You wouldn’t necessarily have guessed this from the quality of commemorative programming on TV this week. But just recently, we’ve marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of an event that used to be considered quite important and interesting. It was called the second world war.
Now that it has been superseded by issues of such seismic significance as climate change, the childhood obesity ‘epidemic’ and Jordan’s on-off marriage to Peter Andre, one can of course fully understand why TV feels unable to give WWII the thorough and respectful coverage it did in the past. Even so, I can’t help feeling that it still deserves a little better than The Week We Went to War (BBC1, all week) and Land Girls (BBC1, all week).
Sometimes, it takes my wife to make me realise just how bad a really bad thing is. Her reaction when she wandered in, halfway through the first episode of TWWWTW, was visceral and uncompromising: ‘What is this rubbish? Is this meant for children? Who is that woman? Turn it off!’
The woman — a warm, likeable, buxom-blonde-barmaid, daytime-TV-presenter type — turned out to be the Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins. Apparently she has been giving open-air concerts all summer and there’s not a dry eye in the audience when she sings ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ as a Spitfire flies overhead. She’s also the new official Forces Sweetheart, so you can see why the BBC decided to give her the job. But it was still a wrong decision. As wrong as it would be, say, if you were making a six-part documentary series called Hell on the Eastern Front, to go: ‘Mmm. I know, for a change shall we not get Sam West to do the voiceover this time? How about we go for funny-glasses-wearing, camp-voiced, gay comedian Alan Carr instead?’
I don’t know what’s wrong with the BBC. They used to do this kind of thing so well. My guess is that all the people who might have cared about the second world war have long since retired, replaced by a new generation which feels as embarrassed about it as they do about having to fill a compulsory Sunday religious slot. I mean, World War II, it’s like, so kind of jingoistic, isn’t it? And racist, too, the way it encourages such negative stereotyping of the Germans and the Japanese? And definitely quite dangerously militaristic. Sexist, too, when you think that, apart from the odd Soviet Yak pilot here and SOE operative there, most of the actual fighting stuff was done by men.
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