Press Office

Saturday 20 Sep 2014

History On The BBC

History has always enjoyed a prime place at the heart of the BBC's output, helping us in our mission to explain, inform, entertain and fascinate. The past provides programme makers with characters, events, civilisations, wars, ways of living and significant dates. These are all dramatic and noteworthy on their own, but taken together they help to explain who we are by illuminating the processes that have shaped the past, and through which the past has shaped us.

That is what makes History so important – because fact is virtually always stranger and more astonishing than fiction. And ignorance of the past makes being able to function in the present even harder than it already is.

When commissioning History for television, I see the subject broadly in three main categories, as you will see from the showreel, which features some of the highlights coming up in the next year or so:

  • There is Authored History – this tackles subjects that demand significance and interpretation and looks to experts with the depth of knowledge necessary to communicate their passion and to put their chosen area in a meaningful historical context for the audience. I'm delighted to be able to bring some new faces to the screen in the next six months or so, including Amanda Vickery, Mary Beard, Lucy Worsley and Richard Miles, all pre-eminent historians, as well as welcoming back some more familiar faces like Robert Bartlett in The Normans, Ian Hislop in The Do-Gooders and Neil Oliver in his epic History Of Ancient Britain.

  • Then there is Living History – this is a more contemporary and shifting perspective on who we are. It looks to testimony and archive to provide insights into the very recent past and tells the story of "us", closing the gap between our own lives and the events that have gone before us. Alongside Who Do You Think You Are? and Edwardian Farm, I am very excited about an ambitious new project coming up later this year on BBC One, charting the history of the British High Street.

  • And there is History of Scale – the epic story of man, ranging from the rise and fall of civilisations to the relationships established across the globe by trade, war, and exploration to those incredible stories where fact truly outstrips fiction. As well as Egypt – What Lies Beneath on BBC One, I'm looking forward to Hominid and Operation Mincemeat, the incredible story of a wartime ruse matched only by the Trojan Horse in daring and imagination.

Few other genres of factual television are as varied as history. History effortlessly borrows the clothes of drama, features, current affairs and documentary. It lends itself to epic scale, but also to intense and intimate detail. It's a subject that begs huge questions – ones that have taxed some of the best, most interesting writers and thinkers, questing after meaning and interpretation.

Sometimes simply joining up disparate events is enough to provide viewers with the exhilarating experience of seeing the centuries come together and cohere as never before. Other times powerful anniversaries and shared moments of national recollection and commemoration do something similar, and the BBC will be marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain this September with eclectic and wide-ranging programmes on BBC One, Two and Four, including the BBC One documentary The Real Battle Of Britain and the BBC Two drama First Light.

Our biggest challenge is ensuring that we cover as much of this variety as we can, bringing as many different audiences as possible to the pleasures and intrigues of human history – but that we do it in a way that is both engaging and rigorous, accessible but questioning.

The BBC has the extraordinary privilege of being able to do this across a number of different channels, each with its own distinct identity, and with access to a widening plethora of multiplatform outlets. For the first time ever, our audiences have the chance not just to see individual History programmes, but to use those programmes as milestones in detailed and open-ended journeys of their own across the subject and deep into it. This is a moment that is both historical – and historic.

Martin Davidson
Commissioning Editor, BBC History

History On BBC Television

The BBC is committed to providing a broad range of compelling history content across all channels and platforms. BBC History programmes are known for their thought-provoking themes, meticulous research and expert contributors. Knowledge programming, of which History is a key component, is one of the BBC's five editorial priorities as outlined in the Strategy Review.

Recent successes like Empire of The Seas – How The Navy Forged The Modern World and History Cold Case demonstrate the BBC's continued investment in developing the genre. Audiences can continue their journey with BBC history by visiting bbc.co.uk/history.

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