Documentary looking at how war has been dramatised on British television from the Second World War through the Falklands campaign to contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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War has been a staple of British television since...well, since the war.
It's always made news, of course, but it's also given us some of our most iconic dramas.
So this is Colditz.
It's inspired some of our funniest sitcoms,
and it's been a battleground for the big beasts of television drama.
There is no excuse for the murder and mayhem and slaughter
of young people in the First World War.
But some wars have to be fought,
and my play said, "This is one and this is why."
Tonight we look at how British telly has gone to war.
What explains our fascination with the Third Reich?
We were the good guys,
and the other side were the bad guys, and that makes us all feel much, much better.
What's it like to see your soldiering remade for television?
They did capture the spirit and the immediacy of the time.
And what's the dividing line between television drama and historical fact?
I think the central problem is that the needs of the TV industry
are fundamentally incompatible with good history.
From the trenches of the Somme to the battle for Basra, this is what happens when TV goes to war.
It looks like it could be the beginning of the much promised shock and awe campaign.
'War and television have always had an often explosive relationship.'
I counted them all out...
'On the one hand, war offers many of the things the television writer needs.'
There's obviously great drama there,
great stories to be told, great stories of heroism and bravery,
great stories of cruelty, great stories of anguish and pain.
It's got suspense, it's got conflict, it's got action,
but I think more than that, it's part of the narrative we tell ourselves.
After all, Britain, in a sense, sees itself as a warrior nation.
But if war has what television drama needs, television drama still wants more.
For example, you have to have the arc of character.
There has to be a sort of moral metamorphosis,
the coward is redeemed and the cynic is reduced to tears.
I mean, all of these things happening
under the pressure of the moment.
Now, those are certain formulae which are almost unbreakable
in the dramatic reproduction. They've got nothing to do with history at all.
The ambivalent relationship was evident from the start.
The birth of television was directly linked to the war effort.
Public broadcast television in this country, the first in the world, started in 1936,
just three years short of the war.
But the race to invent television and get the technology out and about
and the service started was sort of accelerated
because the development of television also aided the development of radar.
People knew the war was coming, and they knew how important radar would be during the war,
so that's one of the reasons why so much money and effort was put into rushing television into operation.
But when war broke out, television was among the first casualties, taken off air in case its signals
led German bombers to the heart of London.
In times of war, it seemed TV couldn't entirely be trusted.
The plug was pulled just before
the outbreak of war in 1939, and it didn't come back on air until June 1946,
so people would have followed the progress of the war in as much as they were able to,
because there was heavy censorship, they would have followed it
on newsreels usually, cinema newsreels, or of course on the radio.
Television had a problem.
World War II had been nothing if not cinematic.
The big stories belonged on the big screen.
Some very good films
were made in the 1950s about the Second World War,
partly because all the people who starred in the films,
the likes of Richard Todd and Jack Hawkins, they had all been in the war, and it showed.
When you made a movie like The Cruel Sea, the ships were real, the people were real and so on.
So although those '50s films were absurdly nationalistic,
The Dambusters, Reach For The Sky and the rest of it,
they did bring something real to the party.
So how could television capture the reality of war
on a small budget and a small screen?
It's very difficult for TV to depict war
in all its horror in any really realistic way
unless you're Steven Spielberg with Band Of Brothers.
To do it with a smaller budget is very, very hard.
If you're going to show war on TV,
you have to do it in a different way.
You have to...
You have to be more intimate.
Rudolph Cartier is the great Austrian director who worked for the BBC
in the '50s and '60s, an incredible talent, and one of his most famous works is Stalingrad in 1963,
which looks at the terrible siege.
It takes the epic story and concentrates on just a handful of characters to see
the terrible events through their eyes.
Sorry, mate, but this is Stalingrad.
'You're not relying on an epic scale, the like of which we see in the cinema.'
You're relying on just great acting,
very clever directing and good writing, which are, of course, the holy trinity of television.
A thousand fires are burning outside.
They stink of smouldering bones and burning flesh.
Every square yard of this land is covered with the corpses of our soldiers...
'It's a harrowing play, it's very, very well done, even though it's shot on a shoestring.'
So when you see an invading tank, you don't actually see the tank.
What you see is the tank driver's point of view
from the slit as he drives into the war zones.
He uses tricks to get over the scope.
Now, I think, that wouldn't work.
We demand to see on screen the whole tapestry.
Television would struggle with the spectacle of war till Spielberg,
but the other response to army life was simply to laugh.
Sitcom would emerge as one of the new medium's most popular genres.
Here, television could compete with cinema
in a way that was both affordable and allowable.
I think it's permissible to make jokes about the Second World War,
the kind of jokes you see John Cleese doing in Fawlty Towers,
marching around that hotel, or the kind of humour
'that Spike Milligan mimed through his career.'
Fall out! No, no...
'Because the Second World War'
produced a lot of humour of its own.
Even Churchill talked about Hitler as Herr Schicklgruber, didn't he?
You know, that song about Hitler only having one ball, that didn't start in the 1970s playgrounds.
On your feet, at the double!
You're in the army now!
Having defeated an enemy famous for having absolutely no sense of humour,
what better and more economical way for television to enjoy our victory?
The Army Game is about national service,
and it's about a group of recruits who, in a slightly kind of
Bilko-ish way, are all brought together,
'and they're all different character types.
