History as told by the people who were there.
In January 1978 a London newspaper revealed how several British lesbians had conceived babies using donor sperm with the help of a respected gynaecologist. The doctor hadn’t broken any laws in providing the fertility treatment but the stigma surrounding homosexuality at the time meant the revelations started a media frenzy and a heated national debate. There were discussions in the press, in the streets and in Parliament. One MP called for a ban on the practice and called it ‘evil’, ‘selfish’ an...more
The anti-nuclear weapons protest was the biggest women-led movement in the UK since the Suffragettes. It began in 1981 when Ann Pettitt from Wales organised a women-led peace march from the Welsh capital Cardiff to the airbase at Greenham Common, where American nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were being kept. A small group of women decided to set up camp outside the fences of Greenham Common to continue their protest. Women from all over the UK joined the demonstrations, some travelled from Eur...more
During World War Two, close to 20,000 Polish people found refuge in Africa. They arrived after surviving imprisonment in Soviet labour camps and a harrowing journey across the Soviet Union to freedom. Casimir Szczepanik arrived as a child in a refugee camp in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia). He talks to Rob Walker about his life there and the impact the war still has on him. Photo:Casimir Szczepanik and his mother in the refugee camp. Credit:Casimir Szczepanik
When the socialist leader of Mozambique and some of his senior advisers were killed in a plane crash on the border with South Africa, many were suspicious. It was 19 October 1986 and the two countries were divided over Apartheid. The plane made a sudden direct turn straight into a range of mountains, and one of the air crash investigators at the scene, Dr Alan Diehl, told Rebecca Kesby there are reasons to suspect the plane was deliberately diverted off course. (Photo: The socialist leader of M...more
Sarah Jones is the first person who had undergone a gender change to be ordained in the Church of England. She has been talking to Phil Marzouk about her journey towards the priesthood. She says that in her early life she knew that although she had been born a boy, she wasn’t one. She also knew that she wanted to work in the church. She transitioned as a woman in 1991, and was first ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 2004. Photo: Sarah Jones.
In America, there are few issues as controversial as abortion. It’s a major fault line that runs through society, dividing families and even influencing elections. In the 1980s and 1990s, some groups within America’s anti-abortion movement became militant. There were hundreds of bombing and arson attacks on clinics. Some groups began to argue that to save the lives of what they called ‘pre-born babies’, it was morally justifiable to murder abortion providers. Journalist Amanda Robb tells Viv Jon...more
Under legislation known as the Hudood Ordinances introduced in 1979, a nearly blind teenage girl who'd been raped by two men and then became pregnant, was jailed herself for having sex outside marriage. In 1983 Safia Bibi was sentenced to three years imprisonment, 15 lashes and a fine. There was public outrage and anger from Pakistani women against the verdict and draconian punishment. Farhana Haider has been speaking to leading Pakistani lawyer and human rights advocate, Hina Jilani, who helped...more
Eighteen-month-old Jessica McClure fell down a well-shaft while playing with other children in Texas in October 1987. It took almost three days to free her, and as the rescue effort got underway the American media became transfixed by her story. Susan Hulme has been talking Joe Faulkner, a neighbour who watched the drama unfold. Photo: a policeman carries Jessica away from the well shaft. Credit: Barbara Laing/Liaison Agency/Getty Images.
In 1960s Britain extreme right-wing groups were on the rise. A schoolteacher called Colin Jordan led a Nazi rally in Trafalgar Square in central London. He openly praised Hitler and called for Britain to be freed from what he called 'Jewish control'. He was also a white supremacist who called for the repatriation of black people. Claire Bowes has been speaking to Gerry Gable, a Jewish anti-fascist activist who helped infiltrate Jordan's National Socialist Movement as well as helping secure the ...more
Saudi author Raja Alem was a voracious reader from an early age and thanks to her liberal-minded father, grew up immersed in books. She was in her early teens when she began to write novellas and then articles in the cultural supplements of newspapers in her native Saudi Arabia. In 2011, she became the first woman to win the prestigious international Booker prize for Arabic fiction for her novel The Dove's Necklace - a murder mystery set in modern-day Mecca. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to Raj...more
Bermuda-born Clyde Best came to England as a teenager in 1968 and went on to play for West Ham United alongside the likes of Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. Best made a name for himself as a talented goal-scorer in more than 200 appearances for the Hammers, but he faced constant racist abuse from fans, and on occasion, from opposition players. Clyde Best told Mike Lanchin about how he stood up to the racists in English soccer. (Photo: Clyde Best on the ball, 4 March 1972. Credit: Mirror Group New...more
In 1998, Christopher Alder, a black former soldier, choked to death in handcuffs on the floor of a British police station. CCTV footage showed the 37-year-old father-of-two gasping for air as officers chatted and joked around him. It took 11 minutes for him to stop breathing. An inquest found Christopher Alder was unlawfully killed but no-one has ever been held accountable for his death. Farhana Haider spoke to Janet Alder about her long fight to get justice for her brother. Photo:Christopher ...more
In the early 20th century, many Somali seafarers made their way to Britain on merchant ships, establishing communities in cities such as Cardiff. One of them, Ibrahim Ismaa'il, made his way to the UK from the port of Aden. He then struck up an unlikely friendship with an eminent anthropologist who lived in an alternative community in the Cotswolds. The anthropologist later recorded Ismaa'il's remarkable life-story. Chloe Hadjimatheou reports. PHOTO: A British liner in the port of Aden in the 19...more
During World War Two, tens of thousands of African-American US servicemen passed through the UK as part of the war effort. The black GIs stationed in Britain were forced by the American military to abide by the racial segregation laws that applied in the deep south of the US. But that didn't stop relationships developing between British women and the black soldiers, some of whom went on to have children. Babs Gibson-Ward was one those children. She spoke to Farhana Haider about the stigma of gro...more
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, Norwell endured years of racist abuse from colleagues within the force. Norwell Roberts spoke to Alex Last about growing up in Britain and his determination to be a pioneer in the police. (Photo: London's first black policeman PC Norwell Roberts beginning his training with colleagues a...more
In November 1987, the Romanian cargo ship, the Fundulea, was attacked by an Iranian gunboat in the Persian Gulf. It was just one of hundreds of merchant ships hit by missiles or mines in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, as both sides sought to damage each other's oil exports and trade. The conflict at sea became known as the Tanker War. Major naval powers deployed to the Gulf to protect their shipping, but many ships, like the Fundulea, ran the gauntlet unescorted. Alex Last has been speaking ...more
In the early 1980s in West Germany, a radical new political party was on the rise. Die Grünen - the Greens - championed protecting the environment, scrapping nuclear power plants and nuclear missiles, and stopping pollution. A movement as well as a party, the Greens brought together disparate groups of environmentalists, conservative farmers and youthful anti-nuclear activists. Petra Kelly, the party’s most prominent spokesperson, was a charismatic speaker who became an international name. Her l...more
In 1996 the UK government said there was a link between BSE in cattle and Variant CJD in humans. It's believed that more than 100 people contracted the debilitating and ultimately fatal disease after eating infected beef during an outbreak in the 1980s and 1990s. Initially scientists had no idea what was causing their strange symptoms, until a link was found that traced CJD back to BSE or 'mad cow disease', as it became known, in cattle. Millions of cows were destroyed and feeding practices ...more
In 1971 photographer Claudia Andujar began documenting the lives of a remote indigenous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon jungle. Claudia went on to take thousands of unique images of Yanomami men, women and children. Her photographs helped the campaign for recognition of the Yanomami's rights over their own land. Mike Lanchin has been hearing from Claudia, now in her 90s, about how she was received by the indigenous group when she first arrived in the Amazon, and how she won them over with her smil...more
The Taliban first started to gather support in the south of Afghanistan in the early 1990s. By September 27th 1996 they had taken control of the country's capital Kabul. Journalist and writer Ahmed Rashid watched their rise, from the religious schools in refugee camps on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, to their ultimate victory over the American-led coalition forces. He's been speaking to Zak Brophy. Photo:Taliban fighters on the back of a vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 202...more
Gunmen from the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab attacked a shopping centre in Nairobi taking hundreds hostage. The group claimed it was in retaliation for Kenyan military action against them in southern Somalia. The siege lasted four days in September 2013 and more than 60 people were killed, but hundreds more were injured and traumatised. Daniel Ouma was a paramedic on duty at the scene and explains to Rebecca Kesby how his team tried to help people affected. PHOTO: A police officer during ...more
As the 25th James Bond film hits cinema screens we look at the lasting appeal of the franchise. The original author, Ian Fleming, died in the 1960s but other writers took on the challenge of keeping Britain's most famous secret agent alive. Photo:Daniel Craig as James Bond in No Time To Die. Credit: Nicola Dove/PA Wire.
Alexander Litvinenko was a former colonel in the Russian secret service and a critic of Vladimir Putin's government. He fled to London seeking political asylum in 2000. In November 2006 he was poisoned with the highly radioactive substance Polonium-210. Rebecca Kesby spoke to his wife Marina, about his life and excruciating death. This programme is a rebroadcast (PHOTO: Alexander Litvinenko in a London hospital a couple of days before his death in November 2006. Credit Getty Images.) Show le...more
Thousands of people flocked to the village of Tlacote in central Mexico in 1991. They hoped to be cured by 'magical' water after rumours spread about its healing powers.Maria Elena Navas spoke to Edmundo Gonzalez Llaca who was an official in the local environment ministry in 1991 and who was sent to Tlacote to check out what all the fuss was about. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Hands under a stream of water (Getty Images)
In the late 1960s, the widow of President Kennedy had a secret romance with Aristotle Onassis, who was then the richest man in the world. Simon Watts spoke to Nico Mastorakis, a Greek journalist who visited Onassis’s yacht in disguise to confirm the relationship and secure a sensational scoop. Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis would go on to marry in October 1968 in a spectacular ceremony on the private island of Skorpios. PHOTO:Jackie Kennedy with Aristotle Onassis in 1968. Credit: David Ca...more
In 1969 a satirical book, The Peter Principle, suggested that promotion led to incompetence. Written by a Canadian Professor of Education, Dr Laurence J. Peter and playwright Raymond Hull, the book was a parody of management theory but it's core message struck a chord with many. It became an instant classic, selling millions of copies around the world. We present a rare archive recording of Dr Peter, explaining his theory that “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompet...more
In 1971 a group of squatters, artists and activists took over a disused military barracks on the edge of Copenhagen. They established a self-governing hippy commune called Freetown Christiania, after the surrounding district of Christianshavn. Residents began to build houses along their own experimental designs and soon Christiania had its own theatre, bakery and kindergarten. The semi-autonomous enclave is still there today and is one of the oldest and largest communes in the world. Viv Jones s...more
In 2010 the Haitian capital and surrounding areas were hit by a catastrophic earthquake. Much of Port Au Prince was flattened and more than a hundred thousand people were killed. Amid the destruction and death people's first instinct was to pull together and help one another. Zak Brophy has been speaking to Kinsley Jean who was just a teenager when his family home collapsed around him. Photo: Men gather to try to reach those still buried in the rubble beneath the Haitian Department of Justice b...more
King Louis XVI of France and his queen, Marie Antoinette, were killed during the French Revolution. Their son and heir was said to have died in prison in 1795 but did he in fact escape? The 10-year-old spent his last two years of life in solitary confinement with no human contact. During his final few months he neither talked nor walked, rumours spread that this was an imposter and that the real dauphin had been smuggled out in a laundry basket and replaced with another boy. Years later, dozens ...more
In September 1971 prisoners in a high security jail in the USA turned on their guards taking 42 people hostage. After 4 days of negotiations, armed police retook the jail. By the time the siege ended 39 people were dead. Rebecca Kesby spoke to Carlos Roache, a former prisoner who took part in the uprising. PHOTO: Attica prisoners making the black power salute (Getty Images)
In the Aftermath of the Al Qaeda attacks against America on September 11th 2001, many Muslims living in the US had their allegiance to America questioned. In the days after 9/11 all over America hate crimes against Muslims and anyone perceived to be Muslims soared. In 2001, according to crime statistics by the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs in the US increased by 1,700 percent. Stories about Muslim women in hijabs and Muslim men with beards being attacked became commonplace. Farhana...more
In October 2001, just a month after the 9/11 attacks, the first airstrikes against Afghanistan began in what the US and its allies called Operation Enduring Freedom. The country was being targeted because it had provided a haven for al-Qaeda. In 2011 Louise Hidalgo spoke to two Afghans who were in Kabul the night the bombing started. (Photo: The aftermath of a US airstrike on Kandahar. Credit: Getty Images)
The al-Qaeda attacks against America took place on the morning of September the 11th 2001. The news was broken to the US President, George W Bush by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card, as he was on a visit to an elementary school. Simon Watts reports. This programme was first broadcast in 2020. (Photo: President George W. Bush shortly after learning of the 9/11 attacks. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
On the 9th of September 2001 the Afghan fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud who led the opposition to Taliban rule, was killed by a suicide bomber. Just two days later, Al Qaeda carried out their attacks in the USA. In 2011 Louise Hidalgo spoke one of Ahmed Shah Massoud's friends who was with him the day he died. PHOTO: Ahmed Shah Massoud (Getty Images)
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 Hidalgo spoke to former Senator Gary Hart who co-chaired the Congressional Commission that tried to convince the government to take action. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Smoke pours from the World Trade Centre after it was hit by two passe...more
When World War Two ended and the Korean peninsula was divided, Soviet soldiers occupied the North, and US soldiers occupied the South. So how did one man, Kim Il-sung, take control of communist North Korea and create the long-lasting dynasty that still runs the country today? Kevin Kim has been hearing from Professor Kim Hyung-suk about his meeting with Kim Il-sung, and about the mystery behind his rise to power. Photo: North Korean illustration of Kim Il-sung surrounded by happy citizens.
