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The History Hour


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

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


United Kingdom




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




Darfur's ethnic war

We hear about the start of the war in Darfur, through the eyes of a teenage boy whose life was changed when the Sudanese military allied to a local militia, the Janjaweed, laid waste to villages across the region, killing and raping as they went. We hear from a survivor of Norway's worst day of terror, when a far-right extremist, Anders Breivik, launched a bomb attack on government offices and attacked a summer camp. Plus a story from our archives from a British army officer during World War...


When the Taliban ruled Kabul

Afghans remember life under the Taliban in 1990s Kabul, and we ask Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network about the fall and rise of the Taliban. Plus, Jane Goodall on her ground-breaking study of chimpanzees, why race riots swept northern England in 2001, the remarkable story of a boy trapped in China's Cultural Revolution, and the invention of the jet engine. Photo: Taliban gunners outside Kabul in November 1996.(Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)


North Korea's 1990s famine

When the USSR collapsed it could no longer support North Korea, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths due to starvation and malnutrition. We hear from one survivor and Prof Hazel Smith who explains some of the contributing factors behind the 'long, slow famine'. Also on the programme, the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, why the UK sent all its gold to Canada during World War Two, battling for Roma rights and the mystery behind Cuba's blindness epidemic. All told by the people at the...


Supernatural sightings

Is there anybody out there? Max Pearson hears about a UFO sighting in rural Zimbabwe in 1994 and talks to Gideon Lewis-Kraus of the New Yorker about whether the US Pentagon is taking UFOs more seriously. Plus, the birth of communist China, a wind power pioneer, trailblazing Chinese students and a radical Syrian playwright. Image: Composite of children's illustrations of UFO, Zimbabwe 1994.


The Confederate flag and America’s battle over race

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. We discuss the history of this divisive symbol of America's racist past. Also how life in the Chinese countryside has been dramatically changed by 40 years of migration to the cities. Plus, from the 1980s, a...


When Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor

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. We hear from Dr Fadhil Muslim al Janabi, a former consultant for Iraq's nuclear agency. Also this week, eye-witness testimony to the fall of Madrid in 1939; Hamas' unexpected election victoryin 2006, the...


The war on drugs

US President Richard Nixon declared illegal drugs 'public enemy number one' in 1971 and launched a worldwide 'war' on the narcotics trade. 50 years on we revisit key moments in the ongoing fight against the powerful criminal groups involved from Columbia to Afghanistan. We'll hear personal stories from the front line of drug addiction, plus journalist and author Ioan Grillo joins our presenter Max Pearson to discuss, what went wrong in the war on drugs? Photo: US President Richard Nixon (BBC)


Amilcar Cabral: an African liberation legend

We remember Amilcar Cabral, who led the armed struggle against Portuguese colonial rule in West Africa in the 1970s and speak to Dr Nayanka Perdigao about his legacy. Plus the shocking fallout of the Indian rail strike in 1974 which was - at the time - the biggest industrial action on record and from a century ago, the Tulsa race massacre, when thousands of African Americans were left homeless and hundreds were killed. We'll also find out how Lotfia Elnadi became the first Arab woman pilot...


When Egypt said Enough

Under the slogan 'kefaya' which means 'enough' in Arabic, in 2004 Egyptians began protesting in Cairo against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak. The months of demonstrations took place several years before the Arab Spring swept through the region and drew many people onto the streets for the first time in their lives. We get an eye-witness account. Plus, Ariel Sharon's controversial visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in 2000, the women who staged strikes against military rule in...


Why a British MP was filmed taking mescaline

# Warning: This programme contains descriptions of drug use # In 1955 Christopher Mayhew MP took the hallucinogenic drug mescaline for a TV experiment. We look back at the history of psychedelic research and speak to Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. Plus, the battle to legalise contraception in Ireland, a pro-democracy activist in China, the chemical and biological weapons programme in apartheid South Africa, and why thousands...


The IRA hunger strikes

The IRA hunger strikes of 1981 – Max Pearson hears from Suzanne Breen of the Belfast Telegraph about the impact of the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland. Plus, one man’s story of surviving Guantanamo Bay, how a French winemaker exposed a wine fraudster, feminist science fiction pioneer Ursula Le Guin, and cannabis coffee shops in Amsterdam.


The killing of Osama Bin Laden

It is 10 years since the al-Qaeda leader was killed. We look at the US special forces operation that finally tracked him down to a city in northern Pakistan, the 1979 siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, one of the events that shaped his world view; we talk to a Western-based journalist who met him, hear from a survivor of the attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 and hear about the hunt for the al-Qaeda leader in the mountains of Afghanistan after 9/11. (Photo:...


How the NRA became a US political lobbying giant

The origins of the gun lobby in the US. Plus we speak to Prof Robert Spitzer about the power of the National Rifle Association. Also, the mysterious American who killed two men in Pakistan and triggered a diplomatic crisis, the historic trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1961, the battle to reclaim a Native American sacred lake, and the first space shuttle mission. Photo: National Rifle Association Holds Its Annual Conference In Dallas, Texas. DALLAS, TX - MAY 05 2018. Credit:...


The first woman in the US Supreme Court

Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to America's top court in 1981. She'd been nominated by newly-elected Republican president Ronald Reagan. Also in the programme: an eye-witness on the beaches during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, the worm that unlocked secrets of genetics in the 1960s, the decline of the South Asian vulture and China's "kingdom of women". Photo:Sandra Day O'Connor is sworn in at the Senate confirmation hearing on her selection as a US Supreme Court justice,...


The women who reclaimed the night

We hear from the women who started "Reclaim the Night" marches in the north of England in 1977 - a time when a serial killer nicknamed the Yorkshire Ripper was murdering women. The women felt police were policing their behaviour rather than that of men by instructing them to stay home at night. We speak to Hallie Rubenhold author of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper for a comparison of the treatment and expectations of women in the 19th and 20th century. Plus...


Black Jesus

On Easter Sunday 1967 the Reverend Albert Cleage re-named 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. Plus, how British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wowed the Soviet Union with a live TV interview in 1987; how the death of singer Karen Carpenter raised the profile of the anorexia eating disorder; and the story of two Englishmen who were...


The History Hour

South Africa fights for cheaper drugs during the AIDS epidemic, the man born into slavery in Mauritania, trying to end the troubles in Northern Ireland, Banksy’s first street art and a sex therapy legend. With Max Pearson


The History Hour

The hunt to find the Jamaican drug lord wanted for extradition to the United States, the six men trapped in a simulated space ship for a year and a half, the mother of the Swedish welfare state, the New York drag scene of the 1990s and a classic cold war chess match which was much more than just a game. With Max Pearson (Jamaican police on patrol after a frenzy of gang and drug violence in Kingston, May 24 2010. Credit: Anthony Foster/Getty Images)


The women of Egypt's Arab Spring

The women of Egypt's Arab Spring; the underground abortion network in 1960s America; Greece's champion of the Parthenon Marbles, Melina Mercouri; China’s most powerful 19th-century ruler, and the doctor who was India’s 1966 Miss World. Photo: Hend Nafea protesting in Tahrir Square in January 2011. (Copyright Hend Nafea)


The Iron Curtain

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