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The History Hour

The History Hour

An hour of historical reporting told by the people who were there.

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Quarantined in a TB sanatorium

Extreme lockdown half a century ago: the TB children forced to endure years of isolation in a sanatorium; the unveiling of looted Nazi art works, the Rolling Stones in the dock, calls for democracy in 1990s Nepal, and the campaign to ban dangerous skin-lightening products in South Africa. Picture: boys sleep on the balcony of the Craig-y-nos TB sanatorium in Wales (Credit: private collection of the family of Mari Friend, a former patient at Craig-y-nos)
2020-07-04
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Dealing with economic crisis

As the world begins to consider how to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic, we look back at economic crises of the past and how countries have responded to them. Max Pearson hears about America's "New Deal" in the 1930s, South Korea's transformation in the 1950s and Chile's "miracle economy" of the 1970s. Plus, Tanzania and its African form of socialism, and economic shock therapy in Russia in the 1990s. PHOTO: President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935 (Getty Images).
2020-06-27
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Sex trafficking and peacekeepers

How whistle-blowers implicated UN peacekeepers and international police in the forced prostitution and trafficking of Eastern European women into Bosnia in the late 1990s. Plus, how Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross changed the way we think about death and dying when she developed her Five Stages of Grief; Beethoven's role in China's Cultural Revolution; the "friendship train" between India and Bangladesh; and the controversial teaching exercise which segregated children by whether they had blue or brown eyes. Picture: the United Nations Peacekeeping Force patrols the Bosnian capital Sarajevo in March 1996 (Credit: Roger Lemoyne/Liaison/Getty Images)
2020-06-20
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Black American History Special

Eyewitness accounts of important moments in recent African American history. We hear from the daughter of the man named in the court case which became a turning point in the battle for civil rights, plus the sister of a teenage girl killed in a racist bomb attack. We hear how the winning performance of an all-black basketball team helped change America's attitude to segregation in sport. Plus Rodney King whose attack by police in 1991 was caught on camera and seen by millions - the later acquittal of the officers sparked days of rioting. Finally we hear from Bilal Chatman who was sentenced to 150 years in prison under the 1994 'three strikes law' which disproportionately affected black Americans. Putting it all into context, presenter Max Pearson talks to Professor Gloria Browne-Marshall of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
2020-06-13
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The Zanzibar revolution

How a bloody 1960s revolution changed East Africa. We hear an eyewitness account and talk to Professor Emma Hunter of Edinburgh University. Plus the birth of ecotourism in Costa Rica, the post-war origin of the World Health Organisation, the man who created the world's first portable defibrillator, and remembering the artist Christo. PHOTO: Ugandan revolutionary and self-styled Field Marshal John Okello (1937 - 1971), leader of the Afro-Shirazi anti-Arab coup in Zanzibar, circa 1964. (Photo by Pix/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
2020-06-06
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The Gwangju massacre

Forty years on from the Gwangju uprising in South Korea, the book that changed the way we eat, plus the dangers of being a Congolese conservationist. Also, revealing accounts of British wartime leader Winston Churchill from his doctor, and the pioneering African-American dress designer who designed Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress. Photo: soldiers beating men in Gwangju in May 1980. Credit: 5.18 Memorial Foundation/AFP via Getty Images
2020-05-30
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Britain's World War Two crime wave

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. But as Simon Watts finds out from the BBC archives, there was a crime wave during the war years, with a massive increase in looting and black marketeering. Also in the programme, the first 3D printers, plus a black policeman recalls the 1980 Miami riots, Hong Kong's city within a city and explaining autism. PHOTO: A government poster from World War Two (Getty Images)
2020-05-23
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Fighting for the pill in Japan

Why Japanese women had to wait until 1999 to be allowed to take the pill, the Dutch 'Prince of scandal', plus the flatulent fish that prompted a Cold War scare, the first helpline for children and the joy of being liberated from Nazi occupation on The Channel Islands. (Photo: A collection of contraceptive pills. Getty Images)
2020-05-16
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VE Day Special

Eyewitness accounts of the fall of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War in Europe. Using unique interviews from the BBC's archives we bring you men and women who fought in the battle for Berlin, and some of those who were with Hitler in his final days. We present the story of a German woman who survived the start of Soviet occupation, and we meet the historian whose 1995 exhibition challenged Germans' view of the war. Plus the sounds of VE Day in London, 8th May 1945, as reported by the BBC at the time. Putting it all into context, presenter Max Pearson talks to Dr Mary Fulbrook, Professor of German History at University College London and author of the award winning book "Reckonings" about the aftermath of the war and the quest for justice. (Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)
2020-05-09
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The 1957 flu pandemic