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 few months later, in the summer of 1991, he was executed in person by one of Cosa Nostra’s top bosses. Libero Grassi’s defiance is credited with inspiring a new grass-roots movement among businesses in Sicily that stands up to the Mafia. Simon Watts spok...more
When South Vietnam fell in 1975, most could not escape. In the last days, the US airlifted its remaining personnel and some high ranking Vietnamese officials - but millions were left behind to await their fate. This is the account of one South Vietnamese veteran who remained in Saigon as North Vietnamese forces took the city. Dr Tran Xuan Dung served as a doctor in the South Vietnamese Marines. He would spend three years imprisoned in a "re-education" camp before fleeing with his family in 1978....more
This electric car revolution is finally on the horizon: many car manufacturers have promised to make only electric vehicles in the near future, in response to the climate emergency. But the first mass-produced modern electric car, the General Motors EV1, was launched back in 1996. Within a few short years it was scrapped: almost every vehicle was recalled and crushed, and the car of the future disappeared in history’s rear-view mirror. Viv Jones hears the story from one of the car’s creators,...more
Muhammadu Buhari's military government launched an unusual campaign to clean up Nigeria in August 1984. Under the policy, Nigerians were forced to queue in an orderly manner, to be punctual and to obey traffic laws. The punishments for infractions could be brutal. Veteran Nigerian journalist Sola Odunfa spoke to Alex Last about the reaction in Lagos to the War Against Indiscipline. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: The Oshodi district of Lagos, 2008 (AFP/Getty Images)
The Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani was one of the most influential and famous Arab cultural figures of the 20th century. His enduring legacy has become contested territory in the conflict that has torn his homeland apart.
In the mid 2000s disability campaigners in Mexico were stepping up their efforts to secure changes in laws and attitudes in their country. They faced indifference from politicians and business leaders, and stereotypical portrayals in the media. For the estimated 4.3 million women with disabilities in Mexico, the situation was even more difficult. Maryangel Garcia-Ramos, who has become one of her country's leading disability activists, tells Mike Lanchin about her own personal struggle and the ba...more
When the RMS Titanic sank in 1912, after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic, roughly 700 passengers survived by escaping in the ship's lifeboats. Among them were six Chinese sailors travelling in third class. Unlike other survivors, their stories remained untold for decades. They faced racism and a hostile immigration system when they reached America. Viv Jones speaks to Tom Fong, the son of one of the Chinese sailors. He only found out what had happened to his father after his death. Pho...more
The economist John Maynard Keynes transformed 20th century economic policy. Considered one of the great minds of his age, his seminal work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, sought to diagnose and find solutions to the misery and mass unemployment of the Great Depression. For decades his ideas were central to economic policy adopted across the western world and have made a comeback after the financial crash of 2008. Alex Last presents rare recordings of Keynes from the BBC arc...more
Nicolae Ceaușescu was the first communist leader to be given a full state visit to the UK, but it was controversial from the outset. The Romanian president was a known dictator who ran a brutal regime, but Britain was still cash-strapped after World War Two and was desperate to build new trading partners. Dorian Galbinski was one of the main translators for the visit and he explains to Rebecca Kesby some of the background to the event. (Photo: June 1978: Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu rid...more
In August 1990 following the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of neighbouring Kuwait hundreds of foreign nationals were held hostage by the Iraqi government. Among them were the Rahims, a British Muslim family who had been in Iraq on a religious pilgrimage. Sameer Rahim has been speaking to Farhana Haider about his time as Saddam's prisoner. Image: Saddam Hussein with western hostages, Iraq 1990 Credit: Shutterstock
When Indian independence leaders, including Gandhi, were jailed in 1942, activists set up a secret radio station to carry the message of rebellion against British rule. Among the campaigners who worked at the station was Usha Mehta, who was later imprisoned for broadcasting anti-British news and playing patriotic music. Claire Bowes has been listening to archive material of Usha Mehta and speaking to her nephew, Indian film-maker Ketan Mehta. Image: Usha Mehta Credit:Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrah...more
The last remaining US forces pulled out of Vietnam on April 30th 1975 as communist North Vietnamese troops took control of the country. There was a desperate scramble to evacuate US personnel and some Vietnamese colleagues who feared brutal reprisals at the hands of the communists for having helped the Americans. With the airport destroyed, they had to use helicopter airlifts from inside the US embassy compound to transport people to the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier waiting offshore. Rebecca ...more
Genocide has a long and grim history, but until the 1950s, the mass extermination of a people or a group was an atrocity without a name, a definition or an international law against it. One man did more than anyone else to change that: the Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin. He coined the term genocide and fought for decades to stop it. He also survived it, but lost his whole family in the Holocaust. Viv Jones hears his story from Israeli journalist Lili Eylon, who met him at the United Nation...more
Vera Lengsfeld was a prominent human rights activist in East Germany who was arrested and jailed for taking part in a peaceful protest. She was sent to Hohenschönhausen, the main political prison of the former East German Communist Ministry of State Security, the Stasi. There she was kept in solitary confinement until shortly before the Berlin Wall came down. Vera Lengsfeld spoke to Lucy Williamson about her time in jail. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: A cell inside Hohenschönhausen ...more
For years Germans have been bathing nude at the beach. Many are members of a naturist movement called the FKK, which was banned under the Nazis and faced official disapproval during the early years of communist rule in East Germany. Mike Lanchin spoke to one East Berliner who recalled the heyday of naked sunbathing beside the Baltic Sea. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Bathers enjoying the beach at Baerwalder See, Eastern Germany (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
East Germany's most famous singer-songwriter was exiled to the West in November 1976, causing an international outcry. Wolf Biermann was stripped of his GDR citizenship while on tour in West Germany. Wolf Biermann spoke to Lucy Burns about his political songs and his fame on both sides of the Berlin Wall. This programme is a rebroadcast Picture: Wolf Biermann in concert. Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
How a young West German student helped East Berliners escape communism at the height of the Cold War. Volker Heinz told Robin Lustig how he worked with a Syrian diplomat to smuggle people across the Berlin Wall in the boot of the diplomat's car. From March to September 1966 the pair managed to help more than 60 people to make the crossing. This programme is a rebroadcast (Photo: East German border guards in 1966 scanning the Berlin Wall. Credit: Keystone/Getty Images)
In August 1961, communist East Germany began building the Berlin Wall, which divided the city for nearly three decades and became a symbol of the Cold War. Simon Watts introduces the memories of Germans from both sides of the Wall. PHOTO: Soldiers at the Berlin Wall in the early 1960s (Getty Images)
In the early 1990s, when homosexuality was still a criminal offense in India, a group of gay men and lesbian women set up the Counsel Club in the city of Kolkata. It was one of the first queer support groups in India. Their first meetings took place in secret at the home of one of the members. Later, the group campaigned for gay rights in India and helped other gay people with family problems or anxieties over coming out. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to Pawan Dhall, one of the club's founding ...more
When the US led invasion of Afghanistan ousted the repressive Taliban regime in 2001, it was no longer illegal to listen to music or news on the radio. Afghan businessman Saad Mohseni returned to his home town of Kabul to launch Arman FM, a new radio station which played modern music and comedy programmes amongst other things which had been banned under the Taliban. He tells Rebecca Kesby why he wanted to help rebuild the cultural life of Afghanistan, how one radio station expanded into a multi...more
When the south-east region of Nigeria declared itself to be the independent state of Biafra, civil war broke out. More than a million people died before the fighting stopped. We bring you one child’s story of getting caught up in the frontline. Paul Waters hears from Patricia Ngozi Ebigwe, now better known as TV and music star Patti Boulaye, who was 13 years old when she had to try to escape the conflict. ‘We were told: Careless talk kills‘ Patricia remembers. ‘When you walked past dead bodies ...more
The 1970s were a time of rapid development in the Indian Himalayas. New roads had recently been built, allowing logging companies greater access to the region’s vast, remote forests. Local people made a subsistence livelihood from these woods, and when the trees were cut down they endured erosion, poor farming conditions and catastrophic floods. A resistance movement was formed, named Chipko – Hindi for ‘hugging’ – after its trademark protest tactic of embracing the trees. Many of its first orga...more
In 1961, the Washington Post newspaper hired an African American woman as a reporter for the first time. Dorothy Butler Gilliam was only 24 when she got the job. At the time there were hardly any women or minorities working in newsrooms. Most of her white colleagues wouldn’t speak to her, taxis wouldn’t stop for her. Dorothy has been speaking to Farhana Haider about the difficulties she faced as a black woman journalist in 1960s America and her fight to diversify the media in the US. (Photo D...more
Remembering the earthquake and tsunami which devastated Japan and triggered a nuclear emergency in 2011. Max Pearson, who reported from Japan at the time, presents eyewitness accounts of the disaster which left thousands dead and led to many questioning the future of the country's nuclear industry. Photo: Tsunami smashes into the city of Miyako in Iwate prefecture shortly after an earthquake hit the region of northern Japan, 11th March 2011 (JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)
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 for the right to take the pill and told Rebecca Kesby that sexism and male dominance in Parliament is why it took so long. (Photo: A collection of contraceptive pills. Getty Images)
In January 1972 a Japanese soldier was found hiding in the jungle on the Pacific island of Guam. He had been living in the wild there for almost 30 years unaware that World War Two had ended. His name was Shoichi Yokoi. Mike Lanchin spoke to his nephew and biographer. This programme is a rebroadcast Photo: Shoichi Yokoi on his arrival back in Japan in 1972. Credit: Getty Images.
Daisuke Inoue was playing keyboards in a band in Kobe, Japan, when he invented the Karaoke machine in 1971. He had a customer who wanted to impress business clients by singing along to his favourite songs. Ashley Byrne spoke to Daisuke Inoue about his invention in 2015. (Photo: A group of women sing karaoke. Credit: Getty Images)
On 1 October 1964, the fastest train the world had ever seen was launched in Japan. The first Shinkansen, or bullet train, ran between Tokyo and Osaka, and had a top speed of 210km per hour. Lucy Burns spoke to Isao Makibayashi, one of the train's first drivers. This is a rebroadcast (Photo: Shinkansen, or bullet train. Credit: Keystone/Getty Images)
In the early 2000s, rebels in Sudan's Darfur region took up arms against the government. In response, the Khartoum regime launched a scorched earth campaign along ethnic lines. The Sudanese military allied to a local militia, the Janjaweed, laid waste to villages across the region, killing and raping as they went. Some 300,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict, more than 2 million displaced from their homes. We hear the story of Debay Manees, a young boy at the time, who's ...more
On 22 July 2011 Norway suffered its worst terror attacks in recent history. A far-right extremist, Anders Breivik, launched a bomb attack on government offices in Oslo, and then, two hours later, attacked a summer camp for young political activists on the island of Utøya, 38 kms from the Norwegian capital. In total 77 people were killed that day - the majority on the island. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to one of the camp's leaders Lisa Husby, who was 19-years-old at the time . Lisa hid under ...more
In 1941, Italian colonial rule in East Africa ended when Mussolini’s soldiers made a dramatic final stand in the northern Ethiopian town of Gondar. After a bloody battle, General Guglielmo Nasi surrendered to troops from the British empire and Ethiopian fighters loyal to Emperor Haile Selassie. Simon Watts listens to an account in the BBC archive from Rene Cutforth, who was then a British army officer and later became a distinguished BBC war correspondent. PHOTO: Italian soldiers surrendering i...more
Ground-breaking legislation came into effect in Brazil in 2006. For the first time the courts were ordered to recognise different forms of domestic violence. The 'Maria da Penha law' was named after a women's rights activist who was left paralysed by her abusive husband. Maria told Mike Lanchin her chilling story. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Maria da Penha now.
In the summer of 2001 race riots gripped towns in the north of England. They began in Oldham in late May 2001, spreading to Burnley in June, and Bradford in July. All had their own specific local triggers, but all involved clashes between men of white and of South Asian background. A report into the violence found communities were living in complete segregation, brewing suspicion and hatred. Barnie Choudhury reported on the riots for the BBC. He speaks to Farhana Haider about how they unfolded ...more
Taliban fighters first took control of Afghanistan's capital city Kabul in late September 1996. They imposed their strict interpretation of Islam on Afghans, outlawing music and TV, banning the education of girls, and requiring men to grow beards. The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan until 2001 when, following the 9/11 attacks against America, a US-led coalition drove them out of power. Photo: Taliban gunners outside Kabul in November 1996.(Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)
In the 1960s a young Englishwoman made a discovery that changed our understanding of animal behaviour. Jane Goodall was living among wild chimpanzees in Tanzania when she observed them using sticks and grasses as tools to get food. Farhana Haider spoke to her about her life in 2014. This programme is a rebroadcast. (Photo: Jane Goodall with chimpanzeess. Credit: AFP)
As a schoolboy in communist China, Kim Gordon took part in huge rallies to praise Chairman Mao. But when Mao's so-called Cultural Revolution began to target intellectuals and foreigners, Kim's British parents came under suspicion despite being convinced communists. When they tried to leave the country they were arrested with Kim and locked up in a hotel room for two years. Monica Whitlock has been listening to Kim's story. Photo: Kim Gordon as a schoolboy in China. Courtesy of Kim Gordon.
