History TV and radio: what’s on in April 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

Back in Time for The Corner Shop. (BBC/Wall to Wall Media Ltd/Paul Husband)

The Archive Hour: Riot Remembered

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BBC Radio 4

Saturday 4 April, 8pm

It’s 40 years since the St Paul’s riot. The violence on the streets of inner-city Bristol would be replicated in cities across the country in the months after April 1980, a watershed year in British history. But what actually happened in St Paul’s and why? BBC Radio Bristol reporter Pete Simpson looks back.

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Titian: Behind Closed Doors

BBC Two

Saturday 4 April, 9.45pm

Six of Titian’s most sensual masterpieces, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, should be on display together, for the first time in 450 years, for public perusal at the National Gallery. Until the current crisis passes, it will be rather easier to get close to these artworks via this documentary, which features the reflections of art historians.

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Sunday Feature: Wordsworth – Poet of the People

BBC Radio 4

Sunday 5 April, 6.45pm

As part of programming marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth (7 April 1770-23 April 1850), Jenny Uglow both considers the romantic poet’s reaction to the industrial revolution and contrasts this with that of Adam Smith. While Wordsworth worried over the end of smallholder self-sufficiency, Smith saw industrialisation as rich with potential.

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Secrets of Egypts Valley of the Kings

Channel 4

Sunday 5 April, 8pm

The archaeology series follows the work of researchers hunting for Cleopatra’s lost tomb. Plus a collection of mummies is scanned for hidden treasures, a lawyer-turned-archaeologist uncovers a network of tunnels; and, out in the Mediterranean, divers explore the ruins of ancient Alexandria.

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Belgravia

ITV

Sunday 5 April, 9pm

Episode four of Julian Fellowes’ entertaining drama set in the Victorian era and dastardly John Bellasis is determined to uncover the truth about Charles Pope. Why does everyone seem to dote on the young man so? Elsewhere, the Reverend Stephen Bellasis makes a risky arrangement.

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Pick of the week

Du Fu: Chinas Greatest Poet

BBC Four

Monday 6 April, 9pm

Michael Wood follows in the footsteps of poet Du Fu (AD 712–770), who lived through the downfall of China’s Tang dynasty, and was forced to flee his home as a refugee. Du Fu’s experiences inspired his great work, an epic poem exploring what it means to be Chinese. With readings by Sir Ian McKellen.

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Black Music in Europe: A Hidden History

BBC Radio 4

Tuesday 7 April, 9am

Clarke Peters of The Wire fame returns to host the series that charts the under-explored story of black music in Europe. We’re now in the post-Second World War era, when decolonisation led to musicians from countries such as Algeria, Jamaica and Cape Verde expressing a newfound sense of freedom – often in tracks recorded, ironically enough, in Europe.

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Return to Belsen

ITV

Tuesday 7 April, 9pm

It’s 75 years since Allied troops liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. It was a story covered by Richard Dimbleby, in dispatches for the BBC that shocked the world. The reporter’s son, the broadcaster and journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, walks in his father’s footsteps, and hears the harrowing stories of survivors and liberators.

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The Great British Dig: History in Your Back Garden

More 4

Thursday 9 April, 9pm

Hugh Dennis and a team of archaeologists head for Maidstone, Kent and a street where, when a local pub was demolished, the remains of a Roman bathhouse were discovered. Could there be further evidence of Roman settlement to find? Lawns are lifted in an effort to learn more.

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Alexander Armstrongs Heavenly Gardens

BBC One

Good Friday, 1.40pm

As part of Easter programming, Alexander Armstrong visits historical gardens where reflection and contemplation seem appropriate reactions. Also today, in the final episode of Pilgrimage: The Road To Istanbul (BBC Two, 9pm), the seven celebrities travel through Bulgaria and into Turkey.

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27 March – 4 April

Drama: Castle of the Hawk

BBC Radio 4

Sunday 29 March, 3pm 

Mike Walker’s drama tracing the story of the Hapsburg dynasty reaches 1618. Brilliant soldier Wallenstein (Richard Harrington) wants a career in the army of the Holy Roman Empire. However, he is a Protestant who can’t hold his tongue and he needs guidance to make the most of his ability.

