Sunday, 1 May 2011

Death of Professor Richard Holmes

I am truly saddened to learn about the death of military historian and television presenter Professor Richard Holmes CBE, who died yesterday.

I worked with Richard for several months as a lowly researcher on the second series of War Walks in 1997, making documentaries about the battles of Hastings, Bosworth Field, Naseby, the Boyne, and the London Blitz, and a nicer gentleman I never met. Richard was one of a rare breed of presenters, sadly fast disappearing, who not only knew his subject intimately, but who was more passionate about getting his message across than in any cult of celebrity. Quite possibly he was the only presenter I ever worked with in twelve years who I genuinely had any respect for - and I will forever be grateful for him teaching me how to fire a matchlock musket!

Two memories particularly stand out, the first being the day after the General Election in 1997, when we flew to Belfast. Richard was absolutely devastated, whilst at the time we very young BBC lefties were rather delighted at the thought of Tony Blair coming in to clean up the shop. I very much suspect in years to come that history will find in favour of Richard's analysis.

The other was somewhat ruder! Director Steven Clarke and myself had travelled to Battle in Surrey to recce the location for a programme on the Battle of Hastings (which happened at Battle, not at Hastings!). Richard had joined us to share his expertise on the tactics and strategy employed on the day, in order that we could prepare a script and start to get things organised for the filming. At one point he told us a story about an incident in his youth, where I think he had been in France, and had met some young woman who was out riding on a stallion, whilst he
was out on his mare. As he got talking, the lady's stallion suddenly got the better end of the call of nature. "Do you know," he recalled with utter deadpan delivery, "I think that was the first time I was ever involved in an equine sandwich." Steven and I could not move for ten minutes, absolutely creased over in pain from laughing so much!

I have many other wonderful memories of Richard from that series, including watching him whoop with joy as he speared a shield at full speed with a lance on his trusty horse Thatch, bringing his wife and daughters out to the Naseby shoot, enjoying a meal in a hotel in Drogheda as we tried to cheer him up about Tony Blair, meeting Battle of Britain pilot Bob Doe with him at Duxford, and so much more. It was my only chance to work with him, the series being the last I worked on at BBC Bristol before moving to Scotland, but to me Richard Holmes was, and always will be, the guv'nor of military history on the BBC.

Here's to ye Richard!


A few more images of the maestro at work on the series:

Richard and family at Naseby

Crew shot at Monasterboice Abbey, County Louth, Ireland (Boyne shoot)

Filming piece to camera on the banks of the Boyne

At RAF Duxford


Audrey Collins said...

A lovely tribute, Chris, and some great pics.. I met him couple of years ago and he was a thoroughly nice man. He will be greatly missed.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely - I travelled on many battlefield tours with Richard and found him incredibly knowledgable and with the gift of imparting his knowledge and enthusiasm to others. I have stood with him at battlefield sites all over Europe and listened to him tell the story of the events that took place and the men who fought there. He was also true gentleman, great company and a brilliant raconteur who will be sadly missed.