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 Last Smallpox Outbreak

Tens of thousands of people died in India in 1974 during the world's last major smallpox epidemic. Individual cases had to be tracked down and quarantined to stop the deadly disease spreading. Ashley Byrne has spoken to Dr Mahendra Dutta and Dr Larry Brilliant who took part in the battle to eradicate smallpox once and for all. Photo: Smallpox lesions on the human body. 1973. Credit: Getty Images.


David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

One of the biggest novels of the late twentieth century - both literally and figuratively - was published in February 1996. Infinite Jest by American author David Foster Wallace is nearly 1100 pages long, but the ground-breaking work of literary fiction also became a bestseller. Lucy Burns speaks to the editor of Infinite Jest, Michael Pietsch.


The Boy in the Bubble

David Vetter lived his whole life sealed off from the outside world in a completely sterile environment. He was born with a rare genetic disorder, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease, which made him hugely susceptible to infections. He died from the disease at the age of 12 on February 24th 1984, when a bone marrow transplant failed. Rachael Gillman has been speaking to his mother Carol-Ann Demaret. Photo: David Vetter and his mother Carol-Ann Demaret Credit: Carol-Ann Demaret


Jimmy Swaggart's Fall From Grace

In February 1988 Jimmy Swaggart, one of America's most successful televangelists, was forced to make a humiliating public confession from the pulpit. He had been caught in the company of a New Orleans prostitute. Swaggart's tough no-nonsense style of preaching had won him a huge global following. He had also been fiercely critical of other evangelical preachers who had become mired in sexual scandals. Mike Lanchin hears from the Baton Rouge news reporter Edward Pratt, who followed Swaggart's...


Ghana Must Go

Over a million West African migrants, most of them Ghanaian, were ordered to leave Nigeria at short notice in 1983. The Nigerian economy was suffering a downturn. But hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians then found themselves stuck outside Ghana's border unable to get back home. Alex Last has spoken to one Ghanaian who took part in the forced exodus. Photo: Migrants leaving Nigeria wait at the border to enter Benin. Credit: Michel Setboum/Getty Images.


The Furies Collective: Lesbian Separatists

A group of feminist activists in Washington DC set up a commune to live independently from men in 1971. They called themselves the Furies Collective, and they were some of the first lesbian separatists. Charlotte Bunch was one of them. Picture: The Furies, packing and distributing the newspaper at 219 11th St. SE, in 1972. Left to right: Ginny Berson, Susan Baker (not a Fury), Coletta Reid (standing), Rita Mae Brown, Lee Schwing (picture by Joan E Biren)


Leonardo's Lost Notebooks

In February 1967, it was revealed that two notebooks by the great 15th-century Italian artist, Leonardo da Vinci, that had been lost for centuries, had been discovered in the national library in Spain. Louise Hidalgo talks to two people with a personal interest in the discovery, Da Vinci scholar Pietro Marani, and robotic engineer, Mark Rosheim, who used Leonardo's drawings to recreate the artist and inventor's lost Robot Knight. Picture: A self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci dated circa 1500...


Women's Rights In Iran

Iran's first ever minister for Women's Affairs was appointed in 1975. Mahnaz Afkhami was the first person in the Muslim world to hold that position. While she was Minister of Women's Affairs, Iran's legislation granted women equal rights regarding divorce, raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 and supported women's employment with maternity leave and childcare provisions. Farhana Haider has been speaking to her about being the only women in the pre-revolutionary Iranian cabinet. Photo:...


Hull's "Headscarf Revolutionaries"

In 1968, a group of women from the British fishing port of Hull staged a successful campaign to improve safety in what was then one of the most dangerous industries in the world. Following the deaths of nearly 60 men in three separate trawler accidents, the so-called Headscarf Revolutionaries picketed the port and lobbied ministers in London until the owners agreed to changes. Simon Watts hears the memories of one of the women, Yvonne Blenkinsop. PHOTO: Yvonne Blenkinsop (left) and three...


