Witness History

Witness History

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004t1hd
History as told by the people who were there.


The 1960s report that warned the USA was racist
Jul 10 • 13 min
In the summer of 1967 more than 100 cities in America were caught up in riots. US Senator Fred Harris urged the President, Lyndon B Johnson, to investigate the causes. He set up the Kerner Commission and appointed Fred Harris as one of 11 members to find…
The death of Frida Kahlo
Jul 9 • 8 min
The great Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, died on July 13th 1954, at the age of 47. The art critic, Raquel Tibol, lived in Frida’s house during the last year of the artist’s life. In 2014 she spoke to Mike Lanchin for Witness History about the pain and…
Montreal’s ‘Night of Terror’
Jul 8 • 9 min
When Montreal’s police force went on strike for one day over pay in 1969, there was looting and rioting in the streets. But the city’s problems leading to the unrest had been building for more than a decade. Organised crime, militant separatists and…
The unlawful death of Christopher Alder
Jul 7 • 13 min
The black former soldier choked to death in handcuffs on the floor of a British police station in 1998. CCTV footage taken from the police station showed the 37 year-old father of two gasping for air as officers chatted and joked around him. It took 11…
The doctor who discovered how cholera spread
Jul 6 • 9 min
In the 1800s cholera was a mysterious disease killing millions around the world. No-one knew how to stop it till an English doctor, John Snow, began investigating the outbreak of 1854. At a time before germ theory was properly understood, many public…
How South Africa banned skin-lightening creams
Jul 3 • 9 min
In 1990, South Africa became the first country in the world to ban skin-lightening creams containing the chemical compound hydroquinone. For years the creams had caused an irreversible form of skin damage called ochronosis for the black and Asian South…
The lost Nazi-era art trove
Jul 2 • 13 min
In 2012 a stunning, secret collection of art was found in Germany. Much of it had disappeared during Nazi rule in the 1930s and 40s. It had once belonged to one of the Nazi’s top art dealers, Hildebrand Gurlitt. It was found by chance in the Munich…
Quarantined in a TB sanatorium
Jul 1 • 9 min
What it was like to be a child quarantined in a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in the 1950s. Ann Shaw was nine when she was first admitted to the Craig-y-nos sanatorium in Wales and 13 when she was finally allowed home. Until antibiotic treatments…
The Rolling Stones drugs trial
Jun 30 • 8 min
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards went on trial for drugs offences in June 1967. The case attracted attention around the world, and sealed their reputation as rebels. The men were originally sentenced to prison but on appeal their sentences were drastically…
Jana Andolan – Nepal’s people power movement
Jun 29 • 10 min
A people’s movement called Jana Andolan brought an end to Nepal’s absolute monarchy in the spring of 1990. Political parties worked together with students, workers and civil society groups to organise strikes and street protests – but although the king…
Russia’s bitter taste of capitalism
Jun 26 • 8 min
Chaos and hardship hit Russia with the rapid market reforms in early 1992, just weeks after the collapse of the USSR. In 2018 Dina Newman spoke to one of the architects of this “shock therapy” - Andrei Nechaev, who was then the Minister for Economic…
The Chilean economy and its ‘Chicago Boys’
Jun 25 • 9 min
Following the violent military coup that overthrew Chile’s socialist government in 1973, the new regime led by General Augusto Pinochet began a radical overhaul of the economy. It was based on a free-market economic plan created by a group of economists…
Tanzania’s socialist experiment
Jun 24 • 9 min
In the late 1960s Tanzania’s first post-independence president, the charismatic Julius Nyerere, believed that endemic poverty in rural areas could only be addressed if peasant farmers relocated to larger villages and worked collectively. It was part of a…
South Korea’s economic miracle
Jun 23 • 14 min
An eyewitness account of how a poor, war-ravaged nation became a global economic powerhouse. We hear the memories of Dr Kongdan Oh, who grew up in South Korea in the 1950s, in the aftermath of the Korean War. The country had been left devastated by the…
The New Deal
Jun 22 • 8 min
When Franklin D Roosevelt became President in 1933 he promised to spend his first 100 days rescuing the USA from the Great Depression with one of the biggest public spending projects in history - the New Deal. Photo: Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935. Credit:…
The ‘Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes’ anti-racist exercise
Jun 19 • 13 min
When Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, US school teacher, Jane Elliott, decided to try to teach her all-white class about racism. She decided to segregate them according to the colour of their eyes, and treated them differently. Although…
The friendship train
Jun 18 • 10 min
The passenger train service between India and Bangladesh was resumed after more than 40 years. The train service had been suspended after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan of which Bangladesh was then a part. Partitioned in 1947, Bengal was divided…
Sex trafficking and peacekeepers
Jun 17 • 9 min
In the late 1990s, whistle-blowers implicated UN peacekeepers and international police in the forced prostitution and trafficking of Eastern European women into Bosnia, which was just emerging from a bitter civil war. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to…
Beethoven’s role in China’s Cultural Revolution
Jun 16 • 13 min
During the early years of Cultural Revolution in China, all European music was banned. Even enjoying traditional Chinese music and art was illegal. Anyone found with old instruments or recordings could be imprisoned. But that didn’t stop some musicians…
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the Five Stages of Grief
Jun 15 • 10 min
Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. When Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her bestselling book On Death and Dying in 1969, she described a series of emotional stages that she had seen terminally ill patients experience –…
Three Strikes Law
Jun 12 • 14 min
One man’s experience of the controversial US law that saw thousands locked up for life. Under the law in California, a third conviction for a felony offence would lead to a life sentence. At times in California, 45% of “three strikers” were African…
Rodney King and the LA riots
Jun 11 • 8 min
People took to the streets of Los Angeles in fury after police, who had assaulted a black driver called Rodney King, were acquitted in 1992. His assault had been captured on video and played repeatedly on US television. In 2012 Nina Robinson spoke to…
Black basketball pioneers - Texas Western
Jun 10 • 8 min
In 1966, an all-black team went head-to-head with an all-white team for the National College Basketball championship - one of the biggest prizes in American sport. To much surprise, the African-Americans of Texas Western College defeated the University of…
The 16th Street church bombing
Jun 9 • 8 min
Four young black girls were killed in a racist attack on a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. The 16th Street Baptist Church was a centre for civil rights activists in the city. One of the girls who died was Addie Mae Collins, her sister, Sarah…
Brown v the Board of Education
Jun 8 • 8 min
In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional. The case was a turning point in the long battle for civil rights in America. In 2017 Farhana Haider spoke to Cheryl Brown Henderson, the…
The portable defibrillator
Jun 5 • 9 min
In the 1960s, doctors in Northern Ireland launched the world’s first mobile coronary emergency service using a new invention – the portable defibrillator. The defibrillators – which initially worked off ambulance car batteries - saved dozens of heart…
The origin of the WHO
Jun 4 • 9 min
The WHO was first proposed as part of the new United Nations programme to reform the post-war world. The idea for an international health organisation to help promote good health globally was put forward by a member of the Chinese delegation, Szeming Sze.…
How Christo wrapped the Reichstag
Jun 3 • 9 min
The artist Christo died on May 31st 2020. Famous for wrapping landmarks in fabric and plastic, one of his most ambitious projects was the former German parliament building which sat on the border between East and West Berlin. It had been gutted by fire in…
The Zanzibar Revolution
Jun 2 • 10 min
Just one month after gaining independence there was an uprising in Zanzibar in 1964. It was billed as a leftist revolution but the worst of the violence was ethnically targeted. Zanzibar’s complex history meant the islands were home to a very diverse…
The start of eco-tourism
Jun 1 • 9 min
The Monteverde cloud forest reserve in Costa Rica was established in the 1970s with the help of a group of American Quakers. The aim was to protect its unique habitat and abundant exotic wildlife. It has become one of Central America’s top tourist…
Ann Lowe - African American fashion designer
May 29 • 8 min
Ann Cole Lowe designed Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress in the 1950s. As a black woman working in high fashion she was a groundbreaking figurein New York. Sharon Hemans has been speaking to Judith Guile who went to work with Ann Lowe in her Madison Avenue…
Winston Churchill’s doctor
May 28 • 8 min
Many people were shocked when Winston Churchill’s personal doctor published his memories of Britain’s wartime leader in 1966. Churchill’s family tried to halt the publication, but as historian Piers Brendon has been telling Vincent Dowd, the doctor, Lord…
The Gwangju massacre
May 27 • 9 min
The South Korean army crushed a popular uprising in the city of Gwangju on 27 May 1980. Pro-democracy demonstrators had taken control of the city and were calling for an end to military rule. Hundreds of people, many of them students, were shot and beaten…
The book that changed the way we eat
May 25 • 11 min
The best selling book that highlighted the health and environmental benefits of a plant based diet. The publication of “Diet for a Small Planet” in 1971 helped start a conversation about the social and environmental impacts of the foods we choose. Frances…
Britain’s World War Two crime wave
May 22 • 9 min
During times of crisis in the UK, World War Two is often remembered as a period when the country rallied together to fight a common enemy. British politicians still refer to the so-called “Blitz Spirit” when calling for national unity. But as Simon Watts…
Explaining autism
May 21 • 9 min
Ground-breaking work by developmental psychologist Professor Uta Frith has revolutionised our understanding of autism. Beginning in the 1960s, Professor Frith’s research has overturned the long-held belief that autism was a social or emotional disorder,…
The first 3D printer
May 20 • 8 min
In 1983 Chuck Hull invented the first 3D printer. It could produce small plastic objects directly from a digital file on a computer. Instead of using ink the printer used plastic - adding layer upon layer to create an object. At first no-one was…
Kowloon Walled City
May 19 • 10 min
A unique way of life came to an end in Hong Kong in 1993 when Kowloon Walled City was demolished. When the rest of Hong Kong was a British colony, the seven acres of the Walled City were still nominally under the control of mainland China – but it became…
The Miami riots
May 18 • 8 min
After four white policemen were acquitted of killing a black man - Miami rioted. Citizens took to the streets on the night of May 17th 1980. The unrest lasted for three days. 18 people died, hundreds were injured, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth…
Sweden’s fishy submarine scare
May 15 • 12 min
The story of a scientist who helped solve a Cold War mystery involving flatulent fish and Soviet submarines. During the Cold War, foreign submarines infiltrated neutral Sweden’s territorial waters. In response, the Swedish navy built up a secret database…
Confessions of a Prince
May 14 • 9 min
Over a period of four years before his death in December 2004, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the consort and husband of former Queen Juliana, gave a series of secret interviews to two Dutch journalists, on condition that nothing was published until…
Fighting for the pill in Japan
May 13 • 9 min
After decades of campaigning in Japan, the pill was finally legalised in 1999. In contrast the male impotency drug Viagra was approved for use in just six months, and legalised before the contraceptive pill for women. Politician Yoriko Madoka pushed hard…
The first 24-hour children’s helpline
May 12 • 8 min
How a group of broadcasters and social workers in the UK set up the world’s first 24-hour telephone counselling service for children. It revealed just how widespread child abuse was in Britain. Esther Rantzen was the TV presenter behind Childline, and she…
The liberation of the Channel Islands
May 11 • 8 min
The only part of the British Isles to be occupied during World War Two was liberated when the German army surrendered in May 1945. The Channel Islands are situated just off the coast of France, and yet even after the Allies had invaded the French coast,…
VE Day
May 8 • 8 min
On the 8th of May 1945, hundreds of thousands of Londoners took to the streets to celebrate the end of the Second World War in Europe. BBC correspondents captured the scenes of joy across the city - from the East End to Piccadilly Circus. This programme…
The Soviet occupation of Berlin
May 7 • 8 min
After Germany’s surrender to Allied forces in May 1945 Soviet soldiers occupied the German capital Berlin. For ordinary German citizens it was a time of fear and uncertainty. The city had been reduced to rubble and for women in particular, the presence of…
The battle for Berlin
May 6 • 12 min
Hear the eyewitness account of a female Russian soldier and a German schoolboy who fought on opposing sides in the final, brutal battle for the capital of Nazi Germany. The fall of the city to Soviet forces led to the end of the Second World War in Europe…
The death of Hitler
May 5 • 8 min
The German leader Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30th 1945. He had taken shelter in a bunker beneath his government headquarters as the Red Army closed in on Berlin. Louise Hidalgo has gathered firsthand accounts of his death from the BBC’s archives.
