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The story of our times told by the people who were there. We take listeners back in time to key events in history - featuring a witness to the event, archive material and hear from historians.

The story of our times told by the people who were there. We take listeners back in time to key events in history - featuring a witness to the event, archive material and hear from historians.
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The story of our times told by the people who were there. We take listeners back in time to key events in history - featuring a witness to the event, archive material and hear from historians.




BBC World Service Bush House Strand London WC2B 4PH


The BBC at Caversham

For 75 years the BBC ran a monitoring service based in an English stately home. Its job was to listen to foreign broadcasts from all around the world. But in 2018 the BBC decided the building was no longer needed. David Sillito spoke to veterans of the monitoring service before Caversham closed its doors. Photo: Inside one of the listening huts at Caversham during WW2. Credit: BBC Monitoring Service.


Shoah the Film

Shoah, the epic nine-and-a-half hour documentary on the Holocaust by French film director Claude Lanzmann, was first screened in spring 1985. It took Lanzmann 11 years to make, and had taken him to 14 different countries. The film centres on first-hand testimony by survivors, witnesses and by perpetrators and uses no archive footage. On its release, it was hailed as one of the greatest films on the Holocaust ever made. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to Irena Steinfeldt, who worked with...


Lesbian Protest on BBC News

On 23 May 1988 a group of lesbian activists invaded a BBC TV news studio as it went live on air. They were protesting against the introduction of new UK laws to limit LGBT rights. Booan Temple was one of the women who took part in the demonstration and she's been speaking to Ruth Evans about what happened that day. Photo: Booan and another protester are led out of the BBC by security guards. Credit: BBC.


Pakistan's Theatre Revolution

In 1984 a group of actors and students formed the Ajoka theatre group. Created at a time of heightened tensions and censorship due to the state of emergency imposed by the then military dictatorship of General Zia ul-Huq, it pioneered theatre for social change in Pakistan. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Fawzia Afzal-Khan who acted in the company's first original play. (Members of the Ajoka theatre group 1988; Credit Fawzia Afzal-Khan)


President Suharto Resigns

On May 21st 1998 the president of Indonesia resigned after 31 years in power. He stood down in the wake of demonstrations and riots across the country. The riots had broken out after the shooting of four student demonstrators by armed police in the capital Jakarta. In 2014 Alex Last spoke to Bhatara Ibnu Reza who took part in the demonstrations and who was with one of the students when he died. Photo: Students celebrate outside the Parliamentary buildings, Jakarta after Indonesian President...


Defusing Nuclear Bombs: The Goldsboro 'Broken Arrow'

How Lt. Jack ReVelle disarmed two thermonuclear bombs which crashed in Goldsboro, North Carolina in 1961. The bombs had been sucked out of a B-52 bomber which broke up in mid air and crashed on a flight over the eastern United States. Accidents involving nuclear weapons are known as Broken Arrows in US military terminology. At the time, Jack Revelle led a US Air Force Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team based in Ohio. Photo: One of the bombs Jack disarmed remained virtually intact.(USAF)


Look Back in Anger

The play Look Back in Anger exploded onto London's cultural scene in May 1956 and helped to change British theatre forever. The play by John Osborne is about a disillusioned university graduate coming to terms with his grudge against middle-class life and values. One writer described it as a cultural landmine. Actress Jane Asher starred in an early production and has been speaking to Louise Hidalgo for Witness. Picture: Jane Asher, Victor Henry and Martin Shaw at a rehearsal for the 1968...


May 1968 Paris Riots

In May 1968 student demonstrations spread across France and when workers joined the protests the whole country was brought to a standstill. Jean-Claude Pruvost was a young policeman who had to face the violent protests on the streets of Paris as the authorities tried to restore control. He has been speaking to Lisa Louis for Witness. Photo: Protesters face police in front of the Joseph Gibert bookstore, Boulevard Saint Michel in May 1968. (Credit: Jacques Marie/AFP/Getty Images)


The First Montessori Nursery

In 1907 Italian doctor, Maria Montessori opened a nursery where young children learnt independently, through practical work and playing with educational toys. The revolutionary teaching method soon spread around the world. Anya Dorodeyko spoke to the Italian educator's great granddaughter, Carolina Montessori and teacher Nan Abbott, who was trained by Dr Montessori in the 1940s. Photo: Children develop their problem solving skills through play at a Montessori school in 1919. Credit:...