A new strain of flu emerged in East Asia in 1957 and spread all over the world. Known at the time as ?Asian flu?, it killed more than a million people. We hear from a woman who survived the virus and speak to Mark Honigsbaum, author of The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris. Plus, Indonesia?s transgender rights movement, the assassination of the UN?s first Middle East mediator, conflict in the Galapagos Islands, and the trees that survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Photo: Americans worried about "Asian flu" wait their turns at Central Harlem District Health clinic in October 1957. Credit: Getty Images
2020-05-02
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The last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade

The grandson of the last surviving African-born US slave, plus the story behind the portable hospital breathing ventilator that was a precursor to those helping save coronavirus lives; also on the programme the Pakistani welfare hero, the deadly explosion which sent 130 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and candid insights from one of America's greatest playwrights.
2020-04-25
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Apollo 13: The drama that gripped the world

50 years since the Apollo 13 mission, how millions of TV viewers followed the famous rescue of the three NASA astronauts. Also, the women who led the way in America?s space programme by spending two weeks under water and what happened when Skylab crashed to Earth in 1979. Plus, a collision on board the Mir space station in 1997 and the last men on the Moon. PHOTO: The crew of Apollo 13 after their rescue (Getty Images)
2020-04-18
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How technology revolutionised our lives

In a special edition of the History Hour, Max Pearson looks back at some of the major technological milestones of recent years. We hear about the Californian computer club where the founders of Apple cut their teeth, about the inventors of the webcam and about the unlikely pioneers of home shopping. Plus, the launch of the iPhone and one of the very first social networks. PHOTO: Len Shustek, former member of the Homebrew Computer Club.
2020-04-11
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Women in the law

Trailblazing British lawyer Rose Heilbron was the first female judge at London's famous Old Bailey criminal court. Her daughter Hillary Heilbron QC remembers how hard she had to fight to be accepted. Dana Denis-Smith, founder of the First 100 Years Project about the history of women in law, discusses women's participation in legal professions around the world. Plus, being a Muslim in China, the Swedish warship restored after 300 years, the assassination that aimed to revenge the Amritsar massacre, and Pando, the biggest living organism in the world by mass. Photo: English KC (King's Counsel) Rose Heilbron (1914 - 2005) arrives at the House of Lords in London, for the traditional champagne breakfast hosted by the Lord Chancellor at the start of the Michaelmas Term for the law courts, 2nd October 1950. (Credit William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
2020-04-04
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The AIDS memorial quilt - a patchwork of loss

How an LGBTQ+ activist decided to commemorate friends who had died of AIDS with a quilt, plus sequencing the 1918 flu virus, five years of war in Yemen, the story of a child abandoned in Hong Kong, and an attack on South Korea. (Photo: A section of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Getty Images)
2020-03-28
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The launch of the Hubble Space Telescope

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. We hear from astronaut, Kathryn Sullivan. Plus, China's cure for malaria, the "Red Scare" in Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s, and a pioneering sexual harassment case at the US Supreme Court. PHOTO: The Hubble Space Telescope (NASA)
2020-03-21
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The 1918 'Spanish' flu pandemic

A special edition looking at how the world has battled deadly viruses over the past 100 years, We have eyewitness accounts of the 1918 flu, and the recent struggle against SARS, we hear how a vaccine saved millions from Polio, and the moment the world discovered the killer viruses known as Marburg Fever and Ebola in the 1960s and 70s. (Photo: An American policeman wearing a mask to protect himself from the outbreak of Spanish flu. Credit:Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
2020-03-14
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The history of the Volkswagen Beetle

How the British army helped rebuild the German car industry after WW2, plus the fight to ban leaded petrol, psychiatry as punishment in the USSR, striking South Asian women in 1970s Britain and 'Womenomics' in Japan. Picture: Major Ivan Hirst (right) driving the 1000th Beetle off the production line at Wolfsburg in March 1946 (Credit: Volkswagen AG)
2020-03-07
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Freeing American prisoners from Iran

How a former prisoner in Iran fought to free her friends, a 200-year-old Antarctic mystery, eradicating small pox, the first mobile phone and rebel nuns in the US. PHOTO: Sarah Shourd in 2010 (Getty Images)
2020-02-29
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Saving Antarctica

In October 1991, an international protocol to protect the world?s last wilderness, Antarctica, from commercial exploitation was agreed at a summit in Madrid. Louise Hidalgo talks to one of the environmentalists who led a successful campaign to protect the ice continent. Also, how meditation changes the brain, the Iraqi "supergun affair", and political art in Nigeria. Picture: Blue icebergs in Antarctica (Credit: Getty Images)
2020-02-22
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The publication of Harry Potter

