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Footballers United: Online WW1 drama

Tim Plyming

Executive Producer

Today sees the launch of our online drama for iWonder as part of the BBC’s World One Season. Footballers United is an ambitious project commissioned by BBC Learning and is one of the final pieces of digital content we will launch in this first year of the BBC’s four-year centenary season. This pilot follows BBC Learning’s first experiment with an online drama - an interactive episode of Our World War for BBC Three.

With Footballers United, we wanted to find a new and interesting way to tell the true story of a community surrounding the Heart of Midlothian football team from 1914-1919 in Scotland. It’s a very moving story that follows both the men and women, in Edinburgh and around the country, whose lives were forever changed by World War One.

By hosting this drama online, we were able to combine new fictional content, that is the drama itself, with factual archived content; giving our audience the chance to learn more about the history and background of the story they’re watching, as they’re watching it. We’ve done this by having an interactive timeline in the drama that prompts you when there is archived content available for you to see, such as video, audio, images and text as well as social media elements.

By signing into Facebook the timeline maps events in WW1 to your social media graph; showing how your friends and a modern day social community would have fared throughout the war. For example, when you pass the first day of the Somme in the drama, a social media item will appear that shows how your friends would have fared had they been in the battle at the time.

This project has really given us the chance to explore a new way to tell stories online and I hope that people will enjoy the combination of new and archived content, that it will give them a deeper understanding and knowledge about WW1 yet still entertain them, and more importantly, move them.

We have been thrilled to work with Gemma Fay, Captain and Goalkeeper of the Scottish National Women’s Football team, who presents the archive content which precedes each chapter. The extraordinary (and mostly unknown) story of women’s football during WW1 is one of the main themes of the drama and I am really excited to see how our audiences will use the ability to delve into actual photos and documents from the time as the drama plays out.

Our main ambition for this season was to re-introduce audiences to a war they thought they knew. Our digital content has been a key way of reaching younger audiences with a much broader story of the war that changed everything. We started the year with the launch of  iWonder and the release of a range of interactive guides, telling stories as varied as the vital importance of the pigeon in WW1, to the war in Tongo and how Lord of Rings was inspired by Tolkien’s experience on the Western Front.

In June we collaborated closely with BBC News to re-tell the events around the assassination or Archduke Ferdinand as if they were happening today. Our first set of online learners have just completed our pilot set of WW1 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in partnership with four leading universities in the UK, and used our social media platforms to help mark some the key anniversaries of the Great War.

The breadth and scale of the BBC’s activity in this first year of this centenary season has only been possible because of some fantastic partnership working across the BBC, including teams in Future Media, Nations and English Regions, BBC News and colleagues across our global news services as well as a huge range of external partners including the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Imperial War Museums and the RAF Museum (to name just a few).

We will continue to mark some of the key moments in WW1 right to the end of the season in 2018 – I hope it will continue to stimulate your interest in such an important moment in our all histories.

Tim Plyming is the Executive Producer in Knowledge and Learning and has been overseeing the digital content as part of the BBC’s World War One Centenary Season

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