650 THE NOW SHOW 1916
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SP: Hello I'm Mr Steve Punt
HD: I'm Mr Hugh Denis
SP: With us are Miss Lucy Porter, Mr Pat Cahill and Miss Freya Parker and this is
HD: The Now Show 1916 #00:17
SP: Thank you. Exactly one hundred years ago tonight on June 30th, 1916 thousands of British Soldiers were making their way into trenches for the start of what they called the "Big Push." And we now know as the Somme. At 4:30 tomorrow morning eight hundred eighteen pounder field guns would begin bombarding the German trenches, at 07:30 whistles would blow and the men would begin advancing #00:47
HD: A couple of hours later seventeen and a half thousand men were dead and forty thousand wounded. The worst single day in the history of the British army. And the day that has come to symbolise the bravery and futility of the First World War.
Now this may seem like an odd topic for the Now Show, a special for the commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. But four years ago in "Who Do You Think You Are?" I followed the stories of my two grandfathers who both fought on the Western Front. One in the Suffolk regiment and one in the Sherwood Foresters. When I tell people that they often ask, "Oo, did they survive?"
To which I say, "Yes - or I wouldn't be here." #01:27
SP: By this time the Great War as they were already calling it had been going on two years. It began as we all remember with the assassination in Sarajevo in July 1914 of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. Who had no idea that a Serbian nationalist with a hand gun was indeed itching to
FF clip: "take me out"
SP: Now that joke was deliberately designed to emphasise the cultural legacy of the First World War. Which extended as far the naming of Scottish indie pop combos of the early noughties #01:54
Poor old Franz Ferdinand now though was a reformer with loads of ideas to ease the tensions of the ageing Hapsburg empire of Austria Hungary. And he had been waiting for decades to succeed his father who was 84 and on his last legs
HD: It is of course very hard for us to imagine a frustrated heir to a throne. Forced to wait as their parent shows no sign of giving up the job.
Poor Arch Duke Franz was about to fall victim to a sequence of good news and bad news that has seldom been equalled #02:26
Good news SP: Franz is off for a nice day out in Sarajevo capital of Bosnia which was annexed by him in 1908.
Bad news HD: It is right next door to Serbia which wants Bosnia as part of a united Slav nation.
Good news SP: Franz is a moderate who wants to find a solution
Bad news HD: His visit coincides with Serbian national day. Whoops an assassin throws a bomb at his car
Good news SP: It doesn't go off properly so he escapes and get his driver to get him out of there #02:56
Bad news HD: The driver gets lost and goes down the wrong street. Franz Ferdinand turns to his wife and tells her that he will never user Uber again.
Good news SP: The driver is able to turn round.
Bad news HD: While he is doing this he is spotted by Gavrilo Princip another Serbian Nationalist intent on assassination and owner of a rather nice gun
Good news SP: Gavrilo Princip is a very bad shot who has been mocked by his fellow Serbian terrorists during marksmanship training until he cried #03:28
Bad news HD: He is absolutely at point blank range
Good news SP: No good news for Franz at this point. Bad news though for Gavrilo Princip as he attempts to commit suicide by swallowing cyanide.
Good news HD: The cyanide is past it's use by date. And it doesn't work. He is promptly arrested so the plot can be uncovered
Bad news SP: His fellow terrorist Nedeljko ?abrinovi? who threw the original bomb also swallows dud cyanide panics and tries to drown himself in the River Miljacka #04:00
Good news HD: The River Miljacka is only ten centimetres deep. So he is also arrested. Both men are carted off to prison and the population of Europe are left to cope with the idea that the most cataclysmic war in the continent's history has seemingly been sparked off by a particularly dark episode of the Chuckle Brothers. #04:22
SP: over the next few weeks a series of things happen that you sort of can't believe, but such things do happen in politics.
One minute Donald Trump is the joke candidate that no one takes seriously. The next minute he is still the joke candidate but he is now actually running for president.
In 1914 one minute the heir to the throne of Austria Hungary has been assassinated in Bosnia. The next minute Britain is at war with Germany in France because of Belgium. How did that happen?
