Tuesday, 25 July 2017

She will always remember you. I promise.

It was a surreal moment, when the phone call came through. Little did I know that the subject of the call would consume my mind and heart from then on.

“Oh yeah, what has he done this time?” my partner replied to her middle sister who had phoned, as we were on the way to take our young toddler to football training.

“No fucking way. How? When? Where?”…

She fell silent.

Then came a breakdown; despair, heartache, grief and floods of tears. 

I immediately pulled the car over, trying to interrupt the call by asking what has happened. My partner quickly got out of the car, unable to comprehend the news she was receiving that fateful Saturday morning.

It was in that immediate cuddle to console her that she replayed the news she had received to me.
Her eldest sister’s former partner had been killed in the early hours of the morning; stabbed to death in a robbery after leaving a bar, with his current girlfriend and friends.

Details initially were sparse, but our immediate thoughts went to our much loved five year old niece, whose life was about to be turned upside down, and heart to be broken into a thousand pieces. Five years old. Just a baby. Now due to the actions of another, she would no longer have her Daddy to cuddle and kiss.

Despite the separation, she idolised her father, of whom she is a spitting image. My immediate reaction was to do all that I could to protect her from what the coming hours, days and weeks would and will bring.

During that day, I kept checking Twitter and News feeds. Outlets were beginning to cover the incident as the day wore on. No names were mentioned, however details began to emerge. A man stabbed to death in Greenwich, South East London. There were two attackers, who attacked the victim with a large knife and firing a gun towards him. They then stole his luxury watch from his wrist as he tried in vain to escape the attackers. The two men dressed in dark clothing then fled on a moped. They had appeared to have been waiting for the group to approach. 

We went to my partner’s mother’s house, where we had to pretend that nothing had happened, as our niece played happily with my son. Among us however we were trying to piece together what could have possibly happened. The word ‘surreal’ doesn’t really do enough to describe the atmosphere that morning.

The press obtained the information they needed the following day, after attending the scene of the crime and looking at the name of the victim which had been written in floral tributes by his friends and family. A Chelsea football scarf left at the scene had his surname. Therefore the press had the name they were looking for. At that time, the Police had not named him. Other tributes spoke of peoples love towards him and sorrow for the situation. My partner’s grieving sister had left her own message of love and mourning at the scene, which included a family drawing my niece had done previously of the three of them. On that image, my sister in law had written ‘To Daddy. Love from ….’ and wrote their daughters name. 

From that scene, the Press knew his full name and that he was a father. One over eager photographer was soon lambasted for taking pictures of the grieving group of mourners. Meanwhile the news of the murder had reached people in the local area, and people were leaving their own tributes on social media. Reporters simply then searched Facebook and found posts from people who had left comments of condolence on their open profiles, using a photograph taken some years ago which had been used in peoples comments.  Along with quotes taken from lads who played football with him some years earlier, the photo alongside the name were quickly added to the ever updating news webpages.

I was upset when I saw that the press had used the image that our niece had drawn as the main focus of their articles, but I fully understood that by emphasising he was a father may help encourage witness to speak up, however I did not see the need to name her in the articles. She is five years old. The general public knowing her name does not inform them of anything else urgent about the case. All it does is put her name on the internet for eternity. I therefore spoke to a relative of mine, who works for a news organisation, who promptly arranged for her name to be removed from the imagery and articles. But by then it was too late. Other news outlets had picked it up and were using it too. 

How could I protect her from this? I gathered advice from legal bodies and was advised to make an official press complaint, to attempt to reach out to press organisations to refrain from using her name in future articles.

I recalled a documentary shown by Channel4, ‘A Killing in My Family’ which focused on an amazing charity who help children who have lost someone to homicide. I remember being moved at the time of watching it, never did I think I would be calling them for advice. The lady I spoke to was calm and collected. She offered me clear and concise information, and really informed me of the way that our niece would need to be informed of the tragic news.

“You need to inform her of what is required to live. That we need our hearts to continually beat and our lungs to continually breathe. At five years old she will take everything literally. If you say Daddy has gone to be with the angels, she will think there’s a chance he will come back, or that she can just phone him and talk to him. The best way is to tell the story with truths. That a bad person wanted something of daddies, but daddy didn’t want to give it to them. The bad person then hurt daddy with a knife. This caused daddies heart to get weaker and it harder to breathe. That lots of good people then came to help daddy. That they did all that they could. But daddy’s heart stopped beating and his lungs stopped breathing. That he then died.”

My heart was broken. That has got to be the hardest conversation to have. But I saw the logic in the way that they advised to address it. I tweeted celebrity Grief expert Jeff Brazier about the loss, and received some nice personal responses which were appreciated.

In the days that followed, the Police eventually formally named him in their press releases, alongside a recent photo of him. They also released images from CCTV of the two men they wish to speak to about the murder. Both in crash helmets. In my opinion it would be near on impossible to identify the assailants from these grainy pictures. Hopefully someone out there recognises the bike. The Police released an image of the Rolex that was stolen in the attack. Hopefully if that has been sold on somewhere, it will raise alarms with the buyer etc.

On the Thursday, our niece chose to watch The Lion King for the first time. Despite some reservations, her mum let her watch it. It helped the following day, when she sat her down to agonisingly inform her that her own Daddy had been killed. Her reaction was as expected, and she has subsequently been very quiet. Playing with my son is helping her feel normal, but she questions why he isn’t as sad as she is, not realising that at two years old he is too young to understand. At five she is old enough to understand exactly, but too young to control any emotions. As a family we will get her through this. We have to.

It is still so raw that it doesn’t quite feel real. The police haven’t said too much. They ‘remain open minded’ to the reason for this attack. Was this a simple murder robbery, or was it more orchestrated? Their latest article calls for help.

Only time will tell I guess.

Time is the one thing we all take for granted. If this has taught me anything, it is to always cherish every day and to do all that I can to ensure my loved ones know I love them. The fact that my niece will live the majority of her life without having her daddy by her side absolutely wrecks me.

I hope these men are brought to justice soon. These men are scum. They do not deserve to be free. 

RIP Danny. Despite not being close, rest knowing that I will always be there for your daughter as if she was my own. She will always remember you. I promise. 

It goes without saying, that should you have any information, please tell the police. Anyone who may have information can call the incident room on 0208 721 4005. Or Crimestoppers anonymously 0800 555 111.

Monday, 24 July 2017

A Stream of Consciousness..

As I sit down to allow a brief stream of consciousness to leave my fingertips into my computer, there is a lot that I feel I need to, and can write about at the moment. For quite a while I have struggled with what to write about with this blog. The blog itself has served as my release of emotions when I have needed it to. Although I have dear friends, I do not necessarily have a large network of people around me of whom I can confide in about certain sort of things. Only recently have I found a few people in the workplace who have shown a considerable caring nature towards my happiness, and who have encouraged me to get things off of my chest.

However despite this, I have still avoided writing this post if I am honest.

It is hard to describe to people the emotions I have been feeling in the past ten days or so. Never in my life have I felt so unsure and unsettled, compared to these preceding days.

There have been four huge things which are ongoing which are, and will be, major events in my life.
Then there has been one event which has served as a trigger to my negative mind state. All five together at the same time, and the result is that my head is a little all over the place. So I think it is important that I address them in order to allow myself to fully understand what is going on.

The reasons for this rollercoaster of emotions have been multifaceted. Each of the subjects which are grabbing the focus of my attention are completely personal, relating to my family, and the fear of not being there for them. Old feelings and concerns have been raised, and a sense of trying to manage the grief that others are feeling is overwhelming. 

These feelings have been bouncing around inside my head, crashing against one another, with some dominating the other at times, but with all playing on my mind simultaneously. It feels like a combustible mix that I need to address.

Outwardly I have trying to keep it together, putting on a brave face at times in order to portray an appearance that I am being strong for those around me. However, privately I have needed to get my views out to avoid waves upon waves of downheartedness and negativity consuming me. It is getting harder and harder to shrug off the sadness.

I am planning on addressing each of the five things in my blog in varying degrees.

