« Previous | Main | Next »

The First World War From Above

Post categories:

Mark Radice Mark Radice | 09:42 UK time, Tuesday, 2 November 2010

I was approached to direct The First World War From Above earlier this year. Back then, my fantastic production team at the BBC had put together a dazzling array of stories and elements.

These included a piece of extraordinary archive footage, filmed from a camera strapped to a French airship in summer 1919, following the route of the Western Front and capturing the devastation in amazingly graphic detail. There was also the Imperial War Museum's collection of 150,000 First World War aerial photographs, a fascinating set of images giving a birds eye view of the battlefields.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Finally, we had a great selection of personal testimony: From Tommies in the trenches (and pilots up in the air) to the civilians who returned to their shattered towns and villages after the war.

The only challenge now was to turn it all into a film. How can you take such an iconic, enormous conflict such as the First World War and turn those four years of sacrifice into one hour of television?

When we met up with broadcaster and writer Fergal Keane, who was to present the film, we all agreed that, wherever possible, we had to try to reflect the lives and experiences of individuals - the soldiers, the pilots and the civilians who saw that corner of Western Europe utterly torn apart.

As we threw ourselves into the production, new and even more exciting stories started to emerge. Belgian archaeologist Birger Stichelbaut had been digging deep into the aerial images. He found that a photograph taken over Diksmuide in Belgium shows how some German soldiers unwittingly gave away their position to the British - by gardening.

Although the men's barracks were safely camouflaged under trees, the flowerbeds were clearly visible from above to British photographic experts. And once British commanders saw the flowerbeds, they soon directed their big guns onto the barracks.

We also learnt about the British tank stranded between enemy lines and 'rediscovered' it hidden inside an aerial photograph. Now historians have been able to map its precise location in the battlefields of Passchendaele.

We discovered that the huge networks of tunnels dug by both the British and Germans still lie underneath the villages along the Messines Ridge - and met a farmer's wife who fell into one of these tunnels just a few years ago.

And after some meticulous digging by our French researcher, Alice Doyard, we uncovered the incredible story of Jacques Trolley de Prévaux, the pilot who flew the airship above the Western Front and made the film in 1919.

I don't want to spoil the end of the film for anyone but Fergal finishes his journey through Belgium and France with a trip to Paris, where he meets Jacques' daughter - with some emotional and extraordinary results.

We're all very proud of the film. Do let us know what you think of it.

Mark Radice is the producer and director of The First World War From Above.

The First World War From Above first airs at 9pm on Sunday, 7 November on BBC One.


  • Comment number 1.

    Will there be any possibility in the future to buy this programme on DVD? I also wish that the BBC would provide the "last Tommies" programme on DVD!

  • Comment number 2.

    'I don't want to spoil the end of the film for anyone but Fergal finishes his journey through Belgium and France with a trip to Paris, where he meets Jacques' daughter - with some emotional and extraordinary results.'

    Well ... would it be spoiling the end for EVERYONE if the BBC included the emotional reaction of Jacques' daughter on the clip available on the News website that led me to this blog? DUH!

  • Comment number 3.

    I have movie footage my grandfather took in the same areas in 1928, as well as Vimy Ridge. Remarkable to see the progress made in Ypres since this footage was taken. Was there any of Arras (I won't be able to see the programme here in Canada)?

  • Comment number 4.

    This looks likely to be an excellent programme. The footage that has been shown so far is remarkable - it gives a whole new perspective to the battlefield.

    If anyone wishes to know more about the First World War in general, the UK's leading educational charity on the war is The Western Front Association. The website (www.westernfrontassociation.com) has a section on the war in the air.

  • Comment number 5.

    Seeing the film of Ypres, reminded me that one of Aunties husband died at Zilbeke which was south of Ypres. He was part of the 1st division (Gloster) BEF and they had been forced marched over night from North of Ypres to plug a German attack in the woods. Of the 500 odd men and Officiers who went into attack only 213 answered roll call.
    300 mostly missing and killed. They never did find the husband, prehaps the Red Cross records will throw some light in the near future.

  • Comment number 6.

    In the trailers, the airship footage is described as unique and first time seen.
    Is this then different from that which has been showing at "la Coupole" museum near St Omer, which shows the battlefields, Lens and Arras, and is credited to Emile Khan, I believe?
    Roger P

  • Comment number 7.

