The Wipers Times (2013) - full transcript

Just after the First World War Fred Roberts goes for a job as a newspaper journalist and tells the sub-editor how, in the trenches in 1916, he discovered a printing press in working order. Helped by ex-printer Sergeant Harris and with his friend Jack Pearson as his assistant, he sets up the Wipers Times - the name coming from the soldiers' pronunciation of the town Ypres. Despite disapproval from officious Colonel Howfield but with backing from sympathetic General Mitford they produce twenty-three issues of a satirical magazine - its articles represented on screen in black and white - which boosts morale and even gets mentioned in the Tatler. The press is destroyed by a German shell but another is found and the paper's title changed to fit in with wherever the regiment is deployed. Pearson and Roberts are both awarded gallantry medals but when Roberts is only offered the job of crossword compiler by the sub-editor he moves to Canada as a prospector while Pearson marries and opens a hotel in Argentina. Both survived into the 1960s.

Sorry to keep you waiting.
Balloon's gone up.

Total chaos.

Deadlines brought forward,
printers on the warpath -

all kinds of merry hell.

But that's Fleet Street for you.

I wouldn't know about Fleet Street
but I'm familiar with merry hell.

Of course. Of course. The, war.

Now, you have impressive references
here from Mr Gilbert Frankau

and Mr RC Sherriff.

Yes, I knew them back then when we
were all working on Tenth Avenue.

Tenth Avenue? In New York?

No, No. In Flanders.

It was a trench.

Yes, the war. Very good.
I couldn't go of course.


I'm sorry. You missed quite a show.

Really? Yes, it must have been hell.

From what I've read.

We had some bad times.

But we had some good times too.

I'm sure. So perhaps you could
tell me about yourself, Mr...?

Roberts, Fred Roberts.

You do have my curriculum vitae?


But I'd like to
hear about you in your own words.

Frederick Roberts.

Formerly of the North Midlands
Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment,

otherwise known as the Sherwood

A mining engineer by profession -

I worked in the Kimberley diamond
mines in South Africa

until friend
Fritz kicked off the firework party.

I see.
So you have mining qualifications?

Jolly useful in a pioneer battalion

charged with trench repair
and maintenance...

Though less useful
in a newspaper office.

I don't know - digging up
all that muck.

Yes, Mr Roberts.

My problem is that what we need here
is men with relevant experience.

So tell me.
Do you have any relevant experience?

Come on. Come on, lads. Quickly.

Move it, move it, move it.

All right?

Come on! Come on!

Come on, lads.

Everyone all right? Good lads.

To be in Flanders now that
winter's here.

It's April.

Is it? I find it frightfully
difficult to tell.

Usual drill, Sergeant.

Oi! Smith, Dodd, Henderson, Barnes.
You heard the officer.

Search the place for anything
we can use.

Preferably of the metal or timber
variety. All right, sir.

And be sharp about it, lads.

Fritz's love tokens seem to be
arriving with greater frequency.

4.2s, sir.

That's a relief. Thought
for a minute they were 5.9s.

No. Those are 5.9s, sir.

What the hell are you doing, Dodd?

Die Boche vermin!

You're wasting your time.

Put your bayonet away before you
hurt someone.

But it's a rat, sir.

Yes, I'm familiar with the species,

We've encountered one or two
since we've been in Ypres.

Ypres, sir?

It's what the Belgians call Wipers.

Right, sir.
Funny lot, the Belgians.

It's like the Napoo Rum
they got over here, sir.

Never seem to get any.

Napoo it's from the French, Dodd.

"Il n'y en a plus".
There is no more.

Well, why don't
they just say that then, sir?

Nothing here, Captain.

Napoo salvage, sir.

Very good, Dodd.
We'll make a sapper of you yet.

Quickly. Quick. Come on, lads.

Find me something, lads.

Look what we have here, sir!
Boxes of paper.

Excellent. Exactly what we're
looking for to reinforce trench 132.

Really, sir? Er no, Dodd.

I'm afraid you'll find when you've
been out here for a while that

paper doesn't offer much protection
against crumps and whizz-bangs.

Unless you're a red hat in HQ with
a cushy job, then the paper

stops you getting anywhere
near the shooting gallery at all.

Your cynicism could become
wearying, Lieutenant Pearson

except fortunately
I find it quite amusing.

Some tarpaulin here, sir.

Well, that might be useful.


Now what the bloody hell is that?

That, Smith, is an Arab.

I'm not stupid, Sar'nt.

The Arab is an Anglo-American
hand-fed platen press.

It's probably
the finest in the world.

It's a manual, pedal-operated
printing machine

patented in 1872 by Josiah Wade.

Manufactured in Halifax,

subsequently sold all over the

In short, it's a work of art.

So, shall we smash it up?

No. Stupid, Dodd.

Look, it's even got the blocks and
the trays of type.

Go on, stick that over there, Smith.

How on earth do you know all this,

I was a printer in civvy street,

Good grief.
You kept quiet about that.

Well, it didn't seem relevant to
fighting Fritz, sir.

No. But it might be now.

Can you make this work?

Well, I mean,
she's not been used for a while.

The type's all over the countryside.

There's a few unwelcome visitors.

But give it a bit of time, reckon
so, sir. Yes, sir.

How's it work then, Sar'nt?

Well, you stick
the ink on that plate there.

And the rollers come down onto
the block there.

Paper goes in there.

Don't touch it.

Very interesting.

What are we going to do with it?

We're going to borrow it.

Isn't that looting?

No, no. It's temporary requisitioning
of civilian

facilities for military purposes.

Right. Sounds like looting.

Have you ever done any journalism,

Good God, no! Excellent.

Me neither.

Because what we're going to do, is
we're going to produce a newspaper.

Aren't we, Sergeant? If you say so,

What, like the Daily Mail?

I was thinking something
rather more accurate.

The Times?

The Wipers Times.

Move it, lads! Move it!

We've got plenty of ink,
plenty of paper.

In fact, according to Harris,

the only thing
we seem to be lacking is "copy".

None of us is writing men.

We haven't done any journalism.

There's a first time for everything.
It can't be that hard.

I think we should aim to produce
something a bit like Punch,

except with jokes..

So what are we actually going
to write about?

