Boer War Page 43

Program Innovations 2: The Great Anglo-Boer War

Film Making Behind the Scenes: Program Innovations - To try to make their television programs more interesting for the viewer, the best filmmakers are constantly trying to create new elements and approaches in storytelling so that their programs will have more appeal for television watchers. Below are some ways we have departed from the standard conventions of documentary creation and introduced new techniques.

Henry Burr (1885-1941): "Nearer My God to Thee" 1916

You are listening to an original recording from early in the 1900s featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Henry Burr, singing "Nearer My God To Thee," which was sung over many graveyard ceremonies in South Africa. Henry Burr from New Brunswick, started recording in 1902 while in his teens, and, with some 12,000 recordings to his credit, was the most prolific recording artist of his generation.

(You can hear these earliest Canadian recordings on our program's sound track. Details on our Music Page)


"The Great Anglo-Boer War: the Canadian Experience"


Innovation 4 - We wanted all of our expert/hosts to be on location at a historic site.

The Standard: Expert indoors - sitting still - ignoring the viewer.

Almost all history documentaries feature hosts or "armchair experts" like Professor David Chandler, who sit indoors in a studio or room, and talk about far-away places where the history actually took place, but which are never shown.

It is extremely rare to take a host on location. It is virtually unheard of to take history experts into the field to actual historic locations.

Our Experts are on Location: We took historian John Snyman to the top of remote Spion Kop, so he could better explain to television audiences the horrific battle that took place here in Jan. 1900. Here he stands in the British trenches (marked by white wall of graves containing hundreds of bodies), and points to where General Woodgate fell after he was shot in the head by a Boer sniper on greenish Aloe Knoll in the left background.

Our Approach: Our expert is on location, showing the site to the viewer

We believe experts are at their most enthusiastic best when they are in the actual location where the events of which they speak, took place.

In a deliberate departure from convention, we took all our experts outdoors to actual historic sites to explain exactly what happened there.

We have included an unprecedented number of contributions from "experts on location" in a history documentary: 15 expert/hosts giving 104 performances at 83 different historic locations.

Feedback: #17: Winnipeg, MB - "I was amazed to open my TV guide last Wednesday to see Part 2 of your series on the History Channel, I missed the first episode. I found your presentation excellent!"
Feedback: #24: Melville, SK - "Hi, Congratulations on the excellent Canada Boer War program on the History Channel."
Feedback: #62: Brisbane, AUS - " I enjoyed your programs immensely."
John Snyman
The Death of General Woodgate
Innovation 5 - We wanted our experts, not merely to stand and talk outdoors, but to do "site demonstrations," a prepared explanation of a location with a beginning, middle, and end. They would participate on site in an "interactive module", and create a playlet that explains an interesting feature of a site to the viewers.

The Standard: Expert stands outdoors and talks to/answers questions from, the interviewer.

On the rare occasions when history documentaries take experts into the field, they are used badly. The same old-style "off-axis" studio interviews are still conducted by a producer but are now done in front of a historic backdrop. As before, the interview is then cut apart and the good parts used.

Rarely, if ever, is the site explained by the expert. Rarer still is there interactivity between the expert and the site; and never any between the expert and the audience.

Our Experts do Site Demonstrations: At Paardeberg historian John Goldi explains events at the historic spot (Paardeberg Hill in background), where the Canadians where hit by a slash of Boer gun fire when they stood up for that final mad charge on "Bloody Sunday," Feb. 18, 1900. Within minutes, 21 young Canadians died on this remote location in Canada's worst day of casualties during the entire war.

Our Approach: Our expert is on an actual historic site actively explaining events directly to the viewer.

We decided that the primary job of our experts would be - not to provide the traditional interview footage - but to explain historic events at historic locations.

At each location using our "interactive module" technique, we created a playlet in which each expert would become the history guide to show what actually took place on that historic spot.

Our program features an unprecedented package of site demonstrations: 15 expert/hosts offering site demonstrations at 83 different historic locations.