    What a shame the participants did not consider the well-reasoned and experience-based arguments of Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn's book Blood Against Blood. Though it would have been a difficult message to discover once the patriotic fervor kicked in, conscription was imposed and Great Britain banned the book.

  • Comment number 8.

    I saw the footage on the BBC news site. I do wish that the whole show was available to those of us not in the UK.

  • Comment number 9.

    For those who are in the area on 10 November, there is a remembrance ceremony and torch parade in the very same village of Passchendaele at 06.00 PM, followed by the concert "Minstrels at the Front", by Isla St Clair and her Famous hell Fighter band, which includes music of Sir Harry Lauder. Concert almost sold oy by the way. More information at the Passchendaele museum in Zonnebeke.

  • Comment number 10.

    A great programme but just switched off as I can't cope with the terrible camera angles during the interviews. It would have been nice to have seen some of the interviewees faces and not the prsenters all the time. The walk through the trenches was painful! We seemed to have every other shot from above, from the side etc. And did we really need to see every interview from the sky? No wonder the BBC are running out of money. Shame as great subject

  • Comment number 11.

    Fantastic program - will it be repeated? If so when?

  • Comment number 12.

    Will this programme be repeated, if so when? I have only just noticed the programme is on TV and have only caught the last 10-15 minutes. My Great Grandfather died in Passchendale in 1916 and I visited Ypres earlier this year to see his grave at Tyne Cot. My Grandmother is now 94 (lives in Australia) and never met her father as he died on her 1st birthday. I would love to see the programme again and take it to her to watch. Will a DVD be released?

  • Comment number 13.

    Very emotional footage taken by Jacques Trolley de Prévaux.... I was brought up in France and know that area well ... but I had never seen such footage. Any possibility of obtaining a copy of the whole film taken by Jacques Trolley de Prévaux? I do hope his daughter now has a copy of it as a tribute to a brave father she never knew.

  • Comment number 14.

    Mr Keane should be glad I am not his editor, at no time did I hear any passion from him, if he had said "Is this your first time to a Harvester" I would not have been surprised.
    The graphics promised much but left me confused, they spun around with no indication of what was what, just a touch of height who what where why oh its gone
    One can assume that this newly discovered resource (the airship footage) amounted to just a few brief minutes which needed to be fluffed out, not least because TV is hardly the venue for raw material.

    This "Gosh what was it like " peoples war avenue had me turning off after 40 minutes! What was it like? it was hell Mr Keane, it was hell

  • Comment number 15.

    I suspect rogerP is thinking of Albert Kahn, who commissioned a series of colour photographs from around the world before and during The Great War. To the best of my knowledge, these were all still photos rather than film.

    But anyway, I agree with most of the criticisms voiced above. As is compulsory nowadays, it's more about the presenter than the subject matter. "I find out what it's like to fly in a WWI aircraft . . ." It was tiresome to hear Mr. Keane constantly steering interviewees towards the answers he wanted (because he already knew them) and egging them on when they weren't introducing sufficient horror. He is normally gloomy, but in this he branched out into mawkishness. And, as has already been pointed out, the camera angles were irritating. And don't forget the obligatory commentary-while-driving. He obviously didn't even bother to ask the BBC Pronunciation Department for a few tips on how to pronounce place names. Dear me.

    This Q&A method is a shoddy substitute for careful scriptwriting, and the whole thing was a collection of off-the-shelf film techniques. Why didn't they get someone like Richard Holmes to front it?

  • Comment number 16.

    As a fully signed-up member of the Fergal Keane fan club, I'm so pleased that the subject matter at hand didn't in the slightest way impede the plethora of Fergal Keane shots. Who wants to see more than 3minutes of this dreary, unique, original film, when Fergal Keane's on his "joouurrney".
    I only ever tune-in to BBC docus to see the presenters, and hear their 'words of wisdom'.
    Oh, and 'Paris, untouched'? Back to my boring old history books.

  • Comment number 17.

    Any chance of getting a copy of the complete film used in this programme?

