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The Great British Story: A People's History

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Michael Wood Michael Wood | 16:45 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

I'm writing this blog post in London remembering the last time I was in such warm sunshine. It was during a break in filming and I was enjoying a coffee in the Luv Café in Govan Road, Glasgow last September!

Outside sunlit rows of brown sandstone tenements stretch away to the BAE shipyard and Fairfields with its memories of men pouring out of the great gates in the days when they built the liners here. History all around us.

Michael Wood looking at finds with schoolchildren in Old Deer

Michael Wood looking at finds with schoolchildren in Old Deer, Aberdeenshire

Beyond the yards the soaring Victorian Gothic turrets of Govan Old Church, which stands on a site sacred since prehistory, is home to Britain's most amazing collection of Dark Age carved stones.

It's typical of The Great British Story: layers of the past everywhere.

Nowhere in the UK, I suspect, is there a landscape or a cityscape which is not rich in memory and meaning.

It's been a fantastic experience making The Great British Story: A People's History for BBC Two but the schedule has been one of the toughest I've ever done.

Following Alexander over the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan or the Conquistadors through the jungles of the Amazon was actually less taxing than trying to film in all regions in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in one year!

The idea of the series is to look at history through the eyes of ordinary people, so much of the filming has involved community events.

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Find out how you can engage with local history in your area

Inevitably they take place over weekends so it's been non-stop since we started last May - but also a delight to walk the streets of the Black Country, Manchester and Swansea and the countryside of Devon and Suffolk, Antrim and Gwent.

Because we are the best documented country on earth for the last 1,000 years we can inhabit those landscapes with the people of the past, imagine their lives, and see the living connections with us.

Coupled with the energy, enthusiasm and knowledge of local communities, schools and groups across the British Isles, that has been the key to the making of the series.

Stand out stories? There are so many it's hard to single out any one, but here are a few:

Our first shoot was on the Royal wedding day last year with the Indian community at their temple in Tividale near Birmingham, and then Kibworth in Leicestershire (setting of our last series Story of England) for their raucous street party complete with a Jamaican gospel choir. That somehow set the tone!

Then at the communal dig at Long Melford one summer weekend we had half the town digging up their back gardens making amazing discoveries of their unknown Roman roots.

Michael Wood with local residents discussing finds at the Long Melford dig in Suffolk

Discussing finds with local residents at the Long Melford dig, Suffolk

At Llancarfan near Cardiff the village open day celebrated the sensational discovery of their whitewashed medieval wall paintings.

On Merseyside and the Wirral a DNA project took Scousers on a pilgrimage to their Viking roots.

In Halesowen in the Black Country, where the history of metal working goes from 13th century cutlers to the chainmakers who made the chains for the Titanic, the children at Cradley Primary School collected the first hand stories of those chainmakers for us from their grandparents.

In this year of the Jubilee and the Olympics there is much talk about legacy and thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund The Great British Story will, we hope, have its own afterlife.

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Watch a clip from episode one: the roots of early Britain

To go with the series, the Heritage Lottery Fund have created a brand new grant scheme, All Our Stories, to give communities and groups across the UK and Northern Ireland the chance to come up with schemes that will enable them to find out more about their own local stories.

But in the immediate future I am off to Liverpool for one of the Great British Story History events that are happening all over the country - once I have admitted that I am a proud Mancunian and a stalwart red I am sure we will have a great day!

Michael Wood is an historian and the presenter of The Great British Story: A People's History.

The Great British Story: A People's History is next on on Friday, 1 June at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

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 1.

    I found this programme to be poor in the first degree. Let me checkpoint my issues -

    1. The programme started off by saying 1500 years. This suggested from the end of Roman occupation. The programme then went on to detail Roman occupation of southern Britain from whenever. No mention was made of the Claudian invasion. Actual time span was nearer 2000 years (47 to 410).
    2. All mention of the Caledonian, and more importantly Pictish wars against Rome was never mentioned. Indeed the Picts only entered this primary school history in post Roman history. No mention of the considerable threat the northern (Scottish to be) tribes made. The Great Barbarian conspiracy of the late fourth century was totally absent. The fact the Roman build two walls to keep us out not entering this poor edition.
    3. Noticed that this programme appears on the same day the independence 'yes' campaign starts in Scotland.
    4. No one in Archaeology gives any credence to 'Dark Ages' term. The post Roman era was a lively and colourful period of history. Wood should know better.

    Great British Story? Not even close. Poor English Story more like. And Anti Scottish rant is nearer the truth.

    Very poor offering by Mr Wood.

  • Comment number 2.

    I just watched the first episode and found it very disapointing.

    I understand that it must be difficult to try and cram so much history into an hours television, but seeing as this was a 'people's' history, why so much focus upon the Roman garrisons and elite?

    no mention of the Boudiccan revolt, Carratacus?

    as well as an overemphasis on the extent of romanisation, and the proliferation of the idea that rome was great for everyone, and was accepted and embraced by all.

  • Comment number 3.

    Eye wateringly wonderful! Thank you Michael Wood and thank you BBC. Very interesting that this program coincides with a time when once again we ask ourselves what it is to be British. I found the program to be very moving, all because of Michael Wood. His programs and writing are always full of the warmth of humanity and the acceptance that those who went before were in many ways the same as us, with the same hopes and fears. For me Michael Wood lit the touch paper of my fascination with British history with his book on The Dark Ages (1980s?). This current program had to jump around a fair bit to join up such a large amount of dots for us and is bold in that its broad brush strokes ambitiously create an overview. Is that not what great communication is about? Of course it is. Epic! Utterly Epic!! An outstanding piece of Great British Television.

  • Comment number 4.

    I was very disappointed with this programme as I know little of the history of Britain.

    As the trend with programmes lately I found it bitty, fragmented and jumping around. It left me totally confused.

    Good concept but badly executed.

  • Comment number 5.

    I find the idea of the programme very good, but some common misconceptions seem to be being restated by Mr Wood. Has he not seen any of the recent DNA research evidence that indicates that the vast majority of the population of the British Isles are descended from people that arrived here just after the last Ice Age, and that
    later intrusions of new-comers account for a small minority percentage of the ancestry of the modern population. Yet the progaramme perpetuates the myth of a replacement of a 'Welsh indigenous' population by an Anglo-Saxon one.
    Archaeology has indicated no major change in culture during the post-Roman period, except for the loss of the major Roman indicators, which were the result of the collapse of the ancient economy, well underway before the political severence from the Empire. The Germanic intrusions were by small elite warrior groups, no greater in scale during the migration period, or in the `viking' era, than the Norman invasion of 1066. This last indicates how devastating such intrusions could be at any time, but also shows that wholsale replacement, or genocide, of the resident population was, and is, extremely unlikely. Britain probably recieved it's population from much the same origin, that is from nearby continental Europe, throughout history, and this makes identifying particular intruders descendents almost impossible to trace.

  • Comment number 6.

    This is a very complex subject, and one that can even affect our Country's unity. So making it simple is hard and in many cases, becomes inaccurate. No mention that these Anglo-Saxon invaders affected South East Scotland in pretty much the same way as North East England. The researcher that says we are looking back towards the elite take over followed by large immigration. But it is said they (Anglo-Saxons), only make up 10% of the population. This conquest was over a very long period, and some suggest that there was not much to assimilate too, unlike the quick Frankish conquest of France, in which the Franks copy Gaul culture etc. Male DNA tests have shown there is much in the way of Briton blood in the population of England as well as a certain amount of Anglo-Saxon in lowland Scotland, and who know how many intermarried/mixed, especially with British women. Edinburgh was the capital of Northumbria and Glasgow is a Cumbrian word in which Cumbria by some, is still considered to be part of Scotland. Just call it South Scotland if it pleases, who cares, it's all in Britain, our Country (ok, be pedantic and say UK, which is more to do with Northern Ireland and the earlier union with Ireland).

    Scotti are Irish who moved too the Western Isles, and to me it seems like a dominance similar to Saxons in England, was made in Scotland. Who loses out, the poor Briton, us. But not too much has been mentioned here about this, only England is separate and made up of Anglo-Saxons, everyone else move to Scotland Wales, and Cornwall, not mentioning Devon or Cumbria and north Western England.

    The Guy who had his kid born in Shropshire (where the William Wallace family are likely to be from), because it is really part of Wales, is crazy. All of Britain is his, and like me, I will not be told that I am a foreigner anywhere in Britain. Call England, East Wales if you want.

    Even if the Anglo-Saxon invasion and total wipe out were true, the past 3 to 4 hundred years where Britain has been united has meant we have all moved around. Even if the Country were not united and it was just England that went on to be mega successful, people from the other British states would of migrated (to a lesser degree I guess) to England. That said, the fact there are so many MACs and Jones etc in England, shows the extent to which Britain has been coloured by the British nation, not just England.

    I myself have a grand father with direct Cornish routes, and a great grand father was from the highlands. My grand mother's 3 names in her family are lowland Scottish and Highlands. All gradually found their way to down south. So I am an animal of this union, even if this wipe myth was found out not to be a myth.

    I wish the BBC would not make programmes like these. I feel the BBC is anti British anyway. Sure have balance and celebrate all the states of this Country, but don't be divisive.

  • Comment number 7.

    Yes, Bad Grammar. It always seems presentable before I send.

  • Comment number 8.

    'Britain' started in 1707; Britons started 13,000 years ago and are still here - what do the Romans have to do with it?

    Starting to get very disappointed at the falling quality of BBC history programmes, except perhaps The Story of Wales.

    As a Cornishman has commented: "If the first episode is anything to go by then the programme seems to be a bit of ‘Time Team’ and ‘Who do you think you are?’

    Cornish people hoping to hear about their part in last night’s first airing of this Great ‘British’ Story would have been a little disappointed although we did a mention, once, inserted amongst the many Anglo – Saxon references.

    Although only the first episode, it didn’t start well.

    Wood enthused: “This is the story of the people of Britain over 1500 hundred years. Welsh, Scots, English, Irish too have played a great role in the story of Britain” Surprise, surprise, no inclusion of the Cornish.

    As said, it’s early days but with Wood claiming, “that to understand the British story you have to start with the Romans” means yet again the indigenous Cornish, who existed on this island long before the Romans, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons, will probably not get much of a look-in.

    So we wait for episode two that supposedly explores how our modern ethnic and linguistic identities began to take shape after the Dark Ages. If the advertising blurb is anything to go by then Cornwall gets another mention!

    “. . . .from northern Scotland and County Antrim, to the Black Country, Cornwall and Norfolk, where a huge community dig is discovering the lives of their early Anglo-Saxon ancestors.”

    Cornish ancestry is Celtic. Those Anglo-Saxons must have invented a time machine for them to be the ancestors of the Cornish."

  • Comment number 9.

    The 1st programme implied the Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain either just before or quickly after the Romans left Britain during the 5th century AD, but provided little tangible evidence, even the illustrated pottery could not be reliably dated.

    Other evidence could have been selected for example the 'bury' element found in our village and farm place-names consistently occur along the Romans roads every 10km or so, sugests they may originally have been stopping stations.
    That the 'fort' nomenclature pattern seemingly also replicates throughout the Roman empire in the local language term, typically chatel, castro, kastel, camp, grad, pyrg, hisar etc. dependng on the location' perhaps lend support to this possibility.

    My plot can be seen on www.fchknols.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 10.

    It could be put this way. People from England are not Anglo-Saxon, as in, peole from Scotland are not Irish (Scotti). We are all Britons, and Briton are the base with everything added, layered on top. Well, that's my take on it.

  • Comment number 11.

    So British "civilisation" began with the Romans did it? Isn't that a very old fashioned, outdated view of British history? Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of that word, but I'm fairly sure that the Britons who inhabited the island when the Romans arrived would have had a different take on the matter!

    At least viewers were informed/reminded that the original, authentic name for the native language of us Welsh/Cymry is British, the name Welsh being something of a patronising Anglo-Saxon slur. Perhaps a few will see our ongoing struggle for our language in a new light. Who knows.

