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Sturmey

Tommies - The BBC Radio 4 Drama series

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Sturmey

I'm about to write something I may come to regret!

I am the creator, co-producer and writer of TOMMIES for BBC Radio 4.

You may like to know that our early 1915 (April-May) episodes are already recorded, but I am now working on series outlines for late 1915 and into 1916.

I would be most grateful for any thoughts you may have on the programme. Only by hearing about the problems can I improve as I go.

Jonathan

ps - I've posted a lot of background info on my own website - gbfilms.com

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Pompey

Jonathan,

Congratulations on such a mammoth undertaking! To date I have only caught part of one episode as it was being played in the afternoon and I was driving to another work site. I have tried to listen to some of the older episodes but they are no longer available on the I-player. I can say that the section I caught was well worth listening to and informative. Let's hope that the Beeb will make them available in an audio book style.

Best regards

Pompey

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ianw

Jonathan,

I must say that I haven't heard too much of the series yet - but it certainly is a great undertaking .

I heard the series discussed on a BBC feedback programme recently and was impressed by the obvious motivation of the people involved to produce something worthwhile.

Unfortunately this Forum can sometimes be "swift to chide and slow to bless" but it's heart is in the right place. But try to avoid any factual howlers! At least on radio , the fine details of getting the uniforms and weaponry right are spared you - well at least visually. I suppose the sounds of the kit are another thing though - "1908 webbing doesn't sound like that when it rattles" etc

However, you will certainly get a fair few opinions on your teams work to be sure!

Good luck!

Ian

P.S - Pompey makes a good point about how we can catch up with missed episodes.

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spof

Also, is it available to overseas listeners?

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Sturmey

Thank you for your kind remarks.

As a matter of fact, one noise I know we got right was the sound of WW1 shells exploding because I went over to France to record the Iron Harvest being destroyed. I've also recorded rifles and MG's at both the giving and receiving end.

The episodes were up on the iPlayer for about a month after transmission which was about as long as they do these things, I think. It's now available as a CD. Whether that or the iPlayer was or is available abroad I don't know. Hope so.

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ianw

As a matter of fact, one noise I know we got right was the sound of WW1 shells exploding because I went over to France to record the Iron Harvest being destroyed. I've also recorded rifles and MG's at both the giving and receiving end.

That's admirable attention to detail.

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rolt968

Does anyone know if there are to be any more Radio 4 plays in the "Tommies" series? There were two last year and I have heard nothing since. I think everyone spoke well of them.

Roger M

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Mark Hone

Unfortunately there is no mention of any future episodes on the Radio 4 website. Unlike 'Home Front,' you can't listen to the earlier programmes on iPlayer.

On a trivia note, I was at college with the creator of the series but he wouldn't remember me. He is a member of the Forum so perhaps he will post a sitrep.

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rolt968

Unfortunately there is no mention of any future episodes on the Radio 4 website. Unlike 'Home Front,' you can't listen to the earlier programmes on iPlayer.

On a trivia note, I was at college with the creator of the series but he wouldn't remember me. He is a member of the Forum so perhaps he will post a sitrep.

I have the 1914 episodes on CD. It will be a pity if there are no more.

Roger M

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Cockney
rolt968

Many thanks for that,

I had not looked recently.

Edit: Arrived this morning.

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kenf48

The series returned yesterday 2nd June I was in the car so couldn't give full attention, but as ever there were anachronisms in speech and manner which jarred a bit.

There was a detailed description of the panneau and ground to air communication but for a drama the only 'dramatic' part was the race between radio and a runner. There didn't appear to be any story told, the anachronisms could be forgiven if there was a some drama, but it had to veld together by the narrator, who was very good, but as soon as the regional accents kicked in I lost it.

Still hopefully it will develop as we build, no doubt to July 1st

Ken

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MikeMeech

The series returned yesterday 2nd June I was in the car so couldn't give full attention, but as ever there were anachronisms in speech and manner which jarred a bit.

