What is Britishness? What allowed one small island group to rule a quarter of the world and, even today, to have the most spoken language after Chinese? What makes Americans admire the guts, traditions and loyalties of these island Anglo-Saxon and Celtic peoples? What is it that makes cynical Europeans and once-dominated Asians look to the British for opinion, literature, social norms and justice? The answers lie within the creation of British institutions, both Commoner and Aristocracy, during the past 2000 years.

This Sceptred Isle, brings to life the character and frustrations so carefully studied by allies and enemies for twenty-one centuries – from Romans to al-Qaeda. Here Lee makes all the connections with institutions and changing industrial and social characteristics that even show us that Britishness is not exclusively British.

At a time when a major section of the British, the English, appear to be less and less sure who they are and who they are meant to be, This Sceptred Isle confirms who it is we really are.

This Sceptred Isle is a radio series written by historian Christopher Lee about the story of the lands and peoples of Britain by the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was produced by Pete Atkin and broadcast in 1995 twice each day–in the morning and late at night–on Radio 4. The series comprised 216 episodes, each 12–14 minutes long, and had a total duration of 46 hours.

A 29-hour-long abridged version of the programmes has been issued on CD as part of the BBC Radio Collection.

Extensions and spin-offs

In 1999 the BBC and Christopher Lee extended the programme to cover the 20th century: from 1901, where the original series had ended, to the end of the millennium.

In 2001 another shorter series entitled This Sceptred Isle: Dynasties was produced. This told the stories of the powerful and influential families of Britain and Ireland, including the Godwines, the Despensers and the Churchills.

Over the course of several months in 2005 and 2006 Christopher Lee’s This Sceptred Isle: Empire, a 90-part history of the British Empire was broadcast on Radio 4. Each part was 15 minutes long.