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Ivor Gurney: words, music, windows

The AHRC’s latest feature article marked the airing of BBC4’s documentary about the life of the Gloucestershire WW1 poet Ivor Gurney. The documentary, which you can watch on BBC iPlayer until 1am on Friday 11th April, draws on Gurney’s poetry, music and his war experiences as a Private at the front line and at home in a mental asylum.

Fittingly, Gloucester Cathedral, where Gurney was once a chorister, has unveiled a new stained-glass window marking the life of the poet. The window will be dedicated at a service this month, and the Dean of Gloucester described it as “a fitting tribute to all who served during the Great War”.

If you aren’t familiar with Gurney’s work, two short clips below from Professor Tim Kendall’s documentary “The Poet who Loved the War” give a new and unique flavour of the unflinching power of his artistic response to his war time experiences.

The poet who loved the war

ivorgurneyThis weekend, a highlight of the TV listings is  The Poet who Loved the War: Ivor Gurney, which airs at 9pm on Sunday night on BBC4 and will be available on iPlayer shortly after. The documentary tells the story of the First World War soldier-poet who  bizarrely joined up in the hope that the ordered army life would help ease a mental health condition. Initially this worked, but he was eventually shot and gassed and spent the last 15 years of his life in an asylum. Yet the poetry he wrote there is uniquely powerful – capturing the experience of the ordinary soldier – and the film argues that it is the equal of the work of any of the more well-known soldier-poets of WWI.

Ahead of the broadcast, Professor Tim Kendall who presents the new documentary has spoken to the AHRC about the research behind the film, and the genesis of the documentary at an AHRC/BBC workshop.

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Promoting World War One at Home

The launch of World War One at Home has seen a great deal of activity across the country this week. Over 220 stories were launched – the first drop of what will be a permanent record of 1400 places and their WW1 story. Thirty-eight BBC English teams, the three Nations and Cymru all delivered stories with some wonderful reaction from the audience (see activity on #WW1AtHome).

AHRC academics have been in the forefront of promotional activities with local, regional and national broadcasts, and on Thursday it was my turn to join in and offer the AHRC perspective. It began at BBC Radio Bristol, my own local station. Local or not, in the fast-paced world of live radio, I’m not sure the interviewer had fully read the brief because he didn’t seem sure who I was (not the Mayor of Bristol anyway, who was on air before me). Nevertheless, I made it clear who I was and who I represented, and all was well.

This baptism of fire was the start of a long process. A succession of interviews followed, some live and some recorded, and I was able to emphasise the wonderful work our researchers have done across the UK, how they have – yes – checked facts, but also interpreted them and given valuable insights into context, connections between stories, national themes and so on.

Local radio stations particularly liked the references to local stories: Gloucestershire, to Ivor Gurney; Teesside to the bombardment of Hartlepool; Wiltshire, to the wonderful Rex Warneford story; and Surrey and Sussex, to the equally wonderful Brighton Pavilion story. (Click ‘see more’ below for each of these local highlights). The last also made a point of introducing me as a former student of Sussex University, emphasising the overarching message of the entire project – the importance of the local!

Two hours later I emerged from my booth and from what felt like a virtual tour of England, pleased that the AHRC and its work on the project had been mentioned on nearly a dozen local radio stations, from Cornwall to Teeside, and from Gloucestershire to Cambridgeshire.
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