Thursday, 10 July 2014

Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time series archive

I have a real love/hate relationship with the BBC. For one thing, I worked for them for 9 years many moons ago, and walked away from them swearing never to do so again in a production capacity; for another, I attended my first political protest a couple of weeks back outside Pacific Quay against BBC news bias here in Scotland. On the other hand though, when the BBC makes a product that works, it is unparalleled in its brilliance around the world. No-one makes drama quite like the BBC (I am the world's biggest Whovian!), and no-one makes documentaries quite like the BBC, particularly observational documentary series (though these are an endangered species now in the 'celebrity' age).

But the one area where I think the BBC excels in more than anything, and an area in which I never worked but dearly wish I had done (!), is the area of radio documentaries. And one of the most brilliant series ever made, in this wee mortal's opinion, is Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time, which has been broadcast on Radio 4 since 2004.

If you aren't aware, the BBC website has an archive available online containing all 649 episodes of the series that have been broadcast since 2004. These are categorised into 5 areas - Culture, History, Philosophy, Religion, and Science. 187 of these programmes are on history topics, predominantly on English or British based themes, though you will find the occasional programme on topics away from England such as one on Yeats and Irish Politics, or on the medieval scholar Gerald of Wales. The archive is available at

In most instances you will hear Bragg steering a group of academics through the topic under discussion, which for the most part tends to work, though if you listen to some of the really complex science or philosophy subjects you may experience the same sensation I once did when standing under a huge waterfall at Yosemite - a feeling of being really small! In such cases the fun of the programmes is trying to listen to Bragg seize control of the virtually unintelligible in such instances, to make it manageable for the listener. But the history programmes are usually top notch.

Some examples of history topics include:

Work in the 20th Century
1848: Year of Revolution
Alfred and the Battle of Edington
Consequences of the Industrial Revolution
Hadrian's Wall
History of History

...and many, many more.

NB: I am unsure whether the programmes can be listened to beyond the UK. For those in the UK, however, they are well worth a dip in to explore.

UPDATE: Thanks to Merv (see below) for confirmation that these can also be accessed overseas. Enjoy!


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.


  1. All the In Our Time programme downloads are available outside the UK. In fact the vast majority of the BBC podcasts and downloads are available worldwide, the only ones that aren't are those containing a significant amount of musical content (rights issues) and they are marked UK Only on the download page. They even produce an edited Desert Island Discs with just a short snippet of the music to get round this problem.

  2. Many thanks for the confirmation.


  3. I listen to the podcasts in Australia. I found the iTunes feeds the easiest way to organise updates as they become available.