The story of our times told by the people who were there.

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The story of our times told by the people who were there.
🇬🇧 English
last modified
2019-02-22 20:45
last episode published
2019-02-22 09:30
publication frequency
1.44 days
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Date Thumb Title & Description Contributors

How science ended the search for Josef Mengele

An international panel of experts gathered in Brazil in 1985 to identify the remains of a man thought to have been the infamous doctor from Auschwitz. 'To see that this man was finally in his grave was important' says Eric Stover, part of the team of A...
BBC World Service author

The men who tried to warn us about smoking

British doctors produced an alarming report in 1962 warning that 1 in 3 smokers would die before the age of 65. The doctors suggested restrictions on advertising and on smoking in public places but the UK government did little except launch a health ed...
BBC World Service author

The curse of Agent Orange

Millions suffered from exposure to toxic chemicals sprayed by US forces during the Vietnam war. The chemicals were defoliants and herbicides designed to destroy jungles and vegetation which provided cover for communist guerrillas. But the defoliants co...
BBC World Service author

The Columbia space shuttle disaster

The US space shuttle Columbia broke up on its way back to Earth on February 1, 2003. It had been in use since 1981. Iain Mackness has spoken to Admiral Hal Gehman who was given the job of finding out what went wrong. His final report led to the win...
BBC World Service author

The true story of "Roma"

Alfonso Cuarón's critically acclaimed film "Roma" portrays a student massacre that took place in México City in 1971. The Corpus Christi massacre, known locally as the "Halconazo", sent shock waves throughout México. A paramilitary group trained by the...
BBC World Service author

Maastricht: The birth of the European Union

In February 1992, European ministers from 12 countries signed a treaty that would lead towards greater economic and political unity. The European Union would become the biggest free trading bloc in the world, but over the years it has survived several...
BBC World Service author

Confessions of a Soviet alcoholic

In 1969, homeless Russian alcoholic Venedikt Yerofeev wrote a hugely popular book which was passed illegally from person to person. The book gave voice to a generation of Soviet intellectuals who were unable to fit into mainstream Soviet society. Pho...
BBC World Service author

British Cameroons' historic referendum

In 1961, the British run territories of Northern and Southern Cameroons in West Africa were given a vote to decide their future. They could choose either to become part of Nigeria, or to become part of Cameroon. They were not given the choice of becomi...
BBC World Service author

Women Airline Pilots

Airlines in America finally allowed women to pilot passenger planes in the 1970's. But women like Bonnie Tiburzi and Lynn Rippelmeyer had been fighting for years to be allowed to train as pilots. They tell Maria Elena Navas about their early days in a...
BBC World Service author

Iceland Jails Its Bankers

The 2008 global economic crisis hit hard in Iceland. Its three major banks and stockmarket collapsed and it was forced to seek an emergency bail-out from the IMF. But unlike many other countries affected by the global downturn, Iceland decided to prose...
BBC World Service author

The Bombardment of Baghdad

When the US and its allies began their invasion of Iraq in 2003 the population of Baghdad faced three weeks of bombing and fear. Hear what life was like for one ordinary family in the capital. This programme is a rebroadcast (Photo: Baghdad, March 20...
BBC World Service author

Disney Goes to Europe

In 1992 Disney opened its first theme park in Europe. But it had taken years of delicate negotiations and diplomacy get it off the ground. In 2013 Rebecca Kesby spoke to Robert Fitzpatrick who had the job of bringing the magic of Mickey Mouse to France...
BBC World Service author

The Soweto Uprising

A former schoolgirl remembers the children's demonstration against having to study in Afrikaans that sparked the Soweto Uprising against South Africa's apartheid regime. Bongi Mkhabela spoke to Alan Johnston in 2010 about her memories of the protest. ...
BBC World Service author

The Capture of Che Guevara

In October 1967 the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara was captured and killed in Bolivia. Mike Lanchin spoke to former CIA operative, Felix Rodriguez, who helped track him down. (Photo: Felix Rodriguez (left) with the captured Che Guevara, shortly bef...
BBC World Service author

The Death of Hitler

A first-hand account of Hitler from our archives. Traudl Junge worked as a secretary for the German Nazi leader. She was in the bunker in Berlin when he killed himself in 1945 as the Red Army closed in. She spoke to Zina Rohan for the BBC in 1989. Ph...
BBC World Service author

Women and the Iranian Revolution

Many women supported Iran's 1979 Revolution against the monarchy but some later became disillusioned. Islamic rules about how women dressed were just one of the things that women objected to. Sharan Tabari spoke to Lucy Burns in 2014 about her experien...
BBC World Service author