The first thing was health scare. I have been struggling with and complaining about headaches for a good few months. These headaches were unlike migraines, and were only affecting two specific parts of my head. I had been taking paracetamol to manage these, but concerned at how regular they were occurring. Then over the last few weeks I noticed I was losing the ability to recall certain words in specific situations. Something a mundane as cutting the lawn and I would forget the word for lawnmower for example.  Around the same time I noticed I would drop things quite easily, which was out of character for me. The door keys, my phone, and other everyday objects would slip out of my grasp without me noticing. Then the final incident was a fortnight ago, when I was walking to the train station in the morning, when all of a sudden I was on wet muddy pavement, having fallen over for no apparent reason. This concerned my partner and I, and I googled what the symptoms could be. I know you shouldn’t ever do that. But I am glad I did. I then saw a GP immediately and was referred to a Neurologist who sent me for immediate tests and booked an MRI. The next day I spent 30mins in a MRI machine, listening to Linkin Park’s greatest hits in an attempt to drown out the noise. The results were back that evening, and I was given the all clear in regards to any tumours or things in my brain which shouldn’t be there. This was a relief to say the least. Further examinations will be required, but at least the big scary thing has been ruled out.

Two of the things which I feel I need to talk about are linked and will need to be addressed carefully out of respect for the people involved and the ongoing situation. It is to do with the death of someone in my extended family and the effect of their loss on a specific loved one in particular. The story is a heart-breaking one to tell, and still feels raw and surreal. The incident only happened seven days ago, and not all of the facts have emerged. Some reports are vague, others misleading and there are final parts of the event still to happen. But there are still actions that are needed from me and my family to keep things together for others. I will need to give more thought into that post, than opposed to my usual writing style.
One is a thing I am super excited about, but still completely scared of once again.

The final one will deal with another unexpected loss. However this time to someone I have never met, but whose influence had a huge impact. The way in which this individual died has triggered feelings in me which have caused me to reflect and be saddened by.

Once again, I hope that by writing these blogs, I can feel a sense of release. I feel annoyed at myself for only having this outlet. But it has helped in the past, hopefully it helps again.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Back Where My Story Began...

At the weekend, I celebrated my 34th birthday. I had a number of the boys from my core friendship group, their partners and kids round to our new home for a BBQ in the back garden. My son was delighted to have a host of new playmates to keep him occupied running in and out of the paddling pool, up and down the slide, and in and out of the play room. My partner and I were more than happy to play host. It was a great day and amazing to catch up with the group. Since becoming a father, finding the time and money to have a get together with the boys has been harder to do. My priorities have changed somewhat. When you live on a budget each month, justifying a drinking session with the boys when bills need to be paid becomes problematic. It seems like I only get to see them for big occasions. But I guess that is life now. You do not need to see people every weekend for them to still be in your life.

For the most part, these guys have been in my life for a good ten years or more, some even longer. Our group has evolved in that time, with the main core having gone to school together, and others like me being friends with people within the group and joining the group along the way. We have seen break ups, new partners, weddings, babies, house moves, relocations abroad and many nights out.

But as I turn the grand old age of 34, I am back living in my parents’ house where I grew up, the house which most of my memories are from. The house, where we as a family have celebrated and mourned, where I have loved and lost. The house where I sat with my Grandmother during her final weeks, watching the fox cubs play in the garden. The dining room where I would listen to my Granddad sing aloud, as he listened to the Rat Pack whilst having a beer after his Christmas dinner. The kitchen with the fridge I would raid, as soon as my Mum had filled it with the weekly shop. The house where my Dad would give me piggy backs up the stairs as a kid. The house with the small box bedroom, where I would spend hours questioning everything, developing my own views and ideas about what I would do with my life.

I am back where my story began. Back home.

I am extremely grateful to now raising my own family there. My young son at two years old, exploring the world around him, chasing the squirrels and pigeons from the garden, my amazing partner who is always there for us, growing our unborn second baby, who will be ready to make their grand entrance in August. My parents, having relocated to a quieter life a few hours outside of London, have been amazing to give me a chance to save some money so that we can one day afford our ‘Forever Home’. We currently, as a family have the chance to make our own memories. I hope that my birthday BBQ in my back garden is the first of many great ones in my old house.

With moving back to where I was raised, I have been thinking more about old friends and the good times. We were a good bunch of boys united by our love of football and as we got older, beer, parties and girls. It is easy to reflect and remember stories about our childhood and teenage years.

I had many birthday parties in that same back garden. The best of which has to be in the summer of 1999, for my 16th Birthday. It came at the end of a week where our group had been sitting our GCSE exams, and only a few weeks after a local car crash which had resulted in the loss of five young lives, including a really popular boy from the year above. There were easily over 50 teenagers in that garden, with a DJ, loud music and lots of drinking, dancing and laughing. We were enjoying being young. That night we really did party like it was 1999! Our neighbours can’t have approved, as the police were called and we were told to turn the volume down. I was lucky to have various friendship groups in attendance that night. Friends from Primary school, from Secondary school, from the local area, all came together to have a great time. A night that will live with me forever.

My oldest friends were from Primary school. All local to one area, the majority of our Fathers knew each other. We were allowed to drink in the local pub from the age of 15, as the owners placed the responsibilities of our actions to our Dads. The day we collected our GCSE results, we were in the Crossways pub, in South East London, comparing our results. By the day I was able to buy my first legal pint of lager, I had been a regular in the pub for around three years. That can be said for all of us in that group which had evolved from the local Primary school. Every Thursday for Karaoke without fail. By the end, the youngsters had taken over the pub on a Thursday, as it was so busy with under age drinkers!

As I have said in a previous blog post, I have time for anyone who has time for me. Years may pass, but the memories, love and respect will always be there. The group from my earliest memories will always be linked to my first home, and have played a huge part in my life. Over the years, I have lost regular contact with many of those boys. However, the bond is always there and in my opinion always will be. I had a great lunch catch up with one of my best friends from Primary school days today. We laughed as remembered various stories, and how we discussed the people we once knew around that time. For the most part, everyone in that group has found a form of happiness and relative success. It is good to know we have done well. Those days in the Crossways Pub must have served us well.

Monday, 15 May 2017

I Have Been Clay...

My views on 13 Reasons Why...

From time to time, something comes along and overwhelms me; capturing the focus of my attention, seizing my thoughts, pulling at every emotion and creating a wave of binge viewing. My most recent obsession – 13 Reasons Why.

Having not heard of the programme until I stumbled across a trailer for the series on YouTube, I quickly asked a colleague opposite me if she had seen it. Her response was that she had finished the series and had liked it, but she questioned whether I would like it as well; the reason being due to the age gap between us. ” I am not sure it is aimed at your age group” she said, “it’s more for high school kids, university students and graduates”
Considering I had been all of those things in the not so distance past, I figured I would be able to relate to the content. Having resisted the urge to Google more information about the show during that morning in the office, once lunchtime came I logged on to Netflix, and there began my obsession.

From here on, I will be discussing what I have viewed, how I immediately related, and the effect I believe the show can have on people. If you haven’t seen the show, please take this as a SPOILER ALERT.

---------------------------------------SPOILERS FROM HERE ON------------------------------

13 Reasons Why, based on the novel by Jay Asher, is the story of Hannah Baker, a 17 year student who has tragically taken her own life. Before doing so, she records a set of seven tapes, each one about one of the thirteen reasons why she did it, and about a person whose actions have affected her life. On the tapes, Hannah tells the listener her instructions. Everyone who receives the tapes is one of the reasons. Once they listen, they must pass on to the next person, with the threat of all tapes being released if the instructions are not followed. 

During the thirteen episodes, we learn of relationships, friendships, teenage anxiety, bullying, family worries, self-harm, drug abuse, sexual assault, dangerous driving, depression, loss, love, and ultimately death. Nothing is covered over, everything is faced in an adult way, with no turning back. Despite being a work of fiction, 13 Reasons Why is about real issues, which affect us all regardless of age. 

As someone who has seen first-hand the effects of mental health issues and suicide, I immediately felt low during certain moments throughout. The series breaks you mentally and emotionally, just like the effects of such harrowing circumstances in real life. The series doesn’t hold back. It is explicit, it is raw. Despite being aimed at teenagers, it handles those subjects in a no holds barred adult type of way. It warms your heart in places giving you hope, only to break it so graphically, rip it out of your body, stamp all over it and leave you wondering WTF just happened?

We hear each side of each tape per episode, through the nice, sensitive, quiet, lovable, unassuming, geeky, but completely relatable character of Clay Jensen. He questions what his role is in the tapes. What did he do to Hannah which added to her wanting to take her life? Through Clay, we get closer to the final days of Hannah's life. Clay is the typical boy next door kid, who most boys/men can relate to being at some stage in our lives. Totally in love with someone yet completely scared of what to do about it. 

