The Great British Story: A People’s History
The Great British Story: A People’s History is a documentary series presented by Michael Wood. He travels around the country as he explores the United Kingdom’s remarkable past, from the perspective of ordinary people. It’s wide-ranging, beautifully filmed and a bit sentimental, but also hugely informative and full of good humour. Nobody does this sort of thing better.
Part 1: Britannia
Michael Wood explores the nation’s past, working with local communities to tap into their extraordinary knowledge and archives. He begins with the period spanning the end of Roman times to the coming of the Anglo Saxons, travelling to a communal dig in Suffolk, reading Roman letters on Tyneside, viewing Dark Age sculptures in Govan, Glasgow, and seeing the earliest manuscript of Bede’s History of the English, written in 731.
Part 2: Tribes to Nations
Michael Wood continues his history of Britain, exploring how the nations’ individual identities emerged following the Dark Ages. He travels to Old Deer in Aberdeenshire, Dalriada kingdom in Co Antrim and Sedgefield in Norfolk, where community projects are helping the locals find a few clues to their past. He also recounts the arrival of the Vikings, and the impact made by the Norse invaders, with people from Ireland, the Wirral, Govan and York.
Part 3: The Norman Yoke
Michael Wood’s history of Britain reaches the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest, asking what life was like for the Anglo-Saxon peasantry in the decades following 1066. To find out he joins the excavation of a castle at Mount Bures, Essex, and a community dig in the Suffolk village of Lord Melford. Moving on, he looks at the beginnings of trade and industry in Bristol, Wales and the Black Country, explores the battle for rights enshrined in the Magna Carta and considers how the nation was affected by the Barons’ War and first Scottish War of Independence.
Part 4: The Great Rising
Michael Wood’s history of Britain reaches the 14th century, when the Black Death killed more than half the population. He examines local records to track the plague across the UK, and investigates how it led to the Peasants’ Revolt, an uprising by agricultural workers. The 15th century saw the rise of a new middle class – Michael visits the oldest primary school in Britain – from 1437 – to find out how education played a major role in people’s changing fortunes. Along the way, he also crawls down a sewer in Lavenham, Suffolk, for a spot of hands-on history, while letters from a Norfolk village provide a medieval woman’s take on love, marriage and men.
Part 5: Lost Worlds and New Worlds
As the second half of the series gets under way, he examines how Henry VIII’s founding of the Church of England in 1534, followed by the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries, transformed the country’s religious landscape, setting the tone for a century of sweeping change. He traces the rise of industry and commerce in Bristol and Scotland, discovers evidence of one of Britain’s first black communities, and finds an artefact that sheds light on the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland – before explaining how a radical religious movement in Nottinghamshire laid the foundations for transatlantic migration.
Part 6: The Age of Revolution
Michael Wood explores how civil war split Britain during the 17th century, beginning his journey in Dublin, where he examines artefacts of the 1641 Irish Rebellion, before travelling to Co Down to find out about the Ulster-Scots. Back in England, he explains how communities in the West Midlands were divided by the violent conflict between Parliament and the Crown, and visits a local history project that is unearthing evidence from a Cornish battlefield. He also charts the origins of revolutionary movements including the Levellers and Diggers, which he believes laid the foundations for modern British democracy.
Part 7: Industry and Empire
Michael Wood explores the many ways in which the Industrial Revolution transformed society during the 19th century, as towns and cities grew while the rural population shrank and Britain became the world’s first industrial power. He discovers how this economic shift affected workers, visiting communities in Dorset and Wiltshire, as well as the site of a former slum in Manchester, and investigates the roles of slavery and colonialism in driving British expansion. He also travels to mines and factories that thrived during the period, and learns how the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers revolutionised the way people viewed the world.
Part 8: Modern Britain
Michael Wood concludes his survey of the past 2,000 years of British history by charting the dramatic changes seen during the 20th and 21st centuries. He assesses the impact that two world wars had on communities across the country, explores the spread of multiculturalism over the past 50 years and charts Britain’s transition into a post-industrial economy. Finally, he assesses the future of the United Kingdom, and explains what he believes British citizens can learn from their shared history.