  • Comment number 18.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the programme & the footage of air shots of the Western Front which revealed the work of the brave pilot & photographer ..de Prevaux? ( especiaLly his daughters emotional reconnection to her late father on film) made this a poignant experience.. locally the Friends of Brockley Cemetery( SE London)-Foblc have an 'Up the Line ' commemorative event at the cemetery on Thursday 11 th November .. readers might like to refer to Foblc website .. the WW1 air ace Walter Southey is buried in the cemetery..

  • Comment number 19.

    Hear, hear to WheresTheBeef. A bit more bad news: the CGI of the lost British tank showed a Mk IV with a "tadpole tail". No tanks fitted with it saw action. And the Western Front didn't run to the Swiss Alps, which are between Swizerland and Italy. It stopped at Switzerland's north-eastern border with Alsace.

    Just watched it again on iPlayer; everything that's wrong with the modern documentary style. Will it be repeated? Of course it will. Many times.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am abroad, but having seen the website trailer, I made a special effort to see this programme. But the trailer contained almost all that was special about the programme. All we got of the original footage was a couple of clips of a few seconds, which were repeated several times. You say you had to "turn it all into a film"; but it would have been fascinating film footage as it was. Instead we had Fergal Keane hopping in and out of the Shuttleworth Bristol Fighter (unnecessary), and a nice excuse for BBC people to go up in a dirigible themselves (also unnecessary). All I expected and wanted was the original footage, maybe with a commentary or maps indicating the course of the flights and the places that were filmed. Yes, it would be very good to be able to obtain a copy of the original footage on DVD, but definitely without the self-indulgent Keane stuff. I can't remember when I last watched television, but this film confirmed for me what someone or other said years ago - that television is aimed at an "intelligent 12 year old".

  • Comment number 21.

    I think this was a seriously missed opportunity. The film segments were repeated and bore no relationship to the other material put close by. The aerial photographs were under-explained, sightings were fleeting and, considering a researcher said how important they were, they were underused. There was no need at all to spend valuable minutes showing Keane in the air. Had he used a period camera to take photographs so we could see the results and judge the skills required by RFC/RNAS and RAF observers there might have been an excuse. What was never stated was the true courage needed by the pilots and observers - on both sides - who had to fly a steady course at a fixed altitude for this work, which meant that AA gunfire was much more likely to cause them problems.

    Keane was far too prominent in a programme where a voice-over would have been more than adequate and the images being allowed to tell the story. Unfortunately, there was no story, just a series of unconnected segments tacked carelessly together. Showing the raw emotions of the pilot's daughter at seeing the footage was simply shameful. It demeaned her and did not even have the excuse of adding to the programme.

    The material is clearly available to produce a short series that could integrate the airship footage, aerial photography and CGI reconstructions of three or four locations per episode. Did the producer imagine the audience to be so dim-witted and short of attention that they cannot absorb more than a few seconds of information at a time?

    4/10 Must do better.

  • Comment number 22.

    A truly wonderful programme that held my attention from start to what was an amazing and emotional end. I gained so much information about the First World War from this programme and like another contributor, I would be delighted to be able to purchase it on a DVD.

    My end thought was how fortunate my generation is not to have been in the armed forces during this tragic and unnecessary war.

  • Comment number 23.

    Although I greatly appreciated what I saw, I was very disappointed by so little coverage from the air. Much of what was said was well known already and could be accessed through a wide range of sources. Similarly wheeling out experts added very little that could not be found in a book or Wikipedia. I was really hoping to see at least 30-40% of the show being based around the film of the airship itself. I was surprised that there was so little.

    That said. More please. I just love this kind of show. But can you think it through a little better. If you trail something and then palpably fail to do what you say on the tin - it can leave some disappointed.


  • Comment number 24.

    Ropey. Completely not what it said on the tin, and far too much emoting by the presenter. Reputable historians woefully misused and the usual old "Did we send men to fight in this" canard trotted out yet again.

    And the CGI - the collapse of the Mohne Dam in "The Dam Busters" was better done.

    A true waste of resource all round.

    And Piers Morgan or Cilla Black would have blushed at the appalling climax.

    Sorry - another waste of the licence-payer's money.

  • Comment number 25.

    Very disappointed with the program; much was made of the unique perspective, and of the film forgotten for decades, yet we get to see so little of this film, and what there was, was repeated several times.

