Things We Forgot To Remember

Michael Portillo presents a series revisiting the great moments of history
from archive.org

Michael Portillo presents a series revisiting the great moments of history.

1) The Battle of Mers-el-Kebir: Churchill's rhetoric and its powerful images made the Battle of Britain unforgettable - but should our understanding of this country's salvation from invasion pay more attention to events thousands of miles away in an Algerian port. where the British Navy killed 1,500 of its former ally's seamen in just one day?
2) The Spanish Armada: We remember a lot about the Spanish Armada of 1588: Drake and his game of bowls, Elizabeth I on Tilbury Docks, a glorious naval victory - but are we remembering the right history? Michael Portillo investigates the real history of the Armada and its legacy and asks why we've forgotten so much.
3) The Space Race: As the Space Race is reduced to neat paragraphs in 20th-century text books there is a danger that the image of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon has become too dominant. Michael Portillo argues the case for the earlier Apollo 8 mission - the first manned Moon-shot and the moment many now claim the Space Race was won. Apollo 8 pilot Jim Lovell is among those remembering the mission that saw the first Earth-rise.
4) The French Revolution: Think of France in 1789 and we recall the guillotine, the tumbrels and the Paris mob. But could it be that generations of French historians have helped us to forget the bloodiest and most morally inconvenient saga of the Revolutionary period? Michael Portillo travels deep into rural France to dig up some difficult memories that have nothing at all to do with liberty, equality or fraternity.
1) Jack the Ripper: London in the late 1880s was stalked by a psychopath, but Londoners were more afraid of revolution and the collapse of a whole way of life.
2) First World War: The First World War is most commonly remembered as a story of mud, misery and vast numbers of soldiers killed by the orders of incompetent generals. But there were other memories too. Michael Portillo recalls the last 100 days of the war and the forgotten victories of 1918, with the accounts of the liberation of towns and of ordinary soldiers proud of their military success.
3) The 1945 Labour Government: Clement Attlee 's government is remembered as the founder of the Welfare State. Michael Portillo asks just how radical this agenda was and how much of this memory is myth-making by subsequent Labour governments.
4) Magna Carta: Over 800 years after it was signed, Magna Carta is still venerated as the bedrock of English liberty, yet its impact is perhaps less far-reaching than is popularly believed. Another document, signed two years after Magna Carta, was the true charter for the common man: Michael Portillo goes in search of this forgotten manifesto for English rural life.
1) The Suffragettes: Michael Portillo presents an alternative view of historical events. He begins by looking at the suffragettes marginalised by history, including those who condemned the movement's militancy, and others who wanted to go further - including plotting to assassinate the prime minister.
2) The Darien Gap: 2007 was the 300th anniversary of the union between England and Scotland. Michael Portillo delves into the real story behind the coming together of these great nations, and asks why it has virtually been forgotten.
3) The Bengal Famine: The Bengal famine of 1943 cost. at the most conservative of British estimates, one and a half million lives. Michael Portillo challenges the collective amnesia and debates with historians from both India and Britain about whether it could have been avoided.
4) The Battle of Trafalgar: Michael Portillo re-examines the Battle of Trafalgar, asking whether it was the Spanish rather than the French who were the losers in 1805.
1) The Jarrow March: Michael looks at the Jarrow March, remembered as a dignified demonstration, but one that masks a violent and dangerous set of marches that ended with bloodshed and rioting in the capital.
2) The Darien Gap: A repeat of Series 3, Episode 2 q.v.
3) The League of Nations. Michael Portillo re-examines the reputation of the League of Nations with the help of a former UN ambassador and historians.
4) King Alfred the Great: Alfred the Great, the man who burnt the cakes and held back the Vikings, sits at the root of English history. Yet have we forgotten perhaps the most important thing: that he sponsored the recording of his reign in Wessex in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles?
1) Joan of Arc: Joan of Arc is seen as the saviour of France in 1429. But history has forgotten Joan's contemporary, Yolande d'Aragon, the King's mother-in-law.
2) Munich 1938: Michael looks back at Neville Chamberlain 's notorious declaration of "peace for our time".
3) The Hanseatic League: Michael Portillo explores the Hanseatic League, an alliance of trading cities and their guilds that established a trade monopoly along the coast of northern Europe during the late middle ages.
4) The Glorious Revolution of 1688: Michael Portillo revisits the events that put William of Orange on the British throne in a different light - as a foreign "invasion" of England.
