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The Monocled Mutineer

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The BBC has ruled out repeating a controversial drama about a mutiny by British soldiers in the First World War ahead of the centenary next year, as historians quarrel over the truth behind the uprising.

The Monocled Mutineer drew about 10 million viewers when it was aired in 1986. It starred Paul McGann as Percy Toplis, the supposed ringleader of an insurrection at Étaples, in France, in 1917, where drunken disorder broke out between privates and officers and a soldier was executed for mutiny.

The series sparked controversy in the House of Commons as Conservative MPs said that the series was inaccurate and accused the BBC of left-wing bias.

Michael Gove previously criticised the programme, along with Blackadder and Oh! What a Lovely War, in 2014 for depicting the First World War as a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.

The four-part series has not been repeated since 1988, despite calls in recent years from McGann and from Lord Grade of Yarmouth, who was controller of BBC One at the time and said in 2014 that he would be thrilled to see it again.

The series was adapted by Alan Bleasdale from a book of the same name by William Allison and John Fairley.

Mr Fairley said this week: It was incredibly popular and should be repeated. I wrote to various people at the BBC including Tony Hall [the director-general] saying that it should be repeated, but had no reply.

The BBC said in 2014 that the series might be considered as part of its First World War commemorative season, but admitted this week that there were no plans to repeat The Monocled Mutineer.

Mr Fairley dismissed reports that the BBC had problems re-acquiring the rights to the series due to special contracts signed by the cast and crew. He said: The fact is that it was incredibly controversial at the time.

The idea that there had been any kind of insurrection in the British Army was regarded as total heresy. I think its more that theres still a feeling that anything that reflects badly on the glorious performance of the British Army in the First World War isnt acceptable.

Mr Fairley stood by his account of Percy Topliss role in the mutiny, which erupted after a number of men were arrested for trying to visit bars that were reserved for officers and one soldier was accidentally shot by military police.

Some historians have claimed, however, that Toplis was not involved and have played down the scale of the insurrection.

Julian Putkowski, a historical consultant for the series, said that Toplis was not the ringleader at Étaples and was not even present. Toplis was a nasty little murderer, rapist and thug, he said. But was he at Étaples? Was he a mutineer? No. There is nothing that stacks up historically.

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Good to know that old controversies never go away. Articles on it appeared in 'Stand To!' at the time, including a detailed one by the historical adviser quoted above, explaining why he had disassociated himself from the series.

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I think the problem was that the BBC's pre broadcasting blurb claimed that the whole thing was, to summarise, a docu-drama, ie with a high/very high basis on fact. If it had been left alone as a drama based on the affair at Etaples, then I think they would have got off much of the spluttering. To claim as Mr Fairley seems to have done that any idea of insurrection in the British army was heresy is somewhat OTT - not least because Judge Babbington's book had been out for some time by that stage and possibly also the Putkowski and Sykes tome.

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Another case, as with Denis Winter's 'Haig's Command,' of inventing a fictional historiography of unalloyed praise for the British conduct of the war in order to make a straw man which the author proceeds to demolish with his 'shocking new'revelations.

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It's probably quite out of order to muse that other authors have included a mutiny at Etaples in their works of fiction. I have in mind John Masters' trilogy which deploys an infantry battalion from the front to contain one. Is it a case of 'no smoke without fire' ? Or it just seemed a dramatic idea.

Old Tom

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It may be ironic but I actually watched the Monocled Mutineer last week on the Forces TV Channel for the first time since the the 1980s. I say ironic because I believe that the British Forces Broadcasting Service actually responds to requests from their viewers.

Leaving aside the wrangle about accuracy, the Monocled Mutineer remains a gripping drama of the highest quality. It is a real pity that it will not be placed before the wider audience that it deserves.

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It is available on DVD HERE. I remember it well: the political fuss about it was huge at the time I recall - politicians used it as a stick to beat the BBC, and I can quite see that the BBC collectively would like to completely forget the whole event.

But as Melpac says it was a wonderful drama - I wonder if it has aged well? I suspect it has. But it does seem that the real Percy Toplis was not at Etaples in late Sept 1917, and was very possibly a psychopathic murderer.

William

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It was on Forces TV again late last night, finished about 12:45, caught the last couple of hours.

John

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It should be remembered that the writer, Bleasdale, when brought to task explained that The Monocled Mutineer told, "A greater truth". And as we all know, there are lies, truth and of course "greater truth" otherwise, usually, fiction.

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We used to say that there were "lies, damned lies, statistics, government statistics and Chinese government statistics". And, of course - "there are three versions of every story; my version, your version and the truth". Swathing oneself in a blanket of "a greater truth" when you play fast and loose with it is incredibly pompous and self-regarding; it is also rather close to the methods of elements I am sure Mr Bleasdale would not want to be associated with given his own politics. The Honorary Colonel of the RMP has gone to print in the newspapers dissociating his Corps from the Etaples "canaries". My view? McGann was superb; whoever cast Cheri Lunghi has my eternal thanks; but McGovern's painting of the craven, murderous, cowardly rapist that Toplis was as an anti-hero "sticking it to the man" is as cynical as it is misleading.

