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Friday, May 8, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day. The Covid-19 pandemic means that any celebrations planned for Friday's bank holiday will be fairly muted with lockdown putting a dampener on any plans for street parties and other public commemorations.
Fortunately, as we’re all stuck indoors this year, Discovery Channel is marking the occasion with a very special documentary.
Tony Robinson’s VE Day: Minute By Minute takes a unique look at this momentous day by chronicling all the key events across the 24 hours.
Pulling together archive footage and never-before-seen accounts from veterans who were there at the end of the war in Europe, the film captures the jubilation and euphoria of the moment when Britain finally experienced relief, excitement and peace, after six years of bloody war.
It was a moment, says Tony Robinson, where Britain was unified in “sheer joy” and everyone was just for once allowed "jam tarts and a knees up".
We spoke to Tony Robinson about the reasons you won’t want to miss this very special programme…
The untold stories of VE Day
The film traces what happened on that most celebrated and important day, and features original interviews with historians and veterans who tell their stories and share their first-hand experiences.
“I think those voices are terribly important. And I think it’s important to catch them in the next few years,” said Robinson.
“I remember thinking a few years ago that when the final survivor of the First World War died we would lose all sense of the First World War. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened.
“Partly, I think, because of Eurotunnel. So many kids can go over and see the sights of the First World War and the fact that it’s on the school curriculum has made it very vivid.
"I think the fact that an awful lot of the footage has been restored is also very important. Hopefully these sorts of films will do the same thing for the Second World War.”
Looking beyond the flag-waving
There is much more to the film than a jingoistic look back at a moment of glory for Great Britain. The film captures the drama, the tension and the delicate balance of peace in Europe.
Robinson’s gripping story captures the chaos and uncertainty of the day.
“What stuck with me the most is that although everyone knew that this was the day they were going to celebrate, no one quite knew what was going to happen,” said Robinson.
“There were huge traffic jams at the start of the day because no one knew whether they were supposed to go to work or not.
"There was this mass of people getting on the underground, getting on trains and the tube and cycling to work. And then people getting to work were being sent home again. So there were two traffic jams at once going on.
“It was only around 11am when it all really started and everyone went ‘Oh f**k it, let’s have a party’. I think that’s so lovely and very relatable.”
It's more poignant than ever 75 years on
Rather than diminishing the importance of the anniversary, Robinson believes that the Covid-19 crisis will make people more aware of what happened in 1945.
"There definitely isn’t going to be dancing on the street," he admits. "But at other times I think the 75th anniversary of VE Day might have passed people by.
"I think this year, because of the parallels of what’s happening now, people will see the significance. I think people will be much more aware of it."
The TV presenter likened the impact of World War Two to that of Coronavirus.
"There are many parallels in what is happening today. I can easily see when the lockdown is fully over, people having street parties and there could well be dancing all night," he said.
“People could well be doing all the silly things that people did on that fateful day when we beat the Germans.
“If we had watched this programme even three months ago it might have seemed like the sort of thing that couldn’t happen now. Now people will see the parallels. The fact there have been things we’re not allowed to do. They hadn’t been allowed out after dark and there had been rationing.
"That idea of not being allowed out, more people can understand that experience today.”
Watch Tony Robinson’s VE Day: Minute By Minute on Discovery Channel on Friday, May 8th at 9pm - BT TV channel 322/376 HD.
Discovery Channel is also available with the NOW TV Entertainment Pass.
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