Pick of the month
Murder, Mystery and My Family
BBC One from 27 July
No matter how much we all hope to find colourful stories as we research our family histories, discovering a tale of grisly murder is at best unsettling. But what if you come to believe that your relative was innocent?
Enter leading criminal barristers Sasha Wass QC and Jeremy Dein QC, who return to host a fourth series of the popular daytime show where they reinvestigate historical cases, probing whether convictions from the past are safe – or to our modern-day eyes seem to have been miscarriages of justice.
In the first of 10 new episodes, the duo trace events in Liverpool in May 1889, when cotton-broker James Maybrick died after a two-week battle with illness. When a postmortem revealed traces of arsenic, suspicion fell on his wife Florence.
In the terms by which Victorian society judged women, she was not a sympathetic figure. Despite a veneer of respectability, the couple were troubled by financial problems – and stories of infidelities swirled around both husband and wife.
On 7 August 1889, following a week-long trial in which much of the time was taken up by a lengthy summing-up from the judge, she was found guilty of murder.
However, as relation Dave Maybrick knows through a fascination with the case that began during his childhood, this is a story with further twists.
As ever, Wass and Dein look at the evidence in the case dispassionately prior to taking their findings to Judge David Radford, who ‘rules’ over whether the convictions featured in the series should be regarded as safe.
Long Lost Family
This moving series follows family members as they’re reunited after years of separation. Look out also for the spin-off programmes Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace and Long Lost Family: What Happened Next.
The Battle Of Britain: 3 Days That Saved The Nation
Eighty years ago the Royal Air Force fought heroically against the attacks of the Luftwaffe in a months-long campaign known as the Battle of Britain. In this recent documentary series, Dan Snow and Kate Humble explore the experiences of those involved in the conflict on three crucial dates – 15 August, “the day the battle started in earnest”, 30 August, “the most intense day of fighting”, and 15 September, “the most decisive day” – and interview some of their relations.
A House Through Time
There’s another chance to catch up with series 1 and 3 of the popular house history programme, in which historian David Olusoga traces the residents of historic houses in Liverpool and Bristol.
Back in Time for Tea
BBC iPlayer until 12 August
In this living history experiment, the Ellis family from Bradford recreate how working class families ate over the past 100 years – from the sparse provisions of 1918 to the bulging freezers of 1999.
Yesterday from 5 August
Histories of the world wars usually revolve around key battles and political events. Yet in so many respects mechanised wars are won far from the front line, by those countries that are best able to mobilise their factories.
Seen in this light, the Battle of Stalingrad, the subject of the first episode of this series, was fought in great part because the Baku oil fields in the Russian Caucasus were so important strategically.
The second episode looks at the story of Fiat during the era of Mussolini, when the car giant also built trains and planes. There will also be episodes on Hitler’s wish to create a ‘people’s car’, or Volkswagen, and US efforts to manufacture nuclear bombs.
Race To Victory: WWII Pacific
The Smithsonian Channel, 10 August
It’s 75 years since VJ Day on 15 August 1945, when our forebears celebrated the end of the Second World War following the surrender of Japan. This documentary looks at the final days of the war, when the Americans contemplated invading the main islands of Japan itself with a force of as many as two million men.
Private Lives of the Monarchs: King Henry VIII
The Smithsonian Channel, 17 August
The image of Henry VIII that’s passed down through the years is of a selfish and boorish man, and someone who reshaped a country simply because he wanted to change his wife. However, in this new series Tracy Borman, joint chief curator for Historic Royal Palaces, argues that this picture is far too simplistic.
Based on her 2018 book Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, the series considers the Tudor monarch through his most trusted friends and confidants. These range from scholars to soldiers and such advisers as Thomas Cromwell.
As well as showing us the kinds of lives our forebears may have lived if they were in the royal orbit, this approach allows for a more nuanced picture of Henry to emerge: a man of great intelligence who could be sensitive and reflective when the mood took him, and also a man famed in his younger years for his joie de vivre. Henry could be naive, suggests Borman, and, perhaps surprisingly considering his marital behaviour, prudish.
A Suitable Boy
BBC One from 26 July
For those who love dramas featuring sprawling families, this six-part adaptation of Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel should fit the bill, featuring as it does four different clans. Set in northern India in the early 1950s, the tale centres on university student Lata (Tanya Maniktala), who is coming of age at the same time as her country goes to the polls for its first democratic national election. Lata’s mother is determined her daughter should marry – so long as it’s to a “suitable boy” – but Lata finds herself torn between duty and her own dreams. Andrew Davies (War and Peace, Les Misérables) has adapted the novel, while the series is directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding).
Lemn Sissay: The Memory of Me
Poet Lemn Sissay was adopted as a baby and grew up as the only black child in a small northern town in the 1970s before being placed in the foster system. This episode of Imagine follows him as he travels to Ethiopia to discover the family roots he never knew.
BBC Radio 4
Recent episodes of this BBC World Series programme include a report on the rise of at-home DNA testing kits; a documentary on Tony May, who was abandoned as a baby in 1942 and wants to discover who his parents were; and the story of Denise Bergnon, a Second World War French nun who saved 82 Jewish children from the Nazis.
Archiving Black America
BBC Radio 4
How are the lives of African-Americans remembered in a society with a long and ugly history of racism? Writer Maya Millett speaks to the archivists who are working to ensure that their voices and stories are not forgotten.