First World War centenary plans unveiled by BBC


The BBC is to mark the centenary of the First World War with its biggest ever programming schedule, boasting more than 2,500 hours of television and radio.


From 2014 to 2018 the BBC will feature documentaries, dramas and historical debates about the First World War, and establish a dedicated website where people will be able to learn how their hometown was affected by the conflict.

Jeremy Paxman will open the commemoration season with documentary series Britain’s Great War, which will explore how Britain and the lives of the British people were transformed by the conflict.

Unseen footage from 1964’s My Great War will be broadcast on BBC Two, and historian David Reynolds will explore the legacy of the First World War in a three-part series Long Shadow.

Rupert Murdoch will discuss his father’s role in bringing the disastrous 1915 Gallipoli campaign to an end, while Margaret MacMillan will chronicle the road to war in 1914 in a Radio 4 programme broadcast every day between the anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand through to the first week of the conflict.

Music in the Great War will be recalled across BBC radio stations, while 600-episode Radio 4 drama Home Front will tell fictional stories of characters trying to maintain normality while Britain is at war. 

The commemoration season will also feature dramas such as The Ark, starring Oona Chaplin and Hermione Norris, and 37 Days featuring Ian McDiarmid and Tim Pigott-Smith.

The BBC hopes its coverage will broaden people’s understanding of the war.

Tony Hall, director-general, said: “2014 is a chance for us to learn something new about a war we think we know very well, and to engage people who have not thought about it before.

“There is not a family in the country untouched by the war – it changed the face of our communities.

“We are bringing the country together for moments of reflection and comment, but we are also bringing a wider perspective.” 

Adrian Van Klaveren, controller, World War One Centenary, said: “We are approaching this with the ambition to appeal to as many people as possible.

“We will commemorate those who died, but we have also set ourselves the challenge of extending understanding of the war.

“We’ll be taking a fresh look at the war itself, and how it shaped the world we live in now.”


Historians Dan Snow and David Reynolds shared their thoughts on the BBC’s centenary plans with historyextra. Their interviews will feature on the website on Thursday.