Using eyewitness recordings from the BBC archive we hear from the pioneers of the jet engine, Sir Frank Whittle and Hans von Ohain, about the struggle to develop a revolutionary new engine in the 1930s. An invention which would change the world. Photo: Sir Frank Whittle (1907-1996) is pictured here with the Whittle WV engine at the Science Museum in London c 1988 (Getty Images)
On 9 July 1985 the Greenpeace campaign ship was bombed by French secret agents in Auckland, New Zealand. One environmental campaigner was killed and the Rainbow Warrior was sunk. Claire Bowes heard from the ship's captain Pete Willcox who was on board when the attack took place. This programme is a rebroadcast (Photo: Captain Pete Willcox, courtesy of Greenpeace)
Roma people from all over Europe met in England for a conference in 1971. The Roma, who migrated from India over a thousand years ago, often used to be called gypsies. Many Roma led a travelling life, moving from place to place doing seasonal work. They suffered persecution and prejudice for centuries, and many died in the Holocaust during World War Two. But their common language and culture brought them together. Claire Bowes has been speaking to Grattan Puxon who organised the Congress. Image:...more
Communist North Korea suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union which had been one of the country's main supporters. Hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation. Some estimates put the death toll at more than two million. Josephine Casserly has been hearing from Joseph Kim, who was a child in North Korea in the 1990s, about the struggles of his family. Joseph has written a book about his experience called Under the Same Sky. Photo: North Korean b...more
When Britain went to war with Germany in 1939 it had to find somewhere to keep its money. Because of the risk of invasion, a decision was made to send the country's gold reserves to Canada. Vincent Dowd reports on what became known as 'Operation Fish'. Photo: Gold ingots. Credit: Science photo library
As Cuba faced a devastating economic crisis in the early 1990s, leading to severe food shortages and malnutritiion, some 50,000 Cubans were inexplicably struck down with sight loss. But health officials on the communist-led island as well as experts at WHO initially believed it was caused by a viral infection spreading through the population. Despite hostile relations between his country and Cuba, the American eye specialist Dr Alfredo Sadun was asked to go to the island in May 1993 to investiga...more
China has the largest number of overseas students in the world but when students first started venturing out of Communist China it was still a country feeling the aftereffects of the Cultural Revolution. Launched in 1966 by Communist leader Mao Zedong the Cultural Revolution plunged China into a decade of chaos. The education of millions of young people were disrupted and China was cut off from the rest for world. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Chinese American writer Zha Jianying, one of ...more
A small group of revolutionaries formed the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921. Led by Chairman Mao, they fought their way to power in the world's most populous nation and have stayed in control since the end of China's civil war in 1949. Zhu Zhende was a young recruit in the People's Liberation Army who marched in front of Chairman Mao at celebrations in Beijing when the communists took power. He spoke to Yashan Zhao about the optimism and excitement of that time, and about how the Communist ...more
An experimental play staged in Damascus in 1971 undermined official Syrian propaganda. Simply by stating that the Arab nations had been defeated by Israel during the Six Day War its author, Sadallah Wannous, identified himself as an opposition figure. Zak Brophy spoke to his widow, Faizah Shawish, about the play and its place in Syrian theatre. Photo: Sadallah Wannous with his parents and daughter in 1988. With the permission of the Wannous family.
It was one of the most reported UFO sightings in recent history. Local people in the quiet rural town of Ruwa in Zimbabwe reported a 'strange craft' and lights in the sky. Around 60 children said they'd seen a 'space ship' and 'aliens' in bush land near their school playground in September 1994. The children drew pictures of what they'd seen, and despite differences in quality, the details and proportions were very similar. A BBC TV crew were among the first on the scene, Rebecca Kesby looks ...more
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 spoke to Rachael Gillman about her experiences. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Lieutenant Colonel Heather Mack (l) with her wife Ashley (r) and their two children. Courtesy of Heather Mack
LGBT people in China sometimes arrange fake marriages to hide their sexuality. Homosexuality is not illegal in China but there is discrimination against LGBT people. 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 married. He spoke to Yashan Zhao in 2019 for Witness History. This programme is a rebroadcast. (Photo: Lin Hai and his partner on holiday in Thailand in 2014...more
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 nicknamed 'Gentleman Jack' in the Yorkshire town of Halifax where she lived, because of the way she dressed and acted. Louise Hidalgo spoke to Helena Whitbread, who discovered Anne Lister's diaries in 1983 and spent five years decoding them. Th...more
Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire has a buzzing LGBT scene and the country is regarded as one of the more tolerant nations in West Africa. In this Witness History, Josephine Casserly speaks to Barbara, a trans, LGBT activist. In 1992, Barbara was among a group of protesters who stormed the office of a national newspaper, to protest against their depiction of LGBT people. (Image: Barbara. Credit: From Barbara's personal collection)
In June 1969, the gay community in New York responded to police brutality and harassment by rioting outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. For several days there were battles with the police. The protest sparked the creation of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement and the first Gay Pride events. Simon Watts spoke to Stonewall veteran, John O'Brien. This programme is a rebroadcast. PHOTO: Exterior of the Stonewall Inn, pictured in June 2015 (Credit: Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Image...more
Since the 1980s China has witnessed massive economic growth. It’s become known as the 'world’s factory'. The driving force behind much of it has been a vast migrant workforce of millions of people, many from the countryside. But at what cost to village life and rural communities? Rebecca Kesby has been speaking to writer Liang Hong about her experience of leaving the Chinese countryside, and why she is determined to document the lives of those living through seismic change. (PHOTO:
The iconic East German car dominated the roads of communist Central Europe for decades. The Trabant was made out of resin and cotton waste, had a two-stroke engine and its design remained virtually unchanged for thirty years. Johannes Dell has been hearing from legendary German designer Karl Clauss Dietel who worked for years to make improvements to the Trabant - but his innovations were never implemented. (Photo: a Trabant 601. Credit: BBC)
When the BBC broadcast a documentary called 'A Complaint of Rape' in 1982 the public was shocked. It was part of a fly-on-the-wall series about the police in which officers were filmed aggressively questioning a woman about her allegation of rape. It made news around the world and inspired the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to question the procedure as well as the attitude of those involved. The woman was asked personal questions about her sex life, menstruation and about her mental ...more
In June 2015 an American anti-racist activist climbed a flagpole on the South Carolina state house grounds to take down the Confederate flag. The protest followed the killing of 9 black people at a historic Charleston church by a white supremacist who was pictured holding the flag. The Confederate flag was the battle flag of the troops who fought to retain slavery during America’s civil war. For African Americans the flag is a symbol of slavery, segregation and black subordination. Bree Newsome ...more
In 1979 scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn opened the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, pioneering a meditative approach to treat pain and depression. In a few decades, mindfulness has gone from being a specialist element of Buddhist teaching to a billion dollar industry. In 2019, Farhana Haider spoke to Dr Kabat-Zinn about the popularising of mindfulness to tackle the stresses of modern life. (Photo Jon Kabat-Zinn teaching MBSR at the Universit...more
In 1939, the Spanish capital, Madrid, finally fell to the fascist forces of General Franco – spelling the end of a brutal Civil War in which hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians were killed. The city had been under siege for more than two years and had become a symbol of resistance for the defeated Spanish Republic. Simon Watts has been listening to the memories of Rene MacColl and William Forrest, two British war correspondents who reported from Madrid. PHOTO: Franco's troops enterin...more
Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem voted in legislative elections in 2006. The Islamist Hamas movement stood against the Fatah party for the first time - and won. It was an outcome that surprised everyone. Zak Brophy has been hearing from Hazem Balousha who was working for the Palestinian Election Commission at the time. (Image: A Palestinian Hamas activist (L) and Fatah activist (R) stand together outside a polling station on January 25, 2006 in the West Bank Village of ...more
Regarded as one of the most important pieces in 20th Century English music, Benjamin Britten's War Requiem was first played in the newly-built Coventry Cathedral in 1962. The original had been destroyed during World War II. In 2013, Simon Watts spoke to Maggie Cotton, one of the orchestral performers who took part, and to composer Michael Berkeley, Britten's godson. (Photo: Benjamin Britten in 1964 - BBC copyright)
For decades, Tunisia has had a system of legal, state-regulated brothels. But in the last ten years they have been under attack and many have been forced to close. Josephine Casserly has been talking to Professor Abdelmajid Zahaf, a Tunisian doctor who has been working with legal sex workers for 35 years. The voice-over of Professor Zahaf is by Raad Rawi.
On 7 June 1981 Israeli fighter jets launched a surprise attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor located outside Baghdad, killing 11 people. The French-built reactor was still under construction and there was no leakage of nuclear material, but the bombing was widely condemned internationally. Israel argued that it had effectively slowed down Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme by ten years, while the Iraqis insisted that the reactor was being built for purely scientific research. Mike Lanchin has be...more
In the 1990s, Switzerland decided to tackle one of Europe's worst drugs epidemics by trying radical new policy ideas including providing safe-injection rooms for addicts and even prescribing pure heroin. The new strategy dramatically cut overdoses, HIV infections and the number of new users, and in 2008 the Swiss voted in a referendum to enshrine the changes permanently in law. Zak Brophy talks to Andre Seidenberg, a Swiss doctor who worked with addicts for decades, and to former Swiss president...more
Laila Haidari set up Kabul's first independent drug rehabilitation centre in 2010. Having helped her own brother to quit his heroin addiction she wanted to help others. More than 80% of the world's illegal opium and heroin comes from Afghanistan. International criminal groups have exploited years of warfare and lawlessness to expand production, but the insecurity has also led to poverty and increased drug addiction inside Afghanistan. Laila Haidari explains to Rebecca Kesby how local people hav...more
In April 2001 the Peruvian Air Force mistakenly shot down a small passenger plane as it flew over the Amazon jungle. The Peruvians believed the aircraft was carrying drugs. Onboard was a group of American missionaries. Mike Lanchin spoke to Jim Bowers, who survived the crash, but whose wife and baby daughter were killed. This programme is a rebroadcast Photo: The missionary plane shot down by the Peruvian Air Force lies in shallow waters of the Amazon River. (Photo by Newsmakers)
The Colombian drug trafficker, once one of the richest men in the world, was shot dead by police in 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 Drug Enforcement Agency in Colombia and who helped track down Pablo Escobar. Photo: Colombian forces storm the rooftop where drug lord Pablo Escobar was shot dead on 2nd December 1993. (Credit:Jesus Abad-el Colombiano/AFP/Getty Images)
The first 'war on drugs' was launched by US President Richard Nixon in 1971. He described drug abuse as a 'national emergency' and asked Congress for nearly four hundred million dollars to tackle the problem. Claire Bowes spoke to one of Nixon's policy advisors, Jeffrey Donfeld, about an approach to drugs which he describes as more 'find them and help them' than 'find them and lock them up'. And how he convinced the President to roll out a nationwide programme of methadone treatment for heroin a...more
Greenwood was a flourishing and prosperous black neighbourhood of Tulsa, often referred to as Black Wall Street. But in May 1921, a white mob descended on the district, destroying homes, businesses and lives. In this Witness History, Josephine Casserly talks to historian John W. Franklin, of Franklin Global, about the story of his grandfather, Buck Franklin, who survived the massacre. The words of Buck Franklin are voiced by Stefan Adegbola. Image: An African-American man with a camera exam...more
On May 31st 1986 a small group of musicians staged the first charity rock concert ever held in the USSR. It was organised in less than two weeks to raise money for the victims of the Chernobyl disaster. The nuclear reactor accident had happened just a month before in Ukraine. Some of the artists who played at the concert had been previously banned by the Soviet authorities, so the concert was a social revolution, as organiser - Artemy Troitsky explains to Rebecca Kesby. (PHOTO Credit Sputnik: 1...more
In the 1960s and 70s, Amilcar Cabral led the armed struggle to end Portuguese colonial rule in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde in West Africa. Cabral was an unusual rebel leader. He was an agricultural engineer, writer and poet who founded the liberation movement, the PAIGC, in 1956 to end Portuguese rule of his home country. In Guinea Bissau, the PAIGC fought a successful guerrilla war against a much larger Portuguese army. But Cabral was assassinated shortly before Portugal officially conceded in...more
Despite opposition from her father, Lotfia Elnadi was determined to realise her dream to fly. With her mother's consent, she secretly took flying lessons from an English instructor at a small airfield in the desert outside Cairo. And in September 1933 she made history by becoming the first female pilot in the Arab world. Mike Lanchin has been hearing from the Egyptian film-maker and writer Wageh George who interviewed Lotfia at the end of her long life for a film about her amazing achievement en...more
When one and a half million Indian railway workers went on strike for 20 days in 1974 it brought the country to a halt. Essential food, goods and workers were unable to reach their destinations. Despite this, the general public were largely sympathetic to the strike as they too felt a sense of anger at the government over the economy and allegations of corruption. Claire Bowes has been talking to union leader Subhash Malgi about why the government attempt to prevent the action with mass arrests ...more
In 2009 a war crimes trial in Sierra Leone ruled that forced marriage was a crime against humanity. It was the first time a court had recognised that charge. The ruling came in a trial of three rebel leaders for crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. The legal turning point came largely as a result of the testimonies of the women who had been victims. The prosecution argued that forced marriage should be considered a crime against humanity distinct from other forms of sexual violenc...more
Iran hosted a meeting to save the world's wetlands in 1971. The Ramsar Convention - named after the village on the Caspian Sea where it was originally signed - is seen as the first of the modem global intergovernmental treaties on the sustainable use of natural resources. Claire Bowes has been speaking to the Belgian representative, Eckhart Kuijken, about the battle by conservationists to interest people and governments in the value of wetlands. He describes how his home country had no planning...more
There were strikes and student protests across South Korea in May 1980. The military government responded with a brutal crackdown in the city of Gwangju and elsewhere striking workers faced arrest and even torture. Heongjun Park has been hearing from one of those strikers, Bae Ok Byoung, who worked in a factory making wigs in Seoul. She, and the other female employees had gone on strike demanding better working conditions, but after the industrial action ended she was jailed, tortured and then b...more
The controversial Israeli opposition leader visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jersualem's old city in 2000. His appearance was followed by an upsurge in violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Mike Lanchin spoke to an Israeli, and a Palestinian who were there that day. This programme is a rebroadcast. (Photo: Ariel Sharon at the compound. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.)
