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31st March 2004Zulu: The True Story?
By Keith Smith
Well, it finally reached the Antipodes! This documentary, made by the BBC last year, was finally shown here in Oz tonight.

There has been some criticism on this site of Dr Saul David, who was prominent in the programme. After viewing his performance for myself, I was left wondering what has givien him the right to air his apparent erudtion about the AZ War? Surely most of the correspondents on this site could have done a better, and more accurately researched, job. The only redeeming feature, in an otherwise irritating fifty minutes, was the occasional presence of Ian Knight, who at least gave reliable information. I noted the presence in the credits of a number of worthies from this site - I am sure that most of the advice or facts offered by them must surely have been left on the cutting room floor.

I won't chunder on - I will instead immediately overwrite the tape I used to record it with anything - even replays of the Goodies!

31st March 2004Murray Waycott
How can I prove my ggrandfatherr's stgory true from Oz. His obit says he served in the Zulu Wars. During his life he said he survived Isandlhwana because he wore the blue or the artillery. Are the names of survivors anywhere to be found? His name was Joseph Sourbutts.
31st March 2004Martin Everett
Dear Murray,

What you need is a copy Julian Whybra's 'Englands' Sons', but i am sure that someone will break copyright and give you the answer.
1st April 2004Barry Iacoppi N.Z.
Hi Keith. If you have yet to record some reruns of the Goodies Iíd like very much to see that tape. The program has yet to be broadcast in New Zealand and I canít depend on it ever being so. Naturally Iíll cover any and all costs.
1st April 2004Julian whybra
I think I may be allowed to break my own copyright. There was only one Joseph in the RA who survived Isandhlwana and that was Shoeing-smith 1142 Joseph Steer from N/5 RA. It is possible that your 'grandfather' (don't you mean your great or great-great grandfather?) served under an alias - do you have any of his army records? I don't recall the surname but I'll check for you later, if someone doesn't beat me to it, as to whether he was in that battery but not present at Isandhlwana.
2nd April 2004Tarkis
I saw this doco. on Wednesday night too. I actually thought it was well done. It ultimately came across as a sad story, highlighting how many of the enlisted men from Rorkes Drift ended up broken men, and yet Chelmsford was praised and had the favour of the Queen. What the hell was with the Queen's insistence on maintaining Chelmsford in Zululand when most others thought he was a fool? She appeared very stubborn on this point...rubbish about good family. Was she bonking this guy or what???
2nd April 2004Scott Plummer
I too saw the recent screening in Australia of "Zulu : The Real Story" ( BBC Timewatch,2003) and was perplexed by some of its views and statements. I note lengthy discussions have already been made on this forum, around the time of the UK screening, and one should look at the entries of 20th October 2003, 22nd October 2003 and 6th November 2003 for these comments. I do have a few observations, however, which have not been exhaustively discussed, that I can add to the mix.

Firstly I do think there was nothing really new in the programme and that actually there were a few uninspired attempts to make it appear revelatory, iconoclastic and controversial. There were also a number of errors, major and minor ( of the pedantic or "anorak" kind), which almost are inevitably pointed out, the programme setting itself up for such criticism with its subtitle,"The Real Story".

As has been well covered, the programme is simplistically, and overly, critical of Chelmsford. I always felt Bartle Frere and Shepstone were the ones most blamed for the decision to go to war. Chelmsford can be criticised for his military decisions during the campaign, but it was simplistic of the programme to blame almost everything on him, from starting the war, to the tactical deployment at Isandlwana, the blame placed on Durnford after the battle, the re-writng of historyto empasise Rorke's Drift and downplay Isandlwana, etc etc.

I understand the programme was for the general viewer who would not note, or be much care, about the minor errors of weaponry or incorrect use of forenames, yet I felt it tried to create a false sense of controversy by suggesting the Zulu victory at Isandlwana was so downplayed that it is not well known today.Surely the popularity of the films, the many books, and websites like this prove that to be unfounded.

The main historical criticisms have been covered elsewhere, but I wanted to proffer a few dispirate comments of my own on the general presentation of the programme and how it may have distorted the situation for the general viewer, rather than assisting their understanding.

It is a little tiresome that broadcasters try to "enliven" and modernise programmes on history to make it "accessible" to a younger, technologically literate audience. The faux presentations of Disraeli's speeches in parliament as if they were to be found on old, grainy newsreel footage is a lazy attempt by the film makers to try and find a new way to portray history, and in fact could even confuse younger viewers. It is almost of the same order of attempting a sense of immediacy and tension by using the present tense in narrative texts even though describing past events, a silly technique of history programme makers Clive James pointed out many years ago.