'None of them, I think, would actually be suitable for combat.'
Now, I want this place spick, span and spotless, understand?
'The Army Game established the ground rules for the war-based sitcom.
'It should keep its distance from any actual fighting
'and, being British, it should be more about class than war.'
The army does lend itself to comedy,
because it's got a natural structure and hierarchy,
and where you have a hierarchy,
you have a class system and conflict, and where you have conflict within that, you have comedy, I think.
I say there, you men!
Hello, it's a boy scout!
'People are meeting people that they haven't met before,
'and that's when you start to get the stereotype characteristics,'
so you had the grunts, the soldiers,
against the sergeant major and the upper orders.
So there was a definite divide, and that was the same in Private's Progress in the cinema
and the first of the Carry On films.
It's because William Hartnell is in this film
that he gets cast as the leading man of Carry On Sergeant, the first of the Carry On films,
so actually the whole of the Carry On humour really is rooted in the barrack room.
Is that so?
'Television was at ease with the nuances of army life, but by now,
'Britain had a new enemy, and television writers a new challenge.'
Here was a war whose outcome was far from certain,
which hadn't actually been declared, but which seemed no laughing matter.
Western intelligence started to focus on the Soviet Union as a threat
primarily after the Second World War, really.
They were certainly our main targets
during the '60s, the '70s and on into the '80s.
There were moments of sort of bomb hysteria, which were extremely strong.
Obviously, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, we didn't know
whether the world was going to cease to exist in a few days' time.
'Having struggled to portray a war it had missed,
'how could television depict a war that hadn't yet happened?
'The answer was all too convincingly.'
9:16am, a single megaton nuclear missile overshoots Manston Airfield in Kent
and airbursts six miles from this position.
Peter Watkins' The War Game was about a nuclear war, you know, in Britain, the effect of nuclear war,
and of course it was an absolutely terrifying film, even if you see it today.
12 seconds later, the shock front arrives.
'With its voiceover, vox pops and shaky camera,
'The War Game blurred the line between documentary and drama.
'It created a powerful new weapon for television to go to war.'
And it must have resonated perhaps even more in the '60s, because people watching it in the '60s,
many of them would remember the Blitz, they would have remembered the V1s and V2s,
so what you had was this sort of terror compounded to the nth degree.
People, if they had felt powerless in the Blitz,
they would have felt completely powerless, of course, in The War Game.
'Its very success presented BBC with a problem.
'Having made a masterpiece, could it actually be shown?'
I did not think the BBC could take the responsibility
for the possible effect on, for instance,
the old, the lonely, the mentally disturbed
watching the film in the privacy of their homes.
'Scheduled for 20th anniversary of Hiroshima, The War Game wouldn't be broadcast for another 20 years.
'Drama, documentary or both, it summed up the difficulties of putting war on the telly,
'because it wasn't just the graphic images, it was the political subtext.'
This...is nuclear war.
'It was to do with banning the bomb,'
it was to do with unilateral disarmament, but it was also
a hidden indictment of the government, about what were they doing to protect
the people of Britain in the case of a nuclear war?
And the answer is, there's not a lot probably that could be done, and that was a very, very stark message.
You know, really it was the endgame.
If the realities of nuclear war were unbroadcastable, television retreated into a world of fantasy.
For the rest of the decade, we got a kind of Cold War light
as TV threw itself into the '60s spy boom.
Well, obviously, spying was the Great Game,
and again something of huge fascination
because of its dramatic potential to television makers.
Here was an exciting world of gadgets and glamour.
No need for expensive battle scenes or even factual accuracy.
No-one knew what the facts were in this silent war.
Until quite recently, there was almost no hard facts available,
particularly about British intelligence.
It wasn't really until, I suppose, the kind of late '80s that we started talking about things.
So the world of spying has been open for the imagination of writers
and television makers to fill up with what they liked.
Yeah, there was The Champions, there was any number of shows at that time.
Even Thunderbirds tapped into that Cold War thing.
Yeah, Man From UNCLE, all those shows.
SPECTRE, SMERSH, all those shadowy organisations, that was all about the Cold War.
I used to love The Champions.
Alexandra Bastedo in front of that fountain.
They were agents working for this organisation called Nemesis,
based in Geneva in Switzerland.
'Our enemies varied. They were sometimes the Chinese, they were the Russians.
'They could be anybody at that time.'
Commence phase one now.
Of course, because of political correctness,
you can't make anybody a villain these days, because we're friendly with everybody,
or at least maybe we are, maybe it's superficial, I don't know.
All of those ITC series
that start in the late '60s are intimately connected with the Cold War.
In a way, they're television's answer to James Bond.
In a few minutes, the world's two greatest powers are going to wipe themselves out.
I laugh when I think of people doing lectures on these series, or seminars, because for us
it was just work, and they were fun and, "He went that way,"
'and waving guns around.'
'I think they got everything wrong'
if what you looking for is any kind of
relation to reality, but what they were trying to do is entertain.
The missiles have been launched!
We've got to find the destruct switch!
Well, at the time, one thought of all those series, Department S,
The Avengers, as being lightweight, but in fact, erm...I mean, in real life,
there was the possibility of problems with the Chinese and certainly the Russians.
It's OK, Sharon, I've found it!