There was a detailed description of the panneau and ground to air communication but for a drama the only 'dramatic' part was the race between radio and a runner. There didn't appear to be any story told, the anachronisms could be forgiven if there was a some drama, but it had to veld together by the narrator, who was very good, but as soon as the regional accents kicked in I lost it.

Still hopefully it will develop as we build, no doubt to July 1st

Ken

Hi

Although the BBC states that the series is 'based' on War Diaries and personal accounts can this be confirmed for the description of the air/ground communication element undertaken in June 1916? In the episode it mentions that a Bristol Scout (single-seater) was used and a Klaxon sounded from the aeroplane. I mention this as by June there were not many Bristol Scouts left with the Corps Squadrons that became involved in the Somme Battle, BE.2s and Moranes being used on the whole. Also the Klaxon, according to the documentation of the time, was introduced later in July due to the troops on the ground not seeing the white Very light that was fired by the contact aeroplane crew to indicate that the troops should light their flares or send their message. The instructions issued in June 1916 for air/ground signalling, which would be the document used by the signallers, did not include the use of the Klaxon. So is this 'recorded evidence' of an actual experiment or trial in June 1916 or 'colour' added for a drama?

Mike

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keithfazzani

I too listened in the car, on the M25 so couldn't listen properly but I found it confusing. The characters were too similar in speech to really follow the dialogue, and I found the whole dialogue too "modern". I realise for example the message they were trying to give concerning the officer promoted from the ranks, but would his relationship really have been as "chummy" as portrayed? I found the technicalities of the signalling completely confusing and I thought I knew a little about it. All in all it didn't encourage me to listen to further episodes.

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kenf48

Keith,

We must have been on the same stretch of motorway, the funniest thing was I was overtaken by a grubby white van just as the Bristol Scout flew over in quadrophonic sound, blimey thinks I that sounds rough! High spot of the hour for me.

Ken

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Mark Hone

I haven't heard the latest episode but it apparently features one of the characters from the BBC's other '100 years ago today' series, 'Home Front': Kenny Stokoe, the factory team footballer from Tynemouth.

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kenf48

Episode 2 was more dramatic, and therefore more engaging with a party trapped in no man's land, sharing a shell hole with a German.

Ken

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Sturmey
On ‎03‎/‎06‎/‎2016 at 14:45, MikeMeech said:

Hi

Although the BBC states that the series is 'based' on War Diaries and personal accounts can this be confirmed for the description of the air/ground communication element undertaken in June 1916? In the episode it mentions that a Bristol Scout (single-seater) was used and a Klaxon sounded from the aeroplane. I mention this as by June there were not many Bristol Scouts left with the Corps Squadrons that became involved in the Somme Battle, BE.2s and Moranes being used on the whole. Also the Klaxon, according to the documentation of the time, was introduced later in July due to the troops on the ground not seeing the white Very light that was fired by the contact aeroplane crew to indicate that the troops should light their flares or send their message. The instructions issued in June 1916 for air/ground signalling, which would be the document used by the signallers, did not include the use of the Klaxon. So is this 'recorded evidence' of an actual experiment or trial in June 1916 or 'colour' added for a drama?

Mike

Hi Mike

 

I'm the person who wrote that episode and I also created and co-produce the series, so the buck stops with me.

 

Thank you for your remarks which seem right on the money for exactly the two problems I debate in my head all the time with this material - when do techniques and equipment get introduced for rehearsal purposes and then get put into limited operation, and then become SOP, and at what point in this protracted arc do they become codified in a manual? And the other question - when is an incident true in the context of fiction interwoven with truth?

 

You are absolutely right about the availability of the Bristol Scout. I don't have the documents to hand but I am confident as you suggest that there were at least some available: strangely my concern was more with them ever being fitted with klaxons, which I couldn't nail down with any certainty. I now wish I'd said a BE2 or a Morane, but then I'd have had to binned all the stuff about writing one-handed and chucking the message streamer, which in the two seaters was done by the observer. So maybe drama led me a bit there. Your next point about the klaxon was taken from the IWM recording of Cecil Lewis talking about flying on 1st July 1916 , when he says he uses it. So my thinking was that it would have had to been rehearsed prior, and as the 102 Tyneside Scottish WD says they were rehearsing in Heilly on the morning of 2nd June, I thought that was legitimate.

