Sidmouth author gives behind-the-scenes insight into major BBC drama

Author Jonathan Walker signing books at Sidmouth Library

Author Jonathan Walker signing books at Sidmouth Library - Credit: Archant

A major television drama depicting the juxtaposition of soldiers risking their lives before returning to their wives each day was kept historically accurate by a Sidmouth author.

Amanda Drew as Mary Markham and Ben Miles as Major Harry Markham in Aden drama The Last post

Amanda Drew as Mary Markham and Ben Miles as Major Harry Markham in Aden drama The Last post - Credit: BBC/Bonafide Films/Coco van Oppens

Six-part BBC One drama The Last Post tells the story of a British army unit fighting the insurgency in Aden, now Yemen, in 1965.

Jonathan Walker, from Bulverton, was enlisted as an historical consultant on the series, which airs on Sunday evenings, after penning an acclaimed book on the war, which was Britain’s last colonial conflict.

He said: “The mid-60s was a really interesting time, especially for the British Army.

“It was an accompanied tour; they had their wives there and back home there was fashion, pop music, the pill. It was all changing.

Jessica Raine as Alison Laithwaite in Aden drama The Last Post

Jessica Raine as Alison Laithwaite in Aden drama The Last Post - Credit: BBC/Bonafide Films/Coco van Oppens

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“The men would do their hard bit of soldiering and then come back to a domestic situation at home [in the camp].

“I’m enjoying it as a drama,” he added.

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“Peter Moffat is a good scriptwriter and character builder. His father had been in the military police in Aden. He wanted to write it as he remembered it.

“It’s a show which women will be interested in as well because of the context of the wives – military dramas are often a male thing.

“The other great thing about the show is that it’s introducing a younger audience to what happened in Aden. A lot of young people have never heard of Aden.

“With the 50th anniversary of the pulling out, it’s a good time to be looking back at it and remembering the 200 servicemen who were killed.”

There were about 10,000 family members out in Aden. The Last Post is set two years before the insurgency ‘really heats up’ and the families were evacuated, in 1967.

Among the cast are Jessie Buckley, Jessica Raine, Amanda Drew, Ben Miles and Stephen Campbell Moore.

“I was very impressed with the way the lead actors read up about Aden,” said Jonathan, 64.

“I imagined they would get the script and show up on the set, but they really read up on it. We sent a few emails back and forth and I found out Amanda Drew had a time at The King’s School in Ottery.”

Asked if there will be a second series, Jonathan said: “I think with all shows they would hope to carry it forward. That’s not for me to say.”

One piece of advice he brought to the series was that the Ministry of Defence and the Crown have copyright on all military badges, ribbons, flags and emblems for existing regiments, so these cannot be depicted on TV - often to the ire of military anoraks.

In contrast, Jonathan accepts a certain amount of artistic licence, saying: “You have to accept that drama is drama. This isn’t a documentary.”

The father-of-two’s interest in military history started at Clifton College in Bristol. He had a commercial career but would write articles as a freelancer, and that built up to writing his first book. He now has seven under his belt.

Jonathan was inspired to write Aden Insurgency: The Savage War in Yemen 1962-67 after speaking to late Harpford resident Major General John Cubbon, who had served in Aden, and soon learned several other local residents had too as he sought out eyewitnesses.

He also spoke to a number of senior military figures and read through official reports to compile a history of the conflict, which he said had not been written about in great depth.

As for Jonathan’s next project, he told the Herald: “At the moment I’m writing a book and hopefully a drama on the men who suffered facial disfigurement in the Great War.

“There were sculptors and artists who worked on masks to allow them to go out in public. There were extraordinary relationships between the artists and their subjects.”

The Last Post airs on Sunday evenings at 9pm on BBC One

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