Looking ahead to the World War One centenary on the BBC

August 1914 was the month when the lamps went out all over Europe, as the then Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey memorably put it. A year from now Britain, along with many other countries, will be marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

It will be a time for commemoration and for reflection and all parts of the BBC will have an important role to play. We have spent many months planning how to mark the centenary - both during 2014 and throughout the following four years. I would like to share some of our thinking and give a sense what will be in store.

The First World War matters for so many reasons. It was a conflict in which millions of lives were lost and which did so much to shape the world in which we live. It changed the map of the world, it changed society and it changed the nature of warfare. Many of the events of the twentieth century were set in motion by the course of the First World War and its consequences, as the conflict gave meaning to the concept of universal war. But on a more individual level, the First World War resonates too. Almost every family has a story about someone they know and loved who was involved or something which affected them personally, creating real emotional connections. Against this background, I believe the centenary offers huge potential for outstanding and memorable BBC coverage.

What we are aiming to achieve can be summed up in two words: remembrance and understanding. It is essential that we pause to remember those who lost their lives and that we find fitting ways to mark the key anniversaries of the war. The BBC has a key role to play in sharing these moments with everyone and covering them with the quality and expertise audiences will expect.

But, we must do more than that. The challenge we have set ourselves is about increasing the understanding of the First World War. Through our programmes and what we do online, we want to leave people with a stronger, broader, deeper understanding of the war. We want to provide information and share interpretations and opinions in a way which leaves people better able to form their own opinions about what happened and why. We will shed light on less familiar aspects of the war and we will take new approaches to familiar themes - whether through factual programmes or dramas.

We will be announcing full details of our programmes in October. The output will be across television, radio and online and across all of the BBC's national, international and local services.

As well as specially commissioned programmes, many of our regular programmes too will also cover the centenary in a whole variety of ways and we will have a wide-ranging online offer. We will examine everything from the causes of the war to its impact on arts and culture; from the global nature of the conflict to its impact on individual places in the UK. Overall it will be one of the most ambitious (and longest) seasons the BBC has ever offered.

Of course this anniversary will be marked in many ways by many different organisations. We are working very closely with the Imperial War Museum, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and many others to ensure we link our activities together and make it possible for everyone interested in the centenary to get the most out of what is being planned.

We are developing projects which will allow people to tell their own stories - whether about their family or their community. And we are thinking hard about the legacy all of this leaves; the centenary is an opportunity to broaden and reframe thinking about the First World War for subsequent generations and the programmes and content we create will play an important part in this.

Covering an event as momentous as the centenary poses many editorial challenges. The First World War continues to be described and interpreted in many different ways. This debate will enrich our output and will doubtless increase the attention the centenary attracts. But also at its heart are many personal stories which deserve to be shared one hundred years on. By bringing all of this together, the BBC will be aiming to do justice to commemorating a war which did so much to define who we are and how we live now.

Adrian Van Klaveren is Controller, World War One Centenary


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