Iran Hostage Rescue Mission

In April 1980, the US launched Operation Eagle Claw - a daring but ultimately disastrous attempt to free dozens of hostages held captive in the US Embassy in Tehran. The rescue mission ended in tragedy almost as soon as it began. Rob Walker spoke to Mi...
BBC World Service author

Iran Hostage Crisis

In 1979 young revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. 52 Americans were taken captive and held hostage for 444 days. Barry Rosen was one of the hostages. In 2009 he told his story to Alex Last. This programme is a rebroadcast. Photo: Boy in...
BBC World Service author

Ayatollah Khomeini Returns From Exile

In February 1979 an Islamic revolution began to unfold in Iran. The Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been in exile for 14 years, flew back to Tehran from Paris on the 1st of February. Mohsen Sazegara was close to the heart of events and in 20...
BBC World Service author

Musicians of the Iranian Revolution

During the heat of Iran's revolution the country's top musicians decided to join the popular uprising. After the massacre of demonstrators by the Shah's armed forces in Jaleh Square in September 1978, state employed musicians went underground and start...
BBC World Service author

The Publisher Who Tried To Change The World

Virago Press opened as a feminist publisher in 1972 to promote women's writing. Its founder, Carmen Callil, says she wanted both men and women to benefit from the female perspective. She tells Witness how she hoped to put women centre stage at a time w...
BBC World Service author

Vatican II: Reforming the Catholic Church

Pope John XXIII wanted to modernise the Catholic Church. In January 1959 he announced a council of all the world's Catholic bishops and cardinals in Rome. It led to sweeping reforms, including allowing the Mass to be said in languages other than Latin...
BBC World Service author

The Carry On Films

The comic film franchise which churned out movie after movie mocking British stereotypes and pomposity. The first Carry On film hit cinema screens in 1968 and the team behind it would go on to make more than 30 movies using slapstick comedy and sexual ...
BBC World Service author

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 ...
BBC World Service author

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 ...
BBC World Service author

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 ...
BBC World Service author

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 t...
BBC World Service author

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...
BBC World Service author

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 struggl...
BBC World Service author

"Fat is a Feminist Issue"

Susie Orbach's best-selling book 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 ...
BBC World Service author

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 har...
BBC World Service author

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 d...
BBC World Service author

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 Lanc...
BBC World Service author

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 an...
BBC World Service author

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 f...
BBC World Service author

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 Communi...
BBC World Service author

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 ...
BBC World Service author

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. T...
BBC World Service author

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...
BBC World Service author

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 st...
BBC World Service author

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. T...
BBC World Service author

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 Afghan...
BBC World Service author

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...
BBC World Service author

Scotland's Stone of Destiny

On Christmas Eve 1950 four young Scottish students stole the 'Stone of Destiny' from Westminster Abbey. The symbolic stone had been taken from Scotland to England centuries earlier and had sat beneath the Coronation Chair in the Abbey ever since. Any...
BBC World Service author

Stopping The 'Shoe Bomber'

On December 22 2001 a British-born man tried to bring down American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami. His plan failed when the bomb didn't go off. He was then overpowered by a group of passengers and tied to his seat. Former professional basketba...
BBC World Service author

The Woman Who Wrote Mary Poppins

Writer PL Travers created a children's classic when she invented the magical English nanny. But was the character built around her own personality? Vincent Dowd has been speaking to PL Travers' granddaughter. Photo: Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins in Disn...
BBC World Service author

Hacking The First Computer Password

Scientists at MIT in the 1960s had to share computer time. They were given passwords to access the computer and could not use more than their allowance. But one man, Allan Scherr, hacked the system by working out the master password. He has been talki...
BBC World Service author

Theatre in the Sahara

Theatre director Peter Brook led a troupe of actors on a three-month-long journey across the Sahara Desert starting in December 1972. They performed improvised pieces to local villagers. Louise Hidalgo has been speaking to author and journalist John H...
BBC World Service author

The US Apologises for Wartime Internment

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act which gave a presidential apology and compensation to Japanese Americans interned during World War II. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Norman Mineta a former congressman who was instru...
BBC World Service author

China and Japan at War

Japanese troops reached the Chinese city of Nanjing in December 1937. The violence that followed marked one of the darkest moments in a struggle that continued throughout WW2. Rebecca Kesby has been speaking to former General Huang Shih Chung, who sur...
BBC World Service author