 

So when is a 'recorded evidence' event - a Somme-attack rehearsal on a specific day with a specific unit in a specific place - into which I project actions that must have been being rehearsed somewhere along the front become 'colour' or legit? Honestly, I don't know. Yours is exactly the kind of post I simultaneously love and dread. It indicates to me that trying to get this stuff right is rigorously tested by exactly the people I want it to be tested by, but the shortcomings you point out must always be present in this sort of material.

 

I don't think in any concrete way I'm lying - for example in a later episode involving soldiers stuck in a shell hole although the men were in a situation pretty much straight out of Dunn's "The War the Infantry Knew", the camouflet went off under them at exactly the moment the WD said it did, and we had a devil of a time to make that work dramatically but we eventually managed it - but there again I'm not telling absolute truth. Both stories were factually true, but not simultaneous. How do you judge that? Should the Dunn story never get told because we are not transmitting that day, or should it stand in for one of the millions of awful nights in NML that went unrecorded?

 

For what its worth, I do worry about these things. Ultimately the framework of any day on TOMMIES is 100% accurate. But when a WD says 'training', I think this sort of inserted real material is legit.

 

What does everyone else think?

 

Jonathan

 

 

 

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Sturmey
On ‎30‎/‎04‎/‎2016 at 08:42, Mark Hone said:

Unfortunately there is no mention of any future episodes on the Radio 4 website. Unlike 'Home Front,' you can't listen to the earlier programmes on iPlayer.

On a trivia note, I was at college with the creator of the series but he wouldn't remember me. He is a member of the Forum so perhaps he will post a sitrep.

 

Hi Mark - good to hear from you

 

Sitrep - no more BBC CD's to be released, next series tho kicks off 11th November

 

Backup info on BBC website is hopeless, try mine, www.gbfilms.com. I try to say what's upcoming there

 

all the best

 

jonathan

 

 

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Sturmey
On ‎03‎/‎06‎/‎2016 at 10:38, kenf48 said:

The series returned yesterday 2nd June I was in the car so couldn't give full attention, but as ever there were anachronisms in speech and manner which jarred a bit.

There was a detailed description of the panneau and ground to air communication but for a drama the only 'dramatic' part was the race between radio and a runner. There didn't appear to be any story told, the anachronisms could be forgiven if there was a some drama, but it had to veld together by the narrator, who was very good, but as soon as the regional accents kicked in I lost it.

Still hopefully it will develop as we build, no doubt to July 1st

Ken

Hi Ken

 

Sorry you didn't like the episode. I do my best with the anachronisms, it might sting my pride but I'd be happy (sort-of) if you could list the duffers so I can eradicate them in future. Only in that way will this thing improve.

 

Jonathan

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Sturmey
On ‎03‎/‎06‎/‎2016 at 14:54, keithfazzani said:

I too listened in the car, on the M25 so couldn't listen properly but I found it confusing. The characters were too similar in speech to really follow the dialogue, and I found the whole dialogue too "modern". I realise for example the message they were trying to give concerning the officer promoted from the ranks, but would his relationship really have been as "chummy" as portrayed? I found the technicalities of the signalling completely confusing and I thought I knew a little about it. All in all it didn't encourage me to listen to further episodes.

 

Hi Keith

 

Sorry you didn't like the episode, and once again I'm happy to hear which bits of dialogue you thought were too modern so I can work on that aspect.

 

The 'chummy' point is a good one - I found reading about Pals battalions made me realise that they would have not only gone with their friends, but also their half-friends and acquaintances and downright enemies from their home factories or mines or wherever. Therefore the idea that they would forget all this because they were in the army seemed unlikely, and I think this view is supported in the books, particularly 'The Tyneside Scottish' by John Sheen and his one about the Tyneside Irish. But we're never going to know how it played out on the ground. You could well be right.

