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


India's First Call Centre

Pramod Bhasin returned home to India in 1997 after working abroad for years. He spotted an opportunity to start a new industry that would revolutionise the country's economy. He tells Witness how he set up India's first call centre in spite of telecom challenges that might have put most entrepreneurs off. Photo: Pramod Bhasin in one of the call centres he started. Credit: BBC.


The Case of Dr Crippen

How one of the most notorious murderers in Edwardian London was captured as he fled to Canada. Listen to an astonishing BBC archive account of his arrest and hear from Dr Cassie Watson, a historian of forensic medicine and crime, about why the case of Dr Crippen lived so long in the public's memory. Photo: Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen (Getty Images)


The Thames Whale

In January 2006, London was entranced by the appearance of a large bottlenose whale in the Thames – the first such sighting for more than a century. Large crowds gathered to watch the whale swimming in front of the Houses of Parliament and many of the city’s most famous landmarks. But the whale’s health began to deteriorate and a team of specialist divers were called in to try – unsuccessfully – to save its life. Simon Watts talks to Mark Stevens, the man who organised the rescue attempt....


Strikers In Saris

In 1976 South Asian women workers who had made Britain their home, led a strike against poor working conditions in a British factory. Lakshmi Patel was one of the South Asian women who picketed the Grunwick film-processing factory in north London for two years, defying the stereotype of submissive South Asian women. They gained the support of tens of thousands of trade unionists along the way. Lakshmi talks to Farhana Haider about how the strike was a defining moment for race relations in...


Mexico's Miracle Water

Thousands of people flocked to the village of Tlacote in central Mexico in 1991. They were hoping to be cured by 'magical' water after rumours spread that it had healing powers. Maria Elena Navas has been speaking 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. Photo: Hands under a stream of water (Getty Images)


Judy Garland's Final Shows

Judy Garland ended her long and glitzy stage and screen career at a London theatre club in January 1969. She was booked for five weeks of nightly shows at the 'Talk of the Town', but by that time, the former child star of the 'Wizard of Oz' was struggling with a drug and drink addiction. Mike Lanchin has been hearing the memories of Rosalyn Wilder, then a young production assistant, whose job was to try to get Judy Garland on stage each night. Photo: Judy Garland on stage in London, December...


'Fat is a Feminist Issue'

Susie Orbach's best-selling book Fat is a Feminist Issue led many in the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1970s to rethink body-image from a feminist perspective. Millions of people have read the book, which is still in print four decades later. Susie Orbach explained to Rebecca Kesby how she came up with the idea, and why she is devastated that it is still selling copies. (Photo: Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue. Credit: Getty Images)


Diary of Life in a Favela

A poor single mother of three, Carolina Maria de Jesus lived in a derelict shack and spent her days scavenging for food for her children, doing odd jobs and collecting paper and bottles. Her diary, written between 1955 and 1960, brought to life the harsh realities faced by thousands of poor Brazilians who arrived in cities like São Paulo and Rio looking for better opportunities. Her daughter, Vera Eunice de Jesus Lima, speaks to Thomas Pappon about how the book changed her family's life....


When Stalin Rounded Up Soviet Doctors

In the last year of his rule Stalin ordered the imprisonment and execution of hundreds of the best Soviet doctors accusing them of plotting to kill senior Communist officials. Several hundred doctors were imprisoned and tortured, many of them died in detention. Professor Yakov Rapoport was among the few survivors of what was known as the 'Doctors' Plot'. His daughter Natasha remembers her family's ordeal in an interview with Dina Newman. Photo: Professor Yakov Rapoport, 1990s. Credit: family...


Fidel Castro Takes Havana

On January 8 1959 Fidel Castro and his left wing guerrilla forces marched triumphantly into the Cuban capital, ending decades of rule by the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. It was the beginning of communist rule on the Caribbean island. Mike Lanchin spoke to Carlos Alzugaray, who was a 15-year-old school boy when he joined the crowds in the Cuban capital that turned out to watch the rebel tanks roll into town. (Photo: Fidel Castro speaks to the crowds in Cuba after Batista was forced...