How a brick wall in Beijing became a beacon for those calling for change. But when Wei Jingsheng posted an essay demanding democracy in 1978, he was arrested and imprisoned for 18 years. He's been telling Rebecca Kesby why he thinks it was worth it. (PHOTO: BEIJING, CHINA: China's prominent dissident Wei Jingsheng (R) laughs as he talks to reporters at his Beijing apartment 20 September 1993. Wei was arrested again shortly after this and eventually released from prison on medical grounds in 19...more
The trial of a South African doctor accused of multiple murders under the Apartheid regime. Wouter Basson, nicknamed 'Dr Death' by the country’s media, was alleged to have run a secret chemical and biological weapons project in the 1980s to eliminate perceived enemies of the government. But after the country’s longest and most expensive trial and despite evidence from 150 witnesses, in 2002 a judge found him not guilty on all 46 charges. Bob Howard talks to Dr Marjorie Jobson, the national dire...more
In the summer of 1971 around 2,000 Iraqi Jews were forced to flee the country following persistent threats and persecution. The Jewish community in Iraq dated back to the Babylonian times, but by the mid 1950s numbered less than eight thousand. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to Edwin Shuker, who was just 16 years old when he and his family were smuggled over the mountains to safety in neighbouring Iran by members of Iraq’s Kurdish minority. Edwin and his family eventually settled in the UK. Pho...more
Contraception wasn't easily accessible in Ireland until 1985. Activists spent years fighting for the right to control their fertility but faced opposition from the Roman Catholic church which traditionally played a central role in Irish society. Paul Moss has been hearing from Betty Purcell who was a teenager when she first started campaigning. Photo: a woman holding up a condom and some contraceptive pills. Credit: Getty Images.
# Warning: This programme contains scenes of drug use # In 1955, a British member of parliament, Christopher Mayhew, took the hallucinogenic drug mescaline and had his experience filmed by the BBC. The drug was legal at the time and the experiment was supervised by the pyschiatrist Dr Humphry Osmond. The film was part of a wider public debate about psychedelic drugs following the publication of The Doors of Perception by the writer Aldous Huxley. But the film of the experiment was never broadc...more
In the early 2000s, Rudy Kurniawan was a newcomer to the hedonistic world of wine auctions in the US. He quickly became well-known for his warm and friendly manner and his profligate spending on wines. But where was all his money coming from? Josephine Casserly tells the story of one of the most high profile cases of wine fraud and speaks to Laurent Ponsot, French winemaker, turned Sherlock Holmes. (Corks, foil capsules and wine labels used as evidence in the trial. Photo: Stan Honda/Gett...more
The American writer, Ursula Le Guin, was one of the most influential authors of the second half of the 20th century, publishing 20 novels in genres from science fiction to young adult. Le Guin pioneered feminist science fiction with The Left Hand of Darkness and created the enduringly popular Earthsea series of fantasy novels. She died in 2018. Simon Watts introduces the memories of Ursula Le Guin, as recorded in the BBC archives. PHOTO: Ursula Le Guin in the 1980s (BBC/Marion Wood Kolisch)
In 1981 the British government was faced with prisoners dying on hunger strike in a jail in Northern Ireland. The Irish republican activists were demanding to be treated as political prisoners not criminals. Several of them died during the hunger strike, the first, Bobby Sands on May 5th 1981. Louise Hidalgo spoke to Laurence McKeown who took part in the protest but survived. (Photo: Protestors wearing balaclavas in support of the hunger strike. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
How Amsterdam became the home of cannabis coffee shops .The Mellow Yellow Café set a pattern in 1973 of attracting customers, which hundreds of others would follow. Although selling and smoking the drug was illegal, possession of small quantities of cannabis was tolerated by the Dutch police. Bob Howard talks to the café’s owner, Werner Bruining. Photo: Mellow Yellow Cafe, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Credit: Alamy
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 did not tell their Pakistani allies about the raid beforehand. Gabriela Jones spoke to Nicholas Rasmussen who was in the White House situation room with President Barack Obama and US military chiefs as the raid took place. Photo: Osama Bin Laden's fortified compound on the outskirts of Abbott...more
When the Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001, the hunt for Osama bin Laden began in earnest. One American in particular led the search. He was CIA commander, Gary Berntsen, who had been tracking the al-Qaeda leader for years. In December 2001 he ordered a small group of special forces soldiers and Afghan fighters into the White Mountains, close to the border with Pakistan, in the hope of cornering bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora. But as Gary Berntsen tells Rebecca Kesby, in...more
In August 1998, more than 200 people were killed in co-ordinated bomb attacks on two US embassies in East Africa. They were among the first major attacks linked to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network. We hear from George Mimba who was working inside the embassy in Kenya when the bomb detonated. Photo: Rescue workers at the scene of the Nairobi embassy bombing (AFP/Getty Images)
When the Palestinian journalist Abdel Bari Atwan agreed to go and interview Osama bin Laden in 1996 he was apprehensive. By the time he reached the Al-Qaeda leader's mountain hideout - he was shaken and scared - but what was the man himself really like? Claire Bowes reports. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Osama bin Laden. Credit:AFP/Getty Images
In 1979 Islamist militants seized control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam. Hundreds were killed as Saudi security forces battled for two weeks to retake the shrine. The militants were ultra-conservative Sunni Muslims who believed that the Mahdi, the prophesied Redeemer, had emerged and was a member of their group. The BBC's Eli Melki spoke to eyewitnesses who were inside the Grand Mosque during the siege. Photo: Fighting at the Grand Mosque in Mecca after militants seize...more
On 12th April 1981, the space shuttle Columbia made history becoming the first ever reusable space craft to fly into orbit. It marked the start of a 30-year shuttle programme which revolutionised the history of manned space exploration. Using NASA and BBC archive we tell the story of this historic test flight. Photo: NASA photo shows the first launching of the space shuttle from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Columbia carried astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen. (AFP via Getty Imag...more
The National Rifle Association represents gun owners in the USA. In 1977 it faced a turning point when its members revolted against the organisation’s leadership to concentrate on political lobbying in Washington. Would the gun lobby in America be as strong as it is, without the 1977 turnabout? Bob Howard talks to John Aquilino, a former NRA spokesman, who was at the historic meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. National Rifle Association Holds Its Annual Conference In Dallas, Texas. DALLAS, TX - M...more
In 2011, an American man shot dead two people in the streets of Lahore. The crisis that ensued saw accusations of espionage and US-Pakistani relations brought to the brink. For Witness History, Josephine Casserly tells the extraordinary story of the Raymond Davis incident.
In 1970, the Republican president Richard Nixon signed a bill returning a sacred lake to the people of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. The lake, and surrounding land, had been taken from the Taos people in 1906 and turned into a national forest, even though it was central to their centuries-old cultural rituals and beliefs. The return of the lake was the first time the US government had given land back to a Native American community. Louise Hidalgo talks to Laura Harris and her mother LaDonna Harris,...more
In April 1961, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official in charge of concentration camps, was put on trial in Israel.The trial helped reveal the full details of the holocaust in which millions of European jews were killed during World War Two. One of the prosecutors, Gabriel Bach, spoke to Lucy Williamson for Witness History. This programme is a rebroadcast. PHOTO: Eichmann in the dock. (AFP/Getty Images)
The Mosuo community in China’s Himalayan foothills is matrilineal, so a family’s ‘bloodline’, inheritance and power is passed down through the female side. There is no such thing as marriage and monogamy is actively discouraged. The women rule and the men don’t mind. Rebecca Kesby has been speaking to Choo Wai Hong, a Singaporean corporate lawyer who came across the community as she travelled through her ancestral homeland of China. She liked it so much she learnt the language and built a ho...more
South Asian vultures started dying in huge numbers in the 1990s but no one knew why. They were on the verge of extinction before scientists worked out what was killing them. Bob Howard has been hearing from Munir Virani of the Peregrine Fund, who discovered that the vultures’ livers were being damaged when they fed on the carcasses of cattle which had been treated with a widely-used painkiller. White-backed vultures in their enclosure at the Vulture Conservation Centre run by World Wide Fund f...more
On April 17 1961 a group of Cuban exiles launched an invasion of communist-ruled Cuba in a failed attempt to topple Fidel Castro. After 72 hours of fighting many of the invaders were captured or killed. Gregorio Moreria was a member of the local communist militia who fought against the US-backed invaders. He was injured and briefly captured during the fighting. He spoke to Mike Lanchin for Witness History in 2016. (Photo: Members of Castro's militia during the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion. C...more
After the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA in the 1950s, South African biologist Sydney Brenner was searching for a model animal to help him tease out the genes involved in human behaviour and human development from egg to adult. Brenner chose a tiny nematode worm called caenorhabditis elegans (c.elegans for short), whose biological clockwork can be observed in real time under a microscope through its transparent skin. The worm has since been at the heart of all sorts of discoverie...more
In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman judge to be appointed to the US Supreme Court. She was nominated by newly-elected Republican president Ronald Reagan, who'd made the pledge to appoint a woman part of the campaign that led to his landslide victory. Justice O'Connor served for 24 years and had the decisive vote in many landmark cases. Her friend and former law clerk, Ruth McGregor, has been talking to Louise Hidalgo. Picture: Sandra Day O'Connor is sworn in at the Senate confir...more
The Jet Stream is formed by powerful high-altitude rivers of air which circle the globe and help determine our climate. The existence of these winds was first documented in Japan in the 1920s, but only became more widely known during World War Two, when American airmen encounter high-speed winds on bombing missions over Japan. At the same time, the Japanese military also began to use these powerful transcontinental winds to carry innovative balloon bombs all the way to the West Coast of America....more
As the communist system in the former Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991, the people of Leningrad voted to drop Vladimir Lenin's name abandoning the city's revolutionary heritage and returning to its historic name of St Petersburg. Dina Newman spoke to Ludmilla Narusova, wife of the first St Petersburg mayor, Anatoli Sobchak, who campaigned for the hugely symbolic change. This programme is a rebroadcast - it was first aired in 2018. Photo: Communist campaigners demonstrate against the name ch...more
In 1954, the BBC broadcast a new television programme in Britain. It was called Zoo Quest and it launched the career of a man who has since brought the natural world into millions of homes around the world, the broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. Louise Hidalgo has been listening back through the BBC archives to Sir David telling the story of the first natural history expedition for Zoo Quest, to Sierra Leone in West Africa. Picture: David Attenborough, producer of the BBC wildlife documentary ...more
Former female wrestler Juana Barraza was found guilty in March 2008 of murdering at least eleven elderly women in Mexico city over a period of seven years. Barraza, who became known as the "little old lady killer", admitted to murdering three women, and told investigators that it was because of her lingering resentment for the abuse that she'd suffered as a child at the hands of her alcoholic mother. Mike Lanchin has been hearing from Mexican neuro-psychologist Dr Feggy Ostrosky, who spent days...more
How women in the North of England took to the streets in the late 1970s to protest against a serial killer dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper. Police advised them to stay indoors to avoid being attacked but the feminist protestors wanted greater protection for women and girls. Rebecca Kesby has been hearing from Al Garthwaite one of the organisers of Britain's first "Reclaim the Night" march. Photo: women taking part in a Reclaim the Night march. Credit: BBC
On Easter Sunday 1967 the Reverend Albert Cleage renamed his church in Detroit the Shrine of the Black Madonna. He preached that if man was made in God's image there was little chance that Jesus was white as most of the world's population is non-white. Reverend Cleage also pointed to the many depictions of black madonnas all over the world throughout history. Claire Bowes has been speaking to his daughter Pearl Cleage, a writer and activist, about her father's belief in black representation and ...more
In March 2000, two young English travellers, Tom Hart-Dyke and Paul Winder, were kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas while attempting to cross the notoriously dangerous Darien Gap region on the border with Panama. Hart-Dyke is a gardener who was on a mission to collect orchids, and he survived a nine-month ordeal by building a nursery in the cloud forest and planning his own dream garden for the family castle back home in Kent. He talks to Simon Watts. PHOTO: Tom Hart-Dyke (l) with Paul Winder sh...more
How Mrs Thatcher shook up the Soviet media with a landmark interview in Moscow in 1987 focusing on nuclear disarmament. It was broadcast unedited and helped bring in the era of “glasnost.” Bob Howard talks to Boris Kalyagin, one of the three Soviet journalists who interviewed the British prime minister. Margaret Thatcher, circa 1993. copyright Jeff Overs / BBC
In March 1973 guards went on strike at Walpole maximum security prison in the US state of Massachussetts, and the prisoners took over. For the next three months the inmates, organised in the National Prisoners Reform Association, ran daily life in the prison. They were helped by a group of outside observers, drawn from members of the community. Mike Lanchin has been hearing from the organiser of the observer teams, Rev. Ed Rodman, about his memories of this unique, but ultimately doomed, experim...more
The American singer, Karen Carpenter, died in 1983 of anorexia nervosa. She was one half of a world famous brother and sister duo called The Carpenters. She was aged just 32. Up until then anorexia nervosa had often been referred to in the media as the "slimmer's disease". Skinny celebrities were seen as both beautiful and successful and anorexia was somewhat glamorised. Claire Bowes has been speaking to Dr Pat Santucci, a psychiatrist who helped set up the world's first national organisation de...more
At the end of the 1990s, tens of millions of people across Africa had been infected with HIV and in South Africa hundreds of thousands of people were dying from AIDS. People were demanding cheaper drugs, but the big pharmaceutical companies didn’t want to play ball. They took the South African to court over the right to import cheap drugs in a case which would last three years and which would pit the big pharmaceutical companies against Nelson Mandela and the rainbow nation. Bob Howard talks t...more