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Secrets of Egypts Valley of the Kings

Channel 4

Sunday 29 March, 8pm 

The archaeology series returns with two new episodes. First up, researchers head 100m underground to try to work out why successive pharaohs opted for a secret cemetery in the Valley of the Kings over vast pyramids. Another team tries to identify human remains found in looted tombs.

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Belgravia

ITV

Sunday 29 March, 9pm

Episode three of Julian Fellowes’ hugely entertaining drama, and revelations at the Brockenhursts’ party lead to tensions between Anne and James Trenchard. Meantime, there’s much curiosity within polite society over handsome Charles Pope. Plus Lady Templemore makes plans for the wedding of her daughter.

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Plane Resurrection

PBS America

Monday 30 March, 8.35pm

Shown over four successive weeknights, the latest series of Plane Resurrection follows enthusiasts as they try to restore neglected flying machines. The shark-toothed P-40 Warhawk is the subject of the first documentary. In a similar vein, Warbird Workshop (Yesterday, Thursday 2 April, 9.00pm) finds enthusiasts rebuilding a Piper Cub.

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Pick of the week

Scandal and Beauty: Mark Gatiss on Aubrey Beardsley

BBC Four

Monday 30 March, 9pm

He died in France at the age of just 25, but artist Aubrey Beardsley packed a lot into his short life. As longtime fan Mark Gatiss explores, Beardsley was a pioneer – and a sometimes scandalous figure – whose lifetime of ill-health meant he knew he needed to move fast. Interviewees here include Stephen Fry.

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The Essay: Paul Robeson in Five Songs

Radio 3

Monday 30 March, 10.45pm

New Jersey-born singer Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was both a considerable artist and an important figure in the civil rights movement. The weekday Essay slot traces his life via five pieces of music that were important in his career, beginning with his early career singing of spirituals and, in particular, No More Auction Block.  

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Back in Time for the Corner Shop

BBC Two

Tuesday 31 March, 8pm

At the end of their time-travelling adventures in retail, the Arderns mull over what they’ve learnt. They also look at recent developments in retail and find echoes of their experiences in, for example, the idea of zero-waste stores that recall the Victorian era with their lack of product packaging.

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The Art Mysteries with Waldemar Januszcak

BBC Four

Tuesday 31 March, 8.30pm

What are we to make of Paul Gauguin’s Vision After The Sermon (1888)? According to Waldemar Januszcak, it helps to understand how a religious painting that deals with temptation was influenced by the symbolic importance of a teenager, sumo wrestling and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

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Villages Beside by the Sea

BBC Two

Thursday 2 April, 7.30pm

Ben Robinson visits Sunderland Point in Lancashire. Today, it’s a village that’s tranquil, a haven for wildlife that’s cut off twice a day by the rising tide. However, back in the 18th century, this was a place that was hugely important in the slave trade.

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Pilgrimage: The Road to Istanbul

BBC Two

Friday 3 April, 9pm

The celebrities continue their tramping through eastern Europe. After spending a night in a Serbian monastery, the seven head for Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. Here, Mim Shaikh and Amar Latif visit the city’s only mosque, while Dom Joly, Edwina Currie and Fatima Whitbread head for a museum of socialist art.

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20–26 March

Diego Maradona

Channel 4

Saturday 21 March, 9pm

Between 1984 and 1991, when he played for Napoli and inspired the club to a first league title, Diego Maradona was the best player on the planet. This fine documentary charts an era when, via his “Hand of God” goal in the quarter-final against England, he won the 1986 World Cup with Argentina.  

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Sunday Feature: Literary Pursuits

BBC Radio 3

Sunday 22 March, 6.45pm

In 1959, Truman Capote, accompanied by Harper Lee, travelled to rural Kansas to report on the grisly murders of the Clutter family. He planned to write an article for the New Yorker, but the story grew to form the basis of In Cold Blood (serialised in 1965), the first true-life crime novel. Corin Throsby retraces Capote’s journey.

