The best family history TV and radio available right now

Professor Alice Roberts investigates the history of Manchester, Plymouth and more, plus catch up with The Repair Shop, The Crown and more in our roundup of the best family history TV and radio available now

Professor Alice Roberts on Britain's Most Historic Towns

TV show of the week

Britain’s Most Historic Towns
Channel 4 from Saturday 14 November, 8pm

It’s all too easy to overlook how deeply many of our towns and cities are steeped in history. Here Professor Alice Roberts returns with new episodes of the series where she explores our urban centres to uncover evidence of their development during key moments in British history, stories that illuminate our wider history.


This time around, there are two episodes where maritime history plays a central role. In Portsmouth, Alice focuses on the role of the Royal Navy in establishing the British Empire. In Plymouth, she looks for stories of Elizabethan England, much helped by aerial archaeologist Ben Robinson, who uses drones to show why Plymouth Harbour was an ideal base for mariners such as Sir Francis Drake and his second cousin, Sir John Hawkins, who both grew rich from piracy and the slave trade.

Look out too for episodes on the impact of steam power on Glasgow; Georgian Edinburgh; and Manchester’s urban working class during the Industrial Revolution.

More TV

Who Do You Think You Are?
W, nightly starting Tuesday 17 November

If there are any episodes of series 12 of Who Do You Think You Are? that you want to see again, head to the UKTV channel W. Here, you can watch shows first broadcast in 2015. Highlights include the episodes featuring actor Sir Derek Jacobi, who learns about Huguenot forebears forced to flee France, and TV presenter Anita Rani, whose research deals with the horrors of the Partition of India in 1947. Don’t forget, you can also catch up on Who Do You Think You Are? 2020, with Jodie Whittaker, David Walliams, Ruth Jones and Liz Carr, on BBC iPlayer.

The Repair Shop
BBC One from Wednesday 25 November, 8pm

The documentary series following a team of repair professionals has been moved to a primetime slot, providing some much-needed comfort viewing in troubled times and an antidote to today’s throwaway culture. There’s plenty of family stories in the latest episode, as they struggle to rescue treasured items including a wallet which saw service in the Second World War and a 100-year-old banana barrow.

The Fall of Anne Boleyn
Channel 5, weekdays starting Tuesday 23 November

How did Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and the mother of Elizabeth I, fall from favour and face execution for adultery? It’s a question explored here by Tracy Borman, joint chief curator for Historic Royal Palaces, in this new three-episode series. Tracy charts Anne’s arrest, trial and execution, events that were largely orchestrated by the king’s fixer Thomas Cromwell.

My Family, The Holocaust and Me
BBC iPlayer

Following his 2018 episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, barrister and TV presenter Robert Rinder returns to uncover the story of his family’s suffering during the Holocaust, and trace the shadow the genocide left on the families of other survivors.

Royal History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley
BBC Two from Friday 6 November, 9pm

As ever taking huge delight in poking a stock at what we think we know, Lucy Worsley returns with a new series of the show where she re-examines popular historical narratives. The first episode dealt with the French Revolution, while the subjects of upcoming episodes are the Georgian Regency era and the Russian Revolution.

Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson
BBC iPlayer

According to the latest research, more than 12 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic during the four centuries when Europeans brought slaves to the New World. In this new four-part documentary series for Black History Month, Hollywood A-lister Samuel L Jackson, writer Afua Hirsch and investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici visit locations across the world to discover the horrors of the slave trade and their lasting legacy.

Their journey takes them from Ghana, where many slaves were first sold, to Bristol and the site of the contentious – and subsequently toppled – statue of slave trader Edward Colston. The documentary series also features diving expeditions to wrecked slave ships.

The Crown
Netflix from Sunday 15 November

Edging ever closer to our own time, the fourth series of The Crown looks set to cover 1977–1990. These were years when Margaret Thatcher dominated British politics, with former X-Files star Gillian Anderson playing the Iron Lady. Expect some tense meetings between Elizabeth II, again played by Olivia Colman, and her prime minister. In addition, the series will feature Emma Corrin as Lady Diana Spencer, and of course her wedding to Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) in July 1981.

Long Lost Family: Born Without a Trace

This popular ITV series follows the true stories of people who were found abandoned as babies as they struggle to trace their biological family. Look out also for Long Lost Family: What Happened Next, revealing the next step in the stories of families who’ve previously appeared on the programme.

Radio and podcasts

The Wedding Detectives
BBC Radio 4, from Tuesday 20 October, 11am

In this new four-part series, wedding album collector Charlotte Sibtain and journalist Cole Moreton uncover the stories behind lost wedding photographs and try to reunite them with the family. This week, from just a pair of photographs Charlotte and Cole uncover a story involving Einstein, Marconi, the author Mary Wesley, infidelity and a trial for murder.


Time Travels
BBC Sounds

First broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland and now released weekly as a podcast, Time Travels highlights the kind of social history stories it might otherwise be difficult to track down. The third of eight episodes, for example, finds Dr Yvonne McFadden, along with presenter Susan Morrison’s mum Peggy, tracing the history of the kitchen – with a particular emphasis on Glaswegian kitchens in the 1950s. In the same episode, Dr Rebecca Mason reveals how single women were regularly banished from the city during the 17th century.