Thursday, 22 November 2012

"The Machine Gunners" BBC 1983

The Machine Gunners was a BBC childrens drama serial which first aired in 1983, based on Robert Westalls 1975 novel of the same name.

The series (and book) tells the story of a group of children living in the fictional town of Garmouth (based on Tynemouth) in the North East of England during World War 2, or more specifically winter 1940 to summer 1941. As the north east was one of the most heavily industrialised areas of Britain at the time, it became one of the primary targets for the German bombing campaign.

I first saw this serial (and read the book) as part of my GCSE English studies. We were doing a section about how different accents and dialects affect the use of language and our teacher had chosen this book as one of the examples a different and somewhat unfamiliar dialect than the one we were used to.
Being a bit of a fan of war stories the book/series stuck in my mind and I was quite pleased to find the series had been uploaded to youtube., as it -like so many childrens drama serials from the late 70s and early 80s- has never been released on video or DVD.

Starring a cast of people you will have never heard of before or since, the story itself is a kind of "coming of age" type affair, with the children learning over time about responsibility and such, all while dealing with such childhood experiences such as bullying, playground rivalries.

The key points of the story revolve around the character of Charlie "Chas" McGill, who one day while out looking to find stuff to expand his "war souvenir" collection (mainly consisting of pieces of shrapnel, bomb fins, spent cartridges etc, a common hobby during WW2 for many boys) at the site of a burnt out building, he is chased away by an ARP warden while trying to steal parts from the burnt out engine of a German plane.
After fleeing into the woods, he cant believe his luck as he comes across the almost intact remains of a Luftwaffe Heinkel HE-111 medium bomber which had been shot down the night before. As he pokes around the wreckage, he finds an intact, and fully operational MG-15 machine gun as well as over 2000 rounds of live ammunition,but has to return later with his friend Cyril "cemetery" Jones to retrieve it as the weapon is attached to the planes airframe, requiring the use of a hacksaw to remove it.
Chas and his friends eventually build a fortress on the nearby coastline and use the machine gun to shoot at incoming German aircraft - with dubious results - in an effort to "do their bit" for the war effort.
Things don't stay rosy for long though after they find an injured German airman and decide to hold him hostage within their fortress, and when their machine gun breaks they are forced to strike a bargain with him in order to get it fixed, all the while avoiding detection by the local police who know of the machine guns existence and are aware of the possibility that a German may be at loose in the area.

The series can be watched by clicking here.

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