    The walking over fields and through reconstructed trenches was a pointless digression to the theme of the program, and the time would have been much better used with more of the aerial footage.

    I now wonder if there were only a few minutes of usable footage which required padding out to make a 1 hour program?

  • Comment number 26.

    This was an utterly compelling programme for me, because my great-uncle, Eric Dobson, was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. He joined as an NCO in 1913, working as a mechanic. He got his pilot's licence in France in 1915 (so he must have already known the dangers of WW1 air combat), and then was reported missing as a pilot, believed killed, on 12 Aug 1916. I think this was at the Battle of the Somme.

    Seeing the programme, I wonder if some of those photographs were taken by my great-uncle? I knew nothing about him until I did a bit of family history research a few years ago. My late father was named after him, something that I only learned, again, a few years ago.

    My great-uncle is listed in a publication called 'A Contemptible Little Flying Corps', which is about the first non-commissioned airmen who flew, or serviced, these early aircraft (my great-uncle is number 934).

    I'm asking the programme makers: can you help me track down any further information about my great-uncle? Did he take any of those photographs shown in the programme?!

  • Comment number 27.

    Sorry, one thing I didn't say: when he died he was 22.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    I was very dissapointed with this programme. My great uncle Wilf was an observer during WW1 (it was his job to take aerial photos) I thought this programme would give me more of an idea what if was like to be in the RFC but only the conditions for those on the ground were ever mentioned. I felt the pictures were not fully explained and the presenter waffled on about things that were only losely related to the photos. What a let down.

  • Comment number 30.

    Like rogerp I'm sure I've seen this footage before either at la Coupole or maybe the museum at Passchendale. Either way it was movie footage and in black and white. Like others I thought the programme promises lots but didn't deliver. Spending 5 mins at the beginning with the unsuitable presenter telling us what he was going to experience in the rest of the programme was a waste if time.....just get on with it! And as with many other recent one hour historical docs we skated over the surface, spent too much time on repeating the well-known facts and figures and not getting under the skin to something more detailed and possibly new information. I don't think we have exhausted the subject, there's plenty more to find out but recently the beeb have shown they are out of ideas of how to make compelling programmes on key events in world history. We don't need to turn it into reality tv but the last ten mins were definitely on the way. Shame!

  • Comment number 31.

    I'd just like to add myself to the list of people who would prefer to see much more of the original material and much less of the modern day presenter just wandering about. It wasn't as bad as the "let's watch Dan Cruikshank watching old films" efforts, but there still wasn't enough content. It also, despite mentioning that the Western Front extended to the Alps, gave the usual UK-centric impression that in fact everything happened in Flanders and the Somme. I also would like a way of seeing the whole of the airship footage.

  • Comment number 32.

    this was such a good idea but yet again let down by the production. Not sure what the point of the program was at the end but that appears to be the way of so much on serious tv these days. Poor production and poor presenter, will not watch the rest, great shame.

  • Comment number 33.

    re The First World War from Above.
    One of the historians Peter Barton, standing next to a crop of wheat (for scale?) and describing the massacre on the Somme executed by the German machine gunners explained that they fired their machine guns at the height of the wheat, which accounted for the way the British infantry were scythed down by having their legs shot from under them.
    I did not gather where he got the authority for saying that the machine-gunners fired at the level of the wheat, but what he forgot, or more probably was not aware of, was that in 1916 the height of the wheat was much higher than it is today: up to 120cm, nearly 4 feet. So a man of average height would have been shot in the chest.
    c.f. Squareheads Master (1880), Little Joss (1910).
    Please pass on to Peter Barton

  • Comment number 34.

    The outstanding and extraordinary contribution of this programme was the aerial footage from Jacques Trolley de Prévaux's airship. OK, so one could grumble a bit about too much presentation but how is it that those shots have remained hidden away for so long? You may be sure that there are plenty of other 'secrets' still to be revealed. I know. The remarkable diaries written by my great aunt who was a nurse behind the front lines in WW1 remained in a a drawer in her lifetime and for almost 50 years after that. You can read them now at http://www.edithappleton.org.uk. When you do please write in her Visitors Book.

  • Comment number 35.

    The Front didn't run to the Alps. They're in southern Switzerland, about 300Km south of where the Front ended. It finished at the northern border of Switzerland a short distance to the east of Pfetterhausen, in Alsace.

