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The Great War on the Small ScreenRepresenting the First World War in Contemporary Britain$
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Emma Hanna

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780748633890

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748633890.001.0001

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Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains

(p.89) 4 Heroes and Villains
The Great War on the Small Screen

Emma Hanna

Edinburgh University Press

The reputation of Britain's military commanders of the First World War has not fared well since the Armistice. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, a number of books were published which were highly critical of the British High Command. Portrayed as incompetent old men who unflinchingly ordered men to their deaths, British commanders have been labelled as ‘donkeys’ who were too stupid and stubborn to be in charge of leading their ‘lions’ through a major war. During the late 1990s television programmes made for the eightieth anniversary commemorations brought this strand of First World War history to the screen. Haig: The Unknown Soldier (BBC, 1996) tackled the ‘lions led by donkeys’ myth by suggesting that Haig was not an incapable and unfeeling commander. The contentious Shot at Dawn (Carlton, 1998) asserted that by ordering the deaths of 306 of their own soldiers the British High Command were operating a system of ‘military eugenics’. This chapter also looks at smaller productions made by the BBC in 2008 including Walter Tull: Forgotten Hero, Not Forgotten: The Men Who Wouldn't Fight and Timewatch: The Last Day of World War One.

Keywords:   Lions led by donkeys, Blackadder Goes Forth (BBC, 1989), Haig: the Unknown Soldier (BBC, 1996), Shot at Dawn, Military Executions, Conscientious Objectors, Walter Tull: Forgotten Hero (BBC, 2008), Not Forgotten: The Men Who Wouldn't Fight (BBC, 2008)

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