Saturday, 8 November 2008

WWII in Colour

The Telegraph is doing a free DVD offer all this week of the extraordinarily good series 'The Second World War in Colour'. This was made in 1999 by Carlton Television. One of the diarists they drew on was my mother, so the Social Secretary and I got to represent her at the launch at BAFTA in Piccadilly. As simple country cousins we were rather excited about going, associating BAFTA with glitzy awards ceremonies. And as luck would have it, when we got to the front of the queue for taxis at Victoria, along came a head-turning reproduction vintage cab, all headlamps and mudguards and cream livery, so we felt appropriately important as we arrived at the doors.

Carlton followed this in 2000 with a second series, 'Britain at War in Colour', which also drew on her diaries. A small team travelled up to Skye and spent a long day interviewing and recording my mother at home, which she enjoyed, although she was far from well at the time.

The SS and I again went to the launch, this time in the main hall of the Imperial War Museum. While I chatted to a liveried Chelsea pensioner (who invited us to tea at his gaff at the Royal Hospital) and wolfed the delicious canap├ęs and champagne being handed round by (it seemed) increasingly pretty girls, the SS got to meet Ian Lavender of 'Dad's Army' fame, who she said was charming. For the screening we sat behind Dame Vera Lynn (I would love to have told her that at school at the turn of the 1970s, as rock blared from out other studies, being too broke to buy a stereo it was her voice that crackled out from mine via old 78s and a wind-up gramophone). Next to us was a pleasant fellow named Bob Hanna, who very kindly gave me a copy of his father's memoir. Sam Hanna was a teacher from Burnley who spent his spare time recording local trades and tradesmen, making very early use of colour film.

Although the available wartime colour footage is limited, the immediacy it brings helps to shrink the years between and put us in closer contact with that world.


  1. Brother Tobias:
    Mahalo (thank you) for this virtual visit to BAFTA. As one of few Americans who knows of them, it's a treat to see (via your words) the liveried taxis and pensioners. To hear the clink of glasses at an Imperial War Museum reception . . . Reminds me of my one blessed dinner (as an out of town researcher) at Columbia University's faculty club, enjoying convivial conversation with some fellows from Africa working in a related field. Brother, I'll cover ukuleles benieth the palms - you keep feeding me the smell of peat, and good whiskey, and rich words. I'm hooked! Much Aloha-
    (by the by, I left a reply to your last comment posted to me blog.)

  2. Oh! Not to mention your accomplished Mum. So wonderful that she is being recognized and remains able to share her rich experience of history, humanity, of LIFE. Gratitude, congratulations, and aloha from Waikiki to her!

  3. interesting post; I'm endlessly fascinated my old diaries and war ones are the best. I'll keep an eye out for the colour film DVD tomorrow, thanks for the tip!

  4. Cloudia - You make London sound nearly as exotic as Hawaii! Sadly my mother died a few years back (although she is far from forgotten; google 'Moyra Charlton' and she still shows up plenty).

    Pebbles - I was admiring your latest earrings; lovely work. As for the DVDs, if you can scrounge the tokens off someone (as I plan to), you can get the whole set for not much. They come out all this week, and you need five).

  5. Sounds interesting; I'll have to find someone to scrounge the vouchers off too - I don't think I could bring myself to buy the Telegraph. Something for my daughters to look forward to - they have been dragged round all sorts of battlefields and war cemeteries wherever we have gone on holiday (there is always one, and these days the first question they ask when I suggest a new holiday is what battle took place there?) so they will be so happy to have to watch a DVD about a war too.

  6. I loved this series... it's weird how seeing something in colour brings it closer than watching in b&w. Hearing my granddad talk about his war experiences brings home that the people who did the fighting were no different from you and me and the average Joe on the street. It's very humbling.

  7. Oh wow, that's wonderful that your mother was one of the diarists. I wish my forebears had kept diaries. I'd love to read them to feel what it was like to be them at that time.

    It felt odd to read that post with your abbreviation for Social Secretary scattered about.

    I loved Dad's Army. "Don't tell them your name, Pike" still makes me laugh.

  8. Our family adores military history...This is a fascinating blog and I dare say an excellent reminder of a lovely Christmas gift...

  9. Completely - What tractable daughters you have! I imagine my children would rather play monopoly in the rain than watch them. Your holidays sound great - may I come?

    Steve - I agree. Although they were different from me, because in extremis I'd have been too scared to function.

    RB - I hadn't thought about the inappropriateness of the SS abbreviation! It's often the inconsequential parts of the diaries that bring it to life more than the well-documented historic moments. I suppose life is 99% inconsequential.

    Hello Muse - It can be fascinating, can't it? Great that you all share that interest. It's a good excuse to go places; never known a battle that wasn't fought in a place worth visiting. Except, maybe, the little known battle of Maidstone (1648).

  10. The only ones missing at the launch was your mom and you dad famous for his charm & cocktails. Do you follow in his footsteps brother T? Your blog caused me to be extremely unproductive at work today with my mind wandering. Once I wondered aloud why things such as WW I and II happened. You mom replied: "Well, at that point of time they did what they thought was the best thing to do." It is one of the few things that makes sense in my life.