1) King Harold: The image of King Harold II, the last of the Saxon Kings, the brave but gallant loser of the battle of Hastings in 1066 is a powerful one. It's a birth and death of a nation moment, the last time these islands were successfully invaded. But Michael Portillo looks again at that image of Harold. Was he really a noble figure, bravely trying to stave off defeat at the hands of the powerful Norman army while only days before he'd fought off another band of invaders, his brother Tostig amongst them, in the North? In fact both Harold and the Kingdom he ruled for less than a year were neither stable or heroic. Our last Saxon monarch took the crown by virtue of the power of his family. The Godwins had been at once a threat and an ally to Edward the Confessor throughout his reign.
But as Michael probes further he finds that Edward's reputation as the pious, good hearted ruler is also open to debate. Indeed we've not only forgotten that the kingdom was fragile, riven with factional Earldoms and the dangers that come with an uncertain royal lineage but we scarcely hear mention of the one figure, Edgar the Aetheling, who did have a genuine claim to the throne in 1066.
It appears that in the need for a clear image of 1066 and all that, an image worked on not only by the Normans in the 12th century but by the Victorians in the 19th, that we've gone quite a long way down the road of forgetting to remember the 'all that' that makes this such a fascinating moment in our Island history.
2) 1936 Olympics: Did Adolf Hitler really snub Jesse Owens after the American athlete won an unprecedented four gold medals? What have we forgotten about the efforts made in Britain and the United States to boycott the Games and why weren't those efforts successful? And what do the Games tell us about the uneasy relationship between sport and politics in the years before the outbreak of war.
3) Indian Independence 1947: Michael Portillo discovers the seam of violence that ran alongside the peaceful civil disobedience. In particular he looks at the pivotal role played by India House, a villa in North London that became a base for those plotting against British rule in India. He also investigates how in the First World War, Germany tried to destabilise the British Empire by exploiting Indian disaffection.
4) The Great Depression: Michael looks back at the Great Depression and compares the myths and reality of 1930s America.1) Boston TeaParty: In 1773 a group of American revolutionaries threw tea into Boston Harbour to protest against rising British Taxes. The 'Boston Tea Party' has become a founding moment in American
But the Boston Tea party that we remember is a long way from events as they actually happened. The murky and ambiguous real story owes more to the vested interests of smugglers than revolutionary patriotism. No wonder the American founding fathers initially took a dim view of such violence against property. And the tax on tea was actually going down.
Peeling back the layers of history, Michael examines how the tea party has been re-engineered over time. He also discovers that events like the Molasses Act and the Boston Massacre were arguably more significant in fermenting rebellion, forging a national identity and ultimately leading to independence. Both have now been overshadowed by the more romantic idea of the Boston Tea Party.
We have been sold a version of the revolution that is much simpler than at the time. Out of a total population of 2.5 million, eighty-five thousand Americans loyal to the British crown were forced to quit their native land. Most went to Britain, neither welcomed nor wanted there, some went west and built new lives under assumed names. Thousands were tarred and feathered or hanged from trees, which later became symbols of the great Revolution.
2) 1918 Police Strikes: From feared revolutionary catalysts to unwavering upholders of the law, Michael Portillo discovers the origins of modern-day policing in the forgotten police strikes of 1918-19.
We remember their role in upholding law and order following the 1926 General Strike. Ever since, the police have been a thin blue line between the workers and the state. But British bobbies did not always stand apart from the trade union movement. Less than a decade earlier, the police went on strike over pay and conditions, with severe consequences. In Liverpool, warships and tanks accompanied troops on the streets to quell riots and looting.
With Russia's October Revolution fresh in the mind, fears that Britain was on the brink of Bolshevism led to swift action from the Prime Minister, David Lloyd-George, upgrading police pay and removing their right to strike. The settlement established a model for future Government relations with the police and banished the idea of a police trade union.
Michael Portillo visits the Merseyside Police Archives to learn the harsh fate of the strikers. He hears from former officers and historians who believe the police strikes are often over-looked as a radical moment in modern British history, laying the foundations for the role of the police in the General Strike and other times of industrial unrest - such as Grunwick, Wapping and the Miners Strike.
3) The French Resistance: Michael Portillo discovers how romantic memories of the French Resistance created an enduring military legend which overshadowed its more important political role in shaping post war France.
When we remember the Resistance we think of square-jawed men in leather jackets hiding out in caves and young women in berets bent over secret radios - thanks to film and TV portrayals of those who resisted the German occupation. However, while acknowledging the bravery and sacrifice of individuals, historians and resisters themselves agree that the Resistance was not an effective military force. Active resisters numbered only 2% of the French population and until 1943 it was a fractured group of several different movements.
