Humanities - History made real

Bring back BBC docudramas, a wonderful classroom resource

Barbara Hibbert

An unexpected bonus in the excellent BBC History File programmes used to be spotting actors now better known for other work. For example, a young Daniel Craig can be heard narrating the drama documentaries known to generations of history teachers and pupils as "Geordie Nazis", because of the accents of the two men who portray members of the SA.

But these slices of the past - now traded as hard currency by history teachers in the know - are increasingly difficult to access. There are occasional broadcasts in the early hours of the morning, but they are not well-publicised. Short extracts can be found among the BBC Learning Zone's Class Clips, but you have to know what you are looking for. No further series have been commissioned from producer Andrew Chater.

Yet they give irreplaceable pictures of the past to young people, who find it difficult to imagine what it was really like to live in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia or the US between the wars. The past really is a foreign country, but one easier to envisage through these series based on the life stories of real people.

One such story is that of Henry Metelmann, who died last July. The son of a socialist railway worker and a committed Christian, Henry became a passionate follower of Hitler, much to his parents' sorrow. When Henry's scout group was submerged into the Hitler Youth, he found that he loved the uniform, the marching and the camping trips. At 18, he was drafted into the army and became a tank driver on the Eastern Front. After the war ended, he was a prisoner of war in America before ending up in England. Once he realised the true nature of the Nazi regime, he became a peace activist and a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Generations of schoolchildren have heard his story, helping them to understand how easy it is for ordinary people to be caught up in extraordinary events and evil regimes. The story is powerfully told, using clips of Henry talking as well as dramatic reconstructions of his life.

History teachers need more resources of this quality and it would be wonderful if the BBC would broadcast them all again, make them more easily available to download or, better still, commission new ones.

Barbara Hibbert is a former head of history and politics, and is now an education consultant and author.

What else?

Andrew Chater also created (, a free, film-rich resource that covers broad chronological sweeps of British history.

Nearly 400 videos have been shared by BBC Class Clips - History on TES Resources. Question how much the German people knew about what was really going on during the Battle of Poland or hear an actress reading from Anne Frank's diary.

In the forums

Teachers discuss how to access older BBC docudramas that are useful for the history classroom.

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Barbara Hibbert

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