Dr Ruth Westheimer first became popular on a radio show in New York in the early 1980s. Her frank and open approach to giving advice on all sorts of different questions about sex soon made her a TV personality too. Photo: Dr Ruth Westheimer. Credit: Getty Images
The Jamaican government issued a warrant for the arrest and extradition of the drug lord Christopher Coke, otherwise known as “Dudus” in May 2010. The United States wanted him extradited to face charges of racketeering and bringing drugs and guns into America. Coke controlled an area of the Jamaican capital Kingston, called Tivoli Gardens. Dozens of people in the district he dominated were killed as the police and military stormed the stronghold, even using mortar bombs to try and disperse the ...more
An early attempt at power-sharing in Northern Ireland ended after protestant workers went on strike and bomb attacks killed dozens in the Republic of Ireland in 1974. Matt Murphy has been hearing from Austin Currie, the former SDLP politician, about the events of that time. Photo: Dr Ian Paisley addresses a mass gathering of supporters, in the Protestant Shankhill Road area of Belfast in 1974. The Ulster Workers' Council declared that "everything stops at midnight" in an attempt to bring dow...more
In 1978, the World Chess Championship between the Soviet champion and convinced communist, Anatoly Karpov, and the dissident and defector, Viktor Korchnoi, turned into one of the most infamous clashes in the history of the game. At a time of peak Cold War tension, the two players traded allegations about yoghurts containing messages, the use of psychics and the mysterious appearance of a meditating yoga cult dressed in orange robes. David Edmonds tells the story of the match through the memories...more
In 2010, six men were locked inside a simulated spacecraft on earth for 520 days. It was part of an experiment to see how humans would cope if cooped up together for the duration of a potential trip to Mars. The crew were monitored throughout and were treated as if they were on a real mission in space, though the spacecraft was actually housed in a warehouse in Moscow. They even performed a simulated space walk on the surface of Mars. The project was set up by Russia, China and the European Spac...more
In 1982, the Swedish social reformer, writer and diplomat, Alva Myrdal, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on nuclear disarmament. She was only the 7th woman in history to win the award, which she received jointly with Mexican diplomat Alfonso Garcia Robles. In the 1930s and 40s, Alva Myrdal had, with her husband Gunnar Myrdal, developed the ideas behind Sweden's famed welfare state which had transformed Sweden into the modern country we know today. She was also the first woman to be...more
The documentary Paris is Burning was released in 1991 The award winning film showed a glimpse of the thriving underground ballroom and drag scene in New York City in the 1980s and the black and LatinX LGBTQ+ communities at the heart of it. The United States in the 1980s was a difficult place to be different, with homophobia and racism running rife. Pairs is Burning was filmmaker Jennie Livingston’s first documentary and she has been telling Bethan Head about the lengthy process of bringing the f...more
Melina Mercouri, famous actress turned politician, visited Britain in 1983 as Greek Minister of Culture and made the first official request for the return of the Parthenon marbles. The marbles were removed in 1801 by Lord Elgin, who was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time. Lord Elgin, who was based in Istanbul sent his agents to Athens to remove the marbles which he claimed were at risk of destruction. He later sold them to the British parliament who in turn entrusted them t...more
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 in touch with doctors who would perform the procedure. But when they discovered that one doctor they had been working with was not medically qualified, the women started to perform the abortions themselves. Martha Scott was a member of the grou...more
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 misogynistic version of history? Prof Sue Fawn Chung was the first academic to go back to study the original documents, and found many surprises. She tells Rebecca Kesby the story of "the much maligned Empress Dowager". This programme is a rebroadcast ...more
In 2011 Egyptians took to the streets calling for the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, whose regime had been in power for nearly 30 years. Their uprising was part of a wave of pro-democracy protests in the Arab world aimed at ending autocratic rule. Women were at the forefront of protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, many taking part in political demonstrations for the first time in their lives. Student activist Hend Nafea tells Farhana Haider she was campaigning not only for freedom, dignity ...more
In March 1946, the UK's former wartime leader, Winston Churchill, gave a historic speech which would come to symbolise the beginnings of the Cold War. Churchill had lost power following a crushing election defeat in Britain in 1945. Encouraged by the US President Harry Truman, Churchill agreed to give a speech on world affairs at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. But why did the speech have such an impact. Alex Last hears from the historian Prof David Reynolds of Cambridge University, aut...more
In March 1960, the South African police opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in the township of Sharpeville, killing 69 people and injuring nearly 200 more. The massacre outraged black South Africans, leading to a radicalisation of anti-apartheid organisations such as the ANC and a ruthless crackdown on dissent by the whites-only government. Simon Watts hears the memories of Nyakane Tsolo, who organised the demonstration in Sharpeville, and Ian Berry, a photographer whose pictures of the kill...more
On 13 May 1985 a police helicopter dropped explosives on a house in residential Philadelphia, in an attempt to end a stand-off with radical black activists from an organisaton called MOVE. Fire spread quickly through the surrounding buildings and 11 people died, including five children. All the victims belonged to MOVE. A total of sixty houses in the area were also burnt or badly damaged in the botched police operation. Mike Lanchin speaks to Mike Africa, who lost his great uncle and a cousin in...more
In 2001, boats carrying hundreds of, mainly Afghan, refugees arrived on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru. This marked the beginning of the “Pacific Solution” – a policy by the Australian government to establish offshore centres for processing asylum claims. The policy was intended to act as a deterrent, discouraging people from travelling to Australia. Many of the refugees lived in the cramped conditions of Nauru for years. In this Witness History, Josephine Casserly speaks to Yahya, an Afgh...more
Don Walsh was the first to go to the very bottom of the deepest part of the ocean in 1960 in a specially designed submarine, the Bathyscaphe Trieste. The water pressure was 800 tonnes per square inch, and the successful mission to "Challenger Deep" in the Mariana Trench under the western Pacific, was a technological breakthrough in marine engineering. Don Walsh describes the dive to Rebecca Kesby, and explains why understanding the deep ocean is crucial in the fight to reduce climate change. ...more
Johnny Smythe was one of very few West Africans to fly with Britain's air force during WW2. Recruited in Sierra Leone in 1941 he was trained as a navigator and flew 26 missions on RAF bombers before being shot down over Germany and taken prisoner in 1943. His son Eddy Smythe spoke to Tim Stokes about his father’s story. Photo: Johnny Smythe in his RAF uniform. Copyright: Eddy Smythe.
The Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah, was one of Africa's most famous independence leaders. But in 1966, while he was out of the country, the Ghanaian military and police seized power in a coup. The legendary Ghanaian film maker Chris Hesse worked closely with Nkrumah and was with him at the time. He spoke to Alex Last about his memories of the coup and his friendship with the man who'd led Ghana to independence. Photo: Kwame Nkrumah c 1955 (Getty Images)
In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis Ireland had to borrow billions to stop its banks from going under and to keep its economy afloat. The IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank provided the money. Matt Murphy has been speaking to Patrick Honahan, who was Ireland's central banker at the time of the bailout. Photo: Protesters take to the streets of Dublin in November 2010 to oppose savage public spending cutbacks needed to secure an international bailout. Credit:Ben Stansall/AFP v...more
In the 1960s, Swedish scientists documented how acid rain was poisoning lakes, killing fish, damaging soils and forests. Crucially they said it was an international problem, because the acid rain was caused by industrial pollution being carried on the prevailing winds from countries thousands of miles away. Acid rain is primarily created by the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, which releases large amounts of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air. These particles then mix wi...more
The Motown group The Supremes had a string of number one hits in 1964. They would become the most popular girl group of the 1960s. One of the three original singers, Mary Wilson, spoke to Vincent Dowd about growing up in Detroit, commercial success, and civil rights. Photo: The Supremes, (left to right) Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diana Ross, on a visit to London in 1964. Credit: PA Wire.
The Black Panther Party hit the headlines in the late 1960s with their call for a revolution in the USA. 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 schoolchildren. Reverend Earl Neil was one of the organisers of the first Free Breakfast for Children programme at St Augustine's Church in Oakland, California. He spoke to Lucy Burns. (IMAGE: Shutterstock)
The story of an African American woman who played a largely unsung role in countless medical breakthroughs over more than half a century. Henrietta Lacks had cells taken from her body in 1951 when she was suffering from cancer. Those cells were found to be unique in a most particular way. They continued to reproduce endlessly in the laboratory. Culture from those cells have since been used in thousands of scientific experiments. But as Farhana Haider reports, Henrietta herself was never asked if...more
How one man used research by historians at University College London into Britain's forgotten slave-owners to track down the descendants of the family who'd owned his ancestors two centuries earlier. Dr James Dawkins tells Louise Hidalgo how his quest led him to the famous evolutionary biologist, Professor Richard Dawkins, author of the Selfish Gene, with whom he shares a name and a past. Picture: slaves unloaded from slave ship at their destination; from Amelia Opie The Black Man's Lament: or ...more
It wasn't until recently that researchers working in the national archive in London discovered the extent to which ordinary people in Britain had been involved in the slave trade in the 18th and early 19th century. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to Dr Nick Draper, who uncovered volumes of records detailing the thousands of people who claimed compensation when slavery was abolished in Britain in 1834. He and colleagues at University College London set up the Legacies of British Slave-ownership d...more
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, the US-led campaign to force Iraq to withdraw from neighbouring Kuwait. Mike Lanchin has been hearing from one Iraqi woman whose four chi...more
Nurses from outside the UK form a vital part of the country's National Health Service. Many come from African countries. Cecilia Anim - who left Ghana for England in 1972 - became the first black woman to be made president of the Royal College of Nursing. In 2017 she was awarded a CBE by the Queen. She has been speaking to Sharon Hemans for Witness History. Photo: Cecilia Anim as a student nurse in Ghana in the 1960s. Credit: Cecilia Anim.
In 1989 celebrities in New York set up the 'Street News' paper to help the homeless. People living rough sold the paper at a profit instead of begging, initially it was very successful with around 250,000 copies sold per issue and the idea was copied around the world. Lee Stringer was living on the street when he began selling 'Street News', he discovered a talent for writing and went on to be a columnist and then editor of the paper. He told Witness History how living on the streets made him ...more
In 1984 a group of lesbians and gay men organised a benefit concert to support striking coal-miners. They sent the money they raised to a mining village in Wales. The miners' strike was the biggest industrial dispute in British history. Hear from Mike Jackson, one of the gay men inspired by the miners' struggle. Photo: Campaign activists on the 1985 Lesbian & Gay Pride march. Credit: Colin Clews
Francis Bacon painted distorted and disturbing images but his works are now widely considered one of the great achievements of post-war British art. Vincent Dowd has been trawling through the BBC archives listening to Bacon talking about his work, and gaining an insight into his Bohemian, hard-drinking ways. Photo: Francis Bacon in London in 1970. Credit: Press Association
DES or Diethylstilbestrol was a form of synthetic estrogen developed in the 1930s, regularly prescribed to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage. But in the 1960s it was discovered that not only did it not prevent miscarriage, it also had dangerous side effects for the daughters of the women who had taken it while pregnant – including reproductive problems and rare gynaecological cancers. Millions of women were exposed all over the world. Lucy Burns speaks to mother and daughter Linda and Katie ...more
The US Civil War of 1861-65 left 700,000 troops dead. The Southern Confederate states rebelled against the Union of the North because the Confederates wanted to protect the right to own slaves. The hero of the rebel cause, General Robert E Lee, was charged with treason and had his citizenship revoked. So why did Congress reinstate his citizenship in 1975 more than one hundred years after his death? Claire Bowes has been speaking to former Democrat Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman who was one of ...more
During the Vietnam war, US commanders grew increasingly concerned about the widespread use of drugs by US troops in Vietnam. Initially the focus was on marijuana. But in the early 1970s, reports began to emerge of the large scale use of heroin by US military personnel. The drug had became widely available in South Vietnam. Alex Last spoke to Dr Richard Ratner, then a psychiatrist in the US army in Vietnam, about his memories of treating soldiers suffering from heroin addiction. Photo: Two sold...more
On August 8th 1988 the Burmese military cracked down on anti-government demonstrators, killing hundreds possibly thousands of people. In the weeks of protest that followed, Aung San Suu Kyi rose to prominence as an opposition figure. The date 8.8.88 has come to symbolise the resistance movement in Myanmar at the time. Ma Thida was a medical student working at Rangoon General Hospital when the dead and injured began to arrive. In 2018 she spoke to Rebecca Kesby about treating gunshot wounds for t...more
The biggest circus in Soviet Russia opened in Moscow in April 1971. Circus was considered the “people’s art form” in the USSR and was highly popular. The new Moscow State Circus building on Vernadsky Avenue could seat up to 3400 people and was filled with state of the art technology. Alexander Egorenko was one of the backstage crew, and still works at the circus today. He tells Lucy Burns about his memories of the circus. (Elephant Nicole celebrates her birthday at the Great Moscow State Cir...more
The first Eurostar train left London's Waterloo station heading for the Gare du Nord in Paris in November 1994. It was the first commercial passenger train to travel through the Channel Tunnel which had only been finished a few months earlier. Robert Priston was one of the drivers on that three-hour journey and he has been telling Bethan Head about that day. Photo: one of the first Eurostar trains. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.
