Are TV shows like BBC One’s SS-GB insensitive to a generation?

How do we expect those who lived through the war to feel at the sight of the swastica on Buckingham

How do we expect those who lived through the war to feel at the sight of the swastica on Buckingham Palace? Picture: Laurie Sparham - Credit: BBC/Sid Gentle Films Ltd/Laurie Sparham

I am concerned that SS-GB and its ilk glamorise war and forget that those who actually lived through the conflict, may not wish to be reminded.

My grandfather fought in the war.

He was at El Alamein, he met Churchill – several times - and the King, and was in regular contact with Montgomery. He was part of the force that invaded Italy and France, he liberated a prisoner of war camp in Germany, he recalled the rape of German women by Russian troops, he was there when Admiral von Freideburg signed the surrender of German forces at Luneburg Heath, he saw the ruins of Berlin and he saw inside Hitler's bunker and the Reich Chancellory at the end of the war.

These stories were part of my own childhood.

The Second World War shaped his life and the lives of all those who fought in it and lived through it, understandably so.


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My grandfather didn't talk about every aspect of the war, just the bits he could bring himself to tell us. The darkest memories he must have kept to himself and I doubt they were easy to forget. He died more than 20 years ago.

On a Sunday night there is a new television programme SS-GB which is based on the premise that the war was won by Germany, that the occupation of Britain by an enemy force did happen, that Britain was under the Nazi yoke.

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Television isn't a subject on which I often offer an opinion but this programme has been roundly criticised for being too slow and difficult to hear.

In a quick poll straw among my colleagues opinion is divided – about half are watching it, about half those who watch it like it and those who don't are saying it's a bit slow, bit boring or not their sort of thing.

But I can't help wondering what the generation who fought the war must be thinking about SS-GB.

At some level it must be distressing.

Although they fought for freedom of speech and expression and the freedoms we all, it seems to me, take for granted today, I cannot imagine that seeing swastika's draped over a ruined and subjugated Buckingham Palace – the very symbol of British resistance – is a particularly welcome sight on a Sunday evening.

In the early 1940s there was no benefit of hindsight, our country's people lived with the very real threat of what the alternative history of SS-GB portrays.

The programme is peppered with a bit of sexual content and some violence – though not that much – and it is, in parts, quite glamorous with cocktail dresses and black ties being worn in several scenes.

For those who live in Aleppo I doubt there is much glamour or ever will be associated with the last few years. Perhaps the Blitz was different but I doubt it.

I accept that alternative history, drama television programmes, novels and fiction is not an invalid pursuit in itself, and Dad's Army and Allo Allo could be accused of being flippant with a painful subject matter – indeed the French didn't really like Allo Allo at all, whereas Dad's Army remains a British classic.

And I would, as a journalist, always defend our freedoms of speech and expression artistic or otherwise, it is those freedoms which enable me to do my job and others to say and write what they think and imagine. Those freedoms are sacrosanct.

But to make war glamorous is surely a sensitive matter for those who lived through it, many of which now, in their old age, rely on television for entertainment, information and relaxation.

Just because it happened a long time ago doesn't mean the Second World War is no less raw or painful to recall.

In my village in Suffolk there is a gentleman who lived through and fought in the war and he is highly respected by the community. He doesn't think much to even a fictional portrayal of the nightmare scenario he saw his friends and others give their lives for.

He has simply turned off SS-GB from his television screen and I quite understand why.

What do you think? Do email James at james.marston@archant.co.uk

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