History TV and radio in the UK: what’s on our screens in June 2020?

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 House Through Time. (BBC / Twenty Twenty Ltd/Mark Bourdillon)

26 June–2 July

Archive On 4: Poetry for Sale?

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BBC Radio 4

Saturday 27 June, 8pm

Why do so many brands use poetry to sell their products? With the help of the archives, poet and copywriter Rishi Dastidar explores the relationship between verse and advertising down the years. Those we hear include Clive James, WH Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Fay Weldon and George Orwell.

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Lost Pyramids of the Aztecs

Channel 4

Sunday 28 June, 8pm

In a hillside outside Mexico City, more than 100 skeletons have been discovered. Cue cameras following an archaeological exploration of the site. Plus, as the two-part documentary on the Aztec world concludes, the replica pyramid continues to rise.

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The Luminaries

BBC One

Sunday 28 June, 9pm

Episode three of the gold-rush drama and poor Anna (Eve Hewson) is in a bad way, desperate for money to feed a burgeoning addiction to laudanum. A strange and brutal drama, but well worth watching, with all episodes available to stream on iPlayer. 

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Art of Persia

BBC Four

Monday 29 June, 9pm

Samira Ahmed’s excellent series concludes with more stories of how Persia, because of the strength of its culture, in some sense always overcomes those who conquer it. In the wake of Genghis Khan, we learn, arose a golden age in Persian poetry and art.

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The Essay: New Generation Thinkers

BBC Radio 3

Monday 29th June, 10.45pm

Over five weekday episodes, rising-star academics reflect on a range of subjects. First up, we hear from University of St Andrews lecturer Tom Smith, who considers whether there is a disconnect between contemporary techno and its Afrofuturist roots in 1980s Detroit.

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Britains Lost Roman Roads

5Select

Wednesday 1 July, 9pm

In a new series, Dan Jones offers a guide to some of the most famous routes constructed by the Romans as they brought Britannia into the empire. First up, he walks along parts of Watling Street, beginning on the Kent coast where the forces of Claudius landed in 43 AD.

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Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners

BBC Four

Thursday 2 July, 9pm & 10pm 

First shown in 2015, David Olusoga’s two-part documentary tackles a difficult truth: that when Britain abolished slavery in 1834, Britain’s slave ‘owners’ were compensated for a loss of ‘property’, but the slaves themselves received nothing. The sum paid out was staggering, equivalent to around £17bn.

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Pick of the week

Guilty Men

BBC Radio 4

Friday 3 July, 11am 

In May 1940 and in the shadow of the Dunkirk evacuation, a trio of journalists, including a young Michael Foot, wrote Guilty Men. Here was a polemic against those who had appeased Nazism in the 1930s. Phil Tinline looks back at the controversy surrounding the book, and also explores the benefits and downsides to naming and shaming.

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A Greek Odyssey with Bettany Hughes

Channel 5

Friday 3 July, 9pm

The classicist continues her Mediterranean island hopping by heading for Crete. Here, she visits the ancient city of Knossos and reflects on the myth of the minotaur. In the island’s second-largest city, Chania, she also sees grisly evidence of human sacrifice.

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Huey Morgans Latin Music Adventure

BBC Four

Friday 3 July, 9.30pm

The Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman and 6Music DJ presents a new series about the unique sounds to be heard in three American nations: Puerto Rico, Cuba and, in the first episode, Brazil. Here, he visits the Mangueira Samba School as preparations for the Rio carnival gather pace.

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19–25 June

Drama: Electric Decade: Cane

BBC Radio 4

Saturday 20 June, 3pm

Radio 4’s Jazz Age Electric Decade season continues with Janice Okoh’s adaptation of Jean Toomer’s novel, a fractured study of life in the American South. Toomer was associated with the Harlem Renaissance and Cane is a key work within African-American modernism. The cast includes Carleen Anderson and Clarke Peters.

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Archive On 4: Girl Power RIP

BBC Radio 4

Saturday 20 June, 8pm

Columnist Ella Whelan, ex-assistant editor at Spiked, asks if feminism is dead. At the centre of the programme, which looks back at battles over abortion rights and contraception, the campaign against Page 3 and the #MeToo movement, lies the question of whether women’s liberation is still relevant or whether it has led to a culture of victimhood.