  • Comment number 36.

    The link (in my earlier post 2:07pm 9 Nov) to Edith Appleton's diaries should not have had the dot at the end! The website is at http://www.edithappleton.org.uk

  • Comment number 37.

    If there is a DVD release, I hope it would include a "Great War Forum Commentary" as one of the extras. Over at that forum, the members have a lot of perspective to add to this documentary.


  • Comment number 38.

    Similar sentiments here [url]http://www.activeboard.com/forum.spark?aBID=63528&p=3&topicID=39176926[/url]

    To a WWI buff this doco was as full of holes as a doyly and deeply unsatisfying. OK, not everyone is a WWI buff, but that doeasn't mean you can get away with offering half-informed material. It's not the end of the world, but the job of documentary-makers is to be truthful and accurate. To take a small example, communication trenches (those running at right-angles to the Front) were, indeed, zig-zag but front-line trenches were crenellated (as was very obvious from the aerial photos). Why not take a couple of seconds to explain that? Everyone likes to get in the bit about German machine guns, but 70% of casualties were caused by artillery. If you are claiming to be informing people you should get things right. It's noticeable that people who saw the film and are not WWI experts (including some reviewers) seem to have enjoyed it, which is fair enough. But one assumes they now believe that they have been shown an accurate account, whereas they have, in some small ways, been misinformed. That is not what a documentary-maker should be doing, especially one who spends (and is paid with) licence-payers' money.

    (I wasn't aware of the interesting statistic about the height of French wheat. Is that a little bit of satire?)

    The overall shape of the doco is another matter. If you read Mr. Radice's opening sentence, it seems that his original brief was, in fact, to depict a number of aspects of WWI in the air. Then, somehow, the French footage becomes billed as the star of the show but fails to live up to it in the actual doco. I ended up not really knowing what this film was trying to do.

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 40.

    I was also disappointed by this programme (on a subject about which I know sufficient to spot some of the errors); the effect is to undermine my confidence in other documentaries on subjects about which I know very little.

    Surely, as has been said elsewhere, it is possible to make documentaries that lack the howlers that offend the cognoscenti, that lack the errors that mislead the newly interested, and yet have sufficient frippery (CGI, celebrity presenters, etc.) for those who just want to be entertained?

    Or are budgets too tight and time-scales too compressed to allow proper checking during the edit? I hope some of the experts used in the programme are cringing at some of the errors and just wishing they had had a chance to comment on some of the frippery put in to pad out what could have been a very informative documentary.

    The BBC's mission is "To enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain". You should not have to sacrifice the first two in the headlong pursuit of the third. The latter could just arise from something that is truly informative and educational.

  • Comment number 41.

    Although I found this programme interesting I was most disappointed that there was not more of the recently discovered footage and would love to see it in its entirety. I do hope that it will become available. The programme trailer led one to believe that there would be more footage shown which of course was not the case.

  • Comment number 42.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this programme and was amazed at this bird's eye view of the devastation caused by war. Some serious WWI anoraks may not have enjoyed it as it undoubtedly will have not added to their plethora of knowledge.

    However it gave me an overview of the carnage and mayhem involved and this brave mans foresight to record it for us. I'm sorry he came to such a terrible end. There should be enough material to expand on it at some stage.

  • Comment number 43.

    I have usually found that "anorak" (rather like "pedant") is what someone who doesn't know something calls someone who does. No one is denigrating M Prévaux or his achievement. Most are pointing out the mediocrity of the documentary and the small factual errors it contained. Mr. Keane's commentary was shot through with WWI clichés, many of which have long been discredited. Several people have made suggestions as to how the programme could have been more accurate while remaining "accessible". There might be an opportunity to expand on it in the future, but why not do it properly the first time? If you look at the ECPAD website you'll see that a great many people were involved in this project. It's a shame the end product was so flawed. If, however, you insist on taking it at face value (it all depend on which anoraks you choose to believe) then that is your prerogative, although a curious one to exercise.

    It might have been a good idea to include some reference to Solomon J. Solomon, who both greatly advanced Allied camouflage and developed techniques for deciphering the Germans' by studying aerial photographs.