 

I'm sorry the signalling was confusing, I struggled with this and obviously failed.

On ‎10‎/‎06‎/‎2016 at 13:09, kenf48 said:

Episode 2 was more dramatic, and therefore more engaging with a party trapped in no man's land, sharing a shell hole with a German.

Ken

 

Thanks Ken, glad we got it a bit better that time

Edited by Sturmey

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David Filsell

Frankly, I shouldn't worry to much - whatever else we are on this thread we I picky and touchy because we are convinced we own the Great War and are the only one carrying the true flame. It's a radio drama, the Archers on high explosive with added trench foot and I have enjoyed that which I have heard. Brickbats  awaited.

regards

David

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MikeMeech
18 hours ago, Sturmey said:

Hi Mike

 

I'm the person who wrote that episode and I also created and co-produce the series, so the buck stops with me.

 

Thank you for your remarks which seem right on the money for exactly the two problems I debate in my head all the time with this material - when do techniques and equipment get introduced for rehearsal purposes and then get put into limited operation, and then become SOP, and at what point in this protracted arc do they become codified in a manual? And the other question - when is an incident true in the context of fiction interwoven with truth?

 

You are absolutely right about the availability of the Bristol Scout. I don't have the documents to hand but I am confident as you suggest that there were at least some available: strangely my concern was more with them ever being fitted with klaxons, which I couldn't nail down with any certainty. I now wish I'd said a BE2 or a Morane, but then I'd have had to binned all the stuff about writing one-handed and chucking the message streamer, which in the two seaters was done by the observer. So maybe drama led me a bit there. Your next point about the klaxon was taken from the IWM recording of Cecil Lewis talking about flying on 1st July 1916 , when he says he uses it. So my thinking was that it would have had to been rehearsed prior, and as the 102 Tyneside Scottish WD says they were rehearsing in Heilly on the morning of 2nd June, I thought that was legitimate.

 

So when is a 'recorded evidence' event - a Somme-attack rehearsal on a specific day with a specific unit in a specific place - into which I project actions that must have been being rehearsed somewhere along the front become 'colour' or legit? Honestly, I don't know. Yours is exactly the kind of post I simultaneously love and dread. It indicates to me that trying to get this stuff right is rigorously tested by exactly the people I want it to be tested by, but the shortcomings you point out must always be present in this sort of material.

 

I don't think in any concrete way I'm lying - for example in a later episode involving soldiers stuck in a shell hole although the men were in a situation pretty much straight out of Dunn's "The War the Infantry Knew", the camouflet went off under them at exactly the moment the WD said it did, and we had a devil of a time to make that work dramatically but we eventually managed it - but there again I'm not telling absolute truth. Both stories were factually true, but not simultaneous. How do you judge that? Should the Dunn story never get told because we are not transmitting that day, or should it stand in for one of the millions of awful nights in NML that went unrecorded?

 

For what its worth, I do worry about these things. Ultimately the framework of any day on TOMMIES is 100% accurate. But when a WD says 'training', I think this sort of inserted real material is legit.

 

What does everyone else think?

 

Jonathan

 

 

 

Hi Jonathan

 

Thank you for your reply.  First I am quite pleased that the Klaxon and Ground/Air communications devices have been mentioned on the 'media'.  This is a subject I have written and spoken on for a number of years and I am in the middle of various articles on the subject including a fairly comprehensive piece on the Klaxon (I have done a shorter piece on this device for the RAF Museum's WW1 Exhibition book).  I asked the question in the first place as I am interested in information on Klaxon use, particularly any evidence of experiments prior to the Somme.  There is evidence of pre-war experiments and trials of the Klaxon as a communication device on aeroplanes, but I have yet to find examples of trials and experiments prior to the Somme although there must have been some as it not only came into use for Contact Patrols by the end of July 1916 but was also laid down in night flying instructions as a IFF device by the beginning of August 1916.  This is why I asked if it was based on 'evidence' of use prior to the Somme rather than just 'colour'.

