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BBC Documentaries

Season 2003 2003
TV-PG

  • 2003-05-27T20:00:00Z on BBC
  • 60 mins
  • 1 day, 12 hours, 0 mins
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • Documentary, Special Interest

Documentaries produced by or for the BBC.

37 episodes

2003x01 A Tribute To Sir Edmund Hillary: The Race For Everest

  • Season Premiere

    2003-05-27T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

Documentary on Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's historic ascent of Everest in 1953. Including previously unseen material filmed on the expedition, and interviews with surviving members of the team and members of the rival Swiss team.

2003x02 Pompeii: The Last Day

  • 2003-09-12T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

Step back in time and visit the "vanished city" on its last day, as the mighty volcano Vesuvius explodes in a 24-hour reign of terror. On August 24th, AD79, Pompeii's citizens witness day turning into night as 4 billion tons of pumice, rock, and ash burst forth from Vesuvius. Pompeii: The Last Day uses archaeological evidence, including the writings of one survivor, to unravel the mystery of those final hours. Lavish special effects reconstruct each stage of Vesuvius's cataclysmic eruption and its impact on soldiers, slaves, families, and lovers as they struggle with the unfolding tragedy. One of the greatest natural disasters - and most fateful days - comes to vivid life in this critically acclaimed dramatization.

The Colosseum in Rome is one of the world's most amazing buildings. This immense oval stadium was home to the most violent and deadly spectator sport in history, gladiatorial combat. The Roman gladiator whose story is told here is Verus, one of two victors in the only gladiatorial battle that was ever described in detail (by the Roman poet Martial in 80 A.D.). Using this factual record as its basis, Colosseum follows Verus as he is recruited from slavery, trained in gladiator's school, rises to favor among wealthy Romans, and ultimately battles his best friend, Priscus, to a crowd-pleasing draw in the inaugural games of glorious, brand-new Colosseum, the construction of which is shown in fascinating detail. Combining authoritative narration with diary-like voiceovers from Verus's perspective, this riveting 50-minute BBC production is simultaneously intimate and epic in scale, employing the latest in digital compositing techniques to achieve its unparalleled visual splendor. With well-cast actors speaking authentic Latin, this sumptuous production is both dramatically involving and exacting in every detail.

2003x04 Alchemists of Sound

  • 2003-10-07T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

A documentary about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, responsible for creating some of the most memorable television and radio music in British popular culture, including "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "Doctor Who" (1963).

2003x05 Newton: The Dark Heretic

  • 2003-05-01T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

This documentary reveals a very different Isaac Newton from that of popular myth – a much more fascinating and complex man than the powder-wigged puritan of the history books.

2003x07 Israel's Secret Weapon

  • 2003-03-11T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

The United States and Britain are preparing to wage war on Iraq, for its undisclosed weapons of mass destruction. Israel's nuclear, biological and chemical capabilities have remained un-inspected. Meanwhile Mordechai Vanunu has been imprisoned for 16 years for exposing Israel's secret nuclear bomb factory to the world. Vanunu is seen as a traitor in his own country. He has been abandoned by most of his family and has spent 11 years in solitary confinement. Today only an American couple, who have legally adopted him, are among the few visitors he is permitted. This film is the story of the bomb, Vanunu and Israel's wall of silence. Part of the BBC Correspondent Series

2003x08 The King of Communism

  • 2003-11-17T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

Nicolae Ceausescu created a unique personality cult in the 1970s and 1980s, transforming communist Romania into one of the strangest regimes Europe has ever seen. Newspapers had to mention his name 40 times on every page, factory workers spent months rehearsing dance routines dressed as soldiers and gymnasts for huge shows at which thousands of citizens were lined up to form the words Nicolae Ceausescu with their bodies. When the Romanian economy and living standards plummeted in the 1980s, the line between theatre and life blurred completely. Ceausescu went on working visits to the countryside where he inspected displays of meat and fruit made out of polystyrene, and closer to home began work on what would have been the largest palace in the world. At the final parade in 1989, workers walked past their leader to the sound of taped chants and applause. Using Ceausescu's own archive of 35mm propaganda films, King of Communism offers a surprising and chilling view of the absurd world of the Romanian dictator's regime. "This is a real-life communist version of Springtime for Hitler," says director Ben Lewis. "It's an all-singing, all-dancing unmasking of the illusions of communism, but it's also a serious study of the experience, effects and legacy of the twentieth century's most destructive political system."

The Victoria Cross: For Valour is a 2003 BBC television historical documentary presented by Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson examines the history of the Victoria Cross, and follows the story of one of the 1,354 men who were awarded it - Major Robert Henry Cain. The main part of the programme was to describe how in September 1944, Major Cain won what was described as the "finest Victoria Cross of the whole war" (Second World War) by his commanding officer Lt Col Derek Mcnally. It’s only at the end of the programme that it is revealed that Clarkson is married to the Major’s daughter who had no idea that her father was a VC winner until after his death in 1974.

