The award-winning Timewatch returns for a brand new series with more fascinating angles on the past. Subjects include a Roman "boot camp" in wind-swept Wales where modern volunteers live the life of Roman legionnaires; former inmates from the 1980 landmark series "Strangeways" relate the ups and downs of life outside; there's a date with debutantes who remember the glitz and glamour of their pre-War heyday; and some astonishing new evidence on the culpability of Mary, Queen of Scots. The season kicks off with the extraordinary "The Last Surrender"

In 1974, a 52-year-old Japanese officer made world headlines when he emerged, gun in hand, from the Philippine jungle. After 29 years of fighting the Second World War, Hiroo Onoda finally accepted Japanese defeat and officially surrendered. He returned home to a hero's welcome.

This edition tracks down the 78-year-old Onoda to his cattle ranch in Brazil, where he gives his first-ever interview to the West in which he tells exactly what happened. Onoda talks about his Samurai-inspired childhood, his brutal military training and some of the thinking which drove him to take his extraordinary stand.

Shot on location in the Philippines, Japan and Brazil, Timewatch uses original archive film, interviews with Lubang islanders and beautifully-shot drama reconstruction to tell his unique story. This is not a tale of a lost soldier forgotten by his country in the turmoil of battle, but a more complex tale of a man who continued to wage war, terrorising an innocent island population. What emerges is a portrait of a complex, brutal and ultimately inscrutable character.

In "Debutantes" the programme examines the debutante experience of 1939 through the eyes of a colourful collection of debs and debs' delights, including the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke of Wellington, and the Duchess of Northumberland.

While Europe was steeling itself in the face of fascist aggression, the upper-class marriage market was in full swing, and here the participants talk vividly about the parties, ballgowns and broken hearts

In "Strangeways Revisited" Manchester's Strangeways Prison is under investigation.

Strangeways is no stranger to historical precedent. In 1990 it exploded in the worst prison riot ever witnessed in Britain, while 10 years earlier it was the subject of one of television's most significant documentary series' which, for the first time, showed viewers the grim realities of prison life on a day-to-day basis.

Twenty one years after the series was first screend in 1980, the original producer and director, Rex Bloomstein, returns to the prison to see how things have changed. This programme traces the stories of eight former inmates and staff who featured in the original film and uncovers some huge and emotional surprises.

One-time gangster Vinny Valente has been back from prison no fewer than 10 times since 1981 - all for violent offences. Vinny talks about his efforts to go straight and, for the first time, reveals what happened to him as a child in care.

Harry Longmuir and Barry Bipsham have been friends for 20 years - insode and outside jail. Harry was first convicted at 14 for stealing a sack of coal worth five shillings and has been in and out of Strangeways over 15 times. Norman Flavell speaks of a childhood of horrendous abuse and how it was the advice of Stuart Green, the Block's senior officer, which made him vow never to return to jail. Now retired, Green first learns of his pivotal role in salvaging a life when being filmed for TimeWatch.

Near tragedy redeemed Terry McDonald from a downward spiral of crime. In 1981 he was filmed in Strangeways asking permission to visit his daughter, Leslie, in hospital who has critically ill following a road accident. The experience made Terry confront his addiction to gambling, his endless jail sentences and the make or break situation with his wife. His daughter survived and so has his marriage to Jean.

In 1980, over 4,000 young offenders a year passed through the Borstal Allocation Centre in Strangeways. One of these boys wa 16-year-old Paul Wood. His tragic fate after Strangeways is vividly told by his sisters Carol, Wendy and Marie. It is a story of terrible sexual and physical abuse which came full circle when Paul became a victimiser himself.

Strangeways won two BAFTA awards for Best Documentary Series and Best Single Documentary, as well as the Broadcasting Press Guild award and provoked new debate over the British Penal system. Seven of the eight original programmes are being shown on BBC2 between May 15 to 23rd 2001.

