It might be Bank Holiday Monday, but 29 years ago today, the first episode of the BBC’s acclaimed, but controversial series, The Monocled Mutineer was broadcast.
Written by Alan Bleasdale (who initially turned it down), and starring Paul McGann, The Monocled Mutineer was undoubtedly the best WW1 drama ever produced by the BBC. It told the story of Percy Toplis, the leader of an army mutiny during WW1 – a story that has remained one of the best-kept secrets of the First World War.
In 1917, British, New Zealand and Australian troops stationed at the Étaples Training Camp in northern France protested against the inhuman conditions. The mutineers commandeered the camp’s weapons and marched into Étaples, holding the town for three days, attacking military police and the commander of the training camp, General Thompson.
Several of the mutineers were executed, but Topils remained at large for three years. The Army immediately covered up the mutiny; thousands of the participants would die shortly afterwards in the Passchendaele offensive.
The survivors remained silent for over fifty years while all records of the Étaples Board of Enquiry were destroyed.
Now, as we commemorate 100 years since the Great War, and the official files on the mutiny are released (they’re closed until 2017), Souvenir Press are publishing a brand new version of The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairley and William Allison.
With a new introduction by Fairley that explains ‘getting the story’, from placing advertisements in newspapers for survivors to come forward, to talking to Toplis’ family, The Monocled Mutineer unveils the events of the Étaples Mutiny and asks a host of unanswered questions about Toplis and his role, if any, in it.
With Toplis’s story once again making headlines, perhaps it’s time for the BBC to air The Monocled Mutineer once again?
The Monocled Mutineer will be published in paperback and eBook on Thursday 24th September, and is available to pre-order now.