documentary series about the history of the Second World War
, produced by Britain's Thames Television
in 1973. Using three million feet of archive footage and one million feet of filmed interviews, the director Jeremy Isaacs
created 26 one hour episodes, which have become perhaps, in some peoples eyes, the greatest documentary series ever made (Isaacs was the first television director to be knighted
This was quite a feat, but when Isaacs proposed the idea to the board at Thames in 1970, he felt that a streamlined version of the war would simply not do the subject real justice. Back then the idea of screening a weekly documentary for six months was unheard of, let alone all the research that would need to be collated. The other issue was getting interviews from people who would rather have forgotten what they were doing less than thirty years earlier, such as Albert Speer, Traudl Junge (Hitler's secretary), Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, Karl Donitz and many others.
Each episode covered a certain campaign or aspect of World War Two. It would start off with the narrator Sir Laurence Olivier setting the scene with well chosen staccato words of substance and rhetoric. Suddenly in a blaze of fire the opening credits would start, featuring pictures of the victims of the war being devoured by flames as Carl Davis's portentous score plays. Then for 52 minutes Sir Laurence would play storyteller alongside with interviews and footage, before the last picture freezes into a dot-patterned newspaper photo and the credits roll.
The episodes of the original series are :
A New Germany: The rise of Hitler and the mobilisation of Germany
Distant War: Britain waits in anticipation for fighting, while Germany moves against Poland and Norway
France Falls: France falls
Alone: The Battle of Britain rages overhead as Britain stands alone as the only power left to challenge Germany
Barbarossa: Germany invades the Soviet Union, barely makes it to the outskirts of Moscow before the snow starts to fall.
Banzai: Japan allies itself with the Axis, then strikes at Pearl Harbour and within a few months conquers Southeast Asia.
On Our Way: America vascillates about giving aid to Britain, before Japan makes up America's mind.
The Desert: Rommel strikes against the British in Egypt, before Montgomery manages to beat him back to Tunisia.
Stalingrad: At the mouth of the Volga, Germany experiences its first significant defeat
Wolfpack: Hitler dispatches its U-Boats to the Atlantic to strangle Britain.
Red Star: The Soviet Union finally develops its own capacity to fight back, while the people of Leningrad enduer a three year siege.
Whirlwind: German civilians 'reap the whirlwind of British aerial bombings
Tough Old Gut: The Americans land in North Africa, before the British invade Italy, not without meeting stubborn resistance.
It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow: Britain and Japan fight in the muddly, malaria-infested jungles of Burma
Home Fires: After years of fighting, Britain began to feel the strain at home.
Inside the Reich: Germany's mood swings from exuberance after its early victories, to stolid depression after its losses at Stalingrad
Morning: D-Day - the British, Americans and Canadians land in France, and make their way to Paris
Occupation: Life in Holland started with a 'no animosity' policy offered by the Germans after they invaded in 1940, but later soured (leading to the Dutch famine of 1944).
Pincers: The Soviets push the Germans back, as do the British and Americans, although the former get entangled at Arnhem, while the latter feel Hitler's last offensive in the Bulge.
Genocide: The most harrowing episode details Jewish persecution right up to Auschwitz, and includes eight survivors of Auschwitz and Heinrich Himmler's adjunant.
Nemesis: The last few months of the Reich, ending when Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his Berlin bunker.
Japan: Japan enjoyed its quickly won successes, but then had to contend with the response from a venegeful giant.
The Pacific: The Americans find the Japanese to be ferocious fighters as the fight over islands throughout the Pacific.
The Bomb: The atom bomb is developed and finally deployed, causing Japan to quickly surrender.
Reckoning: The allied powers, none trusting each other, claim a devastated Europe
Remember: What do the survivors of the war remember about the war ?
Some lesser spin-off episodes have been developed to be incorporated into The World at War DVD.