Stuff The British Stole

The show will be adapted as a 6-part drama series. Deadline reports both the drama and season 3 of the documentary are currently in development stage.

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Episode 5

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Monday 15 July 8.00pm

Marc Fennell unpicks the twisting history of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant. It is a story of betrayal, exploitation, and the brutal reality of the medical industry.

Charles Byrne was born in 1762 in the small village of Littlebridge. By the age of 18, he had grown to over 7 feet tall and realised that he could earn a small fortune by becoming a pay-per-view human curiosity. He went on a tour of country fairs and village greens in Scotland and northern England, marketing himself as the Irish Giant, and the tour was a runaway success. By the age of 21, he was hailed as the tallest man in the world.

After moving to London to seek fame and fortune, he came to the attention of an eminent surgeon who became obsessed with his potential value as a cadaver and medical exhibit. Byrne was robbed of his life savings and was afflicted by a deadly malady that cut short his life at the tender age of 22. On his deathbed, Byrne made it clear to his friends that he did not wish to be dissected and instead wished to be buried at sea in an iron coffin. Unfortunately, bodysnatchers removed his remains before his wish could be fulfilled.

For years, Byrne’s bones have been on display in a London Museum. So exactly how did he get there?

This epic story starts at the mysterious steps of Giants Causeway, where tales of leviathans have consumed people’s imaginations for centuries and takes us right into the dark heart of London’s oldest operating theatres via a few Irish pubs along the way.

This is not just a story of a man who was larger than life; it is a story of betrayal, exploitation, and the brutal reality of the medical industry. Many of the medical practices that save lives today are only possible thanks to the macabre and brutal business of shady grave robbers who sold corpses to medical schools or scientists who needed human bodies to dissect.

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Episode 6

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Monday 22 July 8.00pm

From the bustling streets of Nairobi to a secluded royal retreat in the Kenyan mountains, Marc Fennell is on the hunt for secret documents that reveal a brutal history of war and a crumbling empire.

As the clock ticks towards 1963, Prince Phillip is poised to officially grant Kenya its independence. However, before a new government assumes control, colonial forces receive a final command: eliminate any evidence that could bring shame upon Her Majesty’s government.

Amid the global wave of former colonies reclaiming freedom, the twilight of the greatest empire unfolds. The tropical skies witness columns of smoke from countless bonfires, where Britain incinerates its tainted history, discards documents into the sea, and secretly transports crates of files to London in Operation Legacy.
Within these documents lies a shocking secret, so appalling that Britain expends decades and millions to conceal it in a high-security facility, shared with MI5.

Marc Fennell takes us on a journey from Nairobi’s bustling streets to the majestic hills of rural Kenya, unraveling the story of the Mau Mau Crisis and those desperate to keep it hidden. The Mau Mau, a violent Kenyan independence movement, faced brutal suppression by Britain through arrests without trial, murder, rape, and detention camps, all deemed legal by Whitehall lawmakers.

As Kenya gains independence, evidence is brazenly whisked away to England, a potential theft of history. From the vibrant hubbub of downtown Nairobi to the serene mist-covered mountains of Nyeri, Kenyans strive to unearth their nation’s erased history.

We visit a Mau Mau work camp transformed into a girls’ high school and explore the eerie abandoned hotel where Princess Elizabeth became Queen.

Meanwhile, in the tranquil hills of Oxford, a historian turned inadvertent detective guides us through the discovery of a folder marked “SECRET,” which eventually unravels the horrifying truth about the dying days of the British Empire.

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Episode 7

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Monday 29 July 8.00pm

Look around you. There’s a chance you’ll spot a piece of rubber. It’s everywhere now, but it wasn’t always this way. Marc Fennell takes you to the Amazon jungle to unravel an elaborate botanical heist that changed the world.

Look around you. There’s a high chance you’ll spot a piece of rubber. It’s everywhere now, but it wasn’t always this way. In the mid-19th century, rubber was like a new kind of gold, igniting the imagination of a rapidly industrialising Western world. It became a billion-dollar commodity, vital for the revolutionary innovations of the era: steam-engine gaskets in ships and trains, telegraph-wire insulators, bicycle and automobile tyres, and military equipment, including First World War gas masks.

From the 1850s to 1913, the Amazon Basin dominated the rubber trade. Enter Henry Wickham, a British explorer, who in 1876 smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds out of Brazil’s rainforests and delivered them to the esteemed scientists of Victorian England at Kew Gardens. The thrilling tale of how Wickham secured those seeds – and the world-changing consequences – is the stuff of legend.

Join Marc as he ventures deep into the Amazon to meet the descendants of the very people who claim the seeds were stolen from them. But that’s only half the story. The botanists at Kew managed to germinate 2,700 of Wickham’s seeds, and the seedlings were shipped off to Britain’s colonies – Ceylon, Burma, and Singapore (where Marc’s family hails from). Within a few short years, the rubber trade was firmly in British hands. In Brazil, the collapse of the wild rubber industry signalled the beginning of the Amazon’s deforestation as farmers and ranchers moved in.

However, they needed people to cultivate the plants. Indentured slaves and servants were lured from India to work on these British plantations.

This gripping story is equal parts heist movie for the most unlikely of loot, and a tale of how the British Empire exploited Indian workers to amass staggering wealth and power.

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Episode 8 - final

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Monday 5 August 8.00pm

Marc Fennell takes us to Egypt, a remote Canadian island & London in his quest to unravel the mystery of a sphinx located in the British Museum that looks almost identical to those from Egypt, except it’s not from Egypt.

For years, visitors to the British Museum have been puzzled by an exhibit: a sphinx that looks almost identical to those from Egypt, except it’s not from Egypt.

It’s actually from Haida Gwaii, a stunning archipelago on Canada’s west coast. It was carved by the Haida Indigenous people. How - and why - did they create a perfect replica of an Egyptian sphinx?

If you turn the sculpture around, you will notice a tiny detail that begins to unravel this wild story.

In this final episode, Marc Fennell takes us to Egypt, where the original Sphinx stands tall, across the seas to the epic windswept landscapes of Haida Gwaii, and back to London, the heart of the empire, in his quest to unravel the mystery.

The ravages of smallpox also had a crucial impact on the journey of the mysterious sculpture. By the late 1870s, the Haida population had declined dramatically, with many villages left empty. It’s in one of those villages that the British Museum catalogue claims that the sphinx was found. But how did it make its way to one of the most famous museums in the world?

This episode explores the impact of religion and missionaries in Indigenous communities, through the story of one of the most surprising objects in the British Museum, and one already wrapped in mystery.

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