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Lost Pyramids of the Aztecs 

Channel 4

Sunday 21 June, 8pm

Flourishing in the years prior to the Spanish colonising the New World, the Aztecs created a hugely sophisticated society, where power was represented by vast pyramids. How exactly did they build these? Camera follow an experimental archaeologist taking a hand-on approach to finding out by constructing a scale model.

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Pick of the week 

The Luminaries 

BBC One

Sunday 21 June, 9pm 

Eleanor Catton adapts her Booker-winning novel, a tale of love and greed set against the backdrop of a 19th-century gold rush in New Zealand. In the first of six episodes, Anna Wetherell (Eve Hewson) and Emery Staines (Himesh Patel) meet on their voyage to a new life. Also starring Eva Green. Continues Monday 22 June, 9pm.

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Rethink: The Long View

BBC Radio 4

Monday 22 June, 1.45pm

As part of a season of shows looking at how we might change the world for the better after Covid-19, Jonathan Freedland looks back at past crises. In a first weekday programme, he considers the unforeseen consequences of the Black Death of 1349. There’s an omnibus edition of this week’s shows on Friday 26 June at 9pm.

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Art of Persia

BBC Four

Monday 22 June, 9pm

Samira Ahmed explores how Persia changed after Islamic invaders conquered the country in AD 651. What emerges is a tale of how Persian and Arab customs mingled, so that both survive in modern Iran. Ahmed also goes in search of traces of Zoroastrianism, Persia’s pre-invasion religion.

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Perry Mason

Sky Atlantic

Monday 22 June, 9pm

Matthew Rhys stars as Perry Mason in an origin story reboot, set in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. Here, far from being the courtroom warrior we associate with Raymond Burr’s portrayal of the character, Mason is a gumshoe detective, a man haunted by his own personal demons.

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Scandalous: The Tabloid That Changed America – Storyville

BBC Four

Wednesday 24 June, 9pm

Over six decades, the National Enquirer became the most infamous tabloid in the USA, a source of reliably salacious stories that inexorably changed the country’s cultural landscape. Drawing on archive footage, this feature-length documentary looks at how it covered such stories as the death of Princess Diana, the OJ Simpson trial and Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

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Stretch and Listen!

BBC Radio 4

Thursday 25 June, 11.30am

Long before Joe Wicks captured the imagination of a lockdown nation, fitness instructors used to broadcast their lessons via the radio. Derrick Evans, aka Mr Motivator, looks back to tell the story of such pioneers as Eileen Fowler, who built her broadcast career in the 1950s.

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A Greek Odyssey with Bettany Hughes

Channel 5

Friday 26 June, 9pm

Continuing her island-hopping adventures, Bettany Hughes heads for Santorini, the site of a massive volcanic eruption that may be linked to the Atlantis legend and where she sees the remains of the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri. She also visits Naxos, associated with Dionysus, and Sifnos.

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12–18 June

Great Paintings of the World with Andrew Marr

Channel 5

Saturday 13 June, 8.15pm 

The journalist casts his eyes over Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The vibrant yellow-on-yellow colour scheme has become so familiar that it’s something of a shock to hear Marr describe how van Gogh broke aesthetic rules as he sought to cheer up a room in a house he shared with Paul Gaugin.

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Return to Turin: Italia 90

BBC One

Saturday 13 June, 10.30pm

It’s easy to forget in the moneyed Premier League era but, scarred by hooliganism and tragedy, English football was in a bad way in the late 1980s. But then came the 1990 World Cup, when England’s performances rekindled a nation’s love affair with the beautiful game. Those who were there, including Gary Lineker, recall Gazza’s tears and Nessun Dorma.

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The Queen and the Coup

Channel 4

Sunday 14 June, 9pm

In February 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was secretly employed in an American plot to topple Iran’s democratically elected leader, a plot that ushered in the authoritarianism of the last shah. That’s the extraordinary claim in a documentary that explores how this CIA scheme was hidden even from Elizabeth herself.

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Emma

BBC Radio 4

Monday 15 June, 12.06pm

Emma Woodhouse is bored. Perhaps matchmaking and generally busying herself with the lives of those surrounding her will help to amuse Emma. Over 10 weekday episodes, Eve Best reads from Jane Austen’s comic novel, which has much to say about early 19th-century society.

