Sunday, October 29, 2006


Winwick is a district of Warrington, antiquarian Mark Olly's home town. No shopping centre, garden fete or fair is complete without our intrepid archaeologist and his historical re-enactment societies causing mayhem.

On a more peaceful sojourn for this programme, Mark returned to the locations which form the subjects of his books on the area.

Mark takes us to the discovery of a Stone Age circle, a 3,500 year old cemetery and two little known battles from different eras involving the Saxons and evidence of earthworks from another one which saw 1000 men killed mainly from the Royalist army retreating from Preston.

Civil War expert Dr Peter Gaunt explains what the mystery mound was used for.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

DECODING THE PAST: The Templar Code Part 1, The Crusade for Secrecy

For nearly two centuries, the Knights Templar were the most powerful order in the Medieval world, a fearsome and unstoppable Crusader militia. Then came accusations of unspeakable crimes.

Who were the Templars, really? How did they become so powerful, so fast, and why did they fall just as quickly?

Evidence hints that the Templars excavated under Jerusalem's Temple of Solomon. What did they find there? Was it, as The Da Vinci Code suggests, the true identity of the holy grail, the bloodline of Christ? Or an unimaginable treasure, documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, buried a thousand years before the birth of Christ?

This hour explores where the Templars came from, how they lived, trained, fought and became a Medieval world power, and the suspicious circumstances behind their sudden downfall.

Win a copy of ‘Hornblower’ on DVD.

Hornblower is without doubt one of the most expensive and technically complicated series to have been produced for television and this prestigious adaptation charts the seafaring exploits of the young eighteenth century midshipman. The action follows Hornblower from his days as a seasick recruit, rising through the ranks to become Lieutenant and to be recognised as one of the most gallant and formidable figures in naval history.

The internationally acclaimed series was shot in several locations around the world including the Ukraine, Portugal, Menorca, London, Cornwall and Pinewood. Most of the maritime action was filmed aboard the first British frigate to be hand-built from wood in the last 150 years. Inspired by naval vessels of the 1750s, and built in Turkey using traditional tools, the 22 gun Grand Turk doubles as HMS Indefatigable, the ship on which Hornblower served as a midshipman.

Amid the gripping tales of treachery on the high seas, there’s time for romance for the shy hero. During the 16 hours of epic drama Hornblower encounters romance with a flirtatious Duchess played by Cherie Lunghi, a beautiful schoolteacher portrayed by Estelle Skornik (Nicole in the Renault Clio adverts), and widow Maria Mason played by Julia Sawhala who becomes Horatio Hornblower’s wife.

Hornblower – The Complete Collection includes a host of star names amongst whom are Robert Lindsay (Oliver, My Family), as Captain Sir Edward Pellew a redoubtable figure based on a real naval captain who sees the young Hornblower as his protégé, Cherie Lunghi (The Brief), Robert Bathurst (Cold Feet), Dennis Lawson (Bleak House), Samuel West (Van Helsing), Paul McGann (Withnail and I) David Rintoul (Dr Finlay, Henry VIII), Greg Wise (Sense and Sensibility), Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous) and Lorcan Cranitch (Spooks) and David Warner (Company of Wolves) to name a few.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Cannibalism: Extreme Survival

Cannibalism is topic that never fails to evoke powerful reactions. Often, cannibal tales recall starving people eating the dearly departed out of desperation and a deeply ingrained human will to survive. But sometimes people go beyond eating those who have already died, and kill their comrades for the flesh on their bones.

In 1883, four sailors were stranded at sea after their yacht sank, over a thousand miles from the nearest land and on the verge of death from hunger and thirst, they faced an unthinkable choice. Must one be sacrificed to feed the rest?

The young cabin boy Richard drank forbidden and deadly seawater and falls into a semi comatose state. Captain Dudley took the utilitarian view that it was better the kill the sick boy to save the remaining three. Four days later, they were rescued and brought back to England, only to be tried for murder. Never before had sailors been reprimanded for resorting to cannibalism in a survival situation.

Next we delve into a classic cannibal horror tale. Alexander Pearce was a prisoner at Sarah Island, a remote prison in Tasmania, Australia. In the early 1800's, conditions were poor, the labour hard and the food minimal. Pearce found he had nothing to lose and on 20th September 1822, he and seven fellow prisoners made a break for it.

They encountered some of the world's most treacherous wilderness terrain and were ill equipped and had no food. The group had the clothes on their backs, and just one axe - the instrument they were using on work duty before they escaped.

One by one, the group attacked and killed the weakest men and survived on their butchered remains. Seven weeks into their ordeal, only two men remained. With the food gone again, they played a deadly cat and mouse game, knowing that whoever slept first would end up as supper for the other. Pearce was the final survivor, though he was soon captured.

Several months later, Pearce bolted again, this time with a young man named Thomas Cox. When Pearce was recaptured 11 days later, Cox was nowhere to be found. When authorities searched Pearce's bag they find what was left of Cox. By the time Pearce was hung in July of 1824 he had earned the title of Australia's most notorious cannibal.