The Doomsday Seed Vault

In January 2008, seeds began arriving at the world's first global seed vault, buried deep inside a mountain on an Arctic island a-thousand kilometres north of the Norwegian coast. The vault was built to ensure the survival of the world's food supply and its agricultural history in the event of a global catastrophe. Louise Hidalgo has been speaking to the man whose idea it was, American agriculturalist Cary Fowler. (Photo: journalists and cameramen outside the entrance of the Svalbard Global...


Vikings in North America

The discovery that proved Vikings had crossed the Atlantic 1000 years ago. In 1960, a Norwegian couple, Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad arrived in the remote fishing village of L'Anse aux Meadows on the tip of Newfoundland in Canada. They were searching for evidence of the Norse settlement of North America which had been described in ancient Norse sagas. What they found would make headlines around the world, and turn L'Anse aux Meadows into a World Heritage Site. Alex Last spoke to Loretta...


Ceausescu's 'House of the People'

In the early 1980s the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ordered the construction of a massive building in central Bucharest. Dubbed the "House of the People", it was to become the world's 2nd largest building. Now, decades after the fall of Communism, the building remains a lasting monument to the excesses of the dictator's totalitarian rule. Robert Nicholson speaks to Eliodor Popa, one of the architects behind the building. (Photo by Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images)


Barbara Cartland - Queen of Romance

Dame Barbara Cartland was best known for her historical romances and is thought to have sold hundreds of millions of books around the world. She was step-grandmother to Princess Diana and was at her most prolific in the 1970s and 80s when she appeared regularly on British television. Kirsty Reid has been listening to some of her interviews from the BBC archives and hearing what it was like to meet her in person from Joe McAleer, author of Call of the Atlantic: Jack London's Publishing...


Brazil's Marijuana Summer

In September 1987, fishermen and surfers in the states of Rio and São Paulo started spotting mysterious tin cans floating in the sea. Soon those tins became a talking point across the country, because they were packed full of high quality marijuana. The tin cans inspired books, fashion, poems, films and many songs. Thomas Pappon has been speaking to two Brazilians who remember that summer well. Photo: Tin cans picked up by the Brazilian police in Rio. Credit: Agência Estado/AFP


Rebels Rout The Army In El Salvador

On December 30 1983 Marxist rebels in El Salvador attacked and occupied the El Paraiso army base in the north of the country. It was the first time an important military installation had fallen to the guerrillas and dealt a humiliating blow to the Army and its US backers. Mike Lanchin has spoken to a former rebel fighter who took part in the operation, and to Todd Greentree who worked at the US Embassy in San Salvador. Photo: Damage caused to the El Paraiso military base in El Salvador after...


When Animals Go To War

In December 1943, a British charity created the Dickin Medal to honour the bravery of animals serving in war. The first medals went mainly to pigeons used in World War Two, although dogs and one cat were also among the winners. Simon Watts tells the story of the Dickin Medal using recordings from the BBC archive. PHOTO: Winkie the Pigeon receives a Dickin Medal in 1943 (Getty Images)


Trautonium: A Revolution in Electronic Music

'I like it, carry on', said Joseph Goebbels, after listening to the trautonium, invented in Berlin. It was used first in classical music in the early 1930s. Paul Hindemith composed pieces for it. For decades it was played by one man only, Oskar Sala. Thomas Pappon spoke to him in 1997, and to Peter Pichler, who still performs on the trautonium. Picture: Alfred Hitchcock observes Oskar Sala playing the trautonium in the latter's studio, Berlin, in 1962. Credit: Heinz Koester/ Ullstein Bild...


The Soviet Afghan War Begins

In late December 1979, the world held its breath as thousands of Soviet troops were sent into Afghanistan. Moscow said the troops would be there six months, to help bring peace to the country. In fact, the Soviet army stayed almost ten years, and Afghanistan came to be seen as the Soviet Union's Vietnam. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to journalist Andrei Ostalski and former soldier Vyacheslav Ismailov about that time. Picture: Soviet tanks in front of the Darulaman Palace in Kabul (Credit:...


UFO Sightings: The Rendlesham Forest Incident

At Christmas 1980 strange objects and lights were seen over a US military base in Suffolk, England, for three consecutive nights. Several military service people reported seeing them, including the deputy commander of the base, Lt Colonel Charles Halt. He explains what he saw to Rebecca Kesby, and why the experience changed his opinion on the existence of UFOs. (Photo: Computer illustration of UFOs - Unidentified Flying Objects)