In "Scharnhorst" we take a look at the German Navy's pride and joy - Scharnhorst. The battle cruiser Scharnhorst, the pride of the German Navy, was considered unsinkable by her crew. Yet, in December 1943, during a mission to attack the Allies' arctic convoys to the soviet Union, "lucky Scharnhorst" was herself trapped and destroyed by the Royal Navy. Of the 2,000 men on board, only 36 survived the freezing waters north of Norway.

For more than half a century the exact circumstances of how the German warship could have been sunk so quickly have remained a mystery. Another mystery is the location of the Scharnhorst's wreck on the seabed. The official positions given by the Royal Navy's Logbooks are contradictory and have, in the past, failed to help detect the sunken vessel.

Timewatch unravels the mystery and, in doing so, tells the story of the warship's ill-fated last voyage off the North Cape. Nearly 60 years after the Scharnhorst sunk, the programme features the modern Norwegian Navy's extraordinary quest to use the latest sonar and deep-sea diving equipment to detect the wreck of the "unsinkable" German battle cruiser.

In "Roman Soldiers To Be" a rain-sodden field in the Welsh borders, nine volunteers from all walks of life give up their creature comforts to train as one of the most fearsome, admire and disciplined fighting forces in history. Following guidelines described by ancient author Vegetius nearly 2,000 years ago, and supervised by historian Kate Gilliver, the men must learn from scratch to endure t harsh regime of the Roman army.

It's a unique historical experiment with great potential for Roman historian Kate from Cardiff University. "There are huge gaps in our knowledge about the Roman army. We can learn an enormous amount from the sources that survive from antiquity, but what we have difficulty learning about is the actual experience of ordinary soldiers," she says. "These are the things experimental archaeology can help us with."

The gruelling, week-long schedule includes weapons training with sword, shield and javelin. Led by Marcus Cassius, who demonstrates Roman military equipment a living, and Captain Andrew Rance, a trainer with the Territorial Army, the men must set up camp, learn entrenching skills, march in armour with full kit, and train in battle formation. Issued with a loin cloths, woollen tunics, scarves, socks, gloves, arming doublets and ornate belts, they are put through their paces.

Personal hygiene facilities for the week consist of the nearby stream and "communal" latrines. Food and fuel supplies are provided, but the men must learn to cook o an open fire, living on an authentic Roman military diet. First they have to master the skills of lighting a fire - a j which takes four hours - using flints, iron and, fortunately, an inedible species of fungus capable of sustaining a flame even when damp.

"Bombing Germany"

The destruction of Dresden in the Second World War has come to epitomise the horrors of modern aerial warfare. Thirty thousand people died during two nights of bombing, yet Dresden was only one of many German towns to suffer Allied saturation bombing. In the last months of the war, American and British bombers wrought havoc on numerous small towns considered at the time to be of little military importance. Timewatch Bombing Germany sheds new light on the final stages of the Allied strategic bombing campaign.

Drawing on the expertise of renowned historians Martin Middlebrook and Professor Tami Biddle, and using rare colour archive and dramatic reconstructions, Detlef Siebert's film explores the historical background of strategic bombing in the Second World War. Through the testimonies of both airmen and civilians, the film tells the story of one American and one British raid on two South German towns of minor military importance.

Ellingen, a small town with 1,500 inhabitants in Bavaria, was bombed by the 8th American Air Force in February 1945. An interview with the lead navigator reveals that Ellingen was selected as a "target of opportunity" simply because it had a road running through it. A few weeks later, British Bomber Command attacked Wurzburg, a medium-sized town with next to no industry of military importance. In only 20 minutes, incendiary bombs destroyed 82 per cent of the town, an even greater proportion than in Dresden.

Timewatch has unearthed documents which help to explain why such an unimportant place as Wurzburg was bombed. The documents provide a fascinating insight into the target selection process. They show that once Germany's industrial centres were virtually all destroyed, Bomber Command Intelligence began to select towns initially, not for their military value, but because they were easy for the bombers to find and destroy. A briefing note by an American Air Force general shows that raids on rural places such as Ellingen also had the political purpose to deter the Germans from ever starting another war.

Genre: History Documentary

4/5 Stars