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"The World at War" Topic

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Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 9:54 a.m. PST

Now British members of a certain age will remember this at its first showing on BBC. A 26 part series narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier…with a voice almost as distinctive as Richard Burton's.

It was one of the first DVDs I ever bought, as a box set and I have not watched it in many years. Well, on the daily cross trainer I needed to watch something (after The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad etc…you get the picture) so I thought this would be my next binge watch.

I had forgotten how good it was. We are too used to YouTube clips of film and Google can find us most anything. This was shown in 1974, so no mention of Enigma. However so many of the main "actors" were still alive, whether Eden or LeMay, Doolittle or Donitz, to be interviewed. What really struck me was that it showed film that would surely now be censored. War dead with faces clearly seen. Terribly mutilated bodies, with none of the masking now universal in news broadcasts.

I am not sure how much this did ever cross the Pond. Indeed not even sure it is currently available. But it is quite superb

Thresher0102 Apr 2021 10:14 a.m. PST

The episodes used to be aired on PBS on the left side of the pond, and I used to watch them regularly.

My only complaint was that all the scenes flew by far too quickly, from shot to shot, so it was difficult to understand, or even enjoy some of the footage back then. Of course now, with the ability to pause, rewind, and rewatch over and over again, those little niggles are moot.

Still, I do wish the episodes were longer, and that we got to see more footage of some scenes in more depth. I suspect that would give them much more impact.

Of course, compressing what is no doubt thousands, if not tens of thousands of hours of footage into even a 26 part series is probably very difficult, since there is so much to choose from, and so little time.

I imagine some streaming services here offer it, but I don't have any of those.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 10:23 a.m. PST

I remember the World at War when it was on TV, and have the DVD.
I feel it gives a brief overview of the war very well and is more balanced than most other documentaries on the war.
I am sure if a 'reasonable' detail level had been given to even the main events, the series could have been several hundred episodes long!

One thing I really like is that the pictures are well researched, and footage is correct for the period shown. Too often sloppy research puts odd things in vision, like Sturmoviks attacking the D-Day landings!!! (Yes, I have seen this in a WW2 documentary!)

Col Durnford Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 10:30 a.m. PST

It, along with "Victory at Sea" are my personal favorites. I believe the the underlying musical score of both are near perfect. There is just something in the way World at War tells the story and the music acts to underscore the point just made. In VaS the score gives you the rolling of the waves and WaW gives you the trudging of the troops in both victory and defeat.

Martin Rapier02 Apr 2021 11:24 a.m. PST

I watched it when it was first on TV and also have the DVD box set. It holds up very well, the big gap of course is any mention of Enigma as it was still classified at the time it was made.

Striker02 Apr 2021 11:28 a.m. PST

+1 Col Durnford. The Leningrad episode with the music the symphony played running in the background is one I still remember. I have the set on DVD, and had it on VHS until a few years ago when the VCR when kaput.

Originally I would catch them on PBS as a kid and it was always a surprise, there wasn't much on there to interest a younger me. Like when they showed Dracula!

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 11:38 a.m. PST

One of my favorite WW II documentaries. Lord Olivier's commentary elevated the series.

Dandy Don02 Apr 2021 11:53 a.m. PST

Used to watch it with my grandad in the early 80's on PBS. He was a Marine at Okinawa and I remember waiting to get a glimpse of him during the episodes that covered the Pacific theater…I was only about 9-10 years old:)

Personal logo Doctor X Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 12:01 p.m. PST

The soundtrack for "Victory at Sea" is incredible.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 12:14 p.m. PST

Really appreciate this response. I saw this series week after week at its first showing, I used my new SLR camera to capture images in 35 mm, when there was no chance of replay.

A tripod, a shutter cable and motor drive to move on the film. Those were the days. Two GIs in capes in the pouring rain carrying shovels in Italy. I treasured that. These days you can freeze frame instantly. I used to photograph X ray films with Kodak Rapid Process Copy Film, on a 14 second exposure. 14 seconds. All those that never got digitised had to be incinerated.

Technology these days. Eeh, kids these days. We had it hard.

Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 12:59 p.m. PST

Yep, watched it over and over when I was a kid. Still plays well today, better than much of what has been made since. But I don't think it was BBC, was it? The "Thames TV" intro is burned into my memory, and wasn't that ITV back in the day?

Now what the BBC did make was "The Great War" in 1964. The way they mixed film, music and interviews makes me think it was the model for "World at War." A bit more limited, because less footage was shot in WW1, and there weren't as many surviving vets left to interview, but if you like WaW, you'll probably like it.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 1:23 p.m. PST

Still carried on some satellite/cable systems. I
record it whenever I see it.

14Bore02 Apr 2021 2:42 p.m. PST

Yes it did on PBS, about age 12 and watched them all. Available on YouTube and watched them again.

14Bore02 Apr 2021 2:44 p.m. PST

Those and the History of the 2nd World War magazines have first person history narratives so are invaluable.

torokchar Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2021 3:44 p.m. PST

I watched it every Friday night with my dad – WWII Veteran Infantryman of the 30th Division – great memories. Yes they do not make shows like that anymore.

rmaker02 Apr 2021 4:07 p.m. PST

The soundtrack for "Victory at Sea" is incredible.

Not surprising. Richard Rogers was one of the best composers of the era.

jedburgh02 Apr 2021 5:50 p.m. PST

When ITV made quality programmes not the 'celebrity' driven stuff that they do now. Always remember that opening 'The day the soldiers came'.

pmwalt02 Apr 2021 6:24 p.m. PST

The "World at War" series was also published in magazine format during the 70s (here in the states). I still have one or two issue laying about. I remember going to the corner drug store to pick up a copy way back when. The series still is being played on cable here in the States (fondly watched today just as they were decades ago when they were only played on PBS).

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2021 2:03 a.m. PST



Every episode of all 26 that I have watched starts with the pop up and couple of bars of intro music, telling me it was Thames Television. Thanks Mserafin!

Timbo W03 Apr 2021 2:59 a.m. PST

I remember watching the Belsen footage with my Dad and being rather gobsmacked when he said 'of course it was far worse when we got there, by the time the film crew arrived we'd had a few days to start clearing up'.

Tgerritsen Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2021 5:03 a.m. PST

When I was a kid before VCRs became a wide spread thing (and my family couldn't have afforded one even if they were) the local branch of my library would play this series on a 16mm film projector in their upstairs event room once a week in the evenings. I was about 9 or 10 and it was in an era when kids were allowed to do things without parents freaking out. I would walk to the library by myself each week to see an episode and it helped cultivate my life long love of history. Whenever I hear the soundtrack it takes me back to that period in the late 70s

Now I own the collection on DVD but haven't watched it in ages. I think I will remedy that.

Dukewilliam Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2021 11:29 p.m. PST

I just recommended this series to someone a week ago.

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