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Belgravia

ITV

Sunday 22 March, 9pm

Episode two of Julian Fellowes’ drama and Anne Trenchard (Tamsin Greig) decides that honesty is the best policy as she looks back at the past. However, this produces an unexpected response from Anne’s confidant, Lady Brockenhurst (Harriet Walker), who throws a lavish dinner party and invites a special guest to attend. 

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Putin: A Russian Spy Story

Channel 4

Monday 23 March, 9pm

How did Putin come to take such an iron grip on Russia? This new series considers his rise to power, beginning by offering us a portrait of a schoolyard fighter who grew up to be a spy – and latterly the head the organisation that superseded the KGB, the FSB.

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The Hidden History of the Mantelpiece

BBC Radio 4

Tuesday 24 March, 4pm

Dr Rachel Hurley explores the story of a space in our homes that turns out to be surprisingly revealing. A recurring theme is the way the objects people choose to display tell us much about different ages and about society – hence, presumably, why Mass Observation collated detailed descriptions of the displays on our 1930s forebears’ mantelpieces.

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Back in Time for the Corner Shop

BBC Two

Tuesday 24 March, 8pm

The Ardern family’s time-travelling odyssey reaches the 1980s and 1990s, the former a decade when shopkeepers offered credit to help people who lived through economic hard times. We also learn how early gamers built successful video game companies in Sheffield, and Martin Fry of ABC fame says hello.

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The Art Mysteries with Waldemar Januszcak

BBC Four

Tuesday 24 March, 8.30pm 

The art historian explores the hidden meanings of French post-impressionist Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, which depicts three nudes in an artist’s studio. Why did Seurat(1859–91) choose to put an image of one of his own paintings, A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte, in its background?

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Pick of the week

Harry Birrell Presents Films of Love and War

BBC Four

Wednesday 25 March, 9pm 

As a child, Harry Birrell was given a cine-camera. It sparked a lifelong love affair with the moving image as Harry catalogued an eventful life that included time spent on active service behind enemy lines in Burma during the Second World War – home cinema on an epic scale. First shown in Scotland and deserving of a wider audience.

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Mark Kermodes Secrets of Cinema

BBC Four

Thursday 26 March, 9pm

The film critic’s film-appreciation subject this week is British History Movies. Via clips from classic films, he explores how figures such as Boudicca, Henry VIII and, closer to the present day, Elizabeth II have been portrayed on the big screen down the years. Filmmakers, he notes, rarely let facts get in the way of a good story.

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Pilgrimage: The Road to Istanbul

BBC Two

Friday 27 March, 9pm

Seven celebrities of different faiths and beliefs tramp the Sultans Trail, which links Vienna and Istanbul. In the first of three episodes, the celebrities, including Adrian Chiles, Fatima Whitbread and Dom Joly, meet in Belgrade prior to setting off on a journey through the hills of Serbia.

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13–19 March

Secrets of the Royal Train

Channel 5

Friday 13 March, 7pm

What goes on behind closed doors on the most luxurious locomotive in the UK? That’s the question asked in this documentary exploring the train used by the British monarchy for more than 150 years. The programme includes interviews with staff who have served on the train for many years – such as a foreman who once walked in on Queen Elizabeth II in her night clothes by accident. 

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Prince Albert: A Victorian Hero Revealed

Channel 4

Saturday 14 March, 7pm

We primarily know Prince Albert as Queen Victoria’s husband, but he was also a visionary architect of the Victorian era – as this documentary reveals. Daisy Goodwin, writer of ITV’s Victoria, was involved in the making of this programme examining the German prince’s influence on both the royal coffers and British culture. 

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Queen Victoria’s Last Love: Abdul Karim

Channel 4

Saturday 14 March, 8pm

Stay tuned to Channel 4 on Saturday for another tale from the Victorian period. This programme covers the relationship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim, whose friendship was most recently portrayed in the British biopic Victoria and Abdul (2017), starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal.

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Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Saturday 14 March, 9pm

BBC Two

Featuring never-before-seen footage, this film unpacks how trumpeter Miles Davis broke boundaries to become an inspiring cultural icon in the 20th-century music scene. This 2019 documentary received a Grammy nomination for Best Music Film for its portrayal of the innovative band leader’s life.