In December 2010, anti-government protests broke out in Tunisia after a young fruit-seller called Mohammed Bouazizi set himself alight outside a government office in the south of the country. At one of the huge rallies in Tunis, a young singer called Emel Mathlouthi sang a song called "Kelmti Horra" or "My Word is Free". A video of her passionate performance immediately went viral and inspired protestors to take to the streets in other parts of the Middle East in what became known as the Arab Sp...more
In the early months of 2011 demonstrators took to the streets across the Arab world in what became known as the Arab spring. In February, protests in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi soon turned into an armed revolt seeking to overthrow the dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Six months later, following fierce fighting, Libyan rebel forces swept into the capital, Tripoli. After more than 42 years the Libyan leader was forced from power. He was later captured and killed. Farhana Haider has been...more
Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt young Yemenis took to the streets in January 2011. Ishraq al-Maqtari was a lawyer and women's rights activist from the southwestern city of Taiz. She took her two young daughters on the first demonstration in her home town. She has been speaking to Sumaya Bakhsh about how the uprising was an unprecedented opportunity for women to have their voices heard. But in Yemen, war and a humanitarian catastrophe followed the popular uprising, so does Ishraq regret t...more
Protests erupted across the Arab world in 2011, people wanted change, an end to tyranny and dictatorship. But in Syria the unrest, and its put down by the authorities, led to civil war, years of violence and the survival of the Assad regime. One eye witness to events was Rami Jarrah, he was at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus when one of the first protests began in Syria. He told Rebecca Kesby how powerful it felt just to even shout the word "freedom" during the protests. (Photo:
A wave of popular anti-government uprisings swept through the Arab world in the early months of 2011. Many of the activists who took to the streets were inspired by social media posts. Israa Abd el Fattah was one of the first Egyptian activists to use social media. In April 2008 she tried to organise a general strike in protest at low wages, and rising prices. She was given the nickname "Facebook Girl". In 2011 she used her experiences with Facebook to help mobilise people before the Egypt's Ara...more
Anti-Sikh violence erupted in India after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Looting, raping and killing broke out in Sikh areas. One of those killed was Nirpreet Kaur's father who was burnt to death by a furious mob in Delhi. She spent decades trying to bring to justice a politician she had seen encouraging the violence. She has been telling her story to Ishleen Kaur. Photo: Nirpreet Kaur's family before the events of 1984. Copyright:Nirpreet Kau...more
When Dr Henry Chakava became Kenya's first African book editor in 1972, there were virtually no books or educational material published in African languages, even in Kiswahili. He made it his priority to translate work by African authors into African languages, he also commissioned original work in several of Kenya's many languages, and published hundreds of textbooks. A champion of cultural diversity across East Africa, Dr Chakava tells Rebecca Kesby why he devoted his life to preserving and en...more
Following the assault on the US Capitol earlier this month, Amazon banned The Turner Diaries, a racist novel blamed for inciting American neo-Nazis to violence. The book calls for a race war and a coup against the institutions of US democracy. It was the favourite reading of Timothy McVeigh, the white terrorist who blew up a federal government building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. The Turner Diaries was published in 1978 by a former physics professor and neo-Nazi called William...more
Adolf Hitler made his first attempt to overthrow democracy in Germany in Munich in 1923. It started at a beer hall called the Bürgerbräu in Munich, so it has become known as the "beer hall putsch" or the "Munich putsch". It ended with 16 Nazis and four policemen dead. Although the coup failed, Hitler's trial allowed him to raise his profile on the national stage, and within ten years he became chancellor of Germany. PHOTO: Nazi members during the Beer Hall Putsch, Munich, Germany 1923 (Universa...more
The story of the remarkable mission to land on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. The large mysterious moon has a thick orange atmosphere. No-one had ever seen the surface. In the late 1990s, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was sent on a 7 year, 3.5 billion km journey through space to explore Saturn and Titan. Alex Last spoke to Prof. Emeritus John Zarnecki of the Open University who worked on the mission. Photo: A flattened (Mercator) projection of the Huygens probe's view of Titan. Taken by t...more
Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman lawyer working in India. She helped women living in purdah or seclusion in the 19th century who had no access to the law. The women were married into royal families and prevented from seeing men other than their husbands or family. This meant they had no way of seeking justice when they received cruel treatment, attempts on their lives or were disinherited by their husbands' families. Cornelia Sorabji was able to visit these women and often helped free them ...more
In March 1954, a group of Puerto Rican militants opened fire from the public gallery of the US Congress in an effort to promote their fight for independence for the American territory. Five members of the House of Representatives were wounded in an attack which made headlines around the world and turned its leader, Lolita Lebron, into a nationalist heroine on the Caribbean Island. Simon Watts has been listening to archive accounts of the incident. PHOTO: Lolita Lebron and two Puerto Rican colle...more
In February 1981 armed Civil Guards tried to take control of the Spanish parliament. For 18 hours they held 350 politicians hostage in the debating chamber. One of those politicians was a young Socialist MP called Joaquin Almunia. Photo: The leader of the coup attempt, Lt Col Antonio Tejero, on the speaker's platform (AFP/Getty Images)
The Limits to Growth was published in 1972 and warned of global decline from 2020. Claire Bowes spoke to one of the authors of the book, Professor Dennis Meadows, in 2019. He described how they used computer modelling to analyse how the Earth would cope with unrestricted economic growth. In the early 1970s he and his team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology fed in huge amounts of data on population, pollution, industrialisation, food production and resources. They found that if the trend...more
When the deadly Ebola virus broke out in West Africa in 2014, scientists in the USA set to work analysing it. What they discovered would eventually lead to a treatment. Pardis Sabeti is a virologist at Harvard University and leads the team who sequenced the Ebola virus genome - she has been speaking to Ibby Caputo for Witness History. Photo: Pardis Sabeti (front row, right) with some of the team who sequenced the virus in the lab.
The three astronauts on the Skylab 4 space research mission in 1973 got behind schedule when one of them vomited before they'd even got onto the space station. They felt they were being micromanaged by ground control, and that their workload was unreasonable - and one day, all three of them missed their daily radio briefing. Some people at Nasa thought they'd gone on strike. But what really happened? Lucy Burns speaks to Dr Edward Gibson, the only surviving member of the trio, about an incident ...more
In the 1990s a practising Buddhist called Anna Cox began visiting a murderer called Frankie Parker in jail. After his execution by lethal injection she carried on talking to prisoners on death row in Arkansas. Anna Cox has been speaking to Ibby Caputo for Witness History. Photo: Anna Cox and Frankie Parker.
A 3,500 year old song was found on a clay tablet by archaeologists in Syria in the 1950s. Often called the Hurrian Hymn, it had been unearthed amid the ruins of an ancient palace which belonged to the ancient Hurrian civilization. It is the oldest complete song ever found. The tablet was inscribed in the Hurrian language but using cuneiform script. Academics have spent decades debating how to interpret the song's ancient musical notation. Alex Last spoke to Richard Dumbrill, a leading archaeomus...more
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 protect the world's biggest coral reef from destruction. Photo: Science Photo Library
Shortly after Indian independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru persuaded the maverick Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier, to help reinvent a newly independent India by building a new capital city for the province of Punjab. Le Corbusier had revolutionised architecture and urban planning in the first half of the twentieth century. He was loved and hated in equal measure for his modernist approach, favouring flat roofs, glass walls and concrete. Nehru said this new city would be "symbolic o...more
In July 1970, one of the largest dams in the world - the Aswan High Dam in Egypt - was completed. It had taken ten years to build, and was not without controversy. Louise Hidalgo brings us voices from the archives and from one man who was there, Professor Herman Bell, about the cost of the dam to the region's people and its antiquities. This programme is a rebroadcast. (Photo: The Aswan High Dam under construction in southern Egypt in the 1960s. Credit: AFP)
UNESCO – the educational, scientific and cultural arm of the United Nations was first established in 1945. Its aim was to use education as a means of sustaining peace after the horrors of the Second World War. Addressing race and racism was a key part of its mission. Caroline Bayley has been speaking to Doudou Diene who spent many years at UNESCO working on anti-racism and tolerance. (Photo: UNESCO logo seen at 39th General Conference of the organization, 2017 in Paris, France. Credit: Chesno...more
In December 1946, the classic Christmas film "It's a Wonderful Life" had its premiere in Hollywood. Starring Jimmy Stewart, the movie's message of hope and redemption is loved by millions. Simon Watts talks to former child star, Karolyn Grimes, who played six-year-old Zuzu Bailey. The programme was first broadcast in 2015. PHOTO: Karolyn Grimes with Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" (Getty Images)
In August 1986 the first Studio Ghibli film hit the cinema screens. It would go on to bring Japanese animation to a world audience. Hirokatsu Kihara was a young animator who joined the studio to work on Castle in the Sky, its first feature length film. He spoke to Ashley Byrne of Made in Manchester about the early days of the great animation studio. Photo: Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki, one of the founders of Studio Ghibli. Credit: Getty Images.
Bengali film director Satyajit Ray has been described as one of the most influential directors in world cinema, with acclaimed US director Martin Scorsese among those crediting him as an inspiration. Early on in his career, Satyajit Ray released the classic Apu trilogy, which followed the life of a character called Apu from his childhood in rural Bengal to adulthood. Soumitra Chatterjee, the actor who played the title character in the final film, spoke to Farhana Haider. Soumitra Chatterjee died...more
The heart-warming musical, The Sound of Music, was released in 1965 and went on to become one of the most successful films of all time. It was based on the true story of the von Trapp family singers. But was their life really as it was portrayed in the movie? Maria von Trapp's youngest child, Johannes, talks to Louise Hidalgo. The programme was first broadcast in 2015. (Photograph: The Trapp Family Singers, whose story inspired the film The Sound of Music, in Salzburg in 1937. Credit: BBC Photo...more
In late 1940, The Great Dictator was first released in the USA. In his first role in talking movies, Charlie Chaplin satirised Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers, before America had joined World War II. The film was a commercial success, but at the time, many people thought it should never have been made. Louise Hidalgo hears the memories of Hollywood set designer, Laurence Irving, and Chaplin's official biographer, David Robinson. The programme was first broadcast in 2010. PHOTO: Charlie C...more
On December 18th 1979 hundreds of Namibian children were taken to East Germany to escape the war in their home country. But after communism in Europe collapsed in 1989 the children were sent back to Africa and an uncertain future. Johannes Dell has been speaking to Selma Kamati who was just four years old when she found herself experiencing a snowy East German Christmas. Photo: Selma Kamati (far right of picture) and some of the of the other Namibian children.
In December 1982, Spain reopened its border with Gibraltar after a 13-year blockade of the disputed British territory. The border was closed by the dictator General Franco and led to the separation of families as well as a hardening of Gibraltarian attitudes towards Spain. It was only reopened when the new democratic government in Madrid wanted to join the European Union. Simon Watts talks to Tito Vallejo Smith, a retired defence worker and historian. PHOTO: Gibraltarian and Spanish police off...more
The first British fly-on-the-wall documentary series aired on the BBC in 1974. It was called The Family and followed the lives of the Wilkins family in Reading. Marian Wilkins - now Archer - was the eldest daughter in The Family and has been speaking to Bethan Head about what it was like to be followed by cameras and have her wedding broadcast on television. Photo: Screengrab from the first episode of The Family (1974).
In December 1970 Pakistan held its first democratic elections since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947. The elections led to war, the break up of Pakistan and the creation of a new country, Bangladesh. Farhana Haider has been speaking to the economist and leading figure in the Bengali independence movement, Rehman Sobhan, about the historic elections and their aftermath. Photo East Pakistan 1971 The flag of Bangladesh is raised at the Awami League headquarters. Credit G...more
American entertainer Bing Crosby made 'White Christmas' by Irving Berlin, one of the defining songs of World War Two. Rebecca Kesby has been speaking to his nephew Howard Crosby about the song and its importance to his uncle. Photo: Bing Crosby in London in 1944 recording a performance for British and American troops. Credit: BBC.
In 2009, beavers were released into the wild in the Knapdale forest on the west coast of Scotland, some 400 years after they were wiped out in the UK. The Scottish Beaver Trial was the first official beaver re-introduction programme in the UK and was considered a landmark conservation project. The beaver is seen as a keystone species which can help shape and restore the environment. Alex Last spoke to Simon Jones, who was then the project manager of the Scottish Beaver Trial. Photo: A beaver i...more
A teenage potholer discovered a cave system near the town of Bruniquel in France in 1990 which contained a mysterious circular structure. It turned out to be nearly 200,000 years old, and built by Neanderthals – transforming our understanding of Neanderthal culture and society. Lucy Burns speaks to Bruno Kowalczewski, who discovered the cave, and geologist Sophie Verheyden, who was part of the research project which discovered the structure’s incredible age. Picture: taking measurements for the...more
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. His daughter Albertina spoke to Rob Walker for Witness History in 2010. Also listen to archive recordings of his acceptance speech. (Picture: Albert Luthuli receives the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961. Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive)
In 1920 a German filmmaker called Arnold Fanck shot his first film - 'Marvels of the Snowshoe' - high in the mountains. He and his team dragged cameras on sledges to reach the highest peaks. They even attached cameras to their skis to make the early action films. Johannes Dell has been watching some of those films and talking to his grandson Matthias Fanck. Photo: A still from one of Fanck's early Mountain Films. Copyright: Matthias Fanck.
The African-American crime writer Chester Himes first found widespread success in France. Although his early works had been published in the USA it was only after he moved to Europe and started writing crime fiction that he began to sell large numbers of books. Vincent Dowd has been speaking to writer Alex Wheatle, and Himes' biographer, Pim Higginson, about his life and works. Photo: Chester Himes. (Copyright: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
In 1944, Nazi Germany launched the V1s against the UK. The V1 was a pilotless, jet-propelled flying bomb - the first of its kind in the world and a precursor to the modern cruise missile. The V1 was also the first of Hitler's secret "revenge weapons" which he hoped would change the course of the Second World War. Some 10,000 V1s were fired at the UK. They killed more than 6,000 people and injured 20,000 more. Using archive recordings we hear from civilians who survived V1 attacks and from those ...more
The first successful slave uprising in modern times happened in present-day Haiti. Former slave, Toussaint Louverture, forced the French colony to abolish slavery in 1794. The rebellion sent shock waves across America and Europe and made its leader famous around the world. France eventually lost its colony completely when its great military leader, Napoleon, was defeated by the former slaves. They then created the world's first black republic, which they named 'Haiti' from the indigenous Taino l...more
A controversial law banning Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols from French state schools came into effect in 2004. The ban was designed to maintain France's tradition of strictly separating state and religion. It resulted in many Muslim girls being excluded from the classroom. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Ndella Paye a Muslim mother and activist who campaigned against the law. Photo: 2004 February Demonstration in Paris against the French law forbidding manifestation of rel...more
Dr Naziha Al-Dulaimi became the first woman to hold a ministerial office in the Arab world when she was appointed to head Iraq's Municipalities Ministry in 1959. As a minister, Dr Al-Dulaimi set about clearing some of Baghdad's slum areas, creating the first public housing projects. A leading feminist, she was also the driving force behind a secular Civil Affairs Law, that liberalised marriage and inheritance laws for Iraqi women. Mike Lanchin has been hearing about her from Mubejel Baban, a fri...more
In May 1991, the brutal Ethiopian dictator, Colonel Mengistu and his miltary 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. They would rule for Ethiopia for decades. In 2014, we spoke to an American diplomat who witnessed the end of Ethiopia's civil war. Photo: EPRDF rebels in Addis Ababa, 28 May, 1991. Photo: Rebels in Addis Ababa (BBC)
The UK government passed the landmark Disability Discrimination Act in November 1995. The legislation made it illegal for employers or service providers to discriminate against disabled people. Campaigners brought London to a standstill in the run up to the passing of the Act. Baroness Jane Campbell was at the forefront of that fight for equality and remembers the time when disabled people seized control of their destiny. Photo: A disabled woman on her mobility scooter is carried away by four ...more
In 2012, the Rwandan sitting volleyball team became the first Paralympians from their country. The sport began in Rwanda after thousands of people were mutilated during the genocide of 1994, and there were emotional scenes in London when the Rwandan side eventually won a match. Bob Nicholson talks to Rwanda’s captain, Emile Vuningabo, and the side’s Dutch coach, Peter Karreman. The programme is a Whistledown Production. PHOTO: The Rwandan team blocking a shot at the 2012 Paralympics (Getty Imag...more
In December 1995, the first disability rights legislation was passed by India's parliament. An estimated 60 million people, almost six percent of India's population, are affected by physical or mental disabilities. Farhana Haider spoke to Javed Abidi who led the campaign to change the law. Photo: Disability rights campaigners protest in Delhi, December 19th 1995. (Credit: Javed Abidi)
For decades disabled people in the UK were offered tiny, three-wheeled, turquoise cars as their main form of transport. They were known as Invacars and they were provided, free of charge, to people who couldn't use ordinary vehicles. They were phased out in the 1970s because they were accident-prone and people were given grants to adapt conventional cars instead. Daniel Gordon has been hearing from Colin Powell, who was issued with his first Invacar at the age of 16. Photo: an Invacar. Credit: ...more
Helen Keller was born in Alabama in the USA in 1880. A childhood illness left her deaf and blind, but she still learned to speak and read and write. She wrote several books, graduated from college, and met 12 US presidents. By the end of her life she was famous around the world. Lucy Burns spoke to her great-niece, Adair Faust for Witness History. This programme is a rebroadcast. (Photo: Helen Adams Keller (1880-1968). Credit: Hulton Archive)
In 1977, Anwar Sadat became the first Egyptian president to visit Israel and address the Israeli parliament the Knesset. At the time, Egypt was still formally at war with Israel - a country which no Arab nation then recognised. Sadat's visit led to a formal peace treaty between the two countries. Louise Hidalgo spoke to the Egyptian cameraman, Mohamed Gohar who knew Sadat. PHOTO: Sadat addressing the Knesset (AFP/Getty Images)
Some have described Our Bodies, Ourselves as “obscene trash” – for others it’s a vital source of information about women’s health and sexuality. First published in 1973, this radical, and sometimes controversial, book has become a best-seller and a global phenomenon. Josephine Casserly talks to one of the authors, Joan Ditzion.
