Dear Gillian Shephard

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Indy Lifestyle Online
All schoolchildren should know about the events of the Second World War - the excellent TV series The World at War should become a part of their curriculum, writes the broadcaster and MP I have been watching The World at War, the documentary series made in the Seventies by Peter Baty, Philip Whitehead and others under the general direction of Jeremy Isaacs for Thames Television, and which is now being repeated on BBC2 on Wednesday evenings. The subject of the most recent episode was the Holocaust, a nightmare that was treated fairly and comprehensibly and which should be shown more often, especially to our children. We should learn what man is capable of.

In fact, the series of 45-minute films constitutes a marvellous record of the events preceding the war and of the Second World War itself. Given a widespread ignorance of all that took place during the Thirties and Forties, could I encourage you to encourage, in turn, the headmasters and headmistresses of the secondary schools that come under your jurisdiction to make it their business to show the series? Some of their pupils may be watching it already, though I suspect that Talking Telephone Numbers onITV and This is Your Life on BBC1 may be proving more compelling attractions.

There are 26 programmes in all, of which last week's was the 20th. The series has been multi-award-winning and will take the viewer up to and beyond the defeat of Japan and the dropping of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Each programme takes an aspect of the war (and of the rise of National Socialism in Germany) and, with the guidance of historians such as Noble Frankland, gives a vivid and unbiased account of the events. Much of it comes as a surprise to my children, who are in their twenties and beyond; for those who are younger there could be no better introduction to contemporary history than to sit through the 1,170 minutes of the series.

Earlier, I used the word "encourage", for I doubt whether you have the powers to oblige schools that come within your ambit to show the series - indeed any television series - even at an interval of, say, four years. The series, which is the property of Thames Television, might be hired at less than commercial rates; if not, money should be raised to enable schools to hire the equipment necessary and the 26 episodes.

We cannot permit the two generations that have been fortunate enough to escape war to remain in blissful ignorance of what our fathers fought for, of the horrors of which man is capable and the sufferings of millions, all of which took place in the name of "politics".

The BBC is to be congratulated on showing what was originally a product of commercial television and to have done so on the 50th anniversary of the end of Hitler's war. But BBC2 is a channel for the middle class and the middle-aged; the message should beshown to thosewhose knowledge of the most terrible events of this century is, at best, sketchy.

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