    To pursue Outside the Marginals's point (above), Sir John Keegan's book The First World War is monumental, and I could not hope to have written it. But in a couple of areas in which I specialise it is incontrovertible that he makes a number of errors. How, then, can we be sure that he doesn't in other areas?

  • Comment number 44.

    As a WW1 "buff" I was looking forward to seeing this film. But it was really disappointing, trotting out the same old platitudes about the Great War. The sad thing is that the BBC are meant to truthfully and accurately inform the public, and this film was a million miles away from that. We saw far too much of the presenter, whose "facts" were wobbly to say the least, a totally pointless jolly in the Brisfit and some rather embarrassed historians. The BBC can and should do a lot better than this. I was actually watching the film whilst in Flanders - the Belgians that I watched it with were equally unimpressed, but at least they don't have to pay the licence fee!

  • Comment number 45.

    Hello, I've just been reading through all of the comments. I'm glad so many people enjoyed the film but am also sorry if others were disappointed by it. We worked with a number of historians and the Imperial War Museum to ensure that the film was accurate and thoroughly researched. I do think that many viewers will have come to the film knowing very little about the First World War, and my hope is that some of these stories will encourage further interest in the subject area.
    To Johnbottle, brynyreithin and Swivomatic: the complete 78 minute film, 'En Dirigeable Sur Les Champs de Bataille,' is currently being digitised at ECPAD (www.ecpad.fr) so that researchers can view it there. I don't think they have plans to release it commercially.
    Thank you so much for watching the film and for all the interesting feedback.

  • Comment number 46.

    I was shocked to hear Fergal Keane say that the trenches stretched "from Switzerland to the English Channel" - and the other bloke with him in the trenches repeated it. The trenches were between Switzerland and the North Sea. This isn't just geographical pedantry - a major German strategic goal was to gain control of one or more Channel ports which would have made supplying the BEF extremely difficult.

    Also, he says that at the start of the war men had only been flying for ten years. True enough for aeroplanes but aerial photography had been around since 1858 thanks to balloons and airships like the one this programme was built around.

  • Comment number 47.

    With the greatest respect, Mr. Radice, if you "worked with a number of historians and the Imperial War Museum to ensure that the film was accurate and thoroughly researched", then they let you down. I don't know who OK'd the CGI of the tank Fray Bentos, for example. The second shot in the film is of a British airship that never went to France. And could the historians not have stopped Mr. Keane from repeatedly trying to get them to confirm his frequently ill-informed preconceptions?

    The criticisms of other aspects of the doco are, of course, subjective, but I think the Not Contents have it, at least on this blog and in the opinion of WWI anoraks of my acquaintance. Having watched again the sequence with Mme Yung-de Prévaux, I am appalled. Mr. Keane's questioning was disgraceful. In my view, the details of her parents' death should have been done as a voice-over, rather than by allowing Mr. Keane to prompt her with gruesome closed questions to which he already knew the answers.

  • Comment number 48.

    Lest it appear that I am treating Mr. Radice harshly, I must say that he does not imply (as some seem to have inferred) that the Prévaux footage has just been discovered. Its history can be read on the ECPAD website, where the cameraman who actually shot the footage is named. It was, indeed, part of Albert Kahn's massive photographic project. One presumes it was just in the archive at ECPAD all along. Hence its appearance at the musical entertainment mentioned above and in a rather more sensible Belgian documentary about the Western Front screened in 2007.

    The "meticulous digging" that uncovered the incredible story of Jacques de Prévaux; did that involve reading his biography, written by his daughter and published in 2000? You can get it on Amazon.

  • Comment number 49.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the program. The aerial film from the airship was brilliant as were the interpretations of the aerial photography. The linking using battlefield archeologists and cgi were at times tiresome but overall a worthy effort.

