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Witness History

Author: BBC World Service

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History as told by the people who were there.
1018 Episodes
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On 7 December 1990 the dissident Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas killed himself in New York after years of suffering from AIDS. Before fleeing Cuba, Arenas had been jailed for his homosexuality, sent to re-education camps and prevented from writing. He left behind his autobiography - Before Night Falls - a powerful denunciation of Fidel Castro’s regime which later became a successful film. Simon Watts talks to Arenas’ friend and fellow writer, Jaime Manrique.The recordings of Reinaldo Arenas in this programme are taken from BBC archive, and the documentaries Conducta Impropria and Seres Extravagantes.(Photo: Reinaldo Arenas. Credit: Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Sygma/Getty Images)
A prison camp called Jaslyk opened in the desert in western Uzbekistan in 1999. Even by the standards of the Uzbek prison system it would become notorious for torture and human rights abuses, including reports of a prisoner being boiled alive. Journalist Muhammad Bekjanov was imprisoned in Jaslyk during the 18 years he spent in Uzbek jails. He speaks to Lucy Burns along with independent human rights observer Acacia Shields.PHOTO: Muhammad Bekjanov in Istanbul, 1995 (courtesy of Muhammad Bekjanov)
During the 20th century a British coal miner's son changed the world of art. Henry Moore revolutionised sculpture, altering the way we view the human figure and setting his works in natural landscapes. He became internationally renowned and by the 1970s hundreds of his sculptures could be seen outside government buildings, universities and museums around the world. His daughter, Mary Moore, remembers how initially his work shocked his teachers and art critics.Photo: BBC Henry Moore 1960With thanks to the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens at Perry Green, Hertfordshire © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019 / www.henry-moore.org
Shackleton

Shackleton

2019-12-0300:11:383

Hear first hand accounts from the doomed Antarctic expedition which became a legendary story of survival. In 1914, polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton led an expedition to become the first to cross the Antarctic continent. But before they could land, their ship, SS Endurance, became trapped in pack ice and sank. Marooned on a floating ice field, Shackleton and his men, embarked on an epic odyssey to reach safety. Alex Last has been listening to BBC archive interviews with the survivors.Photo: Return of the sun over the 'Endurance' after the long winter darkness during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-17, led by Ernest Shackleton. (Photo by Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images)
The Colombian drug trafficker, once one of the richest men in the world, was shot dead by police on 2nd December 1993. He had been on the run from the authorities for over a year. Jordan Dunbar has been speaking to Elizabeth Zilli who worked for the US Drug Enforcement Agency in Colombia and who helped track down Pablo Escobar.Photo: Colombian police and military forces storm the rooftop where drug lord Pablo Escobar was shot dead just moments earlier during an exchange of gunfire between security forces and Escobar and his bodyguard on 2nd December 1993. (Credit:Jesus Abad-el Colombiano/AFP/Getty Images)
Robert R was a teenager who died of a mysterious illness in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1969. It was only in the 1980s that doctors studying the Aids epidemic realised Robert had died of Aids. Ned Carter Miles has been speaking to Dr Memory Elvin Lewis was one of the doctors who treated Robert R. She was so intrigued by his case that she kept tissue samples after his death, which later proved that he had contracted HIV/Aids.Photo: HIV particles, computer artwork. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Credit: Science Photo Library
Handing back Uluru

Handing back Uluru

2019-11-2800:09:28

In 1985 Australia's most famous natural landmark, Uluru, the huge ancient red rock formerly known as Ayers Rock, was handed back to its traditional owners, the indigenous people of that part of central Australia, the Anangu. But as one of the government officials involved in the negotiations for the transfer, former private secretary for aboriginal affairs, Kim Wilson, tells Louise Hidalgo, not everyone in Australia was pleased.Picture: Uluru, formerly Ayers Rock, in Kata Tjuta National Park, the world's largest monolith and an Aboriginal sacred site (Credit: Jeff Overs/BBC)
From cakes to computers