Damn you, Fritz.
I can't hear myself think.

Put on The Bing Boys would you, Jack?

So will The Wipers Times address
the big questions of the war?

Certainly. And how will we do that?

I suggest we do so just by writing
down any old thing that

comes into our heads.

Trial page proof, sir.

Looks pretty good,
I must say myself.

Who do I show it to, sir?
Who's the editor?

Well, as senior officer, I am, of
course, the editor.

I will need a sub-editor.
Any volunteers? Jack?

Bad grammar is simply something
I will not put up with.

Up with which you simply
will not put.

All right, Jack, the job's yours.

Only drawback, sir, is that we're
short of Ys and Es.

Well, it's just as well we're not
based anywhere called Ypres then.

Now, sir, what about some copy?

Dammit, Harris,
haven't you heard of writer's block?

Only every day, sir, come deadline
time for the newspaper.

Very well, Harris.
But you are very annoying.

Very good, sir.

You know he's right, Fred.

Et tu, Pearson?

I'm going to hold this pencil...

and see what happens.

Something's bound to turn up.

You are an incorrigible optimist.


Well, there's a dangerous thing...

particularly in a war.

Do you suffer from optimism?

Men! Do you suffer from optimism,

but fail to recognise
the tell-tale signs?

Many do.

Is it serious, Doctor?

I just need you to answer a few
simple questions.

Do you sometimes wake up
in the morning feeling that all is

going well for the Allies?

Yes, Doctor.

Do you sometimes think that the
war will be over,

within the next 12 months?

Absolutely, Doctor.

Do you consider that our leaders
are competent to conduct the war

to a successful issue?

I should say so, Doctor.

Dear. This is the worst case
of cheerfulness I've encountered.

Good. No. It's terrible.

But don't worry.

I promise I can cure
you of optimism within two days

and effectively eradicate all
traces of it from your system.

Really, Doctor?
And how are you going to do that?

I'm writing something for you now,
which should do the trick.

Is it a prescription, Doctor?

No. It's your orders.
I'm sending you to the front line.

Thank you, Doctor.

Not sure about this
piece about optimism.

Are you questioning
the judgment of a superior officer?

Er, yes. Good.

So as a superior officer, of course,
I shall ignore you.

Seriously, do you not think it's
gone a little bit too far?

How can you accuse me of going too
far - when the entire

24th Division has gone precisely ten
yards in the last six months?

And that was sideways. I'm just
saying we have to be careful.

Yes, I guess you are right.
We must be responsible.

As will be made
clear in my editorial.

You haven't written an editorial.

How's your shorthand? Non-existent.

Good. Take this down.



Having managed to pick up a printing
press, slightly soiled,

at a very reasonable price,

we have decided to produce a paper.

There is much
we would like to say in it,

but the shadows of censorship
enveloping us,

cause us to refer to the war that we
hear is taking place in Europe...

Careful... In a cautious manner.

We apologise for any shortcomings
in production of our paper...

on account of...

Editorial inexperience?

Quite so.

We hope to publish The Times weekly,

despite the attentions of Messrs Hun
and co.

Our local rivals. Excellent!

And we take this opportunity
of stating that we accept

no responsibility for the views
expressed. We?

Yes. And we disassociate
ourselves from any

statements in the advertisements.

Well, that bit's true.
There are no advertisements.

No? Why Not?

There's a problem with potential
advertisers such as theatres,

restaurants, hotels,
small businesses et cetera...

Well, what's the problem?

There aren't any.
They've all been blown to buggery.

Is that anywhere near Poperinghe?

No, it's not. And you didn't hear
that, Sergeant, did you?

No, sir, but it was most amusing.

Harris, you're our expert.

We can't be a proper newspaper
without advertisements, can we?

No, sir,
that's what the front page is for.

So what do we do?

Taxi! Taxi! I say, Taxi!

'Are you having trouble getting

'Not any more, with our fleet
of handsomely-appointed taxicabs.'

But how will I recognise your taxis?

'Easy, they have a red cross
painted on each side.'

'Is your friend a soldier?

'Do you know what he wants?
No? We do.

'Send him one of our latest improved
combination umbrella

'and wire cutter.

'No more nasty colds caught
when cutting the wire.

'He will be absolutely delighted with
the combination umbrella

'and wire cutter.

'Just 15 francs.

'Quite right, Miss.

'Now you can rest assured
your soldier friend will stay fit

'and healthy out in no man's land.'

'Calling all harassed subalterns.'

Who? Me?

'Yes, you. Is your life miserable?

'Do you hate your company commander?'

'Of course you do.

'Then why not buy him one of our
patent "tip me up" duckboards?'

But how does the "tip me
up" duckboard work?

'You just get your company commander
on the end...

'and the duckboard does the rest.

'Every time a blighty!

'That's our promise. Remember...

'if once he steps onto the end,

'to take a month his face to mend.'

Thank you, "tip me up" duckboard.

Excellent work, Sergeant.
When can we roll the pressers?

Soon as it eases off a bit, sir.

Surely you're not
bothered by a spot of rain?

No. It's more the bombardment, sir.

Fritz is getting a bit too close
to the print room to be pleasant.

Well, when Herman knocks off for his
evening sausage let's print

the blighter.

Everything all right? I'm fine,

Not you, the print blocks.
Get in there.

Don't get your hand
caught in the plate, Dodd.

Or you'll come a cropper.

A phrase, incidentally,

derived from the printing presses of
HS Cropper.

Do you know that?
That's very interesting, Sar'nt.

As is the phrase "mind your Ps and

It comes from a common mistaking of
the P for the Q in a tray of type.

That's even more interesting,

Whereas, the expression "get the
wrong end of the stick",

that comes from grabbing the wrong
end of the compositing stick

and getting your hand
covered in ink.

It means thinking you're being interesting
when really... Yes, Henderson?

Very, very interesting indeed,


Right, here we go. Grab it, Smith.

There it is, Sar'nt.

Now, the result, if I say it myself,
is a thing of beauty.

Unlike any of you lot.

Oi, Bill, this Wipers Times does what
it says!

Have you seen this poppycock, sir?

Yes, I have.

It's downright insubordination.

That's maybe why the men
seem to like it.

The men also like the ladies of the
Poperinghe Fancies.

