Laurence Rees (born 1957) is a British historian. He is a documentary filmmaker and author of several books about atrocities committed by the totalitarian states of the Second World War. He is the former Creative Director of History Programmes for the BBC. His documentaries and books are used as teaching aids in British schools.
Laurence Rees was educated at Solihull School and Oxford University. He joined BBC TV in 1978 as a Research Trainee and subsequently worked as a researcher and assistant producer in factual television between 1978 and 1983. He always wanted to make history documentaries and made his first film as a director and producer at the age of 25 in 1983 – a film portrait of Noel Coward for BBC1.
He started specializing in history films that related to the Nazis and the Second World War with his controversial programme ‘A British Betrayal’ in 1991, followed by ‘Goebbels - Master of Propaganda’ in 1992.
Rees was appointed Editor of Timewatch, the BBC’s historical documentary series, in 1992 and over the next ten years commissioned and editorially oversaw more than a hundred different history films. In 1994 he was also the founder editor of the BBC’s biographical TV strand ‘Reputations’. He was subsequently appointed Head of BBC History and Creative Director, BBC History.
Unusually for a senior executive in BBC Television, Rees carried on writing and producing his own programmes alongside his executive producer responsibilities. The series he himself wrote and produced (and also directed the great majority of the films) during this time include the BBC television series: 'Nazis: a Warning from History' (1997); 'War of the Century' (1999); 'Horror in the East' (2001); 'Auschwitz, the Nazis and the 'Final Solution (2005); and 'World War Two: Behind Closed Doors' (2008). Rees also writes history books, and wrote books to accompany each of these series. His book on Auschwitz is the world’s best selling history of the camp.
Rees left the BBC in 2008 and created the multimedia educational Website WW2History.com in 2009. The website subsequently won 'Best in Class' awards in both the Education and Reference categories at the Interactive Media Awards.
Through his own independent production company LR History, Rees has also written, produced and directed the television series, 'The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler’ (BBC2 2012) (and written the accompanying book) and the ninety-minute feature length documentary, 'Touched by Auschwitz' (BBC2 2015).
He has won many awards for his work. In 2006 he won the British Book Award for history book of the year for 'Auschwitz: the Nazis and the 'Final Solution. His television awards include a BAFTA , a Grierson Award, a Broadcasting Press Guild Award, a BANFF festival award, a Broadcast Award, a George Foster Peabody Award, two International Documentary Awards and two Emmys. In New York in 2009 he received the 'Lifetime Achievement Award' from 'History Makers', the worldwide congress of Historical and Current Affairs programme makers.
In 2009 he was appointed a Senior Visiting Fellow in the International History Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science, London University.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate for services to history by the University of Sheffield in 2005, and an honorary doctorate from the Open University for services to Arts and Sciences in 2011.
Clive James, in 'Revolt of the Pendulum’ said that Rees was ‘currently producing the best documentaries ever made about the Nazi era.’ And Antony Beevor in a book review in the Daily Telegraph wrote that ‘Laurence Rees has done more for good history on television in this country than anyone else.’
Daniel Snowman, in his profile of Laurence Rees in ‘Historians’ wrote: ‘Rees has created a body of work that is carefully structured and impeccably researched, incorporating vivid archive material from a wide array of sources. Most remarkable, perhaps, are the interviews he has filmed. Rees is one of the few people – perhaps the only one - who has met and interviewed at length not only hundreds of people who suffered from the barbarities of World War II right across the globe but also, crucially, many of the perpetrators… All this has given Rees a comparative, cross-cultural perspective on the horrors of the war that no academic could match.
Rees is working on a history of the Holocaust that will be published by Viking/Penguin in 2017.
- 2015 Touched by Auschwitz – 90 minute feature length Documentary for BBC2 – writer/producer/director
- 2012 The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler – 3 part series for BBC2: writer/producer/director
- 2008 World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West 6 part series for BBC2: writer/producer/documentary director
- 2005 Hitler's Place in History – executive producer
- 2005 Auschwitz: The Nazis and 'The Final Solution' – 6 part series for BBC2: writer/producer
- 2003 Colosseum: Rome's Arena of Death – co-executive producer
- 2002 The Great Pyramid – executive producer
- 2002 Christmas Under Fire – executive producer
- 2002 The Ship (TV series) – executive producer
- 2001 Horror in the East – 2 part series for BBC2: writer/producer/director
- 2000 Conquistadors (TV series) – executive producer
- 1999 War of the Century – 4 part series for BBC2: writer/producer/director
- 1998 In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great – executive producer
- 1997 Tales from the Tomb: Lost Sons of the Pharaohs – executive producer
- 1997 The Nazis: A Warning from History – 6 part series for BBC2: writer/producer/director
- 1995 Crusades (BBC TV series) – executive producer
- 1994-1995 Reputations. Founder Editor and Executive Producer
- 1993-2002, Timewatch Commissioning Editor and Executive Producer.
- 1992 We Have Ways of Making You Think – (including Goebbels:Master of Propaganda) writer/producer/director
- 1991 British Betrayal, for BBC2: writer/producer/director
- 1987 Crisis – drama documentary for BBC1, writer/producer/director
- 1983 Noel Coward: A Private Life, for BBC1: producer/director
- The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler: Leading Millions into the Abyss. Ebury Press. 2012. ISBN 978-0091917630.
- World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West. Pantheon. 2009. ISBN 978-0-307-37730-2.
- Their Darkest Hour: People Tested to the Extreme in WWII. Ebury Press. 2007. ISBN 978-0-09-191757-9.
- Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution'. BBC Books. 2005. ISBN 978-0-563-52296-6.
- Horror in the East: The Japanese at War 1931–1945. BBC Books. 2001. ISBN 978-0-563-53426-6.
- Rees, Laurence (1999). The War of the Century: When Hitler Fought Stalin. BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-38477-9.
- The Nazis: A Warning from History. BBC Books. 1997. ISBN 978-0-563-38704-6.
- Laurence Rees official website
- WW2History.com From Hitler to Churchill – the history of World War Two
- Laurence Rees at the Internet Movie Database