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Pick of the week

Belgravia

Sunday 15 March, 9pm

ITV

Belgravia, named for the well-to-do area of London where so much of its action is set, tells a 19th-century story of class, money, aspiration and the invention of afternoon tea – and of how family secrets can surface long after those involved tried to bury the truth. One of the most keenly anticipated new television dramas of the year.

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Did the Victorians ruin the world?

Monday 16 March, 2.15pm

BBC Radio 4 Extra

Sisters Kat and Helen Arney turn our understanding of the Victorian period on its head in this series about 19th-century ingenuity. This episode looks at whether the water-based toilet was really a revolutionary invention at the time, or were the Victorians simply flushing away a valuable resource?

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Miss World 1970: Beauty Queens and Bedlam

Monday 16 March, 9pm

BBC Two

Fifty years ago, protestors dramatically stormed the 1970 Miss World contest armed with flour bombs, fruit and water pistols, kickstarting a feminist revolution in front of a live TV audience of millions. But the defining act of protest wasn’t the only surprise in store that night, as the winner of the contest was announced as Miss Grenada, the first black Miss World. A thought-provoking look at a night of game-changing events.

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The Art Mysteries with Waldemar Januszczak

Tuesday 17 March, 8.30pm

BBC Four

 New series in which art critic and presenter Waldemar Januszczak explores the secret meanings hidden in four famous paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Seurat. Episode one focuses on Van Gogh’s self-portrait of himself with a clearly bandaged ear.

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The Repair Shop

Wednesday 18 March, 8pm

BBC One

The Repair Shop is back, and open for business. Episode one of the returning series shines a light on more wonderful treasures to be found in homes across the country, from a Jamaican pump organ to an RAF bomber pilot’s hat and naval rigging kit.

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The True Story of Martin Guerre

Thursday 19 March, 3pm

BBC Radio 4 Extra 

Starring Sean Bean as Jean de Coras, this two-part series explores the fascinating true story of a 16th-century man who returned home years after he mysteriously disappeared – only to be found to be an impostor.

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7–13 March

Royal Doctors: Treating the Monarchy

Channel 5

Saturday 7 March, 7pm

Kate Williams considers how royals down the years have kept themselves – or not kept themselves – trim and fit. Alongside interviews with Princess Diana’s acupuncturist and hints on how to avoid over-indulging at banquets, expect more serious history such as, for example, the story of Elizabeth II’s ‘hidden’ uncle.

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Archive On 4: Call Up: The Story of National Service

BBC Radio 4

Saturday 7 March, 8pm

The last conscripts to be called up in the UK got their papers 60 years ago. What was the experience like for the two million men who had no choice but to serve with the armed forces? With the help of the archives, Richard Vinen uncovers some of their stories.

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Pick of the week

Hilary Mantel: Return to Wolf Hall

BBC Two

Saturday 7 March, 9pm

Filmed during the six months leading up to the publication of The Mirror & The Light, novelist Hilary Mantel discusses her trilogy charting the career and eventual downfall of Thomas Cromwell. The documentary also offers a glimpse into Mantel’s own life, including the experience of growing up under the shadow of a dark family secret.

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Lost Lives

BBC Two

Saturday 7 March, 10pm

Inspired by the 1999 book of the same name, this moving documentary chronicles every life taken during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Over a backdrop of contemporary and archive footage, those giving readings include Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Fairley and Adrian Dunbar.

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Back in Time for the Corner Shop

BBC Two

Tuesday 10 March, 8pm

The Ardern family’s retail time-travelling odyssey sees them fetching up in the 1950s and 1960s. At the beginning of the era, rationing is still in place, but gradually austerity begins to lose its bite. Billy Bragg guests, discussing skiffle music.

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In Our Time

BBC Radio 4

Thursday 12 March, 9am

Melvyn Bragg and learned guests discuss the Scottish Presbyterian movement and, more specifically, the bonds made in the 16th and 17th centuries between Presbyterians and their monarchs. It’s a tale of ongoing tension followed by, in the reign of Charles II, repression.

