Witness History

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History as told by the people who were there.

BBC World Service


    • Aug 10, 2022 LATEST EPISODE
    • weekdays NEW EPISODES
    • 9m AVG DURATION
    • 855 EPISODES

    Listeners of Witness History that love the show mention: give or take, i'm constantly, snippets, diverse topics, historical events, bite sized, 2017, history, bed, enlightening, happened, thoroughly, moving, voices, covers, told, stories, short, future, sound.



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    Latest episodes from Witness History

    Indonesia's forest fires

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 10, 2022 10:31

    Twenty five years ago in Indonesia, some of the worst forest fires in history devastated the environment and resulted in a smog which engulfed South East Asia for months. The fires, which were set deliberately, burned out of control for months. Mesdiono Matali Samad, known as Memes, worked on the Indonesian Red Cross relief effort helping people in East Kalimantan, Borneo. He's been speaking to Laura Jones.

    Sweden's pronoun battle

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 9, 2022 9:00

    Sweden has a long history of championing LGBTQ+ rights. But campaigners spent years battling to get the gender-neutral personal pronoun ‘hen' included in Swedish dictionaries. The word was finally added in 2015. Maddy Savage spoke to Nasim Aghili from the "queer" art collective Ful, which rallied to get the word recognised. This is a Bespoken Media production for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Nasim Aghili. Credit: Thomas Straub)

    The resignation of President Nixon

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 8, 2022 8:56

    On 8 August 1974 Richard Nixon became the first US president in history to resign from office, following the Watergate scandal. In 2014, Farhana Haider spoke to journalist Tom DeFrank, who watched the drama unfold minute by minute. (Photo: Nixon announces his resignation on national television. Credit: Getty Images)

    The return of Asians to Uganda

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 5, 2022 8:57

    When President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986, he encouraged exiled Asians to return to Uganda and reclaim their homes and businesses to help rebuild the country. The economy had collapsed under the dictator Idi Amin after he expelled the Asian population in 1972. Dr Mumtaz Kassam went back to Uganda years after arriving in the UK as a refugee. She talks to Reena Stanton-Sharma about returning to her birthplace. Caption: Dr. Mumtaz Kassam receiving a Golden Jubilee Presidential medal at the 56th independence celebrations. Credit: Dr Mumtaz Kassam

    The city shaped by Ugandan Asians

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 4, 2022 10:45

    Thousands of Asians who were expelled from Uganda in 1972, settled in the UK and many made Leicester their home. Their arrival in the East Midlands helped to shape its identity and now Leicester plays host to the largest Diwali celebrations outside of India. Nisha Popat was nine-years-old when she arrived in the city with her family who later opened up a restaurant in the area that became known as the Golden Mile. Reena Stanton-Sharma spoke to her about moving there in the 70s as a child. This programme contains descriptions of racial discrimination. Caption: Nisha Popat at the Bobby's deli counter Credit: Nisha Popat

    The exodus of Asians from Uganda

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 3, 2022 9:11

    In 1972, the dictator Idi Amin announced that all Asians had just 90 days to leave Uganda. Teacher Nurdin Dawood, who had a young family, didn't at first believe that Amin was serious. But soon he was desperately searching for a new country to call home. Farhana Dawood spoke to her father Nurdin Dawood in 2011. This programme contains descriptions of racial discrimination. Caption: President of Uganda Idi Amin. Credit: Keystone/Getty Images

    When Asians were forced to leave Kenya

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 2, 2022 10:46

    Many South Asians migrated to Kenya in the early 20th century. They lived in a society divided by race and experienced discrimination from the white rulers, and after Independence, from black Kenyans too. Saleem Sheikh's parents fled South Asia for Kenya to escape the violence of partition. His family joined a thriving Asian community there. But, they were forced to leave in 1967 after a rise in violence against the Asian population. This programme contains descriptions of racial discrimination. (Photograph of Saleem Sheikh (bottom right) with his brothers and sisters in Nairobi, Kenya in the 1960s)

