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It’s four decades since Britain joined the EEC. Marking the anniversary, John Sergeant looks at the nation’s relationship with our continental neighbours. Contributors include Bill Newton-Dunn and Michael Welsh, who both recall being among the first elected Euro MPs in 1979 – a bewildering experience, it turns out.
Mark Urban, the BBC’s diplomatic editor and a former tank commander, tells the story of six remarkable soldiers who served with the Fifth Royal Tank Regiment during the Second World War. The first of two episodes begins with the retreat towards Dunkirk and also charts the men’s adventures in north Africa.
Having lately taken a detour to the continent, Michael Portillo gets back to riding the rails in Blighty. A new series of weekday shows kicks off with the politician turned broadcaster travelling from the Chilterns to west Wales. In the first episode, he sees Shakespeare through Victorian eyes in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Between 1940 and 1942, Malta experienced bombing that was worse than Britain had to endure during the Blitz. Close to starving, the islanders nonetheless endured, their hardship reflected in George VI awarding the George Cross to the entire island. James Holland looks back at the siege, and charts Malta’s role in helping the Allies secure victories in north Africa.
Always good company, Richard E Grant charts the French Riviera’s transformation from backwater to top tourist haunt. It’s a transformation that can, in great part, be traced to artists such as Cézanne, Monet and Renoir, and their ‘discovery’ of the region in the late 19th century.
The ‘reverse genealogy’ series returns. The first of five new episodes focuses on the Great Escape, the mass breakout of Allied airmen from Stalag Luft III in March 1944. The sting in the tail here is the brutal execution of recaptured prisoners.
Scriptwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais of Porridge fame adapt novelist Alan Furst’s between-the-world-wars espionage tale. David Tennant leads the cast as Jean-François Mercier, a decorated hero from the 1914 conflict now earning a crust as a military attaché in Poland. Spying, violence and romance ensue.
Melvyn Bragg and learned guests discuss Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the epic tale that did so much to bring the likes of Guinevere, Lancelot and Merlin to the centre of British culture. Many of the book’s tales, we learn, were translated from the French while Malory languished in jail.
Jules Hudson heads to the West Midlands for a tramp around some of the region’s historic buildings, aimed at investigating which kinds of structures should be preserved and why. The buildings Hudson visits include medieval Middleton Hall, where restoration efforts have already taken 35 years.
Art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon and chef Giorgio Locatelli begin another gentle amble around Italy. Not surprisingly, the emphasis here is on paintings and food, but these often prove to be gateways to discussions of wider Italian history. First up, the duo explore Bologna.