From cakes to computers

2019-11-2700:10:02

In the early 1950s, the leading British catering firm, J Lyons & Co, pioneered the world's first automated office system. It was baptised LEO - the Lyons Electronic Office - and was used in stock-taking, food ordering and payrolls for the company. Soon it was being hired out to UK government ministries and other British businesses. Mary Coombs worked on the first LEO and was the first woman to become a commercial computer programmer. She tells Mike Lanchin about her memories of those heady days when computers were still in their infancy. Photo: LEO 2 in operation, 1957 (Thanks to The LEO Computers Society for use of archive)
India's economic revolution

India's economic revolution

2019-11-2600:08:582

In the 1990s India began to open up its largely state-controlled economy to foreign investment. Subramanian Swamy wrote the blueprint for reform and he's been speaking to Iknoor Kaur about what worked - and what didn't.Photo: Subramanian Swamy (r) with Manmohan Singh. Credit: Getty Images.
American scientist Dennis Klatt pioneered synthesised speech in the 1980s. He used recordings of himself to make the sounds that gave British physicist Stephen Hawking a voice when he lost the ability to speak. Friend and colleague of Dr Klatt, Joseph Perkell, told Rebecca Kesby about the man who gave his voice to Prof Hawking allowing him to educate the world in science. (Photo: BOMBAY, INDIA: World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking answers questions with the help of a voice synthesiser during a press conference at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Bombay, 06 January 2001. Credit AFP)
In the 1940s, British gentleman explorer Wilfred Thesiger travelled extensively in one of the world's harshest environments - the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Thesiger lived with nomads in order to cross a desert that was then considered a place of mystery and death. He captured a final glimpse of their way-of-life before the arrival of the oil industry, and was inspired to write the classic travel book Arabian Sands. Simon Watts introduces recordings of Wilfred Thesiger in the BBC archive.PHOTO: Wilfred Thesiger (Pitt Rivers Museum via Bridgeman Images)
India's capital city built a brand new mass transit system to tackle its traffic jams and air pollution. The first section of the Delhi Metro was opened to the public in 2002. E Sreedharan was managing director of the Metro project and he's been speaking to Prabhat Pandey about the challenges he faced. Photo: the inside of a Delhi Metro carriage. Credit: Getty Images.
In November 1989 Salvadoran government soldiers dragged six Jesuit priests from their beds and murdered them along with their housekeeper and her teenage daughter. The Salvadoran government tried to blame the killings on left-wing rebels, but one woman provided key testimony that contradicted the official version, at great personal danger. Lucia Cerna tells her story to Mike Lanchin(Photo: a plaque commemorating the murdered priests in San Salvador- courtesy of David Mee)
The 'Woman in Gold'

The 'Woman in Gold'

2019-11-1900:09:143

The 'Woman in Gold' was one of Gustav Klimt's most famous paintings. It was a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, but it was taken from her family by the Nazis and only returned to them after a long legal battle. Louise Hidalgo has been speaking to Randol Schoenberg the young lawyer who took on the case.Picture: Adele Bloch-Bauer I, or 'The Woman in Gold', painted in 1907 by Gustav Klimt, from the collection of the Neue Galerie in New York. (Credit: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
The first Tasers

The first Tasers

2019-11-1800:10:011

In the 1970s, an American engineer Jack Cover designed a new experimental stun gun. He called it a Taser. But the device only really became popular when it started to be used by US law enforcement agencies. The Los Angeles Police Department were among the first to use the device. Retired police Captain Greg Meyer was then the young officer given the task of evaluating non-lethal weapons for the LAPD. He tells Alex Last about the origins of the Taser and its dramatic impact on the streets. Photo: Jack Cover with an early version of his Taser. The gun has a flashlight atop and below are two cartridges each containing two darts which can be fired a distance of 15 feet with a stunning 50,000-volt shock.
Reita Faria was the first Indian to win the Miss World beauty competition in 1966. She was studying medicine in Mumbai when a spur of the moment decision to take part in the contest turned her life upside down. Orna Merchant has been speaking to Reita Faria about her win, and whether she believes there is still a place for beauty contests in the 21st Century.Photo: Reita Faria wearing the Miss World crown in November 1966. Credit: Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
The Love Canal disaster