I have been Clay.

I was Clay when I lost my first love, left confused and heartbroken. I was Clay when a good friend, someone I looked up to was killed in a car crash at 17years old. I am Clay as I still come to terms with my uncle committing suicide. Something that still haunts me despite decades passing.

There has been much said online about this show, about how it glamorises suicide and validates revenge. I have read that people feel like the Hannah Baker character paints suicide as an attractive option, as a ‘cool thing to try out’. One article suggests that the series gives any viewer with suicidal tendencies, a manual of how to do it properly. I can see why someone looking to write a negative review could say these things, but for me I would look at the bigger picture.

This series has got inside my head, and despite suffering depression and anxiety in my life, it hasn’t made me want to slit my wrists in a filled up bath tub after recording my story and telling all those who have contributed to my negative mental state. It has however made me remember times I felt low, especially the times during my teenage years. It has triggered spouts of feeling down. It has left me feeling negative, and I can certainly see the fears associated with this show. 

I can see the importance of showing a warning message before the start of certain episodes, including the website built to offer help to those people affected by these issues. However as a 34 year old male, I am not the target audience. Would the 14 year old me be typing the same thing if I had seen this twenty years ago? Probably not, I fear it would have affected me tenfold. At that age I had so much in my head that I wanted to say, but no platform or people to say it to.

Therefore I can see why adults, such as parents, carers, guardians, teachers, councillors, mental health experts are worried about copy cats. I agree with a quote I saw online which said “I can almost guarantee that within the next year there will be a student we hear about on the news that actually does this exact process with the tapes,”  - the sad truth is that someone somewhere will want to be their own version on Hannah Baker. They will expect the same level of mourning, the same outpouring
of emotion. But if one viewer sitting at home who has suffered sexual abuse, or has suicidal tendencies watches 13 Reasons Why and absorbs the real aim of the show, and turns their lives around, it will be a saviour. By encouraging people to talk, to check on those around you, it could save lives.

Having finished the series, I have a 13 Reasons Why shaped hole in my life now. I have thought about this show non-stop since I first watched. It is like nothing I have seen before. The acting was flawless and the characters were so well written. The music was chosen to lyrical perfection. The show displays the heartache and heartbreak of parents so well. It shows the gory truth of these events. In my opinion, I would have liked to have seen more humour and flirting between Clay and Hannah, to show the bond increase a little more.

Despite that one thing, I have been consumed by this show.

I watched the heartbreaking scene where Hannah takes her life, on a train on my commute to work. It broke me. I had to get up and leave the carriage I was in. The moment where there was no way back was truly agonizing. Then the gruesome discovery where her mother finds her is beyond anyone’s worst nightmares. Both scenes acted so emotionally charged but to perfection. Both scenes happened in real life for my family when my uncle took his own life, which made this all the more painful to watch, as I immediately linked to what my uncle would have been thinking that fateful night.

As much as I have taken from this programme, I would recommend it to others with caution. If you have suffered depression or anxiety, it will trigger negative feelings. But enabling people to talk about these topics is exactly what is needed. We need to know that it’s ok to not be ok. We need to talk. And there are plenty of people waiting to help you.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017


It is said; that the first step in solving a problem, is admitting you have a problem. This statement can be applied to all of life’s issues. However finally admitting something to yourself can be easier said than done.

Sometimes there is a catalyst that sparks the admission.

For a friend of mine, it was when his partner saw his bank statement and saw how over drawn he had become in such a short space of time. His problem he hadn’t admitted – online gambling. He  had become obsessed by spinning an online roulette board, and placing bigger bets each time to claw back the losses which had originated in small 50pence stakes. He was lucky, it was £500 and something which didn’t cut a huge hole in their life. She was able to stop the problem before it ran out of control. However the trust had been demolished. He then had to fix things piece by piece. Out went the smart phone, all financial control handed to his partner, and in response for her forgiveness, he agreed to attend a Gambling Addiction group. Once there, he was shocked to see how things could have gone. There were men who had literally gambled their life away. Men who had literally lost it all.  He saw men who had turned to drugs and alcohol when they lost their home, their wife and their kids. Men who had attempted suicide and were there through desperation and a last call for help. He knew he had to learn from this. And he has done.

But why is it that as men, we only ask for help when it is too late?

When I first had the urge to write something down, it was I too was struggling with a problem that I couldn’t control. I was feeling low and felt compelled to tell a story. It was the story of my uncle and his struggle with Anxiety and Depression, which culminated in him taking his own life. Forever In Our Hearts.

Little did I know, or was really ready to accept that it was my way of dealing with my own anxiety and depression. I was deflecting what I was feeling in my own life, but needed to release some tension, and instead I opened up by telling someone else’s tale about their feelings.

I had named my son after my late uncle, who had taken his own life back in 1993 when I was only ten years old. The name wasn’t in tribute of the act he committed, but instead a representation of the love that I felt and still feel towards the man. However, after naming my son after him, I had inadvertently opened a wave of emotions, which had made question aspects of my own life.

I had felt a lot of anxiety regarding impending fatherhood before the birth of my son. Was I ready?  Were we as a couple ready? Did I know enough about myself and life in general? Would I be good enough? Would I let him down?

I was expecting a Lion King moment, where I would be beaming with pride and raise him aloft and present him to the world.  In my mind; I had created an anticipation of the wave of emotions which would consume me as soon as he was in my arms. But that didn’t happen. The initial emotion wasn’t the expected euphoria.

It was fear.

I think this was due to the dramatic nature of his arrival into the world. For hours upon hours nothing had really happened in the labour ward. So much so, that my partner and I were taking a nap, when we were woken by the sound of alarms and midwives and medical professionals filling the room, with an underlying sense of panic, with the instruction that our baby needed to come out immediately. In what seemed like a blur, he was out, my partner was high as a kite, there was a lot of blood, and before I knew what was going on, he was in my arms looking back at me.

I was calm for the early days, and felt immense pride in introducing him to family and friends. But soon I found myself very low and mentally beating myself up. Self-doubt and anxiety over shadowed the joy I should have been feeling. To pin point things, it would have been low self-confidence, money worries, stress, job unhappiness, family differences, negatively comparing myself to those around me, all compounded by a level of tiredness I hadn’t experienced before, making me unhappy and making me feel like I was failing as a man, and let alone a dad.

Time passed and I turned my mental state around and good things came my way. We are now 5 and half months pregnant again, our son is a happy two year old, and I am feeling positive for the future, but still in my mind is the fact that I could drop back down to a state of depression, that outwardly no one around me would predict.

I think all dads have these feelings, but as men we simply don't talk about them. We bottle things up. Getting things off of your chest, even if it's trivial, certainly helps.  Anyone can be affected by mental health problems, and admitting that to yourself does not make you any less of a man. Opening up to those around you can really make a difference. Quite often it is the people you would not consider label as a depressed, who are mentally beating themselves up day after day. There are literally hundreds of people in the public eye, who have battled inner demons. People that you would never expect. But they are exactly that. People. Humans. We are all human and all go though lifes ups and downs. The key is not let the downs consume you to a point of no return. To a point where you see no resolution apart from a final one.

It is great to see this exact issue being tackled by charities such as CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and the great campaign Heads Together and the #OktoSay hashtag formed by Princes William and Harry to flag mental health awareness. You would never think members of the Royal Family would be depressed. But if you take away being a royal and all that comes with it, Prince Harry is a normal man, who suffered a huge loss at a young age, which has had a long term effect on his life. It has taken lots of courage for him to admit this.
 It seems the stigma is being removed from talking about your problems. With the members of the Royal family getting involved, it helps raise the message to a wider audience, which can only be a good thing.

If you are feeling low, reach out to people. If you see someone is not themselves, then open the conversation. They may reject it, or they may just open up and get a load off of their mind. It only takes a simple conversation to help people out.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Complexities in Storytelling - Band of Brothers

Back in 2005, I was a third year Film, Radio and Television Studies university student, who had to come up with an idea for my dissertation project. Representing a huge part of our grades for our final year, this document had to be over 8,000 words, and had to be on a subject agreed with our senior lecturer. Whilst my friends agreed subjects were as diverse as ‘The role of women in horror films’ to ‘The importance of friendship groups in American sitcoms’, I had a real issue agreeing an engaging subject with my tutor.

