1 9 7 3 – 1 9 7 4 (UK)
26 x 60 minute episodes, 5 x specials
Produced by Jeremy Isaacs and narrated by Laurence Olivier, The World At War – which debuted on ITV in the autumn of 1973 – took four years to make, cost £1 million and deserved its success for its skilful use of archive news film with new interviews.
The ‘stars’ of the series were the interviewees, including; Albert Speer (Hitler’s Armaments Minister); Karl Wolff (Himmler’s adjutant); Traudl Junge (Hitler’s personal secretary); James Stewart (the Hollywood star, but then a USAF bomber pilot); Anthony Eden (then Foreign Secretary, later Prime Minister); John Colville (Parliamentary Private Secretary to Winston Churchill); Averill Harriman (US Ambassador to Russia); Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris (the Head of RAF Bomber Command); and Karl Doenitz (the head of the U-boat fleet, and later head of the whole German Navy and Hitler’s anointed successor).
A cast of total unknowns also featured, with fascinating tales to tell – the torpedoed tanker crewmen who drifted for weeks in the Atlantic without water but somehow still made it; the Leningrad Housewife who endured a 1,000-day siege which led to mass starvation; the D-Day GI who was there when the ramp on the landing craft went down in front of a hail of bullets; the Auschwitz survivor.
Altogether, the interview teams for The World At War gathered nearly a million feet of interview and location material. At the same time, researchers went through 3 million feet of archive film and attempted to make sense of the increasingly vast amount of material that was being assembled.
The finished series contains thousands of different clips of footage, all of which were meticulously logged and filed into a central logbook for future reference.
The programme achieved excellent ratings for a documentary – one edition, Morning, the story of the D-Day Landings, made it into the Top 10 that week, unheard of for a programme of that nature.
The World at War was deemed a great success, and as a result, some further specials were produced, sometimes making use of material that was left out of the original series – the specials were narrated by another Shakespearean actor this time, Eric Porter.
The series has since been broadcast in nearly 100 countries worldwide, and given its length, it is certain that it is showing somewhere at any given moment in time. It has won many ‘outstanding documentary’ accolades, including an International Emmy and the George Polk Memorial Award.
A book of the series sold half a million copies and was translated into fourteen languages.
A New Germany 1933 – 1939 | Distant War 1939 – 1940 | France Falls 1940 | Alone Britain 1941 | Barbarossa 1941 | Banzai – Japan Strikes | On our way – America enters the war | Desert – The war in North Africa | Stalingrad | Wolfpack | Redstar – The Soviet Union | Whirlwind – Bombing Germany | Tough Old Gut | It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow | Home Fires | Morning | Occupation | Pincers | Genocide | Nemesis | Japan 1941 – 1945 | Pacific – The Island to Island war | The Bomb | Reckoning | Remember | Warrior
The Two deaths of Adolf Hitler | The Final Solution – Auschwitz | Hitler’s Germany | The Only Hope 1933 – 1936 | The People’s Community 1937 – 1941