Episode 09

Princess Mary Tudor’s flight to freedom

In the summer of 1550, Princess Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, was packing her belongings and preparing to flee her home.

Her Tudor brother was the figurehead for an increasingly Protestant regime. Mary clung to her mother’s Catholicism.

She feared for her life and, as the pressure on her to conform grew, she turned to her powerful relatives abroad.

She could be safe again, but they could only protect her if she left England.


Episode 08

Cancelling Christmas and Canterbury’s Plum Pudding Riots

In 1647, the new puritan government tried to cancel Christmas.

People in Canterbury protested in a peculiarly English way, with a destructive game of football followed by a mass brawl.

The city’s Plum Pudding Riots led to a royalist revolt throughout Kent and the second round of the Civil War.

With Parliamentary armies fighting in Wales and Scotland, could this have marked a revival in fortunes for the beleaguered King Charles the First?


Episode 07

The Prince of Poyais – settling in the country that never was

In 1822, Gregor MacGregor committed what The Economist newspaper has called the ‘biggest fraud in history’ and ‘the greatest confidence trick of all time’.

Investors, many of them Scottish, put forward vast sums towards creating a colony in central America. They were told it was a sure bet, a land of milk and honey – another paradise on the isthmus.

Sounds familiar? If you listened last week, you might think that once bitten, Scots would be twice shy.

Instead, bonds for Gregor MacGregor’s Principality of Poyais were oversubscribed and colonists easy to find. They would all profit from this rich and fertile land that was larger than Wales and ripe for settlement.

The only problem was that Poyais didn’t exist.

Episode 06

A wonderful paradise on the Isthmus of Panama

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, Scotland sank a huge chunk of its national wealth into an audacious scheme to colonise central America. become a more equal partner with England under the Stuart crown.

The colony was to straddle the Isthmus of Panama at the Gulf of Darién. It would create an overland route to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Vessels from the Old World and the New World, it was hoped, would converge on the colony. Scotland would reap bountiful dividends.

In the end, the venture failed. The Darien Scheme’s downfall was a major push forcing Scotland to give up her independence and join with England in 1707’s Act of Union.

This is the first in a two-part series looking at Scotland’s colonial disasters. In both cases, huge amounts of capital were raised and lost, and many lives ruined, as Scots attempted to forge a colonial empire in Central America.

Episode 05

Roosevelt’s third term and the voice from the sewers

In the first half of 1940 only one question mattered in American politics. Would Franklin D. Roosevelt break with tradition and run for a third term as President of the United States? The New York Times proclaimed it as ‘the all-absorbing political riddle’.

Roosevelt kept the country guessing right up until the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in July 1940. On the second day of the convention, a message from FDR was read out.

It announced that the President had no desire to continue in office or to be nominated for election. It produced a stunned and shocked silence.

Suddenly, the quiet was shattered by a voice thundering over the loudspeakers.

‘We want Roosevelt!

We want Roosevelt!’

But did the President want a third term?

Episode 04 

The British Hindenberg disaster and the demise of Imperial Airships

Imperial Airships would bring the far flung peoples of the British Empire closer together than ever before. Every day, blimps would slip their masts near London carrying passengers and freight bound for Montreal, Cairo, Karachi, Singapore and Sydney.

Journies that had once been measured in months would breeze past in days. The Imperial Airship Service would bind Canada, Australia, South Africa, Egypt, India and New Zealand into a true global superpower.

Britannia still ruled the waves. But now, she would dominat the sky.

These dreams were dashed when the world’s largest airship ploughed into the ground in northern France on its inaugural flight to India.

Britain’s Hindenburg disaster ended an imperial flirtation with airships. Did it also deal a blow for the future of the British Empire?

Episode 03 

Hitler’s dreams to unify his empire with a monstrous railway

In 1941, Adolf Hitler issued orders to Nazi Germany’s railway officials. He wanted them to develop a new type of railway. It was to be bigger, far bigger, than anything that had ever been seen.

Trains the height and width of a suburban house and the length of the Empire State Building would hurtle across the Greater German Reich, from Brest in the west to Bucharest in the east. They would be luxurious, providing unimaginable amenities for travellers.

And, unsurprisingly, they were never built.


Episode 02 

Draining the swamp – Garibaldi’s plan to diver Rome’s river

In 1875, Rome came close to losing its river.

In that year, the liberator of Italy, General Giuseppe Garibaldi, visited and announced plans to clean up the Eternal City.

His main target was the River Tiber. Garibaldi would solve problems from pollution to flooding by diverting the river and completely removing it from the city.

Where did this idea come from? And why wasn’t it carried out?

Episode 01 

Achtung! Achtung! Dystopian adventures with Nazi TV

Everywhere you turn, you see the unmistakable face of Adolf Hitler. His voice echoes in your head, broadcast from a thousand loudspeakers. His wild, gesticulating speech is reaching its foam speckled crescendo.

Nazi television is everywhere. Looming over city squares, above the concourse of the railway station, on the factory floor and in every home.

It is George Orwell’s 1984 made real, and it was a dream of visionaries working in Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.

In the end, only the small matter of a world war got in the way of the roll-out of a nationwide and unavoidable Nazi television network.