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37 Days is a history lesson for us all - says Kathy Griffiths

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: March 05, 2014

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IT won't have escaped your notice but this year sees us marking the centenary of the outbreak of one of the most tragic conflicts Britain has ever endured.

There is a whole raft of programmes dedicated to the First Wold War and, whether you are viewing it from a strictly Blackadder perspective or have been lapping up Jeremy Paxman's learned history of how it changed our nation for ever, there is no escaping it.

But you might be like me — a little bit hazy on the detail about how it all started. I had hoped a nice little half term trip to London taking in the Imperial War Museum would get me and the kids up to speed on all things military but for some inexplicable reason the attraction was closed . . . at half-term . . . during the centenary! Really, guys? When you would have had an eager audience ready to lap things up we were among those disappointed families confronted by locked doors.

So in lieu of that I have been swotting up with this rather earnest drama which boasts whole host of famous faces playing the historical characters who led us — albeit reluctantly — into war.

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The title takes its name from the timescale between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (yes, you philistines, that is where the band got its name from) the heir to the Austrian throne, and the actual declaration of hostilities.

As author Mark Hayhurst points out, it was far from straightforward and indeed far from certain that there would be a war. The crucial factor in this all, the tipping point that had such bloody consequences was pride, the unshakeable desire of certain nations not to lose face or standing in the eyes of their rivals.

So the Austro-Hungarian relatives of the Archduke were determined to be seen to avenge the killing carried out by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip and to exact a high price from his nation. But while hot-headed Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany backed their demands for suitable retribution, Serbia was supported by Russia, who in turn could call on France and Britain as their allies.

The weight of diplomacy and negotiations rested heavily on the shoulders of Foreign Secretary Lord Edward Grey (Ian McDiarmid) a tragic man who tried to use cricket analogies and secrecy to try to avert catastrophe. His Prime Minister Herbert Asquith (Tim Pigott- Smith) and fellow cabinet members David Lloyd George ( Mark Lewis Jones — so that's why you're not in the new series of Stella) and Winston Churchill all have their own views as the clock ticks and the situation grows even more grave.

A heavyweight drama, given its historical significance and the cast list, it is little wonder that its three parts are being stripped across consecutive evenings for a potted history of a conflict came frustratingly close to being avoided.

37 Days is on BBC2 at 9pm tomorrow.

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