BBC to create “digital Cenotaph” for WW1 anniversary with biggest ever broadcasting season

More than 2,500 hours of programming dedicated to the 1914-1918 will run over four years

The BBC has unveiled its biggest season ever – four years of programming devoting to the story of the First World War which it says will create a “digital cenotaph” honouring the dead.


Comprising a total of 2,500 hours of programming across all its platforms, with 130 programmes in total commissioned so far, the full line up is still yet to be decided because the event will mark whole four years of the conflict.

The entire output will be curated on a special web-page, described by BBC head of history Martin Davidson today as “nothing less than a digital Cenotaph”, a reference to the monument in Whitehall honouring the dead from the conflict.

Currently the season comprises an array of programmes including documentaries from presenters including Max Hastings and Niall Ferguson.

The BBC will also show unseen footage from the landmark 1964 documentary The Great War.

The footage deemed of less interest at the time, focuses on the soldier’s emotional response to the war and will be called My Great War.

“It could be said that in 1964 people did not think this was of the same level of interest as we do today,” said  the man in charge of the anniversary, Adrian Van Klaveren.

The 26-part The Great War will also be aired in full on BBC4.

BBC1 dramas include The Ark, which focuses on nurses and volunteers, starring Oona Chaplin and Hermione Norris, and The Passing-Bells by Tony Jordan.

BBC2 will air a three-part factual drama about the lead-up to the war. Called 37 Days it stars Ian McDiarmid and Tim Piggott-Smith.

Speaking at today’s launch, Van Klaveren said that the some key moments have still not yet been commissioned including the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016 and the Armistice in 2018.

He told that the expense and commitment to the anniversary was likely to at least match that of the Olympics coverage but declined to give a figure for the cost.

He said he understood David Cameron’s comments that the event will be similar to the Golden Jubilee, but only in terms of a “national coming together”.

“It will not be a celebration in that sense,” he said.