  • Comment number 12.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. It struck me as thoroughly original and I was particularly impressed by the way it told - or rather started to tell - so many stories (especially political and cultural) in additon to the necessarily broad sweep of the historical narrative simultaneously. The strong sense of community, which is clearly so important to Michael Wood and his whole team, was exemplified through both structure and methodology. And a great choice of music!
    Looking forward to the rest of the series!

  • Comment number 13.

    Enjoyed the opening programme enormously. Carefully considered choices of what to include given that the idea of Britain is so much more complicated than its current geographical entity. Equally impressive interweaving of elements to build the story. Using local people to read, for example, the letters from Hadrian's Wall movingly brings the past almost within touching distance. To me the team has succeeding in making a documentary with depth which is accessible and thought-provoking - I shall watch it again. Looking forward to the rest!

  • Comment number 14.

    Further to myearlier comment, following later comments, I feel I have to state that there is no absolute evidence that ALL of Britain was ever 'Celtic' , ethnically or linguistically, rather it is likely that there has always been an east-west linguistic divide, though such things are never absolute, there will have been some admixture, as when the so-called Saxon king list for Wessex begins with the `celtic' Cerdic (Caradoc), and the earliest 'English' poet has a 'Welsh' name Caedmon.
    The almost total lack of 'celtic' words to be continued into English tells against 'celtic' as having been the language of the majority of people in the present England at any time, UNLESS WE ACCEPT A TOTAL WIPEOUT OF THE FORMER 'WELSH' POPULATION, which proposition is no longer accepted by serious scholars. It is likely that the population of much of the south and east of Britain was of ancestry closely related to that across the Channel and North Sea during the Roman period and for LONG BEFORE as well as the addition, small scale of Angles, Saxons, Vikings etc. afterwards. This being so then the language spoken in this area is likely to have been 'Germanic' all along. It did not require a great shift to produce the 'English' language within Britain. Many 'Roma' soldier serving in Britain, perhaps the majority, also hailed from the german and belgic regions, whos native tongue was Germanic rather than celtic, i.e. the Tungrians and Batavians of the Vindolanda Tablets. It has been a common assumption that all the Britons spoke a version of celtic at the time of Rome, but it has only been an assumption, neither
    the ancient authors nor any good source proves this was so, rather, carefull study, along with continuity in the archeaological record suggest the assumption is wrong.

  • Comment number 15.

    The Great British Story was excellent, and certainly ticked all the boxes considering the magnitude of the task, and who better to do this than Michael Wood, himself a British History Institution in his own right!
    I was especially captivated by that lovely Suffolk village who produced such amazing finds, and I would dearly have loved to see more. I do hope they follow a thread of a single location, like they did well at Kibworth, throughout the series, and then weave it into the whole British Story with all the multiple locations, and stories that are just tucked away, and just waiting to be found.
    I enjoyed getting to know more about a community like Kibworth, as we can all identify with a group of people and their local history, as it represents ALL of us!
    So more of this please Mr Wood!
    It will also show hopefully the international viewers, that Britain still has it's deep rooted history, and picture postcard views on it's doorsteps, and it's rightful place in world history, and innovation.
    At last a programme that helps to show Britain at its best, and if I have one small critism, please slow the pace down if you can, but hey, it's a BIG subject to cover in eight programmes.
    Well done, and please dig out more history gems for us viewers to enjoy!

  • Comment number 16.

    A previous commenter argues for pre-Roman spoken English. However the substantial building of 'celtic' Hill forts during the Iron Age perhaps suggests the need for protection, maybe to meet a challenge presented by newcommers.

    My plots of place-names related to Hill fort nomenclature demonstrate the possible settlement scenario, both for Anglo-Saxons and Gaels, which can be viewed on www.fchknols.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 17.

    I suggest that a version of a 'germanic' language was spoken in Britain at the time of the Roman occupation, and possibly from long before, I think this may go back to the earliest times, but this belongs with the continued migration probably from the Neolithic. I would link this with the earliest farmers, & the 'Halstatt' & 'La Tene' cultures, coming from the centre of Europe into the eastern parts of Britain.
    A parallel movement of peoples to the western parts of Britain, beginning before the land-bridge across the English Channel was flooded, likely brought the originators of the 'Celtic' tongues into that area. This I would associate with the Atlantic traders, early metalsmiths etc. It cannot be certain that hill-forts are 'celtic', and even if they were, they indicate tension WITHIN Britain between groups who may just as well be of the same people not necessarilly between residents & newcomers.
    Whatever the facts are, the linguistic and or cultural differences between the 'eastern' & 'western' indigenous populations of Britain does not negate their COMMON ORIGIN in the same late ice age 'refuge' population, but simply shows were that two or more routes into Britain were used, over a period which permited a difference in language to develop. The 'germanic' version was then regularly reinforced by further immigration, from the recorded 'Belgic' groups of the Iron Age, the Roman auxiliary etc. of the occupation period, the 'Angles' & 'Saxons', then the Danes & other 'vikings'. Then came the Norman, former vikings. The English tongue was strong enough by then for the previously French speaking elite to adopt it within a few generations. This last also tells against 'celtic' ever having been the majority language in England, for how could a 'new' language, introduced by a small elite, have totally replaced such an indigenous tongue, and do that in so little time?
    The majority, and elite, English, have never since been able to wipe out the 'celtic'
    language, or people, from the west or north, so how less could this have occured in the past? I would contend that it never did happen, for Britain's population was not totally 'celtic' at any time, but always had a strong 'germanic' element.
    Note that 'castra' was applied to Roman defensive sites in Britain at a very early date, for it is hardly ever given to none-Roman places.
    A m

  • Comment number 18.

    I have to agree with Tom o Carroll in that Michael Wood, although he discussed the Northumbrians and mentioned the Strathclyde Britons briefly; no mention was made of the Celtic tribes who inhabited the northern part of Britain. Namely the Caledones and their later descendants, the Picts. The Roman army never managed to conquer the northern tribes. Also no mention was made of the resistance by the Picts in stopping Northumbrian expansionism.

  • Comment number 19.

    Hello Michael were my eyes deceiving me today or did i see you in Buxton?Keep up the great work Diane xx

  • Comment number 20.

    Hello I just registered so I could comment on the fact that so few of these privilaged historians/who do you think you are d class celeb's understand how lucky they are to be able to view the historic documents they get to see. Is it not about time they wore gloves all the time they are viewing and handling these irreplacable documents. While looking at the deer book Mr Wood could hardly keep his hands off it I could hardly contain myself from shouting at the TV. Please try harder clean gloves mean future generations get a chance to see these documents with minimal damage.

  • Comment number 21.

    Michael, ignore the pedants! We can all complain about details and our own obsessions. The two programmes so far have been great. It's horrifically hard to get 2,000 years and more over the whole of Britain compressed into a sensible TV narrative. There are clear and simple messages coming through - our history is long and richly varied, we share so many common experiences in this island of Britain. We have a complex ethnicity. I love the view down the Irish Sea and Western Isles from the north. I love the tricky balancing act of presenting England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland - each with very complex histories - within a single narrative. I love the emphasis on a people's story of Britain. OK, I would have made more of Alfred, Kenneth McAlpin and Rhodri Mawr in episode 2, but it's your series not mine, and I suspect if I made one it would be turgid and dull as a result. Looking forward to the rest.

  • Comment number 22.

    Bredon Hill refered to in the programme was explained as 'don', also meaning a hill.
    A plot of the 300 or so 'don' places in England illustrates 'don' places e.g. Swindon, are always next to a Hill fort, hence may have been settlements indicating location relative to the Hill fort. Most have an 'English' prefix element and the Hill forts were Iron Age.
    The same term 'dun' with a Gaelic element can be seen in Scotland and Ireland.

    My plot can be seen on www.fchknols.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 23.

    Episode 2 - The use of the dreaded W word for the natives of Britain at the time of the Anglo-Saxon arrivals is to be applauded. All too often, English historians attempt to 'denationalise' the issue by referring to the natives as 'Celts', a somewhat generic term NEVER used by the 'Germanic' Anglo-Saxons or anyone else in historical times for the Britons. Likewise reference to various dialects of Welsh (not Celtic) having been spoken from Edinburgh to Cornwall.

    The tentative use of the term 'ethnic cleansing' to describe the displacement of the Welsh/Britons from 'England' by the Anglo-Saxons when in conversation with Dr Maredudd ap Huw was braver still, and I can well imagine some sitting at home (on both sides of the 'ethnic divide') will have choked on their dinner when he described the English nation as part Welsh, part Anglo-Saxon!

    However, I very much hope that in later episodes, before this series comes to an end, Michael will be able to show that this issue is very much a 'live one' for us Welsh in Wales, with the enormous influx of English folk that has taken place in recent decades, and continues year by year. Most of these new arrivals, nice people for the most part I'm sure, will never learn our precious British language, the end result being that we are being gradually anglicised AGAINST OUR WILL in the small part of Britain (Wales is a mere 9% of the land mass of the Island of Britain) that we still occupy as a distinct linguistic and cultural community (the Welsh in Wales now number around 2m (?) in a total UK population of circa 63m, of which 650,000 (?) of us are Welsh/British speakers). Yes, we now have legal status for our language thanks to a modicum of 'home rule' and it's firmly on the educational curriculum, but the 'situation on the ground' in our towns and villages is becoming another matter altogether.

    Who said history was dead?

  • Comment number 24.

    I have to agree with Tom O Carroll and others with the same view of this programme. This was not the story of Britain but the story of England and I suspect that those who did like it see themselves as being Anglo Saxon descendants. The BBC has a responsibilty to make sure that there is continuity in what they broadcast. Information in this programme was at odds with other BBC broadcasts, i.e. 'A history of Scotland' and 'How God made the English'.

  • Comment number 25.

    Again what a joy to watch Episode 2, on what is without a doubt, a massive undertaking.
    I applaud Michael Wood, and the BBC for taking on and producing this wonderful series. As judging by the comments on this blog, it is now getting people to indulge their strong views, and opinions on "their" own takes on history, and whether you agree or not, it is a good thing, and extremely interesting to read.
    Many of the blog comments made after espisode one, were covered very well in episode two this week, and I found it great viewing, and the visual aspects of the programme stunning, with a nice flowing pace.
    I personally look forward to enjoying the whole series, and after that I will revisit all the episodes again, in my own time, without the weekly gaps, and enjoy it in it's full back to back glory.
    Keep up the great work Mr Wood.

  • Comment number 26.

    Thank you so much, Michael, for including a piece about the Black Country, its dialect, history and the centrality (literally) of the area and significance to the story. So often overlooked when dicussing the histories of the British. And yet it is a cross over for Britons, Saxons and Vikings.

    In fact I'm surprised that you didn't pop over from the Likey Hills to Wychbury Hill. So named, I understand, after the Whicce tribe. We also have the Wychavon district and Saxon (I think) place names such as Kingswinford and Oldswinford (Old Swine Ford). Other interersting placenames include Kinver and Kenelm.


  • Comment number 27.

    Why did the remarks on the Picts ignore totally the research of Prof Richard A V Cox and published by the University of Aberdeen which shows that the Picts spoke Norse? The inscriptions he studied are the only written evidence for their speech. They used the Ogham script, normally used for Gaelic, but the words are clearly Norse.

    Both Scots and irish Gaelic have lots of words of Norse origin.

    The team of advisers seems to be composed of those expert in so-called 'Celtic' studies. The standard theory of the Celts was destroyed in March 2001 by a team from UCL led by James Wilson (an Orcadian). Why is he not an adviser? Why do we not see the names of Stephen Oppenheimer, P. Forster, Francis Pryor, Bryan Sykes, John Collis, and Michael A Morse?

    There are millions in Britain with a knowledge of Welsh but few who know Scandinavian languages to which, as Oppenheimer remarks, English is closest, so few are aware of the prevalence of Norse placenames and dubious Welsh origins for them are accepted without question. Even Ouse has been claimed to be Welsh, when it is clearly Saxon. The Welsh may have invented a goddess called Hafren to explain the Welsh name for the Severn, Afon Havrene, but havrene is Norse and it turns up in the older versions of the name Upavon, Oppavrene, and sometimes it is found without the r as haven(e). It is also the origin of the name Le Havre in France, accepted as Germanic. Norse placenames in Scotland are attributed to the Vikings, but they married local girls who brought up their children speaking Gaelic. Why should the mothers have taught their children place-names different from what they had known all their lives? The answeremaybe that it is very likely that the placenames were Pictish Norse before the invasion of the Scotti around 500 AD. So 'Nevis' means 'head of ice'.