HD: to understand this you need to go back to the annexation of Bosnia by Austria Hungary in 1908 #04:56
SP: Well, actually you need to go back to the Franco Prussian War of 1870
HD: Although you really need go back the Versailles Conference of 1815.
SP: Ok! So at the end of the last Ice Age, the glaciers melt, Britain becomes an island. Honestly it is so complicated #05:09
What we know is Austria Hungary is mates with Germany.
HD: And Serbia is mates with Russia.
SP: So if Austria Hungary attacks Serbia for assassinating their heir in Bosnia Russia will mobilise to back Serbia up and Germany will mobilise to back Austria Hungary up. And France will mobilise because they have an agreement with Russia and Britain #5:25
HD: A situation which scares Germany because they would then have mobilised enemy armies waiting for them at both their borders so to avoid it they execute a pre-prepared strategy, the Schlieffen Plan.
SP: I have a plan
??: Go ahead Herr Schlieffen
SP: Before any one declares war on us or each other we will attack Russia and France at the same time. It is brilliant, it is the only way we can win it works on two assumptions. One! Russia will take weeks to get all it's troops to the border and two even though they have a treaty Great Britain will not go to war to defend France #05:57
HD: Oo - so close, but not right. He was correct about Britain. We didn't go to war to defend France but the problem was that the quickest way to invade France was not through the really hilly bit along the Franco German border but through the flat bit where the railway lines are which is called Belgium. And Britain had a deal with Belgium. This is how you know we are dealing with a different age. We had a British Government prepared to go to war to defend Brussels.
And so the war began. The so called shots that rang around the world had through a combination of nationalist rivalry, failed diplomacy and the Chuckle Brothers triggered the largest conflict that the world had ever seen. #06:43
It was pretty quickly realised by the Germans that the Russians had mobilised quicker than expected and that Schlieffen had made a terrible mistake by programming their sat nav to "quickest route" rather than "shortest route" to Paris #06:57
??: Caution there is an unexpected army ahead. Your journey will be delayed by FOUR years. Do you want to take an alternative route?
HD: But no, they ploughed on towards the French capital but the French and British stopped them and so they turned North and so did the allies as well and by November both sides were digging in, which was hard work. According to the British trench guidelines digging a basic trench 250 metres long would take 450 men six hours. #07:23
SP: Yes, nowadays of course it would take much longer because they would have to put all the cones out first. And they would to have to leave it several weeks for nothing happening before coming back and starting work just before a bank holiday
HD: To make matters even more complicated the rulers of Britain, Germany and Russia were all related by centuries of interbreeding. Kaiser Wilhelm and Nicholas the second were third cousins. Queen Victoria was the Czar's great aunt through marriage, the Kaiser's grandmother through her daughter Victoria and the King's grandmother through her son Albert Edward. So as their countries drifted towards war it was kind of embarrassing and they sent each other telegrams in English to try and work things out. on July the 29th, 1914 Nicholas wrote:- #08:00
SP: I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war.
HD: Kaiser Wilhelm replied the same day :-
SP: I have received your telegram and share your wish that peace be maintained
HD: At which point a rather more tech savy British King dispatched his own message
SP: Peace LOL. IMHO no chance. You are both "tongue sticking out face" will stay out unless you invade Belgium #08:32
SP: And the next day "six exclamation marks" "frowny face" "coiled poo"
HD: All those characters were related which is why they all sounded exactly the same
SP: That was my entire range of accents there. And so to some music #08:51
#08:51 - #10:00 Music by Pat Cahill - Put the Gun Down You Naughty Boy
SP: if you were to look through Hansard for the year 1913 you would find recorded a contribution in the House Of Commons by a Mr Hunt who said and we quote :-
HD: There are obvious disadvantages to having women in Parliament. I do not know what is going to be done about their hats. How is a poor little man to get on with a couple of women wearing enormous hats in front of him?