Having looked at potentially exploring the topic of Teen Movies in the 90s, I decided to concentrate The Focus of My Attention on something that I had a strong interest in – the epic WW2 mini-series Band of Brothers.

I had previously read the Band of Brothers book many years earlier, and my father had served as a carpenter on the production of the mini-series, so I had awaited its release for a long time. Additionally I had been a huge fan of the WW2 movie Saving Private Ryan (1998) and having invested so much time in the past to watching and learning about the topic, it made sense to use this as my area of study for my dissertation.

My paper aimed to explore the ways in which Band of Brothers is full of ambiguities in telling its complex story. The goal of the paper was to reveal that, by doing so, Band of Brothers leaves many key questions unanswered, and chooses what it shows very carefully. The paper also discusses, the ways in which the programme makers have altered and dramatised certain events in order to make them more appealing to a television audience.

Also under discussion is the way in which the veteran’s accounts add to the realism, which is one of the key ways in entertaining the audience, with the realism being one of the driving forces of the series. Finally, I looked closely into the major flaws in the series, and whether telling this story for a television audience meant that they had to divert from what really happened in order to achieve a show suitable for screening on television.

The rest of this post will be that dissertation. It is not the most formal of posts you will ever read, and certainly isn't the most academic. However If you are a fan of the series, it may make you aware of things you didn’t know before. Hope you enjoy.

 ‘Band of Brothers and Visual Storytelling; an analysis of complexity and ambiguity.’

Chapter 1 - Introduction

When Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks joined forces again soon after making Saving Private Ryan, to Executive Produce an epic mini-series alongside HBO, about one company of soldiers within the whole of world war two, Spielberg famously said:

Exec Producers Spielberg & Hanks
“We will spare no expense, there is no budget in getting this right”

In this essay, I will investigate how the series - Band of Brothers (2001)- got things right, yet also managed to get things wrong or totally change things that actually happened, in order to make these events more appealing for their way of telling the story visually.

The series was originally planned over 12 episodes, but eventually it became a 10 part series, with different directors for each hour long episode. Within the series, we are introduced to so many characters, so much dialogue, so much action, all stemming from the testimonials of world war two veterans. The veterans all have their stories to tell, and in bringing these stories together for the screen, the programme makers risked getting certain things wrong, or have certain facts left out. I will investigate whether the complexity of a topic like this, with so many differing opinions, the programme makers jeopardised the authenticity of the series by knowingly or not, allowing certain ambiguities and contradictions to be seen on screen.
Author  Stephen Ambrose

The series is based on the book by historian Stephen Ambrose, who had interviewed many members of Easy Company from early 1990 onwards. Ambrose had been drawn to Easy Company in particular after learning about some of the missions that they had undertaken during European invasion between 1944 and 1945.

Ambrose had already written various books regarding WW2, and one in particular ’Pegasus Bridge’ covered the far right flank of the attack. Easy company’s assault is seen as located on the left flank of the D-Day attack, and Ambrose liked the idea of seeing how it compared. Like Hanks and Spielberg would later agree, he found that there was a broad spectrum of things to cover; the units formation in Camp Toccoa Georgia in 1942, through D-Day, campaigns in Holland (Operation Market Garden,) Belgium (Battle of the Bulge) and into Germany where they found the horrors of the Nazi regime.

It would be a huge undertaking. Throughout the years Ambrose would have sit down conversations with multiple veterans at one time, who would then talk and reminisce about events and people, bringing up things that the other may remember differently, each with their own story to tell, but still being part of the big story that was Easy Company.

There are many events that appear in the book, yet for one reason or another are either not in the series or have been radically changed to suit the way that the story is being told. There are accounts in the book by certain members of the company, who have been left out of the series totally. These men who have been left out are just a worthy as a place in the series as the next man, they are veterans of the same events and battles that men who featured in the series went through, yet they are not even mentioned. Written out of history, just because the writers claimed that by introducing too many key characters, the audience would be left confused.

The series is clearly a dramatized version of the events that actually happened. After researching the programme, you can quite clearly see that the programme makers have tried to keep the events as realistic as possible, and have simply put other characters in the place of people who have not featured in the series. This allows the audience to recognise and familiarise themselves with certain characters.

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg had worked together on the film Saving Private Ryan, a fictional story told within the factual World War Two environment. This has served to forever link the two productions. Hanks’ character in Saving Private Ryan (Captain John Miller) and his men survive the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach, and then get given a mission to save one man - Private Ryan (Matt Damon), who has received the right to go home, due to the death of his three brothers.

The coincidental link between Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, is that the fictional ‘Private Ryan’ is a member of the 101st Airborne division that Easy company is a member of. Hanks and Spielberg are both self confessed WW2 buffs. They share a common interest in the history, the veterans, the battles, the memories etc. They saw what Ambrose had seen years earlier, the opportunity to show a full history of a military unit, from its birth to its death, the highs, the lows, the men and the battles. It would show WW2 to the contemporary audience, used to seeing blood and guts in war films, but not actually getting much of a chance to bond with the characters and actually feel emotionally involved with the film. Ambrose’s work allowed Hanks and Spielberg to have the whole picture in front of them. The ground work had been done, they literally needed to turn the book into some kind of script for the screen and they would have something ready to work with practically straight away. Alongside HBO, who had helped them produce an earlier series ‘From Earth To the Moon’ and Tony To, who had also worked on that production, they got to work. Ambrose was impressed.

“What impressed me was how careful they would be to be accurate. They sent me scripts of each of the episodes. They paid attention to my comments and suggestions.” -
Band of Brothers - Page 13

The episodes appear in linear order of when they happened, although certain directors use specific techniques, such as flashbacks to show us what has happened. Although these techniques are done carefully, an audience could be easily lost over a ten part series if there are constant flashback and forwards. By showing the journey of the company episodically in a linear order, through the different stages of the war, it gives the series stability, which is vital in order to keep the audience informed and aware of what is happening within the narrative.

The first episode establishes the company, its formation in episode 1 - ‘Currahee’ and the last episode shows its finale towards the end of the war in episode 10 - ’Points’. You obtain a sense of closure from the way that the series creators concluded. We say a goodbye to the characters we have invested in for the past ten episodes. The eight episodes in between, give time to each period of the company’s journey throughout the war. ’Day of Days’ (2) and ’Carentan’(3) show us the Normandy period of the war, ’Replacements’(4) and ’Crossroads’(5) show us the campaign in Holland, the offensive in Belgium is shown in episodes 6 and 7 - ‘Bastogne‘, and ‘The Breaking Point’. Finally the movement from Belgium into Germany is shown in ‘The Last Patrol’ (episode 8) and ‘Why We Fight’ (episode 9).

Chapter 2 - Examining the narrative

The soldiers of whom ‘Band of Brothers’ was based on were part of - Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment), 101st Airborne Division. They were real men, and via interviews, memoirs and books, they told their own unique, but real life stories. The authenticity of the stories would be verified by other veterans, who would always remember these events, and discuss their memory of the same event, however told from a different location. This allowed Ambrose and Band of Brothers researchers to see greater pictures of the same story. These pictures transferred to screen allow us to observe different parts of the same story.

After much collaboration from the veterans, Ambrose managed to portray the events of the tales from the war, into one manageable piece. Hanks and Spielberg, alongside HBO started the pre production of the series by making sure that everything that they had was true to what the veterans could recall. Major Richard ‘Dick’ Winters alongside author Stephen Ambrose, were given scripts and told to inform Hanks or Spielberg of any discrepancies or faults with the way the story would be told on screen.

The narrative of the series, followed the formula that Ambrose used in his book. The programme makers had allowed an extravagant budget of $120m for the production cost and a time span of over three years. It is evident that the majority of the budget must have been spent on getting the look of the film, the mes-en-scene, the locations, the props etc looking authentic. Seventeen million dollars was set aside for construction. At the time, the series was the most expensive TV series ever produced.

During pre production, the producers were looking for the right place to base the productions headquarters. England, Ireland and the Czech Republic were all considered. America was out of the question as it was not realistic enough amongst other problems.

