Ancient Ways with Bettany Hughes
Friday 4 December, 11.00am
The historian journeys along the Egnatian Way, the ancient road that once linked the Roman world with Byzantium. In the first of three episodes, Hughes begins on Albania’s Adriatic shore before travelling across the Macedonian plain, where Alexander the Great was raised, towards Greece.
JFK: The Vinyl Reaction
Saturday 5 December, 10.30am
Paul Gambaccini explores the cultural legacy of the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963. Three albums in the US charts, we learn, contained recordings of JFK’s speeches, while a tribute song that was featured in the British satirical comedy That Was The Week That Was made the top 50 Stateside.
Archive on 4: Racial Equality Enshrined
Saturday 5 December, 8.00pm
Marking the 50th anniversary of Britain’s first Race Relations Act, Ritula Shah considers the role of legislation in combating racial discrimination. Contributors to the programme include Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who helped draw up a 1965 bill he describes as “pathetic” because of its limited scope.
Saturday 5 December, 10.00pm
How did the hamburger become a ubiquitous snack-cum-meal in the US? Here’s a documentary that looks back to the 1950s, when increasing car ownership was accompanied by the rise of drive-ins – establishments where it was vital to serve food fast.
British Liberalism: The Grand Tour
Monday 7 December, 1.45pm
Over 10 weekday episodes, Anne McElvoy traces the story of 300 years of liberalism in Britain. She begins with a dissident philosopher, John Locke (1632–1704). Subsequent shows this week look at Adam Smith, proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson, John Stuart Mill and the statesman John Bright, and William Gladstone.
Britain’s Outlaws: Pirates, Highwaymen, Pirates and Rogues
Monday 7 December, 9.00pm
Concluding an entertaining series, Sam Willis focuses on urban crime in the 18th century. Those the historian profiles include thief and jailbreak specialist Jack Sheppard, whose hanging attracted an audience of close to 250,000 spectators; and Mary Toft, who somehow convinced George I and his surgeon that she had given birth to rabbits.
Dr Sam Willis in an 18th century weaver’s house in Spitalfields. © BBC
Pick of the Week…
Blood and Gold: The Making of Spain with Simon Sebag Montefiore
Tuesday 8 December, 9.00pm
In a terrific new series, the historian embarks on a journey through 2,000 years of Spanish history. In the first of three episodes, Montefiore begins in an era when Iberia was a minor province of Carthage before, in a programme that certainly doesn’t lack for incident, spinning a tale that encompasses Hannibal, Christian martyrdom, the Visigoths and Islamic conquest.
Secrets of the Mona Lisa
Wednesday 9 December, 9.00pm
Details ahead of transmission here are enigmatic, but we’re promised a documentary in which art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon outlines the latest thinking about the Mona Lisa. Who was Leonardo da Vinci’s sitter? And just why did she smile so?
The Last Kingdom
Thursday 10 December, 9.00pm
The hugely entertaining drama based on Bernard Cornwell’s novels concludes with Alfred and his new best mate (sort of), Uhtred, preparing for a decisive battle with the invading Danes. Treachery and deception both play a part in what follows.
What a Performance! Pioneers of Popular Entertainment
Thursday 10 December, 9.00pm
Suzy Klein and Frank Skinner look back at the golden age of variety theatre, which ran from the start of the 20th century to the outbreak of the Second World War. As well as charting the careers of George Formby and Gracie Fields, the duo recreate the acts of Scottish comedian and singer Sir Harry Lauder, and male impersonator Vesta Tilley.