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Witness History


History as told by the people who were there.


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History as told by the people who were there.




The release of DOOM

In December 1993, the release of a new video game captivated gamers around the world. It was called DOOM. Set on a Martian military base overrun by zombified soldiers and demons, DOOM saw players take control of a nameless soldier called ‘The DOOM guy’ as he fights the demonic enemies to stop them taking over Earth. The game was released at a time when violence in video games was big news and a topic of discussion in the United States Senate. Kurt Brookes speaks to John Romero, one of the game’s developers, and remembers the release of what went on to become one of the most influential games ever. A Made in Manchester production for BBC World Service. (Photo: John Romero. Credit: Made in Manchester)


‘The disappeared’ of Argentina

Between 1976 and 1983 in Argentina, the military ruled the country. Thousands of mainly young, left-wing Argentinians went missing. Known as 'the disappeared', they were taken to detention centres, such as Escuela Superior de Mecanica de la Armada, known as ESMA in the capital, Buenos Aires. Around 5,000 prisoners passed through its gates. Most were killed. As well as the murders and torture, hundreds of babies were taken from pregnant prisoners and given away to military personnel and families who supported the government. In December 1983 the Argentinian president Raul Alfonsin signed a decree putting the military junta responsible on trial. In 2010, Candice Piete spoke to one of the survivors, Miriam Lewin. (Photo: ESMA. Credit: Reuters)


A Greek coup: The day the colonels took power

On 21 April 1967, a group of right-wing army officers seized power in Greece to prevent the election of a social democratic government led by veteran politician George Papandreou. The dictatorship, backed by the United States, lasted for seven years. Thousands of people were imprisoned, exiled and tortured. The grandson of that politician, also called George, was 14 at the time. He went on to be elected as Greece’s prime minister in 2009. In February 2012, George Papandreou Junior spoke to Maria Margaronis about the night when tanks rolled through Athens and soldiers came to arrest his father. Archive audio is used by permission of ERT, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation. Archival audio used by permission of ERT, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation. (Photo: The younger George Papandreou in 2011. Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images)


La Haine: The film that shocked France

In 1993, film director Mathieu Kassovitz started work on what would become a cult cinema classic, La Haine. La Haine would follow three friends from a poor immigrant neighbourhood in the Paris suburbs 24 hours after a riot. The film was released in 1995 to huge critical acclaim and Mathieu won best director at the Cannes Film Festival. It was heavily critical of policing in France and it caught the attention of high profile politicians in the country, including then Prime Minister, Alain Juppé. Thirty years on, Mathieu has been sharing his memories of that time with Matt Pintus. (Photo: Vincent Cassel "Vinz" in La Haine. Credit: Studio Canal+)


World's first solar-heated home

In December 1948, a family of Hungarian refugees moved into the world's first home to be heated entirely by solar power. What made the Dover Sun House, in Massachusetts, United States, even more special was that it had been created by three women at a time when men dominated the fields of science and engineering. Heiress Amelia Peabody funded it, architect Eleanor Raymond designed it and biophysicist Maria Telkes created the heating system. Andrew Nemethy, who grew up in the house, tells Vicky Farncombe how it felt to live in an "elongated cheese wedge". This programme has been updated since its original broadcast. It was edited on 6 December. (Photo: The Dover Sun House. Credit: Getty Images)


Tanzania adopts Swahili to unite the country

After Tanzania, then called Tanganyika, became independent from Britain in 1961, the country's leader, Julius Nyerere, made Swahili the national language to unite its people. Walter Bgoya tells Ben Henderson about his conversations with Nyerere and how the policy changed Tanzania. (Photo: Julius Nyerere. Credit: Keystone via Getty Images)


The bird that defied extinction

In 1969, a Peruvian farmer called Gustavo Del Solar received an unusual assignment - finding a bird called the white-winged guan that had been regarded as extinct for a century. After years of searching, he found the bird deep in Peru’s wilderness in 1977. He then made it his life’s mission to save the species, setting up a zoo in his family home. Thanks to Gustavo's discovery, the Peruvian government protected the white-winged guan and its population continued to grow. His son, Rafael Del Solar, tells Ben Henderson about his dad's love for the 'chicken-sized' birds. (Photo: Gustavo Del Solar with a white-winged guan. Credit: Rafael Del Solar/El Comercio)


Cabbage Patch Kids

In 1983, all hell broke loose when a new toy hit stores in the United States. Cabbage Patch Kids were so popular that people were getting injured when they tried to buy them. But Martha Nelson Thomas, whose original design she said inspired the dolls, received little credit. She watched on as sales of the toys generated hundreds of millions of dollars. Martha’s close friend, Meredith Ludwig, told Madeleine Drury the story of how the strange-looking dolls became such a sensation. (Photo: Martha Nelson Thomas with her doll babies. Credit: Guy Mendes)


The Mumbai attacks

On 26 November 2008, 10 gunmen from the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba carried out coordinated attacks on Mumbai's busiest hotspots including the Taj and Oberoi hotels, a train station, hospital, and Jewish community centre. One hundred and sixty-six people were murdered in the attacks, which lasted for three days. The city was locked down as police searched for the gunmen. Only one, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was captured alive by police. He was sentenced to death and executed in 2012. Dan Hardoon speaks to Devika Rotawan and Arun Jadhav, who came face to face with the militants. (Photo: Buildings under attack. Credit:Getty Images)