    Why Asians came to Uganda

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 1, 2022 10:47

    In the early 20th century, South Asians migrated to Uganda in search of a better life. Jamie Govani's grandparents married in Gujarat, India, in the 1920s. They were excited by the economic prospects in Uganda so they moved there with their young family. Jamie told Ben Henderson how it was a wonderful place to grow up, but racial segregation lingered in the background, and things began to change after Ugandan independence in 1962. (Picture of Jamie Govani's family in Uganda in the 1950s)

    The Leaflet Bomber

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 1, 2022 9:03

    In 1971, young communist Bob Newland left the UK and headed to South Africa to take part in a secret mission to support the African National Congress. Known as one of the London Recruits, he took gunpowder from the UK to make bombs that would scatter leaflets on the streets containing information that a post Apartheid South Africa was possible. Bob has been speaking to Alex Collins.

    The Tangshan Earthquake

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 28, 2022 9:58

    On 28 July 1976, one of the deadliest earthquakes in modern history hit the city of Tangshan in north-eastern China - killing hundreds of thousands of people. Lucy Burns spoke to eye-witness Yu Suyun in 2016. (Photo: A building in Tangshan after the earthquake. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

    Inventing nicotine patches

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 27, 2022 9:01

    By the 1990s, nicotine patches became commercially available all over the world but their origins go back to the early 1980s, when Dr Daniel Rose suggested to his brother Professor Jed Rose, to look into creating a nicotine patch. The idea turned into an invention with the help of Murray Jarvik. Professor Rose tells his story to Ashley Byrne. A Made in Manchester production for BBC World Service. (Photo: image of a nicotine patch on a man's chest. Credit: Getty Images)

    The Surkov leaks

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 26, 2022 8:57

    In 2016, Ukrainian hackers leaked thousands of emails belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin's right hand man, Vladislav Surkov. They provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Kremlin and fresh insight into the invasion in Ukraine. Rachel Naylor speaks to Alya Shandra, the journalist who read them all. (Photo: Vladislav Surkov in 2008. Credit: DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images)

    Ukraine's Revolution on Granite

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 25, 2022 10:03

    In 1990, Ukrainian students went on a hunger strike that helped bring down the Soviet regime there. It took place in Kyiv's central square and inspired later protests against Russian influence in Ukraine: the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Maidan Revolution. The granite floor of the square provided its name: the ‘Revolution on Granite'. Ben Henderson spoke to Oksana Zabuzhko, an award-winning Ukrainian author, who participated in the protest when she was a recent university graduate. (Photo: Oksana Zabuzhko wearing a red jumper at the Revolution on Granite in 1990)

    Nigerian sitcom Papa Ajasco

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 22, 2022 10:09

    In 1996, sitcom Papa Ajasco first hit Nigerian TV screens. Following the ups and downs of the Ajasco family – it quickly became one of the most successful TV shows in Nigerian history. Alex Collins speaks to its creator Wale Adenuga ( photo - The cast of Papa Ajasco - credit Wale Adenuga.)

    The Soviet James Bond

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 21, 2022 9:49

    The most successful TV spy series ever to be broadcast in the USSR, went on air in 1973. The central character was a Soviet secret agent in Nazi Germany, Max Otto von Stierlitz. In 2017, Dina Newman spoke to actor Eleonora Shashkova who played Stierlitz's wife. (Photo: the script-writer Julian Semenov (l) and actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov, who played Stierlitz (r), on set in Moscow in 1972. Credit: courtesy of Julian Semenov Foundation.)

    Who shot JR?