A look back at some of the most influential books of modern times, including an interview with the publisher who first spotted Harry Potter's potential. Plus, Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, Brazilian bestseller Diary of a Favela, and dating handbook The Rules. Picture: JK Rowling signs copies of the final Harry Potter book "Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows" at the Natural History Museum in London, 2007. (Justin Goff\UK Press via Getty Images)
2020-02-15
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London's first black policeman

The prejudice faced by London's first black policeman, how a new sign language emerged in 1980s Nicaragua, the Native American casino boom, plus the release of Nelson Mandela and China's much maligned 19th-century dowager empress. Photo: London's first black policeman PC Norwell Roberts beginning his training with colleagues at Hendon Police College, London, 5th April 1967. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
2020-02-08
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The early days of the European Union

The hurried signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 which led to greater European unity, plus 1992 - when the British royal family started to reform its role after a year of scandal and disaster. Also on the programme, the horrific gang rape which prompted India to rethink its laws, the storm that helped British tree experts make an important scientific discovery and the woman born to slaves who became the first self-made female millionaire. Photo: European leaders at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome. Credit: Keystone/Getty Images
2020-02-01
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The mystery of the disappearing frogs

This week we're looking at extinction. The deadly fungus that's killing amphibians, the story of the Dodo, plus why discovering that whales 'sing' helped to save them. Also, the book that changed attitudes to the environment and the 'Frozen Zoo' that aims to preserve endangered DNA for future generations. (Photo: dead frog infected with Chytrid Fungus. Credit: Forrest Brem)
2020-01-25
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Storming the Stasi HQ

The fall of East Germany's secret police; racism, injustice and a child execution in the US, plus the killing of Osama Bin Laden; the woman who negotiated peace in the Philippines, and the man who saved British aristocrats' country houses. Photo Photo:East Germans streaming into the secret police headquarters in Berlin on the night of January 15th 1990. Credit: Zöllner/ullstein bild/Getty Images.
2020-01-18
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The Computers for Schools revolution

In 2009, Uruguay became the first country in the world to give a laptop computer to every child in state primary schools. We hear from the man whose initiative is credited with transforming the lives of students and teachers. Plus, a US soldier's account of the battle for the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, and memories of the Brazilian rubber-tapper and environmentalist Chico Mendes. PHOTO: Two Uruguayan children enjoying their laptops (Courtesy Plan Ceibal)
2020-01-11
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The book that warned of an end to civilisation

In 1972 a book which outlined the possible future of the world became a best-seller. 'The Limits to Growth' was based on computer modelling which suggested that if economic growth remained unfettered, there'd be a 'traumatic' decline in civilisation from 2020. It also suggested global policy changes which could prevent a downward trend. Find out which path the world took and why... Plus, why East German punks were targeted by the secret police in the 1980s, a top UN negotiator remembers how peace was won in El Salvador in 1991, the first black sitcom in Britain and the launch of the Chippendales - the first male strip show for women - in 1979. Photo: Front cover of 'The Limits to Growth' published in 1972.
2020-01-04
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The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

On 24th December 1979 Soviet troops poured into Afghanistan in support of an anti-government coup. The Soviet occupation would last for nine years. Plus, the hidden history of the board game Monopoly, the invention of chemotherapy, the heaviest aerial bombardment of the Vietnam war at Christmas 1972, and the street-performer origins of the global circus phenomenon Cirque du Soleil. Picture: Russian tanks take up positions in front of the Darulaman (Abode of Peace) Palace in Kabul, January 1980. (Henri Bureau/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
2019-12-28
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The Romanian revolution

In this edition the fall of the Ceau?escus in Romania in December 1989, a global panic over bees in the early 2000s and WW2 black GIs finally recognised decades after the war. Plus the building of Abuja as Nigeria's capital and a woman's right to pray in some Hindu temples in India. (Photo: The army join the revolutionaries in Romania 1989. Credit: Getty Images)
2019-12-21
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The Cuban writer who defied Castro

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 writing. We hear from his friend and fellow writer, Jaime Manrique. Plus the memories of the daughter of the renowned British sculptor, Henry Moore; how the DEA helped track down Pablo Escobar; the ill-fated voyage of Shackleton's ship The Endurance; and inside one of the most notorious prison camps in post Soviet Central Asia. (Photo: Reinaldo Arenas. Credit: Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Sygma/Getty Images)
2019-12-07
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The man who gave his voice to Stephen Hawking