“On a heavy day, there are as many as 700 cast and crew members on set, and it would be cost-prohibitive to take that many people for an extended time to somewhere in Northern California, where the topography and vegetation vaguely resemble Europe. Also, most of the 1940s equipment tanks, vehicles, weaponry, etc. is already in Europe, because after the war ended, it was too expensive to ship it back to America."
                                                          Tony To - Co Executive Producer

After some consultation with governments of the three countries, and a very constructive meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chris Smith (then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) UK Parliament passed a change in the law that allowed foreign film makers easier access to Britain to make more films. This in turn would mean that a large number of British workers would be on the crew (including my father), and would offer a huge economic benefit to the country. 

England had another advantage over its rivals for the production.

“The best craftsmen in the industry outside of Los Angeles are there, and going anywhere else would have meant bringing the entire crew along”
                                                          Tony To - Co Executive Producer

So with the backing of new laws, the best crew available outside the U.S, and with the Prime Minister’s son along for work experience, the production headquarters were set up in England.

Most external locations within the series were constructed in Hatfield, England, on an eleven hundred acre plot of the land, it was the same land where they had constructed and filmed Saving Private Ryan. The locations of Aldbourne, Hageneau, and Eindhoven etc were all constructed out of the same buildings on the same set, just continually modified and made to look authentic. In total eleven different European locations were constructed by the crew.

The locations, the props, the special effects all helped to visually take the audience to 1940s Europe, creating a sense of realism and identification.

David Leland, the director in episode six said;
“Every department has the best people you can find, it’s a first rate production facility”
                                                          The making of BOB Documentary

Damian Lewis as Winters, reenacting a photo from the war.
The costume department acquired 1200 authentic civilian costumes from the era, the weapons department had 700 real weapons and made 400 rubber props. Military insignia and uniforms were either real or replicated to the finest details. Every little detail such as these gave the programme makers the satisfaction that they were getting things correct, that they were recreating a moment in time, and that the veterans would feel that they were being portrayed correctly in the right environment.

The process of casting the series was done by various members of the production team, Spielberg, Hanks, alongside other producers and directors such as Tony To, would set up a video camera and get the actors to role-play, to see how they bonded and reacted to one another. Most actors were hired due to the physical resemblance to the man that they would be playing.

“Most of the men got the part the minute they walked through the door and opened their mouths” -
Tom Hanks - The Making Of Band of Brothers Documentary

A large ensemble cast was a split between American and British actors, with only a few being recognizable from other film or television projects. David Schwimmer was probably the most well known at the time from playing ‘Ross’ in the sit com ‘Friends’ for so many years. Other known cast members included Donnie Wahlberg who was formerly a member of pop group ‘New kids on the Block’,  and Ron Livingston who had a role in the popular show ‘Sex in the City.’ But the majority of the actors who were in the series were pretty much unknown before the series aired. I believe that by using relatively unknown actors, split from the U.S and the U.K, the programme makers allowed the audience to start a fresh relationship with the characters on screen, allowing them to feel that they are watching a real life documentary following the lives of these real soldiers through their journey during world war two.

*Looking back some twelve years after writing this paper, it is clear that Band of Brothers served as a springboard in the early careers of many of the leading male actors of today. Many of the unknown actors, who I mentioned, have gone on to become global stars. Damian Lewis (Homeland, Billions), Tom Hardy (The Revenant, The Dark Knight, Legend), Michael Fassbender (Assassins Creed, XMen, 12 Years a Slave), James McAvoy (XMen, Split, Last King of Scotland), Michael Cudlitz (The Walking Dead), are just a few of the young actors to be part of Band of Brothers.

Tom Hardy now, and as Private  Janovec

Over ten thousand extras were employed throughout the series, who all had to look and act the part in their small roles. It is interesting to see that there were over five hundred speaking roles during the ten episodes, with each actor having to master the specific accent for the man that he was playing.

I personally felt that Schwimmer’s portrayal of ‘Captain Herbert Sobel’ was extremely good. Having spent time reading Ambrose’s book, and autobiographies of veterans such as Winters, Webster and Guarnere, you get an understanding of the man. You can easily learn of the anger and frustration felt towards the man by the men of the company, it was great to see such a different kind of character being played by the internationally recognised star of the hit sitcom ‘Friends’.

However one BBC reviewer didn’t share that same views that I did. It stated:

“Part of the problem with the first episode (that she had previously in her report called it ‘slow and uneventful’) may have been the ridiculous fact that Friends favourite David Schwimmer plays the hard and cruel Captain Herbert Sobel.(She goes on to say) His puppy dog eyes make him appear even more pitiful”

David Schwimmer as Captain Sobel
Whether or not the reviewer was expecting another Saving Private Ryan, which she links the programme to quite a lot in her article is unclear. It is also unknown, whether she even read Ambrose’s book. She just saw Ross from Friends. She didn’t see the man being portrayed. This was a risk that the producers took by casting such an established actor. However, if people were to watch the series in fifty years time, Schwimmer’s portrayal of Sobel, would educate them to the maximum about the way that Sobel treated Easy Company.

There have been many attempts to link the series with Saving Private Ryan (SPR), what people do not seem to realise that Band of Brother is predominately a factual series of events, unlike the fictional SPR. The continuous linking of the two productions is quite annoying when researching BOB, and it is mostly apparent because of the Hanks and Spielberg factor. I wonder if two other people had executive produced the series, whether the links would be so strong.

As I stated earlier, throughout the process of writing the book, Ambrose used veteran’s accounts of what happened to drive the narrative. That technique was also employed by the programme makers in the case of the series. They went round and interviewed many of the veterans, just like Ambrose had done years earlier. They set up their cameras and left them rolling during the interview, picking up all the emotions that appeared on the veteran’s faces as they recalled moments when they saw their buddies get killed, moments when they saw outstanding bravery and courage, and moments that they didn’t want to talk about. Seeing the grown men get choked and emotional after so many years, was a key weapon in visual story telling for the programme makers.

We see certain clips at the beginning of the episodes to introduce where the men were, and what emotions the men were feeling at the time. Techniques like this allowed the audience to feel intrigued by what they were about to see. For example, by seeing a veteran talk about the events in Bastogne, and their memories of that event, the drama that would be created would leave the audience anticipating what they would see in the forthcoming episode. The veteran’s accounts add to the level of realism in the series. When a viewer watches a programme or film, knowing what the ending will be already, the way that the ending is reached has to be entertaining, engaging and interesting, with a mighty sense of realism to keep them occupied.

The actors had lots to do in order to get ready to play the men of Easy Company. They all spoke of the importance of getting it right, to honour the man they were playing. First they had to learn what the man they were portraying was like, they contacted the veterans personally, and those playing veterans who had passed away, they contacted friends and family, hoping to find out who the man was, what kind of person he was, how he moved, how he talked, things he did, the people he associated with within the company. It was crucial to the actors that they played the man correctly. Each actor seemed to understand the importance of what they were doing.

“When I first sat down to watch BOB with Dick and the other veterans at the world premiere in Normandy it was incredibly nerve wracking. When you are playing a real life person and he‘s there, you want everyone to react positively to your portrayal of him. It’s not a question of whether it’s a credible performance, but whether it’s a credible performance of him. At the end I was relieved as other veterans came up and said “you have nailed him” and that took the pressure off”
Damian Lewis, who plays the part of Major Dick Winters.

Each man felt that they had the honour of playing their respective roles, each knew what the man that they were playing was like and what they did and achieved during the war, so then it came to the stage in pre production where all actors reported for boot camp to become their specific soldier. For ten days the actors had to live and respond as their character. They learnt basic military tactics, endured hours of physical training, they were shouted at, learnt to fire weapons, had guard duty, very little sleep and culminated with them doing a mock parachute jump from a forty foot high tower and achieving their ‘wings‘. This boot camp allowed the actors to not only get into character, but to bond with each other, the relationships between the actors had to be seen to be realistic in order to show the friendship and camaraderie that was there between the soldiers during the war.  Major Dick Winters describes the bond between the men as being like twins. Going through and feeling the emotions that the others are feeling.

 “Stephen Ambrose, in his book, called us a ‘band of brothers.’ Yet in the way we took care of each other, protected each other and laughed and cried together, we really were even closer than blood brothers. We were like twins - what happened to one of us, happened to us all, and we all shared the consequences and the feelings”
Beyond Band of Brothers - Preface

The boot camp was under the influence of senior military advisor Captain Dale Dye, who had also advised SPR and other films such as ‘Platoon’, Dye would also be playing a character in BOB - Colonel Robert ‘Bob’ Sink, the commander of the regiment that Easy was in. Dye wanted the men to have experiences that they could take into filming, so that when the director would say ’you’re exhausted’ then men would have something that they could physical recall feeling, he also states that they was no way of doing that apart from putting the actors in that position. The bonding, the training, the berating, the good and bad times shared at boot camp, allowed the men to become a company of ‘soldiers’. They felt a togetherness after going through these things as a group. This allowed them to have a small slither of an inclination of how the real Easy Company felt like a unit.

