Published on 22nd April 2018 by

A five part 2012 documentary series written and presented by Jeremy Paxman and first aired on the BBC, Empire charts the rise of the British Empire which saw it eventually rule over a quarter of the worlds population and examines the legacy that it left on the world.

Episode 1: A Taste for Power

In the first episode Paxman travels to India to look at where it all began. In India local soldiers and local maharajahs helped a handful of British traders to take over vast areas of land to establish trading companies. He also visits Egypt where Britain attempted to play the role of peacekeeper but instead occupied the country for seventy years and touches on the subject of a triumph in Palestine.

Episode 2: Making Ourselves at Home

In the second episode Paxman examines how traders, settlers and conquerors spread the British way of life around the world, beginning in India but then moving on Singapore to visit a club where British colonials used to gather together to discuss business and politics. In Canada Paxman visits a small town of Scottish ancestry where the population remain proud of their heritage and traditions and shops sell goods imported from Scotland. He also travels to Kenya where he meets the descendants of the first white settlers.

Episode 3: Playing the Game

In the third episode Paxman traces the growth of a peculiarly British type of hero and the British obsession with sport. This episode is filmed in East Africa, Hong Kong and Jamaica. In Hong Kong he explores how the British expats indulged in their love of horse racing, and in Jamaica he examines how the game of cricket became a battleground for racial equality.

Episode 4: Making a Fortune

In the fourth episode Paxman looks at the Empire evolved out of pirates hunting down and robbing Spanish ships and ports using privateers such as Henry Morgan who would later become the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, before developing into an informal empire based on trade. In this episode Paxman explores the slave trade and tells how plantation owners became rich off of the the labour of African slaves. He also tells the story of the First Opium War, which was caused by British traders selling opium into China in defiance of Chinese law.

Episode 5: Doing Good

In the fifth and final episode of the series Paxman explains how an initial desire for conquest became a mission to improve the rest of mankind, especially in Africa. Thousands of Christian missionaries flooded into Africa to build schools. He also tells the story of Cecil Rhodes, a maverick who had a much more sinister mission – Rhodes believed that it was the white man’s right to rule the world and he stole vast swathes of land to further the Empire.


The series was accompanied by the top ten bestselling book by Jeremy Paxman, Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British, available to purchase in paperback, hardback or kindle formats.

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