    There was clearly a conquest of England by the Anglii, quite a small force probably, like the Normans after and like many other conquerors of many lands, but the Saxons were here already (Oppenheimer). The history of Great Britain seems to me to be one of constant invasions from the west. Recently the 4000 yearold body of a person from Antrim was found near Inverness. The R1b haplogroup, originating in the Spanish Ice Age refuge, became dominant over the R1a haplgroup from the eastern refuge, perhaps reversing the earlier profile. They were helped by a survival characertitstic of great importance, the higher resistance to smallpox and malaria which I am told is associated with group 'O' blood. When Scandinavians got more contact with peoples from the Southwest in the late middle ages, they were slaughtered by diseases they acquired, much as North American suffered in a later age. Irish assaults on Britain probably extended along the whole of the west coast, but only in the Highlands were the numbers sufficient to change the language. The Irish sailors perhaps did not content themselves with Britain; R1b genes are found in Turkey and even Syria. The Irish invasion of Great Britain still continues of course and added and estimated 8 million in the last 200 years.

    St Gildas was stated in the programme to be Welsh, ignoring the earlier biography which places him in the Clyde Valley, then probably a mingling place for Irish, Welsh, and Norse speakers. His name has Irish and possibly Norse elements. His villain, 'Vortigern' is an Irish title, as is 'Centigern', not a name, tigerne being Irish for 'lord' or 'leader'. Hengist and Horsa are mediaeval jokes as both names mean horse in Danish and Old Norse respectively. There should have been another brother named 'Hest' to include Norwegian as well.

    The use of the word 'Welsh' for the Cymru is probably a historical accident. The italic Gal (origin of Galli) was Wal in Germanic dialects and Prof Tolkien suggested that 'Wal' indicated anyone who spoke Latin or a language from the Italic (Romance Group). When Hans Sachs in Wagner's Meistersinger opera warns the Germans to be wary of 'the false Welsh imperium' he does not mean hill tribes in Snowdodonia but the French and the Italians.

    I think it is likely that the latinate ('Romance') languages of western Europe are not descendants of Latin but derive from sibling languages to Latin. Other parts of the Roman Empire which did not have such languages do not now speak latinate languages except Roumania, a special case.

  • Comment number 28.

    Well, at least this is the very first "History of Britain" programme to even mention the original inhabitants, the Brythonic-Welsh people and it's language, although same dissappointing, totally inaccurate, colonialist assumptions about no civilisation before the Romans. Shame really, as most people in England are also probably p-Celts like us - some of you may even want to learn some Welsh - it's your herriatage as much as it is mine - and personally, much more meaningful than Royal families and empire...

  • Comment number 29.

    A substantial Latin contribution to our post-Roman ethnic mix could have been considered in the programme, perhaps reflected in the scores of farms, villages, and towns bearing the chester,castor, camp and (pre-medieval)castle elements in place-names across the whole of Britain. All are Latin/Roman nomenclature possibly used and retained by the occupiers of these places.

    A list and plot can be seen on www.fchknols.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 30.

    Dear Michael

    I think these programmes are quite brilliant and very moving - the programme intros reduce me to tears each time! Of course there are quibbles, but what the hell, as an historian of the British Empire I know how easy it is to unwittingly offend some group or section of our complex and richly diverse society. Just keep on!
    Prof. Denis Judd, author of EMPIRE, the British Imperial experience 1765 to the the present (new paperback edition IB Tauris 2012)

  • Comment number 31.

    I don't recall hearing any mention of the old North. That area of northern England and southern Scotland made up of Britons. By all accounts, everyone in Southern Scotland were Irish, or that's the impression given. Also, wasn't Scotland, Scotland around the 11 century not the 8th or 9th?

    What does become more obvious, is that poeple in England have, or were fed the story that their history in Britain starts with the Saxons, with some Britons around. But in reality, that is a myth. I find myself having more sympathy with Wales and non Saxon influenced people. People from Wales do not like the fact that many areas of England are the same people (Devon has not been mentioned either), and people from England do not like to think of being related to Wales or Scotland (even though we have had huge movements around the Country since then, even if the English were pure Saxon type people), which is sad. Reading online, some sources say that Southern England dna is almost the same as Southern Scotland, but no mention here. I cannot remember if it was covered that Vikings influence in the North of England was similar to the North of Scotland, yet Northern England is the same as Southern Scotland. It all adds up to a complex mess. I just feel programmes like these cannot start to comprehend to enormity and complexity of what happened in those times. I am not saying this series is rubbish or I do not like it, but history made simple can become devisive. Especially in Britain.

    How do these dark age chroniclers know so much anyway, have they got investigators, cars, and such like. Bede, Gildas, just with Geoffory of Monmouth, take with a pinch of salt. I think the word dark has been given, because we do not know much about these times.

    While we are at it. As we have apologised to everyone on this planet for being British, could we have official apologies from the decendants of Rome, Ireland, Germanics, Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia, Norse, for what they have created in this Country, which is a fragmented dis-united mess. Yes they had benefits (by all accounts the British Empire never did, but it's a tired old story now), but ultimately, look at us.

  • Comment number 32.

    Sorry to have to comment again upon the 'ethnicity' of the people of Britain, but I think it must be said that the idea that the 'Welsh indigenous people of Britain' having 'lost' 75% of their land, presumably to the Anglo-Saxons, may have been HOW IT SEEMED to a Welsh chronicler of the 8th century, but it does not make it true. It maybe that the 'Welsh' never did occupy the whole of Britain, but rather a wide group of varied peoples, WITH VARIED LANGUAGES, some of which may always have been 'germanic' or proto-english. Oppenheimer etc. have indicated how this probably came about (however much one may dispute these ideas). The British link with Scandinavia is clear, and long predates the 'vikings', so may well include the 'Picts', as is the western influx of people, who were most likely the ancestral
    Celts. I wish that commeilors would stop using the term 'Anglo-Saxon', it is a modern invention. No-one in the 7th century would have recognised the term.
    Bede refers to Angles and Saxons (with Jutes & others). These were distinct peoples, however closely related, so WE shuld not conflate them. It is fare to use the term Saxon in the counties which derive their names from the word, but we Angles elsewhere. Gildas was a Briton, writing in Latin, he was NOT 'Welsh'.
    The Britons, we are told continued to call the 'English' enemy 'Germans', while 'Welsh' was originally a derogative term for the Britons, coined by the english.
    there was probably no concept of a unitary term for the peoples of these islands until the Romans adopted the term ' Britannia' from earlier Greek records, & from this derived the idea of 'Britons'. I imagine that by the time the conquering Romans arrived in the north they would have been seen by the locals as members of a tribe 'from the south' of Britain, rather than as foreigners from beyond the sea!

  • Comment number 33.

    26. Wychburyman; what about Wychwood in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds?


  • Comment number 34.

    Have only just watched episode 1 on the iplayer so I'm a bit behind the times, however I can't resist having my two penn'orth. Let me say first that I always enjoy Michael Wood's programmes, I like his visible excitement in front of the camera, and I like the balance he strikes between scholarship and accessibility. His stated purpose this time round is to link the experiences of ordinary individuals and localities to the “national story”, and in so doing to emphasise the diversity of those experiences. This is laudable not least because it encourages a liberal, inclusive understanding of our modern national identity. It is also highly ambitious and leaves him less time to narrate the overarching national story itself, which is why some commentators above have found the programme bitty and hard to understand – while others, perhaps inevitably, have found their own part in the story under-represented.

    Personally I enjoyed this programme and, on the whole, found the various elements well-chosen. Highlights would have to include the Romano-African cavalry officer's tender memorial inscription to his (gay?) companion in South Shields, and the “meaty” oysters that sustained Germanic settlers on the Norfolk coast. I also liked the “ordinary people” chosen to relate the part played by their own locality – the sheep farmer from Slemish Mountain, the DJ from Govan. At the same time it was both amusing and fitting to see Michael Wood looking a bit uneasy when confronted with the angry passion of a group of Welsh poets – a reminder that Britain is not just one big happy family and old conflicts are still alive.

    Now for the “But...”. Yes, I have a couple of axes to grind like most of the other commentators here. There are a couple of things that Wood got seriously wrong in the programme. Firstly I must echo the complaint made by others above re: his crass statement that the Romans “first brought civilisation” to our shores. This is a colossal gaffe and it is annoying that a programme aiming to be inclusive should write off the Celtic bedrock of our national culture without a mention – I don't know what the Welsh poets will say but I can hazard a guess! Let me quote Encyclopedia Britannica on the late period of Celtic artwork: “its most interesting branch was found in Britain, which saw a very individual development and where La Tène art continued to flourish after this style had passed its zenith on the Continent.”* Without acknowledging such achievements and the society that produced them, how can we correctly judge the impact of Roman administration, engineering and all the rest?

    My other beef is to do with the vexed but crucial issue of the “Anglo-Saxon Conquest” - i.e. was it? It was good to hear Tim Pestell's playful retort - “Don't give me that!” - when asked how many settlers did come across from Europe. Nobody knows, of course. This is a hobbyhorse of mine though, and it's just not good enough to talk about a monolithic westward push for land fuelled by Germanic immigration. I was surprised at Wood's easy use of the term “Anglo-Saxon tribes” as if these were ethnically homogeneous groups of people. I'm sure he would readily admit that a) this was an age of myriad localised conflicts between groups that we can barely perceive let alone define, and b) it was a pre-ethnic age in which followers identified as the children of their leaders, no matter who their biological forebears might be.

    The example that Wood quotes of Saxon/British conflict is ironic to say the least – Stoke Wood, Oxfordshire, i.e. the battle of Fretherne, referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 584AD. This was fought on the Saxon side, the Chronicle tells us, by one Ceawlin, leader of the Gewisse (which later became Wessex). Ceawlin's name, like that of his grandfather Cerdic (the founder of the dynasty), is British. To my eyes the Gewisse look suspiciously like a minor native elite that, having hit the big time in land and prestige, reinvented themselves as Germanic warrior invaders. How many other local elites of British descent adopted similar new identities? Dark Ages history is complicated!

    I will now get off my soapbox and go and watch episode 2. Come on Woody, pull your finger out!

    * see article “Europe, history of” p.19 of 221

  • Comment number 35.

    I and my friends are enjoying this series , it has created a talking point during socials, made us want to find out more. love the regular title being printed out on the screen. Getting children as well as the general public involved is brilliant, future historians in the making I would say. Academics just love to criticise but actually this is not for them it's all about the People's History as it clearly states. I believe there are eight parts to this series, we cannot wait to see the rest unfold, how can we expect one or two episodes to cover everything. Out here in the thick of things these programmes are being well received there isn't anything as far as we are aware remotely hitting the spot as this series is doing for us. We also love the music it fits and enhances rather than gets in the way. Brilliant series, looking forward to the rest, thank you

  • Comment number 36.

    I feel I must respond again to some recent comments on the series.
    It is not good enough to distinguish 'academics' from the 'ordinary people' as an excuse to 'dumb down' a complex subject such as the 'ethnicity' & origins of the British people. With such a complicated subject, it is better to admit that much of 'history' is based on mythology, not fact. It may be convenient to continue to use terms such as 'Anglo-Saxon', 'Welsh', 'Viking' etc., but one should explain to one's audience that these are contentious, and often very recent inventions, which would often have been meaningless to the people refered to. It is a shame that the programmes had to perpetuate such mistaken ideas such as the 'Anglo-Saxon' takeover of England etc. when it had the opportunity to explain that the vast majority of 'Roman-British' population survived what was likely only an elite takeover, which need not have comprised only newcomers from Germany.
    It has been shown by some of the comments above that several important leaders of record had British rather than German names, while it also likely that a proportion of the Britons were already of 'germanic' stock, & may have been for a very long time. There is not sufficient evidence that ALL Britons were 'Celtic' or 'Gallic' in either speech or 'ethnicity' before the Roman conquest. The Classical authors say that they were like the peoples opposite them across the Channel etc. These peoples were again NOT all the same. There were 'Gauls', but also 'Iberians' to the south, & 'Belgae' & 'Germans' to the south, east & north-east, all of whom we are told, (Tacitus etc.) had 'relatives' in the appropriate parts off the British Isles.
    The DNA researches of recent years have indicated a long relationship between these areas and the British population, far back into prehistory. This strongly supports an equally ancient 'ethnic/linguistic' connection between Britain, Germany and Scandinavia, NOT one that only began in post Roman times. The same sort of evidence suggest a very ancient and continuing western, Atlantic, stream of trade,
    from Spain, through Ireland & Britain to Scandinavia, which like carried at some period the 'Celtic' language/s into the region. Within Britain these people have constantly contested for land, resources etc., but also co-habited mixed & combined in numerous ways over the millenia since, while new intrusions of related peoples (Saxons, vikings, etc.) occasionally added to the mix.
    The archaeological record tends to support the DNA evidence, while the DNA can help to dispell the various myths, to%2

  • Comment number 37.