The Wehrmacht exhibition that shocked Germany
May 4 • 9 min
An exhibition about the role of the German army the Wehrmacht during the Second World War caused a scandal when it launched in Hamburg in March 1995. “War of Annihilation: Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941-1944” was a key moment in Germany’s reassessment of…
Hiroshima’s trees of hope
May 1 • 9 min
When an atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and injured. Despite many survivors believing nothing would grow in the city for decades, 170 trees survived close to the epicentre…
The Galapagos sea cucumber dispute
Apr 30 • 9 min
A boom in demand for sea cucumbers in Asia in the 1990s set off a confrontation between fishermen and conservationists in the waters off the Galapagos islands, where the protein-rich sea creature was found in abundance. The high price being paid for the…
The assassination of the UN’s first Middle East mediator
Apr 29 • 9 min
The UN’s first Middle East mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1948. A Swedish diplomat and member of the Swedish royal family, Count Bernadotte was killed by Jewish extremists four months after being appointed to try to…
The 1957 flu that killed a million people
Apr 28 • 8 min
In 1957 a new strain of flu emerged in East Asia and quickly spread around the world, killing a million people. It was dubbed the “Asian flu” but it spread to Europe and North and South America. Gabriela Jones has been listening to archive news reports…
Waria warriors - the fight for trans rights in Indonesia
Apr 27 • 9 min
Nancy Iskandar is a magician, snake dancer, former sex worker, committed Muslim and long-time campaigner for transgender women’s rights in Indonesia. Josephine Casserly talks to her about the fight for transgender women to be accepted into Indonesian…
Tennessee Williams on the BBC
Apr 24 • 8 min
The great American playwright gave several interviews to the BBC over the years and some of them provide revealing insights into his personal life. He spoke about loneliness, mental illness and even touched on his own homosexuality at a time when very few…
The Brompton Manley Ventilator
Apr 23 • 10 min
In 1970 a modern portable ventilator system was designed for use in intensive care units. The Brompton Manley’s designer was Dr Ian English a gifted anaesthetist who worked at the Royal Brompton, a specialist London hospital that treated patients with…
Edhi: Pakistan’s ‘Angel of Mercy’
Apr 22 • 10 min
Abdul Sattar Edhi built one of the biggest welfare charities in the world. He started with a small pharmacy in Karachi dispensing free medication to the poor in the 1950s. His wife Bilquis Edhi shared his passion for charity and together they built more…
The last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade
Apr 21 • 8 min
The last surviving person to be captured in Africa in the 19th century and brought to United States on a slave ship, has been identified as a woman called Matilda McCrear, who died in Alabama in 1940. Sean Coughlan has spoken to the historian Hannah…
The Deepwater Horizon disaster
Apr 20 • 11 min
On 20th April 2010, a deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico left 11 people dead. As the rig sank, the riser pipe connecting the platform to the oil well ruptured and began spewing vast amounts of crude oil into the…
Apollo 13: The drama that gripped the world
Apr 17 • 9 min
In April 1970, hundreds of millions of viewers around the world tuned into TV coverage of the drama on board Apollo 13 as it attempted to return safely to Earth after a devastating on-board explosion. The drama revitalised interest in the NASA space…
A space crash
Apr 17 • 8 min
Michael Foale was on board the Mir space station when a resupply vessel crashed into it in June 1997. It was the worst collision in the history of space flight and it sent Mir spinning out of control. Michael was one of the three astronauts who had to try…
When Skylab fell to Earth
Apr 16 • 9 min
In 1979 the world held its breath as the American space station Skylab, re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. NASA tried desperately to control Skylab’s descent, but large fragments hit south-west Australia instead of falling into the sea. Simon Watts heard…
The last men on the Moon
Apr 15 • 8 min
In 1972 the American space agency NASA carried out its final Moon mission. One of the three astronauts on board was geologist Harrison Schmitt. In 2012 he spoke to Louise Hidalgo about those moonwalks, and the discoveries they made. Photo credit: Harrison…
The first iPhone
Apr 14 • 8 min
The touchscreen smartphone changed mobile technology for ever. It was unveiled on January 9th 2007 by the Apple boss Steve Jobs. Within a few years smartphones had changed the way billions of people lived their lives. Ashley Byrne has been speaking to…
Nasa’s female aquanauts
Apr 14 • 8 min
Five ‘aquanauts’ became the first women to front a mission for America’s space agency, Nasa, in 1970. But their mission was underwater rather than in space. They spent two weeks being continuously monitored on camera in an undersea habitat. When they…
The unlikely pioneers of online shopping
Apr 10 • 11 min
In 1984, a 72-year-old grandmother became the first to try a new online shopping system, years before the arrival of the internet. Mrs Jane Snowball had been given new Videotex technology which allowed her to order her groceries using a tv and a remote…
Six Degrees: The first online social network
Apr 8 • 9 min
Six Degrees was the first online social network, allowing users to connect with their real-world contacts by creating a profile within a database. It was created by entrepreneur Andrew Weinreich. But Six Degrees never achieved the scale of later social…
The Trojan Room coffee pot
Apr 7 • 8 min
The world’s first webcam went online in 1993. Its camera was focused on a coffee pot so that computer scientists in Cambridge, in the UK, could see if there was any coffee available. Dr Quentin Stafford-Fraser, Martyn Johnson and Paul Jardetzky explained…
The Homebrew computer club
Apr 6 • 8 min
In 1975 a group of Californian computer enthusiasts began meeting to share ideas. Among those who took part were the founders of Apple. In those days though, many of them were students or even high school kids. Mike Lanchin spoke to two early members of…
Being a Chinese Muslim
Apr 3 • 8 min
Practising a religious faith in communist China has always been hard. Uighur Muslims face incarceration in re-education camps. But other Muslims have seen repression under communism too.Things were particularly tough in the 1960s during Chairman Mao’s…
The Swedish warship restored after 300 years
Apr 2 • 8 min
In 1628, at the height of Sweden’s military expansion, the Swedish navy built a new flagship, the Vasa. At the time it was the most heavily armed ship in the world. But two hours into its maiden voyage, it sank in Stockholm’s harbour. It remained there…
Avenging the Amritsar Massacre
Apr 1 • 8 min
A former governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, was killed by an Indian immigrant in London in 1940. The assassin, Udham Singh, said he was avenging the deaths of hundreds of civilians who had been fired on by colonial troops in Amritsar in India in…
The trembling giant
Mar 31 • 8 min
Scientists believe that the biggest living organism on Earth is a fungus. But the heaviest organism, and the most massive organism, is a tree, or rather a giant colony of quaking aspen tree stems which has been growing across a hillside in the west of…
Britain’s first woman judge
Mar 30 • 8 min
Rose Heilbron was a trailblazer for women in the legal profession in Britain. She was made the first woman judge in the UK in the 1950s and made headlines around the world when she became the first to sit at the world famous criminal court, London’s Old…
The AIDS Memorial Quilt
Mar 27 • 10 min
In 1985 activists hand-stitched a giant quilt to commemorate friends and relatives killed by AIDS, and to campaign for more funding and research into the disease. It was the brain child of Cleve Jones, who explains to Rebecca Kesby what it was like to…
The Cheonan sinking
Mar 26 • 8 min
On March 26th 2010 a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, sank after an explosion on board. 48 sailors were killed in an alleged torpedo attack carried out by North Korea. The North Korean authorities have always denied any involvement. Bugyeong Jung has…
The Saudi bombardment of Yemen
Mar 25 • 8 min
On the night of March 25 2015 Saudi Arabia and its allies launched an intense aerial bombardment of the Yemeni capital Sana’a. The attacks pushed one of the poorest countries in the Arab world to breaking point. Sumaya Bakhsh has been speaking to surgeon,…
Sequencing the 1918 influenza virus
Mar 24 • 8 min
Over 50 million people died from influenza during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. Scientists trying to understand why that particular strain of flu was so virulent, dug into Alaska’s permafrost to find traces of it to study. Kate Lamble has been speaking…
The Chinese cure for malaria
Mar 23 • 9 min
In the 1970s, scientists in China used ancient traditional medicine to find a cure for malaria. Artemisinin was discovered by exploring a herbal remedy from the 4th century, and can cure most forms of malaria with very few side effects. It has saved…
The launch of the Hubble Space Telescope
Mar 20 • 9 min
In 1990, NASA launched the historic mission which put into orbit the Hubble Space Telescope. The orbiting observatory has revolutionized astronomy and allowed us to peer deeper than ever before into the Universe. Alejandra Martins talks to astronaut,…
The ‘I Love You’ computer virus
Mar 20 • 8 min
In May 2000, a virus created by a college dropout in the Philippines caused chaos around the world. Millions of people received - and opened - an email titled I Love You, which then jammed computer networks. Gabriela Jones talks to IT security expert,…
The Major and the VW Beetle
Mar 20 • 9 min
The story of how a car that had originally been the idea of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was saved by a British army officer at the end of World War Two. In August 1945 the British Army sent Major Ivan Hirst to take control of the giant Volkswagen plant in…
Red Hollywood
Mar 18 • 9 min
In 1950, a 200-page-long directory called “Red Channels ” was published in America. It was a list of people working in the media who were suspected of being Communists or Communist sympathisers. It ruined careers and sent actors, writers and directors…
The fight to make sexual harassment a crime
Mar 17 • 9 min
In 1986, the US Supreme Court heard a landmark case which would define sexual harassment as a crime in America. The lawsuit, brought by bank clerk Mechelle Vinson, established that abuse in the workplace was a breach of civil rights. It was built on…
Marburg virus
Mar 13 • 10 min
A deadly new form of haemorrhagic fever was discovered in the small town of Marburg in West Germany in the summer of 1967. The first patients all worked at a factory in the town which made vaccines. In the course of their work they had all come into…