My mother always said, you'll be very lucky if, in your lifetime, there isn't a Third World War.
Richard... It's all right!
The Cold War had its attractions, but along with the agents of international communism,
one old enemy simply refused to go away.
The further from the war we got, the more powerful he seemed to become,
at least in television's imagination.
Kommen Sie hier, Fraulein!
The fascination, more with the Second World War than any other war,
is because it represented a moment of decisive moral choice,
and moral choice is the basic element in all human drama.
Most of the time with most wars, we're not sure
whether they were a good thing or not.
What is almost unique about the Second World War is we're
pretty sure it was the good war.
We were the good guys and the other side were the bad guys.
And that makes us feel much better than it does about Afghanistan
or Iraq or Korea or whatever you'd like to name.
British troops were in action in the '70s
but often against British citizens. And with the country in apparent decline,
it left us yearning for a time when things seemed more black and white.
As the war films of the '50s found a new home
on the television of the '70s,
television found a new way of delivering
what its audience needed - escapism.
Prison is fantastic for drama,
because it throws together guys in a strange and unreal situation,
but they have to rub along together and if it's a prison situation
they're maybe thinking of getting out,
so that's immediately fascinating.
Assuming that we can get through that window...
The appeal of Colditz I think was the outwitting
of the German prison guards.
The plucky British, the very brave British,
but also the ingenious British, and somehow the artisanal British.
There you are with a coal shovel, you're digging yourself
out of the Stalag. In other words, Britain's grit and determination
and just practical common sense. You know, you do it with a tea-spoon.
So there was all that, but put it all together
with German officers who always look so horrendously scary on TV,
then you've got something special.
Of course, the break-out star of Colditz wasn't a Brit,
it was Major Horst Mohn - 1970s television's nastiest Nazi.
So this is Colditz.
They felt at the time that Colditz in the first series,
in a sense, was too reasonable.
Everybody was reasonable,
everybody understood everybody else's position,
everybody behaved as well as they could under the circumstances.
It needed something, someone antagonistic.
The attitude of Mohn was "Give me trouble and I will redefine
"the word 'trouble' for you in a way you cannot begin to imagine,"
May I see?
If you're dressed in that uniform
and striding about in jackboots, yes, there's an instant cliche
that's available to you, this man is going to say,
"Ve have vays of making you talk" and, "For you ze var is over,"
so to try and produce something that's different,
it's not the easiest trick in the world, but with Mohn, it worked.
Bad luck, Mr Carter.
The producer said, "We're going to arrange a viewing
"of some film at the Imperial War Museum,"
and I chose to have a look at the training of the youth movement,
the complete cliche - golden haired, fit, strong, athletic, and social.
Suddenly you understood, because you could see they acquired
a notion of invincibility somewhere along the way.
-Thank you, sir.
There's one line I always remember,
when the Kommandant, played by Bernard Hepton, says to Mohn,
"You have actually met the Fuhrer?"
-And he says...
-He's a great man, sir.
He's a wonderful man.
And it kind of makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck
because the whole concept of what, if you like, the collective
German psyche was about, is sort of embodied in that.
I hope you won't entertain any thoughts of escape from here,
following in your father's footsteps.
Because I can assure you, escape from Colditz is impossible!
Colditz created a new TV archetype that would be copied and parodied,
crucially, it was a world where Britain was once more
the underdog, and that struck a chord.
I think Britain was suffering from a tremendous inferiority complex
vis a vis Germany in industrial terms and technology terms and so forth.
The German economy was speeding ahead
and we were left badly in its wake.
And there the attitude really was very much one of trying to emphasise that we won the war
and how ghastly the Germans were.
Here is your prison number. And the address to which letters should be sent.
For '70s television, the war was never over.
We'd try not to mention it, but we just couldn't help ourselves!
It's the little people, isn't it,
when Hitler had the whole of Europe in his pocket,
there was only one country that stood against him,
and I think we are still proud of that.
# Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler? #
But the definitive response wasn't dramatic, it was comedic.
Our finest hour became one of sitcom's funniest 30 minutes.
Dad's Army is one of those series that has
worked its way into the back of everyone's head.
It wouldn't surprise me if they put "Don't tell him, Pike,"
into the British Citizenship test.
It's the warmth of the characters that's the crucial element.
You empathise and you like them.
Every character in that show is funny and different.
The moment I thought of writing Dad's Army was on the train
and I thought, "I know what I'll do, I'll write a pilot."
And I sat down when I got home and thought, "What do I know about?"
I thought, I was in the Home Guard, it was tucked away in my brain
and hadn't come out for years.
I went to the library, Kensington Library,
and I said to the girl there, the librarian,
"Have you got any books on the Home Guard?"
And she said, "What's that, then?"
The Home Guard had been totally forgotten!
# Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run! #
So familiar is the show today, it's hard to think of it as edgy.
Yet the very idea provoked a flurry of memos.
There was some anxiety about whether or not sending up
the Home Guard was something the BBC should be doing.
There was a faint nervousness.
I mean, having worked at the BBC for 40 years,
there's always a faint nervousness about everything.
And because of these anxieties a prologue was appended to
the beginning of the first episode, and all the characters
are sitting there, but they're made up to look old.