    The programme describing possible early Angle and Saxon immigration has raised conjecture. In this respect some key place-name terms readily found in Britain are seemingly exclusive to specific regions on the continent, possible examples include:

    bottle (Britain)- buttl (Holstein only)
    ham (Britain) -ham/hem/heim (Germanic speaking countires)
    wyke/wick (Britain) -wyk/wijk (Holand/Begium/Rhineland)

    by (Britain) - by (Scandinavia) and maybe beuf (Normandy)
    toft (Britain) - topt(Scandinavia) and maybe tot(Normandy)

    Some suggest a Roman period foundation such as the following sited near Roman forts or on Roman roads:
    Burthorpe, Lincs
    Burtoft, Lincs
    Castethorpe, Humberside
    Castlethorpe, Beds
    Castlethwaite, Cumbria
    Wick, numerous

    These and other possibly pre-Roman examples can be seen in my plots on www.fchknols.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 38.

    Dear Michael,

    As with The Story of England, may I congratulate you on what promises to be yet another original and entertaining piece of work - this time "Our Island Story".

    To all the posters above who seemed to have used the opportunity for comment to carp and dust down their various personal hobby horses on the subject - I appreciate the strength of feeling, but think that you are missing the point somewhat. If anyone can name a previous series that has even attempted such an ambitiously multistranded (and largely balanced) approach to interweaving the fates of the various home nations, in such an entertaining manner, and (further) with the enthusiastic participation of members of the public (to bring a uniquely personal flavour to proceedings), then I would (genuinely) like to hear about it... because I'm certain there isn't one. The very fact that this series exists, and is genuinely 'British' in approach (as opposed to purportedly British, whilst actually Anglocentric, as is more often the case) should be applauded and celebrated, rather than somewhat humourlessly raked over. Whatever sanding and smoothing has taken place in the service of providing even vaguely coherent 60 minute chunks is forgivable as far as I'm concerned - what's important is that people's curiosity is piqued and they are motivated to find out more themselves (which is the true place for the discussion of assertions such as those given above). I'm sure that a great many viewers are (as am I) well aware of the complexity of some of the issues and of the various ongoing debates (indeed the 'steady state' versus 'replacement' theories of Anglo-Saxon "colonisation" were clearly alluded to by Michael during the programme). Personally, I was predominantly gratified such a broad canvas was even being attempted. Would you rather that the programme had never been made in the first place? I would hope not...

    As the child of Welsh parents, born in England, who has over the years sat through countless programmes that purported to provide the 'British' story of this or that, but invariably quickly revealed themselves to be the 'English' story, I was greatly relieved, e.g. the rewarding sequences filmed in Llantwit Major / Llanilltud Fawr. In this respect, I cannot agree with the correspondent above who regarded this as yet another 'Anglocentric' offering - this patently isn't true. If there were a significant focus on Bede that is undoubtedly because he is one of the (only) major Dark Age sources - hence worthy of attention. All despite his quite obvious prejudice against the British ('Welsh') and

  • Comment number 39.

    Michael Wood's series are always stimulating. I found the one on Bronze Age myths enlightening. This one sparks interest in our roots. It is great that we have him to present it to the whole nation. Long may he inspire!

  • Comment number 40.

    @ DanRhysPrice,
    Hear! Hear!

  • Comment number 41.

    From Geoffrey Gardiner

    I commend Dan Ferguson’s sober analysis.

    The old theories of the origins of the British which were developed over 300 years were, I think, a result of a British inferiority complex. So long as people thought that Stonehenge was built by Druids only 2000 years ago, 500 years after the construction of the magnificent Parthenon, they regarded the ancient Brits as mere savages. They were told that civilisation had begun 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia and spread outwards, reaching last those savages on the Atlantic Facade of Europe. The peoples of Britain therefore wanted a more sophisticated ancestry. To compensate, the Welsh and Irish adopted the theory that ‘Celts’, speaking a language like Irish or Welsh (ignore the huge difference), dominated Europe from Galicia in Spain to Galatia in Turkey, but were driven to the British Isles and the Armorican Peninsula by nasty Germanic peoples and others. The ‘Celts’, they decided, had invaded and taken over Ireland and Britain between 600 and 150 BC, and they originated in Austria. The English responded by emphasising an ancestry which connected them to Germans, passionate believers in freedom who had slaughtered three Roman Legions. But carbon dating has shown that Stonehenge is over 1500 years older than the Parthenon and was the most advanced technology in Europe of the time, the work of a great civilisation which involved the whole of the Atlantic Facade and also the western Mediterranean, the Megalithic Culture. The Welsh and Irish had unknowingly thrown away the greatest ancestry of all. And the English by wrongly differentiating themselves also from the aborigines of England had done exactly the same.

    The Welsh and Irish had no monopoly of the ‘Celts’. The guide book for Copenhagen says, talking of the origin of the Iron Age, ‘The iron arrived in Denmark with people now gathered under the general heading of Celts who originated in Central Europe and migrated to colonize almost the whole of the habitable north....’ ‘It was the Celtic Anglii (the Angles) tribe that inhabited southern Jutland, and some of their number joined the Saxons and Jutes who invaded southern Britain....’ So for the Danes the people of East Anglia are Celts and the Welsh are not! Of course both lots are wrong. It is more that time for the term ‘Celtic’ to be dropped by all serious scholars.

    After all who were the ‘Celts’? The Ancient Greeks gave the name ‘Keltoi’ to some people they did not like who were vaguely to their north, though the oldest reference by Hecateus puts them inland from Marseilles and later both Keltice and Galatia (land of the Galli) were used by the Greeks to refer to much of France. Herodotus, the father of history or of lies, says the Keltoi lived in the upper reaches of the River Ister, near the city of Pyrene, and that they were the furthest west people. That makes three widely separated places. The River Ister is the Danube, so the Danes and others decided they must be the Halstatt peoples. But Herodotus was a rotten geographer, and like Aristotle later must have thought the Danube arose in the Pyrenees. His idea of the ‘furthest west’ might have been a bit wrong. Perhaps he meant the Basques?

    The museums of Ireland are stuffed with golden artefacts of local origin and research has shown that Ireland was a major source of gold for Europe. Britain probably has better items of so-called ‘Celtic art’ than Europe. What are possibly the oldest golden torcs (800 BC) were found not in Europe but near Dingwall in Scotland. It is time to question the idea that Britain and Ireland were importers of ‘Celtic’ art and to examine the strong possibility that it was the other way around; could they have exported it? Michael you should have explored this possibility.

    We have both male and female ancestors, and 10,000 years ago they may have lived far apart. Women got around more than men. A majority of the native male population of the islands share one common male ancestor, with mid-Wales having the highest proportion and East Anglia the lowest (but still 51.2 per cent). We cannot yet know the male ancestry of women. Female ancestry (of both men and women) is slightly more varied, though one woman dominates with nearly 50 per cent everywhere but London (40.9 per cent there) (Sykes). The female ancestry of North Wales is closer to East Anglia than it is to South Wales (Sykes). Language is no guide to male ancestry as children normally get their language from their mothers.

    Two linguistic points. Bredon would mean ‘Broad Hill’ in Saxon, a good description. ‘Thorpe’, mentioned in one of the comments and meaning farm, is commonest in Lincolnshire and nearby counties, and in Sweden it is commonest around Malmö, though now degenerated to Torp. A connection? If so, which way? The sea was a highway, not a barrier. The peoples of Britain were always great sailors. While Viking sailors were being a nuisance to Alfred the Great his own navy was doing the same in northern France - see the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

  • Comment number 42.

    Thank you DanRhysPrice and Art581 I totally, totally agree, and this from Dan is exactly the point and I quote:
    "what's important is that people's curiosity is piqued and they are motivated to find out more themselves (which is the true place for the discussion of assertions such as those given above)." unquote........ I had one set of Scottish grandparents, great great grandparent who travelled from France, I was born in Lancashire now live in the South West, for us and many many more of our friends this series is fascinating, Thank you Michael, the BBC and the whole team.... it is Oh so easy to criticise something but not so easy to say thank you and well done, before you point out what you feel could be done better. Its rainy and miserable looking forward to watching number three this evening in the warm ;)

  • Comment number 43.

    This is exactly the sort of series I enjoy. Sadly, though, this was Soooooooooo slow and verbose I gave up life and decided to watch paint dry.

  • Comment number 44.

    Michael Wood is very refreshing and stimulating. But I have a comment or two.
    I think he makes too much of Magna Carta as an event; a starting point in our fight to assert our liberties. It was Archbishop Stephen Langton who drafted the Great Charter and he based it on the Charter of Liberties of Henry Ist issued in the year 1100 which was itself a restatement of the Saxon laws extant at the end of the reign of Edward the Confessor. And in quoting from the Declaration of Arbroath he confuses Scottish patriotic nationalism with English freedom of the subject. If a stated intent to support one's monarch or other head of state against foreign invaders exemplifies individual freedom then the Russians who fought under Stalin in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 were, judging by the determination they expressed, the freest people on earth.
    As a general comment on all the blogs about Anglo-Saxon displacement/replacement I put forward my view that if there had been no Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian immigration after the year 400 it would still be the case that the DNA of those living on the eastern side of England would match that of Germany and that we would be speaking some kind of Ingvaeonic Germanic language (Oppenheimer) but it would not be English, nor of course would we be living in England.

  • Comment number 45.

    Episode 3 last night was excellent, and again it tackled some very prickly historical issues with both accuracy, and great thought behind it-so well done again Mr Wood.
    As for the pace it was again perfect. It certainly kept the interest and gave me time to absorb the message Mr Wood was actually getting across, and it certainly worked in this mixed aged household.
    I was also refreshed to see a great representative coverage of the nation, but was again delighted to revisit the very much overlooked county of Suffolk, and to see such splendid countryside, just packed with historical gems waiting to be discovered!
    Even my stamping ground in the Midlands here got some coverage and credit.
    Keep it up Mr Wood.

  • Comment number 46.

    The fascinating 3rd programme concentrated on the Norman Conquest but hardly mentioned the Normandy homeland itself. Prior to the Roman occupation of Normandy, Hill forts (likely occupied by ‘celtic’ speakers) dominated the landscape of this region. However the regularity of ‘bourg’ place-names along the Roman roads and near the forts/towns in Normandy (possibly stopping stations) suggest Germanic speakers. In contrast for the rest of France, the Latin derived chatel, castel or chateau is the more common equivalent along the Roman roads, but also commonly interspersed with ‘bourg’ places.
    Interestingly ‘beuf’(by) and ‘tot’(toft) also feature strongly in the Normandy countryside interspersed with several villages named ‘Anglesqueville’. If of Scandinavian origin could they have preceded the 8/9th century raiders historically referred to only as Danes/Vikings?
    Presumably the Germanic language subsequently became engulfed by ‘French’.

    Plots of these places can be observed on: www.fchknols.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 47.

    Episode 3 - The first 28 minutes or so covered 1066; the invasion of England and it's brutal aftermath for the Anglo-Saxons. There were recounts of real, named people living in specific, named places and the injustices they suffered. The viewer was left in no doubt that this was in may ways a catastrophe for the English nation; after all, the ruling, land owning elites were all but eliminated and the English peasantry found themselves living under what was described as something akin to apartheid.

