Michael Portillo: On the World Wars

Michael Portillo: On the World Wars

A BBC Radio History Collection


Specially selected history series presented by Michael Portillo, exploring the most significant events before, during and after the First and Second World Wars

Journalist and broadcaster Michael Portillo has always been fascinated by the past. A former politician and history graduate, he has presented several TV documentaries, including Portillo's Empire Journey and Great British Railway Journeys. Now, in these fascinating radio programmes, he turns the spotlight on World War One and Two, examining the cultural, political and economic upheaval surrounding these devastating global conflicts.

1913: The Year Before sees him challenging the notion that the Great War was responsible for seismic shifts in British society. Over 10 episodes, he looks at themes including the suffrage movement, the Irish question, the decline of the liberal party and the arts, and argues that to a great extent, Britain was already in the process of transforming itself by 1913.

The 2-part series The Great War of Words finds Portillo revealing how our understanding of World War One has been distorted by historians, politicians and cultural commentators. He analyses Germany's invasion of neutral Belgium in August 1914, showing how it transformed Britain's war into a moral cause; and considers how arguments over the origins of the war and the issue of war guilt evolved into a fierce, high-stakes battle for meaning. A follow-up episode, The Great War of Words: Peace before Annihilation?, centres around the factors that prevented peace breaking out between 1914 and 1918, and the attempts that were made to achieve it.

In four episodes from Things We Forgot to Remember, he delves into the First World War and the interwar years, reflecting on the Somme and the victories of 1918, the failings and successes of the League of Nations, the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Berlin and Neville Chamberlain's notorious 1938 declaration of 'peace for our time'.

The aerial bombardment of Britain is the subject of The Blitz, in which Portillo chairs a discussion with leading historians about the strategy and legacy of Nazi Germany's decision to bomb and destroy key British cities. And in a concluding programme, Things We Forgot to Remember: Morgenthau Plan and post-war Germany, he recalls the short-lived precursor to the Marshall Plan, which aimed to destroy German industry and turn the country into an agrarian 'pastoral' society.

Production credits
First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on the following dates:

1913: The Year Before
The Long Summer 10 June 2013
Women's Rebellion 11 June 2013
The Irish Question 12 June 2013
The Tides of War 13 June 2013
Cultural Upheaval 14 June 2013
Labour Relations & the Triple Alliance 17 June 2013
Poverty 18 June 2013
Politics and the Tory Gamble 19 June 2013
The Empire 20 June 2013
The Great Change 21 June 2013
Produced by Tom Alban

The Great War of Words
Episode 1 4 February 2014
Episode 2 11 February 2014
The Great War of Words: Peace before Annihilation? 28 April 2015
Produced by Mark Burman

Things We Forgot to Remember
First World War 4 December 2006
The League of Nations 15 December 2008
Jesse Owens and the Nazi Olympics 22 November 2010
Chamberlain and 'Peace for our Time' 1938 14 December 2009
Morgenthau Plan and post-war Germany 4 June 2012
Produced by Tom Alban, Joanne Cayford and Neil McCarthy

The Blitz 8 September 2010
With Juliet Gardiner, Sir Ian Kershaw and Terry Charman

© 2023 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd. (P) 2023 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd.

About the author

Michael Portillo

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