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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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A History Of Scotland: introduction

Neil Oliver presents A History Of Scotland

A History Of Scotland, presented by Neil Oliver, returns to the television screens in early November, taking the story up from the 1600s to the present day.

The award-winning BBC Scotland programme, which is co-produced with The Open University, is the flagship television series of the broadcaster's Scotland's History project, which also includes radio, online and events.

On the next five parts of the television series, presenter Neil Oliver says: "We are looking at a period of 400 years within which Scotland is a country punching above its weight – internationally dynamic in terms of industry, ideas and sheer get up and go, but that as we'll see was part of the problem.

"The country was transformed from a poor northern backwater with a serious image problem into one of the richest nations on Earth. Atlantic trade kick-started a profound economic transformation and provided the foundations for huge social change and rapid industrialisation with Scotland contributing new ideas and modern thinking through the Enlightenment, and then latterly becomes a major industrial player.

"Scotland burst into this modern world with a bang, but on the homefront there was a cost...

"Scotland makes its mark on the world but she does it by exporting her most valuable commodities - her people and ideas."

Professor Ian Donnachie, Professor in History at The Open University and academic advisor for the series, says: "As the series moves on in time it highlights major themes in the history of Scotland to our own times. Many important and controversial issues that are addressed and debated in the programmes help to explain how Scotland came to be the country it is today.

"No doubt the series will continue to provoke lively debate over major strands and personalities explored through Neil Oliver's lively presentation."

Donalda MacKinnon, Head of Programmes at BBC Scotland, says: "The first five parts of A History Of Scotland were very warmly received and we are delighted that that the final five parts, which will bring Scotland's story up-to date, will be transmitted soon and then shown on network BBC Two early next year.

"It is very much at the heart of a wonderful package of content on all platforms and related events which are designed to engage audiences with Scotland's history.

The opening episode of the second five parts deals with this period of Scottish history, when the country's powerful religious leaders declared that "God's chosen people were the faithful members of the most perfect church on the face of the earth: the Scottish Presbyterian Kirk."

Neil Oliver says: "The opening episode is looking at an amazing period in Scottish history when the country's religious leaders believed that Scottish Presbyterians were God's chosen people, like the ancient Israelites, and they drafted a Covenant directly between the people of Scotland and God.

"More than half of the population of Scotland signed up to it, but it is a document which does not register as highly as it should in the popular imagination."

Series producer Richard Downes says: "If people know about the Covenanters, they tend to think of the religious persecution of ministers preaching on the run in the hillsides and woods. But they were a hugely significant movement. For 50 years, they were almost the only voice that constantly resisted the rule of the Stewarts – stood against absolute monarchy, insisted that the soul of every human weighed the same.

"The Covenanters declared their fundamental religious beliefs in the National Covenant of 1638; a document that licensed revolution, started the British Civil Wars that cost King Charles I his head, cost tens of thousands of Scots their lives and led to Britain's first war on terror."

Neil Oliver adds: "It is the beginning of Scottish ideas about a modern world, going out onto a wider platform, which was taken up by men like John Witherspoon and Adam Smith. But the ideas were only one part of the story. Another very strong thread emerging from the next five parts of the story is how many people left Scotland over the course of the last four centuries, often in desperation.

"The Covenanters and the Jacobites, who had to flee, the Clearances and then in the 20th Century, hundreds of thousands of people … abandoning their homeland for the promise of a better life across the sea".

Notes to Editors

The first five parts of the series A History Of Scotland were broadcast late last year with 1.6m – a third of the population of Scotland - seeing some of the series and an average audience week on week of more than 700,000 over its two November screenings (initial showing and narrative repeat).

When it was shown in January this year on network BBC Two, it attracted another 170,000 viewers north of the border. The Saturday night series was also a success in network terms, with audiences of almost 2.2 million.

It has also latterly been shown on BBC Four. It covered the history of Scotland from the first stirrings of identity around 2,000 years ago as the various tribes faced the might of the invading Romans through to the Stewart ascension to the throne of England as well as Scotland.

More details of the first five programmes are available on

Earlier this year, the look and stunning camerawork of the series was recognised with a Bafta for director of photography Neville Kidd. He beat off competition from Channel 4's The Victorian Sex Explorer (with Rupert Everett in Africa) Amazon, with Bruce Parry, and Ross Kemp In Afghanistan to take the award for Factual Photograpy at the Bafta craft awards in London.

The Open University has produced a series of 10 free postcards, to accompany the season, which depict key scenes from Scottish history. They can be obtained by calling 0845 300 8850 or from


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