    It was followed by 2 minutes or so in which the Anglo-Normans subsequently moved into "South Wales" and took control - not one Welshman or Welshwoman who struggled against the Normans was named. Then, astonishingly, the conquest of Wales was completed in a further 15 seconds by Edward 1, an event that came across as a mere formality, a "mopping up" exercise. No names, no faces, no places, no stories of resistance (despite this being a conquest that took the better part of two hundred years), nothing about the loss of freedom and the brutality, no human dimension. A mere afterthought.

    An oversensitive response by a touchy Welshman? Perhaps, but seriously, what do you expect? It's at that stage that I felt that what had started out so promisingly as an attempt to paint a more comprehensive history of the Island of Britain and it's constituent nations/peoples, with no small measure of success, morphed yet again into a history of England.

    Edwards Longshanks of England's brutal conquest of Wales was every bit as much a catastrophe for the Welsh as William of Normandy's brutal conquest of England. 1282 and the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd deserves as much consideration and explanation as 1066 and the death of Harold.

    So why wasn't it given Michael?

  • Comment number 48.

    Thanks Michael wood for this series on British history.I do have to confess that this series didn't even come close to your other documentary-"The story of India".That was epic..

  • Comment number 49.

    I noticed that in episode one a Roman grave that had the word "Moor" on it's description, was said to contain a black person. I have always understood that the word "moor" referred to people from Morocco - and if so, the grave would contain a Berber or Arab person, not a black person. Why the distinction? I was also puzzled by the lack of detail regarding the assimilation of the "Anglo Saxons". After all, most English people have little Anglo Saxon DNA and it is now assumed that the Anglo Saxons were "elite" invaders and their customs and language were adopted by the indigenous Britons already living here.

  • Comment number 50.

    From what I can see Mr Wood was not 'profiliating' any 'myths' about the Saxons- rather one archeaologist simply stated that some of his fraternity are beginning to look more favourably on the older idea of a large scale invasion/conquest- and this only when Wood proposed the fashionable idea of a small scale invasion.

    Just because this concept is not favoured, fashionable or politcally correct does not mean it is invalid.

    Personally, I have never been wholly convinced by the whole 'small scale elite' Saxon invasion. We talk about DNA testing as though everyone on the country had been tested, but really only a small proportion have- and we make assumptions on the basis of that.
    The most compelling evidence for a mass conquest IMO is the fact that the Scottish and Welsh themselves considered the English to be Saxons, they called them such- if out Celtic nieghbours regarded us as 'Saxons' does that not say something?

  • Comment number 51.

    I could not agree with one of the assertions made by Mr Wood in last night's episode (4) of the 'Great British Story' in which he seemed to be implying that the 'Middle Classes' did not exist before the 14th century.

    What about all the merchants, traders and craftspeople who were around in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries and even before? They were not serfs nor were they unfree, they could own land in thier own right, yet they were not aristocrats. So I think the evidence is quite clear- that people of the middling classes were around long before the 14th century.

    Personally, I also feel this whole programme made little attempt to refute the popular misconception about the medieval period that all non-aristocrats were serfs living in bondage and servitude (except Wat Tyler and John Balle). Perhaps the Left Wing BBC are just uncomfortable with the idea that almost everyone who took part in the so called 'peasant's' revolt was actually Middle Class.

    As I was taught my Professor at University- most were from cities, where there was no serfdom, or from Kent, where again there was little serfdom. These people were not 'serfs' they were the free, literate, moneyed, socially mobile classes who could own thier own land. Undoubtedly the idea of the 'Peasant's revolt' as a Middle Class rising is not popular particularly with all the parallels the BBC were deliberately trying to draw with the recent London riots, but most Medievalists could tell you that tile- makers like good old Wat, Priests like John Balle, and all the others Knights, Townspeople, Merchants, Traders and Craftspeople who took part in the 'summer of blood' were not serfs, so why does the media insist upon promoting the idea that the rovolt was some kind of proto-socialist movement for the freedom of the 'working classes'?

  • Comment number 52.

    Britannia. Personally I find the whole "Anglo Saxons were "elite" invaders and their customs and language were adopted by the indigenous Britons already living here" story very unconvincing.
    If you look at Post-Roman Welsh and Celtic Literature the picture is not one of mutual co-operation and tolerance, but of hostility and warfare between the Britons and Saxons. I find the above rather too convenient an explanation. Why would the Britons and Welsh have assimilated the culture of the invaders and abandoned thier own langauge and customs?

    To those who compare the Saxon invasions to the Norman Conquest I would say that the latter was effectively the inverse of what happened in the 5th and 6th century. Instead of the English assimilating the cuture and customs of the Normans, abandoning thier own, and all decided to speak French instead of English the opposite happened- the Normans gradually became more 'English'.

    So if this was the same thing that happened at the time of the Saxon invasions, why did the Saxons not begin speaking Bythonic or Old Welsh, why did they not become more 'British' and, like the Normans, gradually assimilate themselves to culture of the English majority?

  • Comment number 53.

    Several previous comments draw attention to a 'small scale elite' theory of Saxons arriving in Britain post the Roman departure during the 5th century.

    However a plot of several hundred 'bury' named farms, villages and towns, (eg. Aylesbury, Salisbury etc.) shows coincidence with Roman roads, and therefore may have served as stopping stations for travellers, wagoners etc.

    The pattern is replicated along ALL the Romans throughout the Roman Empire, today observed as chatel, camp, kastel, burg, borg, hisar, caer depending on the country and language, suggesting establishment contemporary with the Roman period.

    If so,the inference for England in particular is a substantial 'English' speaking population existing during the Roman period.

    These and other relevant data evidence, eg. 'wick' mostly in England, and 'caer' for Wales and parts of Scotland can be seen on:


  • Comment number 54.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the first 4 episodes of this series & I came here to try to find out when the remaining episodes would be, as I am keen not to miss them. I was disappointed to find that the scheduled dates aren't yet published. (It is a shame that the BBC appears not to have a facility that could alert me when further episodes are imminent, but at a time when BBC budgets are under huge pressures I will not dwell on that point).

    I was surprised to see in this blog that there has been lots of criticism about the content of the initial episodes, but perhaps that is the reason why the schedule for the remaining episodes hasn't yet been announced. However I think that Michael Wood has been very brave to even attempt to cover such a wide & difficult subject. I didn't enjoy history lessons at school but I feel sure I would have enjoyed history lessons much more if this sort of material had been available & used by my school teachers.

    I have no doubt that there are many very knowledgeable historians here who have made completely valid points. However I hope that those people do not lose sight of the fact that the majority of the population know far less about history, perhaps because they didn't enjoy the way it was taught at school. I think it is more important to seek to arouse laymen's interest in the subject than to strive to achieve perfect technical correctness.

    Therefore please Michael Wood & the BBC, DO NOT be disheartened by all the criticism in THIS blog! I suspect that the majority of people who have watched these programmes have enjoyed them as much as I have.

    Well done & please carry on!

  • Comment number 55.

    Please can someone enlighten me who performed the song used in the peasants revolt programme. It is based on 'taxes will ruin us all' 1381 and is played at around 30 minutes into the programme.

  • Comment number 56.

    Could someone tell me where I can obtain a copy of "Over the Rainbow" sung, according the the credits by "Tyler Erlich"? I can find no reference to this singer/song combination anywhere.

  • Comment number 57.

    I found Michael Wood’s fourth episode of the Great British Story depressing in that it confirmed the growing impression that this is yet another celebration of the English with curious and rather pointless glimpses of the otherwise invisible Scots, Irish and Welsh. The information and the presentation of this English story is high quality since Wood is a likeable presenter who communicates his knowledge and enthusiasm, but to call it British is actually insulting and offensive, since it essentially treats the rest of Britain as if it were already a fully assimilated part of England – which, in spite of continuing English effort over the centuries, overt and covert, it’s still not.
    The fourth episode like the third (which brought in a misleading bit about Scotland at the very last minute) illustrates the point perfectly. We started with the Black Death and after English details we visited Wales, Scotland and Ireland with some documentary evidence being cited – so far, so good. But the Black Death was a physical phenomenon, recognising no political, cultural or social boundaries. When it came to the social and political effects of the BD we returned to and stayed in England for the rest of the hour. The Peasants’ Revolt was a major incident in English history and indeed we are told the unrest did not go beyond England. We are told 1381 was a ‘turning point’ in British history – I have never heard it quoted as such in Scottish history. We were given a context of wars with France, the Wars of the Roses, the Tudors – all of which, so far as Scotland was, and is, concerned, related to a foreign country. And so it went on as Michael grew increasingly enthusiastic about the changes for the better in England and almost drooled over Suffolk sewers and English mediaeval society in general. And I understood that in the next episode the ‘British people’ were to be confronted by a world shattering challenge from their ‘own rulers’. If this is a reference to the Reformation then the Scots had a separate Reformation and were not so challenged – they did the challenging.
    With about 2 minutes to go we were told, without any illustration, that all these exciting and hopeful changes we’d been told much about in England extended as far as the towns of North-East Scotland. If, in fact these key changes did also affect Scotland and other places, then, as in the case of the Black Death, there needed to be some evidence provided. It’s simply not good enough for Wood to use the terms British and Britain from time to time: that proves nothing. But even he cannot maintain this fiction and more often than he refers to Britain he refers to England, Tudor England etc.
    There is no modern political entity of Britain until 1707 although the English of course called it England most of the time and persuaded the rest of the world to do likewise. If there is a great British story it is politically the story of the relationships and struggles respectively between Scotland, Wales and Ireland with England and the centuries long English project to conquer and absorb the other peoples of the British Isles and - economically, socially and culturally - the quite distinct development of each of the British nations, influenced by English developments, but not an integral part of them. Such a television treatment of British history remains unmade.

  • Comment number 58.

    I am sad about the negative comments as I am enjoying this series. Also disappointed that there are no dates published for the remaining episodes.

  • Comment number 59.

    I agree entirely with the previous contributor's (Penny's) comments. I hope that the remaining episodes will be soon.

  • Comment number 60.

    I have always loved Michael Wood's programs. Kings and common folk meld together to give us some sense of what life was like.

  • Comment number 61.

    Really good as one comes to expect from Michael Wood - but what happened to the rest of the episodes? After two, it was replaced by something else.

  • Comment number 62.

    Medieval lady:
    I'm not that knowledgeable about the "dark ages" era, but there doesn't seem to be much, if any, contemporary account of raids/overlordship of the Anglo Saxons over the indigenous people - as per the new theory - whereas there are many accounts of viking raids (made mainly by British churchmen). The DNA tests seem to suggest that there is not much "Anglo Saxon" in most English people, and I know that the testing is pretty strict inasmuch as testees have to have four grandparents who came from the same area. In my case, that would be problematic (Londoner, with grandparents who had parents who came from other areas). I presume people with my sort of varied British background could be tested but it would involve much more work because my antecedents were not native to a particular area of these Islands. As you say, a fairly smallish group of people are tested and results extrapolated (very similar to voting polls at elections, I suppose).

    Wider testing could be done.... that might be very interesting, if expensive.

  • Comment number 63.

    I have fully enjoyed EVERY episode of this fascinating series, and last weeks programme again was pure joy to watch.
    Everyone has their own take on history, and I think peoples comments and views are good to read, as it shows people interested in the past, and even qualified in History, often have very differing views, and this is what makes the world go round! Good on you Mr Wood for getting people talking and debating history, as I am sure this was the whole intention of the programme, so it appears to be working, and it clearly shows people are rightly passionate about their own history, or conveying what they think-brilliant! (Not everyone is apathetic folks!)
    Once this series is over, it will be back to flicking around Freeview, and trying to weed out the terrible TV on offer on most channels today!
    Mr Wood deserves much more recognition for his years of superb TV programmes to avid viewers like me, via some great BBC series!
    Please get them repeated or put them on channel 12 at least, so the next generation can enjoy them, and learn!
    A big project like this series in all honesty, deserves a TV award, in order to set bigger and better viewing standards for the whole British viewing public.

  • Comment number 64.