From the documents I have looked at the instructions prior to the 1st July for both airmen and ground signallers do not include the use of the Klaxon.  This particular device is mentioned as coming into use later in July.  The comments of Cecil Lewis is slightly problematic as although he appears to state that the Klaxon was practised with prior the 1st July and then used on that day, the archive evidence appears to indicate his squadron did not use it until later.  He could have course misremembered from its later use or actually been involved in experiments with the Klaxon prior to the Somme rather than practicing for the Somme.

As for use of single-seat aircraft for 'Contact Patrols', there is some later evidence from Norman Macmillan in 'Into the Blue', page 178, when flying a Sopwith Camel in October 1917 he had to report on enemy movements seen when undertaken low flying missions and had to drop a message streamer on a message centre. He describes the difficulties of trying to write and fly the Camel at the same time (no Klaxon fitted though).  Also late in 1917 Major L. Walker CO of 15 Squadron, writes a report on the 'advantages' of using a single-seater rather than a two-seater for Contact Patrol work, however, he also acknowledges the problems that needed to be overcome to achieve this use.

Still thank you again for the information in your reply.

 

Mike

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Sturmey

Thanks Mike, that's all really interesting material.

 

And good points about the concrete nature of evidence for experimentation. Will we ever find it? Only, I suspect, when the result is a breakthrough, rather than the steady process of working something up - I'm thinking of the record of the a/g speech wireless demonstrated to Kitchener in February 1915, but I don't think the obvious rehearsal the day before to ensure it would work in front of the boss is recorded anywhere (happy to be corrected).

 

The whole thrust of the TOMMIES episode was to indicate just how technically advanced and equipped and - a big one, this - rehearsed they were for the Somme, to try to suggest a counter-view to the general plodding PBI view of the battle.

 

Jonathan

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MikeMeech
19 minutes ago, Sturmey said:

Thanks Mike, that's all really interesting material.

 

And good points about the concrete nature of evidence for experimentation. Will we ever find it? Only, I suspect, when the result is a breakthrough, rather than the steady process of working something up - I'm thinking of the record of the a/g speech wireless demonstrated to Kitchener in February 1915, but I don't think the obvious rehearsal the day before to ensure it would work in front of the boss is recorded anywhere (happy to be corrected).

 

The whole thrust of the TOMMIES episode was to indicate just how technically advanced and equipped and - a big one, this - rehearsed they were for the Somme, to try to suggest a counter-view to the general plodding PBI view of the battle.

 

Jonathan

Hi Jonathan

 

The a/g speech wireless is an interesting topic as it is a technology that appears to have been wanted and needed but consistently had problems.  According to French (translated) documents it appears that the French used voice wireless during Verdun from aircraft.  From the comments on the use it appears 'successful', however, it then appears to disappear from use.  A later translated document from 1917 then mentions its use and the problems associated with it.  Even during the first half of 1918 when a/g trials and experiments are going on for use with tanks (this is well documented in the National Archives, and I covered much of it in a Cross & Cockade article) there were still problems with range, noise and distortion of the speech when turning up the volume to hear the message (this latter was part overcome by training the user to speak 'better' using what probably would be called 'received pronunciation' so words could be understood even if distorted).  I think the technology was not quite there, even in WW2 any long range communication was undertaken using Morse, while voice used higher frequencies, HF then VHF, but still relatively 'short ranged'.

As you indicate a lot of technically advanced work was going on in the background of WW1 usually missed by the general public.

Returning to the Klaxon, improvements to the sound signalling system were undertaken both on the Western Front and back in Britain at Orfordness  and Butley (Acoustic Experimental Sub-Station RAF 1918), also searching for a replacement system.  Communication research covered a lot of methods because none were 'reliable' for all uses or occasions.

 

Mike

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