The latest stop for Christopher Oatway on the schedule of interviews, reviews and press events took him to Manchester’s Opera House to speak to co-writers, friends and colleagues, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman (known from their work on Private Eye magazine) as they join forces once more and present their stage production of The Wipers Times – a stage adaptation of their award-winning BBC film, which visits Manchester Opera House for 1 week only from 31st October, following its recent West End success. There will be a Q&A for the audience after the opening performance.
The piece tells the true story of the setting up of a satirical newspaper in the mud and mayhem of the Somme. In a bombed-out building during the First World War, in the Belgian town of Ypres (mis-pronounced Wipers by British soldiers), two officers discover a printing press and create a newspaper for the troops. Far from being a sombre journal about life in the trenches, they produced a resolutely cheerful, subversive and very funny newspaper designed to lift the spirits of the men on the front line. Defying enemy bombardment, gas attacks and the disapproval of many of the top Brass, The Wipers Times rolled off the press for two years and was an extraordinary tribute to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity.
The duo met at school and have been working together for over 40 years. They set up a newspaper at university and then worked together on Private Eye. Cartoonist Newman was asked about his work and gave great historic insight into the period. Hislop, also known for his appearances as a panelist of Have I Got News For You, warned of the play’s dark humour, that is also tongue in cheek.
Ian also gave advise for those considering journalism as “Do it” and recommended graduate university courses. “Whatever they tell you there isn’t enough content out there that’s interesting. If you’ve got ideas and you’ve got ways of providing it, go and knock on the door”, Whilst Nick explains “the biggest hurdle if the fear of rejection” and “you will be rejected”, he suggests that budding cartoonists “look through the dullest magazine on the news stand, think that needs brightening up and send them some cartoons”.
I am only aware of one other show around the newspaper industry in Disney’s film and stage production of Newsies so, coming from a family that ran a free independent newspaper of just good news for nearly 40 years in a deprived area, I welcome the show, especially with humour, history and by such established writers.
The UK tour brings the show to Manchester from Tuesday 31st October until Saturday 4th November. atgtickets.com/manchester