Kirby, Tim (dir.): Gallipoli: When Murdoch went to war

Kirby, Tim (dir.)

Gallipoli: When Murdoch went to war‘, BBC Two (2015); rebroadcast on SBS, 22 May 2016

One-hour documentary on the Keith Murdoch letter and subsequent events of September-October 1915. The letter is described by one of the talking heads as ‘a brilliant editorial’, rather than a fully factual analysis. Murdoch was driven, the documentary suggests, by Australian nationalism, hero-worship of the larger than life men of Anzac, respect for the ‘sacred shore’ of Gallipoli and, of course, personal ambition.

The story (a request from Fisher to Murdoch, Murdoch arriving at Gallipoli feeling positive, his befriending by Ashmead-Bartlett, Ashmead-Bartlett’s letter confiscated at Marseilles, Murdoch’s writing a more hyperbolic letter about the failure of the campaign, doors opening in Fleet Street and Whitehall, and the rest is history) has been reasonably well-known. It was surprising to hear that the letter was not public until 1977.

Comments come from Douglas Newton (one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters), Jenny Macleod, Tom Roberts (Murdoch’s biographer), Sir Max Hastings, Sir Hew Strachan, Kevin Fewster, Carl Bridge and others. And Rupert Murdoch. And an actor, Simon Harrison, who looks quite like Keith Murdoch from some angles. There is a fascinating brief film clip of Sir Ian Hamilton in later life. Some commentators make cheeky remarks about Murdoch père et fils using similar methods. The divergence between objective truth and journalistic truth is noted. The role of Mustafa Kemal at Gallipoli is overstated, as usual.

Any suggestion that Murdoch’s letter alone led to the replacement of Hamilton and the evacuation is debunked, though the letter was clearly a factor, particularly because, as Strachan points out, it was a journalist talking and he was talking about Australian troops, Strachan seemingly implying that the British commanders were more relaxed about sacrificing their own Tommies. Strachan’s fellow knight, Hastings, snares the award for waspishness, though, by pointing out that some Australians lack understanding of Australia’s relatively small role in the Dardanelles campaign. Jenny Macleod feelingly reads Ashmead-Bartlett’s imaginative account of the Anzac landing, a landing which the journalist did not in fact witness.

The documentary is only on SBS view on demand until early June. It is well worth catching.

David Stephens

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