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 20, 2022 9:37

    Dallas was already a hit American TV series in 1980. But when its leading man, JR, was shot, the reaction worldwide was extraordinary. Claire Bowes spoke to Larry Hagman, who played JR, in 2010. (Picture: Larry Hagman leaning out of a car window. Credit: Getty Images)

    Madhur Jaffrey's ‘Indian Cookery'

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 19, 2022 10:30

    A ground-breaking Indian cookery programme broadcast on the BBC, launched 40 years ago. It was presented by actor turned food writer, Madhur Jaffrey. She's been speaking to Farhana Haider about the programme. (Photo: Madhur Jaffrey in front of a table of food. Credit: BBC)

    The school for telenovela stars

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 18, 2022 10:48

    In 1987, broadcaster Televisa set up a drama school in Mexico City to train actors for its hugely popular telenovelas, Mexican soap operas. The Centro de Educación Artística became one of the most successful drama schools in Latin America. Rachel Naylor speaks to the founder and director, Eugenio Cobo, and one of its first students, Alexis Ayala. (Image: Eugenio Cobo. Credit: Televisa)

    Fighting for the pill in Japan

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 15, 2022 9:59

    The contraceptive pill first was approved for use in the US in 1960. But it wasn't until 1999, that women in Japan were allowed to take oral contraceptives. In 2020, Rebecca Kesby spoke to politician Yoriko Madoka, who fought for the right for Japanese women to take the pill. (Photo: A collection of contraceptive pills. Credit: Getty Images)

    The man who invented the Pill

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 14, 2022 9:59

    In 1951, in a lab in Mexico City, Austrian chemist Dr Carl Djerassi created a synthetic hormone from wild yams. It would go on to become the Pill's active ingredient. Rachel Naylor brings together archive interviews with Dr Djerassi. PHOTO: Carl Djerassi in 1992 (BBC Copyright)

    When Tunisia led on women's rights

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 13, 2022 9:47

    In 1956, Tunisia became the first country in the Muslim world to legalise civil divorce and abortion. President Bourguiba also gave women the vote and widened access to education. In 2019, Nidale Abou Mrad spoke to Saida El Gueyed, a founding member of the Tunisian Women's Union. (Image shows Tunisian Women's Union speaking at an event. Credit: Courtesy of Saida El Gueyed)

    Poland's strict abortion law

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 12, 2022 10:04

    In 1993 Poland introduced some of the most stringent abortion laws in Europe. It followed the fall of Communism in 1989. Ewa Kowaleska was among those who campaigned for the new law, she's been speaking to Laura Jones. (Image: Ewa Kowaleska speaking at an event. Credit: Ewa Kowaleska)

    How abortion was legalised in Great Britain

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 11, 2022 10:19

    In the 1960s, a young mother, Diane Munday became well-known in Britain for her work demanding abortion rights for women. She and others in the campaign faced fierce opposition, but in 1967 abortion was legalised in England, Scotland and Wales under certain circumstances. Diane has been speaking to Laura Jones. (Image: Diane Munday at her desk in the 1960s. Credit: Diane Munday)

    The US's first gay election candidate

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 8, 2022 10:10

    In 1961 the first openly gay person ran for public office in the United States. He was called Jose Sarria and he was a drag queen. He was determined that gay people would no longer be second-class citizens and paved the way for future openly gay candidates, such as Harvey Milk. Josephine McDermott speaks to Jose's friend and fellow drag performer Mike Michelle. (Photo: Jose Sarria in drag. Credit: The Jose Sarria Foundation) Credits: Jose Sarria archive material from the documentary, Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria by kind permission of its director Joseph Castel. Black Cat monologue recorded by Ball Records.

    How the smear test was invented

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 7, 2022 10:14

    In 1928 Dr George Papanicoloau, a Greek immigrant living in New York, discovered he could detect pre-cancerous cell changes in the cervix. This led to the development of the smear test which has meant millions of women worldwide have not had to face cancer. Dr Papanicoloau's great niece Olga Stamatiou speaks to Laura Jones. (Image shows Dr Papanicoloau examining a slide in a laboratory. Credit: Getty Images)

    Escaping Nigeria's Civil War

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 6, 2022 8:59

    The south-east region of Nigeria declared itself to be the independent state of Biafra. In response, Nigerian forces invaded the state on 6 July 1967, beginning the Nigerian civil war. More than a million people died before the fighting stopped. We bring you one child's story of getting caught up in the frontline. In 2021 Paul Waters spoke to Patricia Ngozi Ebigwe, now better known as TV and music star Patti Boulaye, who was 13 years old when she had to try to escape the conflict. (Photo: The 13-year-old Patricia Ngozi Ebigwe, courtesy of Patti Boulaye)

