Dan Snow and ‘The African Queen’

By Judith Phillips

I know they don’t seem likely companions but I found them both recently in the Radio Times.  You might be forgiven for thinking that I do nothing but watch TV when I’m not at work, especially as I’ve just written about YouTube, but it’s more about suddenly seeing the wealth of material with a connection to the First World War that is available.

I’m sure that many of you will already know about Dan Snow’s short programmes about the First World War on Radio 4.  If you’ve missed them, you can get them on BBC iplayer.  The programmes use the voices of people who were there – who were taking part in the war at all sorts of levels and in so many theatres of war – who were recorded in the 1960s for the BBC TV series ‘The Great War’.  I am sure there must be many of us for whom this series was our first introduction to the war – I can remember the impact of the film and newsreel shown.  I was a young teenager then but it was the first time it dawned on me that men and women of my grandparents’ ages had been through a war that seemed such a long time ago to me then. 

I was flicking through the Radio times that covers the Christmas and New Year period and saw that ‘The African Queen’ is being shown (again) on channel 5 on 30th December.  I’m sorry I will miss it as I’d look forward to seeing it in a new light.  I hadn’t really thought of it as First World War film and I suspect I’m not in a minority!  Actually, the war context is quite obvious, providing the essential background to the story.  I have to confess I’ve never read the book by C.S. Forester on which the film is based but the theme fits in with some of the reading recommended at our monthly WWI bookgroup (see the report from August 2017) and I’d also mention William Boyd’s novel ‘An Ice-Cream War’ which covers the run-up to the war as well as the war period in German and British East Africa.    

We often overlook the fighting that went on in Africa where German colonies were often next to or close to colonies run by the Allied powers.  Do you know of any Teesdale men involved in the fighting there?  Or perhaps a Teesdale woman working as a missionary (like Katherine Hepburn) or as a nurse?  We’d love to hear from you: libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk.