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The History Hour

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

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

Rank #1: The Break-Up of the Soviet Union

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December 1991 saw the end of 70 years of communist rule and the collapse of the Soviet Union. We hear from two of the key signatories of the dissolution treaty, a witness to the ensuing crisis in one of the newly independent states, and from an American nuclear expert who helped clean-up the former USSR. Also, the performance artist protesting about the growing divide between rich and poor, and the first editor of Vogue magazine in Russia.
Photo: The leaders of Ukraine and Belorussia, alongside Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, at the ceremony formally dissolving the USSR in December 1991, Credit: AP

Dec 31 2016

50mins

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Rank #2: The anti-nuclear protesters who won

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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)

Aug 03 2019

51mins

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Rank #3: The last days of Hitler

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Hitler's secretary on the last days in the bunker; a CIA operative on the killing of Che Guevara, remembering the US invasion of Iraq, a child of the Soweto Uprising and the tricky task of bringing Disneyland to France.
Photo: Getty Images

Feb 09 2019

50mins

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Rank #4: D-Day

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Eyewitness accounts of the Allied invasion of Nazi occupied Europe on D-day, 6th June 1944. We also hear how the BBC reported events on that momentous day. Plus Vikings in England, the Gurkhas fight for justice and discovering the fate of 'The Little Prince'

Photo: The photo titled 'The Jaws of Death' shows a landing craft disembarking US troops on Omaha beach, 6th June 1944 ( Robert Sargent / US COAST GUARD)

Jun 08 2019

50mins

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Rank #5: The fall of the Berlin Wall

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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)

Oct 26 2019

49mins

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Rank #6: The Munich Air Disaster

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The plane crash that killed eight of Manchester United's top players, the courage of the British Suffragettes, uncovering South Africa's nuclear secrets, plus tracking down Nazis in South America and the attack on a South Korean airliner ahead of the Seoul Olympics.
(Photo: Plane wreckage at Munich airport - AFP/Getty Images)

Feb 10 2018

50mins

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Rank #7: The End of World War One

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11th November 1918 saw the end of a four year war that had killed an estimated 20 million soldiers and civilians around the world. We hear eyewitness accounts of the conflict which was fought by many nations, on many continents. The historian, Professor Annika Mombauer joins Max Pearson to discuss the devastating war that changed the world.

Photo: Crowds in London celebrate the signing of the Armistice on 11th November 1918 (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Nov 10 2018

51mins

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Rank #8: Psychological Warfare

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Spooking fighters during the Vietnam War, building the Mont Blanc Tunnel, designing a Nintendo legend, the murder of Gianni Versace and archive voices from the 'Bonus Army' a protest movement of WW1 veterans which shook the US government in 1932.
Photo:Viet Cong guerrillas on patrol during the Vietnam War, 2nd March 1966: (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Jul 22 2017

50mins

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Rank #9: When France Said 'Non' to Britain Joining Europe

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When France stopped Britain joining Europe in the 1960s, the boy who set a record for continuously staying awake, the launch of the first iPhone, hands reaching out in friendship between Britain and Germany after the Second World War, and a notorious massacre during Algeria's bitter internal conflict of the 1990s.
Photo: Charles de Gaulle, President of France, at a press conference on 14th January 1963 at which he said Britain was not ready to join the European Economic Community, now the EU (Credit: Central Press/Getty Images)

Jan 13 2018

49mins

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Rank #10: The Malayan Emergency

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Battling a communist insurgency in 1950s Malaya, the sinking of the Belgrano during the UK Argentine conflict, plus how Ellen DeGeneres came out to millions on US TV, also the African who made the Arctic his home because of his fear of snakes and the life of WW1 poet Rupert Brooke.

Photo: A photograph taken by a British sergeant on patrol in the Malayan jungle.. (Copyright: Keystone/Getty Images)

May 04 2019

51mins

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Rank #11: The Hate Crime That Changed American Law

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Why the brutal killing of a young gay man in Wyoming prompted change, how white people came to terms with their past after segregation in deep south America, living alongside Israeli soldiers in Gaza, plus modern treasures uncovered in Iran and rediscovered Tudor treasures raised from the English seabed.
(Photo: Matthew Shepard with his parents, Judy and Dennis, on holiday at Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy of the Matthew Shepard Foundation)

Oct 07 2017

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Rank #12: The outbreak of World War Two

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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.)

Sep 07 2019

52mins

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Rank #13: The birth of the People's Republic of China

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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)

Oct 05 2019

49mins

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Rank #14: The 1918 'Spanish' flu pandemic

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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)

Mar 14 2020

50mins

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Rank #15: The Second World War in Japan

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It’s 75 years this week since the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which led to Japan’s surrender to Allied forces and the end of the Second World War. We hear first-hand accounts of military turning points in the Pacific including the attack on Pearl Harbour and the Battle of Midway, and historian Ian Buruma explains the context for Japan’s attack on the US. We also hear about the impact of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki on civilians, about Japanese-American citizens imprisoned in internment camps in the US, and about the writing of Japan’s post-war constitution.

Picture: Mushroom cloud over Nagasaki after bombing by atomic bomb on 9th August 1945 ( US Air Force photo/PA)

Aug 08 2020

50mins

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Rank #16: The book that warned of an end to civilisation

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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.

Jan 04 2020

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Rank #17: Smiling Buddha: India's First Nuclear Test

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The scientist at the forefront of India's first successful nuclear test in 1974, plus how an undersea mission finally found the remains of nearly 300 migrants drowned off Italy in the 1990s; also, Der Spiegel journalists under threat in Germany, and remembering two great artists - Nigeria's Chinua Achebe and Robert Mapplethorpe.
Photo: A crater marks the site of the first Indian underground nuclear test conducted 18 May 1974 at Pokhran in the desert state of Rajasthan. (PUNJAB PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images)

Jul 14 2018

50mins

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Rank #18: US presidential history special

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Eyewitness accounts of moments in US presidential history: Inside JFK's election victory, remembering Shirley Chisholm - the first African American from a major party to make a presidential run, plus a senator's account of the Watergate hearings, the rise of the religious right and the story of President Bush's 9/11.

Photo: US President John F. Kennedy giving his first State of the Union address to Congress in January 1961. (Credit: NASA/SSPL/Getty Images)

Oct 31 2020

51mins

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Rank #19: Vatican II: Reforming the Catholic Church

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In January 1959 Pope John XXIII announced a council of all the world's Catholic bishops and cardinals in Rome. It led to sweeping reforms. Plus Carmen Callil recalls setting up Virago, the most successful feminist publishing house to date; India gives birth to the call centres and remembering the Carry-on films.

(Photo; Pope John XXIII at the Vatican. Credit: Getty Images)

Jan 26 2019

41mins

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Rank #20: Nike and the Sweatshop Problem

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On this week's programme, how campaigners took on Nike in the 1990s, plus the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the newspaper which defied Argentine's military dictatorship. We also find out more about nudism in East Germany and the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.
PHOTO: Nike worker Cicih Sukaesih telling her story in America in 1996 (courtesy of Jeff Ballinger)

Aug 19 2017

50mins

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The Iron Curtain

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Churchill's Iron Curtain speech about the Cold War, the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa which radicalised many anti-apartheid movements and we hear from a man whose relatives were killed when police bombed the home of African-American radicals in the US. Plus how Nauru became a Pacific island limbo for asylum seekers and the first man to dive to the deepest point on the planet - the bottom of the Mariana Trench. We'll also hear from a BBC science correspondent about why we know more about space than the deepest depths of the ocean.

Photo: Winston Churchill at the podium delivering his "Iron Curtain" speech, at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri, 5th March 1946 (PA)

Mar 06 2021

49mins

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The fall of Kwame Nkrumah

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An eyewitness account of the overthrow of Ghana's famous independence leader. And we examine Nkrumah's legacy with Prof. Gareth Austin from Cambridge University. Plus the story of a heroic African WW2 airman, the scientists who alerted the world to the threat of acid rain, a Nobel Peace Prize winner on the 1990s campaign to ban landmines and an inside account of Ireland's financial crisis.

Photo: Kwame Nkrumah c 1955 (Getty Images)

Feb 27 2021

51mins

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Black History: The Black Panthers

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As part of our Black History coverage we look back at the Black Panthers and ask Professor Clayborne Carson of Stanford University "How radical was the US black rights group?" Also, we bring you an archive interview with Mary Wilson of the Supremes, we delve into the question of compensation after the abolition of slavery - and no, not compensation for the people who had been enslaved, but for the former slave owners. Also, how one descendent of slaves, James Dawkins, discovered his ancestors' connection with the British writer Richard Dawkins. And, looking back at the story of Henrietta Lacks the African-American whose cells revolutionised medical science.

Photo: Schoolchildren at a Black Panthers breakfast club. Credit: Shutterstock

Feb 20 2021

50mins

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US 'smart bombs' hit an Iraqi air raid shelter

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More than 400 civilians were killed when two US precision bombs hit the Amiriya air raid shelter in western Baghdad on the morning of 13 February 1991. The Americans claimed that the building had served as a command and control centre for Saddam Hussein's forces. It was the largest single case of civilian casualities that ocurred during Operation Desert Storm. Also in this week's programme, a drug scandal from the 1970s which blighted the lives of generations, rare archive of the celebrated British artist, Francis Bacon, the 1980s New York Street News newspaper set up to help the homeless and we hear from a nurse from West Africa who devoted her life to the British health service.

Photo: Inside the Amiriya air-raid shelter following the US bombing (Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)

Feb 13 2021

50mins

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The Burma protests of 1988

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In August 1988, people took to the streets of Burma, or Myanmar, to protest against the country's military government. The bloody uprising would lead to the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi as the country's pro-democracy leader. Also, the epidemic of drug use among US troops in Vietnam in the 1970s, the first Eurostar train service and the launch of the spectacular Moscow State Circus in 1971

PHOTO: Protestors in Rangoon in 1988 (Getty Images)

Feb 06 2021

50mins

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The Arab Spring of 2011

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In the early months of 2011 a wave of social unrest swept across the Arab world as people protested against repressive and authoritarian regimes, economic stagnation, unemployment and corruption. It began with reaction to the self-immolation of a young market trader in Tunisia, but soon became an outpouring of resentment after generations of fear. On The History Hour, Professor Khaled Fahmy of Cambridge University, helps us unravel the roots of the uprisings, describes what it was like to be there, and looks at why things haven't turned out as the protesters had wanted.

Photo: Libyan anti-Gaddafi protesters wave their old national flag as they stand atop an abandoned army tank in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on February 28, 2011.(Credit PATRICK BAZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Jan 30 2021

50mins

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Hitler's beer hall putsch

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Hitler made his first attempt at seizing power in Germany in 1923, ten years before he eventually became Chancellor. The failed "beer hall putsch" - so named because it started in a beer hall in the southern city of Munich - would become a foundational part of the Nazis' self-mythology. Professor Frank McDonough tells us more.

Plus, more Nazis with The Turner Diaries, the novel that inspired the US far right; anti-Sikh riots in India; the birth of Swahili-language publishing; and the house fire in New Cross, South London, which led to a Black People's Day of Action.

PHOTO: Nazi members during the Beer Hall Putsch, Munich, Germany 1923 (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Jan 23 2021

49mins

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Attack at the US Capitol

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In 1954, Puerto Rican militants opened fire in the US House of Representatives, wounding five Congressmen - we hear how the assault was one of many previous attacks on American democracy. Plus, the coup attempt in Spain in 1981, India's first woman lawyer and landing a probe on Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

PHOTO: Lolita Lebron and two other Puerto Rican activists are arrested in 1954 (Getty Images)

Jan 16 2021

52mins

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Buddhist on Death Row

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How US inmates turned to Buddhism to face execution in 1990s Arkansas, and we look at the history of the death penalty in the US with Prof Vivien Miller. Plus, the truth of a space "strike", the 70s book that predicted global decline in 2020, sequencing the Ebola virus and we hear the world's oldest song.

Photo: Anna Cox and inmate Frankie Parker.

Jan 09 2021

52mins

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75 years of UNESCO

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UNESCO - the United Nations Scientific, Cultural and Educational Organisation - was set up 75 years ago, in the aftermath of the Second World War.

It’s probably best known for its work protecting cultural monuments and areas of natural beauty around the world, but when it was founded, its aim was to use education as a means of sustaining peace after the horrors of the war.

In this episode of The History Hour: UNESCO’s work on race and tolerance, its effort in the 1960s to save Egyptian treasures from the rising waters of the Aswan Dam, Le Corbusier’s attempt to build a model city in India, the fight to protect the Great Barrier Reef and the tragic story of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.

Jan 02 2021

50mins

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Film special

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We hear from eye-witnesses to some classic moments in cinema history – from It’s a Wonderful Life to Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy via Studio Ghibli, the Sound of Music and Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator.

Plus, film critic Helen O’Hara tells us about the history of Christmas movies.

Photo: one of the final scenes from Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, featuring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Carol Coombs, Jimmy Hawkins, Larry Simms and Karolyn Grimes, clockwise from top (photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images)

Dec 26 2020

50mins

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The birth of Bangladesh

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How Pakistan's first democratic elections in 1970 led to war, the break up of Pakistan and the creation of a new country, Bangladesh. Also Gibraltar under Spanish blockade plus refugees from Namibia’s war of independence, Britain’s first reality TV family and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.

Photo East Pakistan 1971 The flag of Bangladesh is raised at the Awami League headquarters. Credit Getty Images

Dec 19 2020

54mins

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The first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize

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When Chief Albert Luthuli won the Nobel Peace Prize he was living under a banning order in rural South Africa. He won the prize for advocating peaceful opposition to the Apartheid regime. We hear from his daughter Albertina and speak to a South African historian about his legacy. Plus the cave discovery in France that changed the way we think about Neanderthals, the best-selling African-American crime writer Chester Himes, celebrating 100 years since a cinematic first and the reintroduction of beavers that's helping restore Scotland's ecosystem.

(Picture: Albert Luthuli receives the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961. Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive)

Dec 12 2020

50mins

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The fall of Addis Ababa

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In May 1991, the brutal Ethiopian dictator, Colonel Mengistu and his military regime were on the verge of collapse after years of civil war. The end came when a Tigrayan-led rebel movement advanced on the capital Addis Ababa and took power. We get a first-hand account from an American diplomat and hear how the events of 1991 contributed to the current crisis in Ethiopia. Plus, the controversy in France over banning headscarves and other religious symbols from schools, the Nazis' terrifying V1 bombing campaign in World War Two and the story of the Haitian slave leader, Toussaint Louverture.

Photo: EPRDF rebels in Addis Ababa, 28 May, 1991 (BBC)

Dec 05 2020

51mins

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Disability History special

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We look back at the fight for disability rights in the UK and India in the 1990s, plus the remarkable life of Helen Keller as told by her great niece, how a Rwandan Paralympic volleyball team made history, and the invention of the iconic disability vehicle, the Invacar. And we speak to Colin Barnes, Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies at Leeds University, about the historic struggle for disabled rights and recognition.

Photo: A disabled woman on her mobility scooter is carried away by four policemen after obstructing the traffic outside the Houses of Parliament. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Nov 28 2020

50mins

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The world's first woman premier

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Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected prime minster of Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was known then, in 1960 following the assassination of her husband, Solomon Bandaranaike and became the first female prime minister in the world. We hear from Dr Asanga Welikala about her legacy. Plus the first Arab leader to visit Israel, the former hostage taken captive by Somali pirates in 2008 who came to sympathise with their plight and the Jewish refugees given sanctuary by America during WW2. Also the revolutionary and graphic book for women published in 1973 which helped us understand women's bodies and is now published in 33 different languages.

Photo: Sirimavo Bandaranaike the Prime Minister of Ceylon (later Sri Lanka), 1960. Credit Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nov 21 2020

50mins

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The Guerrilla Girls

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In 1985 a group of anonymous female artists in New York began dressing up with gorilla masks on their heads and putting up fly-posters around the city's museums and galleries. We hear from two of the original Guerrilla Girls, who launched a campaign to demand greater representation for women and minorities in the art world. Also on the programme, the rarely heard voices of Africans who were forced to take sides in WW1; how Pluto lost its status as a planet, the invention of a revolutionary sign language, Makaton, in the 1970s, and changing 20th century theories of child rearing.

PHOTO: Some of the Guerrilla Girls in 1990 (Getty Images)

Nov 14 2020

49mins

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The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

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In 1995, the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. We hear how his death scuppered hopes of peace in the Middle East. Plus, the racism endured by children born to black American soldiers and German mothers after World War Two, the rebuilding of Dresden's most famous church, and nude theatre in London and New York.

PHOTO: Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 (Getty Images)

Nov 07 2020

50mins

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US presidential history special

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Eyewitness accounts of moments in US presidential history: Inside JFK's election victory, remembering Shirley Chisholm - the first African American from a major party to make a presidential run, plus a senator's account of the Watergate hearings, the rise of the religious right and the story of President Bush's 9/11.

Photo: US President John F. Kennedy giving his first State of the Union address to Congress in January 1961. (Credit: NASA/SSPL/Getty Images)

Oct 31 2020

51mins

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Why Portugal decriminalised all drugs

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In the grips of a drug crisis, why Portugal took a radical approach in 2001 and became the first country in the world to decriminalise all drugs. Also searching for those who disappeared during apartheid rule in South Africa, how mistakes with the initial production of the polio vaccine made thousands of children ill in 1995, plus the black women who helped propel NASA's space programme and Joan Littlewood a giant in 20th century British theatre.

(Image: Staffers interview a new patient in Lisbon, Portugal (Credit: Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Oct 24 2020

51mins

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iTunes Ratings

335 Ratings
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Great podcast!

By DFB3 - Aug 24 2019
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Well done,with excellent research and delivery!

For history lovers

By pernipicus - Feb 01 2019
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Good pacing to keep you interested and a good variety of events each episode.