The Dambusters Raid

In 1943, the Royal Air Force attacked a set of dams in Germany's Ruhr valley which were considered indestructible. Flying low and at night, the crews used special bouncing bombs to bring down two of their targets. The Dambusters mission was a huge propaganda success for Britain and later inspired a famous film. In 2013, Simon Watts talked to Johnny Johnson, one of the few survivors of the raid. PHOTO: Johnny Johnson (far left) with the rest of 617 squadron (DAMBUSTERS) at RAF Scampton,...


The Walker Spy Ring

In 1985 several members of the same American family were arrested for selling Navy secrets to the USSR. The alleged ring leader, John Walker, had been spying for the Soviets for 20 years. But the FBI suspected that John's elder brother Arthur had been involved in spying even earlier. Dina Newman speaks to Arthur Walker's lawyer, Sam Meekings. Photo: the alleged spy ring leader John Walker started his career in the Navy on board the USS Forrestal, a US aircraft carrier. Credit:...


The First Foetal Surgery

On the 10th May 1981 a baby was born after having been successfully operated on whilst still in the womb. The paediatric surgeon who developed the technique was Dr Michael Harrison. He has been speaking to Ashley Byrne about the challenges he faced. Photo: an ultrasound of a foetus in the womb. Credit: Science Photo Library.


The Last King of Bulgaria

In June 2001, more than half a century after being driven into exile by communists, Bulgaria’s former King Simeon II made a dramatic comeback by winning the country’s parliamentary election. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha about his remarkable journey from child king to prime minister. Photo: King Simeon II 1943 Credit: Bulgarian Royal Family


Africa United

In May 1963, leaders of 32 newly-independent African nations came together for the first time in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. At stake was the dream of a united Africa. Alex Last spoke to Dr Bereket Habte Selassie who took part in that first gathering. Photo: Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie (C) and Ghana's first President Kwame Nkrumah (L) during the formation of the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa in May 1963. Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images


The First Diagnosis of Autism

Autism was first described in 1943 by Austrian-American child psychiatrist Leo Kanner. This condition, which makes it difficult for people to communicate and relate to the world around them, was seen as very rare at the time. Anya Dorodeyko has been speaking to Dr James Harris, Professor of Child Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in America, who was a colleague and a successor to Leo Kanner. Photo: Leo Kanner in 1955. (Credit: Science Photo Library)


When Margaret Thatcher Came to Power

The British conservative politician was the first woman elected to lead a Western European country. She came to power on May 4th 1979. Rebecca Kesby has been speaking to Caroline Slocock who worked with Mrs Thatcher as her private secretary, while she was Prime Minister. Photo: British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with husband Denis on May 4th 1979. (Credit: John Minihan/Evening Standard/Getty Images)


WW2: Prisoner on the High Seas

A surprise attack, a ship sunk, a crew captured - a veteran of the British Merchant Navy remembers his encounter with a German commerce raider in the South Atlantic in May 1940. At the time, Captain Graeme Cubbin was just a 16-year-old cadet on the British merchant ship, SS Scientist when it became the first victim of the German commerce raider, the Atlantis. The crew of the Scientist spent nine months as prisoners on the German raider, as it wreaked havoc on Allied shipping in the South...


Takeshi's Castle

The hugely popular game show started on Japanese TV in 1986. Contestants were faced with all sorts of physical challenges which often resulted in slapstick failure. It soon became an international success. Ashely Byrne has been speaking to Hayato Tani who played 'The General' in Takeshi's Castle.


The Children's Crusade

Birmingham Alabama was one of the most segregated cities in the USA in 1963. In May that year thousands of black schoolchildren responded to a call from Martin Luther King to protest against segregation at the height of the civil rights movement. It became known as the Children's Crusade. Gwendolyn Webb was 14 years old at the time. In 2013 she spoke to Ashley Byrne about her experiences. Photo: African American children are attacked by dogs and water cannons during a protest against...


A New Approach to Shakespeare

The Royal Shakespeare Company opened in Britain in 1961 and changed theatre forever. 400 years after his death, the playwright's work began to be performed in a radical new way. Claire Bowes has been listening to archive of the founder of the theatre company, Sir Peter Hall, and speaking to Britain's longest serving theatre critic, Michael Billington about the move which made Shakespeare more relevant than ever before. Photo: Portrait of English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616),...


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