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Antiques Roadshow: Telling the forgotten stories of war

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Simon Shaw Simon Shaw | 11:11 UK time, Friday, 11 November 2011

TV producers are often asked "Where do you get the best ideas for programmes?"

I can honestly say that some of the best I have stumbled upon are at a bar whilst enjoying a pint.

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Antiques Roadshow Remembrance Special trailer

Actually I'm not a big drinker, but being the series editor on Antiques Roadshow inevitably means many nights away from home spent in the company of two dozen of our experts and somehow the bar acts like a magnet for us on evenings before or after a show.

It was in just this situation that Graham Lay, one of our arms and militaria specialists, and I found ourselves chewing over the idea of making a special edition of the programme devoted to wartime stories.

Not the massively recorded turning points of history, rather the equally extraordinary but often untold tales of heroism and dedication when men and women selflessly served their country.

To test the waters we broadcast a 15-second appeal with Fiona Bruce which followed a moving wartime story about a daring fighter pilot which you may remember from one of our shows last year.

His family had come from Australia to make an emotional journey across the UK visiting the bases he had been stationed at.

We were intrigued to see if people were keen to share their family account of conflict, either at home or abroad.

National Memorial Arboretum

The National Memorial Arboretum, where the Remembrance Special was filmed.

As always we required an object to help bring the story alive.

None of us were prepared for the hundreds of emails, followed by equal numbers of letters that arrived from viewers in response.

Nor could we have predicted the remarkable quality of testimony, either from those who had been directly engaged in the action or from family members who have been deeply affected by the actions of their loved ones.

It's not often that a busy production office is reduced to silence but the quiet that followed as we read the stories spoke powerfully about the quality and honesty of the correspondence.

One of the first from the pile I opened found me both humbled and profoundly moved.

Just a few pages written on RAF headed paper from a remote bomber squadron in May 1942 and signed 'Teddy'.

It is an intimate and heartbreaking confession from a husband explaining why he lied and gave up a safe job as ground crew in order to serve his country flying on bombing missions.

You can probably guess the tragic circumstances in which it was delivered to his wife, shortly after the birth of their first child.

I urge you to read the full version on our website, by doing so I think you will understand why this single letter was confirmation of the potential for our programme.

Simon Shaw is the series editor of Antiques Roadshow.

Antiques Roadshow is on BBC One on Sunday, 13 November at 8pm.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Press red on Sunday, 13 November between 8.55pm and 4am to watch additional stories filmed at the Remembrance Sunday special.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    I was knocked for six by the stories, and am so grateful for the effort to uncover these fascinating and humbling personal histories. Absolutely brilliant, well done.

  • Comment number 2.

    What a very moving edition of Antiques Roadshow. So many stories of bravery. Very humbling.

  • Comment number 3.

    the most emotional programme i have ever seen. no wonder that even the presenters were moved to tears. absolutely fantastic. this should be repeated often.

  • Comment number 4.

    Can I congratulate the makers of this programme - it was so sensitive to the history and emotions that were discovered in the making of it, absolutely appropriate on such a day, when financial worth pales into insignificance next to the experiences brought to the table. Can I also say how wonderful it was to celebrate the so-called deserters, so often frightened children, and for so long such a misunderstood group of people within the first world war. Well done to everyone who contributed to the making of this programme it really was excellent viewing.

  • Comment number 5.

    Moved me to tears - how poignant that it should be on the very day a kind man sent me a photo of the grave of my Mother's adopted brother, killed in action in 1945, a rear gunner in the RAF.

    We should never forget the sacrifice these men and women made in all conflicts, and the BBC should be congratulated for making this special edition of a popular program.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks so much for your responses. I can honestly say that in 8 years of working on Antiques Roadshow this episode has provoked the most response from viewers. As we read the hundreds of letters and emails received following our original appeal we felt it important that any programme we made in response was respectful and accurate to their powerful stories. The feedback we are receiving suggests we were successful in that portrayal. Thanks again. Simon Shaw, Series Editor ARS

  • Comment number 7.

    It was a very special moment for me when the lady who had been liberated from Belsen told of the kindness of a British soldier. My father, who recently died, had been a Military policemen at the liberation but would never talk to his children about his experiences. As an MP he would not have been the soldier that helped her; but to see her face and hear her words meant the world to me. The whole programme was an example of how the best of human nature and people's ability to love one another can shine through even at times of dispair. it may have not been antiques but is was priceless.

  • Comment number 8.

    As one of the researchers of the Armed Forces Memorial I found the show very poiniant & made me so proud. It brought to life the many service personnel who's are commemorated on the many memorial's of the Arboretum. It moved myself & my family to tears listening to the stories. Thank you so much for such a moving show.

  • Comment number 9.

    what a show!! moved me to tears with the stories of loveand bravery. i have never been to the arboretum but after watching your program i am more determined than ever to go and see the memorials. brilliant show x

  • Comment number 10.

    What an amazing episode. I was extremely moved by the stories. In fact I cried several times. Thank you for bringing these incredible pieces of history to life on the Antiques Roadshow.

  • Comment number 11.

    I thought the programme was a masterly and sensitive testament to the lives of all who live/d in times of war and to their stories. Though my father was not a man to talk about the horrors he experienced in Burma nor was he sentimental I know he, like me , would have been moved to tears by the stories the programme shared. I'd like to see other " specials" but not too often or the moving impact may be sadly lost.

  • Comment number 12.

    What an amazing broadcast and what an amazing place. Everybody should visit the National Memorial Arboretum at least once in their lifetime. It should make the Nation very proud.

  • Comment number 13.

    It is a pity that the otherwise excellent episode of the Antiques Roadshow from the NMA was marred by the inclusion of the episode describing the death sentence and its commutation of the man's uncle. The assumptions made about the courts martial and the officer class taking it out on the 'poor bloody infantry' are part of a mythology of misconception in the country about the very sad episode of 306 executions in the Great War. The fact the the young officer in the front line who found the sleeping sentry was subject to the same dangers and relied on sentries to keep awake to protect the men seems to have been ignored. The editor and Fiona Bruce might benefit from reading an excellent book on this matter called Blindfold and Alone by Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson. It is based entirely on court martial and regimentyal records. Richard Todd

  • Comment number 14.

    May I, courtiously, recommend that Mr Todd reads the very brief inroduction to Gerard Oram's 'Death Sentences passed by military courts of the British Army 1914-1924' which shows conclusively that death sentences "were more forcefully applied in the weeks leading up to planned British offensives". One reason for this, Oram suggests, is that "the court martials may at such times have adopted a harsher line with alleged deserters, using the death sentence as a deterrent to prevent any evasion of front line duties." My uncle was not sentenced to death for desertion but for allegedly sleeping on duty. Only later in 1916 was it required that a legally trained officer be present, and as there was only one Court Martial Officer in every army corps, very many cases were tried without a legally trained officer being present. Finally, my own very extensive researches have demonstrated how deeply engrained class attitudes then were in wider society and demonstably so in the military. I fully appreciate that the new orthodoxy would have us believe that this was less pervasive than had hitherto been supposed. Nothwithstanding Corns and Hughes-Wilson's excellent book I made my cortribution because I accept my uncle' word and defend his honour and celebate his extraordinary courage. The wise historian does not adopt a broad brush approach when judging individual events. In my uncle's case there was, I am convinced, no "mythology of misconception" Frank's nephew

  • Comment number 15.

    On behalf of the Staff and Volunteers of the National Memorial Arboretum, may I thank you and the AR staff for your sensitive portrayal of our remarkable site? We look forward to seeing you back with us again...and are open 364 days a year!
    Charlie Bagot Jewitt


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