    Japanese university student riots

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 5, 2022 8:59

    In 1968 and early 1969 university students across Japan fought pitched battles with riot police after they barricaded themselves into their lecture halls and went on strike. They were protesting about the poor quality of their education and the inequalities of Japanese society in a period of rapid economic change. Emily Finch talks to Kazuki Kumamoto who was a young student who joined the protests. This is a Whistledown production for BBC World Service. (Photo of a policeman looking at Tokyo University Building. Credit: Getty Images)

    The Higgs Boson: A scientific discovery that explains how the universe works

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 4, 2022 10:14

    It is 10 years since scientists in Geneva said they believed they had found the Higgs boson - known by some as the God particle. In July 2012 after more than 40 years of searching, two teams on different experiments at the Large Hadron Collider confirmed the existence of the particle which gives everything mass. Dr André David from CERN speaks to Laura Jones. (Image: Artistic view of the Brout-Englert-Higgs Field. Credit: CERN)

    Hong Kong – abandoned children

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 30, 2022 8:59

    In the 1950s and 60s hundreds of thousands of Chinese people fled to the British colony of Hong Kong to escape famine. Conditions for the arrivals were so desperate that some families chose to abandon their children in the streets so they would be taken in by orphanages. Many were adopted in homes in Britain and other English-speaking countries. Laura FitzPatrick talks to one of the adopted children, now known as Debbie Cook. Photo: The young Debbie Cook (family archive).

    Hong Kong - Kowloon Walled City

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 30, 2022 9:05

    A unique way of life came to an end in Hong Kong in 1993 when Kowloon Walled City was demolished. When the rest of Hong Kong was a British colony, the seven acres of the Walled City were still nominally under the control of mainland China - but it became a lawless world of its own. At one point it was one of the most of the most densely populated places the world has ever seen. Lucy Burns speaks to Albert Ng, who grew up in Kowloon Walled City, and urban designer Suenn Ho, who studied it before its demolition. (Photo: Credit: Getty Images)

    Hong Kong: The 5-19 football riot in China

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 29, 2022 8:57

    In May 1985 Hong Kong inflicted an unexpected footballing defeat on their neighbours and rivals China in a World Cup qualifying game in Beijing. The disappointed Chinese fans rioted and the Hong Kong team had to flee to the safety of their hotel. They later returned home to a heroes welcome. Ashley Byrne talks to Hong Kong manager, Lawrence Kee Yu Kam. (Photo: Lawrence Kee Yu Kam with a photo of his team celebrating in their hotel in 1985. Credit: Private Collection of Lawrence Kee Yu Kam) A Made in Manchester production for BBC World Service

    Hong Kong – democracy campaigner

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 28, 2022 9:02

    In 1997 Hong Kong was handed back to China after more than 150 years of British rule. There were ceremonies and fireworks to celebrate the end of colonialism - but some residents were not happy. Emily Lau was a leading democracy campaigner at the time, she tells Mike Gallagher about that day. Image from Getty Images.

    Hong Kong – the handover

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 27, 2022 8:56

    In 1997 Hong Kong was a buzzing hub of capitalism surrounded by a communist state. It was also a colonial relic - still ruled largely from Britain. It was the job of former Governor General, Chris Patten, to hand it over to China. He tells Louise Hidalgo about it. Image from Getty Images.