2003x10 Bush Family Fortunes

  • 2003-06-19T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

This hour long documentary from BBC Three follows the award-winning reporter-sleuth Greg Palast on the trail of the Bush family, from Florida election finagling, to the Saudi connection, to the Bush team's spiking the FBI investigation of the bin Laden family and the secret State Department plans for post-war Iraq. These are the hard-hitting reports that have been seen in films like Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, broadcast internationally on BBC Newsnight television, and are found in Palast's international bestselling book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

Towering Ambitions: Dan Cruickshank at Ground Zero is a documentary film in which, 2-years on from the 9/11 attacks, Dan Cruickshank examines plans for the World Trade Center site.

The extraordinary story of how the 19-year-old Mary Shelley created Frankenstein, one of the world's most terrifying monsters. Daughter of Mary Woolstencraft, wife of Percy Byshe Shelley and close friend to Lord Byron, Mary Shelley's life was every bit as extraordinary as her most famous work. Dramatising the adventures, love affairs and tragedies of her young life, the film shows how her monstrous creation reflected her own extraordinary experiences.

2003x13 The Man Who Forged America

  • 2003-09-02T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

When US police investigated a double murder in the 1980s, they had no idea they were about to uncover the most daring trail of forgery and deception America had ever seen. Mark Hofmann dared to forge on a level previously undreamt of as he manufactured historic documents at the core of the American constitution and history. And he fooled everyone - the FBI, the CIA, the Library of Congress, even the best forensic experts in the world and his own wife. Hofmann's story begins in Salt Lake City and a growing hatred of the Mormon church - a hatred which would lead him to his first criminal acts designed to dupe a society only too willing to believe tall tales. And it's a perfect training ground for his ultimate goal - to make a fortune and fool America itself. Ultimately however, his ambition turns to murder.

2003x14 The Autism Puzzle

  • 2003-02-17T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

Forty years ago autism was a highly obscure disorder which was thought to affect only four to five children in every 10,000, but now some British teachers are claiming to see it in one in every 86 children. Is there an epidemic of autism, and what's causing it? The documentary looks at the history of the condition, and current research into cause and treatment. It includes interviews with some of the world's leading experts on autism.

2003x15 Armani on Screen

  • 2003-11-20T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

Profile of the Italian fashion designer who has provided outfits for everyone from Jacqui O to Mick J and, as a long-time movie-buff, dressed the stars of countless films.

2003x16 The Tsar's Last Picture Show

  • 2003-05-26T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

On the 300th anniversary of the founding of St Petersburg, historian and author Orlando Figes explores the life of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky who was commissioned by the Tsar to document his vast realm on film; and presents a striking visual portrait, both of Russia on the eve of revolution and St Petersburg today.

2003x17 Stalin: Inside the Terror

  • 2003-03-02T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

To coincide with the 50th anniversary of his death, this documentary presents an intimate portrait of one of the greatest monsters of the 20th century, including fresh evidence about his relationships with women, his family and his inner circle.

2003x19 Saint Paul

  • 2003-06-06T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

St Paul - for BBC1 in June 2003, this one hour documentary, presented by Jonathan Edwards, looked at the story of St Paul, and aimed to reveal the background to the story of Paul. The programme used dramatised reconstruction, computer graphics and location filming.

2003x20 My Family and Autism

  • 2003-07-30T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

My Family and Autism is a documentary with an upbeat look at the daily life of the Jackson family. Jacqui Jackson has four sons and three daughters, and all her boys are on the autistic spectrum. 14-year-old Luke guides us through their family life. Luke tells us what he thought about the BBC filming his family, we find out about the spectacles with colored lenses that he and his brother Joe tried out during filming, there are details of the diet that the boys are on to alleviate some of their symptoms and Joe is given a camera to capture the family at home.

2003x21 Britain's Lost Roman Wonder

  • 2003-04-01T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

The ruined Roman fort at Richborough in Kent contains a vast and mysterious slab of concrete, 30ft deep, which resembles a mausoleum or a strong room. In a fascinating programme based on informed detective work, the chief executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, shows how it was the foundation of a monumental arch built between AD80 and AD90. The arch, a symbolic gateway between land and sea, was covered in 400 tonnes of marble and surmounted by an emperor cast in bronze. The bulk and splendour would have reminded everyone for miles around what it meant to belong to the Roman Empire.

