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The Channel Islands, cheek by jowl with France but British at heart.
Over there is Jersey, the starting point
for my journey around the islands and along the Channel to Dover.
The English Channel defines Britain,
both separating us from mainland Europe and connecting us to it,
but it's more difficult to define the islands caught in that cultural cross-current.
I don't really know very much about the Channel Islands. To me, they're quite mysterious.
I suppose they also seem olde worlde, maybe even quaint, so let's find out.
To help me uncover their story, I'm joined by the usual suspects.
Alice Roberts discovers how Jersey became Honeymoon Island.
Mark Horton explores how these islands became strongholds.
'And I take the plunge for a Channel swim.'
Oh, sweet mercy!
'A quick one!'
This is the story of Coast.
In English, they're the Channel Islands.
In French, they're the Iles Anglo-Normandes, literally the Anglo-Normand islands.
There's always been a tug-of-love over them
between the English and the French,
so probably just as well to send a Scotsman to make sense of it all.
My first port of call is St Helier, Jersey's capital city.
With France just 14 miles away, it's not hard to find the Gallic connection, from road signs
to restaurants to toilets.
Jersey's British flavour is drizzled with French dressing.
It's a recipe that suits both the islanders and their economy.
Maybe it's just me,
but I wasn't expecting Jersey to be like this.
I thought it'd be tranquil and staid with the occasional retired millionaire going about,
but there's great big cranes everywhere throwing up tall, glass-fronted buildings.
There is an English and French mix, but the mix is dynamic.
This is a place that's changing and growing fast.
Like the rest of the Channel Islands, Jersey sets its own
laws and taxes, making it a magnet for foreign investment.
Quite a turnaround of fortunes, considering its recent, painful history of occupation.
Alice Roberts is exploring a remarkable rebirth.
Evidence of the bleakest period in Jersey's history is everywhere,
German gun emplacements scarring the landscape.
With liberation in 1945, the islanders had to reinvent themselves.
Within ten years, they'd achieved the unthinkable.
Jersey was associated not with concrete but with confetti.
What I want to discover is how Jersey overcame years of Nazi occupation
but, in particular, how it came to be known as Honeymoon Island.
To help me find out, I'm going to meet Alan and Shirley Tucker.
They honeymooned here 50 years ago and now they're back for the first time.
-Alan and Shirley?
Yes, it is.
-How do you do? Pleased to meet you.
When they last came to Jersey, Alan and Shirley had been married just two days.
And the Mount View Hotel was their home for one week.
-That's our room.
-This is it.
Do not disturb.
Hopefully there's not a honeymooning couple in there!
It gives me a funny feeling, this, I tell you.
It's so different.
-The window is the same shape.
Yeah, and there was a hand basin and a mirror there.
-Was that the first time you'd been away together?
As a couple.
We'd gone away with Alan's mum and dad but never on our own.
First time away alone together.
And I was nervous!
What an adventure! What an adventure.
-It was very special, that was.
-Of course, flying here.
-She hadn't flown before.
-Everything was so exciting.
-So it was your first time flying.
Never flown before.
Oh, my goodness!
So, in this...
Now, Shirley, that's where you stood, on that spot.
Yes, there we go, leaning up against that wall.
All those years ago. Yes.
It's still Shirley, isn't it?
Your hairstyle was slightly different.
A lot was different!
Alan and Shirley were newlyweds in 1957,
just as Britain was emerging, blinking from its post-war austerity.
The national mood was upbeat.
Britain had never had it so good.
Jersey was ahead of the tide, determined to wipe out
its wartime memories with a new invasion...of newlyweds.
But how did they get the honeymooners to choose Jersey?
The man responsible was John Layzell.
50 years ago, he earned himself the nickname of Mr Tourism.
-Hello. Lovely to meet you.
How did you come up with this concept of the honeymoon island?
Well, that originated through a tax law in Britain,
when, if you were married before April 5th, then you'd get a tax rebate, which was quite substantial.
So that encouraged people to take that tax break
-and also go on honeymoon at the same time, so marriages were quite rife in Britain at that time.
-So suddenly people had some money to spend as well.
-That's right, yeah.
And we had what we think was almost a perfect place for them to come.
To beat the April tax deadline, people were getting married early
in the year and, if they weren't to freeze to death on honeymoon, they had to head south to find some sun.
Only the very rich could afford abroad. For the not-so-rich, Jersey was waiting.