    The UK's first official gay Pride March

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 24, 2022 8:58

    The UK's first official gay Pride march took place 50 years ago - 1st July 1972. Alex Collins talks to Ted Brown who took part in the London march. Photo - Bishopsgate Institute

    Egypt's first democratic presidential election

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 23, 2022 10:14

    In June 2012, Egypt held its first ever free democratic presidential election. Mohamed Morsi, representing the Muslim Brotherhood, emerged victorious. Ben Henderson spoke to Rabab El-Mahdi, Chief Strategist to one of Morsi's rival candidates. She described what it was like to be involved in the first election of its kind, how Morsi tried to recruit her, and the personal impact of political campaigning in such a polarised country. (Photo of Mohamed Morsi in 2012 by Ed Giles/Getty Images)

    The killing of Vincent Chin

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 22, 2022 12:25

    In June 1982 a young Chinese-American engineer was murdered with a baseball bat by two white men in the US city of Detroit. The lenient sentences the perpetrators received sparked an Asian-American civil rights movement with protests across the US. At the time, America was going through an economic depression and many were blaming Japan which was perceived to be flooding the US with its cars. For Asian-Americans it was a time of fear. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Helen Zia, one of the activists leading the fight for justice. This programme was first broadcast in 2017. Photo: Helen Zia addressing a 10th anniversary commemoration event New York City, 1992. Credit: Helen Zia.

    Robot Surgeon

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 21, 2022 9:03

    In 1985 the first robot-assisted medical surgery took place in Vancouver, Canada. It's now become a standard feature of operating theatres worldwide. The original gadget was named Arthrobot. A key member of the original project team Geof Auchinleck tells his story to Kurt Brookes. A Made in Manchester production. Photo: Arthrobot in action (Credit: Geof Auchinleck)

    India's surrogacy capital

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 20, 2022 10:13

    In 2003 Dr Nayana Patel, who ran her own fertility clinic in the state of Gujarat in India, carried out her first surrogacy procedure. It was a purely altruistic case and involved a surrogate mother and her own daughter. Dr Patel's clinic would go on to become one of the biggest in India attracting Western couples in a country where women were paid to become surrogates. It was legalised in 2002 but due to growing criticism, the government banned couples from the West from paying Indian surrogates to bear their children in 2015, arguing that the industry was exploiting poor women. Reena Stanton-Sharma spoke to Dr Nayana Patel.

    Cambodia war crimes

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 17, 2022 9:01

    In 2009, a UN-backed war crimes tribunal opened in Cambodia to try the senior Khmer Rouge commanders responsible for the genocide of an estimated two million people during Pol Pot's regime in the late 1970s. Josephine McDermott talks to New Zealander Rob Hamill, who testified against the notorious prison camp chief known as Comrade Duch. Rob Hamill's brother Kerry was killed by the Khmer Rouge after mistakenly sailing into Cambodian waters. (Photo: Kerry Hamill aboard his boat. Credit: Rob Hamill)

    James Joyce and Ulysses

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 16, 2022 8:58

    This year is the 100th anniversary of Ulysses by James Joyce, a landmark modernist novel and one of the most influential works of the 20th century. Ulysses is the story of one day in the life of a young Irishman in Dublin; that day, June the 16th, is now known as Bloomsday. To mark Bloomsday, Simon Watts brings together the memories of some of Joyce's friends, as recorded in the BBC archives. The programme was first broadcast in 2012. PHOTO: James Joyce in 1930 (Roger Viollet via Getty Images)

    New York's LGBT High School

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 15, 2022 9:09

    In 1985, a unique High School opened in New York to provide a safe environment for LGBT students needing specialised education. The publicly-funded Harvey Milk High School was founded by former social worker, Steve Askinazy. Initially, it faced some opposition from the media and Christian groups, but the school eventually expanded and currently takes about 60 students a year. Alex Collins talks to Steve Askinazy. PHOTO: A protest outside the Harvey Milk High School in 1985 (Getty Images)

    Vietnam's 'Napalm Girl'

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 14, 2022 10:21

    It's 50 years since Kim Phuc's village in Vietnam was bombed with napalm. The photograph of her, running burned and crying away from the attack, became one of the iconic images of the Vietnam War. Christopher Wain was one of the journalists who witnessed the attack, and who helped save her. This programme brings Kim Phuc and Christopher Wain together in conservation. It is a Made in Manchester production. Photo: Vietnamese-Canadian Phan Thi Kim Phuc delivers her speech before her June 8, 1972 Pulitzer-Prize-winning photograph during the Vietnam war, during a lecture meeting in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture on April 13, 2013. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.

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