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-Glasgow Historian’s Book Major TV Epic on WWI 2003-09-05

Posted by clype in Humanities, Intolerance, Scotland.

The full impact of the First World War is set to be brought back to life in a new 2.6 million GBP television series created in Scotland for Channel 4 — the biggest factual series ever undertaken by the broadcaster outside London.

Produced by the Glasgow production company Wark Clements, the series is based on the definitive book, "First World War", by the Glasgow historian, Prof.Mr.Hew Strachan.

It takes a controversial and radical look at how the conflict was fought in, and affected, countries across the world rather than dwelling solely on the quagmire of western European trench warfare.

The series is in ten one-hour episodes and will be broadcast from 2003-09-20.

Mark Thompson, the chief executive of Channel 4 , said he was 'blown away' after reading the book for the first time during his enforced break between leaving the BBC and joining Channel 4.

In Glasgow to celebrate the fifth birthday of Channel 4's production presence in Scotland, Mr.Thompson said giving work to independent film and television producers in Scotland 'should not be viewed as a duty for the broadcaster'. He added:

'When I read the book I was seeing for the first time, without prejudice, the First World War. I turned up at Horseferry Road on my first day of work at Channel 4 and said, "I've got a great idea, it's this book", but like lots of my ideas', he joked,

'it was picked up a year earlier. It's exceptionally interesting and radical and will change the view of world history'.

The series considers how the war was fought not only in Europe but in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and even the Falkland Islands.

It challenges ideas, provides fresh research and uses extraordinary archive film to tell the story of the war.

Mr.Alan Clements, the managing director of Wark Clements, had already approached Channel 4 about the programme before Mr.Thompson's conversion.

He had received the 1 400-page book as a 40th birthday present and, as a huge history fan, he devoured the Glasgow University professor's re-assessment of a war that has been pored over by academics and military historians for more than 80 years. He said:

'I'm immensely proud and feel it is a family affair, with my dad giving me the book as a present. I read it and thought, "This is fantastic, there is a television series in this"'.

'For the first time I could see it was not all mud and Flanders. The war for Europe meant war for the world'.

Mr.Clements argues the war shaped the 20th century and that we still live under its shadow.

'It was a war with purpose. If you look at Europe now, it's more like 1914 than in the intervening years'.

He added:

'We had 25 people working in Govan, with French, German, and Turkish staff, and it's a testament to Hew's fantastic scholarship and Jonathan's [Lewis, the series producer] determination that the series is complete'.

Mr.Clements said how vitally important it is to re-invent history and make it interesting to everyone, especially children. The Wark Clements team filmed in 28 countries on the actual battlefields and tracked down hundreds of witness accounts by frontline soldiers, generals, statesmen, children and women from all sides in the conflict. Mr.Strachan said the global sweep of the book in dealing with the politics and the campaigns will be evident in the television series. He said:

'Much of what has been written before comes from an Anglo-centric approach, but the war took in Africa, Iraq, Turkey, the Falklands and, of course, revolutionary Russia'.

The highlight for Mr.Strachan was the ability to attend script meetings at Wark Clements' production office until 23:00 and then be home after a ten-minute journey.

'Working so near home was a bonus and, during the series' production, I was determined to get back to the war, to how it was experienced at the time.

'There were no poets or painters as I wanted the real feelings. It was a war about nationality'.

The series has no presenter, no interviews and no reconstructions. Worldwide archive film and stills, many hidden for 90 years, have been painstakingly authenticated wherever possible.

Rare audio recordings made during the First World War — including the voices of the Kaiser, General Mr. John Pershing of the US American army, and one of the youngest winners of the Victoria Cross — are also featured. Mr.Lewis said that when first approached, he thought it was a 'great opportunity' but had doubts if it was achievable in Scotland.

'I was not used to things not being in London, Kensington House or Euston. But we had a Scottish historian, commissioning editor, executive producer, funding, libraries, kebab shops — it was like the tower of Babel'.

An Emmy Award-winner, Mr.Lewis has worked on most of the channel's major documentary series including "The Cold War" and "The People's Century" — where he made the opening episode and the programme about the "Holocaust" – and the acclaimed "Hell In The Pacific".

'You will not see the stamp of Scotland on it, but it has a Scottish team and competes at the highest levels of factual programming'.

The first episode illustrates how the war's fuse is lit by the assassination of Archduke Mr.Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo, and shows how Britain joined in the war to defend her interests, not to aid Belgium.

The series finishes by covering the conflict's strange end with the "Treaty of Versailles" and the subsequent search for meaning in the losses. Mr.Stuart Cosgrove, Channel 4's director for regions and nations, said the series is a prime example of what Scottish independents could achieve. He said:

'Channel 4's productions across all genres have brought great benefit to Scotland's creative economy from the days of "Trainspotting" to award-winning documentaries and dramas.

'There is a 400 per cent increase by Channel 4 in Scottish production, generating 20 million GBP to the economy'.

"Scotland makes history with TV epic", Sharon Ward, The Scotsman,2003-09-05 Fr



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