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The Great War on the small screen : a cultural history of the First World War on British television, 1964-2005

Mahoney, Emma (2006) The Great War on the small screen : a cultural history of the First World War on British television, 1964-2005. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94498) (KAR id:94498)


Historical research on how the major conflicts of the twentieth century have been remembered has in the past focussed on commemorative sites and rituals. However, these formal commemorations are a diminishing part of the public perception of both World Wars. Since the 1960s, British television documentaries about the First World War have constructed the most public sites of memory and mourning. Television documentaries about 1914-1918 have continued the language of public commemoration to mark significant wartime anniversaries by using modes of representation established in the inter-war years. As commemorative texts of public history, as opposed to professional history written by historians, many documentaries placed the war and its aftermath beyond public critical discussion, continuing to present the war as a barely healed national trauma.

The structure is thematic and covers the significance of The Great War (BBC, 1964) and its legacy, the role of veteran eyewitnesses, representations of landscape, and recent programmes that addressed more controversial subjects such as the strategic capabilities of the High Command and executions by Courts Martial. Material has been used from collections such as the Imperial War Museum and the BBC Written Archives Centre, as well as newspaper archives, correspondence and interviews with historians, television professionals and First World War veterans who appear in several of the programmes covered by this thesis. By analysing each documentary as a piece of primary evidence, this study traces the major epistemological developments in British televisual representations of 1914-1918. Whilst the epic 26-part series The Great War (BBC, 1964), which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of war. is still regarded as the definitive grand narrative of the conflict, twenty-first century viewing figures suggest that new generations are increasingly interested in programmes that confront established ideas of loss, futility and horror. The study concludes with a general discussion of the future of history documentaries on television.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94498
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: D History General and Old World
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2023 08:12 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2023 08:12 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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