Sunday, 22 November 2009

Edward Woodward & Battleground

A little bit of a different topic for this one (although researching and writing it has got in the way of finishing off my ECW dragoons).

Following Edward Woodward's recent death, Bob Cordery at "Wargames Miscellany" posted a moving tribute. In this Bob referred to a programme Woodward fronted called "Battleground" which was made by Tyne Tees Television in 1978. Bob had never seen it, but I did, - probably because it wasn't shown on all ITV franchises. I don't think I saw all of them, - they were shown at odd times and this was before video recorders. (I have a feeling they were shown at lunch time and it depended whether my free periods meant I was at home, - I was in Sixth form at the time).

As it was probably the first programme to put figure wargaming on the TV I thought those of you out there in the wargaming blogosphere might be interested in a bit more background. Most of this information comes from a back issue of the short lived Battle Magazine, written by Terry Wise.

6 programmes were made and first broadcast in the North East. Woodward hosted each programme, giving a bit of background to the battle. He didn't play in any of the games. The games were actually fought out by people who either were, or have now mostly become, well known wargaming personalities, with a few exceptions. The programmes were:

Edgehill (first shown 23/02/1978)
Fought between a pre magazine editing Duncan Macfarlane and John Tilson, both them from the Hull club (selection influenced as the show was made in the North East? Who can say.)

Waterloo (first shown 09/03/1978)
Peter Gilder's first appearance on the show, fighting John Braithwaite "from the Hull area". Probably used Peter's figures from the Callan film.

Battle of the Nile (first shown 23/03/1978)
A Naval game fought out between two Halifax club members, Steve Birnie & John Harrison. (Steve Birnie had recently published a set of 18th Century Naval Rules at the time, although whether that was before or after the show I don't know).

Chalons sur Marne (first shown 30/03/1978)
Featuring Steve Davidson and the legendary Bob O'Brien.

France, 1944 (first shown 20/04/1978)
An imaginary game set in Northern France after D-Day. It was fought out between the author Gavin Lyall, and his son, Bernard. This was about the time that Lyall had published his own set of wargames rules called "Operation Warboard", which were used on the show.

Gettysburg (first shown 27/04/1978)
This was fought between Dr Paddy Griffith ("Senior Lecturer at Sandhurst") and Peter Gilder, using, I think, the figures from the Callan film. This was before Paddy founded WD and started his move away from using toy soldiers.

All the figures and terrain was provided by Peter Gilder, except for the WW2 game which was staged by Gavin Lyall.

It's quite a list of players, - but it is also notable for those who are missing. Phil Barker, Tony Bath and Charles Grant are all missing and were all considerably better known at the time than most of those who took part, as, of course, was Don Featherstone. Maybe they just failed the auditions, which covered "over a hundred wargamers". Amongst the non-appearing advisers on the programme was Charles Wesencraft and David Chandler.

My memories of the programme are that it was a noble attempt to make the hobby look interesting, but at the end of the day the figures don't move, and there's only so much you can do with blowing smoke across the table and playing drumming in the background.

My only recollection of the commentary is that in one game I think Gilder says something like "roll two dice, and you don't want any sixes", to which a po-faced voice over from Woodward remarks "he is joking, - he actually needs sixes".

I may have tracked down the original producer. I've e-mailed her and if she answers any of my questions, I'll post an update, but it could be in quite a while!


  1. As you say, without movement the games will look pretty boring to a viewer who is watching the show. However, if one were to do something like time lapsed motion then you might have an interesting product. A narrative could be laid over the top too, with dramatic music and inserted key die roll responses perhaps?

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  3. These programmes seem to have a mythical quality about them. I keep thinking that maybe it would turn up on the Militairy History Channel.
    I do remember seeing Callan with its wargaming scenes. And Game of War wasn't too bad, although Angela Rippon wouldn't have been my choice of host and Ian Dickies waiscoats have always been a bit garish!

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  5. Anyone who wants to read the original article can find it here:

    BTW, ITV still have the series in their archive, and will sell you a DVD if you're willing to shell out the £100s they'll charge for the archivist's and technician's time. I don't think they've had any takers....

    I only know of one person who has a video of the series - sadly even Peter Gilder's copy has been lost (IIRC he gave it to Dave T, who lent it to someone who failed to return it).


  6. I know this has been a while but as a long time war gamer, any more info on these or being able to get a copy?



  7. Alas no update from the lady concerned. I guess she has her own life to get on with now

  8. The originals were lost in a fire in the archive, but I now have copies of 4 of the episodes I will do a write up in due course

  9. Wow! I would so much like to see this series.

    In this day of interweb connectivity perhaps we could gradually gather together a quorum of devoted acolytes, perhaps even enough to get the show back out from the vaults somehow?

    Peter Gilder's figures and terrain occupy a dearly beloved position in my personal pantheon of wargaming, thanks to their ubiquity in MW during my youth, imparting this era with a kind of mythical glow!


    1. Seb,

      I think we'd all like to see them. Alas some are lost (see JC's comment above yours).

      If you love Peter Gilder figures and terrain you should buy the DVD of the film version of Callan where his Waterloo and Gettysburg terrain and figures were used.


    2. Hi Trebian, I just watched the old black and white Callan episode, A Magnum For Schneider (found it serialised in 3 parts on YouTube), and have added the '74 movie to my LoveFilm wish-list. Regards, Seb.

    3. The film is an expanded version of MfS. If you get a taste for Callan (and it is the best spy thriller ever on TV + it has wargaming in it) you can get some of the b&w episodes on DVD and all of the colour ones.

  10. Having watched the Callan episode, A Magnum For Schneider, and seen the Callan movie, I've now finally also been able to watch the four surviving episodes, and it's a queer affair, no mistake, but I love it.

    There's something lovely about the pace of it, a gentleness, slow and relaxed - ironic perhaps, in relation to a hobby that, in some rather symbolic and approximate ways, perhaps, aims to recreate war - that perhaps now belongs to another era.

    Even the slightly gauche awkwardness of hobbyists unused to the glare of studio lights, or being 'under the lens', adds charming naivety to the proceedings. I'm going to post an episode by episode review on my blog.

    I hope you won't mind if I bolster my account with some of the info you furnish here? I will of course credit you, and link to your site/this post.

    1. Seb,

      When you say "four episodes" I assume you mean "Battleground" not Callan. There's a lot more of that still about!

      By all means use the info here and post a link.


  11. For those of you who are still interested check out Doug C YouTube channel where he has uploaded the Battleground series of TV programmes. It takes me back as I was ten when I first watched this series and was also the reason why I got into wargaming.

  12. When I was painting for John Braithwaite he lived up near Yarm in North Yorkshire. He did not have an ACW range at Garrison so they doubtless are Peter Gilder's figures.