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Dan Snow: BBC’s First World War centenary coverage is “breathtaking”

Dan Snow told historyextra he was impressed and excited by the BBC’s planned First World War centenary coverage

Published: October 17, 2013 at 3:29 pm
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Historian and television presenter Dan Snow has heaped praise on the BBC’s planned First World War centenary coverage, unveiled to the media on Wednesday.


The great-great grandson of wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Snow welcomed the corporation’s scheduled 2,500 hours of television and radio, featuring Max Hastings, Rupert Murdoch and David Reynolds, among others.

Snow, whose iPad app Timeline WW1 has been nominated for this year's Futurebook Innovation Awards in the Best Reference Digital Book category, told historyextra he hoped the coverage would develop understanding of the conflict.

Q: What do you think of the coverage that has been unveiled today?

A: It’s breathtaking. It’s an absolutely extraordinary range of coverage from the world’s most eminent historians, and will see a fantastic, really important creation of archives and resources that will last for eternity.

I think it will successfully enter the lives of everyone in the UK in some way, whether it’s school kids or people who are researching the war.

I can see myself having a pub lunch somewhere and just going ‘I might see if anything happened in this street’ and using the BBC’s World War One portal [which will bring together TV and radio programming and enable users to discover how the conflict affected their local community] to find out there was, say, a zeppelin raid there.

I can really see myself using that. I think the technology has changed and awareness has changed, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Q: Is there anything announced today that particularly excites you?

A: I’m interested in the collaboration with the Imperial War Museum to identify hundreds of local stories that will be made searchable and accessible from wherever you are.

I’m also very interested in the re-versioning of the 1964 My Great War series, which will show the archive material that wasn’t used in the broadcast series.

I know from making history programmes that the most interesting things veterans say, you don’t end up using, because they are slightly off-subject.

So I’m really interested to see what the brilliant producer is able to find from that raw, uncut footage.

Q: Does the First World War have a personal significance for you, given that you are a descendant of Prime Minister David Lloyd George?

A: Like everyone in this country I’ve got war coming out of my ears.

My great-great grandfather was Prime Minister during the war, and my great-grandfather [Sir Thomas D'Oyly Snow] was one of the absolutely infamous generals on the western front – he was a general in the battle of the Somme. [On the first day of the Battle of the Somme Sir Thomas commanded VII Corps in an attack on Gommecourt which ended in failure.]

The absolutely least successful attack on the first day of the Somme was commanded by my great-grandfather – it’s an extraordinary thing.

I’ve got a great-grandfather who was at Gallipoli, a great-grandfather who was a medic in the trenches and whose life was permanently scarred by the things he saw, and I’ve got two great-great uncles who were at the Somme on the frontline.

It’s such a feast of stories and I don’t know a lot about a lot of them, so it will be interesting to learn more.

Q: What issues do you think we have to be aware of when covering the First World War centenary?

A: The problems are going to be these endless debates about how good were the generals and was it worth it, and seeing it through the prism of the 21st-century mores and ideas about class and ideas about suffering and sacrifice that have now completely changed – some for the better and some for the worst.

I think the danger is going to be looking at the war through this lens of the modern, and also forgetting key parts of the story. Forgetting the role played by the tens of thousands Congolese people that marched into war in east Africa, for example.

We’re in danger of forgetting the extraordinary diversity of stories, I think.

Q: Your iPad app Timeline WW1 has been nominated for an award. How did you feel when you found out?

A: My next four years are going to be about different kinds of broadcasting. I’ve been lucky enough to make lots of traditional television and it’s a great honour to do it, but the next four years for me are about innovation and working with this extraordinary package of new technology we’ve been given.

You take the best of television – which is moving images, and the ability to take you to a location – but also the best of text, of words, of audio files and graphics and make that all mobile, so that we can walk around with it.

It’s telling the world one story but really using new technologies and platforms.

I’m going to be producing a lot more apps both for mobile devices and for iPads. I’m producing an app with the Tank Museum with a lot of emphasis on the development on the tank in World War One, which will be coming out next year.

Q: Do you think using these new technologies can help make the First World War more accessible to, say, younger generations?

A: It will make the war more accessible to everyone because the thing about apps is they are they’re like books, they’re like television programmes, but they’re the best of both, all packaged together, and you don’t even have to sit in your living room to watch it. You can walk around with it.


These things are simply better than the technologies they’re replacing.


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