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A Big Disease with a Little Name

BBC Radio 4

Monday 15 June, 1.45pm

Peter Stanley continues his exploration of the 1980s Aids epidemic. In the first of five weekday episodes, he focuses on the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which fought in the US for the rights of this affected by HIV. There’s an omnibus edition of the shows on Friday 19 June (9pm)

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Pick of the week

Art of Persia 

BBC Four

Monday 15 June, 9pm 

In a new three-part series, Samira Ahmed charts the history of Persia. She begins in the distant past, visiting a 3,000-year-old temple complex in the desert. It’s a way to help to bring to life the birth of the Persian Empire, so vast and advanced that in itself it was a wonder of the ancient world.

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A House Through Time

BBC Two

Tuesday 16 June, 9pm

David Olusoga concludes his series on 10 Guinea Street in Bristol by bringing the story of the house up to the present day. It’s a history that takes in the Second World War and the house falling into decline prior to being lovingly restored in the present day.

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Tutankhamun in Colour

BBC Four

Thursday 18th June, 9pm 

Dr Elizabeth Frood looks anew at discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. It’s a documentary where the central idea – using colourised photography and film – may initially seem like a novelty, but which sheds new light on the past, and on the work of Howard Carter and his backer, Lord Carnarvon.

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Eating History

Sky History

Thursday 18 June, 10pm & 10.30pm 

Here’s a series that look like it may be huge fun as presenters Josh Macuga and Old Smokey (yes, that really does appear to be his name) chow down on “edible artefacts”, including breakfast cereal from the 1940s and freeze-dried Vietnam War-era army rations.

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A Greek Odyssey with Bettany Hughes

Channel 5

Friday 19 June, 9pm 

The classicist continues her Mediterranean island-hopping with a visit to Delos, a sacred place of huge cultural significance but where nobody is permitted to set up permanent home. On Ikaria, meantime, she learns about the art of wine-making.

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5–11 June

Pick of the week

Archive on 4: Anthony Blunt, A Question of Retribution

BBC Radio 4

Saturday 6 June, 8pm

As the ‘Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures’ and an MI5 officer, Anthony Blunt (1907–83) should have been above suspicion. Then, in 1979, he became a hate figure when it was revealed he had traded secrets with the Soviets during the Second World War. With the help of the archives, David Cannadine reassesses Blunt’s career.

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The World’s Greatest Paintings

Channel 5

Saturday 6 June, 8.15pm

In a new three-part series, Andrew Marr turns art critic. There’s no ferreting out of obscure works here, as Marr dives straight in with Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, relating the tale of its creation and exploring how the painting came to enter the centre of the culture after being stolen in 1911.

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Queen Mary: How She Saved the Royals

Channel 5

Saturday 6 June, 9.15pm 

Mary of Teck (1867-1953) was born into debt and lost her first fiancé, Prince Albert Victor, to a flu pandemic. Instead, Elizabeth II’s grandmother married the future George V and, argues this feature-length documentary, exerted a huge influence on the House of Windsor, notably by being a symbol of stability during the abdication crisis.

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Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics

BBC Radio 4

Sunday 7 June, 4.30pm

The comedian and classicist’s socially distanced take on mythical female figures from the ancient Greek world concludes with Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. She’s revealed as a woman who cleverly fended off the attention of unwanted suitors in her husband’s absence. Professors Edith Hall and Llewelyn Morgan offer expert perspectives.

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Drama On 3: Adventures with the Painted People

BBC Radio 3

Sunday 7 June, 7.30pm

In a two-hander written for the Pitlochry Festival, cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, playwright David Greig takes us back to Roman times. When a Roman officer, Lucius (Olivier Huband), is captured and faces being sacrificed, a local woman, Eithne (Kirsty Stuart), offers to rescue him in return for being taught to write. 

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Drama: The Jester of Astapovo

BBC Radio 4

Tuesday 9 June, 2.15pm

Rose Tremain dramatises her own short story about the latter days of Leo Tolstoy when, sick, dying and pursued by the press, the novelist took a train ride that ended in remote Astapovo. Tremain imagines how this jaunt might have affected the local stationmaster and his wife.

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A House Through Time

BBC Two

Tuesday 9 June, 9pm

David Olusoga continues the story of 10 Guinea Street, Bristol. In the 1880s, we meet Owen and Louisa Pow, whose story involves a tragic death and a court appearance. Finding a living link to the house, Olusoga also meets a 91-year-old who reminisces about her aunts, women whose lives were certainly eventful in the First World War.

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Das Boot

Sky Atlantic

Tuesday 9 June, 9pm & 10.10pm

The acclaimed German drama returns for a second series. It’s 1942 and, for U-boat commander Johannes von Reinhartz, the brutal reality of war is taking a toll. Back on land in La Rochelle, translator Simone still lives a dangerous double existence. Plus the new season brings an American dimension to the story.

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Hillary

Sky Documentaries

Thursday 11 June, 9pm 

Even now she is no longer involved in the daily hurly burly of politics, Hillary Clinton remains a polarising figure. Featuring interviews with the former presidential candidate and archive footage, this four-part series profiles a woman who has been a central figure in recent American history.

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A Greek Odyssey with Bethany Hughes

Channel 5

Friday 12 June, 9pm

Following in the wake of Odysseus and his 10-year journey back from the Trojan War, historian embarks on a cruise through the Mediterranean. In the first of six episodes, she visits a stretch of sea peppered with ancient shipwrecks, and makes landfall on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos.

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30 May–4 June 2020

Archive On 4: The Wellness Phenomenon

BBC Radio 4

Saturday 30 May, 8pm

How did such ideas as ‘clean-eating’ enter the mainstream? Claudia Hammond traces our contemporary world of health fads – and a global wellness industry worth $4 trillion a year – back to the 1980s, when a public health initiative became a victim of its own success.

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Pick of the week

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

BBC Two

Saturday 30 May, 9.30pm

In 1934, teenager Ella Fitzgerald appeared in a talent show at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. So began in earnest the career of a jazz great, one of the greatest singers of the tumultuous 20th century. This biographical documentary mixes archive footage with contributions from the likes of Smokey Robinson, Tony Bennett and Laura Mvula.

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Drama: A Room of Ones Own

BBC Radio 4

Sunday 31 May, 3pm

Virginia Woolf’s classic feminist text, which deals with female creativity, is dramatised by Linda Marshall Griffiths. Indira Varma plays the ‘Woman’, who imagines conversations with great British female novelists, and traces the sexism-blighted life of Shakespeare’s talented – and imaginary – sister. Part of the Electric Decade featuring texts from the 1920s.

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Natalie Haynes Stands Up For The Classics

BBC Radio 4

Sunday 31 May, 4.30pm

Natalie Haynes charts the story of Eurydice, pointing out that her incompetent lover, Orpheus, bungled Eurydice’s rescue from the underworld so that she died not once, but twice. Professor Llewelyn Morgan, whose speciality is Roman literature, offers the academic’s perspective.

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Book Of The Week: Endell Street

BBC Radio 4

Monday 1 June, 9.45am

Doctors Louisa Garrett Anderson and Flora Murray were pioneers, campaigners for Votes for Women who, when the First World War broke out, turned their energies to treating casualties of the conflict. Jessica Raine reads from Wendy Moore’s book about Anderson and Murray, a story centred on the military hospital the duo set up on Endell Street, central of London.

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Monkman & Seagulls Genius Adventures

BBC Two

Monday 1 June, 9pm 

The geeky duo focus their attention on inventions and research from the second half of the 19th century. The locations they visit range from the magnificent Crossness Pumping Station, designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette as part of his efforts to tackle London’s water pollution problem, to a dinosaur park in Crystal Palace.

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A House Through Time  

BBC Two

Tuesday 2 June, 9pm

David Olusoga tells the story of those who lived in 10 Guinea Street, Bristol from the end of the 18th century through to the 1870s. It picks up with the death of sea captain Joseph Holdbrook, the prelude to a story of scandal and deception.

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Legacy of War

BBC Radio 4

Wednesday 3 June, 9.30am

The latest episode of the series looking at the effects of conflict on family dynamics focuses on Anne Godden, who came into the world after her mother had a brief affair with a Canadian soldier who was stationed in Suffolk during the Second World War. Presented by Sean Bean.

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The Forum

BBC World Service

Thursday 4 June, 10.05am

Bridget Kendall and academic guests discuss the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon, which was much admired by the Greeks. While it has subsequently become associated with depravity, thanks in great part to Bible stories, archaeological discoveries over the past two centuries suggest Babylon’s people built a hugely sophisticated society.

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Portillos Empire Journey

Channel 5

Friday 5 June, 9pm

Michael Portillo heads for New York and Ontario. He’s in North America to trace British influence in the region and the story of why, while the founders of the United States broke ties in the Revolutionary War, Canada remained loyal.

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