Jeremy Paxman describes how the First World War transformed the lives of the British people, and helped shape modern Britain.
Part 1: War Comes to Britain
Jeremy Paxman traces the story of the dramatic early stages of the war, from stunned disbelief to the mass recruitment of volunteer soldiers. Fear of invasion grips the country, Boy Scouts guard bridges, and spies are suspected everywhere. For the first time, British civilians are fired on by enemy ships and bombed from the air. Paxman meets a 105-year-old eyewitness to the shelling of Hartlepool, who describes how she thought the Germans had landed.
Part 2: The War Machine
Jeremy Paxman describes the crisis facing the country as it becomes clear it is fatally unprepared to fight a modern industrial war. Now the whole population is enlisted to turn the country into a war machine: women fill the factories to make bombs and bullets, men are forced to fight at the Front, conscientious objectors are threatened with the firing squad, and striking shipbuilders with jail. Even the beer is watered down on government orders.
Part 3: The Darkest Hour
Jeremy Paxman tells the story of how Britain edged close to defeat in the worst conflict it had ever known. Unearthing the wreck of a German U-boat in the Medway, he describes Germany’s attempt to starve the country into submission – could the Win the War Cookbook save the day? Hoarders are put on trial as newspapers expose how the rich dine out on lobsters in Mayfair. Fear of moral corruption prompts the government to police the nation’s bedrooms. A full-length documentary film of fighting in the trenches breaks all box office records – but will it push a shocked British public into demanding peace at any price?
Part 4: At the Eleventh Hour
Jeremy Paxman describes how the country came to the very brink of defeat in the last year of the war. Grieving parents held seances to contact their dead sons, surgeons battled to rebuild the faces of the wounded, and a maverick MP tried to pin the blame for the crisis on a conspiracy of sexual deviants in government. And then, dramatically, the tide of battle turned, and exhausted Britons found themselves weeping for joy as the armistice was signed. The nation began to count the cost of four years of war, revealing some surprising winners as well as losers.