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

Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty. Picture shows Laurie Manifold. (Image by Laurie Manifold/BBC Pictures)

This week: 10–16 April 2021

The Windsors: Inside The Royal Dynasty

Channel 4

Saturday 10 April, 8pm*

The story of our current royal family continues with an episode that traces the life and times of Prince Charles. Further back in time over on Channel 5, Edward VII: The Playboy Prince Who Changed Britain (9pm) argues that ‘Bertie’, Victoria’s eldest son, was for all his foibles a successful and even enlightened monarch.

*correct at time of publication, though royal documentaries may be postponed

Archive On 4: Gagarin And The Lost Moon

Radio 4

Saturday 10 April, 8pm

On 12 April 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to fly in space. Sixty years later, Dr Kevin Fong traces how this came about and considers how the Soviet Union lost its lead in the Cold War-era Space Race – much to the frustration of Gagarin himself.

Recall Of The Rock

Radio 4

Sunday 11 April, 4.30pm

It’s a century since Emily Kelly and fellow climbers founded the Pinnacle Club, an all-female mountaineering club. Marking the anniversary, poet Helen Mort listens to interviews with members recorded for the British Library Sound Archive. She responds by imagining an interview with a witness to the endeavours of these women – the rock itself.

Royals Declassified: Queen Elizabeth: Politics, Power And Prime Ministers

Channel 4

Sunday 11 April, 9pm*

Queen Elizabeth II has asked 14 different prime ministers to form a government during her reign. This documentary uses declassified documents and personal testimony to explore how the queen has dealt with men and women of very different personalities and political persuasions.

*correct at time of publication, though royal documentaries may be postponed

Mercovaldo 

Radio 4

Monday 12 April, 10.45am & 7.45pm

Mackenzie Crook, surely a man who will attain national treasure status when he has a few more grey hairs, stars as Mercovaldo, a country man forced to live a life of economic hardship in industrial and urban Italy. Based on a 1963 collection of short stories by Italo Calvino and deftly adapted by Crook’s Detectoristssidekick, Toby Jones.

Free Thinking

Radio 3

Tuesday 13 April, 10pm

The first of two new episodes of Free Thinking this week focuses on Octavia Butler (1947–2006), the American science fiction writer whose Kindred was a time-travel tale of slavery and female power. On Wednesday, Matthew Sweet and guests revisit Jacques Tati’s 1971 film Traffic, a prescient and comic exploration of the effects of mass car use.

Pick of the week

Bent Coppers: Crossing The Line Of Duty

BBC Two

Wednesday 14 April, 9pm

Philip Glenister of Life On Mars fame narrates a three-part series tracing the story of bad behaviour by policemen in London in the 1970s. The first episode focuses in great part on a Times investigation into the Met, which revealed a “firm in a firm” of corrupt coppers.

Open Country

Radio 4

Thursday 15 April, 3pm

Folk singer and song collector Sam Lee travels to four historically important sites: Stonehenge, Ironbridge, Hadrian’s Wall and Whitby, all places owned by English Heritage and where folk music is played. It’s a way to explore the idea that we can gain a deeper understanding of locales via the songs and stories associated with them.

Leonardo

Amazon Prime

Streaming from Friday 16 April

Aidan Turner stars as Leonardo da Vinci in an eight-part drama that charts the life and times of the genius polymath. In the first episode, we meet an older Leonardo in jail before jumping back in time to see him as a young apprentice.

Churchill: Path To Victory

Channel 5

Friday 16 April, 9pm

The series tracing Churchill’s life reaches years when the Second World War began to turn in the Allies’ favour. This ultimately put the PM in a difficult position as Britain found itself the junior partner because it could not muster the same level of resources as the Soviet Union and USA.

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Last week: 3–9 April 2021

The Windsors: Inside The Royal Dynasty

Channel 4

Saturday 3 April, 8pm 

The series tracing the story of the Windsors continues with the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Also this week on Channel 4, Queen Elizabeth And The Spy In The Palace (Easter Day, 9pm) asks whether Anthony Blunt, surveyor of the Queen’s pictures, passed damaging information about the royals to Moscow.

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 Pick of the week

The Reunion

Radio 4

Easter Day, 11am

The series that brings together those involved in a key moment in modern history returns. The first of five new episodes looks back at the car park discovery and subsequent reburial of the remains of Richard III, and features the reflections of archaeologists, scientists, the Dean of Leicester and one of the monarch’s descendants. Presented by Kirsty Wark.

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Eleanor Rising

Radio 4

Easter Monday, 10.45am & 7.45pm

 The historical drama charting the life of the young Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122–1204) returns. In the first of five weekday episodes, guilt over the massacre at Vitry-sur-Marne causes problems between Eleanor (Rose Basista) and her husband, King Louis (Joel McCormack). Written by Shaun McKenna.

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River Hunters

Sky History

Easter Monday, 9pm

Wild swimmer Rick Edwards and US river detectorist Beau Ouimette team up again for a second series of diving in search of archaeological evidence about the past. First up, the duo head for River Garry in the Highlands of Scotland on the hunt for evidence of one of Scotlands bloodiest eras, the Jacobite Rebellions.

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A Pyrotechnic History Of Humanity

Radio 4

Tuesday 6 April, 11am

Justin Rowlatt’s energy-focused look at humanity’s story continues with what he calls the original solar energy revolution, using the Sun’s rays to grow food. Some 10,000 years ago, we learn, farmers first began to till the soil, thus producing the surpluses needed to feed cities and civilisations.

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Irans Secret Art Collection

Radio 4

Tuesday 6 April, 11.30am

In a museum basement in Tehran can be found one of the most valuable collections of modern western art to be found outside the USA and Europe. Alastair Sooke tells how it came to be there, a story in which the Empress Farah Pahlavi, the Shah’s wife and an art collector, is central.

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The Michelangelo Code: Secrets Of The Sistine Chapel

Sky Arts

Tuesday 6 April, 9pm

Marking the 500th anniversary of work beginning on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Art critic Waldemar Januszczak tells the story of how Michelangelo created his masterpiece. Januszczak also offers new ideas about what the painting is really trying to tell us. 

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The Terror

BBC Two

Wednesday 7 April, 9pm

The psychological chiller set in the icy north concludes. Suffice to say things are grim for the explorers as they face a final confrontation with eldritch entities. Meanwhile, Edward Little tries to organise a rescue party. The full series is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.

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The Prime Minister At 300

Radio 4

Friday 9 April, 11am 

Sir Anthony Seldon continues his series charting the story of the office of prime minister. In the second of three episodes, he looks back at the Victorian era, when a small number of exceptional PMs shaped the job and thus helped to ensure its survival to the present day.

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Churchill: A Gathering Storm

Channel 5

Friday 9 April, 9pm

The series tracing the turbulent life and times of Winston Churchill focuses on years when he returned from the political wilderness. Churchill, the war leader who became a national hero, subsequently led Britain through some of the darkest days of the 20th century.

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