The Bombing Of Korean Flight 858

In November 1987 a South Korean airliner was blown out of the sky, killing 115 people on board. The attack on Korean Air flight 858 is believed to have been the work of agents of the North Korean regime, seeking to disrupt the Summer Olympics in Seoul. Pete Ross has been hearing from relatives of some of those who died that day, as well as from one of the bombers, the North Korean agent Kim Hyun-hui. Photo: Former North Korean spy Kim Hyun-hui , who now lives in South Korea. (KIM...


Spying On South Africa's Nuclear Bomb

During the Apartheid period, the South African government began developing a secret nuclear programme, culminating in the construction of six nuclear bombs. Anti-Apartheid campaigner, Renfrew Christie, first became aware of this when he was conscripted into the South African Army. He later gained access to details of the nuclear programme and passed them onto the military wing of the African National Congress, ANC. In 1979 Christie was arrested and later tortured. He spoke to Olga Smirnova...


The Munich Air Disaster

In February 1958, eight players from Manchester United’s famous “Busby Babes” team were among those killed in a plane crash at Munich airport. Goalkeeper Harry Gregg survived the disaster and went back into the wreckage several times to save lives. Simon Watts hears his story. Photo: Plane wreckage at Munich airport (AFP/Getty Images)


Women in Britain get the right to vote

On 6th February 1918, women in Britain were given the right to vote for the first time. The campaign for women's suffrage had begun decades earlier. But it wasn't until the final months of the First World War that the British parliament relented and said property-owning women over the age of 30 could vote in a general election. It would take another ten years before women got parity with men. Louise Hidalgo has been listening back to the voices of the women activists known as suffragettes,...


Bringing Nazi Leader Klaus Barbie To Justice

In February 1983 the man known as 'the butcher of Lyon' was extradited to France to face charges of murder and torture during World War Two. The former head of the Gestapo in Lyon was traced to South America by two Nazi-hunters, married couple Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. They have been telling their amazing story to Mike Lanchin. Photo: Klaus Barbie on his way to court in Lyon, France (AFP)


Banning The Belt

In February 1982 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Britain should end corporal punishment in state schools. The landmark decision came after a lawsuit launched by two mothers in Scotland. Mike Lanchin has been hearing from Andrew Campbell, the son of one of the women behind the campaign. Photo: A school teacher holds a belt or Tawse, used for punishing pupils (Alamy)


The Roots of the Rohingya Crisis

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims left their homes in Myanmar fleeing government persecution, in what the UN has called the world's fastest growing refugee crisis. Lucy Burns speaks to Rohingya historian and politician U Kyaw Min to explore the roots of the crisis - and a change in the Burmese citizenship laws in 1982 which left the Rohingyas essentially stateless. Picture: Rohingya refugees walk near the no man's land area between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Palongkhali...


Vietnam War: The Tet Offensive

In January 1968, North Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong guerrillas launched a huge surprise attack on towns, cities and military bases across South Vietnam. The American embassy and the Presidential Palace in Saigon was among the targets that were hit. The events had a profound impact on American public opinion and marked a turning point in the war. BBC reporter Julian Pettifer covered the battles in the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon. Photo: Julian Pettifer reporting under fire near the...


The Bloody Sunday Shootings

On January 30 1972 British troops opened fire on a civil rights march in Northern Ireland. Thirteen people were killed that day, which became known as Bloody Sunday. Tony Doherty was nine years old at the time. In 2012 he spoke to Mike Lanchin about his father and the events that changed his life forever. Photo: AFP/Getty Images.


The "Godfather of Gospel Music"

Thomas A Dorsey is credited with developing Gospel music into a global phenomenon. He started his own musical career in jazz clubs and blues bars, but personal tragedy led him back to church, and inspired hundreds of Gospel songs that transformed the genre. Rebecca Kesby has been listening to archive recordings of Thomas A Dorsey and his singing partner Willie Mae Ford Smith, and speaking to Professor Albert J Raboteau from Princeton University. (PHOTO: Thomas A. Dorsey - 1982. Courtesy of...


The invention of the Lego brick

The Lego brick, one of the world's most popular toys, was invented in the small Danish town of Billund in 1958. Created by Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, the plastic bricks can be combined in countless combinations and have sold in the billions. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the inventor's son, was ten at the time. He used to play in the company workshop and helped test early Lego models. Olga Smirnova spoke to Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen for Witness. (Image: Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen with a Lego ship....


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