In August 1944 President Franklin D Roosevelt agreed to allow nearly one thousand Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe to come to America. They were allowed entry only as "guests", so as not to breach strict US immigration quotas in place during the whole of WW2. The refugees, who arrived on a troop ship from Italy, were housed in a former military barracks, Fort Ontario, near the city of Oswego in upper state New York. For those who'd recently been imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps...more
Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected the modern world's first female head of government in 1960 when she became Prime Minister of Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was known then. She entered politics after the assassination of her husband Solomon Bandrainaike in 1959. Farhana Haider has been speaking to her daughter Sunethra Bandaranaike about her mother's remarkable political achievement. Photo Sirimavo Bandaranaike the Prime Minister of Ceylon (later Sri Lanka), 1960. Credit Keystone/Hulton Archive...more
In 2008, Captain Colin Darch and his crew were taking a tug boat from Russia to Singapore when they were attacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. They were held hostage for 47 days. In the late 2000s, Somali piracy was starting to become a major threat in the Indian Ocean. Over the next few years there were hundreds of attacks a year until naval forces from around the world deployed to the Gulf of Aden to protect shipping. Alex Last has been talking to Captain Colin Darch about his ordeal...more
Psychoanalyst and paediatrician Donald Winnicott helped shape childcare in Britain through a series of BBC radio broadcasts in the 1940s and 50s. He suggested mothers did best when they followed their instincts, got to know their babies and ignored prescribed rules. He became most famous for developing the idea of what he called ‘the good-enough mother’. He also introduced the term 'transitional object' to describe the favourite teddy that babies cling to, He suggested it represented an importan...more
An international committee of astronomers agreed Pluto wasn't really a planet in 2006. They reclassified it as a 'dwarf planet' instead. The decision was made after Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology identified a larger body, Eris, in the Kuiper Belt. He has been telling Bethan Head about his discovery and the public outcry that followed. Photo: Dwarf planet Pluto Credit: DottedHippo /Getty Images
At the start of World War One, British and German colonial forces went into battle in East Africa. Tens of thousands of African troops and up to a million porters were conscripted to fight and keep the armies supplied. We hear very rare recordings of Kenyan veterans of the King's African Rifles, talking about their experiences of the war. The interviews were made in Kenya in the early 1980s by Gerald Rilling with the help of Paul Kiamba. Photo: Locally recruited troops under German command in Da...more
In the 1970s, British speech therapist Margaret Walker invented a revolutionary system of communication for children and adults with special needs. Makaton uses simple signs to reinforce spoken speech and make it easier for people with learning difficulties to understand the meaning. Makaton is now used by millions of people in around 40 countries around the world; it helps everyone from children with Down’s Syndrome to pensioners with dementia. Margaret Walker talks to Simon Watts. PHOTO: A Ma...more
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. It was part of a campaign to demand greater representation for women and ethnic minorities in the art world. The guerrilla girls' campaign later went international. Laura Fitzpatrick has been talking to the activists known as "Frida Kahlo" and "Kathe Kollowitz". PHOTO: Some of the Guerrilla Girls in 1990 (Getty Images)
In 2005 Dresden’s Lutheran church, the Frauenkirche, opened its doors to the public for the first time in 60 years. The Frauenkirche in the East German city of Dresden was destroyed in 1945 by British and American bombing. The church remained in ruins for over 40 years. Then, in 1993, a painstaking project began to piece the church back together and restore it to its former glory. Josephine Casserly talks to Thomas Gottschlich who was one of the architects leading the reconstruction. Ruins of ...more
The 5th Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester in 1945 to shape the post-war struggle against colonialism and racial discrimination. Prominent black activists, intellectuals and trade union leaders from around the world attended the meeting - among them Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, the future leaders of independent Ghana and Kenya. We delve into the archive to hear from one of the delegates, the late ANC activist and writer Peter Abrahams, and we speak to the historian Prof Hakim Adi fr...more
On November 4th 1995 the Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen sang at a peace rally in Tel Aviv alongside Israel's leader Yitzhak Rabin. Moments later the Prime Minister was shot. Aviv Geffen spoke to Louise Hidalgo about that night, and its effect on his life. This programme was first broadcast in 2010. Photo: Yitzhak Rabin in 1993. Credit: Getty Images.
In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, thousands of children were born to white German women and black American soldiers who were stationed in Allied-occupied Germany. The mixed-race infants were viewed with contempt by many Germans and endured constant abuse and racism. Black activist and author Ika Hügel-Marshall was one of the so-called "occupation babies". She tells Mike Lanchin about the painful struggle to discover her own identity as a result of the racism she experienced growing up...more
In 1969, a theatrical revue called Oh Calcutta opened in New York featuring extensive male and female nudity. Created by renowned critic Kenneth Tynan, a London version followed the next year and the show ran in both cities for thousands of performances. Vincent Dowd talks to Margo Sappington and Linda Marlowe, two members of the original cast. PHOTO: The Oh Calcutta cast from the New York Production in 1981 (Ron Galella/Getty Images)
On September 11 2001, President George W. Bush was visiting an elementary school in Florida as two planes hit the World Trade Center. In an image that would become iconic, the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, broke the news to the president by whispering in his ear as he listened to schoolchildren practising their reading. In interviews from 2011, Andrew Card recalls the moment that transformed President Bush’s presidency and the course of recent history. PHOTO: President George W. Bush...more
In June 1979 the Moral Majority was launched and changed the course of American politics. It was set up to promote family values by religious conservatives from Catholic, Jewish and evangelical Christian communities. It urged protestants in particular to go against the tradition of separating politics and religion and register to vote, and to vote Republican. Richard Viguerie was one of the driving forces behind the movement. He spoke to Claire Bowes in 2016. (Photo: Ronald Reagan with Richard ...more
In 1973, the US Senate began an investigation which would eventually lead to Richard Nixon standing down as President a year later. Senator Howard Baker was on the Watergate committee. In 2013, he spoke to Louise Hidalgo. (Photo: Senator Howard Baker (left), Senator Sam Irvin, Sam Dash, Senator Herman Talmadge. Credit: Gene Forte/Getty Images.)
In January 1972 Shirley Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate to make a bid for the US Presidency. She was also the first black woman elected to Congress. In 2015, Farhana Haider spoke to former Congressman Charles Rangel who worked with Shirley Chisholm. (Photo: Shirley Chisholm at the Democratic National Convention in 1972. Credit: Getty Images)
Ted Sorensen was a close aide and speechwriter for John F Kennedy. In an interview with Lucy Williamson he remembered the night that Kennedy won the US presidential election in 1960. It was a close race against the Republican contender Richard Nixon. Photo: US President John F. Kennedy giving his first State of the Union address to Congress in January 1961. (Credit: NASA/SSPL/Getty Images)
Usually it is the names of astronauts that people remember about the space race. But less celebrated are the teams of people working on how to put a rocket into orbit. Only in recent years have stories come to light of the contributions of the black women involved. Many were recruited as 'computers', meaning that they carried out complex mathematical calculations by hand, before machines were invented that could do the job. Christine Darden started her career in the computer pool, helping the ...more
In 2005, South Africa set up the Missing Persons Task Team to trace and locate the remains of the hundreds, possibly thousands, who disappeared in "political circumstances" during the brutal years of white minority rule. Many were victims of the state security services. Some were victims of secret death squads which abducted and murdered opponents of the regime. Alex Last talks to the leader of the team, Madeleine Fullard, about her work and how the cases reveal the dark and complicated history ...more
In April 1955, more than 100,000 children in America were inoculated with a defective batch of the brand-new polio vaccine. Because of a manufacturing mistake at a small company called Cutter Laboratories, the children were given live polio virus; around 160 were permanently paralysed and 10 died in the worst disaster in US pharmaceutical history. Simon Watts talks to Anne Gottsdanker, one of the victims of what became known as the Cutter Incident. PHOTO: Anne Gottsdanker with her father Bob Go...more
The working class woman who shook up the British theatre establishment in the 1950s and 60s. Joan Littlewood introduced improvisation and helped break down class barriers. She set up a theatre in a working class area in the east end of London which put on plays written by amateur writers and actors, many without classical training. She delighted in the fact that the laziest person in the company might be working class and the poshest the one scrubbing the stage. She went on to create successes ...more
In the grip of a drugs crisis, the country took a radical approach in 2001 and became the first country in the world to decriminalise all drugs for personal use. Drug abuse and addiction began to be seen as a public health issue, not a criminal offence. Initial resistance to the policy faded after statistics proved that treatment, rather than punishment, was reducing the number of deaths caused by drugs in Portugal. Dr João Castel-Branco Goulão was one of the chief architects of the shift in ...more
In 1980 the Iraqi strongman, Saddam Hussein, tried to launch his country's entry into the world of movie making. He spent millions of dollars on an epic movie called Clash of Loyalties, filmed almost entirely on location in Iraq, and staring some of Britain's leading actors , including Oliver Reed, Helen Ryan and James Bolam. But soon after shooting of the film began, war erupted between Iraq and neighbouring Iran. Mike Lanchin speaks to the film's Iraqi-born British producer Lateif Jorephani an...more
Although African Americans were guaranteed the right to vote by the constitution, many in the south were being denied that right. During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s black voting rights activists had been beaten and killed but it was events in Selma Alabama in 1965 that outraged many Americans. In March 1965 hundreds of peaceful protesters were brutally beaten by Alabama state troops as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The bloodshed in Selma prompted President Lyn...more
Many of the nomadic herders in Kazakhstan left the USSR and moved to China in the 1920s. They feared being forced into collective farms by the Soviet state. Then in the 1950s many of them moved back again. Monica Whitlock has been listening to the story of Nazylkhan, a Kazakh herder and matriarch of a huge extended family, who lived through those epic journeys and who died in 2018. Photo: members of Nazylkhan's extended family, and friends. Credit: BBC.
On October 13th 1990, the Syrian airforce pushed their most outspoken opponent in Lebanon, General Michel Aoun, to take refuge in the French embassy in Beirut, ending the last chapter of Lebanon's bitter 15-year civil war. Veteran Lebanese journalist Hanna Anbar told Louise Hidalgo about that day for Witness History. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Syrian soldiers celebrate in front of the presidential palace in east Beirut after capturing it from troops loyal to General Michel Aoun, O...more
In June 1980, US media mogul Ted Turner launched the first TV station dedicated to 24 hour news, Cable News Network or CNN. Some were sceptical that there would be enough news to stay on air, others warned that the public wouldn't be interested in news 24 hours a day. But it marked a shift in broadcast journalism and paved the way for many more rolling news stations across the world. Rebecca Kesby has been speaking to Senior Executive at CNN, Rick Davis, about how 24 hour news has influence...more
In August 1977, the racist National Front organisation planned to stage a march into Lewisham in South London at a time of high racial tension in the area. The National Front activists were met by a huge counter-demonstration organised by anti-racist campaigners – in the clashes that followed, hundreds of people were arrested and injured before the National Front were forced to withdraw. The so-called Battle of Lewisham is now seen as having halted the rise of the far-right in British politics....more
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 speaking to Sharon Hemans about the show, and the people who inspired it for Witness History. Image: Ram John Holder, Norman Beaton and Gyearbuor Asante (Credit: Channel 4)
New laws were used to stop nightclubs and discos from banning black and ethnic minority customers in 1978. The first club to be taken to court was a disco called Pollyanna's in the city of Birmingham. The Commission for Racial Equality ruled their entry policy racist. David Hinds, vocalist for the reggae band, Steel Pulse, spoke to Farhana Haider for Witness History in 2015 about the racism in Birmingham's club scene in the 1970s. This programme is a rebroadcast (Photo: Reggae Band, Steel Pul...more
Yvonne Conolly was made headteacher of Ringcross Primary school in North London in 1969. She had moved to the UK from Jamaica just a few years earlier and quickly worked her way up the teaching profession. She faced racist threats when she first took up the post but refused to allow them to define her relationship with the children she taught. She spoke to Jonathan Coates about her life. Photo: Yvonne Conolly in a classroom. Copyright: Pathe.
