'The Wipers Times' Review - Ian Hislop Pens Humour Alongside Horror In World War I Trenches Of Ypres


Writers Ian Hislop and Nick Newman brought to life all the atmosphere of 1916, and the bombed-out trenches, when men were kept back from boredom, fear and despair by poetry, ale and anything else they could lay their hands on.

In Belgian town Ypres in 1916, they found it in an abandoned printing press, on which they set to producing 'The Wipers Times' (Wipers being how they pronounced Ypres). This newspaper pamphlet became a symbol of purpose, escapism and collective effort that could only raise morale, whatever dim view their superior officers might have taken of the exercise.

'The Wipers Times' was frowned upon by superiors, in much demand by the soldiers

Ben Chaplin as Captain Fred Roberts, Julian Rhind-Tutt as his sidekick and the rest of their company did well to stay just this side of 'Blackadder', with their clipped, stiff-upper-lip delivery. The word 'darling' courtesy of Stephen Fry's Melchett floated in the air during much of Chaplin's chats with Michael Palin, chewing scenery and sporting a mighty 'tache as the General Mitford, who evidently had seen as little action as Melchett.

And just like 'Blackadder', there were enough pauses alongside the black humour for the full horror of their situation to sink in, particularly when Mitford announced they were all off back to the Somme. "Why not, Sir? It went so well last time." Pithy and heart-breaking both, until they were saved by reports of the Armistice in a far-away field.

This was a sweet, specific tale set amidst the many trials of World War I, with all the tragedy and despair palpable but remaining, for the most part, unexpressed. For a complementary bookend to the longer-lasting effect on this same generation, tune in for Steven Knight's 'Peaky Blinders' on Thursday evening.

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