Andrew Marr: The Making of Modern Britain, BBC2

Not Forgotten: Soldiers of Empire, Channel 4

Andrew Marr and Ian Hislop each brought a sure touch to First World War histories

You could forgive Andrew Marr and Ian Hislop buckling under the weight of their poppies come Armistice Day. How does a popular historian tackle a subject as relentlessly researched as the First World War without staggering into the No Man's Land between rehashed old facts and obscure military arcana? Hislop, on Channel 4, was at least able to beaver away in Marr's shadow. Poor Andy is a brand these days, his name swinging awkwardly from the programme title, promising the Andrew Marr™ take on the war to end all wars, and the enormous changes it wrought on this country. Gulp.

Wisely, in Andrew Marr: The Making of Modern Britain, he knew precisely the effect of leavening the History with a bit of history. Such as addressing us from the first house – 16 Alkham Road, Stoke Newington – ever to suffer aerial bombardment. The shell was dropped from a Zeppelin, bounced off a chimney pot, and though it didn't explode properly, many others did. The airship attacks terrified a London populace that had only recently been introduced to the reality of powered flight, let alone death from the skies. Marr relishes these details: rubbing his hands with glee (and against the wind chill), he leaned into a north-easterly on the Yorkshire coast and reminded us that the warships of the "beastly Hun" killed more than 100 people when they shelled Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool early in the war.

Other, more widely known facts were dutifully cranked out: that David Lloyd George's "munitionettes" had not only helped to increase ordnance production tenfold in a year, but had also anticipated the emancipation of women in the 1920s by cutting their hair short, chucking out their whalebone and getting to grips with condoms. (Cue archive shot of woman polishing phallic looking shell.) But he was itching to show that, at certain key points, it was pure fluke that Britain emerged in quite the shape it did from the "meat-grinder war". The U-boats, for instance, had a stranglehold on the merchant shipping supplying Britain, and it was thought that a convoy system would turn into a turkey shoot. In the event, facing famine at home and consequent defeat to Germany, the Admiralty caved in: convoys were formed in desperation, and, according to Marr, turned the tide of war.

This is Marr at his best, the former lobby hack digging around for facts to reveal the confusion and panic behind the sombre façades of Whitehall. In 1914, Herbert Asquith, we learned, occupied himself during war cabinet meetings by scribbling billets-doux to his mistress. Later, Lord Fisher, the First Sea Lord, cracked up and was found holed up in a hotel in Charing Cross, gibbering about how he must have absolute control of the entire Royal Navy. Whatever misgivings Marr may have had about the forbidding scope of this programme, indeed this entire series, they were swept away in these moments.

If Marr was the dashing captain getting up the nose of his superiors, Hislop was the dogged subaltern, ensuring each got his due in the trenches. In Not Forgotten: Soldiers of Empire, Hislop's subject was the contribution of the Empire to the First World War effort. The statistics were dumbfounding: one in three of British infantry fielded at the outset of the conflict was Indian, and by 1918, 2.5 million from Africa, the Indian sub-continent, Australia, New Zealand and Canada had fought with the British. The willing volunteers from the West Indies, meanwhile, were deemed fit only for the digging of trenches and lugging of shells.

Hislop told the story simply, through the experiences of a Sikh, Irishman, Native American, Canadian and West Indian, and their descendants. Manta Singh had rescued his wounded commanding officer, Captain Henderson, with a wheelbarrow, and the Singhs and Hendersons are still in touch today. As for the Canadian "cow-puncher" Henry Norwest, he had gone on to become a sniper and one of the sharpest shooters in the war, claiming 115 kills. Yet what surprised and moved Hislop was how benignly the subjects and their descendants regarded service in the cause of Empire. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi wrote nearly a century ago: "If we desire its privileges, we should desire the responsibilities of this great Empire."

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London