SP: which just shows you the kind of intellectual heavy weight opposition that the women's rights campaigners were up against. For more on both the head wear related and non head-wear related aspects of the home front please welcome Lucy Porter. #11:03
LP: World War 1 is often seen as a water shed for women's rights. Men being sent to fight at the front meant that women were for the first time allowed to take on predominantly males roles such as factory work, teaching and spreading their legs as wide as possible on public transport #11:18
Right from the off the government were including women in it's war drive. The government asked women, "Is your best boy wearing khaki? If not don't you think he should be?" In a slogan which sounds less like government propaganda and more like a very threatening advert for GAP. #11:32
Of course some people thought women wouldn't have the skills to cope with male jobs such as textile worker or teacher. They said women should stay at home and stick to what they were good at sewing and educating children #11:47
I wanted to know what it was really like for women day to day and luckily I came across a diary of the time written by a woman very much like myself. #11:55
I was interested to know what she would think of things like women working, the introduction of women's football and tentative moves to give women the vote and even the introduction of sanitary towels. Luckily she covered all these topics so here I present the diary of Lucinda Troper. #12:05
Work in the factory continues apace as we women thank our lucky stars we are not on the front line like our husbands. “It is just nice to be away from danger,” I said to Mabel as we filled heavy shells with temperamental explosive in our asbestos lined factory #12:23
Many people believe that this strenuous work would be too much for women but to be honest pushing heavy shells out of the factory beats pushing whole people out of one's body and nobody thinks that job's too grueling for women #12:33
It is a little galling that while I am earning more than I have ever earned before I am still taking home only about half what the men are being paid. Still I suppose that's the lot of a factory worker if I was a Hollywood actress I bet I wouldn't have this problem #12:49
There is talk that women over thirty such as myself are to be allowed the vote under the representation of the people act. Brilliant, finally women have achieved the agency and the right to decide exactly which man they would like to rule the country #13:01
I for one am extremely excited to march into the polling booth, whip out my pencil and spoil my ballot paper with the crudest image my mind can muster, I think I'll favour a gentleman's weapon mid expulsion. Isn't democracy wonderful? #13:17
My weeks are now particularly full. Myself and the girls at the factory have started our own football league. We have to pay a few pence to use the football league ground but that's fair enough because of course there is no money in football. Thank goodness the people who run football are too decent and scrupulous to try and extract revenue out of a simple leisure pursuit #13:38
Strictly between me and my diary there has been a tremendous leap forward in women's personal hygiene. Some clever fellows on the front have developed a bandage made for the troops made of cello-cotton which is topper at absorbing blood and it has been whispered that these may be used to help our, how shall I put it, our 28 day below stairs clear out. #13:54
I wasn't sure at first but once it was explained to me using different amounts of blue liquid I was convinced and immediately went off roller skating with my chums #14:08
Still, of course this is all over things won't go back to the way they were before with women expected to do all the house work and men expected to be tough guys with no emotional sensitivity. No we'll soon be on the way to full equality I am as certain of that as I am the war will be over by Christmas #14:25
HD: Four days after the start of the hostilities in World War 1 the government hurriedly introduced the Defence Of The Realm Act which effectively gave then the right to stifle or censor anything that they thought might be damaging to the war effort. It read:-
??: No person shall by word of mouth or writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty's armed forces or civilian population #14:52
SP: Now this left open the unlikely but quite possible method of spreading alarm and despondency through music #14:57
HD: I say have you heard the latest from France? Apparently it's
'clip - solemn music'
our boys were unprepared we didn't expect the Germans to be quite so
'clip - energetic music'
All in all looking at the whole show I would adventure to say this
'clip - War = Sly and Family Stone'
SP: It was a ban on proper reporting which had the support of both the military and many of the proprietors of the newspapers themselves Although there were newspaper campaigns against those in charge #15:35
Lord Kitchener for example was often castigated by the Daily Mail.
??: Call the fashion police Kitchener spotted pouring his curves into the same tunic he wore last year
SP: Not like that. Kitchener was a man they were not bothered by his dress sense. It is not like they didn't have women to castigate as well
HD: It is fifty shades of suffragette as naughty Mrs Pankhurst demands to be handcuffed to railings. Her Placards leave little to the imagination #16:01
SP: Exactly, the defence of the Defence of the Realm Act meant that for sometime the British public had very little idea of what was actually going on. The was a ban on reporters at the front. Although the Daily Mail was one of two newspapers to defy it sending a reporter called Basil Clark along with Philip Gibbs of the Daily Chronicle. Gibbs duly reported the devastation from Ypres and was then given what is surely a fairly unsurprising warning :-
SP: "If you return to the front again, you will be shot!"
