Despite our fascination with World War II it never fails to surprise me how many unusual, forgotten or relatively untold stories there still are.

An upcoming series of programmes on BBC Two takes a fascinating look at some of these lesser known tales, focusing on some of the ordinary heroes and debunking some of the myths that still surround famous events.

The series starts with one of the unsung heroes of Bletchley Park.

Although many people are familiar with the story of Alan Turing and Enigma, Codebreakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes reveals the unsung genius of mathematician Bill Tutte.

A preview of Codebreakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes

Restrictions imposed by the Official Secrets Act mean that experts are only starting to get to grips with how much his codebreaking efforts contributed to Britain's military success at the time, starting with his work cracking the Lorenz code, used by the Nazis and even more sophisticated than the Enigma code.

One of the things I find fascinating about this story is how much of his life Bill must have kept hidden.

Although he is now thought to have been one of the finest intellectual minds of his time, the secrecy of his position meant that he received very little public recognition for his efforts.

Following the war he worked as a university teacher in Waterloo, Canada (teaching the team that created the Blackberry encryption code) but it's almost certain that he continued to live a double life, using his unique number-crunching skills to benefit the British government.

It's an unusual story and one we're excited about.

Over the coming weeks there will be a series of Timewatch specials that look at similarly interesting stories.

In The Most Courageous Raid Of WWII (BBC Two at 9pm on Tuesday, 1 November) Lord Paddy Ashdown (an ex-SBS commando) talks about the 10 commandos who led one of the most daring raids of WWII.

The men canoed almost 70 miles behind enemy lines to blow up enemy ships but only two men survived; the others died of hypothermia or were executed by the Nazis.

Lord Ashdown was particularly keen not to just tell this story but to bring alive the extraordinary lengths that the men had to physically go to in order to achieve their goal.

Working with the Ministry of Defence Lord Ashdown takes part in a reconstruction of events, following the route the men would have taken and explaining the dangers they would have faced on the way.

It's a really moving film and hopefully one that honours all of the brave men that devised and carried out the raid.

Next we take an exclusive look at Operation Zigzag (in Double Agent: The Eddie Chapman Story on BBC Two at 9pm on Tuesday, 15 November), which is one of those 'you couldn't make it up' tales about double agent, self-made conman Eddie Chapman, aka Agent Zigzag.

He was a working class crook who - after a spell in prison having blown up bank safes in the UK - was recruited by the Nazis to put his skills to use destroying British assets.

On his first mission he became a double agent and spent years at the heart of the German military, passing information back to MI5, whilst also living as a German war hero.

Presented by Ben Macintyre (Operation Mincemeat), the programme uses previously classified MI5 files to tell the staggering story of how an average man became one of Britain's most valuable assets.

The final programme, Dam Busters: The Race To Smash The German Dams looks at the story of Dam Busters and tries to overturn some of the most common myths of what has become a legendary event.

All four programmes should give a unique glimpse into some of the lives of men in WWII.

Hope you enjoy them. Do let us know what you think.

Editor's note: The order in which these documentaries were broadcast changed after Martin wrote this post. For times and information for all four programmes, please see the Timewatch episode guide.

Martin Davidson is the commissioning editor for BBC History and Business.

You can listen to Ben Macintyre's story of Agent Zigzag narrated by Damian Lewis on Radio Four Extra - available until Friday, 4 November.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 29. Posted by agent_sabrina

    on 12 Nov 2011 14:37

    Hi Martin
    Thanks for your reply. It has been an excellent series – will it be out on DVD in the near future? Also, will you be doing further World War II series? If so I have some suggestions: The German Admiral Canaris and the Schwarze Kapelle that involved the German plot to assassinate Hitler; also Field Marshal Erwin Rommel another fascinating character. I find the German and British intelligence services fascinating in their involvement with each other.
    Thanks and all the best, Agent Sabrina

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  • Comment number 28. Posted by Martin Davidson

    on 7 Nov 2011 17:18

    Hi, Martin Davidson, commissioning editor here; I am really thrilled so many of you managed to catch this film, and that the majority seemed to have both enjoyed it and found there was a lot that was new to you in the story of Tutte and Flowers.

    It was certainly new to me! I was both enthralled by the detail of the code-breaking, but also moved by the fact their names -- and their achievements -- might now be more familiar than they were before the film went out. I appreciate that there are many people who are deeply ensconced in the Bletchley story, and way ahead of the rest of us on the detail, and the personalities.

    YESTWINS – thank you so much too for volunteering the example of your nan – and the information about the photographs featuring her at work! I will talk to my Online colleagues and see if we cant find somewhere to digitise and make them available (should you want that).

    To ALEKSANDRA81, and ECHO4 who drew attention to the amazing role played by Polish cryptologists – many thanks. You are quite right of course, and the next time we address the Enigma story, we will be sure to reiterate this point.

    But sometimes Television's job is to play 'catch-up' for the two million people or so who have only the sketchiest of knowledge about episodes like this. That is why, inevitably, there are those who find the level of commentary to be too basic. It's not intended to be! We are concerned only to offer the broadest invitation to as many of our viewers as possible -- and that is why we try to make the film as attractive and compelling as possible. Which brings me to the issue of "eye-candy" and "music".