Neither are exactly conducive to
winning the war.

Really? Have you seen the ladies
of the Poperinghe Fancies?

Of course not!

I think they're doing their bit.

Jolly, buxom girls.

They can't sing,
they can't dance, but...

no-one seems to care, particularly.

I believe the chaps call them
glycerine and Vaseline.

No idea why. We're getting off the
point here, sir.

Which is surely that some
of the material in this publication

is not merely unsuitable,
it's downright treasonable.

Like what, in particular?

Like this.

Answers to correspondence.

Whoever wrote this should be

Like this item advising young
officers not to wear turned-up

slacks or shoes
when going over the top?

What? Lovely, sound advice.

A chap wearing turned-up
slacks on the battlefield not only

looks a bloody fool,

but he advertises the fact he's
an officer to any half-awake sniper.

No, no, no. That is
not the offending article.

I'm referring to this response

to a supposed query from a
junior officer.

"Dear Subaltern."


"The death penalty is not enforced"

"in the case of murdering a senior

"as you will always be able to claim
extenuating circumstances."

That's a joke.

It's an incitement to mutiny,
I'll have him shot.

Not if he shoots you first.

That's also a joke.

The war is not funny, sir.

I think the authors
are aware of that.

I have a feeling that may be the

I mean...

It's not all cocking a snook
at the general staff, although...

quite a bit of it is.

I mean, some bits are deadly
serious - words from the heart.

Such as?

"People we take our hats
off to - The French at Verdun,"

"the British Navy at Jutland,"

"and the Canadians at Ypres."

Saluting our fallen comrades is
hardly sedition, is it?

They also take their hats
off to the officer in charge

of the costume department
of the Poperinghe Fancies.

They are just a gang of backchat
comedians deliberately

undermining morale with this
impertinent, unpatriotic rag.

Could you think of anything more likely
to produce discontent amongst the men?

Yes. Banning it.

Put your back into it, Henderson.

Sergeant, we're running out of

Go see if you can borrow something
from the communications line.

Henderson. Barnes. You
work on the parapets.

Yes, sir.

Keep down, Barnesy, unless you want
sniper taking your head off.

Smith. Dodd. Start on the supports.

Do I have to work with Dodd, sir?

Yes, you do. Poor Dodd drew
the short straw.

Now get on with it, Smith.

What's the plan?

What I think we should do, Jack...

Up the cover price, get in some new
writers and cut down on the poetry.

You don't think you might be getting rather
obsessed with the paper? Don't be ridiculous.

I'm a model commanding officer
executing my duties

in exemplary fashion.

What do you think of the poetry?

I think poetry's essential in the
modern battlefield. A bit like mud.

If only it were just mud.

Yes. Perhaps, better not
dwell on the... unmentionables.

Better left unsaid.

That's why I'd rather
think about the paper.

It's important to me
because it's not important.

Dear. You're getting aphoristic.

Am I? Apologies.

So what are we thinking?

I think we should crack out
another couple of issues.

And if it keeps going this well,
try and sell it back home.

You're getting obsessed.

Listen. Listen, Fritz is in
fine voice.

What are they singing, sir?
Sounds like an hymn, sir.

It is.

It's called the Hymn Of Hate.

It goes something like this...

You we will hate with
a lasting hate.

We will never forego our hate.

Hate by water and hate by land.

Hate of the head
and hate of the hand.

Hate of the hammer,
hate of the crown.

Hate of 70 millions choking down.

We love as one. We hate as one.

We have one foe and one alone.


That's not very nice is it, sir?

Spot-on, Dodd.

We don't have any songs like that,
do we, sir?

No, we don't and if we did they'd
certainly be a lot funnier.

The Wipers Times should put that
right, sir.

Good idea, Dodd.

Since Dodd has joined
the editorial conference,

I propose we take his excellent
suggestion on board

and include something suitably
melodious in the issue.

What do you have in mind?

We all love the music hall, sir!

Ladies and gentlemen!

Welcome to the Cloth Hall at Ypres.

Best ventilated hall in the town.

Tonight, for your delectation,

we proudly present
positively the greatest

collection of performers ever
collected in one place at one time.

Yes, it's Mr Thomas Atkins And Co in
their stupendous new revue,

The Big Bangs Are Here.

With music by Mr R Tillery.

And not to mention
Mrs Miniworther,

who always meets with
a thunderous reception.

And not forgetting Bouncing Bertha,
who's only 17 inches high...

but is guaranteed to bring
the house down.

And, there's more, with Hind and
Berg, sword swallowers...

and nail eaters.

And introducing the world's favourite
comedian, Kaiser Bill...

and his little Willie.

That's the crown prince I'm talking

Thank you. But I promised you a song
and a song you shall have.

A pleasing patriotic performance
from our very own privates -

The Atkins brothers -
Thomas and Tommy.

Yes, this show is going to run,
and run and run and run...

Dodd, did you go swimming? Give its a
rest, Smithy I was switching patrols.

As you were, Smith.

Great news, Fred, apparently the war
will be over within the week.

Says who?

Says Hilaire Belloc.

Didn't he say the war was going to
be over within the week last week?

I rather think he did.

And the week before.

Now you're just jealous cos we don't
have a war expert of our own.

Somebody who really knows what's
going on.

Yes, you're right. Perhaps we should
employ our own Hilary Belloc.

What about Belary Helloc?
I hear he's very well informed.


So what is Mr Helloc's latest
take on the war?

Good evening.

I'm the famous Belary Helloc
and tonight my subject is

"why we are going to win the war."

Everything points to a speedy
disintegration of the enemy.

So let's just have a
look at the figures.

There are 12 million
fighting men in Germany.

Of these,
nine million are already killed,

or are being killed as we speak.

Leaving just three million.

Of these 2,500,000
are temperamentally

unsuitable for fighting owing to
obesity, due to eating sausages.

This leaves us just 500,000
as the full German strength.

Now, of these, 497,250 are suffering
from incurable diseases.

And I think we know which ones.

Leaving just 2,750 men.

Of these,
2,150 are on the Eastern Front.

And of the remaining 600, we see
that 584 are generals and staff.

Thus we find, that
there are in fact just...

16 men on the Western Front.

