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Witness

BBC

The story of our times told by the people who were there. We take listeners back in time to key events in history - featuring a witness to the event, archive material and hear from historians.

The story of our times told by the people who were there. We take listeners back in time to key events in history - featuring a witness to the event, archive material and hear from historians.

Location:

United Kingdom

Networks:

BBC

Description:

The story of our times told by the people who were there. We take listeners back in time to key events in history - featuring a witness to the event, archive material and hear from historians.

Language:

English

Contact:

BBC World Service Bush House Strand London WC2B 4PH


Episodes

Saddam Hussein's 'Supergun'

2/20/2020
An insider's account of Project Babylon, the plan to build the largest gun in the world for Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The "Supergun" was the brainchild of Canadian artillery maverick, Dr Gerald Bull. He'd long wanted to build a gun capable of launching satellites into space. In the 1980s Saddam Hussein agreed to fund this plan. But was it a science project or a weapon? In 1990, the "Supergun" hit the headlines and it became an international scandal. Alex Last spoke to Chris Cowley an engineer...

Duration:00:15:05

Fighting oil pollution with art in Nigeria

2/19/2020
"Battle Bus" was a sculpture made by Sokari Douglas Camp in memory of Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other activists who were controversially executed in 1995. The sculpture was seized and impounded by Nigerian port authorities in 2015 when the art work was shipped to Nigeria. Sokari Douglas Camp talks to Rebecca Kesby about growing up in the Niger Delta and how it's shaped her art work. PHOTO: "Battle Bus" by Sokari Douglas Camp on show in London in 2015 (Sam Roberts...

Duration:00:10:55

How meditation changes your brain

2/18/2020
In 2002, scientists in the US began performing a landmark series of experiments on Buddhist monks from around the world. The studies showed that the brains of experienced meditators alter, allowing them to focus better and manage their emotions. Alejandra Martins talks to Professor Richard Davidson of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. PHOTO: A monk taking part in the experiment (Center for Healthy Minds).

Duration:00:13:17

The Pale Blue Dot

2/17/2020
In February 1990, the Nasa space probe Voyager took a famous photo of Earth as it left the Solar System. Seen from six billion kilometres away, our planet appears as a mere dot lit up by the Sun, and the image is credited with giving humanity a sense of our small place in the Universe. Darryll Morris speaks to Nasa planetary scientist, Candice Hansen, who worked on the Voyager programme. The programme is a Made-In-Manchester Production. Photo: The Earth seen as a pale blue dot in a band of...

Duration:00:09:03

The Rules: A dating handbook

2/14/2020
On Valentine's Day 1995, authors Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein published a dating handbook called The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr Right. The book advised women that if they wanted to find a husband they should not approach a man first or pay for themselves on dates. Criticised in some quarters as anti-feminist, it soon became a bestseller, with celebrity fans from Beyonce to Meghan Markle. Lucy Burns speaks to Sherrie Schneider about creating a cultural...

Duration:00:09:53

The best-seller Fear of Flying

2/13/2020
The groundbreaking novel about female sexuality, called Fear of Flying, was first published in 1973. Dina Newman has been speaking to its author, Erica Jong. Photo courtesy of Erica Jong

Duration:00:10:55

Diary of life in a favela

2/12/2020
A poor single mother of three, Carolina Maria de Jesus lived in a derelict shack and spent her days scavenging for food for her children, doing odd jobs and collecting paper and bottles. Her diary, written between 1955 and 1960, brought to life the harsh realities faced by thousands of poor Brazilians who arrived in cities like São Paulo and Rio looking for better opportunities. Her daughter, Vera Eunice de Jesus Lima, speaks to Thomas Pappon about how the book changed her family's life....

Duration:00:09:03

The man who first published Harry Potter

2/11/2020
In 1996, after many rejections, author JK Rowling at last finds a publisher for her first Harry Potter novel. Louise Hidalgo hears from editor, Barry Cunningham, who spotted the boy wizard's potential and helped create a phenomenon that would revolutionise childrens' book publishing, selling more than 450 million copies. Picture: author JK Rowling holds the sixth and penultimate Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Credit: AP) Audio recording © J.K. Rowling

Duration:00:10:01

Chairman Mao's Little Red Book

2/10/2020
In 1966, the collected thoughts of China's communist leader became an unexpected best-seller around the world. A compendium of pithy advice and political instructions from Mao Zedong, it was soon to be found on student bookshelves everywhere. (Photo: Front cover of Mao's Little Red Book)

Duration:00:08:58

The release of Nelson Mandela

2/7/2020
On 11th February 1990 anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela walked free after spending 27 years in a South African jail. It was a day that millions of black South Africans had been waiting for and marked the beginning of the end of white rule. Fellow activist Valli Moosa remembers that day, and the hasty preparations to make it possible and tells Louise Hidalgo how things almost didn't go to plan. Picture: Nelson Mandela raises his fist in salute as he walks out of Victor Verster prison near...