This is set in the late '60s, this is set in the middle of Harold Wilson's
"I'm Backing Britain" campaign,
and Captain Mainwaring is giving this speech
about how maybe some people didn't
take the Home Guard very seriously, but he has always backed Britain.
I got into the habit of it in 1940, but then we all backed Britain.
And what's odd about it is that that means the whole of Dad's Army is a flashback!
I want maximum security, you understand? Maximum security.
Having established its patriotism, Dad's Army was free to celebrate
our amateurism in the face of apparently overwhelming odds.
Things were so desperate. There were adverts everywhere,
"Join the Home Guard". And we all realised, the Germans were just over the water.
Unlike the real Home Guard, Dad's Army did engage with the enemy,
the results were memorable.
In that fantastic episode where they're captured by the U-Boat crew,
Philip Madoc who played the U-boat commander, he was actually quite sinister.
It's a great episode, and it's remembered by everyone
because of the fantastic exchange.
Your name will also go on the list.
-Vot is it?
-Don't tell him, Pike.
Fantastic episode. But the point is that U-Boat crew was quite sinister.
you looked at him and thought,
"I wouldn't like to run up against him in a war situation."
If the German army had landed in Britain, I'm terribly sorry
to say that Captain Mainwaring and the rest
wouldn't have lasted 30 seconds in front of Hitler's Wehrmacht,
the most formidable fighting force the world has ever seen!
But what is so moving, and what the writers of Dad's Army caught
so brilliantly was the fact they were willing to die,
however sillily and however incompetently in the face of that threat.
And that's terribly moving.
We have one invaluable weapon on our side.
We have an unbreakable spirit to win.
A bulldog tenacity that will help us to hang on while there's breath left in our bodies.
You don't get that with Gestapos and jackboots.
You get that by being British.
I'll tell you the key to the success of Dad's Army.
It roused people who'd forgotten all about the war
to what was our greatest hour.
So come on, Adolf - we're ready for you!
They used to take the mickey out of the Home Guard,
but it was amazing, it was backs to the wall.
Nobody understands nowadays, because they can't.
Sitcom would take one step nearer the front line,
as 'Allo 'Allo even found humour in occupied France.
'Allo 'Allo was a much cleverer programme
than it seems on the surface.
The idea of an English guy pretending to be a French policeman,
indicating his bad French by having him speak bad English
is quite a complex idea which they pull off quite well.
I was pissing by the door...
'Allo 'Allo became one of the most popular sitcoms of the '80s...
When I heard two shats.
But it wasn't spoofing the War, so much as television's attitude to it.
Secret Army had already discovered the power of the Resistance.
Here were tales of wartime heroism,
this time played deadly straight.
Secret Army did bring across the heroism of the people
who lived through that period.
Those of us who write about occupied Europe are vary wary about
the jokes about it because it was so serious.
One has to remember in France where 'Allo 'Allo was set,
tens of thousands of people were murdered in cold blood,
by the Nazis, as hostages, or in reprisal for acts of resistance.
There wasn't very much to laugh about in France.
Are you one of them?
It was very lonely on the Russian front.
Even now, it's a brave decision to make these German soldiers warm and funny.
A man from the Gestapo is here to see you.
There's no mention of the genocide and the atrocities in 'Allo 'Allo.
"The programme 'Allo 'Allo is totally offensive."
Mr Thomas also says:
"To make a laugh-a-minute comedy of such an unmitigatedly grisly subject
"is quite monstrous."
I've never forgotten when I was editor of the Daily Telegraph
and our TV correspondent came back from a television festival at which
'Allo 'Allo had been shown, and he said, "The Germans loved it.
"It was the first series they'd ever seen which made them
"look like lovable idiots rather than absolute bastards."
TV's fascination with the Second World War would continue
to grow, but The Great War had fewer chroniclers.
It was longer ago, of course,
and perhaps also lacked that moment of decisive moral choice.
Enter Percy Toplis, The Monocled Mutineer.
I wanted to write, as I had done before, an anti-hero,
who people are kind of horrified by
but can't help falling in love with.
This is something, for example, Yosser Hughes in The Boys From The Blackstuff,
what Yosser Hughes did to people was despicable, but there was something
about the heartbreak of his life that attracted people to him.
I felt with Toplis, who clearly wasn't what anyone would
describe as even a decent human being, there were qualities in him
I admired because he saw the madness and the horror of what was going on
and in his own difficult way realised the truth.
-I shouldn't be here.
-No. And I'm not going to die here!
Another bloody lot. I don't believe it.
What the hell are they sending more of them for?
It's a bloody slaughter!
The play marked a departure for Bleasdale -
it was his first historical drama, his first adaptation...
but he had a personal reason for getting involved.
"These scripts are dedicated to George Bleasdale
"who died a prisoner of war in France during the spring of 1917,
"three months before his 10th child, my father, was born."
I don't write dedications for nothing.
The play told the story of a real First World War soldier,
It centred on a real mutiny of British troops at Etaples.
And it caused the mother of all rows.
The Monocled Mutineer was brilliant,
and the more brilliant for all the feathers it ruffled.
There is inherent drama in war,
but if you can do something in a portrayal of war
that makes people question decision making, authority, the establishment,
that can only be a good thing.
They want you to obey. They want you to give in.
They want you to stand there, "Yes, sir, no, sir, be sub whatsits."