The SARS epidemic
Mar 12 • 8 min
In early 2003 a medical emergency swept across the world. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, was a deadly virus which had first struck in southern China but soon there were cases as far away as Canada. William Ho and Tom Buckley were at the…
The polio vaccine
Mar 11 • 9 min
In 1955 scientists in the US led by Dr Jonas Salk announced they had developed an effective vaccine against polio. The poliomyelitis virus had caused paralysis and death particularly amongst children since time immemorial. Louise Hidalgo spoke to Dr…
The Ebola virus
Mar 10 • 8 min
Some 300 people died during the first documented outbreak of the deadly disease occurred in the 1970s in the Democratic Republic of Congo - then known as Zaire. The virus was named after the river which flowed close to the village where it was discovered.…
The ‘Spanish’ flu
Mar 9 • 9 min
In 1918, more than fifty million people died in an outbreak of flu, which spread all over the world in the wake of the first World War. We hear eye-witness accounts of the worst pandemic of the twentieth century. (Photo: An American policeman wearing a…
Battling Soviet psychiatric punishment
Mar 5 • 12 min
The story of Dr. Semen Gluzman, a Ukrainian psychiatrist, who took a stand against the psychiatric abuse of political dissidents in the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, Soviet authorities had many dissidents declared mentally ill and confined them to…
Strikers in saris
Mar 4 • 9 min
In 1976 South Asian women workers who had made Britain their home, led a strike against poor working conditions in a British factory. Lakshmi Patel was one of the women who picketed the Grunwick film-processing factory in north London for two years,…
The petrol that was poisoning children
Mar 3 • 8 min
The UK was one of the first in Europe to declare it would ban lead from petrol after a successful campaign showing it was poisoning children and leaving them permanently brain damaged. But it took until the year 2000 to finally remove leaded petrol from…
Womenomics in Japan
Mar 2 • 14 min
One of the toughest challenges facing Japan’s economy is that its population is ageing rapidly and its workforce is shrinking dramatically. But a Japanese investment analyst, Kathy Matsui, came up with a visionary idea to help her country, and she even…
Freeing American prisoners from Iran
Feb 28 • 9 min
In 2009, three American hikers were arrested and jailed after they crossed an unmarked border into Iran while on holiday in Iraqi Kurdistan. Sarah Shourd was released first and fought a long campaign to get her friends Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal released…
The last smallpox outbreak
Feb 27 • 9 min
Thousands of people died in India during the world’s last major smallpox epidemic. Individual cases had to be tracked down and quarantined to stop the deadly disease spreading. Ashley Byrne spoke to Dr Mahendra Dutta and Dr Larry Brilliant who took part…
The rebel nuns who left their convent behind
Feb 26 • 9 min
A group of Californian nuns left their convent and set up their own independent community in 1970. They’d been inspired by the social change they saw around them in Los Angeles in the 1960s, and the Pope’s promise to modernise the Catholic Church. They…
The first mobile phone call
Feb 25 • 9 min
In 1973, an engineer called Marty Cooper made the world’s first mobile phone call from a street in New York City. Cooper worked for a then tiny telecoms company called Motorola, but he had a vision that one day people would all want their own personal…
An Antarctic mystery
Feb 24 • 9 min
In 1985, human remains were found by chance on a remote island in Antarctica by Chilean biologist Dr Daniel Torres. But whose were they? It would take years to determine their remarkable origin. We speak to Dr Torres about his discovery and how it…
Saving Antarctica
Feb 21 • 9 min
In October 1991, an international protocol to protect the world’s last wilderness, Antarctica, from commercial exploitation was agreed at a summit in Madrid. The agreement was the result of a long campaign by environmental organisations to stop oil and…
Saddam Hussein’s ‘Supergun’
Feb 20 • 14 min
An insider’s account of Project Babylon, the plan to build the largest gun in the world for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The “Supergun” was the brainchild of Canadian artillery maverick, Dr Gerald Bull. He’d long wanted to build a gun capable of launching…
Fighting oil pollution with art in Nigeria
Feb 19 • 9 min
“Battle Bus” was a sculpture made by Sokari Douglas Camp in memory of Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other activists who were controversially executed in 1995. The sculpture was seized and impounded by Nigerian port authorities in 2015…
How meditation changes your brain
Feb 18 • 12 min
In 2002, scientists in the US began performing a landmark series of experiments on Buddhist monks from around the world. The studies showed that the brains of experienced meditators alter, allowing them to focus better and manage their emotions. Alejandra…
The Pale Blue Dot
Feb 17 • 9 min
In February 1990, the Nasa space probe Voyager took a famous photo of Earth as it left the Solar System. Seen from six billion kilometres away, our planet appears as a mere dot lit up by the Sun, and the image is credited with giving humanity a sense of…
The Rules: A dating handbook
Feb 14 • 9 min
On Valentine’s Day 1995, authors Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein published a dating handbook called The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr Right. The book advised women that if they wanted to find a husband they should not approach…
The best-seller Fear of Flying
Feb 13 • 9 min
The groundbreaking novel about female sexuality, called Fear of Flying, was first published in 1973. Dina Newman has been speaking to its author, Erica Jong. Photo courtesy of Erica Jong
Diary of life in a favela
Feb 12 • 9 min
A poor single mother of three, Carolina Maria de Jesus lived in a derelict shack and spent her days scavenging for food for her children, doing odd jobs and collecting paper and bottles. Her diary, written between 1955 and 1960, brought to life the harsh…
The man who first published Harry Potter
Feb 11 • 10 min
In 1996, after many rejections, author JK Rowling at last finds a publisher for her first Harry Potter novel. Louise Hidalgo hears from editor, Barry Cunningham, who spotted the boy wizard’s potential and helped create a phenomenon that would…
Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book
Feb 10 • 8 min
In 1966, the collected thoughts of China’s communist leader became an unexpected best-seller around the world. A compendium of pithy advice and political instructions from Mao Zedong, it was soon to be found on student bookshelves everywhere. (Photo:…
The release of Nelson Mandela
Feb 7 • 9 min
On 11th February 1990 anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela walked free after spending 27 years in a South African jail. It was a day that millions of black South Africans had been waiting for and marked the beginning of the end of white rule. Fellow…
The Native American casino boom in the US
Feb 6 • 11 min
In February 1987, a small Native American tribe from California won a landmark ruling at the US Supreme Court granting them the right to conduct gambling activities on their reservation. The campaign by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians led to the…
Witnessing the birth of a new language
Feb 5 • 9 min
In the early 1980s deaf children in Nicaragua invented a completely new sign language of their own. It was a remarkable achievement, which allowed experts a unique insight into how human communication develops. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to American…
Cixi: China’s most powerful woman
Feb 4 • 12 min
The Empress Dowager Cixi ruled China for 47 years until her death in 1908. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that her story began to be properly documented. She’d been vilified as a murderous tyrant, but was that really true or was she a victim of a…
London’s first black policeman
Feb 3 • 14 min
Norwell Roberts joined the Metropolitan police in 1967. He was put forward as a symbol of progressive policing amid ongoing tensions between the police and ethnic minorities in the capital. But behind the scenes, he endured years of racist abuse from…
The Treaty of Rome
Jan 31 • 8 min
The treaty which established the European Economic Community was signed by six countries in 1957 - France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. It was hoped that European countries would never go to war again, if they were tied…
The first self-made female millionaire
Jan 30 • 10 min
Madam C. J. Walker was the first ever self-made female millionaire. She was born to former slaves in the USA and was orphaned at seven but against all the odds she went on to create her own business selling black hair-care products. By the time of her…
The ancient oak tree that taught the world a lesson
Jan 29 • 11 min
The remarkable Turner’s oak in Kew Gardens in London not only survived the Great Storm that ravaged the south of England in 1987, but also changed the way that trees are cared for around the world. Alejandra Martins has been speaking to Tony Kirkham, head…
Reforming India’s rape laws
Jan 28 • 11 min
In January 2013 the Indian government began to overhaul the country’s laws on rape following the brutal gang rape and killing of a 23 year old physiotherapy student in Delhi. The public outcry across India forced the government to commission a legal…
The Way Ahead group: Modernising the Royal Family
Jan 27 • 9 min
Prince Harry and Meghan’s announcement that they will step back from their royal duties is not the first time the British royal family has tried to reform itself from within. In 1992 Queen Elizabeth had what she called her “annus horribilis” . It was the…
The frozen zoo
Jan 24 • 9 min
In 1975, San Diego Zoo began placing tissue samples of rare animals in cryogenic storage for the benefit of future generations. Called the Frozen Zoo, the refrigeration system now contains the cells of more than 1000 species ranging from the white…
The discovery of whalesong
Jan 23 • 8 min
Whales were being hunted to extinction, when in 1967, a biologist called Dr Roger Payne realised they could sing. It changed the perception of whales and helped found the modern conservation movement. Claire Bowes spoke to Dr Payne about his discovery in…
Silent Spring: A book that changed the world
Jan 22 • 9 min
Silent Spring, written by marine biologist Rachel Carson, looked at the effect that synthetic pesticides were having on the environment. Within years of its publication in 1962, the widespread use of DDT had been outlawed in the USA. Louise Hidalgo has…
How the dodo died out
Jan 21 • 9 min