As I have previously said, each episode has a different director, apart from Danish Director Mikael Saloman and American David Frankel who each direct two parts each. Each director has different ideas and reasons for doing certain things. Frankel is stated as saying he felt that his last episode - ’Why we fight’ (in which Easy Company locate and liberate a concentration camp, and witness the horrors of the holocaust) is a way of making sure that people do not forget about what happened, due to the fact that he is Jewish, he wanted to episode to act as a memorial to those who died in camps, such as members of his family.

Certain episodes follow specific characters, as we the audience, get to see everything that the character goes through during that episode. Not only does this allow the audience to bond with and feel emotions towards the specific character, for example Winters in episode two, or Lipton in episode six, but it allows the episode to be a bit different from the episode before them. Certain episodes just follow the certain character as the episodes main character, others decide to have the main character act as a narrator with voice-overs. I personally feel that this form of narration enhances the narrative, allowing the audience to be informed of everything that is going on, some times the narrative moves forward in time and location, and for some viewers, it might be confusing, but by having the character telling us what is happening and where it is happening, we are being spoon fed the information that we require.
James McAvoy

Each episode moves the narrative towards the eventual ending, as an audience we know that by the summer of 1945 the war in Europe would be over. So each episode got us closer to the climax of the end of the war. The last episode, ‘Points’ was narrated by Major Winters character, it like the book, gave narrative closure to the series. It tells us how the company were allegedly the first allied soldiers to enter Hitler’s Eagles Nest retreat, and how the group disbanded after the surrender of Japan. The conclusion goes on to inform the audience regarding what each man, who we have grown to feel fondness towards, did after the war. We learn whether they were successful in their careers, what they were like after the war. We find out about the men who had helped win the war, ending with the primary focus characters, who we had first met in episode 1; Nixon and Winters. It then cuts to more of the interviews with the veterans, only this time the veterans have their names on the screen, something that hasn’t been done throughout the series. The surprise of seeing who these old men actually are helps us identify with them even more. Over the previous nine episodes we have seen various war veterans telling their stories, without knowing who they were, at the end of the episode we find out who they veterans were. We have witnessed their actions during the episode acted out by the young cast members, yet the juxtaposition of seeing the old man on screen, who sixty years earlier had been the fearless warriors depicted in the series. With all of the effects and stunning locations used throughout the series, it’s the interaction of the men in the series which really stands out. The interviews at the end of episode ten, help enhance the feeling of togetherness felt amongst the men. The visual aspect of seeing the relationships still intact between the veterans, after all these years allow us as an audience to feel a great deal of satisfaction at the end.  Even though many of the veterans were no longer with us, the men still had the respect and admiration for the men that they served with.

As I have already stated, the actors felt that they were doing the soldiers a service, they were showing the world what the heroes of Easy company did during the war. The real men of easy company only refer to the men who didn’t come back from the war as heroes, never themselves. Captain Dale Dye said to the actors at the end of boot camp

“Your familiarity with each other, the way you work together without even thinking about it, i’ve seen it grow, don’t you think you will be able to see that on film? The truth will come out through your actions, your movements and gestures, let it shine, make the world proud of Easy Company, and the world will celebrate the men who wore this uniform for real. I consider that chance to be an honour, through your training you have earned the right to call yourselves Easy Company, and that is a high honour, lets not f**k it up”

                                      Ron Livingston’s Boot Camp Video Diaries- DVD

With the pre production organised to the finest detail, with the locations, props, uniforms, special effects all in place, with the actors who cared so highly about getting things right, with the hard work in place, why does the series still leave questions unanswered?

Why do the programme makers misplace the facts about certain events? Why do they fabricate stories or replace real people with others in order to show the audience more about the characters that they wish to enhance

There are many instances throughout the series that the programme makers seriously dramatize the events in order to make them look more attractive to the viewing audience. The programme makers however, made a huge effort to give the audience as much information as possible in an attempt to help the viewers understand; a fully operational website, with character descriptions and photos would aid people in learning the who’s who of the company, the book by Ambrose was re-released, information for teaching and educational purposes was issued. 

When researching the series, it’s evident that only a handful of soldiers played a prominent role in the series, when compared to the book. There are people who are totally ignored by the series. Certain men contributed huge amounts of information to the book, and seemed to be key members of the company, yet are ignored. One such man, Forrest Guth, is rumoured amongst Band Of Brothers fans to have been left out of the series because of his name, it sounded to much like executive producer Tom Hanks’ character - Forrest Gump. In reality however it turns out that the majority of men who seem to be missing from the series were members of Easy Company’s 3rd platoon. This platoon is the one that is the least featured within the series, with key characters of the show comprising of 1st and 2nd platoon. Until reading Major Winters’ own book - Beyond Band of Brothers, we learn that throughout the war, he had a habit of placing 1st and 2nd platoons on either flank of an attack, with 3rd platoon in reserve, he states that could be why so many veterans of 3rd platoon lived long lives. He goes on to state that the soldiers were either ’killers’ or not. 1st and 2nd were full of ’killers’ and that’s why they were used more often, and probably the reason why they featured more in the series. This careful selection, when converting the book data to script form, allowed the production team to focus carefully on those characters that the viewer would be introduced to. The Forrest Guth rumour was something which had been discussed at length online, with people thinking it was a poor reflection of the writers to leave a man out who had played a significant role; however you can understand and make the case for the justification of the decision, when there is only a set number of stories that they need to get across to the audience. That is not to say one man’s experience is less of another.

Chapter 3 - Case study

“From this day, to the ending of the world, we in it shall be remembered. We lucky few, we band of brothers, for he who today sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother”
King Henry The Fifth - William Shakespeare - 4,3,60

The quote above is taken from William Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V‘. Henry was talking to his men, who would later fight a battle they were not expected to win, somehow against all odds, they did win. The battles are different, but the roles of the men within them are the same. Easy Company was a group of men who fought for one another, laying their lives on the line to save their friends. Ambrose used the section of the speech written by Shakespeare to title his own book, which later became the series in question.

In this chapter, I will look closely at two episodes of the series, in close detail in order to establish whether telling the story for the screen meant that key features of the book were lost, that the complexities of countless individual’s stories were too much to put into one series. The two episodes that I have chosen to cover are episodes three and six.

Episode 3, ‘Carentan’, directed by Danish director Mikael Saloman, the men of Easy Company are ordered to take the French town of Carentan for strategic reasons in order for armour to move off of the beach. It is D-Day+1, and the men are still scattered over Normandy. The episode is early on in the series and the viewers have not yet learnt too much about the men. We have seen them become Paratroopers, and seen their brutal introduced to the battle. In this episode we get more information about certain characters, and get to learn more about the company as a whole.

The second episode that I will analyse in more detail is Episode 6, ‘Bastogne’, directed by British director, David Leland. The episode follows the role of the company medic Eugene ‘Doc’ Roe who is not mentioned too heavily in the book by Ambrose. We witness the campaign in Belgium namely the infamous ‘Battle of the Bulge.’ Covered in episodes six and seven, the time spent in the Belgian forest is where Easy Company really suffered crucial losses. It is here that they were reported to have bonded and felt the same emotions as one another, the pain, the loss, the suffering. I aim to look into whether or not Easy Company did have it that hard. I’m not doubting the fact that they were in a perilous position, but from research that I have conducted, there were other companies, not given the attention that Easy has, who suffered worse than they did.

Although I will state events that have happened in other episodes, I feel that these episodes chosen in particular have the most complex narratives and they teach the audience the series’ portrayal of events. And as I have mentioned before, the series isn’t necessarily a true depiction of what really happened.

