Ian Hislop’s and Nick Newman’s The Wipers Times is a stage adaptation of their award-winning BBC ﬁlm. Currently on tour and at Richmond Theatre from Tuesday 26 to Saturday 30 September, this production tells the true and extraordinary story of the satirical newspaper created in the mud and mayhem of the Somme. Here Ian and Nick share their thoughts on the production and its historic inspiration.
Q What first sparked your interest in The Wipers Times, Ian?
I was presenting a documentary about the First World War and I came across a reference to The Wipers Times and a joke quoted from one issue. I followed it up and I could see it made the most brilliant story which was much too good to be used in a mere documentary.A (Newman)
I’d never heard of The Wipers Times, but what was so extraordinary about it was the fact that it was original source material, written on the frontline by troops on active service. What stood out was that it was genuinely funny and the jokes had survived the test of time. We wanted to revisit the material in some way so we wrote a three page document about how we’d recreate the theatre of war. We put the idea of making a film about The Wipers Times to the BBC and we then heard nothing – for ten years! Q Why did you have such trouble trying to sell the idea?
Even our wonderful producer David Parfitt thought nobody was interested in the First World War.A (Newman)
David was quite honest about it. In the current climate – this was in 2003 or so – nobody was interested in the subject. Then, during the following years, along came Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, War Horse at the National and then the West End and the Spielberg film. Even David produced Parade’s End which was set at the time of the First World War. Paradoxically this revival of interest in the period worked against us. Who’d want to put on a play or make a film set in World War One when Birdsong and War Horse had been so successful? Then, completely out of the blue, we got a commission to make a drama documentary about The Wipers Times for the BBC as one of the programmes marking the centenary of the war.Q Do you think you had such trouble because you were concentrating on a very different aspect of the First World War?
That’s exactly right. The whole experience of World War One has been coloured by the poets publishing in the 1920s and the memoirs and dramas written in the 1930s. Audiences had seen things explode before and they were looking for a different experience. What The Wipers Times was doing at the time was putting a smile back on people’s faces.A (Hislop)
Sometimes you get the impression that nobody ever laughed during the period between 1914 and 1918. The soldiers fell on The Wipers Times like thirsty men finding water in the desert.