A flightless bird, the dodo became extinct just decades after being discovered on the uninhabited island of Mauritius by European sailors. Because dodos couldn’t fly they, and their eggs, were eaten by explorers and the cats and rats that came with them…
The mystery of the disappearing frogs
Jan 20 • 14 min
How scientists discovered that a deadly fungus was killing off amphibians around the world. The chytrid fungus has caused the greatest loss of biodiversity in our time. Alejandra Martins spoke to biologist Dr. Karen Lips, one of the key scientists who…
The killing of Osama Bin Laden
Jan 17 • 9 min
The US tracked down the al Qaeda leader to a city in northern Pakistan in May 2011. Special operations troops were sent to capture or kill bin Laden in a top secret raid in the dead of night. The Americans didn’t tell their Pakistani allies about the raid…
The story of George Stinney Jr
Jan 16 • 10 min
How a 14-year-old boy became the youngest person to be executed in the USA during the 20th century. George Stinney Jr was sent to the electric chair in 1944. He had been tried for the murder of two young girls, but when the case was reviewed by a court in…
The woman who negotiated peace with a rebel group
Jan 15 • 11 min
In January 2014 after decades of violent struggle, a peace deal was agreed in the Philippines between a Muslim separatist organisation and the government. The deal granted largely Muslim areas of the southern Mindanao region greater autonomy in exchange…
Storming the Stasi HQ
Jan 14 • 9 min
Just weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall East Germans found themselves able to walk into the communist secret police headquarters in Berlin. The much-feared Stasi agents had kept files on millions of their fellow citizens. Soon people were searching…
Britain’s National Trust
Jan 13 • 10 min
The National Trust was founded in 1895, and initially focused on preserving Britain’s rural heritage. But their mission expanded in the 1930s to include protecting stately homes - the grand old houses of the British aristocracy - which were under threat.…
The battle for Fallujah
Jan 10 • 14 min
A US Marine’s account of the massive US-led assault on the Iraqi city in November 2004. Amid post-invasion chaos in Iraq, the city was seen as a stronghold of insurgents. It was hoped the battle would be a turning point in the fight against the Iraqi…
The Computers for Schools revolution
Jan 9 • 10 min
In 2009, Uruguay became the first country in the world to give a laptop computer to every child in state primary schools. At the time, only 10 per cent of poor Uruguayan children had access to IT, and the Plan Ceibal initiative is credited with…
The murder of environmentalist Chico Mendes
Jan 8 • 9 min
In December 1988 the Brazilian environmental campaigner, Chico Mendes, was shot dead by cattle ranchers, unhappy at being prevented from exploiting land in the Amazon jungle. The 44-year-old leader of the rubber tappers union had become a powerful symbol…
The exodus of Kashmiri Hindus
Jan 7 • 9 min
In January 1990 over 100,000 Hindus fled the Kashmir valley after an increase in tension between the Indian military and Muslim independence activists. Iknoor Kaur has been speaking to Utpal Kaul one of the so-called ‘pandits’ who was displaced. Photo:…
German atrocities in Poland during WW2
Jan 6 • 8 min
Towards the end of World War Two in Europe, Polish civilians suffered terribly at the hands of retreating German troops. But many never received any reparations for what they’d been through. Kevin Connolly has been speaking to one survivor who was a child…
East Germany’s punks
Jan 3 • 8 min
In the early 1980s, thousands of young people in communist East German became punks, attracted by the DIY culture and anti-establishment attitude. But the East German secret police the Stasi believed the subculture represented an existential threat to the…
Desmond’s: A sitcom that changed Britain
Jan 2 • 8 min
Desmond’s was the most successful black sitcom in British TV history. It ran on Channel 4 for over five years, attracting millions of viewers. Trix Worrell, the man who wrote it, believes that Desmond’s changed attitudes to race in the UK. Trix has been…
The book that predicted an end to civilisation
Jan 1 • 9 min
The Limits to Growth was published in 1972 and predicted global decline from 2020. It was based on a computer model which analysed how the Earth would cope with unrestricted economic growth. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology fed in…
Negotiating an end to El Salvador’s civil war
Dec 31, 2019 • 9 min
On December 31 1991 the two warring parties in El Salvador’s brutal civil war agreed to end the fighting. Left-wing FMLN rebels pledged to disarm and demobilise all their fighters, in exchange for the US-backed government and military carrying out…
The Chippendales
Dec 30, 2019 • 9 min
The Chippendales nightclub in downtown Los Angeles was looking for ways to attract customers on a weeknight – when they hit upon the idea of male strippers. The Male Exotic Dance Night for Ladies Only became wildly successful and inspired imitators all…
Vietnam war: Surviving the ‘Christmas bombing’ campaign
Dec 27, 2019 • 9 min
In December 1972 the US military launched its heaviest bombardment on the Vietnamese city of Hanoi. Around twenty thousand tonnes of explosives were dropped in just a few days. Ha Mi was just ten years old and living in the city with her family when the…
Cirque du Soleil
Dec 26, 2019 • 8 min
The global circus phenomenon Cirque du Soleil was born in 1984 when a group of street performers in Quebec bought a big top tent and went on tour. Lucy Burns speaks to Cirque du Soleil co-founder Gilles Ste-Croix, who walked 56 miles on stilts to raise…
The secret history of Monopoly
Dec 25, 2019 • 9 min
In 1904, a left-wing American feminist called Lizzy Magie patented a board game that evolved into what we now know as Monopoly. But 30 years later, when Monopoly was first marketed in the United States during the Great Depression, it was an out-of-work…
The invasion of Afghanistan
Dec 24, 2019 • 9 min
On 24 December 1979 Soviet troops poured into Afghanistan in support of an anti-government coup. Their first targets were the palace in which the president was staying, and Afghanistan’s radio and TV headquarters. Mahjooba Nowrouzi has been speaking to…
Fighting cancer
Dec 23, 2019 • 9 min
In the 1960s doctors began ground-breaking work into using several toxic chemicals at once to treat cancer. Combination chemotherapy, as it was called, would revolutionise cancer survival rates, particularly for Hodgkin Lymphoma, until then a virtual…
The creation of Abuja
Dec 20, 2019 • 11 min
Why Nigeria came to build a brand new capital from scratch.and created one of the world ‘s fastest growing cities. During the 1970s oil boom, Nigeria’s military rulers wanted to create a new symbol of national unity and decided to spend billions on…
Bee crisis: Colony Collapse Disorder
Dec 19, 2019 • 11 min
In 2007, the mysterious loss of commercial honey bees in the United States made headlines around the world. Researchers called the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder. The sudden loss of bee colonies had serious implications for modern agriculture as the…
The Romanian revolution
Dec 18, 2019 • 10 min
Of all the revolutions that swept across Eastern Europe 30 years ago in the winter of 1989, the over throw of Nicolae CeauČ™escu and his wife Elena was the bloodiest. But few communist regimes had been as brutal as theirs, dominating every aspect of daily…
Women and the Sabarimala temple
Dec 17, 2019 • 8 min
Priests reacted with horror when a South Indian actress, Jayamala, admitted she had inadvertently touched a statue of a god at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala - a Hindu holy site. The priests had purified the temple and said that women of childbearing age…
Black GIs during World War Two
Dec 16, 2019 • 8 min
For much of World War Two African-American soldiers were relegated to support roles and kept away from the fighting. But after the Allies suffered huge losses during the Battle of the Bulge, they were called on to volunteer for combat. Janet Ball has been…
The attack on India’s parliament
Dec 13, 2019 • 8 min
In December 2001 armed men attacked India’s Parliamentary compound in broad daylight. Islamist extremists were blamed and the attack brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Indian politician Renuka Chowdhury was just arriving at the Parliament…
The killing of Amadou Diallo
Dec 12, 2019 • 8 min
When police in New York shot a young immigrant 41 times in 1999, thousands of people took to the streets to protest. But Amadou Diallo’s mother Kadiatou wanted her son to be remembered for the way he lived, not the way he died. So she flew to the US to…
The IRA siege at Balcombe Street
Dec 10, 2019 • 9 min
In December 1975, four members of one of the IRA’s deadliest units were chased by police through the streets of London before hiding out in a small flat owned by a middle-aged couple called John and Sheila Matthews. The resulting six-day siege was covered…
The battle of the Louvre pyramid
Dec 9, 2019 • 9 min
In 1983 French president Francois Mitterand commissioned a major renovation of Paris’ most famous art museum, the Louvre. But the resulting great glass pyramid, designed by American architect IM Pei, caused a storm of controversy, dividing Parisian public…
The Cuban writer who defied Fidel Castro
Dec 6, 2019 • 10 min
On 7 December 1990 the dissident Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas killed himself in New York after years of suffering from AIDS. Before fleeing Cuba, Arenas had been jailed for his homosexuality, sent to re-education camps and prevented from…
Jaslyk – Uzbekistan’s infamous prison
Dec 5, 2019 • 9 min
A prison camp called Jaslyk opened in the desert in western Uzbekistan in 1999. Even by the standards of the Uzbek prison system it would become notorious for torture and human rights abuses, including reports of a prisoner being boiled alive. Journalist…
The British sculptor who won over the world
Dec 4, 2019 • 9 min
During the 20th century a British coal miner’s son changed the world of art. Henry Moore revolutionised sculpture, altering the way we view the human figure and setting his works in natural landscapes. He became internationally renowned and by the 1970s…
Shackleton
Dec 3, 2019 • 11 min
Hear first hand accounts from the doomed Antarctic expedition which became a legendary story of survival. In 1914, polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton led an expedition to become the first to cross the Antarctic continent. But before they could land,…
The killing of Pablo Escobar
Dec 2, 2019 • 9 min
The Colombian drug trafficker, once one of the richest men in the world, was shot dead by police on 2nd December 1993. He had been on the run from the authorities for over a year. Jordan Dunbar has been speaking to Elizabeth Zilli who worked for the US…
The first confirmed case of HIV in America
Nov 29, 2019 • 8 min