Feedback: #13: Chilliwack, BC - "Am enjoying your TV series immensely!"
Feedback: # 35: Regina, SK - "I saw 2 out of the 4 and wished I was home to set the VCR for the others. Overlapping of the photos taken then and now was a nice touch too."

Innovation 6 - We wanted to showcase the fact that women, especially in the Great Anglo-Boer War - not just men - were major victims, and today many remain powerfully connected to exploring the fallout from our common military past.

The Standard: Military history is men's work!

Most history programs focus almost exclusively on interviewing male experts, like Professor David Chandler - indoors of course - and giving the typical interview, answering questions from an off-camera interviewer, and ignoring the viewer.

In most programs dealing with military history, women hosts and experts are virtually excluded as having anything relevant to say - unless women are the feature story - in an area of history widely considered "a male thing."

We Feature Women Experts on War: From the foot of the Anglo-Boer War's Woman's Memorial in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Historian Sannette Greyvenstein, talks movingly - straight to the camera - about why the Boers called Emily Hobhouse the "Angel of Mercy," and points to the cairn where her ashes were placed in 1926 by the Afrikaaner people, as a supreme show of respect and honour for this unique Englishwoman.

Our Approach: We include women as hosts and valid experts on a variety of topics.

Our program features major segments about women and from women contributors. Probably no previous war in history took such a tragic toll on women and their children.

And oddly enough the efforts of one woman - a courageous British activist named Emily Hobhouse - did more to save lives during the war than any other single person.

A truly astonishing human being, such as appears perhaps once in a generation, Emily Hobhouse, during Britain's biggest war of the 19th century, stood against the jingoistic tidal wave of popular opinion in the land of her birth, and fought long and hard for human rights for the "enemy Boers" imprisoned for years in British concentration camps in far distant Africa.

Feedback: Calgary, AB - "It is truly a wonderful production! I am personally convinced that it will be assessed as one of the decade's great television documentaries."
Feedback: #16: London, ON - "Congratulations on doing such a great job on the documentary!"

Innovation 7 - We wanted to create innovative "informational slates" to mark off the modules we used to construct our documentary. We wanted to inform our viewers with attractive, eye-catching, interesting, and above all, informational slates.

The Standard: In some television shows, black and white slates have been used to flag divisions in a program. These are single-dimension, teaser titles that are still frames, like used in old slide shows, which were introduced to tease - or confuse? - the audience.

Whatever their purpose, these simple title slates have definite short-comings - they are not motion pictures and they do not inform the viewer. Some even claim they are ugly...

We Feature Artistic Informational Slates: To improve television communication, and arouse viewer interest, we use 43 different slates, like the one above introducing the section dealing with the Boer invasions of British Cape Colony, in Oct. 1899, leading to the sieges of three British towns. Col. Robert Baden-Powell became world-famous for out holding out in Mafeking for seven months, until rescued by Canadian guns. His rare 9" high antique parian bust rotates above, as the soundtrack plays the "Alarm" bugle call.

Our Approach: We wanted colourful motion picture slates to inform or orient the viewer about the up-coming segments.

We have assembled our show by creating 43 modules, each averaging four to five minutes in length and each beginning with an innovative and lush, informational motion picture title slate.

Our multi-dimensional slates offer the viewer an eight-fold improvement: full colour, information that includes the location for the action, a date for the event, as well as a teaser title that identifies the next five minute segment or theme.

In place of the old black & white letters we use an artistic stylized font in colour that helps evoke the era.

Each slate displays one of 43 different antique Boer War memorabilia items that represent the theme. And each rotates, slowly imparting elegant motion to the frame consistent with its place in a motion picture medium.

Finally, to augment the visual cues, each slate is underscored, in the audio track, with a musical effect that echoes the upcoming theme.