    Comment has been raised about the paucity of evidence for 'celtic' speakers in England. Maybe the Romans had something to do with this, by isolating the different languages at the time behind the great walls - perhaps including the so-called Offas Dyke itself, as I've argued in
    The minority language in a region presumably subsequently faded away.

  • Comment number 65.

    Re. Episode 4

    I agree with the comments made above at 57 - 17:32 17th Jun 2012 by RDM.

    This programme has turned into an excellent primer on English history! If you're a dinosaur who still thinks that English and British are synonyms then of course you won't feel short changed, but I'm sure that for most Welsh and Scottish viewers this episode felt like a bad dream. It certainly did for me.

    To devote the entire 15th Century to developments in England is tantamount to implying that nothing, absolutely nothing, of any note or significance happened in Wales or Scotland. Staggering!

    I would have thought the "Great War of Independence" led by Owain Glyndwr might have merited a mention in the context of events in Wales at the end of the 14th, beginning of the 15th Centuries, but apparently not. Parallels could have been drawn with the earlier, undoubtedly heroic resistance of the Anglo-Saxons to the brutal rule of the Normans, but, alas!

    I feel less "British" than I ever did - ironic?!

  • Comment number 66.

    Hi everyone

    Thanks for all your comments.

    Firstly I’ve asked the schedulers and the series will be back in July but the specific dates are to be confirmed, so keep an eye on the Great British Story programme page: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00r12j3 - broadcast info will appear there nearer the time.

    In answer to macson123 #55 – Peasants’ Revolt was written and sung by Steve Knightley from Show Of Hands and is based on Tax has tenet us alle (Tax has ruined us all) from 1381 with a chorus based on John Ball's speech “When Adam delved and Eve span - who was then the gentleman”. Show Of Hands has a BBC Music page here if you’re interested: https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/233b1b1d-5ed6-449e-99c5-e947f952e8dd

    Steve Hall #56 - Somewhere Over the Rainbow was sung by Taylor Ehrlich and arranged by The Great British Story composer Howard Davidson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Davidson

    Many thanks

    Eliza Kessler
    BBC TV blog

  • Comment number 67.

    I love British History. I am Canadian by birth but have lived here for 20 years, married to a (Welsh) Brit and we have a son; I have dual citizenship. This is home. I was put off from the very start from this series since it starts by assuming that the indigineous British peoples don't factor in to the story of these islands. How absurd. The story of this series was told unfortunately from the invaders perspective, not from the peoples who were here, and are here still, when the Romans, Vikings, Angles, Saxons and Normans came.

    One huge oversight is to fail to acknowledge the tremendous acheivement of the Welsh nation in keeping alive an indigineous British Language despite the invasions of the above and the cultural and military incursions of the post-Norman English. Surely that is a living testiment that would make all of us proud to be British!

    The old concept of England-dominated Britain, and of Empire is not the future, but unfortunately it's residue lingers within the contents of this series. Today Britain and the Commonwealth is multi-ethnic and multi-national and this story is the one that needs telling if Great Britain as a political entity is to continue to stay together.

  • Comment number 68.

    Well said Renewal. The Anglocentric view of British history is farcical, and, dare I say it (?), racist.

  • Comment number 69.

    First 4 episodes were really excellent.
    I was surprised to learn though that the scousers drove out the vikings at the Battle of Toxteth. Possibly led by Wayne Rooney's ancestors no doubt. Roll on the Italians....
    Strange is it not that after all of this excellent history that Michael still refers to the "British Isles" and not the Irish, Welsh or Picts Isles. Better still "these islands of ours" in my humble opinion.

  • Comment number 70.

    What a great shame to see the continuity broken on this superb series. I really hope BBC2 can give us plenty of pre broadcast notice,as they did with the build up to the programme launch?
    Judging by some of the comments on this blog, perhaps Michael Wood can given further programmes to cover the Welsh, Scots, and Irish perspectives, as there is clearly a demand for this. I love the series, and can't find fault.

  • Comment number 71.

    Today I though was a good day to die, then I read some comments on the BBC TV blog, pertaining to the new history documentary, presented by Michael Wood’s. How I laughed at some of the commentary and though better of dying this day, I will wait till the rain stops or the comments on this blog dries up. I was only thinking the other day that there was no future in anyone taking up history as a career, I was wrong! There is a great need for history teachers, even if their only subject is on the ‘British Isles,’ which does not have a football element to it.
    As a gesture of good faith I will for this one time only define the meaning of the root of the term ‘British Isles’, but first, let us say that the Irish have their Sea, the Picts have their Caledonia, the English do their rewriting of history, as Belligerents do, which just leaves the Welsh to have something?
    Well for the one’s who are lacking in their history, the modern Welsh (meaning
    ‘foreigner’ in the west Germanic dialects or as some say incorrectly, Old English) are the descendants and the remnants of a people that once inhabited an empire that encompassed most of western Europe, know as Gaul in early Iron-Age period, and crossed in a about c. 700 BCE, the Môr Udd (lord’s Sea or English channel) that divided the continent of Europe and Ynys Prydein (British Isles).
    This is the tricky bit, prior to the Romans, these people knew themselves as the Prydeinig (British) or Combrogos (a man from the same country) or as they say today, Cymro or Cymry. With the Advent of the Romans, names changed and the Romans referred to the foreigners (Welsh) as the Britanni (Brython/Briton) and their beloved isle as Britannia. However, the Romans got this name not from Caesar, but from Pytheas of Massilia (Marseilles, France), who navigated the water around these isle in c. 325 BCE, and he referred to the isle as Prettanike or Pritannia, which is very close to the ancient Welsh Prydain (Britain), and its natives he called Prettanoi or Pretani (Brython/Briton). So now we know that the ‘British Isles’ is named after the people referred to as ‘foreigners’ the Welsh.
    The End.
    Regards to all commentators and lovers of the past. Jero

  • Comment number 72.

    I have enjoyed the program, & await the last 4 episodes.

    Michael Wood is a great man, & to trying to cover everything & then cram everything into such a little time frame was a very big challenge, it was then edited by the team for fit into the time slots, & again by the BBC.

    I have looked at some negative comments, apart from them not having a normal life,
    I wonder why we are not all perfectionists after them. If they could do better then, very simple do their own show, & post it online, such as via you tube.

    Post a link here, showing the attempt THEY MADE, simply showing they can do better, dont moan, JUST DO IT, lets see it on you tube.

    In every day life, after a thousand years, one still argues about what came first, the chicken or the egg.

    Some facts are in the eye or view perspective of the beholder, & history books made to show that view to suit them, & all other the facts removed, from history.

    If you dont like, Michaels story, then dont watch it, but moaning about possible, alternative, of alternative's, of alternative's, in a time line, then watch the X Files instead. DOnt reply to me with abuse, Simply put your versions on You Tube

  • Comment number 73.

    Thanks to Jero (71) for his post.Assume that this means that "Rule Britannia" really means "Rule the Welsh".I can hear Daily Telgraph readers gasping for breath.I am sure that like myself all contributors and the Moderator are worried about your safety when you write on a Saturday of all days that "It's a good day to die" and signs off with "regards to all lovers of the past" and "The End".Please cheer up, the Romans rightly beat the Saxons/Angles/Jutes and play the "original Saxons" in the semi final.To summarise Stuart Potters useful post (72) we remember the invaluable "The victors write the history books".How right he is.To those wondering about the final 4 episodes that follow the the original 4 excellent teasers:One of these "islands of ours" (Jersey) that sell VAT free DVD's says the total 8 episodes will be released post 1 October.I am going to place a 2 groat (8 old pence) each way bet,therefore, that the BBC will show the last 4 episodes before this date.We all hope that it will be sooner rarther than later.

  • Comment number 74.

    My comment (71) were meant to be taken on a lighter note, and were seen by myself (retired old nerd... not my words, but, by my middle age sons, who think history is a thing of the past...their words and how right they are, on history that is, being about the past) as not being malice in nature. However, my hobby now Prydeinig (British) history, which I have been researching since the latter part of 1950’s. On the matter of the ‘The Great British Story: A Peoples History’. I think Michael Wood’s is great, I have been and still am a fan since the 1980’s of his work, his enthusiasm that he shows in his subject. However, that is not to say that I agree with him on this, his latest project. Nevertheless, I found his new project full of anachronisms, incorrect Latin translation and a bias towards the past events of the English.
    On the programme material, Michael, on numerous occasions solely uses the term ‘English’, which is historically inaccurate for the time in question. The root of the modern term English, did not appear till the mid 8th century, when the Mercian Angles began to refer to themselves/vernacular as ‘Ænglisce’ or ‘Englisce’, after their king, Athelbald (716-757 CE) identified himself wrongly in a 746 CE charter as ‘rex gens Anglorum’ (king of the Angle people). (Many Germanic and Norman kings gave themselves undeserved titles, some went as far as calling themselves Basileus or Emperor of Britain, mimicking the Roman and Byzantine Empires.) However, it was a term that did not include the Saxons, Jutes, etc., for they were a diverse peoples to the Angles at the time in question, as well as the English being in the future. (Anglorum is the Latin name (as well as Anglii) for the Angles, a title adopted by the English.) The early (West) Germanics (Angles, Jutes, Frisians, Franks and Saxons, etc.), where individual tribal nations, and in the time of Bede (673-735 CE), the heptarchy (seven kingdoms) was in place, with some scholars stating that there were eight kingdoms!
    On the subject of Bede, Michael was also historically incorrect (enhancing English history) when he gave the modern English translation of the title of Bede’s work ‘Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum’ (HegA), as ‘Ecclesiastic History of the English nation’. The interpretation should have read ‘Ecclesiastic History of the Angle people.’ In addition, Bede was also incorrect in his title, for Bede wrote his HEgA for his patron, king, Ceolwulf (729-737 CE), king of Northumbria, whom Bede undoubtedly wanted to impress by enhancing the Northumbrian history, but, the Angles where not united nor amalgamated nor a confederation, in Bede’s time. The Angle nations were in fact bitter enemies, with a constant power struggle going on between the two dominant Angle nations, Mercia and Northumbria.
    One also has to remember that a Northumbrian army fought long-side the Norwegian king, Harald Haadraada (1016-1066 CE), at the battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25th 1066, which was defeated by the Saxon army of the usurper, Harold Godwinson (1022-1066 CE).
    NB. ‘Rule Britannia,’ was an unofficial anthem, based on a poem, and was first recorded in 1740 CE, and is seen as part of the early British Empire hype.
    On the victor writing history in his favour, historians say: ‘anything written by these triumphal belligerents, is subject to authenticity.’
    On my issue of my health, it is fine, although the old age and diabetes is taking its toll, my mind is still active and as keen as ever. Thanks to all who are concerned.
    Regards Jero

  • Comment number 75.

    The Angles featuring regularly in the blog likely established the original ‘by’, 'toft', 'thwaite' place-name settlements seen thickly in the north and east of modern England, the nomenclature is otherwise only found in Scandinavia. That some occur near Hill forts and others either close to a Roman fort or on a Roman road suggests pre-5th century establishment, for example:

    Dunsby, near Spalding, Lincs (Honington Camp)
    Dunsby, near Sleaford,Lincs (Burgh Banks)
    Dunnaby , near Hull, East Yorks
    Dunsthorpe, near Old Somerby, Lincs (Burgh Banks)
    Dunthrop, near Kidlington, Oxon
    Dunthwaite, near Cockermouth Cumbria
    Dounby , Orkney Islands

    Burthorpe, Lincs - Ixworth to Icklingham Roman forts/towns
    Burtoft, Lincs Grantham to the Wash- ancient track used by Romans
    Castethorpe, Humberside- Dragonby Roman town
    Castlethorpe, Beds, Towcester to Dropshot Roman town
    Castlethwaite, Cumbria- VERTERIS to Lowborrowbridge Roman fort

    Discussed in www.fchknols.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 76.