Robert R was a teenager who died of a mysterious illness in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1969. It was only in the 1980s that doctors studying the Aids epidemic realised Robert had died of Aids. Ned Carter Miles has been speaking to Dr Memory Elvin Lewis was…
Handing back Uluru
Nov 28, 2019 • 9 min
In 1985 Australia’s most famous natural landmark, Uluru, the huge ancient red rock formerly known as Ayers Rock, was handed back to its traditional owners, the indigenous people of that part of central Australia, the Anangu. But as one of the government…
From cakes to computers
Nov 27, 2019 • 10 min
In the early 1950s, the leading British catering firm, J Lyons & Co, pioneered the world’s first automated office system. It was baptised LEO - the Lyons Electronic Office - and was used in stock-taking, food ordering and payrolls for the company. Soon it…
India’s economic revolution
Nov 26, 2019 • 8 min
In the 1990s India began to open up its largely state-controlled economy to foreign investment. Subramanian Swamy wrote the blueprint for reform and he’s been speaking to Iknoor Kaur about what worked - and what didn’t. Photo: Subramanian Swamy (r) with…
The man who gave his voice to Stephen Hawking
Nov 25, 2019 • 10 min
American scientist Dennis Klatt pioneered synthesised speech in the 1980s. He used recordings of himself to make the sounds that gave British physicist Stephen Hawking a voice when he lost the ability to speak. Friend and colleague of Dr Klatt, Joseph…
Exploring Arabia’s Empty Quarter
Nov 22, 2019 • 9 min
In the 1940s, British gentleman explorer Wilfred Thesiger travelled extensively in one of the world’s harshest environments - the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Thesiger lived with nomads in order to cross a desert that was then considered a place of mystery…
The man who got Delhi on track
Nov 21, 2019 • 8 min
India’s capital city built a brand new mass transit system to tackle its traffic jams and air pollution. The first section of the Delhi Metro was opened to the public in 2002. E Sreedharan was managing director of the Metro project and he’s been speaking…
I saw the soldiers who killed El Salvador’s priests
Nov 20, 2019 • 10 min
In November 1989 Salvadoran government soldiers dragged six Jesuit priests from their beds and murdered them along with their housekeeper and her teenage daughter. The Salvadoran government tried to blame the killings on left-wing rebels, but one woman…
The ‘Woman in Gold’
Nov 19, 2019 • 9 min
The ‘Woman in Gold’ was one of Gustav Klimt’s most famous paintings. It was a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, but it was taken from her family by the Nazis and only returned to them after a long legal battle. Louise Hidalgo has been speaking to Randol…
The first Tasers
Nov 18, 2019 • 10 min
In the 1970s, an American engineer Jack Cover designed a new experimental stun gun. He called it a Taser. But the device only really became popular when it started to be used by US law enforcement agencies. The Los Angeles Police Department were among the…
The first Indian to win Miss World
Nov 15, 2019 • 8 min
Reita Faria was the first Indian to win the Miss World beauty competition in 1966. She was studying medicine in Mumbai when a spur of the moment decision to take part in the contest turned her life upside down. Orna Merchant has been speaking to Reita…
The Love Canal disaster
Nov 14, 2019 • 9 min
In the late 1970s toxic chemicals were discovered oozing from the ground in a neighbourhood in upstate New York. The neighbourhood was called Love Canal. Hundreds of houses and a school had been built on top of over 20,000 tonnes of toxic industrial…
The demolition of the Babri Masjid
Nov 13, 2019 • 8 min
Hindu extremists demolished a 16th century mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya in December 1992 prompting months of communal violence across India. Photojournalist Praveen Jain witnessed rehearsals for the demolition the day before the activists stormed…
Cap Anamur: A rescue that led to jail
Nov 12, 2019 • 10 min
In 2004, a German aid agency ship, Cap Anamur, was sailing to the Suez Canal, when it came across 37 Africans on a sinking rubber boat. The captain, Stefan Schmidt, rescued the men and headed for a port in Sicily to drop them off. But for almost 2 weeks,…
Memories of Wilfred Owen
Nov 11, 2019 • 8 min
Wilfred Owen died just a few days before the end of World War One but his poetry ensured he would be remembered. Little is known about the man behind the poems but his younger brother Harold spoke to the BBC about him in the 1960s. Vincent Dowd pieces…
The concert that rocked the Berlin Wall
Nov 8, 2019 • 9 min
Former Berlin resident David Bowie was among the performers at a pop concert in West Berlin in 1987 credited with helping to create the atmosphere that led, two years later, to the fall of the Berlin Wall. During the three-day concert, there were riots in…
The Bhagalpur blindings
Nov 7, 2019 • 8 min
WARNING: This programme contains distressing descriptions of violent torture from the beginning. In 1980 police in a small city in the Indian state of Bihar were revealed to be torturing petty criminals. Iknoor Kaur has been talking to several people with…
Britain’s secret propaganda war
Nov 6, 2019 • 13 min
How sex, jazz and ‘fake news’ were used to undermine the Nazis in World War Two. In 1941, the UK created a top secret propaganda department, the Political Warfare Executive to wage psychological warfare on the German war machine. It was responsible for…
A ground-breaking change to treating breast cancer
Nov 5, 2019 • 9 min
In 1975 the Canadian oncologist Dr Vera Peters released ground-breaking data to prove that breast-conserving surgery could at times be as effective as having a radical mastectomy. Her findings were received with lukewarm support and even open opposition…
Iran hostage crisis: the humanitarian delegation
Nov 4, 2019 • 8 min
On November 4th 1979 revolutionary students overran the US Embassy in Tehran and took everyone inside hostage. In February 1980 the students invited a humanitarian delegation from the US to visit them in Iran. The group were shown around Tehran to…
Saving the Great Barrier Reef
Nov 1, 2019 • 9 min
In the 1960s conservationists began a campaign to prevent the Queensland government from allowing mining and oil drilling on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Eddie Hegerl told Claire Bowes that he and his wife were prepared to sacrifice everything to…
‘Jane’ - the underground abortion service
Oct 31, 2019 • 10 min
A group of feminists working under the name “Jane” carried out underground abortions in 1960s Chicago – when abortions were still illegal in most of the US. Initially they gave abortion counselling and put women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies…
The Algerians who fought with France
Oct 30, 2019 • 8 min
The Harkis were Algerian Muslims who volunteered to fight with France in Algeria’s war of independence. When the conflict came to an end in 1962 and France was forced to abandon its former colony, thousands of its Harki allies were left to face…
The Paris hotel that hosted Holocaust survivors
Oct 29, 2019 • 9 min
At the end of the Second World War the grand Parisian hotel, the Lutetia, was allocated to receive thousands of prisoners and Nazi concentration camp survivors returning home from across a ravaged Europe. Louise Hidalgo talks to two people for whom the…
Margaret Thatcher’s anti-Europe speech
Oct 28, 2019 • 8 min
The British Prime Minister started expressing doubts about the European Union during a speech in the Belgian city of Bruges in 1988. The now famous “Bruges speech” is seen by many as the spark which ignited the anti-European movement within Britain’s…
The fall of the Berlin Wall
Oct 25, 2019 • 8 min
The border between communist East Germany and the West opened on November 9th 1989. It marked the beginning of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Michaela Graichen spoke to two East Germans who believe they were the first people to cross from…
The Leipzig demonstrations
Oct 24, 2019 • 8 min
Mass demonstrations in the East German city of Leipzig in October 1989 shook the communist authorities to their core. The protests are seen as paving the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall just a month later. Lucy Burs spoke to Martin Jankowski who was…
East German refugees in the Prague embassy
Oct 23, 2019 • 9 min
Thousands of East Germans fled to the West in the summer and autumn of 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many of them sought refuge in the West German embassy in Prague, where they camped in the grounds and slept in stairwells and corridors, fed…
The reburial of a Hungarian hero
Oct 22, 2019 • 8 min
In 1989 the body of Imre Nagy, Prime Minister during the 1956 Hungarian uprising, was reburied in a public ceremony in Budapest. He had been executed on the orders of Moscow. It marked the beginning of the end of communism in Hungary. Nick Thorpe spoke to…
The legalisation of Solidarity
Oct 21, 2019 • 8 min
When the banned Polish trade union organisation, Solidarity, was legalised in April 1989 it was one of the first signs that communism was about to collapse in Eastern Europe. Within months Solidarity was leading a coalition government in Poland and soon…
Wangari Maathai Nobel Prize-winning environmentalist
Oct 18, 2019 • 9 min
Kenyan Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was an environmentalist and human rights activist who founded the Green Belt Movement in the 1970s. She focused on the planting of trees, conservation, and…
Britain’s worst nuclear accident
Oct 17, 2019 • 9 min
Things started to go wrong at the Windscale nuclear plant in October 1957. A reactor was overheating and workers were rushed in to help. In 2011 Chris Vallance spoke to Vic Goodwin and John Harris, two of the men who helped bring things under control…
The man who fed the world
Oct 16, 2019 • 10 min
In 1970 the American scientist, Norman Borlaug, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work developing disease-resistant crops. At the time famine and malnutrition were claiming millions of lives across the world, particularly in South Asia.…
Mexico City slashes car use
Oct 15, 2019 • 8 min
By the 1980s a deadly cocktail of factory fumes and car exhausts had turned Mexico City into the world’s most polluted city. Hundreds of thousands of people were falling ill each month, many of them children. The Mexican authorities came up with an…
Proving climate change: The Keeling curve
Oct 14, 2019 • 9 min
How a young American scientist began the work that would show how our climate is changing. His name was Charles Keeling and he meticulously recorded levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. His wife Louise and son Ralph spoke to Louise Hidalgo about him in 2013.…
Britain’s World War Two ‘Brown Babies’
Oct 11, 2019 • 10 min
The US first began sending troops to the UK in 1942 to help in the war effort. It is estimated that at least two million American servicemen passed through the UK during World War Two and tens of thousands of them were black. The African-American GIs…