They began to sell the island in mainland Britain -
billboards, posters and cinema adverts.
NEWSREEL: Ever since the annual holiday became a national institution,
holidaymakers have come to Jersey.
Jersey, the Queen of the Channel, the garden of the sea.
The honeymooners started to arrive in their droves.
-How are you?
-Having a nice morning walking on the beach?
-We wanted to go abroad.
But still sort of go where people spoke English, so it wasn't too much of an adventure.
So it was exotic but not difficult.
-It was probably like people going to the Caribbean now.
It was that exciting to us.
And we could afford it.
Money wasn't too plentiful in those days.
What else did you get up to on the island, if that's not too rude a question to ask?
Well, we didn't have a car, so we used public transport, buses and so on.
We came here by bus, and so on, and one or two of the other places
as well, and did exactly what we're doing now, walking along the beach.
Our hotel had 15 couples and they were all on honeymoon.
-Were you all quite nervous?
-Nervous was not quite the word.
Breakfast-time was fairly electric, a lot of whispering going on, for the first day or so.
Of course you had that of an evening, when you were having a drink - who's gonna go up first?
These days, Jersey is still promoting itself heavily as a tourist destination
but the number of hotel rooms has halved since the 1950s.
Cheap flights and package deals abroad have eaten into the tourist market that Jersey made its own
and, while the island still gets its honeymooners, it's hard to compete with a wedding on a Caribbean beach.
But, for those now celebrating their Golden Weddings,
like Alan and Shirley, it's Jersey that will always be Honeymoon Island.
For such a tranquil place, the Channel Islands have an awful lot of fortifications.
This is Neighbourhood Watch for big boys.
But why so many castles?
Mark Horton is in Guernsey searching for answers.
Guernsey's history of building defensive strongholds
goes back a long, long way.
The island's archaeologist, Heather Sebire,
is the perfect guide to show me the landmarks
that reveal why the Channel Islands became so heavily fortified.
Jerbourg, on the south east peninsula, has the largest Bronze Age and later Iron Age earthworks.
Hidden now by 3,000 years of history.
So if we walk down and have a look from here, if you look across at the bank,
you get a much better view of the banks and ditches running right down to the little bay at the bottom.
You can see that the lines are showing where the ditches have been cut out, running right down.
The soil would have been cast up from the ditch to make part of the bank.
So in the Iron Age it would have looked just like a sort of impregnable wall?
Classic sort of Iron Age defence, yes. Indeed.
These banks and ditches would have needed
an awful lot of people to build them. What were they defending?
They were literally growing all their own food
and they had to be self-sufficient, so the pressure on
the size of the land would have been quite significant.
This little natural inlet was giving access by sea, bringing in supplies or bringing in
people to attack, and it was giving them a very large, defended area in this part of the island.
So even 3,000 years ago, the settlers felt under threat.
But it would get much worse.
Fast forward in time, and this fort marks the birth of the Channel Islands we know today,
as powerful nation-states were emerging in Europe.
The Islands' connection to England began in 1066, with the Duke of Normandy
better known to us as William the Conqueror.
The Norman Conquest meant the Channel Islands and their neighbours,
England and Normandy, were united under joint rule.
But this fort, Castle Cornet,
proudly guarding the harbour of St Peter Port, suggests that peace was short-lived.
King John managed, rather carelessly, to lose Normandy back to the French.
The map was rewritten. From 1204, the Channel Islands
now had hostile French neighbours.
The castles in the Channel Islands were built as a response to the events of 1204.
But why should England bother with the Channel Islands? I mean, surely they're just a backwater?
It all goes back to the strategic position in the Channel, and St Peter Port having this
wonderful natural harbour that had been used right through prehistory.
So even into the medieval period, we know that it was very important as well.
And the Channel Islands' sort of anomalous status must have meant it was a bit of a free port?
They retain their independence, but yet still have this loyalty to the English crown.
This fort helped maintain the link between our monarch and the islands that endures to this day.
The Channel Islands still owe allegiance to the Queen, even though they aren't part of the UK.
It gives them a freedom worth fighting for.
But just 200 years ago, it seemed that no defence could withstand their greatest threat yet.
It all came from a little man in a big hat.
The Emperor Napoleon rampaged through Europe.
With Britain in his sights, only the English Channel barred his way.
How could these islands possibly hold out?
An invasion was expected here at Pembroke Bay.