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In the face of criticism, Bleasdale, the author, claimed that the Monocled Mutineer, said it told "A greater truth'. It was of course a platform for his own political views. I always understood truth to be explicitly clear - with or without any one being being greater than an other.

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having read this thread with interest, I found several references to Percy Topliss searching through the British newspaper archive.here is one:

post-66-0-90552600-1465650115_thumb.jpg

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The hill where Toplis shot Spicer, properly named Thruxton Hill (though some miles west of Thruxton) was popularly known as Toplis Hill and was described as such to me in the 1990's.

It is now marred by cuttings for the present A303. The old road ran a few hundred yards to the south.

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Hello there. I'm new round here, but I'll wade in, as I think you might find this interesting and relevant... I have the unpublished handwritten personal memoirs of General Asser, who was portrayed in the film, and I have transcribed the relevant section for all to see, as we come up to the centenary of the mutiny. The whole section is here: https://www.etaplesmutiny.com/general-assers-memoirs-etaples-mutiny/

 

And here's a brief taste:

"The trouble began by a New Zealand man being confined for some offence in the garrison guard room which consisted of a hut. A crowd of sympathisers came down to the hut and demanded his release.

There were a lot of lookers on. A man of the Military Police came to the door with a revolver and let it off into the crowd. A Corporal of the Gordon Highlanders was killed. Then the fun began. The Military Police were chased out of the whole camp & there was an uproar."

 

No mention of Toplis, obviously.

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ID: 15   Posted (edited)

JimTom

I'm surprised your post hasn't attracted comment. I've only read a few accounts of this time but I found it a useful additional explanation of the end of the mutiny, rather than just leaving it as Babington wrote:

"At that point the mutiny ended just as suddenly and capriciously as it started"

 

Asser was Lt Gen Joseph John Asser and there are good portrait photos at the National Gallery and a sketch at the IWM.

 

The Base Commandant was Brigadier Gen Andrew Graham Thomson, RE.

 

The Base Adjutant at the time is quoted as a 'Captain Guinness (misspelt Guiness?)'. I am wondering if this is Owen Charles Gunness who was adjutant of 38 IBD in 1916 ? I posted some info on him in another thread. He had lost a hand in 1914 which I would think makes it less likely that he would be chucked off a bridge as claimed in some accounts of the mutiny.    No, I see (per WarDiary) it was Captain 'V C Guinness' although I cannot trace him ? Edit again -  Its the WarDiary thats wrong because it was OC Guinness appointed Camp Adjutant Feb 1917, so my comment above stands.

 

Charlie

 

 

Edited by charlie962

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Since downloading W10 I cannot play these audio files but some men who were present at the Mutiny talk about their experiences available in the IWM. Worth a listen?

 

Imperial War Museum Audio Archives

 

Mike

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Charlie962,

 

That's the one. I have quite a lot of other material from him on other issues. But it's of varying importance and not written very eloquently. Really more for family than anything else as far as I can see. It needs quite a lot of time to do it justice. But I wanted to get this out because it is quite self-contained and timely, and I think it does add to what we know from the time, given how there is a certain amount of misinformation. 

 

Here's a taste of the original.

161.jpg

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1 hour ago, Skipman said:

Since downloading W10 I cannot play these audio files but some men who were present at the Mutiny talk about their experiences available in the IWM. Worth a listen?

 

Imperial War Museum Audio Archives

 

Mike

Are they Adobe Flash video?

Perhaps you need to re-install the plug-in for your browser?

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5 minutes ago, Dai Bach y Sowldiwr said:

Are they Adobe Flash video?

Perhaps you need to re-install the plug-in for your browser?

 

I think that's the problem but W10 won't play with Flash.

 

Mike

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41 minutes ago, Skipman said:

 

I think that's the problem but W10 won't play with Flash.

 

Mike

Hmmm.

Mine does.

I can play them OK.

(Firefox, I thought I had Adobe Flash Plug in on my laptop, but I see it's Shockwave Flash plug in. Win 10).

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It's possibly a Firefox/Flash Player issue. I attempted to sort it all but got very boring and frustrating.

 

Mike

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Flash is being discontinued and in any case very insecure. But a lot of media is still dependent on it. What I found worked for me is:

1. Install Chrome, and if you don't want to use it as your main browser, copy and paste the page url in to it. Chrome has Flash semi-built-in.

2. When the media (inevitably) fails to play, click the Flash Plugin link in the media area.

3. There should be a popup near the top left of the browser window asking to run Flash. Let it do that, and enjoy!

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 14.59.22.png

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Many thanks JimTom I will give that a go later. Good for you. :thumbsup:

 

Mike

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Haven't had a minute to check your method JimTom but will do.

 

Do we know the identity of the Gordon Highlander who was shot. Might it have been 142615/ 240120   William Wood?

 

Mike

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