Main content

Simon Heffer discusses the depiction of British heroism in the film The Dam Busters, contrasting this with its American counterpart.

Boys' Own pilots with cut-glass accents and no sense of personal fear: it's easy to mock the British films about the Second World War which were made in the 1950s and to suggest that all they are good for these days is selling Scandinavian lager, but Simon Heffer is passionate about them.

In 2011 Simon Heffer wrote and presented a series of Essays for BBC Radio 3 which celebrated some of the great British films made about the Second World War while it was still going on - films in which propaganda and morale-boosting played central roles.

In this new series, he turns to films which were made after the war was over, in the 1950s, when a new and more realistic approach to events became possible and questions about the difficult realities of peace were beginning to be asked. Where better to ask them than in the single most important artform of the time? As Simon Heffer says:

"From 1939 to 1945 they had all been in it together; now they were all in the Odeon together."

In the third programme he looks at the depiction of British heroism in The Dambusters - perhaps the British war film to end all British war films - contrasting this with its American counterpart.

"At a time when a sense of national inferiority was setting in compared with the Americans, such understated machismo helped us feel good about ourselves."

In subsequent programmes, Simon Heffer looks at Carve Her Name with Pride and Dunkirk, celebrating these films not only in their own right but also for their depiction of the changing world of post-war Britain.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

Available now

15 minutes

Broadcast

The Book that Changed Me

The Book that Changed Me

Five figures from the arts and science introduce books that changed their lives and work.

Download The Essay

Download The Essay

Download all the episodes from the series and listen at your leisure.

Podcast