Sunday 27 April 2014

Len on BBC1 this morning - OWALW - redux

Sir John Mills as General Haig
[Updated content]

Watching BBC Breakfast at 0740h this morning while eating my cornflakes I was interested to see a short three minute segment on Oh! What a Lovely War and the wider controversy around the depiction of the First World War in the hundredth anniversary year.

The feature looked in particular on the 45th anniversary of the release of OWALW and its continued capacity to challenge exiting views of the experiences of the war. Len was one of the brief talking heads in the slot, and if I'm right they used part of the interview which Len gave to BBC South East last year when filmed at the Imperial War Museum. He references the fact that the key to the impact of the film and the play is that it draws upon what many of the troops at the front were saying and writing.

Also featured were short clips from interviews with Vanessa Redgrave - Sylvia Pankhurst in the film; Edward Fox - the aide de camp - who talked about the Englishman's capacity to mock tragedy and make light of it, hence the appropriateness of using song and dance to tell the story; and Sir Richard Attenborough, who talked about how the final scene, when Jack Smith walks along the cliff top and finally, realising he's back where he started at Mons, takes up his place in his grave, as a scene which still has the power to make tears well in his eyes.

More background

Information from Edward Milward-Oliver confirms that the piece was from one of series of short reports by BBC South East Today on the First World War, that were screened 22-25 April. South East Today is the regional programme for Kent and East Sussex, and Brighton - the location for much of OWALW filming - fits within that footprint.

The reports on the Tuesday and Friday were about the making of OWALW in Brighton, incorporating scenes from the film, interview clips with Len and with Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox, extras from Brighton who were in the film, and Max Hastings who provided some context.

According to Edward: "Recently, South East Today hosted a private screening of OWALW at Brighton's Duke of York's cinema – the oldest continuously operating cinema in the UK. The audience of about 200 comprised guests of the BBC, local people who had some involvement with the production in 1968 (eg. extras), and viewers of South East Today who applied for tickets. The evening kicked off with a live 20-minute broadcast from the cinema as part of South East Today's nightly 30-minute programme. For the screening they ran an original 35 mm widescreen print of OWALW, which was a rare treat.

This was followed by a short discussion and Q&A with three of the cast: Angela Thorne, Maurice Roëves and Charlotte Attenborough. The team from South East Today, in particular Vicki Berry, Polly East and Robin Gibson, organised and presented a superb event marking a film that on the evidence of Monday evening continues to have a powerful impact on cinema audiences."

Edward has let the blog reference three images from that event:


  1. In the early 1970s when the Vietnam war was taking its toll on America in terms of human loss, and the draining of military resources, there were discussions on the Vietnam War, the First and Second World wars in the media. Living in America then, I watched these discussions on the 3 major TV channels-the CBS, the ABC and NBC ( there were no cable networks then), read in newspapers and in my university too there were talks on these wars. The message in all the above was clear and unanimous- the Second World War was a necessity, where as the First World war was an appalling tragedy, and so was the Vietnam War which was being fought for a long time then. America was also gripped with the Watergate Scandal, which increased the weariness of American people in regards to conflicts per se. When in 1974 Nixon resigned, and the Vietnam war was reaching to a humiliation end for American venture in the SE Asia, the speakers and opinion makers including the great Walter Cronkite , the anchor of the CBS evening news were predicting that the combined memories of the Vietnam War and the First World War would ensure no further wars would be fought ever involving America and the Western world. Walter Cronkite was a young reporter in the Second World War reporting the progress of the armies of the allies under the supreme command of Eisenhower in their march towards liberating the occupied countries in Europe and eventually to Germany. He knew fully well the price paid in terms of human lives.
    The America and countries in the West seemed to have learned not much from the First World War, and how wrong the prediction of the 1974-75 was, as since then there was War in Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan has not ended. At this time after a century of the beginning of the First World War, those in power responsible for the above wars seemed to have learned nothing at all.

  2. This has nothing to do with OWALW or the causes or justification for any 20th century war, but watching the first episode of the German TV series Generation War on BBC2 I was struck by the coincidence that two of the protagonists - brothers - in this story of five friends from Berlin and their paths through WW2, have the surname Winter and moreover that there is much tension between the stronger older brother and the weaker younger brother. Reminded me of one of LD's books which I have often enjoyed (and which in my view gives a better overview of WW2 than "Blood, Tears & Folly"), namely "Winter".

    1. I have the DVD on order, so I'm studiously ignoring the transmission until then. But from what I saw it looks very interesting, and perhaps there is an unconscious connection to Winter? Who knows?