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OU on the BBC: Empire - A Taste For Power

Updated Monday, 27th February 2012

In the first of Jeremy Paxman's personal views of empire, he explores how Britain took power - and held on to it - throughout so much of the world.

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In this BBC/Open University co-production, Jeremy Paxman traces the story of the greatest empire the world has ever known: the British Empire. In the first programme, he asks how such a small country got such a big head, and how a tiny island in the North Atlantic came to rule over a quarter of the world's population.

He travels to India, where local soldiers and local maharajahs helped a handful of British traders to take over vast areas of land. Spectacular displays of imperial power dazzled subject peoples and developed a cult of Queen Victoria as Empress, mother and virtual God.

In Egypt, Jeremy explores the bit of Empire that never was, as Britain's temporary peace-keeping visit turned into a seventy year occupation. He travels to the desert where Lawrence of Arabia brought a touch of romance to the grim struggle of the First World War.

As Britain came to believe it could solve the world's problems, he tells the story of the triumphant conquest of Palestine by Imperial troops - and Britain's role in a conflict that haunts the Middle East to this day.

Empire: A Taste For Power is first shown on BBC One, England and Northern Ireland, on Monday 27th February 2012 at 9.00pm. For further broadcast details and to watch on iPlayer, visit

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