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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.




The fall of Kwame Nkrumah

An eyewitness account of the overthrow of Ghana's famous independence leader. And we examine Nkrumah's legacy with Prof. Gareth Austin from Cambridge University. Plus the story of a heroic African WW2 airman, the scientists who alerted the world to the threat of acid rain, a Nobel Peace Prize winner on the 1990s campaign to ban landmines and an inside account of Ireland's financial crisis. Photo: Kwame Nkrumah c 1955 (Getty Images)


Black History: The Black Panthers

As part of our Black History coverage we look back at the Black Panthers and ask Professor Clayborne Carson of Stanford University "How radical was the US black rights group?" Also, we bring you an archive interview with Mary Wilson of the Supremes, we delve into the question of compensation after the abolition of slavery - and no, not compensation for the people who had been enslaved, but for the former slave owners. Also, how one descendent of slaves, James Dawkins, discovered his...


US 'smart bombs' hit an Iraqi air raid shelter

More than 400 civilians were killed when two US precision bombs hit the Amiriya air raid shelter in western Baghdad on the morning of 13 February 1991. The Americans claimed that the building had served as a command and control centre for Saddam Hussein's forces. It was the largest single case of civilian casualities that ocurred during Operation Desert Storm. Also in this week's programme, a drug scandal from the 1970s which blighted the lives of generations, rare archive of the celebrated...


The Burma protests of 1988

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


The Arab Spring of 2011

In the early months of 2011 a wave of social unrest swept across the Arab world as people protested against repressive and authoritarian regimes, economic stagnation, unemployment and corruption. It began with reaction to the self-immolation of a young market trader in Tunisia, but soon became an outpouring of resentment after generations of fear. On The History Hour, Professor Khaled Fahmy of Cambridge University, helps us unravel the roots of the uprisings, describes what it was like to be...


Hitler's beer hall putsch

Hitler made his first attempt at seizing power in Germany in 1923, ten years before he eventually became Chancellor. The failed "beer hall putsch" - so named because it started in a beer hall in the southern city of Munich - would become a foundational part of the Nazis' self-mythology. Professor Frank McDonough tells us more. Plus, more Nazis with The Turner Diaries, the novel that inspired the US far right; anti-Sikh riots in India; the birth of Swahili-language publishing; and the house...


Attack at the US Capitol

In 1954, Puerto Rican militants opened fire in the US House of Representatives, wounding five Congressmen - we hear how the assault was one of many previous attacks on American democracy. Plus, the coup attempt in Spain in 1981, India's first woman lawyer and landing a probe on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. PHOTO: Lolita Lebron and two other Puerto Rican activists are arrested in 1954 (Getty Images)


Buddhist on Death Row

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


75 years of UNESCO

UNESCO - the United Nations Scientific, Cultural and Educational Organisation - was set up 75 years ago, in the aftermath of the Second World War. It’s probably best known for its work protecting cultural monuments and areas of natural beauty around the world, but when it was founded, its aim was to use education as a means of sustaining peace after the horrors of the war. In this episode of The History Hour: UNESCO’s work on race and tolerance, its effort in the 1960s to save Egyptian...


Film special

We hear from eye-witnesses to some classic moments in cinema history – from It’s a Wonderful Life to Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy via Studio Ghibli, the Sound of Music and Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator. Plus, film critic Helen O’Hara tells us about the history of Christmas movies. Photo: one of the final scenes from Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, featuring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Carol Coombs, Jimmy Hawkins, Larry Simms and Karolyn Grimes, clockwise from top (photo by Herbert...


The birth of Bangladesh

How Pakistan's first democratic elections in 1970 led to war, the break up of Pakistan and the creation of a new country, Bangladesh. Also Gibraltar under Spanish blockade plus refugees from Namibia’s war of independence, Britain’s first reality TV family and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. Photo East Pakistan 1971 The flag of Bangladesh is raised at the Awami League headquarters. Credit Getty Images


The first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize

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


The fall of Addis Ababa

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


Disability History special

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


The world's first woman premier

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected prime minster of Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was known then, in 1960 following the assassination of her husband, Solomon Bandaranaike and became the first female prime minister in the world. We hear from Dr Asanga Welikala about her legacy. Plus the first Arab leader to visit Israel, the former hostage taken captive by Somali pirates in 2008 who came to sympathise with their plight and the Jewish refugees given sanctuary by America during WW2. Also the...


The Guerrilla Girls

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


The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

In 1995, the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. We hear how his death scuppered hopes of peace in the Middle East. Plus, the racism endured by children born to black American soldiers and German mothers after World War Two, the rebuilding of Dresden's most famous church, and nude theatre in London and New York. PHOTO: Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 (Getty Images)


US presidential history special

Eyewitness accounts of moments in US presidential history: Inside JFK's election victory, remembering Shirley Chisholm - the first African American from a major party to make a presidential run, plus a senator's account of the Watergate hearings, the rise of the religious right and the story of President Bush's 9/11. Photo: US President John F. Kennedy giving his first State of the Union address to Congress in January 1961. (Credit: NASA/SSPL/Getty Images)


Why Portugal decriminalised all drugs

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


CNN and the 24-hour news revolution

In June 1980, US media mogul Ted Turner launched the first TV station dedicated to 24 hour news, Cable News Network or CNN. We get a first-hand account of the early days of a channel that transformed news and politics. Plus, the end of Lebanon's civil war, the long fight for full voting rights for African-Americans and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's plan to become a film mogul. (PHOTO: Ted Turner attends official CNN Launch event at CNN Techwood Drive World Headquarters in Atlanta Georgia,...