Guernsey's north-east coast had to be turned into a defensive line.
This was the British Government's response, to build these fortifications.
And presumably, when Napoleon took charge of the French armies, this was number one ambition?
That's right. Due to the position of the Channel Islands,
so close to the French mainland, the threat was always there.
If you're French, you wouldn't want to land here.
No, absolutely. There's the forts on either side and then a series of towers that acted as watchtowers
and then, also, if anybody got closer in they would be fired upon.
But Napoleon never managed to land?
No, he didn't. Too busy elsewhere, I think.
And too many towers!
Another century, another dictator,
and a tragically different twist in the Channel Islands story.
In May 1940, Hitler's forces had overrun France.
Against modern weaponry there would be no defence.
Invasion of the Channel Islands followed within weeks.
Hitler's first act was to build his own defences
on this occupied part of British soil.
We actually have Hitler's original orders for the fortification of these islands.
He wanted to turn it into an impregnable fortress.
Impressive though these remains are, he only managed to achieve
40% of his original plan.
On my way to Alderney, I'm passing Herm.
At one and a half miles long, it's the smallest of the main Channel Islands.
Unlike neighbouring Sark, Herm is a privately-run island resort.
For the 50 people that live here all year round, the ferry is their vital link with the wider world.
I'm heading past Herm towards the gateway of the Channel and my last stop before Dover.
Alderney is the most northerly of the Channel Islands.
With a population of just over 2,000 people,
its economy is almost entirely based on tourism and the finance industry.
I'm here to discover more
about Alderney's strategic position
on the edge of the English Channel.
That means getting to the northern tip of the island but, fortunately, I can let the train take the strain.
Alderney has the only railway line in the Channel Islands.
It's run by volunteers and takes just 12 minutes to cross the island.
This is a most unusual railway.
It uses two London Underground carriages introduced in the late '80s.
I'll tell you what, it's a long way to Kings Cross from here!
Originally horse-drawn, the line - which dates back to the 1840s -
was first used to transport stone to build the breakwater.
It wasn't until the 1970s that it was agreed to open the railway to the public.
Apparently Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
were the first official passengers on this line back in 1854.
But it's not Victoria who's drawn me here, it's Queen Elizabeth.
And not our Queen Elizabeth, but Elizabeth I.
During Elizabeth I's reign, England was under continual threat from France and Spain.
Reaching Elizabeth's expeditionary force in Brittany meant navigating around the Channel Islands.
Alderney, notorious for its fierce currents and hazardous rocks, claimed many a fine vessel.
Archaeologist Jason Monaghan has explored one of the island's finest wrecks.
OK. This is the closest part of the shore to the wreck.
It is about half-a-mile straight out to sea from here.
We think it was about 100 feet long, probably intermediate in size,
between a sort of fat merchant ship and a sleek warship.
We think it had somewhere between eight and 12 guns on board.
The wreck was first discovered by a local fisherman in 1977.
Archaeological exploration and analysis established the ship as over 400 years old.
Many of the objects found onboard the ship are appropriate
-for the early 1590s.
-Oh, that's great!
In particular, this pound weight. It weighs a pound.
-So, it's lead?
-It's got a little sword or a knife
-and then "EL" and the crown. So that's Elizabeth.
And this was issued after 1587.
So obviously the ship couldn't have sunk before 1587.
We don't think this would have remained in use
into the reign of James I.
So that gives us a date range of 1587 through to about 1603.
We think it may have been a military supply ship or it may have been carrying troops.
For example, we got quite a few of these on board which are very special.
It's a copper charge container known as an apostle.
A soldier would traditionally where a bandolier around the shoulders carrying a dozen of these,
Each one holds the charge for one musket shot and we found two dozen muskets on board the ship.
How much do we know about how it came to grief?
Well, we know it didn't sink in battle because their guns were lashed down and although
they were loaded, they had the tampions or stoppers in the end of the barrels.
So, it wasn't firing.
There's no evidence of fire aboard the ship so all we can assume is it has hit one of the reefs around here.
Is there any way of knowing what happened to the people aboard?
We haven't had any human remains at all.
It's fairly close to shore, but half a mile is a long way to swim especially in eight knot currents.
It's possible they could have rowed ashore or another shipping convoy could have rescued the crew
but until we find some bodies, we don't know.
The Elizabethan sailors lost here were from countless generations of mariners
who had to navigate round the coast of Alderney to head out to the open water of the Channel.
