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

A portrait of Prince Philip

18–24 September

Bettany Hughes’s Treasures Of The World

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Channel 4

Saturday 18 September, 8.30pm

In an episode devoted to archaeological treasures on Mediterranean, the classicist and historian heads for Malta to see a recently discovered Punic tomb, where proof has been found of a North African connection. Plus Hughes gets a rare chance to spend the night on the sacred Greek island of Delos. Read more


When Nirvana Came To Britain

BBC Two

Saturday 18 September, 9.30pm

It’s 30 years since since the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, marked here by a documentary exploring the band’s special relationship with British music fans. In Teen Spirit: Nevermind At 30 (Radio 4, Friday 24 September, 9pm), writer Douglas Coupland (Generation X) traces the album’s wider cultural impact. Friday also brings a day-long celebration of Nevermind on BBC 6Music.

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The Murder Of Lord Mountbatten: Three Days That Shook Britain

Saturday 18 September, 9.30pm

Channel 5

On August Bank Holiday in 1979, the Provisional IRA assassinated Louis Mountbatten. A bomb planted aboard his fishing boat, Shadow V, also killed Mountbatten’s grandson and a young crew member. This documentary gathers the recollections of royal insiders, local journalists and the families of those caught up in the attack.

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The Town Made Of Stories

Radio 4

Tuesday 21 September, 4pm

Orla O’Neill visits the Tuscan town of Pieve Santo Stefano, home to Italy’s National Diary Archive. Here, she meets some of those who read the diaries submitted for posterity. Followed by Great Lives (4.30pm), in which Greek politician and economist Yanis Varoufakis talks up the female mathematician and philosopher Hypatia.

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A House Through Time

BBC Two

Tuesday 21 September, 9pm

The story of the Headingley house reaches 1915, and David Olusoga traces a story that leads to Australia, Gallipoli and then back to Leeds – and a life of crime. Plus the tale of a successful textiles chemist who abruptly resigned his job and checked himself into a psychiatric institution.

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Free Thinking

Radio 3

Tuesday 21 September, 10pm

In the first of this week’s three episodes of Free Thinking, Anne McAlvoy leads a discussion on The Origins Of Totalitarianism, the influential 1951 book by political theorist Hannah Ardent. Plus the life and work of Dirk Bogarde, 1921–99 (Wednesday 22nd September, 10.00pm), and how punk gave visual artists a new vocabulary (Thursday 23 September, 10pm).

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Pick of the week

Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers

BBC One

Wednesday 22 September, 9pm

Originally intended as a 100th birthday tribute, this one-off documentary now acts as a salute to a man who was at the centre of national life for decades. Featuring interviews with Philip’s children and adult grandchildren, and footage from Queen Elizabeth II’s private cine-film collection.

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In Our Time

Radio 4

Thursday 23 September, 9am

Melvyn Bragg and learned guests discuss the life and work of the Greek writer Herodotus (c484BC–c425BC). He’s come to be known as the father of histories, a reflection of, for example, his keen interest in cataloguing the causes of the Persian Wars, but detractors called him the father of lies.

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Abandoned Engineering

Yesterday

Friday 24 September, 8pm

The series devoted to sites with unexpected histories visits a resort that conceals a top-secret facility. Also this evening, there’s more architectural history in Lighthouses: Building The Impossible (Channel 5, 9pm), in which Rob Bell traces the story of Scotland’s Bell Rock lighthouse.

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The North Water

BBC Two

Friday 24 September, 9.30pm

Episode three of the grim-up-north nautical drama and things still aren’t going well aboard Volunteer. With every other ship heading south to avoid the ice, why is Volunteer still heading into chilly waters? Plus Drax (Colin Farrell) is in a murderous rage – same as usual then.

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11–17 September

You’re Dead To Me

Radio 4

Saturday 11 September, 10.30am

Comedian Maria Shehata and historian Professor Jonathan Phillips join Greg Jenner to discuss Saladin. As ever, expect both learned discourse and humour as the trio kick around such questions as whether the 12th-century sultan deserves his reputation as a great leader.

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Bettany Hughes’ Treasures Of The World

Channel 4

Saturday 11 September, 8pm

Bettany Hughes heads for the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. Here, among other highlights, she learns how Ian Fleming masterminded an intelligence plot in the Second World War and hears how the news of Nelson’s death reached the wider world. Plus the latest research into Neanderthals. Read more


Archive On 4: Escaping 9/11

Radio 4

Saturday 11 September, 8pm

Stephen Evans, former BBC North America correspondent, revisits a documentary he made in 2003 and in which he talked with survivors of the World Trade Center attacks. Sunday Feature: Studio In The Sky (Radio 3, Sunday 12th September, 6.45pm) hears from artists who, in 2001, took part in a residency 90-plus floors up in the North Tower.

