300 episodes

History as told by the people who were there.

Witness History BBC

    • History

History as told by the people who were there.

    The trial of South Africa’s 'Dr Death'

    The trial of South Africa’s 'Dr Death'

    The trial of a South African doctor accused of multiple murders under the Apartheid regime. Wouter Basson, nicknamed 'Dr Death' by the country’s media, was alleged to have run a secret chemical and biological weapons project in the 1980s to eliminate perceived enemies of the government. But after the country’s longest and most expensive trial and despite evidence from 150 witnesses, in 2002 a judge found him not guilty on all 46 charges. Bob Howard talks to Dr Marjorie Jobson, the national director of Khulumani, a group which campaigns for justice on behalf of the victims of apartheid.

    • 9 min
    The Jewish exodus from Iraq

    The Jewish exodus from Iraq

    In the summer of 1971 around 2,000 Iraqi Jews were forced to flee the country following persistent threats and persecution. The Jewish community in Iraq dated back to the Babylonian times, but by the mid 1950s numbered less than eight thousand. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to Edwin Shuker, who was just 16 years old when he and his family were smuggled over the mountains to safety in neighbouring Iran by members of Iraq’s Kurdish minority. Edwin and his family eventually settled in the UK.

    Photo: Edwin Shuker and his parents and grandmother at home in Baghdad before they left in 1971 (courtesy of Edwin Shuker)

    • 8 min
    Legalising contraception in Ireland

    Legalising contraception in Ireland

    Contraception wasn't easily accessible in Ireland until 1985. Activists spent years fighting for the right to control their fertility but faced opposition from the Roman Catholic church which traditionally played a central role in Irish society. Paul Moss has been hearing from Betty Purcell who was a teenager when she first started campaigning.

    Photo: a woman holding up a condom and some contraceptive pills. Credit: Getty Images.

    • 8 min
    Why a British MP was filmed taking mescaline

    Why a British MP was filmed taking mescaline

    # Warning: This programme contains scenes of drug use #

    In 1955, a British member of parliament, Christopher Mayhew, took the hallucinogenic drug mescaline and had his experience filmed by the BBC. The drug was legal at the time and the experiment was supervised by the pyschiatrist Dr Humphry Osmond. The film was part of a wider public debate about psychedelic drugs following the publication of The Doors of Perception by the writer Aldous Huxley. But the film of the experiment was never broadcast and years later mescaline was put on the banned list of drugs in the UK because of fears of its potential impact on mental health..
    Photo: Christopher Mayhew (right) preparing to start the experiment, watched by Dr Humphry Osmond (left), December 1955. (BBC)

    • 11 min
    The Great Wine Fraud

    The Great Wine Fraud

    In the early 2000s, Rudy Kurniawan was a newcomer to the hedonistic world of wine auctions in the US. He quickly became well-known for his warm and friendly manner and his profligate spending on wines. But where was all his money coming from?

    Josephine Casserly tells the story of one of the most high profile cases of wine fraud and speaks to Laurent Ponsot, French winemaker, turned Sherlock Holmes.


    (Corks, foil capsules and wine labels used as evidence in the trial. Photo: Stan Honda/Getty Images)

    • 9 min
    Ursula Le Guin

    Ursula Le Guin

    The American writer, Ursula Le Guin, was one of the most influential authors of the second half of the 20th century, publishing 20 novels in genres from science fiction to young adult. Le Guin pioneered feminist science fiction with The Left Hand of Darkness and created the enduringly popular Earthsea series of fantasy novels. She died in 2018. Simon Watts introduces the memories of Ursula Le Guin, as recorded in the BBC archives.

    PHOTO: Ursula Le Guin in the 1980s (BBC/Marion Wood Kolisch)

    • 9 min

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