And you might as well throw yourself in front of the nearest whizz-bang
because that is what they want and all.
The Monocled Mutineer obviously caused controversy
because if you are portraying a war, you're portraying a dedicated
fighting force, everybody prepared to go over the top
for their country, and this was about a mutiny.
'And it was obviously not something'
that those in authority wanted to see and were very, very keen to decry it.
Who are you? Tell me.
Who are you?
Whoever I want to be.
And who are you?
'My problem with...'
the kerfuffle about the Monocled Mutineer
was that, as I've said to you,
I was writing it for my dad and the granddad I never knew,
I realised there were people
who were trying to get
at the basic philosophy of the piece, but more really,
trying to get at the BBC at the time.
This was 30 years ago. Nothing changes.
The BBC were already under attack for alleged left-wing bias.
They were being sued by two Conservative MPS.
There'd been calls for the Director General to resign.
Now the battle commenced.
The BBC were being gunned at.
The BBC were being attacked
and their enemies were looking for any way to fire the guns at them.
The BBC defended the work,
but they'd already shot themselves in the foot.
Three little words in an early advertising campaign
had given their enemies the ammunition they needed.
What it said, I think I've got it here...
.."It was an enthralling, true-life story of Percy Toplis."
Double page spread in every newspaper,
and I died inside, because I knew it wasn't true life,
I knew that character was to a degree fictional,
and I knew I'd made an awful lot of stuff up,
and I knew then that I was going to be attacked.
Attention focused on the alleged historical inaccuracies.
Had the extent of the mutiny been exaggerated?
Had the real life Toplis been there at all?
Beyond that lurked the bigger question -
to what extent should drama be tied to the facts?
Can it tell the greater truth about war?
I hated the Monocled Mutineer because I'm a historian
and I know too much about that period.
I never thought of this as a drama doc or a documentary.
It certainly wasn't a true life story because nothing adds up,
it doesn't, but I tried to make it add up.
I never quite understand why television dramatists feel
they have to impose fiction on real events,
in quite that way.
I can't for the life of me see why they can't tell their great truths
within a fictional context.
'The argument is - and I'm not comparing myself to Shakespeare -'
that Richard III wasn't really real, you know,
it wasn't historically correct, but it made great drama.
The Monocled Mutineer was critically acclaimed and politically savaged.
But for all its alleged subversiveness, in some senses
the play expressed what's now the accepted view of World War One.
'What Toplis does, he plays the part of the modern man.'
You're never going to identify with anybody else in this story
because by this point our culture has absolutely decided
that all the First World War was,
was a foolish, senseless, waste of human life.
If you want an example of how firmly the idea
has crystallised in our culture, then Blackadder IV does it for you.
I love Blackadder, but up the same time,
one has to remember that it is simply not history.
I think there has been an orthodoxy which has developed,
in many ways almost a caricature of the First World War,
of lions led by donkeys. I think there's always a terrible temptation
to almost exaggerate it in a lot of the televisual depiction
of the First World War.
Perhaps a truly radical play would be the one that now argues
The Great War was worth fighting.
A great many people today say,
no cause could possibly have been worth the slaughter that we suffered.
I personally think, that if the Kaiser's Germany had prevailed in the First World War,
the consequences for Europe would've been as grievous as if the Nazis had prevailed in the Second.
For years, television dramatists had been confined to old wars and cold wars.
But in the 1980s, that had changed.
A mere four days ago, scenes such as this were utterly unthinkable.
This is a British fleet putting to sea, not on some training exercise,
but sailing with every intention of doing battle with an enemy.
It was an old fashioned war in many ways, the Falklands War.
It was fought with fairly conventional weapons.
In a sense, it was Britain's last burst
of being a mini super power, if you like.
That period, the 1970s, the British had been screwing up almost everything.
And here was something we did terribly well.
It had all the criteria for the perfect colonial war -
it didn't go on too long, it had a beginning, middle and end,
the other side weren't very good and we won.
After so long watching war on television,
out of nowhere came a chance to relive our finest hour.
Basically, the concern was that we would get there
and it would be finished.
That was the real worry.
There was a chance there may have been diplomatic clean up,
and that was a worry, that we might have to turn around and come back.
As you get closer, the amazement of what you're walking into
does dawn on you
and what you know it best from, is having grown up watching war movies.
All the people fighting the Falklands had been brought up
on World War II '50s movies
and they devised their scripts on the bridge in action
from those war movies.
So suddenly on the QE2 going down there, we're saying,
"Keep an eye on Tommy the tiger fish..."
i.e. a torpedo from a submarine or a ship that might try and sink us.
When you get down there and you're on the islands,
I don't care how good the last Richard Todd movie you saw was,
it's not really what you're thinking about.
But you understand, in a sense, what's classically expected of you.
We're now between the two gun lines
and there's a right old artillery dual going on between them...
By now we had journalists embedded with the troops.
But the real drama still happened off camera.
Our major action was the final action on Mount Tumbledown
just outside Port Stanley.
It was, you know, a hell of an experience.
The battle made an eerie sight,
the British progress marked only by the lines of tracer.
I ended up having to lead an assault against a machine gun post.
It was a case of doing what you do in the movies.
I stood up, I shouted, "Follow me",
and threw a grenade.
That night's events would inspire Charles Woods' Falklands war film, Tumbledown.