HD: Which wasn't that much of a threat since there was a fairly high chance of getting shot there to start with #16:37
SP: Although to be fair reporting the news accurately and fairly is still punishable by death in parts of Fleet Street to this day
HD: Three months after this incident the Army slightly eased restrictions on press freedom and allowed five accredited journalists to the front line. But they still couldn't write what they wanted to.
Which is why on the first day of the Battle of the Somme the largest death toll of any single day in the history of Britain's Armed Forces was reported as a victory. Quite what positives they found is difficult to work out.
?? and sound of typewriter : At 07:30 our forces emerged from their trenches and em, er, ... there uniforms were expertly pressed #17:19
SP: Of course the fibbing of course went on on both sides. When the Germans invaded Belgium it was widely distributed a proclamation to the population
??: It is with very great regrets that the German troops find themselves compelled to cross the Belgian frontier. They are acting under the constraints of an unavoidable necessity. Belgium's neutrality having been violated by French officers who in disguise crossed Belgian territory by motor car in order to make their way into Germany.
SP: Aw, you see compassionate Kaiser-ism. Always looking out for the little guy with Germany You should have seen some of their other proclamations #17:56
??: It is to my very great regret that I must point out to you that your mum is so fat The fatness of your mother is an unavoidable necessity given the many biscuits she has received as every time for a reward a soldier enters her neutral territory ... in a motor car.
SP: The proclamation claimed that German troops would treat Belgians as the “very best of friends.” In much the same way as Russia is the “very best of friends” with Ukraine or the Tory Party is the “very best of friends” with the NHS and the other side of the Tory party. #18:30
HD: But it can't be any surprise that the reality of the front line and the morale boosting image for the folks back home don't match each other. They still don't today and we are still not shown the reality of conflict
This is also the case with humour. Military humour is often dark and sardonic much more so than the civilian version. And faced with censored newspapers and lying low out of the fun, the British troops decided to start their own satirical magazine The Wipers Times #18:59
And to tell us about it who better than the editor of a satirical magazine would you please welcome Ian Hislop #19:05
HD: So Ian you and Nick Newman wrote a BBC 1 drama about the Wipers Times which you have turned into a play which will tour this Autumn. But first what was the Wipers Times?
IH: It was a trench newspaper, a satirical funny newspaper produced on the front-line because they found an old printer in a basement. And then one of the sergeants had been a printer on Fleet Street and then he said "I can make this work". So they said," Right we will produce a humorous magazine." And they called it the Wipers times because British Troops couldn't pronounce Ypres. They called it Wipers #19:45
And so this paper became like The Times but The Wipers Times. It had jokes and it was incredibly funny, genuinely funny not oo wasn't along time ago funny.
SP: So genuinely funny? Give us an example I'd love to hear.
IH: Well the format was fake newspaper pieces, fake adverts. One of the ones I loved was they advertised a Taxi service. They said, "All you have to do is stand up get shot and look for the one with the Red Cross on it"
HD: They used to do betting on the weather conditions as well didn't they?
HD: So the weather tomorrow 5-1 mist, 11-2 Frost 8-1 Chlorine, it is amazing isn't it? #20:29
IH: The level of subversion, they advertised a thing called a tip me up duck board which is if a superior officer comes along on one end you jump on the other end and it flips him over into no man's land #20:41
SP: How did the authorities react to it? I mean was there any official disapproval?
