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Making History: John Wilkes Forgotten Hero


Making History: John Wilkes Forgotten Hero

John Wilkes maybe little known today but the battles he fought in the 18th century laid the basis for press freedom in Britain and beyond. In this intriguing report we learn of his debauched antics in the Hellfire caves, how his time imprisoned in the tower of London inspired riots for ‘Wilkes & Liberty’ and of the allegiance he gained from the Sons of Liberty in America. A far cry from today’s Leveson inquiry supporters and press regulators, Wilkes was prepared to go all the way and print whatever he wanted to. Interwoven with archive imagery, street interviews and a breach of privacy for author Mick Hume, the programme packs some punches. Today’s ethical regulators and conformist press could do with a dose of Wilkes’ spirit and allow us, the court of public opinion to read what we want and decide for ourselves what to believe.

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Related topics: Civil Liberties, Debates, History

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Rezwana said:

From watching this clip I learnt who John Wilkes was and how much of an impact he has made in today’s society.
He fought strongly for freedom of the press and was prepared to go all the way to put press freedom on the map.
I believe he helped a revoloution to occur and we need more like him for press freedom to be a reality and people may freely express their views or opionons.

funmi said:

I’ve never heard of John Wilkes before. I now know he was such an important figure in campaigning for Press freedom. He helped influence the nation so that everyone should have the right to write what they want no matter how provocative it is. Some of his writing wasn’t always the most appropriate however it is his message of Freedom that is important.

Bethlehem said:

It was very interesting to see that so many people from the public were interested in the concept of ‘Freedom of Speech’. Also to realise what John Wilkes had done in which makes him a hero today’s society.

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elsie said:

What impressed me about John Wilkes was his irrepressive Fighting spirit, we could do with more like him today. So he was oversexed, so what President Kennedy would take some beating in that department. Wilkes was fearless in the face of huge repression.. Of all the human virtues, courage is the one that matters the most. Elsie

Randolph Ferry said:

It’s quite a moralistic society that disapproves of someone for having had, apparently, quite a bit of sex. Aren’t we in favour of sexual freedom any more?

Francis said:

Excellent we could do with a Wilkes & Liberty riot today, sadly so many people seem to want more interference in the press and our lives.

Susan Petiers said:

Great. Learned loads. We certainly need Wilkes’ spirit today allowing us to read what we want even the rubbish stuff for entertainment if we want too. Refreshing presenters too eat your heart out BBC. More of this please.

J Howard said:

Thank you this was really informative and engaging. The fact that people don’t learn about British revolutionaries, especially today is a worry. Good point too on Wilkes fighting for privacy against general warrants. I think he was one of the first people too to fight for an extension of the vote. A hero I agree.

joelle said:

really good informative programme. Wilkes did contribute to freedom of publication i wouldn’t consider him as a hero. many may disagree but he was a sex maniac, a reason why he is not given the credit some would say he “deserves” today.

Randolph Ferry said:

Censors are not heroes. Sure there was a grubby side to Wilkes but we nevertheless should thank him for the fact that we can air our views and argue in print today. To me, we should also be thinking about abolishing the libel laws and stop making speech and print opinion (such as is the case with the hate speech laws) an offence.

z khan said:


It is easy to call someone clueless when behind a keyboard , but is easier to respect soemone elses opinion.

Maybe this is the reason why their are more police patrolling twitter than the streets.

Suhail Patel said:

“The liberty of the press is the birth-right of Britons” John Wilkes

I must admit, I was not aware of the story of John Wilkes until I’d watched this documentary. A very interesting man, and very relevant considering current efforts to stifle press freedom.

The universal declaration of human rights guarantee’s our right to express ourselves. We need more people like Wilke’s to protect the Freedom of the Press.

Haley said:

Wow great programme packed with facts. Some of those commenting below would do well to better observe the facts. John Wilkes is NOT John Wilkes Booth.
Does the clueless Z Khan (or are his roots in the monarchy) think people should accept being imprisoned for reporting on parliament, or for being rude about politicians? That is shocking.

z khan said:

yes he played a role in revolutionising free press . The bottom line is this man is a sex maniac who only started taking action against the government because couldn’t not accept the punishment thrown down upon him by the government. The fact that many regard this man as a hero is quite sad in my opinion , as they tend to overlook his darker side . i feel this maybe the reason why his name is not so known amongst the public nor given the credit some will claim he deserves.

Sara Garrido said:

When talking about John Wilkes you may have doubts about whether you should consider him a hero or not because he was sometimes getting benefits of what he published or because he was publishing about stuff you may not agree with, but I think we should just focuse on the fact that he was actually getting his thoughts published, despite the fact of being taking some big risks. He fought for something he believed in and that left us a legacy that is a weapon for democracy worth fighting for, a weapon for people claiming rights and expressing thoughts, reason why a handful of people is still trying to ban it.

K said:

Certainly,John Wilkes contributed to free of publishment.
Judging from the final result alone, it seemed to be good.
But not only the result but also the way it was achieved is important.
He was a debauched antics man.He assassinated Lincoln.
Given his personality, he fought against free of publishment in order to protect his

Shana said:

John Wilkes actions and contribution to civil liberties and freedom of speech cannot be forgotten – a champion for liberty however we cannot condone or forget his sordid affairs and often self-serving actions. So should we consider him a hero?

Gillian Harper said:

On Joe’s point I suggest you watch the programme on press freedom also on here- it makes some good points re press freedom and why Murdoch is not the problem. People really should stop obsessing with the big M.

Joe Tilden said:

Good pacey and fact driven BUT and I shall be acused of some horrible illiberal sin no doubt-he was just publishing for cash wasn’t he so where does that come in. Shouldn’t we question papers today that are selling us rubbish and making millions as in the Murdoch case?

Sonia K said:

Terrific programme thoroughly enjoyed it new nothing of Wilkes before-yep a dirty aristo but a hero nevertheless.

Piotr said:

This film kind of reminds that we live in relatively unenlightened times at the moment. Bring back the spirit of Wilkes!