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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Battleplan: El Alamein
son and father Dan and Peter Snow
Using ground-breaking graphics, father and son team Peter and Dan Snow tell the story of one of the greatest British military victories of World War II, for BBC Two.

The decisive battle of El Alamein was fought 60 years ago next week.

To celebrate its 60th anniversary, we aimed to tell the battle's gripping and dramatic story through a new programme, using new methods.

Using the unusual format of two presenters - in this case a father and son team - allowed us to tell both the story of the generals and their strategy and the story of the men at the sharp end, the normal soldiers.

I have just finished studying history at Oxford and Dad has always enjoyed explaining stories to a diverse audience be it history, politics or science.

Dan Snow
Dan Snow has recently graduated in history from Oxford
This combination worked well and we could also harness the creative tension between father and son!

Working together was strange at first but we often used to discuss history and tour sites and battlefields just for fun, so it was not very unusual to be doing it professionally.

The film crew certainly enjoyed the sight of the two of us arguing when we were writing the programme or on location in Egypt!

From the front line

We wanted to illustrate what life was actually like for the soldiers on the front line.

To do this we read letters and diaries, and interviewed veterans.

Young actors in the programme portrayed the soldiers of 1942, giving the impression that they were eyewitnesses to the events of the battle.

Their age and costumes remind the audience that the vast majority of the soldiers at Alamein were less than 24 years old.

Exposed terrain

One of the greatest challenges that the soldiers faced during the battle was the flat and featureless nature of the Egyptian desert.

It was difficult to find any cover from German and Italian machine guns.

Digging holes in the soft sand was the only way to keep hidden and safe.

We tried to illustrate this and other survival techniques in the desert.


clearing mines
Royal Engineers risked everything to clear ways through minefields
Another danger to the advancing British and Commonwealth troops was the lethal minefields sowed by the Germans to slow their enemies down.

We went to the British Army School of Mine Clearing where they showed us the complexity of clearing mines hidden under the sand.

Our challenge was then to attempt to clear a stretch of minefield.

We made steady progress - but were much slower than the hard-pressed troops of the British army in 1942.

The full picture

To give the strategic overview of the battle we experimented with some amazing new graphics - a 3D map complete with moving tanks, infantry, guns and planes.

Peter Snow
Peter Snow has used graphics in many BBC programmes
Putting the battle into context, these illustrated the struggle of strategy and counter strategy as the German General Rommel tried desperately to hold off the sustained attacks of British General Bernard Montgomery.

The decision to use graphics helped bring the battle together as a whole, making it possible to see how advances in one area of the battle led to advantages in another.

Employing these techniques gave us a chance to find new ways of telling an extraordinary story, making it easier for a 21st century audience to understand how this important battle was won.

It has been a privilege to try to portray the courage and self-sacrifice of the troops who won Britain's first real victory of World War II.

Battleplan: El Alamein will be broadcast on BBC Two at 21:00 BST, on Friday 18 October.

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