Clearly not enough to resist one
final big push, or maybe two,

or three - four at the very most.

And that is why we are going
to win the war.

If we haven't already
by the time you've heard this.

Letters for you, sir.
Thank you, Henderson.

Thank you.

News from the home front.

Has my wife been raising money for
noble causes,

such as providing warm
woollens for war-worn Walloons?

Is mine selling flags for blue body
belts for bucolic Belgians?


Always a bit of a mixed blessing,
isn't it, a letter from home?

A reminder of a land where gascons,

whizz-bangs and mein und verfers
are not allowed.

Good heavens - my wife has sent me
a clipping from the Tatler.

We've been mentioned in Dispatches!

What? Fame at last?

What did they say?

"We hear news from the front
of an amusing periodical designed"

"to entertain the troops."

"It is entitled The Wipers Times
after the town of Ypres"

"where its enterprising
creators are currently quartered."

"So, we salute the anonymous
wits of the 6th Division..."

We're the 24th Division.


Dear. Appears we're not to be
famous after all.

Damn journalists,
can't they get anything right?

Is that a rhetorical question?

It's Lieutenant Colonel Howfield's
ADC, sir.

Little bobbing Bobby.

The one who has little red star
flashes on his jim-jams?

Captain, how can I help?

Of course. Yes.

Looking forward to it, sir.

Thank you, Smith. Sir.

Lieutenant Colonel Howfield
has granted us

the privilege of a full inspection.


Now. Initiate "Operation Panic".

Where is that "tip me up" duckboard
when you need it?

We under attack, sir?

Quite the reverse. We've got an
inspection by the Divisional Staff,

which means for as long as they're here,
there won't be any action at all.

Not even our artillery would open fire
when there's a brass hat down here.

Henderson, Dodd, shift these trays.
Put them under the books.

Barnesy, get hold of this.

To say an old adage -

war is long periods of boredom
punctuated by sheer terror.

Sir. At ease, Roberts.

Hope I'm not interrupting anything.

No, sir.
Well, I should be, shouldn't I?

Boche obviously not keeping you
occupied, and vice versa.

You've got time on your hands,

and time is the soldier's
greatest enemy.

Isn't it, Booby? Yes, sir.

Apart from the gas
and the flamethrowers.

So, are your boys fit, Roberts?

As a fiddle, sir.

Because the men have got to be
fit for the big push.

What about you, Roberts?

Keeping busy?

As a bee, sir.

So no distractions?
Finding things to do?

Yes, sir.

Doing our best to make a little
cover for the lads

who are hanging onto the remnants
of Belgium in the teeth of every

disadvantage, discomfort and peril.

So not too much "paperwork", then?

Not at all, sir.

That's good to hear,
isn't it, Bobby?

Yes, sir.

Because the problem with the whole
damn line is inaction.

We're getting bogged down in a mire
of defensive passivity.

There's no forward movement.

No sorties, no raiding parties,
no mining activity.

You're right, sir. It's almost as
if we were... entrenched.

Quite so.

And the question you have to ask
yourself, and you,

particularly, as commander, Roberts,
is are you being offensive enough?

I'm not sure, sir.

Are we being offensive enough?

No, sir. I...

I think we could be a lot
more offensive.

Good man, Pearson.

So from now on, you're going
to be a lot more offensive.

You hear that, men?

From now on, we are all going to be
as offensive as possible.

Very good, Roberts.

Isn't it, Bobby?

I'm not altogether sure, sir.

You heard the colonel,
we must attack something.

How about... stupid moustaches?

Good idea.
Far too many of them around.

I blame Charlie Chaplin.

I say, that was a bit friendly.

Put the gramophone on, would you?

Well saved. No...

It's not enough. Have to play the
piano. Dear.

Bad news, sir. We've had a direct

Bloody Boche. Excuse my French, sir.

French excused, Sergeant.

Is there nothing that can be done?

I think it's finished, sir.

It's the end of The Wipers Times.

It was good while it lasted, Fred.

I've tried, throughout this war,

to maintain my sense of humour.

But now I'm really unamused.

What are you men so happy about?

Captain Roberts.
He's on grand form tonight, sir.

What do you mean?

Well, the orders that he gave the men were not
strictly according to the drill manual. Really?

Yes, sir. He said, "Fall in, you
blank, blank, blank, blank."

"We're going up the blanking line
and if we see any blanking Boche,"

"we're going to shove their blanking
bombs up their blanking... shirts."

Did he actually say shirts, Dodd?
No, sir.

You'll have to excuse
Captain Roberts.

I'm afraid he's taken the loss
of the printer somewhat badly.


At least the old girl has been
put to some use.

A distinguished end to her
literary career.

Part of a transverse
wall of C4 trench number six post.

Men and party coming through.

Well, I assumed it wasn't a
delegation from the general staff.

You wouldn't find them
at this end of the muddy stick.

You must be, Roberts.

Sir. I hear you're quite the thorn in
the red hats' backsides.

Good man.

Off we go, boys. Good luck, Colonel.

Who was that?

Commanding officer
of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Why was he wearing a French tin hat?

A bit of a personality,
somewhat eccentric.

Always suggesting the top brass
come down to the front

and get a taste of the action.

He won't last long, will he?
What's his name?

Name's Churchill.

Heard a rumour, sir.

Don't tell me, the Kaiser has been

arrested by Field Marshal
Hindenburg and shot as a spy?

Not exactly, sir, no.

It's a friend of a friend
of a friend, has told me...

He happens to know the whereabouts
of a lovely little hand-jigger.

Speak English, Sergeant.

It's a printing press, sir. And word
has it there's a lot more type.

Priceless, Sergeant.

Only drawback, sir, is its current

Which is where? Hellfire Corner.

Dear. That's the Hellfire Corner, the
most dangerous place on the Salient.

Hottest place in the world, sir.

Where life expectancy is about,
what? 60 seconds?

If that, sir.

Well, it would be an

act of pure folly to risk lives
rescuing a printing press.

So no sensible commanding officer
could possibly sanction it,

is that clear?

Very clear, sir.

Good luck, Sergeant.

Why do they call it Hellfire Corner,
Sar'nt? Why do you think, Dodd?

Dodd doesn't think! Shut up, Smithy,
before Fritz shuts you up for good.