    To Nirumapab,and Piecesofeight, sorry the visuals annoyed you. Ironically, the use of cut-away shots (leaking radiators etc) is actually there to make the film SHORTER, not longer (it allows us to cover cuts in the interviews). I realise that sometimes that can appear a bit literal, but I am a great believer in seeing the thing itself -- be it location, or in this case, code-making (and breaking) machines -- and far prefer this to endless shots of talking heads.

    As for background music – clearly an issue for a lot of people, (Geoff Coupe, M81Group, and others); we have to strike a balance, and we always do our best to try and achieve this. You can find some more information about the BBC's work around audibility here

    I feel background music contributes hugely to atmosphere and pace - which is why music has been an ingredient in films for as long as films have existed. However, it is clear that a number of you found the background music a little distracting. I have therefore asked the producers of the remaining films to do their best to lower music levels, especially when they coincide with the spoken voice – (anyone who saw Paddy Ashdown on Operation Frankton, aka, Cockleshell Heroes, will, I hope, have found the dialogue much easier to hear, as we deliberately kept the music much lower). I think that the new generation of flat-screen televisions make the problem much worse – they are very thin which makes their loudspeakers much less effective than was the case with the older cathode ray tvs.

    TOTALLYFOXED – wow, your godfather’s story sounds astonishing!

    Agent Sabrina – I couldn’t agree more! To see von Braun so lionised – or even how armaments minister Albert Speer cooked up a life of fame and fortune for himself after release from prison, playing the wise penitent – is particularly galling when compared to the silence imposed on Tutte, Flowers, and thousands like them. But, it was their capacity to keep that silence that made them such good operatives in the first place. But it is scant consolation, I realise.

    Thanks for all your comments and I look forward to hearing what you have to say about the remaining films in the run.

  • Comment number 27. Posted by Tony H

    on 6 Nov 2011 12:46

    Managed to just catch the first half of Code-Breakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes on iPlayer (I've been away) and the episode "timed-out" at midnight, so I'm unable to watch the remainder today. I don't suppose anyone knows if/when this will be re-shown or if the series is likely to be made available for purchase on DVD?

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  • Comment number 26. Posted by Mark Andrew

    on 3 Nov 2011 15:09

    Cockleshell was an excellent programme but sad it did not show that Marine David Moffatt was living in Halifax, only that he was born in Belfast

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  • Comment number 25. Posted by Dugo

    on 1 Nov 2011 22:21

    A superb programme - I was enthralled throughout.

    However, there is a problem with the maths at 13:30 which undersells the achievement of the code-breakers.

    The programme describes the number of wheel combinations as being:
    23 * 26 * 29 * 31 * 37 * 41 * 43 * 47 * 51 * 53 * 59 * 61
    = 1,600,000,000,000,000 (1.6 million billion)

    In fact, if you multiply this out, the result is:
    = 16,033,955,073,056,318,658 (16 billion billion)

    about ten thousand times greater than claimed in the programme.

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  • Comment number 24. Posted by Wolf Baginski

    on 1 Nov 2011 18:09

    Operation Frankton, tonight's programme, is one of those bits of real history which has inspired stories that I've written. A very different world, but I hope my invented characters display some of the skill and determination which these real people showed. And if you want your invented characters to be larger than life, turning the dial up to 11 just isn't enough.

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  • Comment number 23. Posted by Richard Henry Hopper

    on 1 Nov 2011 16:59

    Fascinating story, but as other people have said, the background music spoiled it. I guess there would have been a lot of elderly people, perhaps with hearing difficulties, who wouldn't have had a hope of been able to follow some of what was being said. I am in my twenties and found bits of it tiring to follow.

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  • Comment number 22. Posted by brightonviewer

    on 31 Oct 2011 07:34

    Music too loud. Great programme but the music spoiled it for me. The choice was ok but it was much too loud.

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by Piecesofeight

    on 30 Oct 2011 11:51

    I'd like to separate the content from the presentation before commenting in depth. The content was fine, some of it had been covered before by Jeremy Clarkson in 2004 in The Computer, part of Inventions That Changed The World on BBC2 in which he talked at length about Tommy Flowers, Dollis Hill and Bletchley Park. The narration by Keeley Hawes, of which more later, implies that this programme is the first to reveal these facts but it is not. Clarkson did not talk about Bill Tutte or Cpt Jerry Roberts but he did talk about Tommy Flowers and his work.
    The comment above by nirupamab which mentions "extremely distracting visual eye candy" ties in exactly with my own criticism of what might otherwise have been a good documentary. I am under the impression that were this padding to be removed the programme might have been shortened by a good ten minutes without sacrificing content.
    The other thing I found distracting was the constant use of visual reinforcements interrupting the speakers. If a man says there was a leaking radiator I do not need to be shown a leaking radiator, I understand the words. There was a lot of that.
    The story of the code breaking, of Bill Tutte, Tommy Flowers and others was fascinating as others have said above, and I really would like to agree with those sentiments. But as a documentary I thought that Keeley Hawes was the wrong choice as narrator, that the script she had to read was poor, inaccurate in places and often patronising, and that the documentary could be remade to a much higher standard without losing any of the historical content.
    In summary great content poor delivery.

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by BERNIEB

    on 29 Oct 2011 22:42

    Makes me really ashamed that young people now do things like Big Brother or TOWIE when you saw what these people were doing with their lives! Thanks goodness for them. Really interesting show - the music that everyone is complaining about - one was a song from a commercial that I now can't stop humming - does anyone know what the songs were?

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