Episode 3 - Carentan

After the relatively slow build up of witnessing their training to become Paratroopers in Episode 1, the viewers who were expecting a ‘Saving Private Ryan’ style start to the series were left disappointed. Episode2 we observed the characters jump into Normandy on D-Day, and are then welcomed to the days after D-Day, where the soldiers are fighting in order to push the Germans back. Episode Three was a key episode in maintaining the audience’s interest. The viewer had now invested two hours into this mini-series and needed a better understanding of the wider cast. Episode 3 really allows us as viewers to get to know the men of Easy Company better than we had done before.
Marc Warren as Private Albert Blithe

Ep3 follows the character of Albert Blithe, played by the relatively unknown (at the time) British actor Marc Warren (Hustle, Green Street). Blithe is a character not mentioned too often in Ambrose’s book and not over prominent in either of the preceding episodes; many viewers wouldn’t have noticed him at all until this point, however after multiple viewings, he is in the background of certain scenes in earlier episodes.

Through Blithe, we see how disorientated the drops on D-Day really were for the men of Easy, as the episode starts with him looking aimlessly into the sky. After joining other members of the company who are just as lost as he is, they finally meet the rest of the company. This is a crucial scene, where we learn that Lt Meehan (Company Commanding Officer – aka CO) is still missing, and the fact that his plane was shot down is still unknown. This was a major part of the story of Easy Company, and it wasn’t covered in too much detail. The loss of a CO is a major problem to any company, especially on D-Day. If this hadn’t of happened, Dick Winters wouldn’t have been made CO, and the story of Easy Company would be drastically different. We as viewers are also a little disorientated, as we are coming to terms with characters we are forming bonds with, and trying to establish where they are fitting into the bigger picture.

In a scene set in a market square, Blithe and the other troopers are reunited. The shots cut between different groups of soldiers, talking about the events of war so far. There is one crucial piece of dialogue, which sets the tone for one character, which would set the tone for the rest of his involvement in the series, which is there to make one character appear to be a person of intrigue and somewhat unsettling.

It is reported that on D-Day, Capt Ronald Speirs, who at the time was in charge of Dog Company, was standing with a group of German prisoners of war (POW), when he offers them all cigarettes, then shoots them dead with his Thompson submachine gun. Although mentioned in the book, and now in the series, the story was never confirmed or denied by anyone in the company. It was as if he had become an urban legend by set of actions, which if true, can only be seen as an event of huge significance.

There was also a rumour that the same soldier shot one of his own men, for repeatedly disobeying direct orders. Whether the stories were true or not were unknown, but the rumours made him a legend. The men of the regiments were unnerved around him, but every veteran who spoke about him agreed on one thing - he was a fine soldier, one of the bravest during the war. He won medals for bravery and was wounded various times. He became a legend in his own right for things people could prove as actually happening.

During this event with Speirs as depicted in the series, a character called Don Malarkey, (who would later become a key character), interacts with the German POWS before Speirs arrives. One of the prisoners speaks with an American accent, and we learn a bit about those Germans answered the call for all true Aryans to report to Germany in the early 1940s. The story for the series tells us that Malarkey and the German POW were from the same state, and shared similar jobs before the war, not too far from one another. This event did actually happen, but not at this place and not in this point of time. Although the event wasn’t in Ambrose’s book, researchers found out when re-interviewing the veterans before writing the scripts for the series and decided to include it here. In the series we see Malarkey pass Speirs after leaving the American/German POW, with Speirs heading in the direction of the POWS. Malarkey turns around as he hears the sound of machine gun fire.

In Ep3, many various men, including Malarkey are talking about the event, each with their own version of what happened, of what they have heard from someone who claims to have been there. It is this scene which I feel the programme makers came unstuck, by putting two events into one. If Malarkey had really have seen the POWS and then see Speirs approaching them, then hear the machine gun go off, he would have been close enough to have seen what really happened. However, he says in this piece, “I didn’t actually see it”. The actual event is what elevated Speirs into what he became amongst the men. It is a crucial anomaly within the history of the company.

It is one of the most ambiguous events that occurred, whether or not he did shoot down those prisoners on D-Day, there is no doubt that such an act today would be dealt with the utmost contempt, leading to the harshest disciplinary action. In recent months (written in 2005) there have been many cases of Allied troops mistreating POWS in Iraq, they have caused much uproar in UK government, imagine an act such as the Speirs incident happening today, it is unthinkable. In telling the story of what happened on D-Day for a television audience, the programme makers neither, confirm or deny the reports of what Speirs allegedly did. They were in no position to say for sure whether such an act actually happened, it’s better to leave it for the audience to make up their own minds, which in turn makes Speirs character even more important in later episodes.

‘Carentan’ follows the men as they take the town of the same name. We learn more about the leadership qualities and bravery of characters such as ‘Winters’ and ‘Lipton‘, we see horrific injuries to certain soldiers, the accurate shooting ability of the ‘Shifty Powers’ character, but most of all we see a clear victory for Easy Company, as they push the Germans across the swamped fields and out of the town. During the battle, the shots two and fro from character to character, we see Blithe who we have followed throughout the episode so far, sunk against a wall during the battle, frozen. A similar scene is in Spielberg’s ’Saving Private Ryan’, where a terrified soldier cannot face going upstairs in a building where his comrade is having a knife struggle with a German. Both instances, we are lead to believe the man is frozen through fear and cowardice. Blithe slumps down and cries uncontrollably. The next scene in Band of Brothers is in an aid station, where the main character of the series so far - Winters, is being treated for a bullet ricochet wound, we learn that Blithe has suffered a black out, known as hysterical blindness. After some reassuring words from Winters, Blithe can see again. The reassurance given to him, calmed him down. It is a moving scene, which really happened in real life, and that is unimaginable really. Winters acts as a spur for Blithe in the later battle with the German counter attack in the hedge row. Winters is the senior man in the company, he is not only in charge, but he is one of the elder members. He has earned the respect of the men over time, and we as an audience have already seen the courage and compassion of the leading man. When Blithe starts screaming in a rage of terror during the battle, Winters orders him to fire his weapon. It helps show the audience that even the most terrified man can do his duty under fire. It implies that not the men of the company are the brave heroes depicted, that some men clearly don’t want to fight. However these events turn Blithe from a terrified man into a hard soldier, he is no longer afraid of battle.

In an earlier scene Speirs adds to his own mystery and fear factor when he tells Blithe that in order to function like a soldier he needs to;
“realise that you’re already dead, that way you will be able to function like a soldier should, without compassion, without remorse.”

Towards the end of the scene, we see Blithe volunteering to take point (be the lead man) in approaching a farm house, where he is shot by a sniper and we witness him fighting for life in a gruesome close up of his wounds. At the end of the episode, on screen text informs us that Blithe never recovered from his wounds and died in 1948.

This is untrue. Albert Blithe actually survived the war, and went on to be a soldier as a career, he fought in Korea, and was a veteran of over 600 combat jumps before his death in the late 1960’s. His family were shocked when they learnt that the series had killed him before his time, and made him out to have been somewhat of a coward initially. Veterans such as Guarnere and Malarkey reported in the years that came that this was untrue, and that he had been a good soldier. It didn’t sit right with them that he had been shown in this light.

This major fault on behalf of the series was due to the fact that they had taken another veterans word as being the truth, and hadn’t done any further research into the man. This makes the episode have a major flaw. The fact that they had got a fact as death so wrong, makes the educated viewer wonder what else they got wrong about characters not mentioned too heavily in Ambrose’s book.

For a viewer watching the series without any prior knowledge to events of the company, they believe everything depicted in the series as being what really happened. But for those who know more about the series, a flaw such as this leads to think that Spielberg’s speech at sparing no cost to getting things right, has evaporated by only the third episode. This alongside the Speirs incident, are two crucial points in showing the complexity and ambiguities of such a magnitude of individual events in a conflict such as WW2.

Episode 6 - Bastogne

Most of the key characters in the series played a major part in the book. However as I have stated previously there are some characters in the book who do not feature in the series whatsoever. The character we follow in Episode six, is a man who didn’t feature too heavily in the book, yet gets a whole episode to show the audience to show the different kinds of soldier within the war. Medic Eugene ‘Doc’ Roe, is a young man who is depicted as being quite conservative insisting on calling everyone by their first name, never their nick-name, a man who isn’t part of a group within the company.
The medic - Eugene 'Doc' Roe

He sits back and watches and thinks, rather than get involved with the banter amongst the men. He is the character that the men expect to be there if and when they get hit. After the war, many veterans have heaped praise on the medics, the medics were unlikely to win many battle field medals, yet were there to patch up the heroes. Many veterans recall how the quick thinking of a medic saved their lives. The role of the medic was a crucial part of any company within the war, and even though ’Doc Roe’ wasn’t the main medic within Easy Company in real life, he is credited as being a hero in his own right in the war due to how he is shown in this episode.

