• Video
  • 5 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

Jeremy Paxman discusses Britain's Great War

Updated Friday 10th January 2014

The Britain's Great War presenter answers questions about the war and why he wanted to make the series.

We put three questions to Jeremy Paxman, presenter of Britain's Great War:

  • Why did you want to make a series about the First World War?
  • Why is the war so important in the memory of the British public?
  • Do you think war was avoidable?

This page is part of our collection about the origins of the First World War, created to support the BBC One series Britain's Great War.

Video

Copyright The Open University Embed Close After making your selection, copy and paste the embed code below.

Text

Why did you want to make a series about the First World War?

I think the First World War is rather scandalously neglected, most people seem to think of it as nothing more than an occasion for poetry, anti-war poetry at that, and actually at the time, this poetry did not have wide currency, Wilfrid Wwen was not even published during the First World War, so it has really become something that people find they have a view about, regardless of knowing nothing much about it, so that's why I wanted to enquire into it.

Why is the war so important in the memory of the British public?

I think the First World War is tremendously important because nothing is the same after the war as it was before, and I think from that whether it be how people worked, how they thought about governments, what governments felt entitled to do, how much tax government levied, how people felt about authority, how people felt about art or literature—all manner of expression was completely changed after the war, so I think that this is the event that really makes modern Britain.

Do you think war was avoidable?

I'm not really sure war was avoidable, I mean of course we're all supposed to think that callous politicians and bone-headed generals sacrificed the lives of an entire generation, I know we're supposed to think that, but I just wonder, what Europe would have been like has we allowed Germany to have her way. It would have all of course been under German rule, that would have meant that the Channel coast was under German rule, that would have meant that Royal Navy's position—the Royal Navy was the guarantor of Britain's position in the world and her Empire, which at that point mattered a lot, I'm not sure there really was much of a choice, it was—once it had begun of course, it was a chapter of accidents and it unfolded with a horrifying rapidity, and at a horrifying scale, but I'm not really sure there was much choice at the start.

 

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Armistice Day Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Luckynick | Dreamstime.com article icon

History & The Arts 

Armistice Day

The armistice which marked the end of the First World War took effect at 11am on 11th November 1918. For Remembrance Day, here's a collection of resources to commemorate and remember these events.

Article
Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet

From casualties to commemoration, explore the realities of war with this free booklet.

Article
World War 1: Trauma and Memory - Bibliography Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

History & The Arts 

World War 1: Trauma and Memory - Bibliography

The course may have finished but you can keep on learning about this fascinating subject with our bibliography.

Article
A hundred years ago: the murder of Sarajevo and Europe’s descent into war Creative commons image Icon By Alexf (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

A hundred years ago: the murder of Sarajevo and Europe’s descent into war

A hundred years ago, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand sparked the outbreak of the First World War

Article
From the exam room to the trenches: How the OU helped Kevin Doyle prepare for The Crimson Field Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

History & The Arts 

From the exam room to the trenches: How the OU helped Kevin Doyle prepare for The Crimson Field

Kevin Doyle, OU alum, explains how his studies helped prepare him for his role in war drama The Crimson Field.

Video
20th Century Asian Britain in photographs Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: by permission of The Westbourne Press article icon

History & The Arts 

20th Century Asian Britain in photographs

Fascinating and rare stories of Asians’ contribution to British society are brought to life in a series of rarely seen photographs collated by The Open University

Article
OU on the BBC: Britain's Great War – War comes to Britain Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC/Dave Williams article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Britain's Great War – War comes to Britain

Jeremy Paxman traces the story of the dramatic early stages of the First World War.

Article
OU on the BBC: Britain's Great War Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC/Dave Williams article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Britain's Great War

How Britain was transformed by the First World War, focusing on extraordinary personal stories to illuminate often cataclysmic events.

Article
The origins of the First World War Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: By Underwood & Underwood. (US War Dept.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons article icon

History & The Arts 

The origins of the First World War

An in-depth look at how Europe ended up fighting a four-year war on a global scale.

Article