Witness History: The BBC broadcasting through the Iron Curtain

It is the 90th anniversary of the BBC World Service. Broadcasting to countries behind the Iron Curtain without a free or independent media between 1947 and 1991 was arguably the service’s finest hour.

The corporation was on the front line of the information war as the BBC’s former Moscow correspondent Bridget Kendall recalls.

Programmes such as the German Service’s Letters Without Signatures created a sense of community among isolated East Germans who could not air their views publicly at home.

Meanwhile, Peter Udell, the former controller of European Services, had the challenge of trying to overcome the Soviet censors. Produced and presented by Josephine McDermott.

BBC World Service – Witness History, The BBC broadcasting through the Iron Curtain

Witness History: Una Marson and the BBC Caribbean Service

To mark the 90th anniversary of the BBC World Service, we trace the development of the Caribbean Service.

Its beginnings go back to the early 1940s when the BBC’s first black producer, Una Marson was employed. She created Caribbean Voices, which gave future Nobel laureates such as Derek Walcott their first international platform.

In 1969, one of the UK’s best known newsreaders, Sir Trevor McDonald, left Trinidad to join the BBC Caribbean Service as a producer. He reflects on its legacy.

Produced and presented by Josephine McDermott.

BBC World Service – Witness History, Una Marson and the BBC Caribbean Service

Witness History: Campaigning against sex-selection in India

Campaigners in India in the 1980s
Photo: Campaigners rally against fetal sex selection in Mumbai in the 1980s. Credit: Dr Vibhuti Patel

Over the last 50 years an estimated 46 million girls have been aborted in India.

The cultural preference for boys and the development of pre-natal sex determination tests like ultrasound in the 1980s, meant an increase in the number of girls being aborted.

Activist Manisha Gupte describes how she campaigned, as part of the feminist movement, against sex-selective abortion – including the use of sit-ins and rallies – eventually raising enough awareness to bring about a national law in 1994 – the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act.

BBC World Service – Witness History, Campaigning against sex-selection in India

Witness History: Castrating Pablo Escobar’s hippos

When drug kingpin Pablo Escobar died in 1993 having built a billion dollar cocaine empire, he left behind a zoo. While his rhinos, giraffes, elephants and kangaroos were re-housed, the hippos were left in Escobar’s abandoned ranch in the Colombian countryside.

In 2007 they started turning up 100 kilometres away, frightening fishermen. Vet Carlos Valderrama was called in to tackle the problem. He describes to Josephine McDermott his experience of the first ever castration of a hippo in the wild.

BBC World Service – Witness History, Castrating Pablo Escobar’s hippos

Witness History: The Fall of Shanghai

THURSDAY 18th MAY:  THE FALL OF SHANGHAI

In 1937, Japanese forces entered Shanghai – spelling the end of a period when the Chinese city had been a thriving commercial centre governed by international powers and known as the “Paris of the East”.  Under the Japanese occupation, local people in Shanghai endured starvation and brutal treatment; while foreigners scrambled to escape as their lifestyle of servants and glamourous parties slowly disappeared. Josephine McDermott speaks to Liliane Willens, who lived through the Japanese invasion and occupation.

Witness History – Shanghai at War – BBC Sounds

Witness History: Fighting For Uyghur Rights in China

In the 1980s, the minority Uyghur community in China staged some of the first protests against the all-powerful Communist Party. The Uyghurs were demanding that the Chinese government keep its promises to protect their culture and grant them political autonomy in Xinjiang region. In 1989, many Uyghur students enthusiastically supported the pro-democracy demonstrations centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. One of them was Aziz Isa Elkun, who talks to Josephine McDermott.

Witness History – Fighting for Uyghur rights in China – BBC Sounds