This bloody thing weighs a ton.

If you drop it you'll find out about
hellfire from me.

Now run, you bugger!

Well. So that is a hand jigger.

Pardon my French.

God bless this printer and all the
jokes who fail in her.

Sir! Careful of the printer.

Careful of the champagne more like.

You mustn't waste this stuff
there's a war on.

Is there? I had no idea.

Better make sure the Germans
don't get hold of it.

Too slow. There we go.

How on earth did you get
hold of this?

Well, I had a bit of luck at cards
with some of the brass hats

billeted at the chateau.

As it turned out,
magnificent cellar.

To the hand jigger.

Ladies and gentlemen,

welcome to the latest
venue in our grand tour of Flanders.

The Neuve Eglise Hippodrome,
where our doors are always open.

Tonight, we are honoured to present
a show to die for.

The grand new revue, Over The Top.

Positively the greatest spectacular
performance ever staged.

And topping the bill,

it's musical merriment from our very
own sapper songbirds,

Trench And Foot, with their
delightful ditty, Minor Worries.

Gas! Gas! Gas!

Looks good, Jack.

Harris and his devils have
done a fine job.

It's nothing to worry about.

The quacks say I'll be right as rain
and back on the front line in no time.

Are you sure? Thank you.

I'm one of the lucky ones.

I'm still here.

Well, you were lucky.

Apparently, Fritz has developed
a new type of stink bomb.

Makes you wretch so you have to take off your
gas mask and then the chlorine kills you.


Excuse me.

What about Henderson?

I'm very sorry.

Well, the good news is, we still
have plenty of material

coming in from our distinguished

Please, tell me it isn't all poetry.
Fine. It isn't all poetry.

That's a lie. It is all poetry.

Damn and blast.
Alert the medical orderlies, Jack.

There's been a serious
outbreak of poet-itus.

Subalterns are being seen with
notebook in one hand,

a bomb in the other,

absently walking near the wire
in deep communion with the muse.

It's probably
because spring is in the air.

The picture of little lambs

gambolling among the whizz-bangs is
so beautiful and romantic.

I've had enough verse. Doctor!

I demand an injection of prose.

What we do have is,
a lot of letters to the editor.

This chap here wants to know why we
don't write more about the war.

I rather thought we did? No the
"wider" war.

The "big picture" et cetera.

We can't write about the "wider war"
because we have no idea what's going on.

We're just fighting in it. Well, it's lucky
we have illustrious war correspondents

like William Beach Thomas to keep us

Teach Bomas? That idiot.

Are you trying to make me feel worse?
He's highly respected

because he always manages to write
from the "thick of the action".

Funny how we've never actually seen him
though, isn't it? Fred, you're being cynical.

He must know what he's talking
about. He's in the Daily Mail.

I am here, in no man's land,
where all hell has broken loose.

The air is thick with bullets
and shells but I don't mind that.

And now I'm climbing up
a conveniently dangling

rope into an observation balloon.

I'm now right above the battle

and looking down on the gallant
charge of the, Umpshires.

Yes. The brave men of the
13th Umpshire Regiment,

charging straight at the
elite Prussian guard -

who are all surrendering.

Yes, they are shouting, "Kamerad"
and putting up their hands.

Same again, please.

I am now over the German battle
lines where I can tell you,

with complete confidence,

that the cavalry are laying down a
barrage of shells,

whilst the submarines have
advanced into the wood.

This has been me,
William Teach Bomas,

writing exclusively from the middle
of the bottle. Sorry, battle.

Stop it, Jack. You're hurting me.

Shhh, would you two, please, behave!

There are very sick men here.
This is not the Palace of Varieties.

No, no,
the girls here are much prettier.

Splendid, Harris, that's much better

I think he'll be very pleased with
that. Thank you, sir.

What is it, Barnes?

Are you still taking submissions,

We are as long as there is no

The editor has decided
he is sick of rhyme.

The paper cannot
live by poems alone.

What have you got for me?

Nothing, sir.

Show me.

To My Chum. Sounds suspiciously
like a poem to me, Barnes.

It's about Henderson, sir.

Well, I'm sure we can make
an exception in that case.

"No more we'll share the same old

"The same old dug-out
the same old yarn."

"No more a tin of bully share."

"Nor split our rum
by a star-shell's glare."

"So long, old lad."

"What times we've had
both good and bad."

"We've shared what
shelter could be had."

"The same crump-hole when the
whizz-bangs shrieked."

"The same old billet
that always leaked."

"And now - you've stopped one."

"We'd weathered the storms two
winters long."

"We'd managed to grin
when all went wrong."

"Because together we'd fought
and fed."

"Our hearts were light
but now, you're dead..."

"and I am mate-less."

Missed, bad luck.
Not artillery by any chance?

Sir. Good to see you, Fred. Fully

Fighting fit, sir.

Ready to be as "offensive"
as possible?

So now it's The Kemmel Times?

Well, they will keep moving us
around, sir,

and now we seem to have
become infantry.

Modern warfare's
all about flexibility, Fred.

Take the cavalry, now they're riding
tanks. Whatever next?

Anyway, you'd be glad to hear you're
going to have a change of scenery.

Your days in the Salient are over.

I'll miss it, sir.

Unlike the Boche artillery, which has
made rather a mess of it.

I'm not altogether keen on their
idea of landscape gardening.

I think you'll
prefer your next posting.

Frere Jacques! Bonjour!

How was leave?

Well, Amiens really is most

Top-notch cathedral which, sadly,
I didn't have time to visit.

Here, fromage.


Fromage Bleu. Merci buckets.

But Madame Fifi assures me it's one
of the finest

examples of Gothic Architecture
in Northern France.

And Madame Fifi is...?

Absolutely charming.

Runs a delightful little club where
if you buy a bottle of champagne,

the girls very kindly agree to
sit on your knee.

You really must go there.

In fact, everyone must go there.

I'm giving all ranks one day's
leave in Amiens.

And that's an order!

It's a bit far, isn't it?

It won't be - we're on the move

Really? Where to?

You'll love it, apparently it's very
pretty, indeed.

Capital. What's it called?

The Somme.

Zero minus three.

I'm sorry, Jack, this
issue's a bit thin.

Not even sure we'll make
the deadline.

