It has taken me the better part of six years to find the audio for this program, and last night I finally did.
On Christmas Eve 2014, BBC Radio 2 broadcast All Is Calm, a program on the Christmas Truce of 1914, narrated by Sir John Hurt. Hurt, while in treatment for pancreatic cancer, participated in a number of audio productions for the BBC — War and Peace (review here), The Divine Comedy, Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell — at the time, as well as reprising the Doctor for a series of Doctor Who audios for Big Finish Productions. But All Is Calm is the one I was most curious about, partly because of the subject, partly because of its obscurity.
I was traveling that Christmas — I visited my sister and her family in North Carolina (mentioned briefly here) — so I didn’t stream it at the time, and when I returned I forgot about it… until it was too late to listen to it. I think I expected it to land in the BBC’s World War I podcast feed, only it didn’t. Then I’d occasionally look for it — surely, I thought, someone archived it — but it didn’t seem so. It wasn’t on YouTube. Google and Bing searches came up with nothing. It seemed essentially lost.
Until, last night, I found it on Mixcloud.
All Is Calm plays like a very sad episode of The Storyteller, Hurt’s 1980s series made with Jim Henson. Hurt’s narration holds together a story told through vintage audio recordings of veterans, British and German, including Alfred Anderson, who was the last living witness to the Christmas Truce and died in 2005 at the age of 109, actors reading letters from the soldiers, poetry, music, and a few talking heads, including Sir Paul McCartney. (I suspect that McCartney — or, rather, his song “Pipes of Peace,” which features at the end of the program, is the reason it never hit the podcast feed.) The program provides a nice overview of what happened, the background, the aftermath, and the cultural impact of the events along the Western Front at Christmas 1914, and Hurt’s voice gives it the weight it deserves.
I sometimes wish the Doctor Who Christmas Special in 2014 had not been “Last Christmas,” that strange “Santa Claus: The Movie meets Alien meets Inception” mixture with Peter Capaldi, and instead we had a one-off Christmas Truce episode with Hurt, featuring a Doctor losing faith in his mission, who finds hope amid the carnage. I like “Last Christmas,” but what I really want is that story with Hurt, and “Twice Upon a Time,” which does touch on the Christmas Truce isn’t what I wanted. Listening to Hurt tell the story of the Christmas Truce is as close as I’ll ever get to that wish becoming reality.
“I’m sure it was left to the men, there would be no war.”