The Coastguard say negotiating the England Channel is like walking across the M25.
That's how busy it is.
For the 60 people each year who attempt the challenge of the Channel swim,
dodging the odd ship or three is all part of the adventure.
The first successful Channel swim was just over 130 years ago.
In 1875, merchant seaman Captain Matthew Webb
toiled for 21 hours and 45 minutes to reach the coast of France.
Completing this seemingly impossible feat turned him into a superstar.
I want to know just what Webb had to go through to become a Victorian celebrity.
Greg Whyte is no stranger to training celebrity swimmers.
He coached David Walliams when he swam the Channel in 2006.
Captain Webb started by swimming in public baths and then in the Thames.
How does his preparations compare with what you did with David?
The crucial element is swimming in open water.
There's a huge difference between swimming open water in the sea, even in comparison to a lake,
and a lake to the pool is very different as well.
I know that Captain Webb kept himself going with things like cod liver oil and beef tea.
What did David have access to from the boat?
Nutrition is everything.
You're burning so many calories when you're going across.
I guess the difference between what Captain Webb did and what we did with David is we now know
that carbohydrates are the key source of energy.
So we fed very high concentrations of carbohydrates to David which is
different to what Captain Webb would have done back in the late 1800s.
One thing that hasn't changed since Captain Webb first swam the Channel is greasing up.
Bodies plastered in fatty grease in preparation for the challenge ahead.
Contrary to popular belief it's not for insulation but it might stop chafing and jellyfish stings.
If ferries, extreme cold and exhaustion weren't bad enough...
Even on a day like today it's not saying, "Join me."
To be honest with you we can talk about this for some time and I can tell you the problems with it.
There's really only one way to get a real feel for how cold, how salty and how difficult it's gonna be.
That's for me and you to get in.
-The rules on swim wear are simple, trunks, hat and goggles.
That's your lot. There's not a lot of dignity involved in being a Channel swimmer, is there?
Not a great deal, but it's the regulations.
The list of reasons not to do this goes on and on.
Tell my wife and kids I love them.
Oh! Sweet mercy!
Let's get moving.
Do you know, when you splash your face in the water
it feels quite cold. But when you actually get in...
it's a nightmare!
-Let's get moving.
-Keep close to me.
-I'm so cold I've forgotten how to swim.
Straight into shore, let's go.
I've been going 15 minutes and already I appreciate why the success rate is less than 10%.
It's so cold. It drains every ounce of your energy.
I'm a pretty strong swimmer.
I used to be a lifeguard, but this is hard.
I'm on my back just to try and breathe
and I'm only heading for Dover beach from inside the harbour walls.
That's enough for me.
The bottom two rungs are loose.
Come up, you're OK.
Get him wrapped as soon as he gets out there.
OK. Grab hold of the top. You all right?
-You've done well.
-I tell you what,
anyone who's ever done that...
to David Walliams and everyone in-between,
I have the utmost respect for them.
That is hard.
And what of Captain Webb? That original Channel swim
was the highlight of his life and the beginning of his ruin.
Despite becoming a national hero, gambling and debts meant having
to perform more swimming feats for money to keep him going.
Webb cashed in on his fame becoming a brand name well over a century before the Beckhams.
His name appeared on all manner of merchandise, everything from postcards to boxes of matches.
But he couldn't keep up with the public's appetite for ever more ambitious stunts.
He drowned trying to swim across the Niagara Falls rapids
in a vain attempt to regain fame and fortune.
He was just 35 years old.
As I approach the end of my journey, it's back to what's become
a familiar sight for us coasters, the white cliffs of Dover.
They're just part of our extraordinary and ever-changing coastal story,
a tale played out where the land meets the sea
and where both meet the people around our shores...
..the folk at the edge of our Isles.
Subtitling by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Alice Roberts explores Jersey's remarkable post-war transformation from a Nazi-occupied stronghold into a honeymoon island. To discover the island's unique appeal to 1950s newlyweds, Alice meets a couple returning 50 years after their honeymoon night on Jersey.
Mark Horton reveals how the forts on Guernsey explain why the islanders remain loyal to the Queen, even though they remain proudly outside the United Kingdom.
Neil Oliver investigates the tragic story of the first Channel swimmer, Victorian celebrity Captain Webb. Webb became a hero as famous as David Beckham but he died in a desperate attempt to recapture fame and fortune.