Duration:00:09:20

The Native American casino boom in the US

2/6/2020
In February 1987, a small Native American tribe from California won a landmark ruling at the US Supreme Court granting them the right to conduct gambling activities on their reservation. The campaign by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians led to the creation of a multi-billion-dollar gaming industry on Indian land across the United States. Simon Watts talks to former Cabazon Band president, Brenda Soulliere, and their lawyer, Glenn Feldman. PHOTO: An Indian-run casino in California (Getty...

Duration:00:11:07

Witnessing the birth of a new language

2/5/2020
In the early 1980s deaf children in Nicaragua invented a completely new sign language of their own. It was a remarkable achievement, which allowed experts a unique insight into how human communication develops. Mike Lanchin has been speaking to American linguist Judy Shepard-Kegl, who documented this process and says "our belief is that you are born with a language-ready brain". (Photo credit should read INTI OCON/AFP via Getty Images)

Duration:00:09:12

Cixi: China's most powerful woman

2/4/2020
The Empress Dowager Cixi ruled China for 47 years until her death in 1908. But it wasn't until the 1970s that her story began to be properly documented. She'd been vilified as a murderous tyrant, but was that really true or was she a victim of a misogynistic version of history? Prof Sue Fawn Chung was the first academic to go back to study the original documents, and found many surprises. She tells Rebecca Kesby the story of "the much maligned Empress Dowager". (Photo: Chinese Empress...

Duration:00:12:08

London's first black policeman

2/3/2020
Norwell Roberts joined the Metropolitan police in 1967. He was put forward as a symbol of progressive policing amid ongoing tensions between the police and ethnic minorities in the capital. But behind the scenes, he endured years of racist abuse from colleagues within the force. Norwell Roberts QPM spoke to Alex Last about growing up in Britain and his determination to be a pioneer in the police force. Photo: London's first black policeman PC Norwell Roberts beginning his training with...

Duration:00:14:36

The Treaty of Rome

1/31/2020
The treaty which established the European Economic Community was signed by six countries in 1957 - France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. It was hoped that European countries would never go to war again, if they were tied together by economic interests. The treaty formed the basis for what is now the European Union. Photo: European leaders at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome. Credit: Keystone/Getty Images

Duration:00:08:57

The first self-made female millionaire

1/30/2020
Madam C. J. Walker was the first ever self-made female millionaire. She was born to former slaves in the USA and was orphaned at seven but against all the odds she went on to create her own business selling black hair-care products. By the time of her death in 1919 she'd become a famous philanthropist and civil rights campaigner. Claire Bowes has been speaking to her great great granddaughter A'Lelia Bundles. Photo: Madam Walker Family Archives/A'Lelia Bundles

Duration:00:10:43

The ancient oak tree that taught the world a lesson

1/29/2020
The remarkable Turner's oak in Kew Gardens in London not only survived the Great Storm that ravaged the south of England in 1987, but also changed the way that trees are cared for around the world. Alejandra Martins has been speaking to Tony Kirkham, head of the Arboretum at Kew. (Photo: Turner's oak. Credit: Alejandra Martins)

Duration:00:11:08

Reforming India's rape laws

1/28/2020
In January 2013 the Indian government began to overhaul the country's laws on rape following the brutal gang rape and killing of a 23 year old physiotherapy student in Delhi. The public outcry across India forced the government to commission a legal review. Farhana Haider has been speaking to Gopal Subramanium, one of the three senior lawyers tasked with reforming the way India tackled violence against women. (Photo: Justice Leila Seth. Justice J Verma and Justice Gopal Subramanium and team...

Duration:00:12:13

The Way Ahead group: Modernising the Royal Family

1/27/2020
Prince Harry and Meghan’s announcement that they will step back from their royal duties is not the first time the British royal family has tried to reform itself from within. In 1992 Queen Elizabeth had what she called her “annus horribilis” . It was the year that her sons Prince Charles and Prince Andrew both separated from their wives, while her daughter Princess Anne got divorced - and it was also the year that Windsor Castle caught fire. The Way Ahead group was set up by senior members...

Duration:00:09:37

The frozen zoo

1/24/2020
In 1975, San Diego Zoo began placing tissue samples of rare animals in cryogenic storage for the benefit of future generations. Called the Frozen Zoo, the refrigeration system now contains the cells of more than 1000 species ranging from the white rhinoceros to the black-footed ferret. Scientists are now using the collection to try to save species threatened by extinction. Simon Watts talks to Dr Oliver Ryder, who has worked at the Frozen Zoo from the very beginning. PHOTO: Northern White...

Duration:00:09:05