I don’t normally watch Who Do You Think You Are? unless I have a particular interest in the person investigating their past (so Nigella Lawson, Jeremy Irons, Patrick Stewart and not many more). But tomorrow night’s show features Hugh Dennis (the Dennis of Punt and Dennis and one of the creators of Radio 4’s The Now Show, a weekly favourite in our household.) According to the previews, he will exploring the First World War experience of his grandfathers, one a former miner who was commissioned, the other a survivor of an attack that decimated his battalion. A clip of the programme can be found here.
Normally I would be very interested in watching this, but at least one preview I have read quotes Dennis as saying ‘It was just a sort of muddy, bloody, horrifying mess. I’m glad now understand the landscape. I have a better feeling for what it was like and how awful it was. I now understand entirely why neither of my grandfathers wanted to talk about the war. It was unremitting in its awfulness.’ This is as clear a description of ‘mud, blood and futility’ view of the war as you could hope to find. As someone who has spent most of her career arguing that this view of the war is a very limited one and that most men who fought had a more complex and nuanced view of their experiences, just reading this is enough to send my blood pressure up. At the same time, one quotation from one preview is probably not enough evidence to go on (although I do also have the evidence of popular British television’s previous form in its portrayal of war experience).
So the question is, do I watch the programme and risk annoying my husband by shouting at the television by doing so? Or do I give it a miss for the sake of domestic harmony and potentially fail to challenge my own prejudices about programmes about the war? What to do?