 a week for 12 weeks using our special offer. Just visit

Content from our partners
Why collaboration is the key to growth
How AI can help unleash employee potential
How Registers of Scotland modernised the world’s oldest land register

How to listen to Audio Long Reads

1. In podcast apps

Audio Long Reads is available to listen on all major podcast players, including Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsYouTube and more. Either click the links above to open in your preferred player, or open the podcast app on your device and search for “Audio Long Reads”. Follow or subscribe in your podcast app to receive new episodes as soon as they publish.

2. On the New Statesman website

The podcast is also available to listen right here on the New Statesman website. Bookmark, where we will publish new episodes every Saturday morning.

3. On your smart speaker

If you have an Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod, ask it to “play the latest episode of Audio Long Reads from the New Statesman”. The command will also work on other smart devices equipped with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri.

Topics in this article :