Friday 28 March 2014

BBC Documentary on Ivor Gurney

My documentary on Ivor Gurney, directed by Clive Flowers, will be broadcast this Sunday, 30 March, at 9pm on BBC4.

Several years ago, a number of scholars specialising in the First World War were invited to a jointly-organised AHRC/BBC event in London. We discussed our work, and gave our views on how the BBC might mark the forthcoming centenary. There I met an executive producer, Mike Poole, who, as luck would have it, had always wanted to commission a programme about Gurney. So he approached Clive, making him the gift of a rather startled academic with no previous TV experience as presenter.

The filming process, although exhausting, was an absolute joy. Locations included the Somme (where Gurney was shot), Passchendaele (gassed), the Royal College of Music, and some of the hills around Gloucester which inspired Gurney's greatest poetry. Thanks to Ryan's stunning camerawork, it is easy to appreciate why Gurney loved these landscapes. We were also lucky to interview such eloquent experts, my biggest regret being that, for an hour-long documentary, so much superb material ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Lost in the no-place of the asylum for the last 15 years of his life, Gurney complained constantly that he had not received the 'honour' that was due to him. Wishing for death, he felt forgotten, betrayed, exiled from his native Gloucestershire and condemned to lingering torture. I thought about that a great deal as I was helping to make this documentary. The programme is intended as some small and belated recompense, a homage to an extraordinary genius who remains underappreciated even today.  


  1. It was a very moving programme and a very fitting tribute to Ivor Gurney. Well done to all who were involved.

  2. Tim, though it may seem to be a small and belated recompense to those from a century ago, it serves as so much more.These next few years give us the opportunity help the lost voices be heard again in a deeply meaningful way. I nominate Rosenberg for your next venture into film! The music was exquisite, the editing, and the scripting. I particularly liked the fragments of his poetry embossed upon the film.

  3. Thanks to your introduction I have enjoyed many of the poems and have many favourites such as:

    The Songs I Had

    The songs I had are withered
    Or vanished clean,
    Yet there are bright tracks
    Where I have been,

    And there grow flowers
    For other's delight.
    Think well, O singer,
    Soon comes night.

    Ivor Gurney

  4. The four clips I can see on the BBC page are wonderful. Is the whole program going to be available there at some point?

    1. Thanks, Bob. It's no longer available on iPlayer, but it is likely to be repeated several times over the coming year.

  5. I am so sorry that the contents of iPlayer broadcasts aren't available in Germany. Is there any other chance to watch this documentary - or indeed any BBC programmes outside the UK? Radio broadcasts are available via the iPlayer around the world but not TV programmes.