History TV and radio in the UK: what’s on our screens in July 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

Call the Midwife

This week: 24–30 July

Sunday Feature: Great Scott

Radio 3

Sunday 25 July, 6.45pm

On his death, Sir Walter Scott was eulogised as a great writer. Subsequently, he has come to be seen as a man peddling a mythologised, even sentimental version of Scotland. Allan Little journeys to Scott’s baronial home to explore how and why this shift in perception came about.

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Book of the Week: Mistresses

Radio 4

Monday 26 July, 9.45am

Over five weekday episodes, Rachael Stirling reads from Linda Porter’s account of the love life of Charles II. Over the years, we learn, he fathered 13 illegitimate children, while his wife, Catherine of Braganza, remained childless. Expect episodes dealing with how Charles insisted his mistresses took part in court life and the story of Nell Gwyn.

Secrets of the London Underground

Yesterday

Monday 26 July, 8pm

Episode two of the series exploring little-visited tunnels, and Tim Dunn and Siddy Holloway head for Hampstead. Here, they descend to a station that never opened to the public. Plus the story of the station’s role during the Cold War era.

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Countdown to Surrender: The Last 100 Days

PBS America

Monday 26 July, 8.40pm

Shown over three successive evenings, this German-made documentary series tells the story of the last days of the Second World War in Europe. The series begins in January 1945 when, although defeat was all but inevitable, Hitler ordered his nation to fight on.

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The Essay: Japan In Five Lives

Radio 3

Monday 26 July, 10.45pm

Over five weekday episodes, Dr Christopher Harding, senior lecturer in Asian studies at the University of Edinburgh profiles five characters from Japanese history. He begins with Hirofumi Dalmatsu, who coached the Japanese women’s volleyball team to gold at the 1964 Olympics.

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Secrets of the Museum

BBC Two

Tuesday 27 July, 8pm

More scenes of backroom life at the V&A. Highlights in this episode include efforts to conserve a much-loved teddy bear, Little Tommy Tittlemouse, who is more than 100 years old. Plus a costume worn by Andrew Sachs as Manuel in Fawlty Towers is readied for display.

Black Hill, Bleak Summer

Radio 4

Tuesday 27 July, 8pm

It’s two decades since the UK’s worst-ever outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Marking the anniversary, Dave Howard returns to the Herefordshire hill-farming community where he grew up. How did the disruption and the loss of so many animals impact on those working the land in Craswall valley on the edge of the Black Mountains?

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Hemingway

BBC Four

Tuesday 27 July, 9pm & 9.50pm

Final two instalments of the excellent biography of Ernest Hemingway. The first episode follows Hemingway’s work as a war correspondent in France, when he charted the advance of the US army through Normandy. The final episode deals with his final days, when addiction, the trauma of injuries and depression overcame him.

Pick of the week

Fake or Fortune?

BBC One

Wednesday 28 July, 9pm

Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould present a new series of the show where they investigate the provenance of artworks. They begin with a sculpture rescued from the long grass of a Norfolk manor house. Could it be the work of Henry Moore, who lived and worked nearby? If so, it could be worth £1m.

The Forum

BBC World Service

Thursday 29 July, 10.05am

Bridget Kendall traces the history of the Panama Canal, the waterway that links the Atlantic and Pacific. It’s a story in part of how the USA exported its own culture – and cultural prejudices, most notably racism – to Central America Plus what’s the future for the canal in an era of global heating?

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Previous week: 17–23 July

The Documentary: Breaking Through

BBC World Service

Saturday 17th July, 12.05pm

Breaking, also known as break dancing, will make its debut as a sport at the Olympics in 2024. How has this come about? The four-time breaking world champion, BoxWon (Benyaamin Barnes McGee), traces breaking’s journey to the wider world, which began in Bronx block parties in the 1970s.

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Archive On 4: China In Slogans

Radio 4

Saturday 17th July, 8pm

The Chinese Communist Party is celebrating its centenary. Throughout its history, the party has used slogans to get across policy ideas and mobilise the country’s population. Drawing on the BBC’s archives, Celia Hatton examines the stories behind eight key slogans that it has used down the years.

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Drama: Joseph Andrews Remixed

Radio 4

Sunday 18th Jul, 3pm

Henry Fielding’s satirical 18th-century novel, which follows the misadventures of a young footman on the road in the company of an eccentric parson, gets a new adaptation from Shaun McKenna. The twist here is that discussions between Fielding and his wife, Charlotte, talking about the book’s narrative, play in here.

