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 Shah in Exile

In November 1979, Iranian students seized the American embassy in Tehran after Washington agreed to allow the deposed Shah into the US for medical treatment. It would be more than a year before the US embassy hostages were released and the crisis irreparably damaged American-Iranian relations. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to diplomat Henry Precht, head of the Iran desk at the US state department during those tumultuous months who argued against letting the exiled Shah enter America....


Jewish in Imperial Russia

Pearl Unikow was a young woman who grew up in a segregated Jewish community in Russia before WW1. Her stories, recorded in Yiddish in the 1970s, provide a rare account of traditional Jewish life. Her granddaughter Lisa Cooper wrote a book based on those recordings. Dina Newman has been listening to the tapes and spoke to Lisa Cooper. Photo: Pearl Unikow (in the middle of the back row) with her cousins, circa 1920. Credit: family archive.


How The Brazilian Dictatorship Made My Father Disappear

On a hot summer day in 1971, six armed men invaded the house of former Congressman Rubens Paiva in Rio de Janeiro. He was taken from his wife and children, never to be seen again. Paiva was one of the most famous Brazilians to disappear during the military dictatorship. His son, writer Marcelo Rubens Paiva, tells how his family coped with decades of lies, uncertainty and, finally, the truth. Photo: Rubens Paiva surrounded by his family (his son, Marcelo, is seated cross-legged). Credit:...


WW1: Revolution in Germany

After four years of war Germany was on the verge of defeat. Its armies were exhausted and in retreat, its civilian population enduring hardship and hunger. As unrest grew at home, the German government and military struggled to maintain control. The German Kaiser was forced to abdicate. Germany became a republic. Hear first-hand accounts from the BBC archive of how the disastrous end to the First World War provoked revolution in Germany. Photo: Revolutionaries in a truck with machine guns in...


Women Nurses during World War One

During World War One, two British nurses set up a first aid station just a few hundred metres behind the trenches of the Western Front. Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker became known as 'the Madonnas of Pervyse'. Mairi Chisholm spoke to the BBC in 1977, Lucy Burns has been listening to her story. (Photo: Mairi Chisholm (left) and Elsie Knocker. Courtesy of Dr Diane Atkinson, author of Elsie and Mairi Go To War)


African Troops during World War One

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. Alex Last brings you 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...


The Battle of Passchendaele

It was one of the defining battles of the First World War. Britain and its allies had ambitious plans to break through German lines - but they ended up mired in mud. Listen to the voices of soldiers who took part - from the BBC archive. Photo: Getty Images.


My Kristallnacht Story

On 9 November1938 Nazis led attacks on Jewish homes and businesses across Germany. Because of the number of windows that were smashed it would be remembered as the 'night of broken glass' or Kristallnacht. Writer and artist Nora Krug investigated what happened in her hometown of Karlsruhe that night and wrote a book, Heimat, about her family's wartime history. She has been speaking to Kirsty Reid about what she uncovered. (Photo: Nora Krug. Credit: Penguin Books)


Why I Slapped the German Chancellor

In November 1968 a young activist hit Germany's leader in public, to draw attention to his Nazi past. The activist was Beate Klarsfeld - the Chancellor was Kurt Georg Kiesinger. Tim Mansel has been listening to Beate Klarsfeld's memories of what happened after she attacked the political leader Photo: Beate Klarsfeld today. Credit: Tim Mansel


Princess Margaret And The War Hero

In October 1955, Britain was gripped by a romance between the young Princess Margaret and a glamorous, but divorced, ex-fighter pilot called Captain Peter Townsend. The couple had been in love for years, but after opposition from Buckingham Palace courtiers, the princess eventually announced that she would not go ahead with a marriage. Simon Watts talks to Lady Jane Rayne, a former lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret and one of the first to spot the chemistry between the pair. PHOTO:...


Life With America's Black Panthers

Eldridge Cleaver, one of the leaders of the radical African American Black Panther party, spent more than three years in exile in Algeria in the late 1960s. He set up an international office for the Black Panthers, mingling with dozens of left-wing revolutionary activists who had also sought refuge in north Africa. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to Elaine Klein Mokhtefi, a left-wing American woman who lived and worked in Algiers, and who became Cleaver's fixer and close confidante. Photo:...


