As World War Two drama World on Fire returns to our screens, viewers will likely find themselves drawn into the multiple different personal stories of individuals from across the globe.


The series tells stories in England, North Africa, France and Germany, with some characters returning and other new characters joining, becoming a new focus of the show.

However, as you get enrapt in their stories you may be wondering - are the characters in World on Fire based on real people, and are the specific events they go through based on real historical events?

Read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind World on Fire.

Are the characters in World on Fire based on real people?

David (Gregg Sulkin) in World on Fire
David (Gregg Sulkin) in World on Fire BBC/Mammoth Screen

The characters in World on Fire are not specifically based on real individuals, but the historical events they live through in the series very much are.

More like this

Additionally, some of them are loosely inspired by people who were alive at the outbreak of war. For instance, Lois Bennett (Julia Brown) and Connie Knight (Yrsa Daley-Ward) were based on people with different names.

As Daley-Ward explained to ahead of the show's first season: "Peter Bowker had a grandma and an auntie who were like Connie and Lois. It's been really nice to see this brought to life, this interracial, deep friendship of the time.

"They’re really spirited – they want to see the world, they want to make a difference and as part of the war effort, they decide to perform for ENSA [Entertainments National Service Association]. They want to get out of Manchester and do something else."

Bowker did also heavily research what the characters living in 1939 might have been like. To capture what thoughts and feelings they may have had, the writer revealed he worked closely with renowned historian Richard Overy and the Imperial War Museum.

Diaries from the time, he found, were essential to discovering how normal the people caught in the conflict were.

"It was so refreshing that their entries are generally about where they could get good coffee and their boyfriends. This is while the living daylights are being bombed out of the city every day," he said.

"Our fundamental human preoccupations don’t change. They just happen to be interrupted by bombing raids and death and destruction.

"[There was also] the diary of a gunner who described that below deck you don’t know if you’re winning or losing. The main things he wrote about were being given double rations and eating biscuits all the way through the battle.

"There’s a humanity and a joy to that detail that you can embrace as you start to understand the character."

Which real-life events are dramatised in World on Fire season 2?

Ted (George Webster) and Lois Bennett (Julia Brown) in World on Fire
Ted (George Webster) and Lois Bennett (Julia Brown) in World on Fire BBC/Mammoth Screen

One of the major storylines in World on Fire season 2 focuses on the fighting in North Africa, where soldiers from the British Empire fought for the Allies in a desert that had been carved up in the previous century by European powers. Alongside British Soldiers this sequence also tells the story of Indian fighters and the Italian enemies.

Other storylines based on real events include the hardening occupation of France by the Nazis, when resistance became extremely dangerous, and a story in Germany about a teenage girl who is a member of the Band of German Maidens.

Meanwhile, stories in England based on real events include refugees coming to England as they flee the war and persecution, bombs being dropped on London and the Home Office sending some members of its intelligence services north to set up spy networks amongst refugees, investigating potential sabotage.

Creator Bowker said of the stories he and his team have chosen for this season: "As always, we tell stories which have an unforced and not always comfortable contemporary resonance, stories that demonstrate both human resilience and human folly and stories of ordinary lives in extraordinary times.

"Historical drama should not be about nostalgia and I hope this isn’t how this series is regarded. It is about asking questions of the present by interrogating stories from our past. And at the heart of these stories, amongst multiple perspectives, the single question remains – 'If you had been there, what would you have done?'"

World on Fire returns to BBC One and iPlayer on Sunday 16th July 2023. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


Try Radio Times magazine today and get 12 issues for only £1 with delivery to your home – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.