To add a pedantic quibble, I noted Gladstone's voice in one of these "newsreels" toward the end of the programme, and heard the actor using a standard English Received Pronunciation accent. Gladstone was born in Liverpool and, as one source on the English language states, "his 'Lancashire burr' survived both Eton and Oxford". This minor point is the sort of criticism such programmes attract who claim to tell us , "The Real Story".

Such a silly minor error in something purporting to show the real story, the actual events, reminds me of a review of the movie "Danton". The reviewer points out a scene in the film where Robespierre insists a politician who has fallen out of favour be removed from a painting depicting the first days of the Revolution. Yet the film re-writes history itself as the politician named by Robespierre in the movie was in fact NOT at the historical event that the painting depicts. Another example of a film maker hoisted on their own petard.

I thought it curious that the programme makers chose Stravinsky's Rite of Spring as the background music when the British first march into Zululand. Music written about 35 years after the Zulu War. Could they not have shown some imagination and chosen some suitably 19th century martial music ? Many British musical examples would be readily available. On a more minor point, I may be completely incorrect, but I seem to recall reading (perhaps somewhere on this website) that the film "Zulu" inaccurately shows the British soldiers wearing white helmets at Rorke's Drift when in fact they would have been cork. Is this correct and did Timewatch repeat this error ? I did not see this raised in earlier discussions in this forum.

In the scenes preceding the battle of Isandlwana the Timewatch programme spoke of the Zulu impi encircling the British camp and showed several Zulu warriors sneaking through the grass in "knees-bent creeping about advancing behaviour" which I believed may have given the general viewer the impression that the Zulu army was only a few metres away from the British position before the battle.

The way the events after the battle were presented by Dr Saul David would give the impression to the general viewer of an ignominious retreat and he was most disparaging of Melvill and Coghill. Anyone reading the harrowing accounts of the flight to Fugitive's Drift can not but be overwhelmed by the horror, acts of bravery, sacrifice ( and wilful self-preservation) and therefore be extremely moved. Yet Dr David could give the impression to the general viewer that they were all shameful cowards. The importance of the regimental Queen's Colour was not really explained so that the general viewer might get the impression it was some silly trifle, perhaps the personal property of the Queen of the same order as a lace handkerchief or a silver sugar bowl ! I note too that Chelmsfors was shown drinking tea whilst the events of Isandlwana unfolded. I don't know if this has a basis in fact but it seemed to me an easy dig at the upper classes and reminiscent of Australian revisionism against the English prevalent in the 1980s ( see Peter Weir's Gallipoli film for example. Poms are just silly chaps with plummy voices who drink tea all day etc etc)

There were also brief and misleading details about Rorke's Drift descrbing the Zulu force as " a small breakaway band" (!), and giving the impression that they were the same warriors who fought at Isandlwana, and harassed the retreating British, rather than the reserve of the impi and some 4000 fighting men strong.

I too noticed the curious mixing of the stories of Robert Jones and William Jones, also the "shocking revelations" about the political nature of awarding honours and medals to the defenders. This, of course, is nothing new and misunderstands the nature of military decorations of the period.

I can conclude that the programme presented nothing new, was simplistic and the usual work of media types largely ignorant of history. I can not see it inspiring anyone to find out more about the war. The 1964 film does that much better ( it got me interested in the subject) but that film too has many errors which promotes lively debate as the pages of this forum attests. I was not angry at "Zulu : The Real Story", merely underwhelmed, and I would much prefer to see the 1970s documentary "Black as Hell, Thick as Grass" again and hope it will be available soon on DVD.

2nd April 2004Julian whybra
Murray, no he wasn't in N/5 RA at all.
3rd April 2004Alan Critchley
in passing, RDVC are in liason with Kenneth Griffith with a view to releasing "Black as Hell,..." on DVD.
On another point, I was very suspicious of other sources of Dr. David's material when I asked him where he got his information that Chard and Bromhead planned to bolt, restrained only by Dalton's intervention. He said it was from Hook's account of events. I know that there weren't that many there but I would hardly have thought that the cook of the day would have been privvy to the discussions of the officers in charge resulting in such a damning statement and Dr. David would have known that.

4th April 2004Tarkis
Although I liked the documentary,
one thing about it which I noticed was that the British were using BOLT ACTION rifles during the recreation of the battle of Isandlwana. I thought that was a bit lazy on the part of the creators.
Overall though, I liked it.