History TV and radio in the UK: what's on our screens in May 2022?
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
27 May – 3 June
The Documentary: The Royal Diplomat
BBC World Service
Saturday 28 May, 12.05pm
Among the many programmes devoted to Queen Elizabeth II this week, this may turn out to be one of the most intriguing. Presented by Emma Barnett, it focuses on Elizabeth’s role as an exemplar of soft power in countries as far apart as Ghana, Ireland and the United States.
Secrets Of The Queen’s Coronation
Saturday 28 May, 9pm
In which experts and some of those who were there offer a peak behind the scenes of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on 2 June 1953, an event that was seen as a moment of national renewal in the wake of the Second World War. Featuring rarely seen colour footage.
Sunday Feature: No Direction Home
BBC Radio 4
Sunday 29 May, 7.15pm
Bob Dylan stands on the banks of the Severn in 1965. It’s an image that was chosen for the poster of Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home documentary in 2005, but what’s the story behind it? New Generation Thinker Dafydd Mills Daniel heads for Aust, formerly the site of a regular ferry crossing between England and Wales.
Pick of the week
Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen
Sunday 29 May, 7.45pm
With narration by the monarch herself, this one-off documentary features footage from never-before-seen private home movies that cover the years from her childhood up until the coronation. Highlights include a visit Prince Philip made to Balmoral in 1946, a time when the couple’s engagement had yet to be made public.
Sunday 29 May, 9pm
The final episode of the series sees the relationship between Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) and Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) coming under huge pressure. Tensions boil over on a trip to London when Anne refuses to introduce Ann to her society friends.
Book Of The Week: Black Gold
BBC Radio 4
Monday 30 May, 9.45am
While it doesn’t skimp on tales of engineers and industrialists, Jeremy Paxman’s social history of coal mining in Britain, is primarily concerned with the miners themselves. Adrian Scarborough reads the first of five weekday excerpts from a book that extends in time from the Roman era to the late 20th century.
How To Steal A Trillion
BBC Radio 4
Monday 30 May, 1.45pm
How did Britain come to be so central to ‘offshore’ money laundering? It’s a story traced by writer OIliver Bullough, who begins with the way clever bankers found a loophole in the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, legislation intended to standardise international finances.
The Black Death: Lucy Worsley Investigates
Tuesday 31 May, 9pm
In the 1980s, development in Smithfield in the centre of London uncovered a mass grave dating back to the 14th century. These were the bones of plague victims and, as Lucy Worsley recounts, DNA extracted from the remains enabled scientists to identify the bacteria that caused the Black Death, yersinia pestis.
The Repair Shop
Wednesday 1 June, 8pm
Celebrating the Platinum Jubilee, Jay Blades and the experts get to work on items that have royal connections. These include a brass lantern that is usually in daily use at the Tower of London as part of the ceremony of the keys.
The Crown Jewels
Bank Holiday Friday 3 June, 7.30pm
Granted unprecedented access, Clive Myrie traces some of the stories behind the Crown Jewels. These are precious items that symbolise the royal family’s authority, and include the Koh-i-Noor, the most famous diamond in the world and a stone around which numerous stories swirl.
The single jewel in the Tower of London has seen the rise and fall of more empires, caused more bad luck and been more prized than any other precious stone on Earth. The Koh-i-noor is the most famous – and infamous – diamond in the world, but it’s only one of tens of thousands of jewels and numerous crowns that make up Britain’s most valuable treasure, the Crown Jewels. Now, to mark the Queen’s historic platinum jubilee, Clive Myrie explores the objects that symbolise her authority.
Collected over centuries by British kings and queens, these objects are now used on ceremonial occasions including the coronation, where they announce the arrival of every new monarch. With unprecedented access and the latest technology, Clive reveals the magnificent, astonishing, complicated thousand-year history buried within the Crown Jewels. These jewels – some of the most beautiful objects ever crafted – reveal the complicated story of our island over the last millennium.
21 –26 May
Saturday 21 May, 9pm & 10.10pm
A show previously available via Amazon Prime makes it free-to-air debut. Aidan Turner, in his first major post-Poldark role, stars as a young Leonardo da Vinci. He’s a figure we meet in prison, where he languishes after being charged with murdering his former nurse.
Sunday 22 May, 9pm
The penultimate episode of the period drama ’s second series finds Ann Walker determined to divide the family estate, a course of action that enrages Captain Sutherland. Also look out for Gentleman Jack Changed My Life (BBC One, Tuesday 24 May, 10.40pm), a documentary following women who reassessed their sexuality after seeing the show. Read more about the real Anne Lister.
Metamorphosis: How Insects Transformed Our World
Monday 23 May, 1.45pm
The series looking at how entomological pioneers have changed our understanding of the world returns. In the first of five weekday episodes, Erica McAlister of the Natural History Museum surveys the butterfly collection amassed by the Victorian lepidopterist, Margaret Fountaine.
Troy Deeney: Where’s My History
Monday 23 May, 10pm
Birmingham City striker Troy Deeney wants his four children to grow up with a greater awareness of the contributions made through history by BAME people, a subject he thinks should be mandatory in school. In a one-off documentary, he meets famous figures who support his campaign, such as boxer Anthony Joshua and actor David Harewood, and young activists.
Tuesday 24 May, 11.30am
In a new three-part series, Grammy-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens explores the history of African-American roots music, in great part a tale of pioneers whose work has been forgotten. She begins in North Carolina with the stories of two black fiddlers, her mentor, Joe Thompson (1918–2012), and Frank Johnson (c1790–1871).
The Amazing Life Of Olaudah Equiano
Tuesday 24th May, 4pm
A former enslaved person himself, Olaudah Equiano (c1745-97) became a key figure in the abolitionist movement. His influence was built in great part on his memoir, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), which detailed slavery’s horrors and was widely read at the time.
The Witch Hunts: Lucy Worsley Investigates – Pick of the week
Tuesday 24 May, 9pm
Lucy Worsley looks back at some of the most dramatic moments from British history. She begins 400 years in the past. Just why were thousands of people, mostly women, hunted down and tortured? It’s a story she tells by focusing on the life and death of Agnes Sampson, who was interrogated by King James VI of Scotland.
The Chernobyl Disaster: Meltdown
Tuesday 24 May, 9pm
Is there anything left to say about the meltdown at Chernobyl? On the evidence of this three-part series, narrated by Ben Fogle, it would seem there is. The first episode, for example, details evidence of a major radiation leak in 1983. The Chernobyl Disaster: Firestorm and The Chernobyl Disaster: Fallout follow over consecutive nights.
Who Do You Think You Are?
Thursday 26 May, 9pm
The genealogy show returns for a 19th series. The first celebrity to trace her family history this time around is the comedian and broadcaster Sue Perkins, who hears stories of her orphaned grandfather, of a great-grandfather who was interned during the First World War and of Second World War refugees.
Art That Made Us
Thursday 26 May, 9pm
The art history series concludes with stories of artists who emerged in the 1960s and later to create a richer and more diverse culture. Artworks under consideration range from Philip Larkin’s elegy for the countryside, Going, Going, to Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey. Plus what did Stormzy’s triumphant headlining show at Glastonbury mean for British identity?