Well, we have had other
calls on our time.

Perhaps we should wait and bring it
out after the grand show.

No. I think
sooner is better than later.

A harpsichord of hate...

performed to an audience of terrified

I rather like that. Yes?

I must remember it if I ever get out
of this.

Rum ration.

Rum ration, Sergeant. It's time to
give the boys a tot.


Dodd's too young. I'll have his.

We don't want you incapable, Smith.

How would you tell, Sar'nt?

Any chance of seconds?

No, it's bad for your health.

Swine. Can't even let
a man have a drink in peace.

S'cuse me for asking, sir,
but there's rumours going round.

Is this the big push?

I'm afraid such information is
hush-hush, Dodd. Who told you that?

Germans, sir. They've been shouting
out across no man's land.

Yes, well, perhaps it isn't
the best kept military

secret in the history
of the British military.

Zero minus one.

All right, men. Just wanted to say,

whatever happens, you know you can

rely on the old division to give
a good account of itself.

Even Dodd, sir?

Especially Dodd.

So, here to all you lads.

The game's started, so keep the
ball rolling and remember,

the only good Hun is a dead Hun.

No jokes?

A bit short of jokes.

There was a young girl of the

Who sat on a number five bomb...

She thought was a dud 'un
but it went off sudden...

Her exit she made with aplomb.

Did you know it's still going on?

The War? Yes, apparently it is.

No, this mutinous magazine.

They promised to stop producing it,
erm, when the war is over.

Just listen to this.
"Realising that men must laugh."

"Some wise man devised the staff."

Is that supposed to be funny?

Well, it's funnier than what
I'm reading.

It's a subversive attack on the
entire high command. It continues...

"Let them lead the simple life far
from all our vulgar strife."

My God, that's us
they're talking about.

"Lest their relatives might grieve
often, often give them leave."

"Decorations too, galore
What on earth could man wish more?"

We cannot allow this scurrilous
insubordination to go unpunished.

"And yet, alas, so goes the rumour."

"The staff all lack
a sense of humour."

Utter rubbish.

It's not all rude rhymes.

In fact, er, they've put in a rather
helpful glossary of military terms.


"Duds, there are two kinds -"

"a shell on impact failing to
explode is called a dud."

"These are unhappily less
plentiful on the other kind of dud."

Go on. "The kind that draws a large

"and explodes for no reason
far behind the fighting area."

The battlefield is not
a place for humour!

Humour, my dear Howfield,

is what separates
civilisation from incivility.

Us from the Boche.

Whilst Roberts and his men are busy
writing poems poking fun at us

brass hats, the Germans' equivalent
literary contribution is

a hymn of hate.

Have you heard it?
Course I've heard it.

Has all the subtlety of a dawn
barrage from Big Bertha.

What the Germans sing or don't
sing is irrelevant.

We have to maintain
discipline in our army,

or the result is defeatism
and anarchy.

I still say something should be done
about Captain Roberts.

Something has been done.

He's been awarded
the Military Cross for gallantry.

"Captain FJ Roberts, 12th Sherwood

"24th Division, for conspicuous

"and devotion to duty in the battle
of the Somme on August 12th 1916."

"Captain Roberts showed
outstanding leadership under fire"

"as Company Commander."

"Throughout he behaved most

Maitre d', maitre d'?

I-I was saying - Pearson.

Pearson's priceless and Harris is
an ace with the inkies.

And you'd be amazed at the sort of
stuff that comes in from the chaps.

The spoofs of Kipling
and Sherlock Holmes and...

the Rubaiyat of Omar whats-it.

And limericks and jokes from all
sorts of unlikely...

Slow down, Fred, I'm not going

But did I tell you about the poet,
Gilbert Frankau contributing?

Now there's someone who's actually
famous, now he's working for us.

You did mention it once or twice.

There's a very promising writer called Sherriff,
who's good at little dramatic squibs.

And one of the men has started
carving drawings on wood blocks.

So we're almost up there with the
Illustrated London News.

You make it all sound such fun.

It would be if the infernal
general staff didn't keep

insisting on us
fighting all the time.

Sommelier? Could we have another
bottle of the '97?

Darling, can we afford all this?

Of course we can't!
Not on a captain's pay.

But as luck would have it,
I ran into a general in the boat home

and I won a hand or two at cards.

I do hope he's better at strategy
than he is at bridge.

Same old Fred.

Well, not quite.

It's the quiet.

It's keeping me awake.

What's it really like?

You know what the basis for this
war is?


And sticking through the mud
at various places you can see

pieces of towns.

And out there are the trenches.

One set for our men,
one for the Boche.

With thick wire
fences in front of them.

And time passes slowly.

So, by way of amusement,

one side will try to get in the
other's trench and bring back a man.

And the score is
1-0 for the night.

May seem a bit slow,
taking the enemy one by one,

when there are millions
more out there.

It all helps to pass the time.

Till Christmas,
when the war's going to end.

Is it?

We just don't know which Christmas.

We are winning?

I'm not sure anyone knows.

I fought in a battle...

which was an epic of futility.

No-one could even speculate what the
battle was supposed to achieve.

In fact, there was never the

slightest chance of achieving
anything at all.

Apart from the flower of
British manhood...

being hurled to a squalid death.

This isn't like you, Fred.
I'm sorry.

Most of us
have been cured of any illusion

we may have had about the pomp
and glory of war...

and now know it as the vilest
disaster that can befall mankind.

War is nothing more than
wallowing in a dirty ditch.

Are you going back?

Of course.

'If you can live on bully
and a biscuit.

'And thank your stars that
you've a tot of rum.

'Dodge whizz-bangs with a grin.

'And as you risk it, talk
glibly of the pretty way they hum.

'If you can crawl through wire
and crump-holes reeking.

'With feet of liquid mud.

'And keep your head turned always
to the place which you are seeking.

'Through dread of crying you will
laugh instead.

'If you can grin, at last
when handing over.

'And finish well, what you have well

'And think a muddy ditch
a bed of clover.

'You will be a soldier one day then
my son.'

Section, halt!

Give us a cigarette, Dodd.

We must be here.
Because this, here, is over there.

Where are we, sir?
If I'm not mistaken,

we're back at Wipers.

You sure, sir?