There's a number of things going through your mind during these battles,
the brain works very fast.
I remember being shocked at how physically hard it was to kill a man.
The idea of the classic lunge to the stomach, you know,
isn't really what happens at the end of the day.
They're grabbing hold of your rifle and it becomes extremely unpleasant.
Lawrence dispatched several men on his way to the top of Mount Tumbledown,
before he in turn was shot in the head by an Argentine sniper.
I was probably saved
by the extreme cold, which shut my body down,
but by the end of my operations,
having been cleaned up, I'd lost 42% of my brain.
-What are you doing?
-Just cleaning up, that's all.
'It was obvious that I was out of the army.'
The minimum requirement is that you can run away,
I would have thought, and I can't.
-You all right, Robert?
'So many veterans of the Second World War
'didn't really talk about their experiences,'
mainly because so many people around you
had similar experiences, or other experiences. You felt no need.
'So I determined I had a duty to inform my generation
'a bit more about the nature of war.'
The members of the Royal Family
take their places at the front of this huge...
silent, standing congregation.
Tumbledown looked back at the battle but focussed on what happened next.
'The wounded weren't allowed on the Victory Parade.
'I was not allowed in uniform at the St Paul's memorial service
'because I was in a wheelchair,'
and I looked around and realised how little we'd improved,
in those days especially, in our care of veterans.
These men were put in a position to defend a very small territory,
and the price they pay is enormously high
and the indifference of the government and the authorities to them seemed to be monumental.
Two hours I've been sitting here.
Couldn't see a thing.
Its tales of post-traumatic stress disorder and bureaucratic
indifference ensured a hostile reception from the army.
-What are they frightened of?
-But the film also captured the real drama of war.
'I grew up watching Reach For The Sky.'
I have a brother who refers to Tumbledown as Reach For The Sky with swearing.
'Nothing should be pro-war, clearly,'
and nothing should be anti-war, solely.
You know, I'm a soldier, I enjoy soldiering,
and it would be wrong to pretend I didn't.
After 30 years, television had finally made a war film
that matched anything in the cinema,
complete with a cinematic ending.
ISN'T THIS FUN?!
How thick do you have to be to think I actually did that?
The words, "Isn't this fun?",
I'd used it probably an hour and a half before the end.
I recall desperately trying to get the director
to change that image of me standing with my arms in the air shouting, "Isn't this fun?",
and I said, "There's no way I would highlight myself on a ridge like that",
to which the answer was, "Listen, Robert, this is film."
For the first time for many years,
British sovereign territory has been invaded by a foreign power.
Television had become a battleground for conflicting opinions about war.
At the heart of the debate was the relationship between drama and history.
In The Falklands Play, Ian Curteis, the veteran dramatist of Suez
and Churchill, looked not at the war, but at the reasons for it.
I don't feel I'm drawn to war.
I think I'm drawn to the politics of why war becomes inevitable.
People say to me occasionally, "You write about war",
and I say, "Well, I don't write about fighting.
"It's the politics of the thing, and the personal struggles behind the scenes."
The Falklands Play had been thoroughly researched,
but this was no drama documentary. It was a play with an opinion.
I think the difference between a play and a dramatised documentary
is that a dramatised documentary is supposed to be impartial.
A play based on history, a totally different animal, which is what I write,
sticks to the essential facts, simplifies them,
but tries to get into the heads and the motives of the people going on.
There was no mistaking the key player in The Falklands Play.
This is Margaret Thatcher. Can I help?
'The Falklands Play portrayed Margaret Thatcher as a very introspective,'
rather thoughtful, rather tortured soul,
instead of the battleaxe,
the Iron Lady that everybody had come to see her as.
It's a terrible thing to send those men in to fight,
to risk their young lives in those atrocious conditions.
-Of course they are, and superb, but...
I've never seen fighting, Willy.
'Mrs Thatcher wasn't popular in the broadcasting world'
to put it lightly.
So a number of things I was asked to change about her,
which I said, "That would be wrong. It didn't happen like that".
The BBC demanded changes. Curteis was unwilling to make them.
When the production stalled, he went public with his grievances.
Once more, an attempt to dramatise war
had become mired in controversy.
We've heard the author tell us it was because he was unwilling
to introduce fictional matter
critical of the Government into his play as a condition of its screening.
We still await a plausible explanation of that affair.
The BBC had an explanation for the play's cancellation.
They said the work wasn't very good.
I made it very clear at the time to the Board of Governors,
to the press, to anybody who was interested, that the sole grounds
for not going ahead with the commission
was the fact that I didn't think the script was good enough.
I know what he said, cos it was in the press report which followed the actual press conference he gave.
I seethed, and I suppose I used to lie awake at three in the morning seething,
but one can't do anything at that time. The best thing to do is to go to sleep again,
hoping that it would see the light of day.
Cancelled in the run up to the 1987 election, The Falklands Play
finally went out 15 years later,
on a smaller budget, and with a number of cuts.
It took a sympathetic line on the most controversial moment in the war.
The Belgrano and her escorts, carrying Exocets, could suddenly turn and steam hard north.
The Veinticinco de Mayo could simultaneously steam south and launch her Skyhawk attack aircraft.
The facts are known as to what happened about the Belgrano,
what the Belgrano was about to do, what the Belgrano was about to attack,
and that there was a pincer movement happening.
