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Historian and broadcaster Helen Castor Picture by Chris Gibbions

Made in Manchester has recruited historian Helen Castor to present a 5-part series about the History of the Midlands.

The series titled England: Made in the Middle will air on BBC Radio 4 from 1.45pm next Monday.

Helen Castor, herself a Midlander, will argue that England has largely been shaped historically by the people and places of its Middle counties – Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, the West Midlands, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire.

Producer Robert Shore says ‘The Midlands is often overlooked when we think about the history of England yet it’s where some of our major figures have hailed from most notably William Shakespeare but also Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Johnson and of course, we now know Richard III was not only born in the Midlands but died here too.’

The series looks at the early days of the Midlands and how the ancient Kingdom of Mercia (with its capital in Tamworth) would influence the England we know today. It also examines the the region’s role in creating modern British democracy, the West Midlands’ role in leading the Industrial Revolution and the East Midlands literary prowess through writers like DH Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe.

The series also looks at accents and dialect and what makes a Nottingham or Leicester accent particularly distinctive.

MIM Creative Director Ashley Byrne says: ‘Apart from Robin Hood, many people know very little about the history of the Midlands because as a country we tend to focus on the North or South and ignore the bit in the middle. I’m very pleased that with the help of such a respected historian like Helen Castor, who grew up in Leamington Spa, we’ve been able to finally explore it through these programmes.’

England: Made in the Middle is presented by Dr Helen Castor and airs at 1.45pm every day next week (May 23-27th) on BBC Radio 4.

Bringing to life some of the readings – celebrated character actor Christopher Strauli (Only When I Laugh, Raffles, Edward VII, Rising Damp, the film) as well as Jon Thrower, Matt Nation, Alex Oliviere and Lisa Thrower.

Actor Christopher Strauli

This series follows a successful run of programmes by Made in Manchester for Radio 4 recently which included 1916: A Letter from Ireland which was made to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin.

England: Made in the Middle can be heard via the BBC iplayer for 30 days after broadcast.

The GPO building in Dublin - Scene of the 1916 Easter Rising

Made in Manchester has produced a one-off documentary for BBC Radio 4 about a unique collection of letters brought together in Ireland to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

In the programme, Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole takes a look at some of the 2,000 letters crowdsourced by Susan Schreibman and her team at Maynooth University in County Kildare.

Presenter Fintan O'Toole

Producer Ashley Byrne says: ‘The correspondence paints a unique portrait of Irish people coming to terms with monumental events but, at the same time, getting on with everyday life. This isn’t the Ireland of 1916 as seen through the history books – it’s the Ireland of 1916 seen through the writings of the people as they lived it.

There are love letters penned by a couple starting a romance amid the backdrop of the troubles in Dublin, there are letters from soldiers on the Western Front confused at the events back home, there are lost letters and there are last letters from people eventually condemned for their part in the Rising.’

It was a time when letter writing was at its height. But with the main Dublin post office building at the centre of the Easter Rising, there was a temporary hiatus and some post couldn’t be sent for days. As a result, people turned their letters into diaries as they added to their correspondence with updates on events as they happened.

Postcards also took an interesting turn following the Easter Rising. Suddenly photographs of the mayhem were being sent around the world – a bit like Twitter or Instagram today.

A typical 1916 rebel flag

Meanwhile, we discover, life went on. Soldiers worried about the welfare of their children back home and George Bernard Shaw was at the height of his playwrighting fame.

You can hear the programme via the BBC iplayer here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b074vx8y

The letters were sourced from the Letters of 1916 project and there are thousands of more letters to be found at letters1916.ie

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