    I must admit I am with you on this one Stuart Potter, and well said.
    As I have said many times the GBS is a great programme, that has dared to go where few have been before.
    In fact from memory, I can't remember any TV Historian taking on this massive "British" television project, and I'm sure if they did, they also probably had their hand full of historical TV critics as well, if not more!
    It is a testament to the high quality of this superb programme, that just a few Bloggers can rightly blog their "own" take on history, out of what must be a viewing public of potentialy millions of TV viewers!
    I think the low numbers in this Blog, speak for the plain and simple fact that the Great British Story is a total success, that both pleases, informs and entertains the FULL majority of the Great British viewing public-End of story!
    Roll on programmes 4 to 8, bring out the DVD, plus the book Michael, and thank you to the decision maker at the BBC, who commisioned this great TV project.
    p.s. can you re run them again without the two week gap next time please?

  • Comment number 77.

    First MANY thanks to everyone who has entered into the debate about our early history. I have enjoyed reading all the posts, even the critical ones (as our film editor says, one should always listen to the audience!) There are some very interesting comments and observations in the blogs, some of them so long and detailed that it would be impossible to answer in detail. So if you don’t mind I am going to confine myself (at least for now) to a few broad comments.

    Firstly, with regard to content and the selection of material: I share some of your frustrations about the Welsh and Scottish content in episodes three and four. (Though not in Eps 1 and 2 where they were well represented - the Llantwit scene for example in Ep 1 is one of my favourites). In our defence, it is true to say that there have been lengthy histories of both Wales and Scotland recently on the BBC, though not of England (apart from my series ‘ Story of England’ in 2010 which told that story from one place). I would obviously have preferred it had we had more screen time in which to include more material about the Scottish urban development in 12th Century (on which we shot an unused sequence) and especially the wars with the English in the 13th Century. (Though of course it must be remembered that Wales and Scotland are much less well endowed with documents for the period, above all court rolls). I was however especially pleased to get in the idea that Gwynedd was the last former province of the Roman Empire to fall anywhere! And I must say, I object to the idea that the choice was ‘racist’ – really? With Hywel Dda and the Armes Prydein in episode Two alone? And especially as I have Scots and Welsh grandparents!!

    But the reality is that you just can’t get everything in over 8 hours. Or even what you’d like to get in. We had just a year to make these eight shows all over the UK and on reflection, perhaps the wide sweep at the start races about a bit too much; nevertheless as the narratives come together, the pan-British approach becomes very interesting, as I hope you will agree when you see the next episodes. The Reformation (in episode 5) is seen from Llancarfan in Wales, from Cornwall in the Prayer Book rebellion, Morebath in Devon, Halesowen, Armagh and St Andrews. The film includes readings in Welsh. The Civil Wars in Episode 6 really appear in a fresh light when you see them as we do from across Britain – using the Dublin depositions, the Upton Constables Books, the Elgin deposition roll, the split in the West Midlands arms industries using the cutlers accounts, Richard Gough’s portrait of Myddle in Shropshire, etc. In these episodes, I think the multiple perspective approach works really well. Similarly, in the Industrial Revolution (ep 7) where we talk about Wales as the world’s first industrial nation and visit the Cornish tin mines, the Northern Irish flax industry, the Potteries, the Free miners of the Forest of Dean, and the North West. (No shortage of Cornwall as you can see!) With only 8 episodes you simply can’t go into the detail that we all, and you all, would like - the Kibworth series was more detailed because it had a narrow focus - but The Great British Story is grand sweep narrative, from the people’s perspective, looking at societies across the British Isles as they developed over time.

    A few detailed points for now:

    Terminology: Dark Ages is a convenient catch-all before the Viking Age. Speaking as someone who has written (and continues to write) academic stuff on the period, in addition to my popular books, I can assure you I am not subscribing to any denigration of Early Medieval British culture: my first book over thirty years ago argued exactly the opposite!

  • Comment number 78.

    Romans: I take some bloggers complaints that our short Roman introduction was a bit too brief for comfort. The question was, where to begin? With more time it would have been better to start in the Bronze Age: but we thought it might work to set the tale with a brief sketch of Roman Britain before the fall, though obviously we couldn’t give a detailed account of Roman rule, just a few bold strokes triggered by the Big Dig at Melford. A sense that there was a world before the medieval period; a very well populated world too; that it left long legacies in some parts of Britain; and especially that the transformations of the ‘Dark Ages’ for example, in South Wales (the scene in Llantwit) or in the Wirral (Meols) etc. were still touched by Romanitas, as all our interviewees underlined.

    But those of you who were critical, or felt a bit frustrated by the speed of it, are right that these are big ideas which could have done with more time.

    Migrations: there are lots of myths about this of course as a number of you have said; but I don’t think the programmes said anything inaccurate here. The Anglo-Saxons (lets use that term - they did!) were a minority as Episode 1 clearly says: some DNA specialists guess 10+%. There are varying views of course: some say 15-20% - check out the UCL website. And their war-bands, like some of their leadership (eg Cerdic?) must have been largely of British – ie ‘Welsh’ descent.
    All that process is fascinating and deserves a programme of its own which I would love to make one day. But over several centuries the Anglo-Saxons altered the linguistic makeup of lowland Britain fundamentally, and the place names too. By the early 600s Mercian kings are ruling in the Welsh Marches eg in Herefordshire, with local client kings of Welsh descent – and presumably with a still largely Welsh speaking population in places. So the perceived loss of land was real, as was expressed by the Armes Prydein poet in c 935. That I agree is how it seemed to writers of the 9th-10th century. But I happen to think the basic narrative is true, even if the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a reconstructed account long after the event - and even if the tale of the ‘Coming of the English’ as described by Bede and the Chronicle, Hengist and Horsa etc, is largely a myth.
    And don’t forget Gildas: the key text on all this: whatever his bias, he’s living in the first half of the sixth century with not only oral traditions but good written sources. Whatever our take on these events we have to work with these key sources.

    So about DNA, ethnicity and language etc: In a series like this we could only deal in broad sweep. But the key thing is not to confuse language with ethnicity: the DNA of most of us Brits (at least those whose ancestry goes back pre early 20th c) the experts say is largely pre Iron Age. (A parallel case of massive language change with relatively small change in DNA would be North India where the latest ‘time-depth’ linguistics do seem to show that the mother speech of India’s Sanskrit-based languages came from outside India, though of course there is still huge argument about all this, as there is for example, about the theories of Germanic languages already being spoken in the eastern part of late Roman Britain, which I find quite plausible. In fact I did a piece to camera about that which we had to drop for reasons of space!)
    However I think that British languages were the main language group across 4th century Britain: including in Pictland I might add.

    The Anglo-Saxons. Again a convenient term which in a simple medium like TV is more help than hindrance. (Re Dan Ferguson at 32) Anglo-Saxon was a term used in the Early Medieval period, eg by the West Saxon kings from Alfred the Great onwards, and probably existed earlier. By the way, I am returning to them in a mini series for BBC 4 (planned for Spring 2013) on Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians, and Aethelstan. (on whom I have written a great deal over the years, both popular (‘In Search of the Dark Ages’, ‘In Search of England’) and academic: latterly, for those who are interested in the more teeth-grinding scholarly discourse, as opposed to popular TV(!!), in ‘Lay Intellectuals ‘(ed J Nelson Cambridge 2008) and in ‘England and the Continent in the 10th Century ’ (ed David Rollason Brepols 2010)

    Thanks for all your very thoughtful input! I’ve really enjoyed reading all these posts and look forward to seeing (and answering) your comments on Eps 5 - 8.

  • Comment number 79.

    Michael Wood’s comment regarding the plausibility of Germanic languages already being spoken in the eastern part of late Roman Britain seems to be reflected in the exclusivity of bury and chester/camp(fort) places regularly occuring along the Roman roads in England (mostly).
    That the pattern is seemingly repeated across the Roman empire typically as caer or sometimes castell/camp in Wales/Cornwall/Scotland, and elsewhere in Europe,Turkey and N Africa as burg, bourg, borj, pyrg, chattel, castel, chateux, kastel, castro, camp, cam and hisar, often intermingling, suggests a stopping station function established for Roman period travellers.

    An even earlier presence for 'English' speakers is possible to infer from a plot of 'dun/don/down' (eg. Swindon) nomenclature in relation to Hill forts presumably occupied by British/Welsh/Pictish speakers during the Iron Age, maybe serving as highly visible location points. Perhaps similarly as 'dun/doon/dhoon/doun/dinas' places (e.g.Dunblane) for Gaelic speakers in Scotland, Wales and Ireland inrelation to the period of Hill fort occupation.
    The Romans also seemingly captured the 'dun' terminology by so naming some of their towns and forts, for instance Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex), Branodunum(Brancaster, Norfolk), Lindinis (Ilchester, Devon).

    Discussed in www.fchknols.wordpress.com

  • Comment number 80.

    Living in Suffolk, and being a recent Student at one of the local schools near Long Melford, The Great British Story has been one of the highlights of my life!
    I was fortunate enough to take part in the fantastic Long Melford dig weekend, last July, and even went to see the filming at another nearby location, and we all enjoyed every minute of it.

    As part of my school work, I also made contact with those villagers, and helpers who were able to work more closely with Michael Wood, and his team, and from all those I spoke to, there was nothing but overwhelming praise, respect, and total admiration for them all.

    They spent an immense amount of time consulting with locals, and historic records, to find out interesting new locations, and historic details, from the perspective of the everyday person, and they did just that, and did it extremely well. (But they can't show it all of course)

    Everyone locally was treated incredibly well. Michael Wood and his team brought out the very best in everyone, and the whole film crew greatly exceeded ALL our expectations in every way.
    There were literally hundreds of enthusiastic villagers, and visitors getting involved digging, or watching. The atmosphere was superb, as everyone got on with the test pits, and we made some extremely exciting finds, considering the villagers themselves, actually chose where to dig, and were all complete novices.

    As you saw, we worked with the excellent Carenza Lewis, Paul Blinkhorn, Andrew Brown and their archaeological teams, who again like Michael Wood, thoroughly enjoy what they do, and made time for everyone, despite being under the heavy pressures of filming, and worked long hours, getting stuck in, well over and above the normal call of duty.
    They all taught us many new things, and gave out immense enthusiasm for discovering our own local history, which still is with us today!

    Thanks wholly to Michael Wood and his team, inspired villagers in Long Melford now have created their very own Heritage Centre, funded by themselves, which also celebrates the dig, and are also now learning and discovering more about their past.
    Last year village diggers discovered Stone Age finds which have now dated the village back a further 8,000 years, and another new ancient settlement has also been discovered, by locals, that was previously unknown to everyone!

    The Great British Story filming in Long Melford, embraced every age range, and brought together people from ALL walks of life, in a superb common cause that was true “Community Builder”, and an experience that will never be forgotten.

    But the TV viewer only ever sees the tip of the iceberg, so that is why I did this blog.

    Thanks again Michael Wood and team

  • Comment number 81.

    I hope no-one minds if I add my ten pen’ worth at this late stage.
    Having enjoyed Michael Wood’s historical documentaries over many years (and my parents – both secondary school history teachers – very much admired his work; my mother would use "In Search of the Dark Ages" in her lessons, particularly the Boudica programme as she taught at a school very close to the important Iceni centre at Saham Toney), I was greatly looking forward to "The Great British Story" and have not been disappointed. I have found it interesting and entertaining and also very imaginatively presented - I too love the alternative perspectives over the map of the British Isles and the use of contemporary people to read the words of historical folk similar to themselves.
    Neil Oliver has recently given us an excellent series on the prehistory of the British Isles, so I can understand why Michael Wood chose to start with the Romans. (Incidentally, in a certain rather narrow sense the Romans did bring civilization to Britain; whilst there is no doubt that the Iron Age peoples of Britain had rich and advanced cultures, it was the Romans who introduced towns with the sort of infrastructure and civic organization that we would recognize today – although with varying success, as excavations at Venta Icenorum have demonstrated.)
    Still, although I take the point about not confusing genes with language, it would have been good to have included more about the fascinating insights into British origins and the Migration Period that are being provided by the latest DNA research, but I can see why this could not be fitted in; I too have read with great interest the popular books on this subject by Stephen Oppenheimer and Bryan Sykes and would love to see a separate series featuring them and other important figures in this field.
    As Ryan’s post testifies, the filming of the series has clearly been extremely successful in its very important aim of encouraging people from all over the UK to get involved in their own history, and I am delighted to see the on-going help that will be available to such projects from the "All Our Stories scheme". I have myself found it immensely rewarding to have become involved as a community volunteer in an historical research project and an archaeological dig as part of the North York Moors National Park’s “Lime and Ice” initiative; as someone forced by circumstances back in 1983 to wave goodbye to a life in history and switch university courses from classics to law, now being able to wield a trowel has been a dream come true - and my Latin and legal training have come together beautifully in helping me to find my way around Medieval land transfers!
    I do have some sympathy for those who are aggrieved at the omission of certain items, having felt similar frustration with a recent TV series which purported to tell a history of the English (albeit from a deeply antagonistic viewpoint) but then totally skipped the Norman Conquest! Still, I wonder whether the sequences that nearly made it could be included as bonus material in the DVD of "The Great British Story".
    I also greatly look forward to that BBC4 mini-series for 2013 which Michael Wood mentions, which to some extent will be revisiting "In Search of the Dark Ages" - and I am sure that there would be a market for a DVD of that old series, perhaps with some additional updating material.