There's bound to be tremendous world reaction.
It's a major escalation of the fighting.
But they've been trying to sink our ships, kill our boys.
They invaded, not us.
Like so many plays before it,
The Falklands Play nailed its colours to the mast.
I think it was a just war.
All war is to be avoided if conceivably possible
but some wars have to be fought.
NEWSCASTER: A massive air campaign has begun.
Baghdad has been under heavy bombardment tonight.
Wars are fought in a new way today and covered in a new way by television.
It's unclear exactly how many Iraqi troops are up ahead of us.
We get journalists dispatching reports from the front line,
even soldiers shooting the action on cameras in their helmets.
It's brought us closer to war than ever before.
The way television - in particular, but maybe the internet as well -
looks at war has changed dramatically and permanently now.
The fact there's so much access to pictures of war,
whether it's from soldiers' own phones or 24-hour rolling news,
it means there's no secrets in war any more.
In spite, or perhaps because of the blanket coverage, it seems many
of the certainties we once had about war have disappeared.
We see the human cost much more than we ever did in the Second World War,
and that in a sense adds to our feeling of confusion.
We don't quite know why we're there, we don't know which side who's on,
we don't know who are goodies and baddies,
we don't know what the population of Afghanistan or Iraq really want.
I don't think we can find our thread through it all.
For dramatists entering this fray, perhaps the safest approach
is to stick as close as possible to the facts.
When Ten Days To War brought to life the second Iraq war's
most famous eve of battle speech, it did it word for word.
So, we're on, sir?
It looks like it.
Can I ask you something, sir?
My concern was piqued by one of my soldiers who asked me,
"Are we about to invade Iraq, and if so, why?"
And that realisation that no-one had actually told me
what was meant to be happening.
-What do you think I should say?
-I'm sure you'll think of something.
I felt that as I expected many of my young Irish soldiers
were about to lay down their lives in this war,
and certainly to take other human lives,
that I personally owed them an explanation.
We are going into Iraq to liberate and not to conquer.
We will not fly our flags in their country.
I was keen to emphasise they should be respectful towards
other people and mankind because I know what can happen in combat.
Iraq is steeped in history.
It is the site of the Garden of Eden.
The Great Flood,
It is the birthplace of Abraham.
You tread lightly there.
I made the speech up as I went along but apparently it made sense.
It was written down in shorthand by a journalist
and it wasn't recorded by any electronic media,
so when the hungry 24-hour news world wanted to grab it,
'all there was was pieces of paper.'
I expect you to rock their world.
Wipe them out, if that's what they choose.
If you are ferocious in battle, remember to be magnanimous in victory.
Actually, they did capture very accurately the spirit
and the immediacy of the time and the tension and the anger as well.
Let's bring everybody home safely
and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there.
The speech to the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment
became a global phenomenon.
The words reportedly ended up pinned to the Oval Office wall.
It would appear the rest of the English-speaking world
was seeking some explanation of what was happening,
and I suspect that's why many people latched onto it.
Opinions were divided on Iraq and Afghanistan but there was
general agreement on one thing - neither war was very funny.
# We could have been anything that we wanted to be
# With all the talent we have... #
One of the few brave enough to give it a go
was BBC Three's Gary: Tank Commander.
# We're the very best at being bad guys. #
Gary: Tank Commander is basically about a group of squaddies
led by the character of Corporal Gary McLintoch,
who you could describe possibly as...a confident fool.
Who knows what's going to happen in Iraq?
It might turn into the new Ibiza.
Maybe next year folk'll ask you where you're going on your holidays
and you might be like, "I'm off to Basra."
He thinks he's very aware of the world
and the political problems leading up to Iraq
and Afghanistan so he's got his own world view
on what the real issues are and how to resolve them.
A lot of folk'll say "That'll never happen. Look at all the violence.
"Look how run-down it is, there's no industry, there's nothing to do, the hotels are rubbish."
But look at Blackpool!
Gary Tank Commander tipped its hat to some of its illustrious predecessors.
Dad's Army. Do you remember that? "Don't tell me your name, Pike!"
That was his name. That was funny. I liked that.
-And that old boy, what was he called?
-No, the old boy!
-"We're dooooomed!" Him?
It's about opposites. Rene Artois in 'Allo 'Allo! is the unlikely hero
and you don't expect that.
Mainwaring's an unlikely leader of men in Dad's Army.
Gary is another unlikely leader.
What was it he used to say? He'd be like, "I was just passin'..."
That's 'Allo 'Allo! Gary.
But if comedy is tragedy plus time, them something was missing.
Here was a sitcom which brokered the past by being set in the present.
The longer you're away from a conflict, the safer it seems
to be able to say something about it.
It's probably easier for Black Adder to set its final series
during the First World War than it would have been
to set it during the Second World War or The Falklands War.
We're not far off the back of Iraq and yet we're writing a sitcom,
and Afghanistan's still going, so you don't get the same leeway.
You have to be quite sensitive about how you deal with it.
One way of dealing with is to set the action between tours of duty.
The front only features in the form of flashbacks,
shot as soldiers' home video.
When I was researching the show
and trying to capture the essence of the camaraderie,
I was looking up clips online and seeing what soldiers were doing.