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Secrets Of The London Underground

Yesterday

Monday 19th July, 8pm

This didn’t start last week as some listings suggested it would. Instead, tune in this week to see Tim Dunn and Siddy Holloway host a new series in which they explore London’s Tube network. Prepare to enter an often spooky world of abandoned tunnels, secret bunkers and hidden staircases. First up, the abandoned branch line between Holborn and Aldwych.

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Killing Escobar

BBC Two

Monday 19th July, 9pm

In 1989, Peter McAleese led a team of Scottish mercenaries in an attempt to kill drug lord Pablo Escobar. How did McAleese get involved in such a scheme – and what happened next? Previously shown in Scotland, a one-off documentary telling an extraordinary story and which has much to say about the history of the cocaine trade.

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Genetic Dreams, Genetic Nightmares

Radio 4

Tuesday 20th July, 11am

Biologist Matthew Cobb presents the first episode in a new series that charts the 50-year history of genetic engineering. He begins in 19791, when the first experiments to combine the DNA of two different organisms began at Stanford University, California. But, people immediately asked, was this work safe?

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Secrets Of The Museum

BBC Two

Tuesday 20th July, 8pm

Return of the series following the work of curators and conservators at London’s V&A Museum. First up, a wax model made by Michelangelo and a red suit once worn on stage by Slade’s Jim Lea. Following transmission, the whole series will be available via BBC iPlayer.

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Pick of the week

Uprising

BBC One

Tuesday 20th July, 9pm

Shown over three successive evenings, Steve McQueen and James Rogan’s documentary series takes us back to 1981, a pivotal year in the history of race relations in Britain. The first episode looks at how a house fire in New Cross, which resulted in the death of 13 young British black people, galvanised protest.

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Inside Hampton Court

Channel 5

Thursday 22nd July, 8pm

What does it take to maintain Henry VIII’s royal palace? This two-part documentary takes viewers behind the scenes and introduces us to the likes of head coachman Ed, responsible for the care of a team of rare-breed shire horses. Plus the story of Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour.

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Heist: The Great Northern Robbery

BBC Two

Thursday 22nd July, 9.30pm

In December 2004, two back employees were forced to take £26.5 million from the headquarters of Northern Bank in Belfast. The IRA were rumoured to be involved, but the case remains unsolved. Darragh MacIntyre and Sam McBride trace the story of the heist in a documentary postponed from Monday 5 July.

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Last week: 10–16 July

Drama On 3: The Duchess Of Malfi

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Radio 3

Sunday 11 July, 7.30pm

Shifting between scenes of romanticism and cruelty, John Webster’s revenge tragedy is not for the faint-hearted. This new adaptation features original songs, as well as music by Jimi Hendrix and Laura Marling, and stars Pippa Nixon in the central role. Introduced by Professor Emma Smith of the University of Oxford.

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This Union: A Sea Between Us

Radio 4

Monday 12 July, 8pm

A new strand looking at each of the home nations in turn begins with a three-part series in which Andrea Calderwood examines the future of Unionism in Northern Ireland. Complementing Calderwood’s programmes, This Union: The Long View (Tuesday 13 July, 9am) offers a historical perspective.

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Reflections On Hi-Vis

Radio 4

Tuesday 13 July, 11am

The hi-vis jacket and vest are pieces of utilitarian workwear, originally created following an industrial accident during the Great Depression era. But as Steph McGovern explores in a one-off documentary telling the history of hi-viz, these are garments that are, depending on context, loaded with different meanings.

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Secrets Of The London Underground

Yesterday

Tuesday 13 July, 8pm

Tim Dunn and Siddy Holloway host a new series in which they explore London’s Tube network. Prepare to enter an often spooky world abandoned tunnels, secret bunkers and hidden staircases. First up, the abandoned branch line between Holborn and Aldwych.

Find out more


Hemingway

BBC Four

Tuesday 13 July, 9pm

The series charting the life and times of Ernest Hemingway continues. We’re in the 1930s and, having achieved literary fame, Hemingway is living in Florida. Despite having seen so much death and destruction, this was a time when he was continually drawn to such violent pursuits as boxing, hunting and fishing.

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Walking Tudor Britain

5 Select

Tuesday 13 July, 9pm

Susannah Lipscomb presents a new series where she strolls around sites associated with Henry VII and co. She begins by visiting Southsea Castle, part of a system of coastal fortifications commissioned by Henry VIII. She also tells the story of Henry’s lost flagship, Mary Rose, which was raised from the Solent in 1982.

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How The Victorians Built Britain

Channel 5

Wednesday 14 July, 7pm

Michael Buerk returns with new episodes of his series looking at 19th-century British innovations. He begins with the roots of modern medicine. Be prepared for grisly tales of surgery. Continues on Thursday 15 July (7pm) when the theme is law and order.

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Written In Scotland

Radio 4

Thursday 15 July, 11.30am

The excellent series on Scottish literature concludes with Kirsty Wark turning her attention to language and class. The very language used by Scotland’s writers is political, she contends: poet Hugh MacDairmid’s experiments in Scots not only sparked a literary renaissance, but he co-founded the party that went on to become the SDP.

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Heliopolis: The City Of The Sun

PBS America

Thursday 15 July, 8.40pm

In March 2017, construction workers in Cairo stumbled upon an enormous crowned stone head. This was evidence they were digging down to the remains of Heliopolis, where the most sacred temple of the pharaohs once stood. This fascinating documentary follows efforts to conduct archaeological work at the site.

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Pick of the week

Our NHS: A Hidden History

BBC One

Thursday 15 July, 9pm

David Olusoga tells the stories of doctors, nurses and health workers who, for 70 years, have come to the United Kingdom to work in the NHS. It’s a history of people who, over the years, have at times prevented our health service from collapsing and yet have often found themselves facing racism.

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3–9 July

Pick of the week

The Archive Hour: Millions Like Us

Radio 4

Saturday 3 July, 8pm

 With the help of historians, Phil Tinline considers the idea the pandemic is “our Second World War”. Putting the nation on a war footing in 1940, he notes, made many look back critically at the 1930s. The idea the government could do little to alleviate mass unemployment became utterly discredited. Could a similar reappraisal be about to occur?

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Spice Up Your Life: 25 Years Of Girl Power

BBC Radio 2

Saturday 3 July, 9pm

It’s a quarter of a century since, via a Top Of The Pops performance of Wannabe, The Spice Girls became stars. Richard E Grant, who played their neurotic manager Clifford in Spice World: The Movie, explores the enduring appeal – and cultural significance – of Girl Power.

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Elizabeth II And The Traitor King: A Secret Friendship

Channel 5

Saturday 3 July, 9.30pm

Apparently, Queen Elizabeth II used to refer to Edward VIII as “her silly uncle”. Others have been less kind, notably because of his flirtations with fascism. A documentary that looks at Edward’s life through the prism of his relationship with his niece and which covers ground dramatised in The Crown.

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Murder, Mystery And My Family

BBC One

Monday 5 July, 11am

The weekday series looking back at crimes from the past continues with the story of a case of matricide from 1929. Did fraudster Sydney Fox, who was hanged in 1930, really kill his mother at the Hotel Metropole in Margate? Criminal barristers Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass look at the evidence anew.

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Heist: The Northern Bank Robbery

BBC Two

Monday 5 July, 9.30pm

In December 2004, two back employees were forced to take £26.5 million from the headquarters of Northern Bank in Belfast. The IRA were rumoured to be involved, but the case remains unsolved. Darragh MacIntyre and Sam McBride trace the story of the heist in a documentary first shown on BBC One Northern Ireland.

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Unreal: The VFX Revolution

Radio 4

Tuesday 6 July, 11.30am

Paul Franklin, who has won Academy Awards for his effects work with Christopher Nolan, charts the development of visual effects in the modern era. Industrial Light and Magic, the company George Lucas and John Dykstra created in 1975 as they began work on Star Wars, is central to the story.

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Hemingway

BBC Four

Tuesday 6 July, 9pm

The six-part series tracing the life and times of Ernest Hemingway continues. The focus is on his life in Paris in the 1920s, a time when Hemingway’s debut novel, The Sun Also Rises, was published, a novel that was both modernist and accessible.

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Agatha Christies England

Channel 5

Tuesday 6 July, 9pm

Agatha Christie’s often took inspiration from real people and by real places. This engaging travelogue explores how, for example, Miss Marple was based in party on a great aunt, and how the writer’s country home, Greenway, was repurposed as Nasse House for Dead Man’s Folly.

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The Forum

BBC World Service

Thursday 8 July, 10.05am

Emile Berliner (1851–1929) was the inventor of the gramophone record. He also helped develop the telephone, promoted milk pasteurisation and financed a scholarship programme for women. Bridget Kendall and a trio of Berliner experts profile a man who really should be better known.

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Written In Scotland

Radio 4

Thursday 8 July, 11.30am

Kirsty Wark turns her attention to the literature of urban Scotland as her excellent cultural history series continues. It’s a tale of two cities: elegant Edinburgh, which Wark sees as partly the creation of writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark and Ian Rankin; and gritty Glasgow, home of Tartan Noir.

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