History TV and radio in the UK: what’s on our screens in October 2021?

Can't decide which shows to watch or listen to this month? Here are the latest history radio and TV programmes airing in the UK that you won't want to miss

Josh Widdicombe at Hever Castle

16–22 October 2021

Britain’s Forgotten Wars With Tony Robinson

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Channel 4

Saturday 16th October, 8pm

In 1948, British Malaya’s governor, Edward Gent, declared a state of emergency. A decade-long guerrilla conflict followed, as did the birth of the modern nation of Malaysia. Tony Robinson looks back, hearing the stories both of combatants and of those caught in the cross-fire.

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Archive On 4: Remember Oluwale

Radio 4

Saturday 16th October, 8pm

In 1971, two police officers stood trial for the manslaughter of David Oluwale. A British-Nigerian vagrant, Oluwale had drowned in the River Fire in Leeds in 1969, yet little attention had been paid to the case until a whistleblowing police cadet came forward. Four decades on, Tony Phillips looks back at the case.

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Paris Police 1900

BBC4

Saturday 16th October, 9pm & 10pm

The French crime drama continues with another double bill. In the first episode, Jouin has fallen in love with a young woman called Jeanne Chauvin, a qualified lawyer who cannot practice because of her gender. Elsewhere, tensions grow in the run-up to the Dreyfus retrial.

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Blair And Brown: The New Labour Revolution

BBC Two

Sunday 17th October, 9pm

The story of New Labour reaches the millennium and a period when Tony Blair turned his attention to reforming public services. Meanwhile, tensions continue between the occupants of numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, a situation that only deteriorates further following Labour’s election win in 2001.

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Nature And Us: A History Through Art

BBC4

Monday 18th October, 9pm

James Fox introduces artworks that show humans trying to understand nature for the very first time. It’s a documentary that takes in, among other highlights, landscape painting in medieval China, European botanical artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) and JMW Turner’s exuberant canvasses. Underpinning the discussion is the idea of humankind appreciating nature while also seeking to dominate it.

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100 Years Of Exile

Radio 4

Tuesday 19th October, 4pm

Katy Long concludes her look back at a century of refugee politics by considering how crises of displacement end. Along the way she hears stories that take in Paraguay, Israel, Rwanda and the United States. Examining the ideas of resettlement and return, she asks: at whom are these solutions really aimed?

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Pick of the week

The Nuremberg Legacy

Radio 4

Tuesday 19th October, 8pm

It’s 75 years since the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg found 19 high-ranking Nazis guilty of war crimes, conspiracy and crimes against humanity. The writer and lawyer Philippe Sands looks back to trace the legacy of Nuremberg, found in part in the founding of the International Criminal Court in the Hague half a century later.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

BBC One

Tuesday 19th October, 9pm

National treasure Judi Dench is the latest celebrity to trace her family history. She begins by finding out more about the First World War experiences of her father, Reginald, who won gallantry medals during his service. Plus she discovers a link to 16th-century Denmark and Shakespearian connections.

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1000 Years A Slave

Channel 5

Tuesday 19th October, 10pm

In a new four-part series, famous faces explore their links to slavery. First up, actor David Harewood travels to Barbados, where the Earl of Harewood once owned a sugar plantation. Plus fellow thespian Hugh Quarshie, who was born in Accra, heads back to Ghana.

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Secrets Of The River Clyde

Channel 5

Friday 22nd October, 7pm

The Clyde has been a centre for shipbuilding for three centuries, something recalled here in a documentary mixing archive footage and interviews. Followed by Walking Cornwall’s Lost Railways (8pm), in which Rob Bell hikes a line that helped transform not just Cornwall, but the wider world.

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9–15 October 2021

Britain’s Forgotten Wars With Tony Robinson

Channel 4

Saturday 9 October, 8pm

The Suez crisis in 1956 was a moment when Britain was forced to begin to reappraise its place in the world, arguably a process that has never been completed. Tony Robinson looks back at an ill-judged military intervention that, for prime minister Antony Eden, became an ignominious foreign policy and political failure.

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Pick of the week

Paris Police 1900

BBC4

Saturday 9 October, 9pm & 9.55pm

The French capital at the time of la Belle Époque forms the backdrop for a big-budget new crime series. We begin with the death of President Félix Faure, who expires in circumstances not precisely in keeping with the dignity of his office. Plus a young detective investigates a gruesome murder. In French with subtitles.

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Sunday Feature: The Gorbals – Past And Present

Radio 3

Sunday 10 October, 6.45pm

Sociologist Alistair Fraser considers the history of Glasgow’s Gorbals, talking to historians Valerie Wright and Andrew Davies along the way. It’s a discussion keyed off partly by Steven Spielberg rebooting West Side Story, set in a New York that in subsequent years has become seriously gentrified. Are second lives, for urban areas as well as individuals, possible?