Hundreds of pioneering migrants travelled from the Caribbean to the UK on board the SS Empire Windrush in 1948. The passage cost £28,10 shillings. Passenger Sam King described to Alan Johnston the conditions on board and the concerns people had about finding a job in England. He also talked about what life was like in their adopted country once they arrived. This programme is a rebroadcast Photo: The SS Empire Windrush. Credit:Press Association.
A summer house built by a lake outside Berlin in the 1920s reflects much of Germany's 20th century history. Its first owners fled the Nazis. The Berlin Wall was built through its garden. Then after the reunification of Germany it was recognised as a historic monument and made into an education and reconciliation centre. Alex Stanger has been speaking to Thomas Harding whose great grandfather built the house, and who has written a children's book about its changing place in the world. Photo: Th...more
Three Californian gray whales got caught in ice off Alaska in October 1988. Indigenous people, environmentalists, oil companies and even the Soviet Navy joined forces to try to free them. Rich Preston has been hearing from Cindy Lowri who was working for Greenpeace and who joined the battle to save the whales. Photo: Local indigenous children watch a gray whale nosing up through the ice. (Credit: Taro Yamasaki/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images)
The world's most popular search engine was launched in September 1998 by two PHD students from Stanford University in California. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had an idea that would revolutionise the internet and create one of the world's most valuable companies. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Tamara Munzner a computer scientist who was at Stanford with the two founders of Google. Photo Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, 2003. Credit Getty.
Prosecutor Gian Carlo Caselli explains how leading Italian politician Giulio Andreotti was put on trial in Sicily in September 1995, accused of collusion with the Mafia. Andreotti had been prime minister seven times and journalists dubbed it the trial of the century. Bob Howard has been hearing from Gian Carlo Caselli about compelling evidence that Andreotti had met the Mafia kingpin Stefano Bontade and even knew in advance of the planned assassination of the president of the Sicilian regional g...more
The charismatic Egyptian president dominated Arab politics for almost two decades up until his death on September 28th 1970. His funeral was attended by millions of grief-stricken Egyptians. In 2010 Mike Gallagher spoke to an ordinary Egyptian who remembered his death, and its aftermath. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Crowds in Cairo mourning Nasser on October 1st 1970. Credit: Fred Ihrt/LightRocket via Getty Images.
The US presidential election of 2000 was one of the closest and most contested in history. It was more than a month before the result was decided after a Supreme Court decision. It all came down to the vote in Florida, a 'swing-state', where irregularities and technical problems added to the confusion. In the end it's thought there were just a few hundred votes in it, but years later, the result, and the handling of the election in the state, divides opinion. Callie Shell was the official ph...more
On 16 September 2007 private security guards employed by the American firm Blackwater opened fire on civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square. Seventeen Iraqis were killed, and another 20 injured. The Blackwater guards, who were escorting a convoy from the American embassy, claimed that they had come under attack from insurgents, but eye-witnesses and Iraqi offficials quickly dismissed that version of events. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to Mohammed Kinani who was driving through the area at the t...more
Just months after his release from prison in 1990 the South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela toured the USA. One of the eight cities he went to visit was Detroit. Benita Barden has been speaking to Reverend Wendell Anthony who was one of the people who welcomed him to the city. Photo: Nelson Mandela and Rev Wendell Anthony in 1990. Courtesy of Rev Wendell Anthony.
How the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was negotiated to write off billions of dollars of debt, accumulated over two decades of civil war. Coming to power in 2006, Johnson Sirleaf had to govern the West African country with little tax revenue and owing large sums to countries and institutions it could never hope to pay back. Over four years, with intensive negotiations with multiple parties and even support from the Irish rock star Bono, in 2010 the World Bank and International Monetar...more
The Galileo mission to examine the planet Jupiter had its beginnings in the 1970s. It finally came to an end on 21st September 2003. Professor Fred Taylor is one of the few scientists who worked on it from start to finish and he has been telling Dan Whitworth about some of the highs and lows of the project. Photo: The Galileo Jupiter probe being tested before launch. Credit:Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images
In April 1977 a group of women in Argentina held the first ever public demonstration to demand the release of thousands of opponents of the military regime. It was the start of a long campaign by the women, who became known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. In 2017 Mike Lanchin spoke to Mirta Baravalle who has spent decades searching for her missing daughter and son-in-law, and for the grandchild she has never met. (Photo: Mirta Baravalle, with the photograph of her daughter, Ana Maria. Cred...more
A photo of a man confronting a tank in Tiananmen Square in Beijing caught the world's imagination. Carrying two plastic shopping bags, unarmed and alone, he seemed to embody the protest movement crushed by the Chinese authorities in 1989. Stuart Franklin was one of the photographers who captured the image of Tank Man - he has been speaking to David Edmonds for Witness History. Photo: Tank Man on Tiananmen Square, June 4th 1989. Credit: Stuart Franklin/Magnum.
Franklin McCain was one of four young black men who took a stand against racial segregation in the USA in 1960. They sat down at a "whites only" lunch counter and asked to be served. When they were asked to leave, they refused, and soon their quiet protest was attracting attention from around the country. In 2011 Franklin McCain spoke to Alan Johnston about that time. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Franklin McCain in 2010. Credit: Getty Images.
During the 1950s in Kenya, armed rebels known as the Mau Mau fought against British rule. Thousands were taken captive and interned in camps by the British authorities. In 2011 Gitu wa Kahangeri, a Mau Mau veteran, spoke to Louise Hidalgo about his experiences. Photo: Gitu wa Kahangeri speaking to the BBC in 2016. Credit: BBC
For more than 20 years, people in Belarus have been protesting against the authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko - who's been dubbed Europe's last dictator. Lukashenko came to power in a landslide election victory in 1994 but he soon changed the constitution to give himself sweeping new powers. He has remained in office ever since, winning elections which observers say are rigged. Opponents of the regime have faced harassment, violence and arrest. Some are believed to have been ki...more
The USA is the only rich democracy not to provide universal healthcare. After WW2 US President Harry Truman was horrified that only a fifth of all Americans could afford proper healthcare. Most middle class Americans had no private health insurance and many found medical fees unaffordable. He calculated that more than 300,000 people died every year because they couldn't pay for proper treatment. In 1945 he tried to persuade Congress to push through legislation for an insurance programme meaning ...more
Punyavathi Sunkara recalls how she campaigned to stop the sale of alcohol in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to protect women from domestic violence and safeguard family finances. Pressure from women like Punyavathi helped persuade the state's chief minister, NT Rama Rao, to pass the prohibition law in 1995.
Steve Huffman had been programming software since he was eight-years-old. At the University of Virginia, he met his future business partner, Alexis Ohanian. The pair went on to found Reddit, a discussion website where anyone can post links, photos, videos or questions on all kinds of different topics. The website now has an online following of over 430 million users, who contribute to over 138,000 different communities. Robbie Wojciechowski has been speaking to Steve Huffman about how it all beg...more
Barbara Mensch recalls how she was hijacked and held in Jordan by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in September 1970. Barbara’s plane was forced to fly to a disused British airbase in Jordan, whilst on the final leg of a flight from Tel Aviv to New York. She was imprisoned on board the TWA plane for almost a week and then held hostage in the Jordanian capital Amman for a further fortnight, as the so called Black September conflict erupted between militant Palestinian groups and...more
In October 2010, Haiti was hit by an outbreak of cholera, the first in recent history of the impoverished Caribbean nation. Nepalese peacekeepers belonging to the international MINUSTAH mission were blamed for introducing the deadly disease, but for many years the UN refused to accept any responsability. More than 10,000 Haitians have died from cholera, and thousands more were infected. The UN finally apologised to the Haitian people in December 2016. Mike Lanchin speaks to the French specialist...more
In the 1990s Britain closed down many of its long-stay hospitals and asylums and their patients were sent to new lives in the community. But the transition wasn't always easy. Some people had suffered abuse and found it hard to adjust to life outside. Lucy Burns has been speaking to "Michael" who has a learning disability, about his experiences both inside and outside of institutions. Photo: A now derelict asylum in Colchester, England. Credit: Simon Webster/Alamy Stock Photo
Between the late 1990s and 2002 there were more than 150 bomb attacks in the South African city of Cape Town. The authorities blamed them on a group known as Pagad - People Against Gangsterism And Drugs. But no one was ever convicted of the bombings. Darin Graham has been speaking to Elana Newman whose daughter Olivia lost a leg in a blast at the pizza restaurant where she was working in 1999. Photo: Olivia (l) and Elana Newman (r). Copyright: Elana Newman.
The portable cassette player that brought music-on-the-move to millions of people was launched in 1979. By the time production of the Walkman came to an end 30 years later, Sony had sold more than 220 million machines worldwide. In 2019 Farhana Haider spoke to Tim Jarman, who purchased one of the original blue-and-silver Walkmans. This programme is a rebroadcast. (Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
When a British Airways flight carrying 248 passengers took off one evening in 1982 heading from Kuala Lampur to Australia, everything seemed fine. But two hours later all of the jumbo jet’s engines shut down and no one knew why. The plane had flown into the ash cloud of the erupting volcano, Mount Galunggung, without realising it. Darin Graham speaks to retired Captain Eric Moody, who flew the plane that night.
The author Ian Fleming created the fictional super-spy, James Bond, in the 1950s. Fleming, a former journalist and stockbroker, had served in British naval intelligence during the Second World War. Using interviews with Fleming and his friends from the BBC archive, Alex Last explores how elements of James Bond were drawn from Ian Fleming's own adventurous life. Photo: Ian Lancaster Fleming, British author and creator of the James Bond character, in 1958. (Getty Images)
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark civil rights-era electoral law was designed to protect African-American and other minority voters. It was introduced to remove the many obstacles that were in place to prevent African-Americans from being able to vote. Many states, particularly in the south, used intimidation, local laws and so-called literacy tests to prevent black people from being able to register to vote. In 2010 Shelby County in Alabama attempted to overturn a key part of the law. ...more
In August 1930 the last inhabitants left their homes on the remote Scottish islands of St Kilda. It was the end of a traditional Gaelic-speaking community who were once believed to live at the end of the world. Simon Watts has been listening to some of their stories, as recorded in the BBC archives. PHOTO: The men of St Kilda pictured in the late 19th century (Getty Images)
In 2011, the Occupy movement staged demonstrations against financial inequality across the world. The biggest was in New York, where a retired police officer called Ray Lewis became one of the best-known protestors when he was arrested in his old dress uniform. He talks to Robbie Wojciechowski. PHOTO: Ray Lewis at the Occupy Wall Street protest (Getty Images)
In 1993, Jeannie Leavitt became the first woman to fly a US Air Force fighter plane after the Pentagon lifted its ban on female pilots engaging in combat. After hundreds of F15 missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, Leavitt went on to become the first woman to command a fighter unit. She talks to May Cameron. PHOTO: Major-General Jeannie Leavitt in a recent picture (US Department of Defence)
One of the leading figures in Nigeria's fight for democracy was Margaret Ekpo, a feminist politician and trades union leader. After Nigerian independence in 1960, Ekpo became an MP and a hero to a generation of Nigerians - men and women. Rebecca Kesby tells the story of her life. PHOTO: Margaret Ekpo in London in August 1953 (ANL/Shutterstock)
Randy Weaver was a white separatist in Idaho in the north-west United States who was wanted by the government on firearms charges. When government agents approached his remote cabin on Ruby Ridge in August 1992, it was the start of an eleven day siege involving hundreds of police officers – which ended with the deaths of Weaver’s wife and teenage son, along with a US marshal. The incident would become a touchstone for the far right and a rallying cry for the American militia movement. Lucy Burns...more
In November 1946, Emperor Hirohito proclaimed a new post-war constitution for Japan which contained clauses establishing women's rights for the first time. They were the brainchild of Beate Sirota Gordon, a young American woman working for the Allied occupying forces. Simon Watts tells her story using interviews from the BBC archives. PHOTO: Beate Sirota Gordon in Japan in 1946 (Family Collection)
A team of American doctors, led by the distinguished physician Dr John Cutler, carried out secretive STD tests in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948. The doctors experimented on more than one thousand prisoners, sex workers, mental institution inmates and soldiers, injecting them without their consent with syphilis and gonorrhea. In some cases the victims were provided with penicillin to combat the diseases; in many others they weren't given anything. Mike Lanchin speaks to Susan Reverby, a medical his...more
Asthma affects more children than any other non-communicable disease - and it was a teenager who first asked her father "why can't they put my asthma medication in a spray can like hairspray?". Luckily her father ran a pharmaceutical company and got a team of scientists to work on the idea. Charlie Thiel is the one surviving member of the team. The chemist helped create a drug formulation of fine spray that reached further into the lungs than any previous treatment. Claire Bowes hears from him...more
In 2012, archaeologists from the University of Leicester discovered the lost grave of Richard III under a car park in Leicester. Richard was the King of England more than 500 years ago and for centuries was portrayed as one of the great villains of English history. He was killed in 1485 leading his army in battle against a rival claimant to the throne, Henry Tudor. After the battle, Richard III corpse was stripped naked, paraded around down, before being hastily buried in a church within a friar...more
Zainab Salbi grew up in the inner social circle of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, in the 1980s because her father worked as Saddam’s personal pilot. It was a world of apparently glamorous parties on the River Tigris, but where the slightest falling-out with the dictator could lead to execution. After years of psychological pressure, Zainab’s family got her out of Saddam’s Iraq by setting up an arranged marriage for her in the US. She tells her story to Susan Hulme. PHOTO: Zainab Salbi as a...more