Loughborough University
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Loughborough University

Screening Socialism

Televised History

Parades and commemorative occasions were one way of recalling the past; TV serials provided another. Socialist culture had always been about heroes and struggle, and these TV serials were no exception. Programmes like Drawing Fire (Vyzyvaem ogon’ na sebia, 1965] in the Soviet Union, Four Tankmen and a Dog (Czeterej pancierni i pies, 1966–70) in Poland, or Archive of Death (Archiv des Todes, 1980) in the GDR, emphasised individual heroism, collective endeavour, and co-operation with other ‘friendly’ socialist nations. Given the low levels of legitimacy that socialist regimes attracted in some countries, the aim of these programmes was to inculcate a distinctly socialist vision of the past which viewed history as a progression from capitalist or feudal exploitation to socialist liberation. And, amid worries that young people who were too young to have fought in WWII had not absorbed its messages, these programmes provided an entertaining way of transmitting memories of the conflict to young people.

Many socialist historical serials took in a long historical sweep. In the Soviet Union, this historical span frequently began before the revolution, before moving forward to the present day, as exemplified by the popular serial Shadows Disappear at Noon (Teni ischezaiut v polden’, 1970-71), which took in the battle between generations of two warring families, one ‘bourgeois’ and the other ‘revolutionary’. In Yugoslavia, the frequently rebroadcast serial Our Small Town (Naše malo misto, TV Zagreb, 1970-71), set in a picturesque town on the Adriatic coast, likewise began before World War Two and stretched into the present day.  

In Poland and Romania, some of the most widely watched historical serials stretched even further back into the past, and focused on folk heroes and adventures that, at least at first sight, had little to do with communist revolutionary history. In Romania, the widely watched adventure serial All Sails Up! (Toate pinzele sous!, 1976-1978) was set during the nineteenth century and followed the maritime adventures of a Romanian-French crew on board of a ship that ventures on a journey to Latin America. Also part of the same category was Janosik (1973), a Polish adventure serial about a famous Carpathian robber – a Polish equivalent of Robin Hood – who lived at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  

Also common among popular historical serials were spy dramas. For instance, the Polish serial More than Life at Stake (Stawka większa niż życie, 1967-68) followed the adventures of ‘Captain Kloss’, a Soviet double agent, in Occupied Poland during World War II. Under the codename J-23, he manages to uncover a number of German military secrets, despite the constant threat of detection. The show was extremely popular not only in Poland, but also in the USSR and Czechoslovakia.


PHOTO: Scene from the Polish spy drama More than Life at Stake, Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe – Polish National Digital Archive, 1-F-2410-6.


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