Charles Chilton, who died on 2 January at the age of 95, was a writer and producer who was responsible for several well-known classic BBC series such as Lost in Space and Riders of the Range.
He also wrote the play, Oh What A Lovely War! a jaunty, ironic and cutting interpretation of World War I.
Killed in action
In writing the play, Chilton was remembering his father, private Charles Henry Chilton of the 6th Battalion, Notts and Derbys Regiment, who was killed, aged 19, on 20 March 1918 – the first day of the German Spring Offensive.
He had not had the opportunity to meet his son, who was born nine months before his death, having been posted to the Western Front a few weeks before the latter’s birth.
Like many of those who lost their lives at this stage of the war, his body was never found and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing. In the 1960s, Chilton went in search of his father’s grave in northern France and eventually found his name on the memorial, surrounded by those of more than 30,000 others.
The experience inspired a radio programme, aired in 1961, that told the tale of the war through the songs sung by British soldiers. It provides a fascinating selection, from the well-known tunes such as It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and The Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-ling-a-ling to lesser known ditties, often adapted from the hymns the soldiers would have sung since their early boyhood, such as We are Fred Karno’s Army – sung to the tune of The Church’s One Foundation. Two years later this programme was adapted to become the script for Oh What a Lovely War!
It was thought the radio show had been lost forever, but not long before his death Chilton unearthed a copy that he had kept. It is now held in the archives of the British Library in London.
To listen to the programme, click here.