The Love Canal disaster

2019-11-1400:09:39

In the late 1970s toxic chemicals were discovered oozing from the ground in a neighbourhood in upstate New York. The neighbourhood was called Love Canal. Hundreds of houses and a school had been built on top of over 20,000 tonnes of toxic industrial waste. The disaster led to the formation in 1980 of the Superfund program, which helps pay for the clean up of toxic sites. Farhana Haider has been speaking to former Love Canal resident and campaigner Luella Kenny about her fight for relocation.Photo Pres. Jimmy Carter, Love Canal resident Lois Gibbs, Rep. John LaFalce and Senator Jacob Javits signing the superfund legislation 1980. Credit Center for Health, Environment & Justice.
Hindu extremists demolished a 16th century mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya in December 1992 prompting months of communal violence across India. Photojournalist Praveen Jain witnessed rehearsals for the demolition the day before the activists stormed the mosque. He has been talking to Iknoor Kaur about what he saw. On November 9th this year the Indian Supreme Court ruled that a Hindu temple can be built on the disputed site.Photo: Hindu extremists rehearsing the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Copyright:Praveen Jain.
In 2004, a German aid agency ship, Cap Anamur, was sailing to the Suez Canal, when it came across 37 Africans on a sinking rubber boat. The captain, Stefan Schmidt, rescued the men and headed for a port in Sicily to drop them off. But for almost 2 weeks, Italy blocked the ship from entering port and when the ship was finally granted permission to dock, Captain Schmidt and two others were arrested and prosecuted by Italian authorities for aiding and abetting illegal immigration. The case made headlines around the world and was a foretaste of an increasingly hostile European policy towards refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe by sea. Alex Last has been speaking to Captain Schmidt about his memories of the incident.(Photo: the German aid agency ship Cap Anamur in 2004. Credit: Antonello NUSCA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Memories of Wilfred Owen

Memories of Wilfred Owen

2019-11-1100:08:582

Wilfred Owen died just a few days before the end of World War One but his poetry ensured he would be remembered. Little is known about the man behind the poems but his younger brother Harold spoke to the BBC about him in the 1960s. Vincent Dowd pieces together a picture of the young soldier-poet using the BBC's archive, Owen's letters home, and by speaking to Jean Findlay, biographer of CK Scott Moncrieff, the translator of Proust, who fell in love with Wilfred Owen.(Photo: Wilfred Owen in 1916. Credit: Getty Images)
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Comments (18)

Kenny Milne

barbaric sport , he no doubt slaughterd many bulls

Sep 27th
Reply

Michael McGrath

English? Lewis was from Northern Ireland.

Sep 22nd
Reply (1)

Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz

ok

Aug 28th
Reply

Thanaam Thanaam

Perfecto podcast!

Jun 16th
Reply

Katie Hone

great podcast.

Apr 14th
Reply (1)

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

I'm shocked if not surprised that the BBC stood by equating left-wing kidnapping of senior fascist military leaders with government tied assassinations of lawyers for defending workers rights

Mar 23rd
Reply

Liam Garland

It's a same there is no mention at the beginning of the hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses who were murdered due to their refusal to support the Nazi movement.

Feb 5th
Reply

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

Direct action gets the goods #antifa #punchnazis

Feb 2nd
Reply

Simon Hastings

We used to call them plastic pigs!

Nov 16th
Reply

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

This episode is a terrible (and completely one-sided) piece of apologia for Pinochet. The BBC doesn't even discuss why every British court ruling was in favour of Pinochet facing criminal trial

Oct 24th
Reply

Vee N

such an amusing tale

Sep 17th
Reply

Vee N

what a wonderful story

Sep 17th
Reply

Linus Moses

Really interesting podcast

Jul 29th
Reply

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

No idea that anarchists in Amsterdam started first bike share project, but makes sense

May 28th
Reply

Benjamin Craft-Rendon

How revealing that the BBC happened not to mention "Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher" let alone that whole "covering up pedophilia to control votes" thing. 🤬 https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-thatchers-government-covered-up-a-vip-pedophile-ring https://uk.news.yahoo.com/on-this-day-margaret-thatcher-free-school-milk-1971-protests-124948608.html?guccounter=1

May 27th
Reply

Bill Arnold

oh that kkk will they ever learn....

Nov 8th
Reply
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