The Great War on the Small Screen: Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain

The Great War on the Small Screen: Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain

The Great War on the Small Screen: Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain

The Great War on the Small Screen: Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain

Synopsis

In Britain since the 1960s television has been the most influential medium of popular culture. Television is also the site where the Western Front of popular culture clashes with the Western Front of history.This book examines the ways in which those involved in the production of historical documentaries for this most influential media have struggled to communicate the stories of the First World War to British audiences. Documents in the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham, Berkshire, the Imperial War Museum, and the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives all inform the analysis. Interviews and correspondence with television producers, scriptwriters and production crew, as well as two First World War veterans who appeared in several recent documentaries provide new insights for the reader.Emma Hanna takes the reader behind the scenes of the making of the most influential documentaries from the landmark epic series The Great War (BBC, 1964) up to more recent controversial productions such as The Trench (BBC, 2002) and Not Forgotten: The Men Who Wouldn't Fight (BBC, 2008). By examining the production, broadcast and reception of a number of British television documentaries this book examines the difficult relationship between the war's history and its popular memory.

Excerpt

In recent years the way in which the First World War has been remembered has emerged as a significant historiographical issue. While researchers have focused on the study of commemorative sites and rituals, in contemporary Britain, the memory of both World Wars has occupied a central position in the most influential medium of popular culture – television. From the development of new broadcast technologies in the 1960s through to the recent memory boom of the 1990s, the media, publishing and tourism industries have broadened the public space of remembrance in contemporary British culture. Discussions of tactics and strategy illustrated by military maps have been replaced by an emphasis on the individual narrative. Today's programmes are more likely to feature the background stories and writings of the men who fought, but also the lives of women and other family members whom Noel Coward encouraged to ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’.

This book examines the many ways in which British television has remembered the First World War. It will discuss of a range of documentary and dramatic programmes in terms of their cultural and historical significance by showing how television has influenced modern attitudes to 1914–18. This book will show that, in order to be accepted and understood by British viewers, programmes utilised the language and imagery of remembrance rituals that were established in the immediate postwar period. The playing of the ‘Last Post’, the laying of poppy wreaths and the recital of Laurence Binyon's poem ‘For the Fallen’ are all immediate signifiers of the way in which Britain mourned, and continues to mourn, its dead. As the production and broadcast of British programmes has centred on the most significant wartime anniversaries in November (the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918) and July (the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916) television has extended the national determination to remember.

Any cultural history of British society in the years after the Second World War cannot ignore television output. The media is such an all-pervasive part of the twentieth- and twenty-first-century life that any such history would be incomprehensible without it. It is time for historians to recognise that it is their business to understand and analyse television documentaries as influential . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.