History highlights on the BBC

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Martin Davidson, the BBC’s commissioning editor for history, reveals what we can expect to see on TV in the year ahead.

Last year was a tremendously rich one for fans of history on BBC television. Whether you’re drawn to ancient history or 19th‑century reformers, Normans or Georgians, there was something for everyone. I was delighted by the success of the Battle of Britain season, thrilled by the millions of viewers who tuned into Turn Back Time, tracing the history of the modern high street, and tickled by the critical acclaim for Professor Robert Bartlett’s unashamedly erudite approach to The Normans in his three-part series that went out during the summer.

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If you think we might have overreached ourselves in 2010 though, fear not – 2011 is set to deliver a treasure trove of history programmes across BBC One, Two and Four. Last year Richard Miles traced the evolution of civilisation from Mesopotamia to Augustan Rome. This year Neil Oliver delves further into the distant past while remaining closer to home when he presents landmark series A History of Ancient Britain. His epic quest through thousands of years of ancient history tells the story of how Britain and its people came to be. He journeys from the glacial wasteland of Ice Age mammoth hunters, through the glories of the Stone Age, to the magnificence of international Bronze Age society.

Remaining firmly on these shores, geographer Nick Crane turns his attention to that most characteristic feature of the British urban landscape – not the village, or the city, but the town. Visiting four distinctive towns, he chronicles not just their past, but the way in which they have each responded to the pressures of the 21st century, and what they tell us about life in contemporary Britain. How, for example, did Scarborough enjoy incarnations
as a Viking coastal fort, a market town, a fishing port, a health spa and a seaside resort?
Venturing further afield,

Rory Stewart MP, an expert on Afghanistan, takes us on a two-part historical odyssey to the country that more than any other has resisted invasion for centuries. Charting the Great Game of the 19th century, which saw the British and the Russians vying for control of this mountainous territory, Rory brings the story right up-to-date with some trenchant observations about what the future may hold.

Discovered over 40 years ago just off the coast of Greece, Pavlopetri is the oldest submerged city in the world. Now, BBC Two is to follow the first team of experts to have been given permission to excavate the site. Led by underwater archaeologist Dr Jon Henderson, the team will use the latest in cutting-edge science and technology to prise age-old secrets from the complex of streets and then use state-of-the-art CGI to reveal for the first time in 3,500 years how the mighty city of Pavlopetri once looked and operated.

These are just a small taste of the new programmes we’ll be bringing to your screens this
year, but there’ll be plenty of established favourites returning too. These include History Cold Case, following the forensic team at Dundee University as they solve another batch of historical mysteries, Digging for Britain, painting a picture of the fascinating breakthroughs
made in digs all round the country, and more from the Lost Kingdoms of Africa with Dr Gus Casely-Hayford.

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It’s my job to make sure I commission a range and a breadth of history programming to satiate the viewing appetite of readers like you – everything from the mass appeal of BBC One’s Who Do You Think You Are? to BBC Four gems like Spitfire Women, perfect for those who want to dig deeper. I hope you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this year’s offering.

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Martin Davidson is the BBC’s commissioning editor for history.