Feedback: #6: Ajax: - "We watched your first installment of the Boer War last night and really enjoyed it. It was very, very enjoyable to watch and even for me, who is not much of a history buff, I found it very interesting. I love the way you put the artefacts in as headers. We're looking forward to the next installment."
Feedback: #20: Yellowknife, NT - "Just watched Relief at Mafeking. We thought it was very well done and very informative."
Innovation 8 - We wanted to use the "colour of history" to dramatically enhance the pictorial record of our documentary by using hundreds of genuine antique colour pictures - sheet music, tobacco cards, lithographs, postcards, etc. - to help illustrate the story.
The Standard: Black & white pictures.

Most history programs are illustrated only with black and white photos or motion pictures, creating the false illusion that history was acted out in black and white, and that only "current affairs" are in colour.

Colour pictures and historical memorabilia are rarely used to illustrate television history programs, not because they are not valid historical records, but because they are so very difficult to find.

We Feature the Colour Record of History: This magnificent and extremely rare 18" x 24" litho of Canadian Bugler Edwin McCormick, is one of hundreds of antique colour prints we have ferreted out to make our program more lush and reflect more properly "the colour of History." "The Bugler" is a completely Canadian production, having been painted by Paul Wickson of Paris, Ontario, produced by the Toronto Lithographing Company, and published as a Supplement to the Toronto Globe's Xmas issue of 1901.

Our Approach: Give the "colour record of History" equal prominence by illustrating the story with antique colour prints and rare memorabilia items.

We wanted to depart from the convention that history programs should only reflect the black and white record. In fact colour pictures were highly prized by Victorian families - which is why Globe inserts were so lovingly displayed.

We wanted our program to show off the colour pictures that featured the men and events of the time, and were so cherished by Boer War families.

We believe that our use of colour pictorials - incorporating over 200 antique colour illustrations - all dating to 1900 - is unprecedented in the creation of a history television documentary.

Feedback: # 41: Toronto, ON - "I thought your show was just terrific, just a gorgeous show! So much information so well presented. I just have to see it again. Just a fabulous show!"
Feedback: # 36: Toronto, ON - "I managed to see every episode except the first one...I really enjoyed it. I wish I could have seen the first episode ....."
Feedback: #28: Kingston, ON - "Hello Mr. Goldi....This past week and this weekend I have been enjoying your programs on the Boer War on the History Channel. Congratulations on a great video."

Innovation 9 - We wanted to use the "memorabilia record of history" to dramatically enhance the pictorial record of our documentary by featuring hundreds of genuine antique memorabilia items (busts, plates, etc.) to help illustrate the era, the people, the times, and the events, and incorporate them seamlessly into the story line, to give a more accurate feel for the historic period.

The Standard: No memorabilia items.

Most history programs rarely show any memorabilia items. Genuine historic memorabilia items are far too difficult to find so producers of television programs ignore them completely or feature one when they come across it.

For example in the six hour "War of 1812" television series, only one memorabilia item, a carving of Tecumseh was featured, as a special and unique item.

We Feature the Memorabilia Record of History: This gift box of chocolate was given by Queen Victoria to every soldier serving in South Africa at Christmas in 1899. This wonderful box in rare mint condition, still containing its original chocolate, was found in Jordan, ON.

Our Approach: Make a special effort to search out and show the vast range of Anglo-Boer War memorabilia that was produced and displayed in Victorian and Edwardian homes throughout the British Empire.

No war before or since produced such a blizzard of historical memorabilia.

We wanted our program to show these items that were so cherished by Boer War families. For over two years we searched the internet and haunted auctions and antique stores trying to locate "cast-offs" from the Anglo-Boer War that still survive: plates, jugs, cups, medals, doorstops, trivets, tins, spoons, horse brass, tiles, busts, etc. to help bring the era back to life.

We believe that our use of over 500 antique memorabilia items - all dating to 1900 - is unprecedented in the creation of a history television documentary.

Feedback: Toronto, ON - "The wealth of research and detail is astounding and thorough, with a wonderful breadth of archival sources throughout. Clearly this was a labour of love and it shows."
- Sydney Suissa, VP of Factual Programming, History Television
Feedback: # 40: Hull, PQ - "I was impressed by your productions, by the marriage of history and artefact, on the scene and elsewhere in the Empire."

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000