The story of the American scientist Dennis Klatt who pioneered synthesised speech. He used recordings of himself to make the sounds that gave physicist Stephen Hawking a voice. Plus India:struggling to live through economic shock treatment in the 1990s, also LEO the first electronic office system, the first confirmed case of AIDS in America and when Uluru, Australia's famous natural landmark was handed back to the control of the country's indigenous people. (Photo: BOMBAY, INDIA: World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking answers questions with the help of a voice synthesiser during a press conference at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Bombay, 06 January 2001. Credit AFP)
2019-11-30
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I saw the soldiers who killed El Salvador's priests

The woman who risked her life to reveal that the army, not left-wing rebels, were responsible for the murder of six Jesuit priests in 1980s El Salvador; the moment when the Taser first hit the streets; the long legal fight to reclaim Klimt's masterpiece Woman in Gold; the man who got the Delhi metro built; and travels in Arabia with Wilfred Thesiger. (Photo: a plaque commemorating the murdered priests in San Salvador- courtesy of David Mee)
2019-11-23
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Rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean

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 he and his crew were promptly arrested by the Italian authorities. Max Pearson finds out more about the incident and about the migration crisis that faced the European Union in later years. Also this week, an eye-witness account of secret preparations by Hindu extremists to destroy the mosque in the Indian city of Ayodha in 1992; a grassroots struggle against pollution in America; and memories of the British war poet Wilfred Owen. (Photo: the German aid agency ship Cap Anamur in 2004. Credit: Antonello NUSCA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
2019-11-16
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Britain's secret propaganda war

Subversive warfare and 'fake news' in World War Two, the scandal which exposed horrific Indian police violence in the 1980s, two sides of the Iran hostages crisis in 1979, the woman who transformed cancer treatment, and a defining Berlin Wall rock concert. Photo The actress and singer Agnes Bernelle, who was recruited to be a presenter on a fake German radio station during the war)
2019-11-09
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'Jane' - the underground abortion service

The feminist network that performed illegal abortions in the 1960s in Chicago, the Algerian nationals who fought alongside the French in Algeria?s war of independence and when Margaret Thatcher first expressed anti- Europe sentiment. Plus the Paris hotel that hosted Holocaust survivors at the end of the Second World War and the battle to protect the Barrier Reef. Photo courtesy of Martha Scott
2019-11-02
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The fall of the Berlin Wall

1989 was a seismic year in world history and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the clearest symbol of the Cold War. But it was a series of events across Europe that added to the momentum. We journey back through Poland, Hungary and East Germany ahead of that historic moment in November, through the testimonies of the people who were there at the centre of events; the Solidarity movement in Poland, the protesters in Hungary and East Germany and an account from the first people to cross the wall. (Photo: East Germans climbing onto the top of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate after the opening of the East German border was announced in Berlin. November 9, 1989. Credit: REUTERS/Staff/Files)
2019-10-26
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An environmental history special

A pioneer of climate change science, UK's Windscale nuclear accident, Kenya's Green Belt heroine who won the Nobel Peace Prize, the man "who fed the world", and banning cars in Mexico City. (Photo: Thick black smoke blowing out of an industrial chimney. Credit: John Giles/PA)
2019-10-19
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Black British history

To mark Black History Month in the UK we look back at some landmark moments in British Black History. We hear how the famous cricketer Learie Constantine broke the colour bar, and about the Notting Hill race riots and the Bristol bus boycott. Plus, we speak to Britain?s first black female MP Diane Abbott, and one of the thousands of mixed race children born of relationships between black GIs and British women during the Second World War. With Professor Hakim Adi. Photo: Sir Learie Constantine outside Westminster Abbey in 1966. Credit: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images.
2019-10-12
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The birth of the People's Republic of China

To mark 70 years of communist China we hear from a soldier at the founding ceremony on October 1st 1949. Also, the memories of an American friend and comrade of Mao Zedong, a Red Guard who regrets the cultural revolution and the pro-communist protests in 1960s Hong Kong, plus the economic liberalisation of the 1980s. Our guide is China expert Isabel Hilton. Photo: An officer reads a newspaper to soldiers while they are waiting for the announcement of the foundation of the People's Republic of China on Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949 in Beijing, China. (Credit: Visual China Group via Getty Images)
2019-10-05
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Fighting the Islamic State group online

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, setting up a website called "Mosul Eye". Also in this edition, one black man's experience of growing up in Hitler's Germany; the gruesome death of the famous bullfighter Paquirri, switching on the Large Hadron Collider and the birth of the Sound of Music on Broadway in 1959. (Photo: Mosul Eye website. BBC)
2019-09-28
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The Cambridge spy network