Lastly we look at a modern cannibal story. Following the conquer of Southeast Asia during WWII, the Japanese decided to concentrate on New Guinea as their next key objective. But when the Japanese got to Papua New Guinea they found themselves unprepared for jungle fighting. Japanese commanders abandoned their troops, who were left with no provisions and no way out. The remaining Japanese troops soon resorted to cannibalism to survive.

They removed the bodies of the Allied soldiers from the area of combat and carried them to a safe area to be cooked and consumed. The Japanese also drew lots, and killed and ate other Japanese soldiers. Asian POWs, brought over initially as a labour force, faced an even worse fate. The Japanese soldiers cut pieces of flesh off of them while keeping them alive so they could later go back and harvest their still-fresh internal organs.

Even with the cannibalism, the Japanese faced terrible suffering. In the end, of the 160,000 Japanese troops sent, only about 10,000 survived. Some of those who do survive faced charges of war crimes for their cannibalism.


ABRAHAM LINCOLNremains our country's most beloved president. Why? Nearly 200 after his birth, we're still trying to piece together a true picture of this man who never fails to fascinate surprise and enlighten us. Scholars and historians examine: how did this man become a myth?

Every American believes they know Lincoln's face. We touch it every day, on pennies and dollars. Still, two portraits claiming to be Lincoln raise questions on just how sure we are of knowing one of America's most famous faces. To say these pictures are heis to alter history, to change the very face of the myth of Lincoln-who understood the new medium of photography's impact on mythmaking.

We see how Grant Romer, an expert on 19th century photography at the George Eastman House, authenticated these alleged photos of Lincoln as being the proper period. We hear of work examining facial structure of these photos to known photos of Lincoln.

Lincoln's gift for the written word is undisputed. Still, his works-including the Bixby letter and the Gettysburg address-come under fire. The famous Bixby letter, Lincoln's note of condolence to a mother who allegedly lost 5 sons in the Civil War, isquestioned by Michael Burlingame.

The Connecticut College scholar believes Lincoln's secretary John Hay wrote the letter. Because no known copy exists, the handwriting, paper and other clues aren't available.

We see how Burlingame's work comparing the twomen's work. Also, we see how an alleged page of the Gettysburg Address is believed to the missing reading copy. However, John Sellers at the Library of Congress debunks that myth, showing his work of how the page is a forgery.

There's no dispute the John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. We hear Dr. John Lattimer debunk the myth that the attending physician pushed the bullet into Lincoln's skull, making a serious wound fatal.

Was he really the great emancipator, who deeply wanted to free slaves. or was he a racist, a white supremacist? Did the writings that inspired a nation really come from his pen. or his secretary? Was he a coward, afraid of death or brave, foregoing personal safety? And, do we even know what he really looked like?

Does the image of Honest Abe reflect the facts? Or, is it a fallacy created the media of his day, and ours?What can we learn about Lincoln, our country and ourselves by examining this great man's life and death, inside and out?

Return To The Bismarck

The Bismarck was a steel colossus - the world's biggest, fastest and strongest battleship, designed to kill. Her mission was to destroy the utterly needed lifelines of Great Britain, the convoys that were bringing food and supplies from Canada to a starving and devastated country.

But the mission failed, as the Bismarck was sunk on her maiden voyage by the British Fleet, after they chased her in a dramatic hunt from the Denmark Strait down to the waters of the Biscaya. Sixty years later, an expedition, to find the wreck of the Bismarck on the bottom of the ocean begins.

On board, Australian business man and expedition leader Mike McDowell has gathered experienced submarine professionals, adventure tourists and Bismarck veterans for a challenging journey into the past.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Black Death

In three dreadful years over one third of Europe's population was wiped out. Everyone believed it heralded the end of the world.

To the chroniclers of Padua the plague was devastation deemed more final than Noah's flood. The plague shook the wealthy, relatively well-populated, confident society of mid-14th-century Western Europe to its foundations.

This film follows the spread of the plague and its implications for the Europe of the Middle Ages.

Looking at issues such as medicine, religion, superstition and society, and employing expert analysis from top historians, this is a fascinating look at one of the most chilling and terrible periods in all of human existence.

Most of all, this is history told through contemporary voices of some of the key chroniclers of the time. Real people who contracted the disease and died from it, but who left amazing, vivid accounts of what it feels like to live in a world that is falling apart.

The Battle of the Somme

The Imperial War Museum London, supported by The History Channel, is offering a unique opportunity to see a screening of The Battle of the Somme (1916), with the premiere of an orchestral accompaniment composed by Laura Rossi and performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra.

The Battle of the Somme was the first British offensive of the First World War to which cameramen were given access, in order to film the front line action as it took place. The resulting 80-minute film, released in Britain in 1916, made an enormous impression on the public and was seen by at least half the population.

Audiences were greatly impressed by the film's realism, as well as being traumatised by the candid and unprecedented images of British wounded and dead. Scenes from this film are regularly used in television programmes about the First World War, but few people have had the opportunity to experience this 'silent' film as it might have been seen by its first audience on a visit to a wartime picture house - at full length, on a large screen and supported by a live musical accompaniment.

In recognition of the film's importance as documentary record, The Battle of the Somme has recently been inscribed on UNESCO's 'Memory of the World' register.