    While aircraft and blimps were the primary source of aerial photographs/film, it is also worth noting that Kites were used as well. This link shows a French military unit deploying kites to "see the enemy from above" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5dJ9TwaIt4
    The design of the kites flown in the clip can be attributed to one Samuel Franklin Cody, an American who worked for the British Military in the early 1900s. In 1909 his contract with the military was terminated, apparently the War Office saw no future in aeronautical endeavors, in less than 5 years that would be of course challenged. Cody was killed in an air accident at Farnborough in 1913.
    It was also around the mid 1900s that Fletcher Baden Baden-Powell, Robert's brother became President of the Royal Areo Club, it's membership being at a very low level. A notable new member being a certain A Conan Doyle! Fletcher Baden was also a devotee of using kites for aerial photography and saw the potential for it's use by the military. In the late 1890's he took what I believe to be the earliest and only surviving aerial photograph taken in the UK of Middleton Hall, near Tamworth.
    Research: S F Cody Society, Drachen Foundation, Flight International Archives, The Story of the Earth's Atmosphere by Douglas Archibald and my own footwork!!

  • Comment number 50.

    I am sorry the BBC isn't making this film available in my area (Washington - USA) This is a very unique view of the first world war and I would like to use the images with my classes. I had an uncle who was killed at the Ardenne in 1918. I never met him as I wasn't born until 1952, but my grandmother would talk of him, and after nearly 50 years she still would cry when mentioning her brother Paul.

    Just in seeing the brief clip on the website, I can honestly say, "Well done, Mark Radice and team."

    Is there any possibility "The First World War from Above" will be made available via DVD for sale? Many thanks.

  • Comment number 51.

    What an excellent film - well paced, beautifully shot and genuinely moving.
    If the programme makers sought to show every nit-picky little fact and academic intricacy about the subject ( as some comments seem to be suggesting) it would have felt like the sort of boring old history lesson that I always sought to avoid. Documentaries are not supposed to fulfill the same purpose as books.

  • Comment number 52.

    Dear Auntie Beeb,
    Why oh why, etc. I was pleased to see Fergal Sharkey making a comeback, though suprised at the new direction his career has taken. Anoraks - read back over your comments and reflect on whether they are reasonable criticisms of a prime time BBC1 documentary which, although you may quibble with some aspects of presentation and interpretation, has made at most one or two Unbelievably Minor technical errors. Even those 'errors' could reasonably be argued either way - e.g. nitpicking over the demarcation between the English Channel and the North Sea.

  • Comment number 53.

    If getting facts right is nit-picking, why did the director engage "tiresome" anoraks of his own to take part in the film and why does he insist that pains were taken to "ensure that the film was accurate and thoroughly researched"? The BBC's motto is not "Close enough". It cannot work on the principle that second-rate information is OK to broadcast because most people won't know any better and anyone who does needs to get a life. The English Channel bit isn't worth falling out about, but to say that the Front ended at the Alps shows laziness and possible Wikipedia dependency. Examples of that came more to the fore as the film progressed. If I had seen a preview of the doco I should have pointed those things out and the sum of human happiness would have increased without anyone knowing they had ever existed.

    But the handful of small details is one thing. The treatment is another. Mr. Radice does not go into detail about how Mr. Keane came to present this film. I was not previously aware that the latter had an interest in the subject, and as the time passed the evidence grew that his knowledge of the War was somewhat superficial and stereotyped. This prevented him from asking the historians the right kind of questions. In fact the feeling grew that I was expected more to admire Mr. Keane's questions than learn anything from the answers. He certainly didn't seem to want to hear anything that he hadn't already decided upon. The sound strategic reasons behind the Flanders offensive were not explained. It was all a very 1960s/70s view of the War.

    For anyone who hasn't written me off as an anorak and is still reading, that last point is important. That is no more acceptable than producing a film that explains that the sun goes round the earth. If you're happy with being given information that has been overtaken by events, then I can recommend the DVD of "Oh, What A Lovely War".

    I wouldn't have had FK walking down the communication trench in front of Nick Saunders, looking as if he's just come out of the pub in the afternoon, with NS scampering behind trying to make himself heard over FK's shoulder. I suppose the important thing was to observe FK's reaction, but he didn't even look very interested.

    And so on.

    The "remarkable historical find" (BBC website) was the "new footage" (BBC News website) "unearthed" (F Keane) or "discovered" (BBC News website) deep in the vaults (things are always "deep in the vaults") after being "hidden away for nearly a century" (BBC News website). Well, it's only been there since the Belgian film-makers put it back 3 years ago, perhaps more recently than that. The footage used in the Belgian doco even carries the ECPAD logo. I imagine ECPAD were perfectly aware of its whereabouts all the time.

