The World At War was one of ITV's most ambitious documentary series: 26 one hour episodes chronicling the events leading up to, during, and the aftermath of, the Second World War. Even now, more than thirty years after its production, the series is repeated on cable channels such as UKTV History, and is as enthralling and moving as it was then - a true landmark in television reputedly taking four years to make.
It seems curious such a powerful documentary series should be considered as a tie-in for 'Look-In'. Now approaching the end of its third year, the title already had links to other factual series like 'The World of Survival' and 'Clapperboard', more suited to younger readers. As editor-to-be Colin Shelbourn noted, "'Look-In' made a point of never using shows transmitted after the 9pm watershed, and 'The World At War' remains possibly the only one to break that unwritten rule."
The first programme was networked on ITV on Wednesday October 31st 1973 at 9pm, with 'parent' publication 'TVTimes' running an 'A to Z' feature of The World At War in its pages. The first part of the tie-in 'Look-In' feature appeared in issue 45 of the 1973 volume - dated week ending November 3rd - which meant some copies were in shops the day of broadcast. The features were not exacting to each part on television but similarly followed a rough chronology of the conflict. The writer remains unknown, and may have been editor Alan Fennell himself as the series was so important to ITV.
The first thirteen parts of The World At War within 'Look-In' were single page black and white features, with part fourteen being a spread. To make the series more interesting to its younger readership, 'Look-In' also ran a competition with questions about each instalment, in which Airfix kits of notable planes, tanks and ships mentioned could be won.
The feature also broke ground by changing its format into a two-page black and white strip for the final twelve parts, drawn by David Jefferis, with the exception of issue 13 for 1974 which was by Mike Western. At the time, Jefferis was working as an editor for Usborne Publishing, and recalled recently, "Like other Look-In stuff it was evening work... I could deliver the art easily at lunchtime via a brisk walk from Covent Garden to Look-In's offices in Tottenham Court Road."
As with his later work on 'Starcruiser', the brief given to Jefferis was very loose, 'I received the scripts in, drew them out in brush-and-ink, with bubbles in place for the lettering artist to fill. Colin (Shelbourn) left the disposition and content of the boxes to me.' The inclusion of each vehicle, based on availability as a kit, was presumably at the discretion of the writer, but Jefferis does not recall there being any direction to make them more significant, "...though they naturally entered the plot." With regard to visual accuracy as artist, Jefferis believed he would have had, "...something on almost everything in my own library - still do, in fact. Research is the nature of any journalistic job. A trawl through my files would yield enough to make a good start, while a quick trip to the public library filled in the holes."
With only a break for Boxing Day 1973, the television The World At War ended on Wednesday May 1st 1974, with its 'Look-In' counterpart - owing to three-day-week working restrictions delaying issues early in the year - finishing in issue 18, dated week ending May 11th. 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns!', the title of the last part, refers to the atomic bomb, and its dropping on Japan to end the war - the decision made by American President Harry S. Truman. 'Was he right?' The Look-In version concludes, 'Can that question ever be answered?' Even reduced to a dozen monochrome frames of artwork, that final solution remains as thought-provoking as the series on which is as based. Strong stuff for its time.
(Article by Shaqui Le Vesconte)