  • Comment number 82.

    P.S. It (almost) goes without saying that I'm also very eagerly awaiting the conclusion of "The Great British Story", particularly as one line of my ancestry goes back to miners in the Forest of Dean.

  • Comment number 83.

    Michael Wood can do no wrong. I love his history programmes.

  • Comment number 84.

    As a hard-core Anglophile, I have always enjoyed Michael Wood's history programs. Over the last thirty years I have spent a total of several years visiting England, especially Medieval and earlier sites. One thing has severely impacted my enjoyment of all Mr. Wood's programs, however. I simply cannot believe that archivists, historians, librarians and even Mr. Wood himself do not ALWAYS wear gloves when handling the unique, priceless, irreplaceable and extremely delicate manuscripts that help tell Mr. Wood's stories. Surely these professionals know that among other things, finger oil can have a devastating effect on ancient parchment and vellum. England is a land of such rich history-surely it is worth the effort of pulling on a pair of gloves to preserve the documents that tell this history.

  • Comment number 85.

    It is back - starting with episode 5 next week, Friday 20th July 2012.

    Reading the comments, complaints and complements above, the BBC, Michael Wood and the whole Great British Story production team should conclude they have succeeded with this project that could be described as “mission impossible”. Everybody involved in this series deserves admiration for taking on this huge challenge and generating such enthusiasm and engagement which will continue to bear fruit long after the series has finished.

    Royalty, military heroes, intrepid explorers, great scientists and wealthy merchants all have a place in history, but this series, finally, brings the extraordinary contribution of ordinary working people, accumulated over generations, onto the centre stage of British history.

    History, unlike, say, mathematics, is emphatically subjective and seldom neutral. It is interpreted and then reinterpreted by succeeding generations. Great Britain in early 21st century has arguably created the most open society this country has ever had. It is perhaps as objective and neutral as any society has ever been. To this, Michael Wood brings his rich experience as a documentary maker and his scholarly rigour in a way that few others can.

    It is incredible to think that Britain is the “best documented country on earth for the last 1,000 years”. Why should such a small country on the edge of Europe have had such a dominating influence in world affairs in the last, say, 300 years? Does this series provide an answer? The abundance of evidence and multitude of contributors offer a fresh and engaging rebalancing of British history in favour of those who have made the largest contribution to it – its working people.

    During a recent visit to Liverpool, I recorded an interview (episode 52 on Astrotalkuk.org) where Michael Wood shared his recollections on some research I have been conducting about the day in July 1961 when the World’s first spaceman, Yuri Gagarin, came to the town. Michael Wood, in a Manchester school at the time not far from the spaceman’s route, never got to see him, but recalls that memory along with the contributions of the working people of Manchester with his familiar eloquence and passion.

    Currently only half way through the series, the Great British Story has already established, through analysis of for example our DNA or our language, that through immigration and intermarriage we all have complex multiple identities. Is it possible when humans have been living together in societies for around 5000 years, that there might be individuals who can claim a single unique identity? In 21st century Britain, Britishness happens to be a convenient umbrella under which we can huddle in a storm, and when the clouds retreat we can celebrate the richness and diversity of the 60 million stories that are British.

    I have been surprised and fascinated by some of the criticisms found above, mostly by individuals who wish to assert one national identity (Celtic, Welsh, Cornish etc) over another. It would be wrong to dismiss it on those grounds alone. In some cases the critics have arrived at the conclusion following significant research so they make an important contribution to the historic record.

    This question of identity appears to take on an increasingly unreasonable hold in modern society. Why should that be? We are the most intelligent life forms to have ever inhabited this planet and yet with centuries of culture and learning behind us we remain susceptible to ancient and basic instincts to dominate, conquer and control each other. Subjugation, torment and threat are a part of daily lives of those, for example who live in the shadow of an Orange flag in Ulster, the publishers of cartoons in Danish newspapers, or the Rohingya people in the Buddhist majority state of Burma. Do programs like these not remind us that national identities have become unnecessarily significant? In the four programs so far, it is the evidence accumulated over the ages of the distinctive peoples, vivid languages and unique cultures that points to the richness of our humanity. No matter where we live on Earth, the nation state that issues our passport only defines a tiny part of who we are.

    The Great British Story is not just the 8 TV programs. It is also the development of communities and the learning that is taking place through the numerous activities and projects (archaeological digs, school projects and village festivals) which will help uncover lost roots and make unexpected connections. Some of the participating school kids today will become historians in the future and adding to or correcting our understanding of history. I can image one of them in about 2 or 3 decades visiting a retired Michael Wood with the news that she has uncovered new evidence that, say, overturns the conclusion that DNA evidence points to Scousers having Viking roots. Michael Wood would, I expect, not only embrace that correction but welcome the contribution.

    Despite his extensive experience as a historian, writer and scholar, he can’t always be right. He is a Mancunian and claims to be a “stalwart red”. He must be at particularly low ebb right now. Not only because Manchester United did not win the league last season but because Manchester City did!

  • Comment number 86.

    Michael - on PBS just saw your History of England show re: Kibworth. Quite enjoyable. You showed an old English Bible, circa the Lollard era. Appeared to be passage Luke 2: 22; including word "pask" (my modern spelling approx.) I'm curious as to which translation and exact text.

  • Comment number 87.

    LOVE your latest series. Shame that the BBC keep splitting your series up and not showing all together. This is great stuff. More history on TV please.

  • Comment number 88.

    I really enjoyed tonight's programme it was the first one ive caught would really love to know how i find out more about the origins of my maiden name Downes

  • Comment number 89.

    Superb programme again last night, and great to see it back on again.

    It covered pretty much everything that previous bloggers may have wanted to see, so it has certainly ticked all the boxes, and presented it so brilliantly. Roll on next Friday

  • Comment number 90.

    Just one thing that caught my ear in the latest episode, Michael refered to the British isles (and Ireland) . . . just a slip? or a geographical mistake? obviously Ireland (the island of) is within this geographical archipelago, and if Michael calls it the British isles, then all islands within this group of islands are within that description. The British isles (and Ireland) is a geographical contradiction in terms. Apart from that anonoly I found the latest episode very good and informative viewing.

  • Comment number 91.

    Methinks that young Michael has been listening to old Woodquay. I would have preferred "these islands of ours" as readers might know - particularly as the programme is billed as a peoples' history - but this is definitely a step un the right direction. The term "British Isles" when including Ireland implies some kind of ownership of the island. Considering 26 of the 32 counties form part of a Republic this is clearly incorrect. Jero (71) pointed out that the term "Britanni" was used by the Romans to refer to the foreigners (or Welsh) who inhabited part of the island of Britain. Is it not fascinating that Britain is thus "an island of foreigners"? It is a theme that Michael is developing nicely. The assimilation of so many different folk (not least the small number of coloured folk in east London in the latest programme) would make "Who are the real British?" an impossible question to answer.” An island of foreigners" would be the most succinct answer perhaps. Roll on the next programme and well-done Michael. I have already pre-ordered the DVD set as he covers so much ground so quickly that it is hard to keep up.

  • Comment number 92.

    Just caught the "A Peoples History" engaging presentation. Would be interested in editorial comment on reference to Victory Medal 1588,which carried the inscription:
    'Flavit (Tetragrammaton) et dissipat sunt': This is translated correctly into English 'Jehovah blew and they scattered', why was the title 'God' used or substituted for the personal name which was on the coin?

  • Comment number 93.

    Hi Micheal,

    Another great show. I'm a local historian in Alameda, California. Below our feet here are Native American shellmounds (all gone now with homes built over them), places where Japanese and Italian families gardened until World War II displaced them, a railroad that served as the end of the line for the transcontinental railroad and hundreds of Victorian-era homes.

    After watching you program I thought doing a dig similar to yours here would be quite interesting. Do you have any objection to my using your idea here in the States?

  • Comment number 94.

    Referring to Comment 84, about the use of gloves when examining documents and books: as a librarian who used to be in charge of a special collection consisting of early printed and modern books, photos, and both early and modern manuscripts, the only items for which gloves were used were photographs, and then they were latex not cotton. More damage is done by clumsy handling by glove-wearers than by the careful use of clean hands. Users should of course keep their fingers off ink or pencil marks, and use proper supports. I remember one meeting with Midlands archivists where this was discussed: most collections only got out the cotton gloves was when being filmed for TV because the viewers loved them.

  • Comment number 95.

    i would just like to say happy birthday to michael and i dont care what anybody says he has given years of pleasure and enjoyment xxxxx

  • Comment number 96.

    I have just watched the last episode of "The Great British Story (Episode 6/8)". I was not happy to see that my understanding of the Battle of Roundway Down taking place about four miles from where I live was completely wrong, and, in fact, it took place at least 20 miles away.

    Kindly ask Michael Wood to check his sources before publishing. I think that he has produced an excellent series so far. However, if he has seen the Bayeux Tapestry, I am sure that he will agree that English historians have kept quiet about certain aspects.

    Peter Dunningham
    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 97.

    I really enjoyed your History of the English series (that you appear to have snaffled some of, including the music, for this new one) but this latest series is repeatedly and blatantly pro-republican and pro-democracy propaganda it is staggering! Oh, and as regards your article on the BBC News website (about the East India Company), you fail to mention iirc that the modern British Army fulfills much of the role of the armed wing of the EIC by being a professional army (rather than a volunteer one) and the servant of British commercial interests abroad.

    Cromwell would be proud.

  • Comment number 98.

    I'm watchin the latest episode now and wondering.....are you getting paid to push the Industrial Revolution? The "dark satanic mills" were not being celebrated AS "Jerusalem" but as its opponent. The same point was made by Tolkien with his "scouring of the shire" and the industrialisation of Isengard.

    And as for Marx being "the greatest philosopher of his age"!! Lmao. More lefty bias, and more false dichotomy between capitalism and socialism.

    Mr Wood, do you actually love your country's history beyond what you can play as a progressive march into modernity? And why is there virtually no mention of religion in all of this? What is your agenda Mr Wood, and at who's behest?

    On a brighter point though, nice to see Show of Hands getting some publicity (although more than a few of us down here in Camborne are dreading South Crofty reopening...because we remember why the Red River was called that).

  • Comment number 99.

    Yawn. Why is everyone getting so wound up? This is turning into a debate about who is the cleverest of them all. Television is for the masses, it is not an academics playground. The programme is meant to appeal to all in a general way, to inspire interest and curiosity. To that end, the enduringly handsome Mr. Wood (we go back a long way, thirty years or so) has succeeded brilliantly. And I say this as someone of mixed descent; Irish, Scottish and Welsh blood runs in my veins and I am proud of them all.

  • Comment number 100.

    While the programme appears to have successfully ignited interest and curiosity about the history of these islands, the earlier programmes concerning the ‘dark ages’ in particular seemed to have added little new knowledge or understanding of the period.

    Wheras for example detailed plots of 'fort' place-names presented in relation to Roman roads for Britain, and apparently similarly replicated throughout the Roman Empire, enable inferences of possible language distribution potentially to be compared with Gaelic and Anglo-Saxon immigration mythology.

    Illustrated in www.fchknols.wordpress.com


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