The Paris heatwave

In August 2003 Europe was hit by the hottest heatwave for hundreds of years. Tens of thousands of people died. Not built to withstand two weeks of extreme heat, Paris turned into a death trap for its most vulnerable citizens. The temperature reached 40C. Many elderly people died in their apartments alone. The government was criticised for its handling of the crisis. The head of the national health authority resigned shortly after the end of the heatwave. Emergency doctor, Patrick Pelloux, who was working at St Antoine Hospital in Paris, tells George Crafer what he encountered. (Photo: Paris looking hot. Credit: Getty Images)


Kennedy’s nail-biter election victory

On 22 November 1963, United States President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Lucy Williamson looks back to 8 November 1960, when Richard Nixon and JFK went toe to toe at the polls in a battle to become the next president. The narrow success made Kennedy the youngest man ever elected to the role. Close aide and speechwriter Ted Sorensen was with the politician on the night of the election. This programme was first broadcast in 2010. (Photo: US President-elect John F Kennedy shortly after his election in 1960. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)


The invention of bubble tea

In 1987, a tea shop in Taiwan named Chun Shui Tang began selling pearl milk tea, or bubble tea, as it’s often called. It would revolutionise the tea-drinking world. Ben Henderson speaks to Liu Han-Chieh, the shop owner, and Lin Xiuhu, who first added the drink’s signature tapioca balls. (Photo: Bubble tea. Credit: Chun Shui Tang)


The independence of Zambia

In 1964, Zambia became a republic. It was the ninth African state to leave British colonial rule. Simon Kapwepwe was one of the leaders in the fight for independence, along with his childhood friend Kenneth Kaunda, who became President in 1964. Simon’s daughter, Mulenga Kapwepwe, speaks to Laura Jones about her father’s role in naming the country and her memories of that time. (Photo: Sign welcoming people to Zambia in 1965. Credit: Lambert/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Discovering the ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion

In 2000, the pioneering underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio made one of the greatest ever submerged discoveries. He found evidence that the remains he had found off the coast of Egypt were from Thonis-Heracleion, an ancient Egyptian port lost without trace. Before the foundation of Alexandria, it had flourished at the mouth of the Nile between the 6th to 2nd centuries BC, a city twice the size of Pompeii. He tells Josephine McDermott about the incredible artefacts he has found including the moment he realised he was at the foot of a five-metre tall statue of a pharaoh. (Photo: The pharaoh statue discovered off the coast of Egypt. Credit: Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)


The Bolivian Water War

The Bolivian Water War was a series of protests that took place in the city of Cochabamba in 2000 against the privatisation of water. People objected to the increase in water rates and idea that the government was “leasing the rain”. In April 2000, President Hugo Banzer declared a "state of siege" meaning curfews were imposed and protest leaders could be arrested without warrant. During a violent clash between demonstrators and the military, teenager Victor Hugo was shot dead by an army captain. Union official Oscar Olivera tells Vicky Farncombe how Hugo’s death motivated the protesters and brought about an end to the privatisation. (Photo: Demonstrators wave the Bolivian flag as they participate in a strike against water utility rate increases. Credit: Reuters)


Rosalind Franklin: DNA pioneer

In 1951, Rosalind Franklin began one of the key scientific investigations of the century. The young British scientist produced an X-ray photograph that helped show the structure of DNA, the molecule that holds the genetic code that underpins all life. The discovery was integral to the transformation of modern medicine and has been described as one of the greatest scientific achievements ever. Farhana Haider spoke to Rosalind's younger sister, Jenifer Glynn, in 2017. (Photo: Dr Rosalind Franklin. Credit: Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)


Eyjafjallajökull: The volcano that stopped a continent

In 2010, a previously little-known Icelandic volcano erupted twice, sending a huge plume of volcanic ash all over Europe. The ash cloud grounded flights for days, causing disruption for millions of passengers. Reena Stanton-Sharma talks to Icelandic geophysicist and Eyjafjallajökull-watcher, Sigrun Hreinsdottir. This programme was first broadcast in 2022. (Photo: The awesome power of Eyjafjallajökull. Credit: Getty Images)


The invention of the EpiPen

In the 1970s, engineer Sheldon Kaplan and his colleagues were tasked with creating an auto-injector pen to be used by US soldiers needing a nerve agent antidote. The Pentagon called it the ComboPen but, in 1987, it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the EpiPen, for patients with allergies. The device is carried by millions of people all over the world as it can quickly and easily deliver a shot of adrenaline to anyone at risk of death from anaphylactic shock. Sheldon Kaplan died in 2009 and was inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2016. Sheldon’s son Michael Kaplan and colleague Michael Mesa tell Vicky Farncombe the story behind the pen.


The hippo and the tortoise

Following the devastating tsunami of 2004, a baby hippo named Owen was rescued from the sea off the coast of Kenya. He was taken to Haller Park in Mombasa, home of a 130-year-old giant tortoise called Mzee. Owen and Mzee formed an unusual friendship and their story gained worldwide fame. Dr Paula Kahumbu tells their story to Gill Kearsley. (Photo: Owen and Mzee. Credit: Peter Greste/AFP/Getty Images)


Destruction of Mostar Bridge

On 9 November 1993, one of Bosnia's most famous landmarks, the historic bridge in Mostar, was destroyed by Croat guns during the Bosnian war. Built by the Ottomans in the 16th Century, the bridge was a symbol of Bosnia's multicultural past. In 2014, Louise Hidalgo spoke to Eldin Palata, who filmed the destruction of the bridge, and Mirsad Behram, a local journalist. (Photo: A temporary bridge where Mostar's historic bridge previously stood. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison via Getty Images)