The BBC 1973 production of The World at War.
The World at War is a 26-episode British television documentary series on World War II and the events immediately prior to and after it. It was produced by Jeremy Isaacs, narrated by Laurence Olivier and its score composed by Carl Davis. A book, The World at War, was written by Mark Arnold-Forster to accompany it.
The series was commissioned by Thames Television during 1969. Such was the extent of its research, it took four years to produce at a cost of £900,000 (2009 equivalent: £11.4 million). At the time, this was a record for a British television series. It was first shown during 1973, on ITV.
The series interviewed major members of the Allied and Axis campaigns, including eyewitness accounts by civilians, enlisted men, officers and politicians, amongst them Albert Speer, Karl Dönitz, Walter Warlimont, Jimmy Stewart, Bill Mauldin, Curtis LeMay, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Alger Hiss, Toshikazu Kase, Mitsuo Fuchida, Minoru Genda, J.B. Priestley, Brian Horrocks, John J. McCloy, Lawrence Durrell, Arthur Harris, Charles Sweeney, Paul Tibbets, Anthony Eden, Traudl Junge, Mark Clark, Adolf Galland and historian Stephen Ambrose.
In the programme The Making of "The World at War", included in the DVD set, Jeremy Isaacs explains that priority was given to interviews with surviving aides and assistants rather than recognised figures. The most difficult person to locate and persuade to be interviewed was Heinrich Himmler's adjutant, Karl Wolff. During the interview, he admitted to witnessing a large-scale execution in Himmler's presence.It is often considered to be the definitive television history of the Second World War. Some consider it the finest example of documentary. It also presented rare colour film footage of some of the war's events.
Which brings us to the 2nd best World War II documentary ever...
The 1952 NBC production Victory at Sea
Victory at Sea was a documentary TV series about naval warfare during World War II that was originally aired by NBC in the USA during 1952-1953. It was condensed into a film in 1954. The music soundtrack, by Richard Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett, was re-recorded and sold as record albums. The original TV broadcasts were in 26 half-hour segments on Sunday afternoons at 3pm (EST), starting October 26, 1952 and ending May 3, 1953. The series, which won an Emmy in 1954 as best public affairs program, played a major role in establishing historic documentaries as a viable television genre.
What are the differences?
The Victory at Sea series is very US centric and a bit jingoistic in that regard. It's target audience was US and people that actually experienced the war first hand. The Korean conflict was underway at this point as well. Being so close to the event and for a US only audience, those show. Also the Rodgers soundtrack is fantastic!
In comparison, the BBC being produced 30 years later, had been tempered by time. The British POV shows a bit, but its not as evident as the Victory at Sea production. It takes a broader view of the war and covers more aspects of it, from multiple perspectives. It also shows more of the non military side of the conflict. Many who participated in the war were still alive and interviewed for the production...any production these days lacks that first hand interviewing ability. It may forever stand as the penultimate all encompassing documentary of WW2.
Enjoy! I know I did.