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Villages By The Sea

BBC Two

Thursday 12 March, 7.30pm 

Archaeologist Ben Robinson heads for The Holy Island in Northumbria, a seaside locale key to the history of Christianity in the UK. Followed by Secrets of the Museum (8pm), which follows preparations for a V&A exhibition devoted to cars.

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Babylon Berlin

Sky Atlantic

Friday 13 March, 9pm & 10pm

The stylish drama continues with another double bill that captures the tensions of Weimar Republic-era Germany. First up, Detective Gereon Rath’s investigation into the Betty Winter case gathers momentum and grows to encompass further killings, and Greta receives an unexpected visitor.

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29 February – 6 March

Start the Week

BBC Radio 4

Monday, 2 March, 9am

In the week The Mirror And The Light is published, Hilary Mantel discusses the final volume in her Wolf Hall trilogy with Andrew Marr. The book covers the last years of Thomas Cromwell’s life and resumes the story in the wake of the execution of Anne Boleyn.  

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The Californian Century

BBC Radio 4

Monday, 2 March, 1.45pm

The cultural history of California continues and concludes with another five weekday episodes. First up, Stanley Tucci narrates the story of William Shockley (1910–89), the founder of Silicon Valley and quite brilliant but also a man disliked, for good reasons, by many who worked with him.

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OK, Boomer!

BBC Radio 4

Monday, 2 March, 4pm

The gulf in understanding between young and old seems wide, summed up by the millennial’s putdown that gives this documentary its title. But is this intergenerational conflict somehow new or does it have antecedents in previous ages? Yes. Historian Rhys Jones takes the long view here.  

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Age of the Image

BBC Four

Monday, 2 March, 9pm 

Art historian James Fox’s latest four-part series considers how the power of images has changed our world since the 20th century. It’s in part a series about great artists, but also about how scientific and technological advances have meant we can all make images.

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The Essay: Women Writers to Put Back on the Bookshelf

BBC Radio 3

Monday, 2 March, 10.45pm

New Generation Thinkers speak up for female writers whose work is too often overlooked. In the first of five weekday episodes, Sophie Coulombeau champions poet and novelist Charlotte Turner (1749–1806), who mothered 13 children, supported her family through her pen, and whose sonnets about (possibly much-needed) solitude anticipated similar poems by William Wordsworth.

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Back in Time for the Corner Shop

BBC Two

Tuesday 3 March, 8pm

The Arden family travel through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s as the living history series continues. This was, we learn, an era when professional grocery skills reached a peak. Less happily, the interwar period also brought great hardship to many and meant shopkeepers had to keep an eye on who’d bought what on “tick”.

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Royal History’s Biggest Fibs With Lucy Worsley

BBC Four

Tuesday 3 March, 9pm

In the wake of The Favourite, many now see the reign of Queen Anne through a Hollywood lens. How much of this portrayal, which rests on a scandalous kiss-and-tell account written by Anne’s lady in waiting, Sarah Churchill, should we believe? Lucy Worsley investigates. 

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A Very British History

BBC Four

Wednesday 4 March, 9pm 

Rachel Nguyen looks back to the 1970s and 1980s, an era when Vietnamese refugees, including her own parents, settled in the UK. It’s in part a tale of how the traumas suffered by the so-called “boat people” is still playing down through the years.

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Pick of the week

Villages By The Sea

BBC Two

Thursday 5 March, 7.30pm

Archaeologist Ben Robinson looks back to eras when Britain’s coastal villages, now mostly sleepy places, were on history’s front line. He begins on the steep streets of Clovelly on the North Devon coast, a village that took advantage of a Victorian-era tourist boom. Followed by Secrets Of The Museum (8pm).

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Warbird Workshop

Yesterday

Thursday 5 March, 9pm

This new series looks at the work of those who restore vintage military aircraft and, despite the planes’ venerable ages, keep them in the air. The subject of the first show in the series is a Spitfire that, following a crash landing, has seen far better days.

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Babylon Berlin

Sky Atlantic

Friday 6 March, 9pm & 10pm

The drama set in Weimar-era Germany returns for a third season. The story opens with chaotic scenes playing out in the wake of the 1929 stockmarket, crash before heading back in time to a few weeks previously and to a macabre death.

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