With 1984 having recently been revealed to be the book that people are most likely to have lied about having read it is worth remembering the man who wrote it, George Orwell. He remains perhaps the single most important literary voice of the 20th century. Unlike his contemporary left-wing writers Orwell actually became one of the dispossessed for whom he strove throughout his life and, consequently, was able to challenge ivory-tower intellectual leftism from a position of strength and knowledge. When the people of Spain rose up against fascism he did not write pamphlets in their support but picked up a rifle and went to fight. He combined a desire for revolution (which he believed to be the only way to improve the lot of the poor) with a fiery patriotism which celebrated the best things about the country and derided the worst. He was an idealist who was prepared to accept pragmatic realities. All this comes across with great force in George Orwell: A Life in Pictures. Made by or for BBC4 in 2003 A Life in Pictures is a fascinating film which straddles the boundary between cinema and documentary. Orwell died in 1950 after the completion of his magnum opus 1984. Despite having lived in a time in which motion picture cameras and audio recording equipment were generally available there is no film of him and not one single recording of his voice survives anywhere. The film is an attempt to create a visual record of George Orwell's life. Orwell himself is played by Chris Langham who does a masterful job of bringing the author to life and not only that but looks so like him that in many photographs it is sometimes impossible to tell whether you are looking at the actor or the original. The point is made early on that while the pictures are invented the words are not and everything that Langham (as Orwell) says during the film is something that Orwell wrote. It is a testament to Orwell's writing that it can be spoken by an actor and sound convincingly like the answer to a question or a piece of normal conversation. What the film does brilliantly is to clearly demonstrate to someone who is not familiar with Orwell's work that he was not a one-hit-wonder who produced one great book and disappeared but rather someone who evolved over a long and distinguished career to the point where the writing of 1984 was not a choice for him but an imperative. The film follows a roughly chronological order starting with Orwell's schooling and ending with his death shortly after the publication of 1984.

2003x25 Brighton Bomb

  • 2003-11-11T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

A detailed account of the IRA’s attempt to blow up Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet.

Profile of the great British contralto Kathleen Ferrier. Contributors include Janet Baker, George Christie, Evelyn Barbirolli and Ian Jack.

2003x27 Crackhouse

  • 2003-01-28T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

A one-off documentary in which ex-drug user Carl John turned a camera on his own world and film his crack-addicted friends. With the co-operation of three prostitutes he'd known since children, he told the stories of Tanya, Nicky and Virginia

2003x28 Dolly Parton: Platinum Blonde

  • 2003-01-06T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

Dolly Parton is one of the world's great superstars, feted for her figure as much as for her music. Platinum Blonde goes inside her world to discover the woman under the wigs as she returned to the concert stage in the UK in 2002 after an absence of 20 years. Born into grinding poverty in rural Tennessee, Dolly has risen to the top of her tree in music, films and as a businesswoman who owns her own theme park. Friends, family and colleagues - including Lily Tomlin, Kenny Rogers, Billy Connolly, Dabney Coleman and Alison Krauss - help tell her story, along with the full and frank views of Dolly herself. With cameo appearances from Sinead O'Connor, Norah Jones, Jonathan Ross and Terry Wogan.

2003x29 Chile: The Other 9/11

  • 2003-04-14T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11th 1973, two jets launched a deadly attack on the Presidential Palace of La Moneda in the heart of Santiago, Chile. The result was fire, the suicide of President Salvador Allende and ultimately the death or disappearance of over three thousand people. "Chile: The Other 9/11" pieces together the dramatic hour-by-hour events of the coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power and marked a turning point in the Cold War.

Andrew Graham-Dixon considers the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the painter and poet who reinvented the Victorian ideal of female beauty... and who dug up his wife's coffin to retrieve poems he had buried with her. (2003)

In this 2003 BBC4 programme Francine Stock does a quick recap of Noam Chomsky's career as a pre-eminent figure in the field of linguistics and outspoken controversial political activist. But the main interview explores his critiques of western imperialist amp; corporate power and how he views it as being maintained through the media as well as advocating the use of popular world opinion as a potent counterforce in opposing the powerful elites and their servants.

How an obscure Soviet camera conceived at the height of the Cold War inspired a huge following.

Are sharks robotic killing machines or intelligent animals, capable of complex behaviour? Roboshark, an animatronic shark with a camera is used to film the behaviour of sharks.

The extraordinary yet true account of a secret US government-backed attempt to build a spaceship the size of an ocean liner and send it to Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, propelled by thousands of miniature nuclear bombs. Beginning in 1958 Project Orion ran until 1965, employing some of the best scientists in the world, including the brilliant British mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson. "Freeman Dyson is one of the few authentic geniuses I've ever met", says Arthur C. Clarke. "Orion isn't crazy. It would work. The question isn't whether we could do it, but whether we should do it".

Gil Scott-Heron was one of the most influential musicians and poets of the last 50 years. In Don Letts's documentary, Gil tells his own story for the first time - from being one of the first black children to integrate an all-white Southern state school to becoming the Godfather of Rap. There are contributions from Chuck D, Mos Def, Richie Havens and the Last Poets, among others. Filmed in October 2003, Gil performs live and recites poetry out on the streets of Harlem, which have inspired so much of his music.

2003x37 Football and Fascism

  • 2003-09-23T20:00:00Z — 60 mins

How did Hitler, Franco and Mussolini manipulate the beautiful game? Gary Lineker and Real Madrid's Alfredo Di Stefano are among the contributors.

2003x38 The Day Britain Stopped

  • 2003-03-15T21:00:00Z — 60 mins

Dramatised documentary which analyses the catastrophe and national tragedy that could happen to Britain if its already over-burdened transport systems reached breaking point. Set in the future on 19 December 2003 and presented as if it were a retrospective documentary made subsequently, complete with mock archive footage and hindsight interviews.

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