In his latest article about today’s historians, Daniel Snowman meets the creator of some of the finest TV history programmes, including Auschwitz, currently being shown on BBC2.
Is this the man who launched a thousand Hitler programmes? Well, no, actually, and Laurence Rees confesses to being a little tired of being labelled the fons et origo of the supposed ‘Hitler Wave’ on television. For a start, he says, there isn’t a Hitler Wave. Last year (and he has the figures), 89 per cent of BBC history output was not about the Second World War, Hitler, the Holocaust etc. Rather, the most frequently aired and popular programmes were about the history of Britain and of the Ancient World, or industrial and technological history. If there has been a ‘Hitler Wave’ on television, it would seem to be on the wane and, Rees suspects, will diminish further once this year’s 60th anniversaries have come and gone and the period gradually moves out of living memory.
Nonetheless, the most distinctive projects for which Rees has been responsible are a quartet of multi-programme TV series about the horrors of the Second World War: The Nazis: A Warning from History; War of the Century (about the Nazi-Soviet conflict); Horror in the East (the Japanese war and atrocities); and now, Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’. These have helped bring to millions in Britain and around the world a greater understanding of the appalling barbarism and suffering incurred by the war.