The Long, Long Trail tells the story of World War One through the songs created and sung by soldiers. First broadcast on BBC radio in December 1961, with a remake released in February 1962, the show was written and produced by renowned producer, Charles Chilton. Chilton’s approach – combining documentary with popular songs, all from the perspective of an ordinary British soldier – was unique.
Why did Charles Chilton create this radio programme?
Chilton’s inspiration to create the show was part of a personal quest to learn more about his father, whom he never met. Chilton’s father signed up to the army underage, and was killed in 1918, aged 19, at Arras. When Chilton visited the site of the battle he did not find a marked grave, but instead his father’s name inscribed on a war memorial listing over 35,000 men. Later, Chilton asked, ‘What horror could have taken place that rendered the burial of 35,942 men impossible and all in one relatively small area?’
Following this experience, Chilton set about researching the lives of ordinary soldiers. His research led him to collect soldiers’ songs from a wartime book titled Tommy’s Tunes. Many of the songs were adapted from music hall.
The Long, Long Trail was originally narrated by actor and politician Andrew Faulds. Its 1962 remake was narrated by Bud Flanagan, a popular music hall star who had served in the First World War. The script shown here is from Flanagan’s version, in which he tells his own story, as written by Chilton.
Inspiration for Oh What a Lovely War
While recovering from an accident in 1962, Gerry Raffles heard The Long, Long Trail on the radio. His attention held by the soldiers’ songs, Raffles was convinced that it had potential for a stage show adaptation. Over the next year, Raffles, Chilton, Joan Littlewood and the cast of Theatre Workshop drew from The Long, Long Trail to develop the landmark musical satire, Oh What a Lovely War. The musical retained many of the songs selected by Chilton, such as ‘Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser’ (see f. 6r).
This copy of the script is from Joan Littlewood’s Archive, presumably kept and used by the company during their writing process. A note in Joan Littlewood’s hand on the front page details the connection between the two shows.
While Oh What a Lovely War became one of the most famous British plays of the 20th century, The Long, Long Trail all but disappeared. Shortly before his death on 2 January 2013, however, Charles Chilton donated a copy of the 1962 recording to the British Library (reference C1186). In 2014, BBC Radio 4 was able to broadcast the programme for the first time since its original transmission.