But in 1944 the Resistance, which had become increasingly made up of Communists, drew up a charter of social and political reforms to be implemented after the liberation of France. General Charles de Gaulle, whose regard for the Resistance was equivocal and who was not a champion of the left was, however, a pragmatist. Mindful that he needed the support of the Resistance to bolster his case to become Prime Minister - in the face of Allied opposition - he agreed to these far reaching reforms which went on to shape the course of modern day France.
Michael Portillo hears from former resisters including Stephane Hessel who believes modern France has lost sight of the values many people lost their lives for.
4) The English Armada of 1589: We remember the defeat of the Spanish Armada as a triumph for the English underdog. How Sir Francis Drake fought off a Spanish behemoth with superior seamanship, first rate gunnery and some friendly weather. But we forget that 'plucky' England sent a fleet of comparable might to invade Spain the very next year. And unlike its Spanish counterpart, The English successfully landed their troops. Michael Portillo tells the story of Sir Francis Drake and the English Armada and finds a series of events remembered very differently either side of the Bay of Biscay. Michael also finds the origins of our own forgetting amidst the scurrilous complexities of an Elizabethan cover up.
1) War of 1216: The barons who created Magna Carta are 'noble defenders of English liberty'. But they aided a massive French invasion of England to be stopped by unsung hero, William Marshall.
The Magna Carta could be just another inglorious tale of the rich evading tax, were it not for the little known invasion of England in 1216 which, had it succeeded, would have changed the map of Europe forever. The English would now be French and the Magna Carta would be an obscure, forgotten document, of little interest to anyone.
King John had been the enemy of the barons, the man they forced to seal the Magna Carta. When that didn't stop King John taxing them and taking their lands they sided with the "real" enemy of England, the future king of France, Prince Louis. He decided to invade England, making various promises to the Barons if they joined him.
But things did not go as planned for Louis; King John died from dysentery - brought on by eating too many peaches - and with the taxing King John gone some of the Barons changed sides once again, fighting alongside a grand old Knight William Marshal, England's real, but forgotten hero. The invasion failed at the battle of Lincoln and England was safely back in the hands of the English, under the nine year old King Henry III.
The remaining Barons came over to the young King, The Magna Carta was redrafted without clause 61 which was unfavourable to the monarchy - and as we now know became one of the most important documents in the Western World. However, the 2nd French invasion, thwarted by Marshall, has long been forgotten and, ironically, the duplicitous Barons are remembered for all the wrong reasons.
2) Morganthau Plan of 1945: Many of us remember the Marshall Plan, the US programme to rebuild post war Europe. Far less is known about the Morganthau Plan (also drawn up in Washington a few years earlier) which aimed, amongst other things, to destroy German industry after the country had surrendered. Winston Churchill also signed up to the plan which would turn Germany into an agrarian "pastoral" society, unable to manufacture the machinery of warfare in the future. Michael Portillo examines the Morganthau Plan, looks at the extent of its implementation and asks why we have forgotten to remember it.
3) Georgian England: We remember Georgian England with its elegant architecture and regency refinement; the world of Jane Austen novels, the Brighton pavilion, smart red coated soldiers, of wealth and taste. It is a time of harmony, elegance and proportion epitomised by its dominant architectural style, Palladianism, as seen in the city of Bath.
But we forget that all this was a genuine Georgian fašade. The Georgian England that we are so comfortable remembering broiled with political sedition and discontent ruthlessly suppressed through political purges, espionage networks and military might.
The Georgian regime was established in 1714; supporting an imposed Hanoverian monarch (58th in line to the throne) through partisan Whig political power. Highly ideological, it faced and suppressed extensive opposition. Even Jane Austen's Bath, which came to epitomise Georgian elegance, was the site of a mass riot against the Hanoverian regime.
So we have inherited a sense of the inevitability of Georgian England and it has placed its roots firmly in our sense of collective history but we have forgotten its suspect foundations and the vast amount of work that went into the construction of this apparently inevitable turn in British history
4) Nazi Radar: In July 1944 the crew of a Junkers JU88 night fighter, lost and without fuel, emergency landed their plane on an RAF airfield in Suffolk. This gift from the skies provided British Air Intelligence with the latest German radar secrets. Throughout the war a technological see-saw had been underway with each side trying to gain the the advantage in radar detection and evasion equipment. The radar technology in this particular night fighter explained why large numbers of British bombers were being shot down from the rear and the RAF aircraft were quickly modified as a result.

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