The Bristol bus boycott
Oct 10, 2019 • 8 min
In 1963 a small group of British black activists started a pioneering protest against racism within the local bus company in Bristol. It had specified that it did not want to employ black bus drivers. Inspired by the example of the US Civil Rights…
The Notting Hill riots
Oct 9, 2019 • 8 min
In August 1958 Britain was shocked by nearly a week of race riots in the west London district of Notting Hill. The clashes between West Indian immigrants and aggressive white youths known as Teddy Boys led to the first race relations campaigns and the…
The first black woman MP in Britain
Oct 8, 2019 • 9 min
In 1987 Diane Abbott became the first black woman elected to the British Parliament. The daughter of first generation immigrants she was one of only four black MPs elected that day. In 2015 Diane Abbott spoke to Farhana Haider about her journey into the…
Learie Constantine - fighting racism in the UK
Oct 7, 2019 • 8 min
The great West Indian cricketer, lawyer and member of the House of Lords took a London hotel to court when it refused to let him and his family stay there in 1943. Susan Hulme brings us his story from the BBC archives. Photo: Sir Learie Constantine…
China opens up to capitalism
Oct 4, 2019 • 8 min
In May 1980 China allowed capitalist activity for the first time since the Communist Revolution, in four designated cities known as the Special Economic Zones. The most successful was Shenzhen, which grew from a mainly rural area specialising in pigs and…
The 1967 Hong Kong riots
Oct 3, 2019 • 9 min
Throughout much of 1967 striking workers and students filled the streets of Hong Kong. They were inspired by the Cultural Revolution in China and demanded an end to colonial British rule. Jasper Tsang Yok-sing was then an idealistic young student and he…
Mao’s Cultural Revolution
Oct 2, 2019 • 9 min
In 1966 Chairman Mao declared the start of the Cultural Revolution in Communist China, a radical and brutal attempt to reshape Chinese society. Saul Yeung was 20 years old at the time and in 2016 he spoke to Lucy Burns about his decision to join the Red…
My memories of Chairman Mao
Oct 1, 2019 • 8 min
American Sidney Rittenberg first met Mao Zedong in the 1940s during the final years of China’s civil war and before Mao’s victory over the Nationalist forces. Already a committed socialist, Rittenberg had been stationed in China during WW2 but decided to…
The birth of the People’s Republic of China
Sep 30, 2019 • 8 min
On 1 October 1949 Chairman Mao declared China to be a communist state. Zhu Zhende was a young recruit in the People’s Liberation Army who marched in the celebrations in Beijing that day. He has been speaking to Yashan Zhao about the optimism and…
The death of a matador
Sep 27, 2019 • 8 min
In September 1984, the famous Spanish matador, Francisco Rivera, also known as Paquirri, was gored to death by a bull during a fight in the small town of Pozoblanco. The bravery he showed during his final moments turned Paquirri into a legend. In 2013…
The Large Hadron Collider
Sep 26, 2019 • 9 min
In September 2008, the world’s biggest science experiment, the Large Hadron Collider, was started up for the first time at the European Organisation For Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Geneva. Simon Watts talks to Paul Collier, a British engineer whose team…
Fighting the Islamic State group online
Sep 25, 2019 • 10 min
When the Islamic State group took over Mosul in Iraq in 2014 they flooded the internet with propaganda, claiming life under IS was fantastic. One historian living in the city decided to post a counter-narrative online. Omar Mohammed set up “Mosul Eye” to…
Being black in Nazi Germany
Sep 24, 2019 • 8 min
Theodor Wonja Michael was a child when Hitler came to power in Germany. The son of a German mother and a Cameroonian father he faced discrimination and danger under Nazi rule. He has been speaking to Caroline Wyatt about how working as a film actor helped…
The Sound of Music on Broadway
Sep 23, 2019 • 9 min
The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was first performed on stage in New York in 1959, several years before it was made into a film. Vincent Dowd has been speaking to two people with connections to the original Broadway production. Tim Crouse is the son of…
Sir Anthony Blunt - Soviet spy
Sep 20, 2019 • 8 min
Sir Anthony Blunt, a distinguished British art historian and curator of the Queen’s pictures was exposed as a former Soviet spy in the autumn of 1979. He was stripped of his knighthood and publicly shamed as a traitor for being part of the Cambridge spy…
CS Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia
Sep 19, 2019 • 9 min
The first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series by the Northern Irish-born writer CS Lewis was published in autumn 1950. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would go on to become one of the great classics of children’s literature. CS Lewis’s stepson,…
Free breakfast with the Black Panthers
Sep 18, 2019 • 9 min
The Black Panther Party hit the headlines in the late 1960s with their call for revolution. But they also ran a number of “survival programmes” to help their local communities - the biggest of which was a project providing free breakfasts for…
The repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’
Sep 17, 2019 • 9 min
LGBT servicemen and women in the US armed forces had to keep their sexuality secret until the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy was repealed in 2011. Lieutenant Colonel Heather Mack served under the policy for most of her military career. She has been…
An Ethiopian war hero
Sep 16, 2019 • 8 min
In the early 1950s the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, sent thousands of Ethiopian troops to fight in the Korean war. They were called the Kagnew Battalions and they formed part of the American-led UN force supporting South Korea against communist…
Magellan and the first voyage around the world
Sep 13, 2019 • 9 min
In September 1519, a fleet led by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set off on what would be the first circumnavigation of the world. Magellan was the first navigator to find a route round South America, but he had to quell several attempted…
Conflict timber in Liberia’s civil war
Sep 12, 2019 • 12 min
How the timber industry fuelled a brutal civil war in West Africa. In the late 1990s, timber companies worked closely with Liberia’s warlord-turned-president, Charles Taylor. In return for money and support for his militias, the regime allocated huge…
India’s affirmative action controversy
Sep 11, 2019 • 10 min
In 1990 the Indian government introduced an affirmative action plan that had been lying unimplemented for a decade. The Mandal Commission recommended guaranteeing a percentage of government jobs to lower caste Hindus. It’s implementation was an attempt by…
The TV series Friends
Sep 10, 2019 • 8 min
A new show called Friends hit American TV screens in September 1994. It was based on the lives of six young New Yorkers and became one of the most successful comedies of all time. It sold around the world. Farhana Haider spoke to one of the show’s…
The coup, the president and the embassy
Sep 9, 2019 • 9 min
In September 2009 the deposed president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, made a sudden return from exile, seeking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in the Honduran capital. Zelaya had been whisked out of the country at gunpoint after a military coup three months…
The businessman who defied the Italian Mafia
Sep 6, 2019 • 9 min
In 1991, Palermo businessman Libero Grassi published an open letter in Sicily’s main newspaper denouncing the Mafia for constantly demanding extortion payments. Grassi was hailed as a hero, but his public refusal to pay was intolerable to the Mafia and a…
The Holocaust denial trial
Sep 5, 2019 • 11 min
The controversial historian, David Irving, tried to sue Penguin Books and professor Deborah Lipstadt for libel after she called him a Holocaust denier in one of her books. The case drew intense media interest. Deborah Lipstadt told Rebecca Kesby what it…
Inside lunar astronaut quarantine
Sep 4, 2019 • 12 min
When the crew of Apollo 11 returned to earth after their historic mission to the Moon, they were immediately placed in quarantine for 3 weeks. It was done to protect the Earth from the dangers of possible lunar alien life. Dr William Carpentier was the…
The first all-women peacekeeping unit
Sep 3, 2019 • 8 min
The UN deployed its first all-female contingent of peacekeepers in Liberia in West Africa. The country was still recovering from its long civil war when the Indian policewomen arrived in 2007. Jill McGivering has been hearing from Seema Dhundia of India’s…
The outbreak of World War Two
Sep 2, 2019 • 8 min
On September 1st 1939 German forces invaded Poland. Douglas Slocombe, a British cameraman, was there at the time and filmed the build-up to the war. In 2014 he spoke to Vincent Dowd about what he saw in Gdansk and Warsaw, before escaping from the country.…
The paedophile identified by his hands
Aug 30, 2019 • 9 min
In 2009 a paedophile was convicted with the help of a new form of identification - hand analysis. Dame Sue Black of Lancaster University explains how her team developed this tool and how criminal courts in Britain first responded to the evidence. She says…
Nina Simone moves to Liberia
Aug 29, 2019 • 10 min
The great African-American jazz singer Nina Simone moved to the Liberian capital Monrovia in September 1974. Simone was famous for her vocal support for the civil rights movement in the USA as well as for songs like I’m Feeling Good, Mississippi Goddam…
The Kindertransport children who fled the Nazis
Aug 28, 2019 • 9 min
In the months leading up to outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, some 10,000 unaccompanied children were sent by their parents out of Germany and Austria, to safety in the UK. Many of them never saw their families again. Dame Stephanie Shirley was…
Mexico’s murdered women
Aug 27, 2019 • 10 min
In 1993 young women began disappearing in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez. Since then hundreds are reported to have been kidnapped and killed. Mike Lanchin has spoken to a forensic scientist who used to work in the city; and to the mother of one…
The murder of black teenager Emmett Till
Aug 26, 2019 • 9 min
Emmett Till was an African-American teenager from Chicago who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in America’s deep south in August 1955. His lynching was one of the key events that energized the American civil rights movement. An all-white jury…
The death of Brazil’s Getulio Vargas
Aug 23, 2019 • 9 min
In August 1954 the President of Brazil took his own life rather than quit his post. Getulio Vargas had been one of Brazil’s most influential leaders. But by 1954 the country was saddled with hundreds of millions of dollars of overseas debt and inflation…
The return of the wolf
Aug 22, 2019 • 12 min
Wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. It was the start of one of the most famous and controversial wildlife restoration projects in the United States. Beginning in the late 19th century wolves had been subjected to a mass…
I helped liberate Paris from the Nazis
Aug 21, 2019 • 9 min
On August 25 1944 General Charles De Gaulle, who had been in exile in London for the majority of World War 2, finally entered Paris at the head of the Free French forces. But the French capital was far from secure. Ashley Byrne hears from Charles Pegulu…
Finding El Salvador’s missing children
Aug 20, 2019 • 10 min
At the end of El Salvador’s civil war human rights investigators began the search for hundreds of children reportedly kidnapped by the army during anti-guerrilla operations. In early 1994, two years after the end of the conflict, the first six children…
The first human Cyborg
Aug 19, 2019 • 10 min
In 1998, a transponder or silicon chip was surgically implanted into the forearm of a British scientist. It sent identifying signals to a central computer that tracked his movements and allowed him access to his workplace, by opening doors and switching…
Dr Seuss: the man who taught America to read
Aug 16, 2019 • 10 min
The Dr Seuss books revolutionised the way American children learnt to read in the 1950s. Books like ‘The Cat in the Hat’ were designed to help young children enjoy reading simple words and sentences using rhymes, anarchic characters and lively…
Catching ‘Carlos the Jackal’
Aug 15, 2019 • 8 min
In the 1980s Ilich Ramírez Sánchez known as ‘Carlos the Jackal’ was seen as the world’s most-wanted terrorist. He had carried out bombings, killings and kidnappings and had been on the run for decades. He was finally arrested in Khartoum in August 1994.…
The warnings before 9/11
Aug 14, 2019 • 10 min
Throughout 2001 the US authorities were being given warnings that a terror attack was imminent. A Congressional Commission, FBI officers and the CIA were all worried. There were even specific warnings about planes being flown into buildings. Louise…
The daily disposable contact lens
Aug 13, 2019 • 9 min
The contact lens was once a precious and expensive piece of eyewear which had to be looked after and carefully cleaned every night. But that all changed in the 1990s. Ron Hamilton was involved in developing lenses and packaging which could be made so…
The division of Kashmir
Aug 12, 2019 • 9 min
In October 1947, an invasion of Kashmir by tribal fighters led to the division of the state between India and Pakistan. Andrew Whitehead speaks to victims of the invasion and political leaders in Kashmir to find out more about the roots of a crisis that…
The Yangtze Incident
Aug 9, 2019 • 11 min
In 1949 a British warship, HMS Amethyst, launched a daring escape after it was held captive for months by Chinese Communists on the Yangtze river. The ship had been badly damaged when it was fired on by Communist forces as it sailed up the river to help…
British troops take to the streets of Northern Ireland
Aug 8, 2019 • 9 min
In August 1969 the British Army was first deployed in Northern Ireland. Their job was to keep the peace on the streets of Londonderry where sectarian violence had broken out. To begin with the soldiers were welcomed by residents, but attitudes soon…
Criminals in the community
Aug 7, 2019 • 9 min
In the 1970s the UK tried to reduce its growing prison population. An experimental new punishment was introduced for convicted criminals. It was called Community Service. The scheme was soon copied around the world. Witness History speaks to John Harding,…
Under the North Pole
Aug 6, 2019 • 9 min
In 1958 the nuclear submarine USS Nautilus travelled under the North Pole. Julian Bedford spoke to retired vice Admiral Kenneth Carr in 2012 about the mission spurred by the Cold War battle for technological supremacy. Photo: The USS Nautilus arriving in…
The mass exodus of Algeria’s ‘Pieds Noirs’
Aug 5, 2019 • 9 min
Hundreds of thousands of French people who’d been living in Algeria for generations fled for safety to France in the summer of 1962. It was in the last days of the war of independence in the North African nation. Known as the ‘Pieds Noirs’, the new…
The invasion of Kuwait
Aug 2, 2019 • 10 min
Thousands of Iraqi troops and tanks began pouring into Kuwait on 2 August 1990. The tiny, oil-rich Gulf state was immediately taken over by Saddam Hussein’s military. Sumaya Bakhsh has spoken to Sami al-Alawi who joined the Kuwaiti underground resistance…
The Warsaw uprising
Aug 1, 2019 • 9 min
On 1 August 1944, resistance fighters in the Polish capital rose up against German occupying forces. The uprising lasted for 63 days and some 200,000 people were killed, Warsaw itself was largely destroyed. Zbigniew Pelczynski was one of the young Poles…
The anti-nuclear protesters who won
Jul 31, 2019 • 10 min
In 1980 the Bavarian government announced plans to build a nuclear reprocessing plant in Wackersdorf in southern Germany. Eight years later construction on the plant was halted after a sustained protest campaign which saw tens of thousands of…
The treasures of Sutton Hoo
Jul 30, 2019 • 10 min
One of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries in British history was made in the summer of 1939, when a huge hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold was found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. Lucy Burns presents material from the BBC archives. Picture: the Sutton Hoo…
The death of David Kelly
Jul 29, 2019 • 9 min
How the death of a UK weapons inspector intensified arguments over Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Rebecca Kesby has been speaking to one of the doctors who signed a letter calling for further investigation of the circumstances…
Humanity’s earliest ancestor
Jul 26, 2019 • 9 min
In July 2001 a team of palaeontologists led by Michel Brunet discovered a seven million year-old fossilised skull in the Djurab desert in Chad. Ahounta Djimdoumalbaye was the member of the team who first uncovered the skull which has been nicknamed…
When Tunisia led on women’s rights
Jul 25, 2019 • 9 min
When Tunisia achieved independence it brought in a new equality law that revolutionised women’s lives. In August 1956 under the socialist President Habib Bourguiba, the north African country became the first in the muslim world to legalise civil divorce…
The Chappaquiddick Incident
Jul 24, 2019 • 8 min
In July 1969, United States Senator Edward Kennedy was involved in a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne died. Around 10 hours elapsed before the politician reported the incident to police. In 2014 Paul…
LGBT ‘cooperative’ marriages in China
Jul 23, 2019 • 8 min
LGBT people in China sometimes arrange fake marriages to hide their sexuality. In 2005 Lin Hai set up a website to allow lesbians and gay men to get in touch with each other. He came up with the idea to stop his family from putting pressure on him to get…
Mamma Mia!
Jul 22, 2019 • 10 min
The hit musical Mamma Mia! opened in London’s West End in 1999. Using the songs of the Swedish pop group ABBA, the stage show was followed in July 2008 by Mamma Mia! the movie and ten years later by a sequel, both of which have broken musical box-office…
The Beagle 2 mission to Mars
Jul 19, 2019 • 10 min
On Christmas Day 2003, a British spacecraft was due to land on Mars and begin searching for signs of life. The late Professor Colin Pillinger was the man behind the mission, his daughter Shusanah spoke to Rob Walker about Beagle 2 in 2015. This programme…
Apollo 13
Jul 18, 2019 • 10 min
The 1970 Moon mission that almost ended in tragedy after an explosion on board the spaceship. Fred Haise was one of the Apollo 13 astronauts. In 2010 he spoke to Richard Howells about how they managed to get back to Earth despite the odds. Photo: The…
The Moon Landing
Jul 17, 2019 • 8 min
In July 1969, the world watched in awe as NASA’s Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the lunar surface. Former NASA flight controller Gerry Griffin taks to Simon Watts. Photo: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (Getty…
Valentina Tereshkova, cosmonaut
Jul 16, 2019 • 10 min
In June 1963 Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was sent into orbit around the Earth, in a solo voyage which lasted for nearly three days. Lucy Ash went to Russia to find out more about her. Photo: Valentina Tereshkova before boarding Vostok 6, at…
Laika, the first dog in space
Jul 15, 2019 • 9 min
The Russian stray was the first dog to orbit the Earth. She was sent into space in November 1957 in a flight which had been timed to mark the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. She died after orbiting the Earth four times. Professor Victor Yazdovsky’s…
Kenya’s ivory inferno
Jul 12, 2019 • 10 min
Twelve tonnes of ivory was set alight by President Daniel Arap Moi in Nairobi National Park in July 1989, to highlight the threat from poaching.The ivory burn was organised by conservationists who wanted to save the world’s elephants. Alice Castle has…
Cuba executes top military officers
Jul 11, 2019 • 10 min
Four army officers were sentenced to death for drug trafficking by the Castro government in July 1989. Critics accused the communist authorities of carrying out a show trial of opponents of President Fidel Castro. In 2016, Mike Lanchin spoke to Ileana de…
The Common Cold Unit
Jul 10, 2019 • 10 min
The Common Cold Unit was created after World War Two to find the cause of the illness. Its work depended on thousands of volunteers who came to the unit to catch a cold. Given food, accommodation and some pocket money, many volunteers regarded it as a…
China puts tampons on sale
Jul 9, 2019 • 10 min
Tampons first went on sale in China in 1985. But many Chinese women, especially in rural areas still didn’t have access to basic sanitary products. Even now only a tiny percentage of Chinese women use tampons on a regular basis. Yashan Zhao has been…
The secret diaries of ‘Gentleman Jack’
Jul 8, 2019 • 10 min
The discovery of the diaries of 19th-century Englishwoman Anne Lister, who wrote in secret code about her love affairs with women and has been called the first modern lesbian. A landowner and a businesswoman, she defied the conventions of the time and was…
The indigenous fight to stop nuclear waste disposal
Jul 5, 2019 • 8 min
In 1995 a group of senior, indigenous Australian women started a campaign to halt the construction of a nuclear waste facility in a remote part of South Australia. Karina Lester, a granddaughter of one of the women and a translator for the campaign, spoke…
The launch of the Walkman
Jul 4, 2019 • 9 min
The portable cassette player that brought us music on the move was launched in July 1979. By the time production of the Walkman came to an end thirty years later, Sony had sold more than 220 million machines worldwide. Farhana Haider has been hearing from…
Surviving Cambodia’s ‘Killing Fields’
Jul 3, 2019 • 9 min
