FROM Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields to the Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller, the songs and music of the 1940s are as well-loved today as ever and a special show coming to the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend travels back to the era.
‘Our Finest Hour’ is on Monday, 23 April and starts at 7.30pm.
Presented by television star Kevin Whately, the show coincides with the lead up to the celebration of VE Day (Tuesday, 8 May) and looks back in words and music at the momentous turning point of World War Two, and Britain’s finest hour, from the miracle of Dunkirk to the decisive victory of the Battle of Britain.
Hear the songs that won the war – We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover and A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square – as well as some of the classic music it inspired, including the Dam Busters March and the music from Ron Goodwin’s classic scores to Battle of Britain and 633 Squadron.
We caught up with Kevin Whately, best known for his role as Lewis in Inspector Morse, to ask him about Our Finest Hour.
Can you sum up Our Finest Hour?
Our Finest Hour will be a commemoration for two of the most important points during the Second World War – Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.
It’s the BBC Big Band, so you will have a lot of big band music, both British and American, including Glen Miller and other war-time songs. Annie Gill, who is a wonderful vocalist, will be singing all the songs.
There will be a chance for people to join in, some of it will feel like BBC’s Last Night at the Proms and in that sense it is a celebration and a very nostalgic trip through that time.
I will be reading about some events in the war, poems and private letters from servicemen which are very moving; it will be a very heart-warming and entertaining night out.
Who will it appeal to?
It should appeal to absolutely everybody. Obviously there’s not a huge number of people that participated in the action of the World Wars left, but it won’t just appeal to them. It should appeal to all ages right through to young kids, primarily on an educational basis – they will find out about a lot of the social conditions back then, events of the war and why it was important.
Why do you think there is such a love for this kind of nostalgia?
I think it reflects what people regard as a noble time, people were much more selfless in the war and they really did pull together. There was more of a community spirit because people realised they were ‘all in it together’.
It’s a phrase that is thrown about by politicians now and doesn’t mean quite the same thing but because things were so bad during the war, if we hadn’t keep our spirits up – specifically with groups like ENSA Entertainments National Service Association] going round to keep the troops positive – it could have been a very different story.
What part do you play in the show?
I’m the host/narrator which means I will be leading people through the show by introducing the numbers, doing readings from the time and keeping people jolly throughout the evening.
Do you have a favourite song from the era?
I love Glen Miller, and the whole Big Band sound really makes my hair stand on end, but my favourite song is probably A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square because I did a show called A Nightingale Sang, which is where I met my wife.
Why do you think it is important to keep the memories of this era alive?
I think it’s absolutely vital, especially at times like this where the Cold War shows every sign of starting up again. I’ve been one of the incredibly lucky generation that was born just after the war and, Falklands aside, I have been through my life without any wars or conflict and it’s been such a good time from that point of view.
It’s vital that we keep pointing out how easy it is for insane politicians to start wars. I suspect some might want a war on their CV, so they can say that they’re the new Churchill or something, but no, it’s really important that we keep it in the forefront of our minds that this can happen.
For tickets go to www.southendtheatres.org.uk