The episode is set in the place where the company became known as ’the Battered Bastards of Bastogne.’ They were surrounded by enemy, with no supplies, no ammunition, little or no food, no winter clothing, and in theory no chance of surviving. They faced constant bombardment and shelling, living in frozen hastily dug foxholes to keep them safe. This is where the company is believed to have united and really become ‘a band of brothers,’ due to the things faced, the hardship, and the suffering of the things the men went through together.

For an educated viewer, this episode is flawed in various ways. There are things that the programme makers have added to this episode to make sensationalised television. We are shown the one and only positive female character to take action in the series, and give her a slight moment of romance with one of the members of Easy Company. Renee Lamaire was a French nurse, who helped in an aid station somewhere along the allied lines. She was joined by a black nurse from the Congo, who along with army staff would try to medically save the wounded men. These two women were real stories. The fact that these two women were the only two positive females in the whole ten episodes is quite interesting, especially as they were not in the vicinity of Easy Company, and so the tender moments with Doc Roe could not have happened. They have been put in the series, as they help give scope to what happened to men in war. The wounded men would be seen by the nurses, who would give them alcohol to ease the pain. The ‘Renee’ character, as I stated earlier has a brief but significant moment of slight romance with ‘Doc Roe.’ There is moment where the two characters question what God is doing during the war.

Doc Roe - “Your hands, they heal people, and that’s a gift from god”
Renee - “That’s not a gift, because god would not give such a thing”

Michael Fassbender
We later see Roe back at the church which was being used as an Aid Station, which Renee was based at in the series. It has been bombed and Roe looks in the rubble and finds the material which Renee had been wearing on her head. For that split moment where we see Roe reflecting, it is as if we see that Hollywood love story has taken over rather than the reality of what happened.

The whole meeting between Roe and Renee was fictional, they were not in the same vicinity and therefore never met, however the chance for a brief romantic storyline convinced the series makers to include this in the series. It acts a re-enforcer of moral issues, would Roe dig for Renee and try to find this woman that he has met and grown to respect, or would he return to his buddies. It showed the love was possible in war times, but not always guaranteed to be successful.

Another major problem with this episode is with a few of the lines of dialogue. There is a line said by the main character of the series - Dick Winters, who is a Captain at this time in the story. He says to acting General McAuliffe, who asks for a report

“We’ve been taking a lot of hits sir”   

Before doing research for this essay, as an uneducated viewer of this topic, I would have thought that what the Winters character was saying was true, that these men where having it really tough, and were having a lot of men getting hit. However, after researching the events, I learnt that up until the point that this conversation is supposed to have happened (22nd December 1944), Easy had been in the woods for two weeks, and in reality had the fewest casualties out of any rifle company in the 506th PIR. Only one man killed and five wounded in two weeks doesn’t represent huge losses in any part of the war. The next two weeks saw a lot more casualties for Easy, including many key characters that we have seen in the series so far, such as Guarnere, Muck, Penkala, Toye and Compton. But overall they were not the company who suffered the most losses. This is interesting as the series depicts what the company suffered as being terrible, but in reality nearly all the other rifle companies suffered worse than they did during that late December. The 501st PIR suffered a lot more than the 506th PIR that Easy was a part of.

Another interesting part of this episode was seeing the medic write ‘M’ (standing for Morphine) on the head of a wounded man in his own blood. The usual practice was to pin the empty syrette on the mans jacket so that any other medical personnel would see that he already has been administered with however much morphine. The writing of ‘M’ on the forehead is a lot more visually shocking. We get to see the look in the injured man’s eyes, the look of possible impending death. It is a moment that will serve as a strategy to visually shock the viewer.

‘Bastogne’ is an episode where we learn more about the men as a unit, we say goodbye to established and key characters, we see the eagerness of replacements, the knowledge gained by the veterans, and the harsh environment the men were in. This could have and should have been enough to drive the series forward, but still the series makers added fictional elements to enhance the narrative for television.

Chapter 4 - Conclusion
When Band of Brothers first aired, the date was September 9th 2001, and the show pulled in 10million viewers for HBO and critical acclaim. Unbeknown to the programme makers, who had chosen this date to premiere the show to the American nation, terrorists would strike on American soil and shock the world, ushering the country into a war on terror. The effect of ‘9/11’ would mean that the audience obtained dropped from the shows opening night, the show was even mentioned as being taken off of the air in light of the military offensive which would be coming.

Damian Lewis and Major Dick Winters
As time passed, the world was ready to see Band of Brothers in all its glory, it started in the UK on BBC2, a channel were a riskier type of programme would be shown within the BBC. A channel, which is considered to be more of a minority and arts channel. The audience grew, and eventually the show was moved to BBC1. Lorraine Heggessey who had commissioned the show for the BBC first thought that it was not suitable for a BBC1 mainstream audience. This was a mistake on her part. 

Steven Spielberg’s response was -
“A tremendous compliment, we tried like hell not to make it mainstream.”
 It has since had various re-runs in the U.K and the U.S, and to this day can still be seen on channels such as ’The History Channel’ and Sky Atlantic from time to time. It has gone on to raise over $250million in DVD/Blue Ray sales.

After the attacks 9/11 in the U.S and the attacks in London on July 7th, the allied world had again been in a period where soldiers have been at battle away from home, representing their countries. Many viewers have commented that by watching the series and learning what types of activities soldiers in battle are faced with, alongside films and programmes showing more contemporary battles, such as ’Black Hawk Down’ and ’Jarhead,’ we can not forget the sacrifice that these men and women are facing. By watching people go out and fight a battle that they don’t really understand fully, but doing their best under the harshest of environments, we learn to appreciate what is happening to allied soldiers in the world today, whether it be in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere in the world.

*In the years after this paper, Spielberg and Hanks made another epic mini series – The Pacific, following a similar way of story telling to Band of Brothers.*

Shows such as Band of Brothers, even with all of the unanswered questions and ambiguities, encourage the audience to discuss the actions of the men that they have seen on screen. Reading a book gives an imaginary idea of what happens, but visual story telling really gets into the mind of the viewer. When reading that a shell fell directly onto the fox hole, blowing the men into pieces, we get a picture of something like that happening, but when it is presented on screen, directly in front of our eyes, the men who we have just seen get killed, stay in our memory. Unlike the book, the series allows us to actually see the actor, as being the real man. The book doesn’t give us anything more than a description of what the men looked like. Seeing the men in the foxhole, being blown up, is far more shocking than just reading it. We have related with that character, we have seen his transformation from new recruit going through training, to be being a battle hardened veteran, willing to do anything for his comrades and friends, it’s the notion of understanding that the re-enacted event that you have just witnessed actually happened. The shock of witnessing an event like that keeps the viewers attached to the series, they want to find out what happens to the men in the end.

The past decade has seen a revival of interest in World War Two, many new books have been published, many other television series have aired, for example in Britain, the BBC four part series ‘Dunkirk.’ Band of Brothers author, Stephen Ambrose believed that this was down to two factors. Firstly, the veterans themselves. He states;

Winters and Nixon from Episode 10.
“Many are realizing that they don’t have much time left in the world, and many, for the first time, are willing to talk about their experiences. As young men just back from fighting, they didn’t want to think about the war. But now, they realize their grandchildren are deeply interested in hearing those stories, and if they don’t tell them, they’ll go to the grave with them."

And secondly, the fact that in America, they didn’t seem to have time to reminisce about WW2, they had problems with Vietnam, Civil rights movements, women’s rights issues etc. Now with the war on terror, its more like what happened in Pearl Harbour, where the US was attacked on its on ground, and ordinary men signed up to fight for their country.
“Young people are aware that were living in the freest and richest nation that ever was, and we owe that to somebody. Where did this wealth and these liberties come from? Thats the 180-degree turn in attitude about history in this country. And World War II is the greatest event of the century that we just passed through, and the answer to some of those questions."

Whether or not the fascination with WW2 will continue in years to come, when the last surviving veterans are no longer with us, is unknown. But aslong as copies of the great WW2 films are still available, the members of the public will still be able to get an insight into what happened during the war, to ordinary people, who were just doing their duty. Many of the events depicted might have been altered, or dramatised, but the essence of what the war was about will still be clear for the new Generation X audiences to see. Whether the events will shock them however is a totally different question!