Extremist communists, the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 and began a social engineering project displacing millions to forced labour camps, and committing class genocide. Conditions in the camps were so appalling they became known as ‘the killing fields’.…
Germans kidnapped by Nicaragua’s rebels
Jul 2, 2019 • 8 min
In the 1980s thousands of young activists from around the world flocked to Nicaragua to support the fledgling left-wing Sandinista revolution. They came to build houses, pick coffee, or work in local health centres. Some of the foreigners were caught in…
The US judge accused of sexual harassment
Jul 1, 2019 • 8 min
In 1991 the US Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas was publicly accused of sexual misconduct by a law professor, Anita Hill. She was called to testify in front of a Senate committee, where her explosive testimony sent shock waves across America.…
Defending a British serial murderer
Jun 28, 2019 • 8 min
**Warning: Some listeners might find parts of this programme disturbing** In June 1994 Fred and Rosemary West were charged with a series of gruesome murders of young women and girls, committed over a twenty-year period in the south of England. Among the…
The Stonewall Riot
Jun 27, 2019 • 9 min
In June 1969, the gay community in New York responded to police brutality and harassment by rioting outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. The protest sparked the creation of the modern LGBT rights movement and the first Gay Pride events. Simon…
The Anfal genocide
Jun 27, 2019 • 9 min
In June 2007, an Iraqi court ruled that a 1980s campaign by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds was genocide. More than 100,000 Kurds were killed in chemical attacks and mass executions, and their villages destroyed, during the five-month Anfal campaign.…
Catch-22
Jun 25, 2019 • 11 min
Joseph Heller’s funny, tragic satirical anti-war novel was published in 1961 and sold millions. For many it epitomised the growing anti-establishment mood of the 1960s. Heller had served in a bomber squadron during World War Two. Though his experiences…
The fat acceptance movement
Jun 24, 2019 • 8 min
The National Association to Aid Fat Americans, NAAFA, held its first meeting in June 1969. Its first president was Bill Fabrey, a thin man married to an overweight woman who had realised how difficult life was for fat people in the USA. One of NAAFA’s…
The yoga teacher and the violinist
Jun 21, 2019 • 9 min
To mark world yoga day, how a chance encounter between the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the yoga teacher, BKS Iyengar in 1952 led to a life-long friendship and played a crucial role in bringing the ancient Indian tradition of yoga to the West.…
Sister Lotus - early Chinese online star
Jun 20, 2019 • 9 min
Sister Lotus was an early online celebrity in China. She first became famous in 2004 after posting pictures of herself on China’s early social media sites. But she was a slightly unlikely star because she became famous not for being exceptional, but for…
The assassinaton of Medgar Evers
Jun 19, 2019 • 10 min
In June 1963 the murder of a prominent black civil rights activist and war hero in Mississippi shook the civil rights movement. Medgar Evers was working to overturn the racist policies in the American south which made him a target for white supremacists.…
Carl Gustav Jung
Jun 18, 2019 • 8 min
One of the most influential figures in modern psychoanalysis, the Swiss thinker and writer, Carl Gustav Jung, died in June 1961. Although he had worked alongside Sigmund Freud in the early years of the 20th Century, Jung created a different style of…
The death of Neda Soltan
Jun 17, 2019 • 10 min
In June 2009 after the presidential elections in Iran, millions took to the streets to dispute Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory. A young woman, Neda Agha Soltan, became a symbol of the protest movement after she was shot dead at a demonstration in Tehran.…
The first gay marriage in the USA
Jun 14, 2019 • 8 min
Long before same-sex marriage became legal in the USA in 2015, one gay couple in Minneapolis got married in 1971. Their names were Jack Baker and Mike McConnell. They’d been issued with a marriage licence and the man who held their wedding ceremony was…
How America ‘lost’ China
Jun 13, 2019 • 9 min
After the end of WW2 the US feared its wartime ally, China, would become communist. In 1946 after the end of Japanese occupation China returned to a civil war which had been fought on and off for years. America saw China as a future ally in business and…
Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrap the Reichstag
Jun 12, 2019 • 9 min
In June 1995 artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin in fabric. The former German parliament building sat on the border between East and West Berlin. It had been gutted by fire in 1933 and extensively damaged during the Second…
The first anti-psychotic drug
Jun 11, 2019 • 11 min
In the first half of the 20th century, most mentally ill patients were locked away in psychiatric hospitals and asylums. Those suffering from severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, were often sedated or restrained. Shock therapies were standard…
The end of the war in Kosovo
Jun 10, 2019 • 8 min
Hundreds of thousands of Kosovan Albanians were forced to leave their homes when NATO started bombing Serb targets in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. By the time the bombing stopped, on June 10th 1999, over 800,000 people had been displaced. Qerim…
The Gurkha soldiers fight for equality
Jun 7, 2019 • 11 min
For over 200 years soldiers from Nepal have fought in a special regiment in the British army called the Gurkhas. In 2009 all retired Gurkhas won the right to live in Britain, following a high profile media campaign. The announcement by the British…
Broadcasting D-Day
Jun 6, 2019 • 9 min
Hear how the BBC reported the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France on June 6th 1944. The operation was a crucial step in the liberation of western Europe. Using original BBC reports from the time - from Chester Wilmot, Richard Dimbleby, Robin Duff,…
The Little Prince
Jun 5, 2019 • 10 min
In July 1944, a plane piloted by the author of the world famous children’s story The Little Prince, disappeared over the south of France. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, an experienced aviator, was on a reconnaissance mission for the Free French airforce…
D-Day
Jun 4, 2019 • 11 min
Eyewitness accounts of the Allied landings on the coast of Normandy during World War Two on 6 June 1944. The massive operation was a crucial step in the liberation of western Europe from years of Nazi rule and the defeat of Hitler’s Germany. In this…
Vikings in York
Jun 3, 2019 • 9 min
When archaeologists uncovered perfectly preserved evidence of domestic life in Viking York in the 1970s, it changed the way the Vikings were viewed. No longer just violent pirates who terrorised communities all over Europe, they were revealed to be…
Six Degrees - the first online social network
May 31, 2019 • 8 min
Six Degrees was the first online social network, allowing users to connect with their real-world contacts by creating a profile within a database. It was created by entrepreneur Andrew Weinreich. But Six Degrees never achieved the scale of later social…
Behind the scenes on Sesame Street
May 30, 2019 • 10 min
A TV show for young children, Sesame Street aimed to educate and promote tolerance at the same time. It was first broadcast in 1969 and went on to become one of the most popular children’s shows ever made. Sonia Manzano starred as Maria on Sesame Street…
Tiananmen Square escape
May 29, 2019 • 9 min
On the evening of June the 3rd 1989, the Chinese People’s Army opened fire on thousands of students who had been campaigning for democracy in the middle of Beijing. Dan Wang was a 20-year-old student leader from the elite Peking University and was one of…
Bokassa’s massacre of the children
May 28, 2019 • 10 min
Protests about expensive school uniforms in the Central African Republic eventually led to Jean-Bédel Bokassa’s fall from power in 1979. The demonstrations started with school children, but soon widened to involve university students. Bokassa ordered…
The death of Jawaharlal Nehru
May 27, 2019 • 10 min
The man who led India to independence and its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, died on May 27th 1964. His niece Nayantara Sahgal spoke to Louise Hidalgo about the great activist and intellectual in 2014. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo:…
The Acid Survivors Foundation
May 24, 2019 • 11 min
In 1999 a charity was founded in Bangladesh that was dedicated to treating and rehabilitating the survivors of acid violence. The majority of the attacks were against young women, the acid was usually thrown at their faces causing life-altering…
How environmental campaign group Greenpeace was formed
May 23, 2019 • 9 min
The environmental campaign group, Greenpeace, was formed in 1971 in western Canada, after a group of activists met in a Vancouver kitchen and decided to sail an old fishing boat to Alaska to stop a US nuclear test. Greenpeace is today one of the biggest…
Fighting Uganda’s anti-gay laws
May 22, 2019 • 11 min
In 2009 Ugandan MPs tried to introduce new laws against homosexuality that would include life imprisonment and even the death penalty. Homophobia was rife in the media with tabloid papers printing the names and addresses of gay men and lesbians. Many…
The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs
May 21, 2019 • 9 min
65 million years ago an asteroid hit the earth, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs along with three quarters of all species on earth at the time. The crater where it hit was discovered on the Yucatan peninsula in 1978 during a geological survey for…
Walking the Great Wall of China
May 20, 2019 • 9 min
It took 508 days for three friends to complete the first trek along the entire length of the ancient structure, well over 8000 kms. They began in May 1984 and finally reached their destination at the Jiayu Pass on September 24th 1985, having documented…
Hitler’s stolen children
May 17, 2019 • 10 min
During the Second World War Nazi officials searched for blonde blue-eyed children in the countries they had occupied. The children were removed from their families as part of a plan to build an Aryan master race. Ingrid Von Oelhafen grew up in Germany and…
China’s One Child policy
May 16, 2019 • 8 min
The Chinese Communist Party started ruthlessly enforcing birth control in the early 1980s. People with more than one child faced fines, or lost their jobs, or had children forcibly adopted. Yashan Zhao has been speaking to Zhou Guanghong who experienced…
The final days of Sri Lanka’s civil war
May 15, 2019 • 11 min
In May 2009 the Sri Lankan army finally crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels, ending 25 years of bloody civil war. In the final weeks of the conflict, thousands of civilians were trapped alongside the rebels under heavy shelling as the government forces closed…