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Alexander Pope: Rediscovering A Genius

BBC Four

Sunday 10 October, 8.10pm

Simon Callow stars as the 18th-century poet in a drama-documentary that show him as a now largely forgotten figure, but nonetheless someone of huge historical importance. It also reminds us of his place in our wider culture, a man whose words still permeate our everyday speech. Emilia Fox narrates. Also tonight, Ridley Road (BBC One, 9pm) continues.

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Start The Week

Radio 4

Monday 11 October, 9am

Andrew Marr and guests consider how Britain is viewed from abroad. In the 17th century, historian Clare Jackson recounts, England was widely regarded as a failed state. Also offering their perspectives are France 24 journalist Benedicte Paviot; and Fintan O’Toole, whose latest book, We Don’t Know Ourselves, focuses on Ireland’s story in the years since his birth in 1958.

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Blair And Brown: The New Labour Revolution

BBC Two

Monday 11 October, 9pm

It’s 1997 and a landslide victory at the general election means Labour is in power for the first time since 1979. It’s a honeymoon period for the party and it brings real achievements such as the Good Friday agreement. But there are already tensions between Blair and Brown behind the scenes.

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Nature And Us: A History Through Art

BBC Four

Monday 11 October, 9pm

James Fox traces the story of our relationship with nature, as seen through some of the world’s most important artworks. In the first of three episodes, he focuses on the ancient world, taking in the art of prehistoric hunters, the move to an agricultural society and the growth of the earliest cities.

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Hornby: A Model World

Yesterday

Monday 11 October, 9pm

Hornby opens its doors for a 10-part series that keeps tracks on life at the model-making company, and which explores the culture around spending long hours lovingly creating elaborate tracks. Preceded by The Architecture The Railways Built (8pm), in which Tim Dunn visits the Victorian resort of Saltburn-by-the-Sea.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

BBC One

Tuesday 12 October, 9pm

The genealogy series returns. First up, the comedian Josh Widdecombe traces his family history. Not only does he discover a relative who had intimate access to Charles I, but he finds he’s descended in part Tudor-era nobles. Expect too the tale of a royal love triangle.

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In Our Time

Radio 4

Thursday 14 October, 9am

Melvyn Bragg and learned guests discuss the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which emerged from the union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th century. At its height, the Commonwealth was a European powerhouse, but rivals exploited the way its parliament relied on reaching unanimity.

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2–8 October 2021

Bettany Hughes’s Treasures Of The World

Channel 4

Saturday 2 October, 7pm

Concluding her sun-drenched travel-cum-archaeology series, Bettany Hughes heads for Istanbul. Here, highlights include a visit to Justinian’s Basilica Cistern. Followed by Britain’s Forgotten Wars With Tony Robinson (8pm), in which the presenter looks back at the conflict in Bosnia that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1992.

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Sunday Feature: Dear Phillis

Radio 3

Sunday 3 October, 6.45pm

Part of BBC programming marking Black History Month, Momtaza Mehri explores the life, work and legacy of West African-born Phillis Wheatley (c1753–84). Captured as a child, Phillis was transported to Boston and sold to the Wheatley family, who taught her to read and write. Phillis subsequently became one of the best-known poets in 18th-century America.

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Ridley Road

BBC One

Sunday 3 October, 9pm

Replacing Vigil as Auntie’s big Sunday night drama, writer Sarah Solemani’s Ridley Road is a four-part thriller based on true events. It’s 1962 and Vivien Epstein (Agnes O’Casey) heads to London, in part to escape the prospect of a loveless marriage. In the capital, she becomes caught up in the Jewish community’s resistance to the far right.

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Book Of The Week: George III

Radio 4

Monday 4 October, 9.45am

Andrew Roberts calls George III, a man most often associated in the popular imagination with mental illness and the loss of the American colonies, “Britain’s most misunderstood monarch”. Why the historian makes this assessment is laid out in his new biography of George. Ben Miller reads the first of five weekday excerpts from the book.

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A Home Of Our Own

Radio 4

Monday 4 October, 1.45pm

How do we make sense of Britain’s housing market? Over 10 weekday episodes that have much to say about the country’s social history in recent years, Lynsey Hanley, the author of Estates: An Intimate History, tells the stories of 10 different homes and those who live in them, beginning with Cornish fisherman’s cottage valued in excess of £1 million.

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London’s Greatest Bridges With Rob Bell

Channel 5

Monday 4 October, 7pm

The engineer heads for Westminster as he continues his series on London’s bridges and the engineering ingenuity that allows these structures to span the Thames. Also this week, look out for The Thames With Tony Robinson (Channel 5, Friday 8th October, 7.00pm), which focuses on Hampton Court Palace.