I thought it'd be nice to get something troops were doing
out in Afghanistan and Iraq and representing it in the show.
BAGPIPES PLAY "WE WILL ROCK YOU"
Camaraderie, by definition, is fun, whether it's down the pub
with your football team
or whether it's in the trenches of the First World War
or whether it's currently in Afghanistan.
That's a fun bonding experience
and you don't see that when you're watching the news.
All we get is another soldier killed, another soldier maimed, but we don't
get much insight into any other workings of army life, so I think
that soldiers watch the show and like the fact we're seeing a different side to how soldiers are portrayed.
If you trawl the Internet,
you'll see people saying, "This is dreadful. This isn't funny".
But one interesting thing a soldier said to me was,
"You can't offend soldiers".
If you think about what they've experienced, you just can't touch it.
You can't offend them.
If you're making some jokes in a sitcom, they're not affected by that.
As British troops fought in foreign fields, the War Against Terror
came to our doorstep. TV's response? The re-invention
of the '60s spy thriller for the post-9/11 age.
The idea of counter-terrorism is attractive to TV for several reasons.
It's something very Zeitgeist-y, something in the newspapers.
Rather like the old Cold War stories,
it's one that you don't need a gigantic budget to stage.
People in Spooks spend most of their time just looking at computers.
Take it back a bit.
They're our bombers.
That world has occasional outbursts of action
but mostly it's people in rooms shouting at each other.
Counter the order to push people back into the station. Get everybody out.
One of most common questions I'm asked is,
"Is Spooks really like it really is?"
There's people in the station. The roof will come down in five minutes!
Of course the answer is no, it's not like it really is!
Three, two, one, cut.
Well done, everybody.
There's something about TV drama which seems to consist of going out
and killing the enemy.
Where's the bomb? Where's the bomb?!
And killing the enemy is actually not what's done at all.
British Intelligence doesn't kill people. If there's killing to be done, it's done by the military.
I don't know how, when people have watched an episode of Spooks,
for example, how they then feel. Do they feel reassured?
There are people going around saving us.
Or do they feel frightfully anxious that these dreadful things
are going on on our streets?
If it were me, I'd feel frightfully anxious
that the people protecting us look so over-excitable.
In the midst of the War Against Terror, television's fascination
with the Second World War was as strong as ever.
Even without the comedy accents, the Nazis still made the best bad guys.
Or did they?
The Sinking Of The Laconia told the true-life story of a U-Boat commander who torpedoed a ship
before putting his crew's life in danger to rescue the survivors.
I didn't create him, he was there. Commander Hartenstein.
For me, one of the extraordinary heroes of the 20th century.
It was a gift to me to have someone like that
because it showed you that in the middle of the violence,
hatred and savagery of the Nazi philosophy,
somebody had kept his moral valour.
It was the same blend of drama and historical fact
Bleasdale had brought to the Monocled Mutineer,
but this time his defences were up.
When I wrote the first draft, I was hysterically factually correct
beyond my own belief that I could do that.
If that submarine fired that torpedo on the 13th of September 1942,
it didn't fire it at just around 8 o'clock.
It fired it at 8.08 and 13 seconds.
Television has dramatised war through the ages across the genres.
It's told us the stories of those involved and illuminated the decisions they've made.
Sometimes it's done it so well we've not been sure what we've been watching.
We are living in an age when people have so little idea
of the dividing line between fact and fiction.
I do think it's terrifying, this blend we've developed
in recent years, in an age of historical ignorance.
With drama becoming more realistic and documentary becoming more dramatic,
how will TV go to war in the future?
Will drama be relegated to filling in the bits the news cameras miss?
Or does it still have something to say about war in the modern age?
Because the wars currently being fought are broadcast simultaneously
across all the media, I don't think that makes the fictionalised war drama impossible.
Actually, it's given it a whole new vernacular in which to work,
a whole new set of images.
Drama finds it very hard not to have an opinion.
The Monocled Mutineer, Tumbledown, whichever film you want to name, it has an opinion.
Any idea that just because you've got helmet cameras,
you're seeing the full reality of war - no way.
There's always going to be other dimensions for the filmmaker
and the dramatist to explore in fiction.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Documentary looking at how war has been dramatised on British television from the Second World War through the Falklands campaign to contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, examining the challenges - both financial and dramatic - in bringing war to the small screen.
Why have so many of our greatest TV writers been drawn to the subject, and why has so much of their work been controversial? Should writers always respect the historical facts, or can dramatic licence reveal the greater truth about war? And in a world of 24-hour news, can drama tell us anything about war we canʼt now see for ourselves?
It also looks at the lighter side of war, and why it has inspired some of our most successful sitcoms. Is there something about army life that lends itself to comedy? Soldiers who have had their exploits dramatised for television - Colonel Tim Collins, played by Kenneth Branagh in Ten Days to War, and Robert Lawrence, played by Colin Firth in Tumbledown - talk about the experience.
Other contributors include historians Antony Beevor and Max Hastings, and playwrights Alan Bleasdale (The Monocled Mutineer) and Ian Curteis (The Falklands Play). Ex-MI5 chief Stella Rimington considers television's coverage of the Cold War, and comedy writers Jimmy Perry (Dad's Army) and Greg McHugh (Gary Tank Commander) discuss the rules of the war-based sitcom.