David goes back to a monumental occasion
Cross swords with David Starkey at your peril – to say he doesn’t suffer fools gladly is something of an understatement. If he doesn’t agree with something you say or do, chances are he will pull no punches in telling you about it. His refusal to compromise has, however, turned him into a smallscreen star. He’s now one of the most respected historians around – which is perhaps why those who love the subject can’t wait for his views on the Magna Carta in David Starkey’s Magna Carta, Monday, BBC2, 9pm. TV programme-makers seem to love nothing more than an anniversary – it gives them an excuse to turn on their cameras and produce a new project. Last year, the start of the First World War grabbed their imagination, while at the moment, the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945 is being marked. The Magna Carta, or ‘Great Charter’, was first issued in June 1215 by King John of England at Runnymede near Windsor. That means that this year, it’s 800 years old, and as a result, Starkey is about to talk us through its importance as part of the BBC’s Taking Liberties – The Democracy season. “Magna Carta is one of our country’s most important exports,” said Tony Hall, the BBC Director General, at the season’s launch. “It is an iconic document which helped build the foundations of democracy and the rule of law in Britain and abroad. “We’ll be marking its 800th anniversary across television, radio and online. Our season will offer everyone the chance to understand what is being commemorated and why. Above all, we will demonstrate what is perhaps Magna Carta’s greatest legacy: our freedom of speech and our right to question, to challenge and to hold up a mirror to the people and institutions which represent us.” Most viewers have probably studied the document at school, but Starkey has a knack of being able to breathe new life into musty old subjects, so you can bet his take on the subject will be far more intriguing than anything you heard in a classroom many moons ago. Here he reveals how the Magna Carta was devised to check the abuses of King John – and that it almost fell flat before it had a chance to make its mark. Starkey has probably benefited as much as anybody from the charter’s ideals – after all, where would he be without the freedom to express his opinions? It’s something he’s been doing on the small screen since 1977, when he was asked to take part in a fictional trial of Richard III on the ITV show BehaveYourself. Once again, Starkey is on fine form here – he may even turn a few viewers into amateur historians in the process.
Looking back David examines the origins of the document