The Village: We wanted it to feel like living memory

Tuesday 2 April 2013, 17:28

John Griffin John Griffin Executive Producer

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It was about five years ago that The Village creator Peter Moffat and I first sat down to discuss his idea of telling a history of the 20th Century through a big drama in a small place.

What Peter was interested in was living memory, a history that wasn't coming from history books but from oral history, from real people who lived ordinary lives.

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'I want you to go': Joe (Nico Mirallegro) makes a life changing decision

Peter feels passionate that if you write about the past you must write about it as if you are writing about the present.

In our first episode of The Village set in 1914 on the week that war is declared with Germany, the big event in the village is the arrival of the first ever bus, meaning that people would be able to travel more.

The Village: The bus arrives 'I don't know why, but it was a solemn occasion and that made it even more exciting'

They didn’t know that all the young men of the village were about to travel further than most of them could have imagined - to the front - and most of them would never come back. They thought the war would last just a few months.

They were only thinking about the immediate day to day grind of their lives, not global political events, just like we do in our lives now. This how we wanted this drama to feel.

We needed, then, to learn about history through anecdotes as though they happened just the other day, not through books written decades later with all the terrible distortions of hindsight.

The Village: Joe played by Nico Mirallegro goes off to war with fellow troops Joe heads off to the front line: 'It's as if you were there'

This gave me the task of finding lots of people who experienced that time for Peter and me to talk to.

I contacted some local historians in the Peak District, where we had decided to centre our drama, and up we travelled for three days of intensive interviews in people’s homes around Stoney Middleton and Eyam.

What is fantastic about talking to elderly people is that while their memories of the last few weeks or years can sometimes be very vague and sketchy, when you ask about their childhood, often, their memory is incredibly sharp.

The Village: Old Bert 'My name is Bert Middleton. I'm the second oldest man in Britain.'

This I knew to be the case with my own 94-year-old father who can talk endlessly about the 1920s and what his school years were like, but not have a clue what he had for breakfast.

And they loved talking! And we loved listening, and it was fascinating the things we heard.

The single most important thing I came away with was that none of them talked about rural life back in the day before electricity and hot water and indoor loos as being a better time.

Life was clearly tough back then and they didn’t miss it! 

The Village: Grace (Maxine Peake), John (John Simm), Young Bert (Bill Jones) and Joe (Nico Mirallegro) Grace Middleton (Maxine Peake), John Middleton (John Simm), Young Bert (Bill Jones) and Joe

I have to confess my favourite recollection of those early meetings. Most of the people we met were women and one of the great things about elderly ladies is that they serve cake when they have visitors.

Though Peter got to eat a lot more cake than I did, I thank them all for their fine stories and their fine cake.

John Griffin is the executive producer of The Village.

The Village continues on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

More on The Village
The Derby Telegraph: More than six million viewers watch two rising Chellaston stars
The Guardian: We long for a sense of belonging that village life offers
The Telegraph: The Village: The most accomplished new drama of the year so far 

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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I noted the lads marching off to "Jerusalem" in 1914. Sadly, the tune was not composed until 1916

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I enjoyed it but I am going to be picky. I couldn't understand why, at one point, the children appeared to be playing some kind of game where they retrieved half-bricks and rubble from around a paddock, like some kind of poor kids' easter egg hunt. Then I realised this was supposed to be 'stone picking'. Now, I am a southern city girl, but I know what stone picking was. This blew my suspension of disbelief sky high. I didn 't twig the Jerusalem anachronism tho, and I don't usually play the game of 'watch-spotting'!
    Meanwhile - I have been musing - what did the lads who marched gaily off envision it was going to be like? What scenarios did they anticipate? Did they have pictures from books/magazines about the Boer War in their heads? I have read things about them expecting it to be like a seaside beano, and I remember a quote from one disaffected young man looking forward to Edwardian society being smashed but I don't recall anything else. They say we always train our young to fight the last war. That's why my brother's scout troop were sent to hunt 'aliens' in Southgate in the 50s. They found a Martian in the pub.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Found this programme uncomfortable to watch so switch off after about 30 mins. Was expecting something more like "Larkrise to Candleford" which it wasn't. Didn't understand which character ran the school. Was it the one who was vicious with the cane or the one who tried to help the boy with his writing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.


    The Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Co. Ltd. (Midland Red) never operated in The Peak District. The most likely bus would have belonged to Trent Motor Traction Co. Ltd or The British Automobile Traction Co.Ltd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Beautifully acted and written. As always John Sims and Maxine Peake made it look effortless and rising star Nico Mirallegro and Bill Jones added another perspective to the gritty storyline. It is good is see a more realistic portrayal.Thankfully it was nothing like Larkrise to Candelford or the sugar coated Downton.


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