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Battle Of Britain season: What's on BBC TV

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Martin Davidson Martin Davidson | 18:32 UK time, Thursday, 17 June 2010

As commissioning editor for BBC History, I get to choose many of the great history programmes that make it to your screens - everything from Victorian Farm and Who Do You Think You Are? to History Cold Case and Empire of the Seas.

We have just put together a short film here of the history highlights coming up on the BBC over the next year or so, with snippets from me talking about the various things that made me commission them.

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I've always been fascinated by history, and the questions it throws up. It gets written by the victors, it's bunk, and it repeats itself as farce - these are just a few of the things that great minds have been saying about history over the centuries.

In other words, some stories get favoured, others ignored; it promises insights into the future that don't come true; and nothing ever really changes. So why make television about it?

For me, the answer is obvious. Because few other subjects offer as many great stories, or provoke such powerful questions, often at the same time.

One timely example is whether the RAF won the Battle of Britain, and what difference it makes. Twice a day I pass the Spitfires standing guard at RAF Northolt, on the A40 just outside London, and find myself pondering just this.

Well, one film I have commissioned for this year's 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain will certainly shed light on it.

Called First Light, it's the dramatisation of Geoff Wellum's best-selling and astonishingly vivid good read, a book of the same name that was published in 2002.

The manuscript had lain in a drawer for decades until thrust into the hands of a publishing scout, who only had to read a few pages to see that this was one of the most exciting - but also sobering - first hand accounts of what it was like being 19 years old and at the controls of a Spitfire, surrounded by over 100 German fighters.

I loved the book when I read it, and when it was offered as a drama, snapped it up.

The film combines drama on the ground and action in the air, with computer graphics and real-time Spitfire flying that really captures the claustrophobia of the cockpit and the frenzy of combat - you can see some very early footage in the clip above.

We're going to be using James Holland's brilliant new book on the Battle of Britain as the basis for a documentary to supplement and illuminate the drama.

Spitfire Women: Margaret Frost, one of the Air Transport Auxilary pilots

And there will be more programmes besides across BBC One, Two and Four, including a very exciting documentary featuring Ewan McGregor and his RAF pilot brother Colin called The Real Battle of Britain. They'll be getting very hands-on experience, flying through our skies, reliving the experiences of young airmen. For Colin it's a chance to see if his modern jet-fighter training compares to the seat-of-the-pants skills needed to master a Spitfire.

A BBC Four documentary I'm looking forward to is Spitfire Women, which tells the remarkable story of the women who flew planes for the Air Transport Auxiliary - the unsung heroines as it were.

I hope that together all these programmes will help persuade even the stoniest old sceptic that this aerial conflict, fought over the second half of 1940, really was as historically significant, and as personally resonant, as all the myths would have us believe.

Martin Davidson is commissioning editor for BBC History

The Battle Of Britain season will be on air in September to mark the 70th anniversary of the WW2 air campaign.



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