The KGB's Whistleblower

Senior KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin risked his life smuggling thousands of top-secret Soviet intelligence files out of KGB headquarters, and bringing them to the West. His archive was one of the largest hauls of information to leak out of a major intelligence service anywhere in the world. Louise Hidalgo talks to Cambridge historian Professor Christopher Andrew, one of the few people let into Mitrokhin's secret who helped him turn his archive into a book. Picture: Vasili Mitrokhin, taken...


The Day Nigeria Struck Oil

An eyewitness account of a discovery that changed Nigerian history. Chief Sunday Inengite was 19 years old when prospectors from the Shell D'Arcy oil company first came to his village of Oloibiri in the Niger Delta in search of crude oil. It was there in 1956, that commercial quantities of oil were first discovered more than 3km below ground. It marked the start of Nigeria's huge oil industry, but it came at a cost for villages in the Niger Delta. Alex Last spoke to Chief Sunday Inengite...


When Russia's Richest Man Was Jailed

When Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2003, it was the start of President Putin's crackdown on the oligarchs. He shares his memories of that time with Dina Newman. Photo: former head of Yukos Mikhail Khodorkovsky leaving the courtroom in Moscow, Russia, September 22, 2005. Credit: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images


The Arrest in London of Augusto Pinochet

The former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in London in October 1998. Spanish lawyers wanted him extradited to Spain to face charges of torturing and murdering political opponents in Chile. He claimed immunity as a former head of state. He was held under house arrest in the UK for over a year. Lucy Williamson spoke to public relations expert Patrick Robertson about his efforts to get the General back home to Chile. Photo: General Pinochet in 1999. Credit: PA


Desmond Tutu Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

In October 1984, one of South Africa's most well-known human rights activists, Desmond Tutu, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to apartheid. Two years later he became the first black head of the Anglican church in Southern Africa. Archbishop Tutu's friend and former deputy, Bishop Michael Nuttall, has been telling Louise Hidalgo about those milestones on the road to a new multi-racial South Africa, and about his friend's irrepressible spirit. Picture: Desmond Tutu in...


When Belgium Banned Coca-Cola

In 1999 Belgian teenagers started to become ill after drinking Coca-Cola. Many ended up in hospital and the government banned the sale of all Coca-Cola products. But the fizzy drink was given the all-clear so what was making the children sick? Claire Bowes has been speaking to Belgian toxicologist, Benoit Nemery, about a country in crisis. (Photo: A poster saying 'out of order' is stuck on a Coca Cola vending machine in Mouscron, Belgium in 1999. Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images).


The Pergau Dam Affair

In October 1993 news broke about an arms deal with Malaysia that led to the biggest development aid scandal in British history. It became known as the Pergau Dam Affair. Tim Mansel has been speaking to Tim Lankester, a British civil servant, who found himself caught up in the aid deal. Photo: Roger Briottet, director of the World Development Movement, celebrates with supporters after their High Court victory. The organisation had challenged the right of Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd to...


Brazil's Hidden War in the Amazon

In the early 1970's, at the peak of political repression and persecution in Brazil, a collection of left-wing students and liberal professionals decided to move to a remote region in the Amazon to fight the military dictatorship. Two survivors from the so-called Araguaia Guerrilla War spoke to Thomas Pappon about how they endured life and war in the jungle. Photo: Two guerrilla fighters after being captured in 1974 (Archive PCdoB)


The 1973 Oil Crisis

In October 1973 Arab nations slashed oil production in protest at American support for Israel during it's war against Egypt and Syria. Oil prices sky rocketed. Alex Last heard from former deputy secretary general of OPEC, Dr Fadhil Chalabi, about the struggle for the control of oil in the early 1970s. Photo: Cars queuing at a petrol station in London, during a petrol shortage, November 1973. (Credit: Aubrey Hart/Evening Standard/Getty Images)