Pretty sure.

We've come a long way in the last
18 months, haven't we?

I'd say approximately 30 yards.

Find out what the hell monsieur
thinks he's up to, would you, Jack?

Monsieur! Bonjour!

Sergeant? Sir?

Make sure the printer's
come in one piece.

I thought the GS wagon
we put it on looked pretty ropey.

Sir. Thank you.

I don't think you're going to
believe this. Try me.

He's with the Michelin guide.

They're preparing a tourist
handbook for the battlefields.

So this is...? This is going to
be a holiday destination?

Apparently so.

We should consider ourselves

we're among the first to have seen
the sights. Yes.

Did you ask him to recommend any top
class restaurants in the vicinity?

This is beyond parody.
You couldn't make it up.

Right. Come on men. Forward march.


He'll be put out of a job soon.

Should we see if the old editorial
den's still standing?

It'll be like old times.

Yes, very old times. Back
when there were no buildings at all.

Tell me, Sergeant,
how many Es in Wenceslas?

As many of the little
blighters as I can find, sir.

Which, at the moment, is none.

Very well. I always thought the good
king was over encumbered with Es.

We're also short of paper, sir.

We... We've got
a bumper Christmas issue to produce.

I'm sure the readers will understand

if the issue's less than
the advertised 20 pages.

We've dropped
the pen in favour of the sword

and gone to liberate some
French villages.

No, we promised our readers 20 pages,
and 20 pages they shall have.

Well, that's all well and good, sir,

but it doesn't get
around our problem. No poo paper.

If I can find something funny to
say about another Christmas

on the front line...

then I'm sure you can find
some paper in Ypres, Sergeant.

I'll do my best, sir.

Thank you.

I had a profitable hand of Brag
with Bobbing Bobby.

If this issue comes out at all
it'll be a miracle.

A miracle at Christmas.

This is the story of a soldier,
Alfred Higgins,

or number 249921 Private Higgins A,

as he was officially known.

It was Christmas morning
and Alfred was holding the line.

All was peace and goodwill.

The Gas Gongs were chiming out
their message of joy to all mankind

and the merry bark of the pipsqueak,
aided by the staccato cough of the

howitzer, combined to reassure Alfred
that all was well with the world.

Alfred began to doze, when at last
his sergeant came in sight.

"Higgins," said the Sergeant.

"Have you been drinking rum?"

"No, Sergeant. Honestly, Sergeant,"
said Higgins.

"Well, then," said the Sergeant.

"You must have some of mine."

Alfred was treated for severe shock

and never went to the
front line again.

A happy Christmas
and New Year to all!

And may next Christmas see
the whole damn business over.

Bravo, Fred.

A festive tale to gladden the heart.

It's given me an idea.

Permission to go into
the pub business?

Permission granted.
What on earth are you talking about?

All right. Merci. Demain.

Demain deux fois, deux fois encore.

Very good.

Welcome to the Foresters Arms.
Very impressive.

Well, something had to be done.

The ambulances can't keep up
with the casualties

and get the wounded back to base
quick enough, so...

it's a sort of first aid post.

Or, rather, thirst aid post?

I'm terribly sorry.

That's dreadful.

Well done, lads.

There we are. One franc.

I've no money, sir.

Dear. Well, then I shall have to
insist on giving it to you for free.

Cheers, sir. What the bloody hell is
going on here?!

You're meant to be a soldier
not a bloody publican.

Yes, sir, I was just... I want it
closed down immediately.

I'm afraid that's not possible.

The Foresters Arms is providing
a vital service to these men

and following a petition from the
divisional chaplaincies,

the Foresters Arms has been authorised
to continue its essential work.

On whose authority?
General Mitford's?

Field Marshall Haig's?

Higher than that.

You damned devil dodgers are going
to undermine the whole war!

May I add my own note of caution,
Captain Pearson? Sir?

I hope this new venture,
however admirable,

will not get in the way
of your duties.

May I remind you that you are first
and foremost assistant editor

of The Wipers Times.


The General Staff are under severe
pressure from the good ladies

of the Temperance Society.


From their unique vantage point
on the home front, they attribute

all the army's reverses in the
field to the effects of alcohol.

They seem to be under the impression
that the trenches are awash

with the demon drink.

I can't imagine why
they would think that.

Rum business, war.

But the high command has given
the ladies their blessing

and whether we like it or not,
we will all have to acknowledge that

alcohol is a serious issue.

So what do you propose?

Well, obviously,
we'll have to do our bit...

and place a suitable advertisement
in a responsible trench newspaper.

Do you have a drink habit?

Do you have a drink habit?

Do you have a drink habit?

If not, I can help you acquire
one in three days.

If you, or any one you know, does not
drink alcohol regularly,

they need my new book
Confessions Of An Alcohol Slave.

I can cure anyone.

Take this once sad wretch.

I was a rabid teetotaller for the
first 15 years of my life,

but thanks to Dr Supitup
and his miracle cure

I now never go to bed sober.

All cases are treated in
absolute confidence.

This incredible three-step guide to
being a bona fide toper is yours now.

Just write to me, Dr Supitup,
at Have Another Mansions,

in Bedfordshire.

You wanted to see me, sir?

Come in, Fred.

If it's about ragging
the Temperance Society...

No, no, no. It isn't,

though I have had complaints
that your version of the war

consists of nothing but wine,
women and song.

Well, there has been the odd
visit to Madame Fifi's.

I'd keep quiet about that
if I were you, Fred.

Madame Fifi's is closed.

Napoo Madame Fifi? Quelle damage.

Sadly she had to leave her cosy club
one dawn for an appointment

with the firing squad.

Madame Fifi was a spy?

Apparently she was extracting
information from excitable

young officers

and passing it straight to Berlin.

My conscience is clear, sir.

I can't have given anything
away about the war

because I don't know anything.

Like all British
officers on the front line,

I'm kept completely in the dark.

I am amazed that, after all this
time, you can find anything funny.

I don't know, sir. You would have
to concede that it is somewhat

comical that we have spent years
fighting our way through Flanders

only to end up right back
where we started.

Then I think you'll find the news
of your next deployment hilarious.

I can hardly wait, sir.

24th division is being sent
back to The Somme.

And why not, sir?