IH: Yes. And they were fortunate in having a great deal of support again which you wouldn't expect. They kept listing Generals who had helped them out, by basically saying, "This is funny" And if there is one way we are actually going to sap morale it is to stop people laughing
A lot of their jokes are about people in HQ, the brass hats, the bureaucrats. I mean they keep sending fake letters into the fake letters column saying isn't about time we gave more medals to people miles away from the front. I mean their sheer bravery in sitting miles away from the front. Surely they … they were writing this stuff all the time
HD: Do you think soldiers themselves who get daily papers or old papers across from England. Do you think they were aware of the censorship and irritated by it? #21:36
IH: Yes the Wipers Times has a clear vein of irritation with the fact that their war or the soldier's war is not being reported. So when they go home on leave people don't know what is going on and have all sorts of prejudices about the war that are not being shared
You talked about a safety valve, about a pressure cooker. It was a way to essentially laugh at death. It is gallows humour
HD: and do you think censorship exists in the same way? Do we find actually what is happening in Afghanistan now or wherever in any foreign conflict? #22:11
IH: Yes there is always a clash between what the authorities want you to know. Usually there are grounds for secrecy and operational requirements but it usually goes well beyond that. It is always a fight between the writers and the authorities
SP: The Now Show was on air when the Iraq war began and we were quietly taken aside by the controller of Radio 4 and sort of given a few guide lines as to what we could and couldn't make jokes about. But presumably you are answerable to no one? Is there ever any one?
IH: We are answerable to our readers.
SP: Yes, yes
IH: You should see his face.
SP: Are there any channels by which you are ever sort of gently pushed away from various things? #23:01
IH: Not really my one experience of official channels was when there was an admiral who was in charge of the D-Notice committee. And I don't know if you remember the plans for the Operation Desert Storm were stolen from the back of a Volvo which some one had left in the street. I haven't made this up.
And the admiral rang me up and said. "Is that Ian Hislop?"
I said ,"Yes."
And he said, "You know these plans for Desert Storm."
And I said , "Yes"
And he said, "You haven't got them old boy?"
HD: And you did?
IH: I wish. #23:38
SP: So as a tribute to this clearly hugely influential publication do you have a favourite bit?
IH: Could I just read out a parody?
SP: You certainly can
IH: A parody of Hilaire Beloc, he used to write pieces how the war was nearly over which infuriated them at the front. Because they knew it wasn't. They called him Bilairy Helloc and this is his essay:-
Why We Are Going To Win The War
Everything points to a speedy disintegration of the enemy. Lets us just look at the figures. There are twelve million fighting men in Germany and of these nine million are already killed. Or are being killed as we speak leaving just three million.
Of these three million two million five hundred thousand are temperamentally unsuitable for fighting owing to obesity due to eating sausages.
This leaves us five hundred thousand as the full German strength. Of these 497250 are suffering from incurable diseases. We all know which ones.
Leaving just 2750 men of these 2150 are on the Eastern front and of the remaining 600 584 are Generals and staff. Thus we find there are just sixteen German men on the Western Front #24:55
SP: Ian Hislop, thank you very much. … And please Welcome back Pat Cahill.
#25:06 - A Naughty one, sad one , both at the same time?
PC: (the singing bull) - Down at the old Blue Dairy
Down at the old blue dairy the cows have all run dry … moo!
Down at the old blue dairy there's a tear in the farmer's eye - tradgedy
Down at the old blue dairy they have started milking me
Down at the Old blue dairy I have got enough for a cup of tea
SP: Thank you very much. Well of course the world has changed a lot in the past one hundred years and we have asked the audience here if someone arrived here in the present day from 1916. What would you like to show them?
HD: London Midland Railways fleet of commuter trains. Why? They haven't been updated in the last hundred years so they'd probably feel at home. #26:35
SP: Meet Stephen Hawking. Why? so they can explain to him why they have travelled forwards in time.
HD: I would like to show them the Clangers. Why? I like the Clangers.
SP: What would you like to show them the European Union. Why? Because isn't it wonderful to see how Europe has come together.
SP: So there we go a selection of things the audience would like to show their slightly bemused ancestors # 27:04
Thank you very much indeed for listening and goodbye. #27:12
HD: You have been listening to the Now Show starring Steve Punt, Hugh Denis, Lucy Porter, Pat Cahill and Freya Parker. It was written by the cast with additional material by Tom Neenan Gabby Hutchison Crouch and Liam Byrne. It was devised by Bill Dare and the producer was Ed Moray It was a BBC Studios Production.
# # # End of show #27:39
From Charlie Wilson's War
"These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world ... and then we fucked up the endgame."
This was why we had the Marshall Plan after World War 2 to rectify the "issues" at the end of World War 1. In conflicts since 1945 there have been few plans for after the conflicts.
So "... and then we fucked up the endgame." time after time. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc.
. . . Don't our Governments ever learn?
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