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Pick of the week

This Union: Two Kingdoms

Radio 4

Monday 13 September, 8pm

The strand offering a state-of-the-nations take on the United Kingdom heads to Scotland. Here, Allan Little tells the story of the country’s union with England, a tale both of shared values and, in recent years, divergence. In the first of three programmes, Little looks back at the ill-fated Darien scheme of the 1690s.

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The Architecture The Railways Built

Yesterday

Monday 13 September, 8pm

Train enthusiast Tim Dunn is becoming a familiar presence on our TV screens. Good, because his enthusiasm for his subject – which is to say, anything even remotely connected to trains and tracks – is palpable. First up, as The Architecture The Railways Built returns, Dunn alights at Newcastle, a city rich in railway history.

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Inside America’s Treasure House: The Met

BBC Four

Monday 13 September, 9pm

In 2020, the staff of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art were preparing to celebrate the institution’s 150th anniversary. Then came the Covid pandemic. This three-part fly-on-the-wall series follows what happened next, as the Met was forced to close, with huge financial implications.

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A House Through Time

BBC Two

Tuesday 14 September, 9pm

David Olusoga continues to uncover the stories of those who have lived at 5 Grosvenor Mount in Headingley, Leeds down the years. Those stepping out from the archives include a ruthless factory owner who faced ruin in the Victorian era and a pacifist couple who made a stand against the Boer War.

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Thomas Hardy: Fate, Exclusion And Tragedy

Sky Arts

Tuesday 14 September, 9pm

 The personal life of Thomas Hardy was complex and it helped to shape his work. So suggests this documentary that looks in particular detail at Hardy’s marriage to his first wife, Emma Gifford, which was deeply unhappy. Much of Hardy’s best poetry, we learn, emerged only after her death.


Lighthouses: Building The Impossible

Channel 5

Friday 17 September, 9pm 

Engineer and adventurer Rob Bell turns his attention to the history of lighthouses. These are structures we now take largely for granted, but how did our forebears, especially those working precariously on rocks located miles off Britain’s coast, go about building these lifesavers?

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The North Water

BBC Two

Friday 17 September, 9.30pm

Things aren’t going well up in the chilly north. Certainly not for near-frozen ship’s surgeon Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Donnell), who has to be rescued by the crew. Meantime, harpooner Henry Drax (Colin Farrell) continues to terrify the crew. Could he be capable of murder?

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4–10 September

Bettany Hughess Treasures Of The World

Channel 4

Saturday 4 September, 8pm

The historian and classicist heads for Malta. It’s an island that, down the centuries, has been visited – and invaded too – often, making it a cultural hub where the influence of many different civilisations can be seen. Highlights here include a visit to the subterranean neolithic site of Hypogeum.

Archive On 4: The Greenham Effect

Radio 4

Saturday 4 September, 8pm

This year sees the 40th anniversary of a group of women activists setting up a peace camp at RAF Greenham Common. Rebecca Mordan, who spent time at the camp as a child, looks back with the help of some of those who were also there. Plus has the Greenham camp had a lasting influence?

The Reunion

Radio 4

Sunday 5 September, 11am

The trial of the Mangrove Nine, Black British activists, in 1971 saw a judge officially acknowledge racism within the Metropolitan Police for the first time. Some of those involved in the trial look back at an event recently immortalised in the Small Axe drama Mangrove. Last in series, presented by Kirsty Wark.

Fever Pitch: The Rise Of The Premier League

BBC Two

Monday 6 September,  9pm

In the late 1980s, British football was in the doldrums. Then came Gazza’s tears at Italia 90 and the game enjoyed a boom. Which in turn emboldened chairmen at the leading clubs to kick on and form the breakaway Premier League in 1992, as detailed here in the first episode of a new four-part series.

Stephen

ITV

Monday 6 September, 9pm

The second episode of the drama about efforts to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice sees DCI Driscoll (Steve Coogan) trying to win the trust of the Lawrence family. But it’s tough going because the family, who have been subjected to hate mail and violence, are reluctant to trust the Met.

Bin Laden: The Road To 9/11

Channel 4

Monday 6 September,  9pm

How did Osama bin Laden come to mastermind the 9/11 attack? This three-part series profiles the son of a rich Saudi family who became radicalised following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Also this week, 9/11: Life Under Attack (ITV, Tuesday 7th September) revisits 9/11 via films made by ordinary citizens.

Great Lives

Radio 4

Tuesday 7 September, 4.30pm

Folk singer Peggy Seegar takes the unusual step of nominating her husband as someone who lived a great life. Then again, her husband was Ewan MacColl (1915-89), activist and musician, the composer of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Dirty Old Town. Presented by Matthew Parris.