It was such a success last time,
why not do it all again?

That's the spirit. War's waking up.

Seconds out of the ring.
Last round coming up.

Zero minus one.

Right, lads.
You all know the drill by now.

What's that you're drinking, Barnes?
Water, sir.

Don't you know the water is
not for drinking?

It's for putting in the radiators
of the staff cars.

Don't do anything risky, never mind
the water. Try some whisky.


Ready, men?

Forward, the Foresters.

Give the Fritzes hell!

Stop. Men.


Hold your fire!


They're already dead!

It's the gas. Their own gas.

The wind must have changed.

I thought they were a bit... passive.

What, you mean...

they didn't put up
much of a fight?

Not very sporting, is it?

Signing off before the show
has even started.

Spoils the whole fun of war.


There was a little Hun and at war
he tried his hand.

And while the Hun was winning
war was fine, you understand.

When the others hit him
back, he shouted in alarm.

"A little drop of peace
wouldn't do me any harm."

There was a young man of Avesnes...

Who took a stroll down a long
shady lanes...

He trod on a dud
Half-hidden in mud.

He never will do it agains.

Well up to our usual
terrible standard.

Sir, we've heard a rumour that
the Germans have surrendered.

Well, if that is the case, Corporal,

someone really ought to tell
their artillery.

Yes, and if Fritz really is
waving the white flag,

he might have the decency to
stop firing at us.

So you don't think it's true then,

All I'm prepared to say is that
the tide is apparently turned

and perhaps, at last, we can all
look forward to better times.

Better Times.

It's a good name for a title.

Letter to the editor.

Is it genuine?

Absolutely. I just
genuinely made it up.

"Dear sir.
I hear that when it's all over,"

"people who joined up early are going
to be demobilised first."

"This is very unfair"

"since they obviously much more eager
to be in the army than those of us"

"who joined up reluctantly later."

"So surely we should go home sooner?"

"Yours, Lance Corporal A Slacker."

Very convincing argument.

You sure about this title,
Better Times?

Apparently we only need one more
big effort

and we can completely bust the hump.

You seem to be
suffering from optimism.

Talking of which...

Harris thinks we can go
to a weekly edition,

despite brother Boche's best efforts
to prevent all forms of journalism

by filling the office with
shrapnel yesterday.

Why weekly? Why not a daily?
Now who's suffering from optimism?

We're selling like hot cakes.

Is that good? I can't remember what
a hot cake tastes like.

We're even selling
out on the home front.

It would take a lot more copy.

Surely there's enough
jokers out there

and more than enough
poets to fill the space.

It's a signal for you, sir.
Thank you, Harris.

My God!

What is it?

It's all over.

What, sir, just like that?

"Official radio from Paris. 6.01 am."

"November 11th 1918."

"Marshal Foch to Commander in Chief."

"Hostilities will be stopped
along entire front at 11 o'clock."

Fini la guerre.

Looks like it.

Napoo Boche.

So it would seem.

It's an armistice.

No big show then,
no final push to Berlin?

Shall I, er, tell the men then,

Thank you, Sergeant.

And tell them to keep their bloody
heads down until 11 o'clock.


So, Jack...

our swords are going to be
turned into ploughshares.

The order of the bowler hat for us.

We're going home.

Shouldn't we be celebrating?

I suppose we should.

OK, lads. Well...
just received a wire...

Now that we've actually won the war,
I hope that your scribbler friends

in The Wipers Times will treat the
staff with a little more respect.

Yes, indeed. In fact,

they're recommending the staff be
awarded more medals.

About time.

The want special recognition
for all those martyrs

who've had to endure wearying
years of soft jobs back at the base

and have missed out on all the fun
of the front line.

And welcome back to the European
Theatre for our grand finale.

Sadly Keiser Bill Hohenzollern will
not be appearing as he has

an alternative engagement singing
My Old Dutch in Holland.

Also not on the bill
are the famous Crumps.

And the little pipsqueaks.

And Duddy... whizz-bang!

Yes! The show mustn't go on.

You've seen the horrors of war.

Now prepare for the horrors
of peace.

You were an army of occupation.

Now you're going to be
an army of no occupation.

So without further ado,

let's have one last
encore from Tommy Atkins with

a delightfully delicious ditty -
costumes kindly provided by Messrs.

D Mob & Co - the celebrated
tailors of Cheap Street.

That'll do, lads. We don't want to
end the show on a low note.

That's more like it.
Now, come on, everybody,

let's see that
demobilisation smile.

A little decorum, gentlemen, please!

You are not in the army now!

It's all very amusing,

but I'm sure that it is journalism.

Nowadays, ours is a very modern,
high-pressure business.

Have you ever sat in a trench,
in the middle of a battle

and corrected page proofs?
You should try it.

I'm sure.
But that was quite a long time ago.

And your CV is a bit sketchy
on your more recent career.

I went back to prospecting.

Spent some time in Africa.
Looking for gold.

Had some ups, had some downs.

Came home and thought I'd have a
last shot at something,

which people were once kind enough
to say that I was good at.

I thought if old Beach Thomas
can get a job,

then surely I'd
be in with a chance.

He's Sir William Beach Thomas

and he's one of our most
distinguished correspondents.

Of course. I'm sorry.

Only he was
a bit of a joke in the war.


We're not really
interested in jokes.

Modern writers tell
the truth about the war.

Then perhaps I should write you
a harrowing article about

how all was not quiet
on the Western Front...

and how with shells
raining down upon us,

and the chilly November air
being rent with fury, the sub-editor

and I drank a case of whiskey
and shot the padre for cowardice

and said goodbye to all that.

Well, that's more like it.


This was my truth.

I'm sorry for wasting your time.

No, no, no. Don't be so hasty.

Here's the thing.

I like you, Mr Roberts, I really do.

And it's clear you're
clever with words.

So I think I might have something
for you here.

How about you start work on the,

The crossword?

You want me
to compile the crossword?

No. HELP compile the crossword.

See how things go.
Better not rush things.

It's not exactly the front line of
the circulation war, is it?

A chap in your position can't
expect too much.

What do you think?

I think...

Er, you haven't given me
an answer, Mr Roberts?

Mr Roberts?

Do you want this job or not?

Mr Roberts?