Television events of the 70s in Britain did not come any bigger than this series from Thames Television, it must rank as the event of the decade in television terms. It was narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, as he then was, and became the definitive documentary series about the Second World War. Carl Davis composed the atmospheric music which, along with Olivier’s masterful delivery of lines, created a sense of importance and reverence.
The series was broadcast in 1973 and 1974 and lasted for 26 episodes, covering all aspects of the war. Jeremy Isaacs was an important television producer and he was the motivating factor behind the series. He realised that history would lose personal testimony if they did not act fast and record the oral history from those who lived through such momentous times.
The series adviser was Noble Frankland, a director of the Imperial War Museum in London. He listed the most important campaigns of the war for Isaacs and a single documentary was made on each. Then, other episodes covered aspects of the war such as the Home Front in Britain, life in Germany and in Japan. The episode on the Final Solution was the one documentary that was screened without any commercial break.
The series came from a time when British television, including ITV, had a sense of public service. ‘The World at War’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?