Pick of the week

A House Through Time

BBC Two

Tuesday 7 September, 9pm

The latest series of the bricks-and-mortar genealogy show finds David Olusoga in Leeds. Here, he uncovers the history of 5 Grosvenor Mount, located in the suburb of Headingley. In the first of four episodes, we learn the first resident of the house was an idealistic lawyer, William Bruce.

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9/11: The Arc Of History

Radio 4

Wednesday 8 September, 8pm

Campaigning to be president, Barack Obama quoted Dr Martin Luther King, who claimed “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. Two decades after 9/11 and following the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Ed Stourton and guests discuss whether the arc of the moral universe is still bending in the right direction.

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The North Water

BBC Two

Friday 10 September, 9.30pm

It’s 1859 and, setting sail from Hull, an army surgeon, Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Connell), hopes to escape his past aboard a whaling ship bound for the Antarctic. But this will be an ill-fated voyage. A five-part nautical drama given Hollywood star power by the presence of Colin Farrell as harpooner and murderer Henry Drax.

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28 August – 3 September

You’re Dead To Me

Radio 4

Saturday 28 August, 10.30am

Greg Jenner’s podcast-cum-broadcast series returns. In the first of four new episodes on Radio 4, Professor Michael Scott and comedian Shappi Khorsandi discuss the ancient Olympics. Humour and history also collide in Helen Lewis: Great Wives (Radio 4, Wednesday 1st September, 11pm), in which the broadcaster profiles women who have been muses to their partners.

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Bettany Hughes’s Treasures Of The World

Channel 4

Saturday 28 August, 8pm

Having formed a filming bubble to travel during the pandemic, the historian heads off around the world to see both famous historical sites and the latest archaeological discoveries. The first episode finds Hughes in Greece, where the highlights include new finds located at the birthplace of Alexander the Great, Aegae.

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The Reunion

Radio 4

Sunday 29 August, 11am

In 1921, the FA banned women’s football. Apparently, it was unladylike. Cynics might suggest the huge crowds at many women’s games had something to do with the FA’s diktat. Fifty years later, the ban was lifted. Kirsty Wark gathers together pioneers who, in the early 1970s, laid the foundations for today’s professional women’s game.

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Dangerous Liaisons

Radio 4

Sunday 29 August, 3pm

Writer Sian Ejiwunmi-LeBerre scripts a new adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolatory novel, first published in 1782. In the first of two episodes, ingenue Cecile de Volanges and lonely Lady Tourval are drawn into the orbit of amoral former lovers, Madame de Merteuil and Count Count Valmont.

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Privates

BBC One

Monday 30 August, 1.30pm

Auntie’s latest weekday daytime drama takes us back to 1960. It follows the experiences of eight young men from disparate backgrounds conscripted for two years of National Service. Haircuts, bayonets and morning runs await as the men enter basic training in Yorkshire.

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Happy 2,500th To The Brave 300

Radio 4

Monday 30 August, 8pm

The battle of Thermopylae took place two-and-half millennia ago. Marking the anniversary, comedian and classicist Jon Harvey separates reality from myth as he looks back at history’s most famous last stand, when King Leonidas and a band of Spartan warriors resolved to resist an invading Persian army.

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Pick of the week

Surviving 9/11

BBC Two

Monday 30 August, 9pm

Among documentaries marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, two offerings from the BBC stand out. Surviving 9/11 movingly gathers stories from those who were there and relatives of those who died. 9/11: Inside The President’s War Room (BBC One, Tuesday 31st August, 8.30pm) offers reflections from those who led the US government.

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Stephen

ITV

Monday 30 August, 9pm

Thirteen years after the 1999 murder of their son in a racially motivated attack, Neville (Hugh Quarshie) and Doreen Lawrence (Sharlene Whyte) were still seeking justice. This drama, which also stars Steve Coogan as DCI Clive Driscoll, an honest copper convinced the case can still be solved, follows their struggles.

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H2O: The Molecule That Made Us

BBC Four

Wednesday 1 September, 9pm

In many respects, this is really a science series. However, this second of three episodes certainly gets into historical territory as it considers the way that so many civilisations are shaped by their relationships with great rivers. Plus what are the potential consequences on our world of humans using too much water?

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Ian Hislop’s Trains That Changed The World

Channel 5

Friday 3 September, 9pm

The broadcaster heads west in the final episode of his salute to the railways. More specifically, Hislop explores the history of the Great Western Railway, recalling years when the GWR spent vast amounts on encouraging Londoners to holiday in the West Country.

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