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White Mischief

Radio 4

Monday 4 October, 8pm

Ekow Eshun traces where the idea of ‘whiteness’ came from and asks why its power has remained so elusive. Among the guests in this first of three episodes are the artist Grayson Perry and the geneticist Adam Rutherford. Some of our ideas about race, Eshun discovers, can be traced back to one of modern science’s founding fathers.

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Pick of the week

Blair And Brown: The New Labour Revolution

BBC Two

Monday 4 October, 9pm

Here’s one of those series the BBC does so well, which is to say a narrative history of events that lie in the recent past, this time focusing on New Labour. The first of five episodes begins in 1983, when Labour suffered a savage electoral defeat and two new MPs entered the Commons: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

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100 Years Of Exile

Radio 4

Tuesday 5 October, 4pm

Katy Long presents a new series in which she investigates a century of refugee crises. In the first of three episodes, she considers how refugee crises begin. She also explores how the wider world defines who should be considered a refugee, and how that definition has changed over the years.

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Rise Again: Tulsa And The Red Summer

National Geographic

Tuesday 5 October, 8pm

This year marks the centenary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when mobs of white residents attacked and murdered black residents in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Journalist DeNeen Brown looks for the roots of this tragedy, including those to be found in America’s ‘Red Summer’ of 1919.

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25th September – 1 October

Bettany Hughes’s Treasures Of The World

Channel 4

Saturday 25th September, 7.20pm

In an episode postponed from last week, the classicist turns her attention to some of the archaeological treasures to be found on Mediterranean islands. Followed by Britain’s Forgotten Wars With Tony Robinson (8.20pm), a new series in which the presenter explores some of the global conflicts that have taken place in his lifetime, beginning with Operation Desert Storm.

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Archive On 4: Nuremberg Remembered

Radio 4

Saturday 25th September, 8pm

It’s 75 years since judgement against was passed at Nuremberg. Marking the anniversary, William Shawcross, son of Hartley, the lead British prosecutor, speaks to those whose parents were brought together by the tribunal. Also this week, in Radio 4’s Drama: Nuremberg (Friday 1st October, 2.15pm), we see events from the perspective of a German-speaking US psychologist.

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Drama: The Good Earth

Radio 4

Sunday 26th September, 3pm

It’s probably safe to say the work of Nobel laureate Pearl S Buck (1892–1973) is little read these days in the UK. Hopefully, this two-part adaptation of her Pulitzer-winning novel, a tale of drought and famine set in 1920s rural China, and reflecting Buck’s upbringing as the daughter of missionaries, may change this.

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Sunday Feature: How To Rebuild A City

Radio 3

Sunday 26th September, 6.45pm

The Luftwaffe destroyed much of Coventry in the Second World War. In the wake of the conflict, the city became a laboratory for new architectural ideas. What should we make of this often criticised urban transformation, which was overseen by radical city architect Donald Gibson (1908–91)? Dr Lisa Mullen tells the story of Coventry’s reinvention.

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History On The Edge

Radio 4

Monday 27th September, 4pm

In 1940, a 19-year-old refugee from Hitler’s Germany, Konrad Eisig, found himself in an extraordinary and awful situation. Having thought he was safe in the UK, Eisig was deported to Australia aboard an overcrowded ship. How did this happen? Anita Anand traces Eisig’s story with the help of his diary.

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D-Day: Invasion

Channel 5

Monday 27th September, 9pm

On 6 June 1944, the Allies landed 156,000 troops in Normandy, an extraordinary undertaking by any standards. This two-part documentary, which concludes with D-Day: Victory (Tuesday 28th September, 9.00pm), tells the story of the largest amphibious invasion in history.

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The Architecture The Railways Built

Yesterday

Monday 27th September, 8pm

Tim Dunn turns his attention to London’s Charing Cross Station, as ever relishing a chance to visit those areas the public doesn’t get to see on a regular basis. Plus the Ordsall Chord line in Manchester and the Swedish town of Borås, located at the point of two crossing railways.

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Pick of the week

The Hidden History of The Window

Radio 4

Tuesday 28th September, 4pm

We take windows for granted. We shouldn’t, suggests social scientist Rachel Hurdley, because the window is an architectural feature that reveals much about our wider history. In a one-off documentary, Hurdley tells a story that begins in a time when glass was rare and, for most people, prohibitively expensive.

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A House Through Time

BBC Two

Tuesday 28th September, 9pm

The final episode of the social history series finds David Olusoga tracing the story of the Headingley house and its various inhabitants from the Second World War up to the present day. A romance begun in war-torn Europe, a couple who worked for the Yorkshire Post and student sharers all feature.

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The North Water

BBC Two

Friday 1st October, 9.30pm

Things go from bad to worse in the icy north after the sinking of the Volunteer. Can a group of crewmen led by Cavendish (Jack O’Connell) survive the winter? Meantime, Drax (Colin Farrell) plots his escape. Penultimate episode of a gruelling but hugely impressive drama.

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