The distinguished British art historian Anthony Blunt was exposed as a former Soviet spy in 1979. He was one of a group of double agents recruited at Cambridge University who passed vital information to Moscow. The BBC's Gordon Corera explains the scandal which shook the British establishment. Plus the Black Panther Party's free breakfast programme; the abolition of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy towards LGBT troops in the US military; Ethiopian troops in South Korea; and memories of celebrated children's author CS Lewis. Photo: Sir Anthony Blunt at the press conference in which he explained his motivation in 1979 (Credit: Aubrey Hart/Getty Images)
2019-09-21
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Conflict timber in Liberia's civil war

How the timber industry fuelled a brutal civil war in West Africa, the Honduran coup that left the president holed up in an embassy plus the Indian affirmative action controversy, the first ever voyage all the way around the globe 500 years ago and the sit-com "Friends" hits TV screens worldwide. (Photo: Timber near Buchanan in Liberia in 2010. Credit: Getty Images)
2019-09-14
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The outbreak of World War Two

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. Also the man who resisted the Sicilian Mafia in the 1990s plus the first all-female peacekeeping force, the defining trial of holocaust denial and why Apollo 11's astronauts were put in quarantine after their historic landing on the moon. (Image: German citizens in Gdansk (also known as Danzig) welcoming German troops during the invasion of Poland on September 3rd 1939 . Credit:EPA/National Digital Archive Poland.)
2019-09-07
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The Kindertransport children

Around 10,000 children were sent by their parents to safety in the UK out of Nazi-dominated Europe in the run-up to the outbreak of WW2 in 1939. Many of the so-called Kindertransport children never saw their parents again. We hear from Dame Stephanie Shirley who arrived in London as a five-year-old girl. Also, how the legendary singer Nina Simone went to live in Liberia, plus a key breakthrough in criminal forensics, the lynching of a black teenager that galvanised America's civil rights movement, and the murder of Mexican young women in the border town of Ciudad Juarez. (Photo:Getty Images)
2019-08-31
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The return of the wolf

Why the wolf was brought back to the US in the 1990s and the history of "rewilding", plus the liberation of Paris 75 years on, the missing children from El Salvador's civil war, the life and death of Brazil's legendary president Vargas, and the man who wanted to be a cyborg. Photo:.A Yellowstone wolf watches biologists after being tranquilized and fitted with a radio collar during wolf collaring operations in Yellowstone National Park (William Campbell/Sygma via Getty Images)
2019-08-24
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The division of Kashmir

The origins of the crisis in Kashmir, the warnings ignored about 9/11 and the arrest of the notorious terror suspect Carlos the Jackal. Plus the invention in a British back garden of the daily disposable contact lens and how Dr Seuss taught America to read. Photo: Indian troops arriving in Kashmir in October 1947 (Getty Images)
2019-08-17
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The mass exodus of Algeria's 'Pieds Noirs'

The French colonialists who returned to France after decades in Algeria, the Catholic welcome when the British army was first deployed to Northern Ireland, plus the US nuclear submarine that went under the north pole, Britain's last battle in China in WW2 and the introduction of Community Service to help relieve overcrowded prisons. (Photo: French repatriates leaving Algeria May 1962. (Photo by REPORTERS ASSOCIES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
2019-08-10
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The anti-nuclear protesters who won

The eight year protest campaign which stopped the construction of a nuclear reprocessing plant at Wackersdorf in Germany, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and from more than a decade later, the death of British weapons expert David Kelly, who got caught up in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Also, the Warsaw uprising of 1944 and from one of the most significant discoveries of Anglo-Saxon treasure in 1939. Picture: demonstrators fight against police during a protest at the Wackersdorf construction site (Istvan Bajzat/DPA/PA Images)
2019-08-03
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When Tunisia led on women's rights

Liberation for Tunisia's women in the 1950s; gay and lesbian fake marriages in China; the Chappaquiddick incident in the US; the birth of Mamma Mia! the musical, and the discovery of the fossilised remains of humanity's oldest ancestor. Photo: courtesy of Saida El Gueyed
2019-07-27
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Exploring space

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing in July 1969, five personal accounts of landmarks in space exploration. We hear from an Apollo flight controller about the moment Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, and from one of the astronauts who survived the Apollo 13 near disaster. Plus how Laika the dog became the first living creature in space, the pioneering woman cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, and Britain's attempt to put the Beagle 2 lander on Mars. PHOTO: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in July 1969 (Getty Images)
2019-07-20
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