    I was eager to see this film, but found that the trailer was the best bit. I do not have Mr. Eaton's ability to enjoy and applaud the full film without seeing it. Perhaps if the News website hadn't made the de Prévaux film the u.s.p. (they call it a 'hook') I might have had a better idea of what to expect. From reading the runes, I have drawn other conclusions about how the structure was eventually arrived at, but that would take even longer to explain. The whooshing zooms, oblique camera angles, pointless g.v.s, and shots of cars and trains are not to my taste, although I understand that they tick every box in the style-book for contemporary documentary-making. What I do know is that a documentary should tell you something you didn't know, not just something the researchers didn't know. It would have been entirely possible to structure this film in a way that would satisfy the lay viewer as well as the anorak.

    "Documentaries are not supposed to fulfill the same purpose as books"? I should be grateful for an explanation of the distinction.

  • Comment number 54.

    Really enjoyed the programme but help me what was the name of the tank that was stranded on the front that Fergal covered in the programme

  • Comment number 55.

    I'm sure it is marvelous but we poor Americans are apparently excluded from viewing this online. It is a bit dear to endure the travails of our Terminal Security Agency and hop on an airplane to travel to Britain to view your program.

  • Comment number 56.

    Jon Mc- it was the first of two British tanks that were named "Fray Bentos". After the one mentioned in the film was abandoned, the name was transferred to another vehicle that took part in the offensive at Cambrai later in 1917.

  • Comment number 57.

    May I ask why you haven't posted my comment made earlier today (19 Nov 2010)?


  • Comment number 58.

    This was a most enlighting programme which I enjoyed immensely. Programmes like this bring it home how devastating the war was both to people and to habitat.

  • Comment number 59.

    It does seem that the less people know about the War, the more they enjoyed the programme. I think that tells us something.

  • Comment number 60.

    How odd, that with 25 more-or-less dissatisfied posts, against 9 more-or-less satisfied posts, the director should respond "I'm glad so many people enjoyed the film but am also sorry if others were disappointed by it". Rather more accurate* to say "I'm sorry so many people were disappointed by the film but am also glad if others enjoyed it".

    That a group of what seems clear to be disinterested, ill-informed, unimaginative, hackneyed, cult-of-the-presenter dilettantes, - on a "joouurneyy", should be tasked with "take[ing] such an iconic, enormous conflict such as the First World War and turn[ing] those four years of sacrifice into one hour of television", when "we discovered that the huge networks of tunnels dug by both the British and Germans still lie underneath the villages along the Messines Ridge", whilst factually incorrect per se - is news to them, would be astounding, if not par for course.

    It seems clear that an audience with similar characteristics is the target audience, rather than anyone who's actually interested.


    *'accurate'; possibly applicable only to those BBC docus, starring mammals, birds & fish.

  • Comment number 61.

    WheresTheBeef - the director is following standard BBC practice. You get used to it.

    BTW, it goes from bad to worse as regards the 'discovery' of M de Prévaux's film. There's a pretty good French documentary from 2008, "14-18 : Le bruit & la fureur (The Sound and the Fury)" that begins with footage from his film that has been digitally coloured. And there's another that ends with about 30 secs of the footage, with de Prévaux clearly visible. It was made in 1984.

  • Comment number 62.

    Happy to see your blog as it is just what I’ve looking for and excited to read all the posts. I am looking forward to another great article from you.
    Surely, as has been said elsewhere, it is possible to make documentaries that lack the howlers that offend the cognoscenti, that lack the errors that mislead the newly interested, and yet have sufficient frippery (CGI, celebrity presenters, etc.) for those who just want to be entertained?

    Or are budgets too tight and time-scales too compressed to allow proper checking during the edit? I hope some of the experts used in the programme are cringing at some of the errors and just wishing they had had a chance to comment on some of the frippery put in to pad out what could have been a very informative documentary.testking 642-357 | testking 642-515 | testking 000-152 | testking 000-105 Keane was far too prominent in a programme where a voice-over would have been more than adequate and the images being allowed to tell the story. Unfortunately, there was no story, just a series of unconnected segments tacked carelessly together. Showing the raw emotions of the pilot's daughter at seeing the footage was simply shameful. It demeaned her and did not even have the excuse of adding to the programme.


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.