World on Fire on the BBC: when’s it on, what’s it about and who are the stars?

By Rosemary Collins, 17 September 2019 - 3:46pm

We take a look at the top family history TV and radio programmes in September – including a new Second World War drama, a repeat of Who Do You Think You Are? and more

World on Fire Harry (Jonah Hauer-King) and Kasia (Zofia Wichlacz)
Harry (Jonah Hauer-King) and Kasia (Zofia Wichlacz) in World on Fire (Credit: BBC/Mammoth Screen)

Pick of the month

World on Fire

Sunday 29 September

What is World on Fire?

It’s 80 years since the outbreak of the Second World War. The story of the conflict is often told as a grand narrative of bloody battles and campaigns, technological advances and shifting strategic alliances. Yet World on Fire, a major new drama penned by Peter Bowker (Eric and Ernie, Desperate Romantics) reminds us, this larger story was a mosaic of human experience.

What’s it about?

The first series, made up of seven episodes, focuses on the first year of the war, from the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, via the evacuation at Dunkirk and the fall of Paris, and through to the Battle of Britain, when the Luftwaffe and the RAF fought for aerial supremacy in the skies over southern England.

Over the year we meet a variety of characters, including Harry, an English translator caught in Warsaw as the Nazis invade who’s trying to smuggle his Polish lover, Kasia, out of the country; Nancy, a US war correspondent hopelessly addicted to the adrenaline rush of conflict; and the Rossler family, Berliners who are fearful both for their soldier son and their disabled daughter.

Throughout, the aim is to show the war from very different viewpoints, as well as emphasising the connections that existed not just between allies, but those on different sides.

“These are the stories of the ordinary people who shaped our world,” noted Peter Bowker when the show was first announced. “Stories of loyalty and brutality, courage and fear, love and loss, hopes and dreams forged in extraordinary times.”

Who stars in it?

Produced by Mammoth Screen (Poldark), the series boasts veteran actors including Helen Hunt, Lesley Manville and Sean Bean, plus rising British stars such as Jonah Hauer-King and Julia Brown.

Get more previews of this month's top TV in the September 2019 issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, on sale now


Also showing

Who Do You Think You Are?
18-20 and 26 September

You can catch up with series 11 of Who Do You Think You Are? this week on BBC One. The series follows celebrities including acting legend Brian Blessed, Mrs Brown’s Boys creator Brendan O’Carroll and former The Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry as they discover the secrets in their family tree.

Who Do You Think You Are? 2019 has sadly ended, but four episodes are also available on BBC iPlayer. Highlights include comedian Paul Merton solving the mystery of his grandfather’s death and TV presenter Mark Wright discovering that his ancestors were Spanish Jews who were persecuted by the Inquisition.


Archive on 4: Panorama Broke My School
Radio 4
Saturday 21 September

In 1977 the BBC’s current affairs series Panorama made a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Faraday High, a comprehensive in East Acton, London. The Best Days? showed a school where teachers appeared unable to enforce any discipline, and children from different backgrounds seemed to mix at best uneasily. The documentary caused outrage, and the school’s headmaster was eventually forced to resign. A little more than 40 years later, former pupil Shabnam Grewal looks back at the documentary and the furore it caused, and explores how it affected subsequent educational policies.

Sunday 25 August - 13 October

Adapted by Andrew Davies from Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, ITV’s new serial tells the story of an English seaside resort where there’s money to be made, notably from property development, should the town become fashionable.

At the centre of the drama lies Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), who comes to Sanditon after being invited for a visit. The supporting cast includes Kris Marshall (Death in Paradise) and, having fun as wealthy Lady Denham, former WDYTYA? star Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax).

Underground Worlds
From Wednesday 25 September

William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott (1800–1879), the 5th Duke of Portland, was a reclusive man. He was also exceedingly rich, a combination that probably helps explain how, at his Welbeck Abbey estate, he came to build a series of rooms below ground level, as well as vast numbers of tunnels – including one 2km long said to have been wide enough for two carriages.

The duke’s subterranean building features in this new series that also explores an underground cathedral in Poland, tunnels in Berlin dating from the Cold War era, the Catacombs of Paris and hidden networks beneath Rome’s Colosseum and Trevi Fountain.

The Queen's Lost Family
Until Tuesday 24 September

Don’t miss this three-part documentary series using never-before-seen personal letters, diaries and photograph albums to tell the inside story of the royal family in the 20th century. The Queen’s Lost Family reveals the royal family’s role in boosting morale after the First World War, the scandal of Edward VIII’s abdication and the leadership of George VI – the Queen’s father – during the Second World War.



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