JEROME KUEHL 1931-2018

Jerome Kuehl (known universally as Jerry) died on 16 September 2018 at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. Jerry was a unique figure who spanned the worlds of academia and television production where he worked on three landmark series The Great War (BBC, 1964), The World at War (Thames Television, 1973-74) and Cold War (Turner Productions, 1998).

Jerry was born in December 1931 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He read History at the Wesleyan University in Connecticut where he developed an interest in the history of newsreels. In the late 1950s he moved to the UK as a post-graduate at St Anthony’s College, Oxford. While at Oxford he met Jeremy Isaacs, an undergraduate at Merton College.

In 1963 he was asked by historian Corelli Barnett to help research a major production the BBC was preparing for its new channel, BBC2, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the First World War. The 26 part series, The Great War, transmitted first in 1964, pioneered the use of veterans’ testimony added into the mix of archive film, music and commentary.

As a fluent French speaker, Jerry then went on to work for the NBC European Production Unit in Paris where among other things he organised coverage of the 1968 ‘Evenements’. He was still working with NBC in early 1972 when Jeremy Isaacs asked him to take a look at the first four rough cuts of his new series on the Second World War at Thames Television. Jerry viewed the cuts and was disappointed. He wrote a critical memo pointing out the misuse of archive film. He ended his memo with the words: ‘I’m afraid [this] sounds rather sour and carping. I’m sorry about that but I thought it would be more helpful to be critical, rather than make a lot of flattering remarks.’

Isaacs, at least, was impressed and asked Jerry to join the production. He played a variety of different roles over the next three years. He finished production of one episode, Stalingrad, in which he made clear the propagandist nature of some of the Soviet archive footage. He wrote and directed the penultimate episode, Reckoning, in which for the only time in the series he persuaded Isaacs to allow a historian to appear, Stephen Ambrose, who summed up the broader consequences of the war.

However, mostly Jerry acted as the ‘conscience’ of the production, as a sort of internal quality-control officer, constantly pressing the case for the authentic and accurate use of archive film and of historical sources. Some of the team were infuriated by his criticism and ignored it. Others, used a memo from Jerry as an opportunity to take another look at a sequence to try to improve it.

When the 26 part series The World at War was shown on ITV from October 1973 to April 1974 it created a sensation. The programmes generated immense critical acclaim and attracted big audiences. Thames sold the series to 50 countries around the world. In the US it proved even more popular and won an Emmy and a Peabody award. It has been repeated so many times that for more than forty years it has always been on a television screen somewhere around the world.

In addition, Jerry became the outward face of The World at War. He wrote articles and gave lectures about making the series. He became well known among the film archivists who had supplied material for the programmes. He moved smoothly between the world of television production and the academy. He extended this to write more generally about the role of the television historian, for instance in ‘History on the Public Screen’ in the seminal The Historian and Film (ed. Paul Smith, 1976) and in the first edition of the History Workshop Journal (Vol 1, issue 1, spring 1976). As a bon viveur, Jerry became well known for his fine lunches, his taste for good wine along with his wonderful sense of humour and his wide-ranging knowledge of 20th history and culture.

Jerry extended this in 1981 by joining a consortium to rescue History Today that faced collapse when Longmans decided to abandon the monthly magazine that made historical scholarship available to a wide readership. He remained a director of History Today Ltd for three decades providing a benign oversight without interfering in editing the magazine.

In 1987, Jerry started working with Sebastian Cody, head of production company Open Media, on a radical discussion format for the new Channel 4. The programme, After Dark, consisted of a group of intelligent, well-informed people sitting on sofas discussing the topic of the week. The programmes were transmitted live and, late night, had no fixed closing time. Fascinating discussions ensued on political, economic and cultural subjects. There were 90 episodes over four years. It all seemed very much like a Jerry programme.

Jerry and the ‘Office Cat’ © Vincent Yorke

There were several other aspects to Jerry’s professional life. He was Head of General Studies at the National Film School from 1979 to 1981. In 1991 he produced a 4 part series La Grande Aventure de la Presse Filmée for France 3. He also wrote The Office Cat, a regular column published in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, the IAMHIST Blog, and in the FOCAL magazine that pointed out the terrible abuse of archive film by television producers. And for many years he was a Council member of the organisation that publishes the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, IAMHIST, until 2015.

In the mid 1990s, Jerry was asked again by Jeremy Isaacs to contribute to another major television series, Cold War, a 24 part series produced for Turner Broadcasting. Jerry eagerly took up his role of quality control officer once more but it was a sign of how production attitudes had changed that by now he was not a lone voice but there were many on the production team, including Isaacs and series producer Martin Smith, who argued equally strongly for the accurate use of all evidence, film and other documentary sources, throughout the series.

I have a personal debt to Jerry because in the aftermath of The World at War, I was a post-graduate at Bristol university. I had read history as an undergraduate at Cambridge and was then studying film wondering how on earth I could combine these two interests. Then, one Friday afternoon, Jerry came to give a lecture about the making of The World at War and the penny dropped. Inspired by Jerry, a year after leaving Bristol I managed to get a job at Thames Television in the unit that made historical documentaries. For me, the rest was Television History.

In 1976 Jerry married Adele, a psychotherapist and clinical psychologist. Their marriage was very happy and over the decades has included sharing time in houses in southern France and in Puglia, Italy.

In 1985, Jerry suffered a heart attack and had his first bypass operation, aged 54. For the rest of his life he would suffer from a series of severe cardiac ‘adventures’ as he called them and over recent years was in and out of hospital so regularly that he became close friends with his cardiologists. Throughout the thirty years of treatment despite the enforced slowing down of his irrepressible life style, Jerry remained staunchly positive, cheerful and always entertaining.

Jerry urged television historians to think critically about their work and the sources they used. He openly criticised producers who failed in this. He argued that television history should be taken seriously by historians and the wider public. He was a familiar figure in the debate about history on television and was a friend, guide and inspiration to many.

Taylor Downing

She will be missed: Christine Whittaker, 1942-2017


It is with great sadness that I must on behalf of the IAMHIST Council tell members that our friend and former president Christine Whittaker has died. Christine was a long-term member of IAMHIST who served as president from 2001 to 2004.  She brought much to our organization as one of the most prominent members with a background in practice rather than academia. 

Christine – née Smith — was born on 22 December 1942 in the Northumberland town of Corbridge, on Hadrian’s Wall.  She was educated at the University of Leeds where she read French and German.  Her initial hope was to work for the Foreign Office as a translator, but when they turned her down she went to work for the BBC.  Her first job was at the BBC World Service with a unit broadcasting in French to Canada.  She moved within the corporation to the current affairs outfit based at Lime Grove where she worked on a program called 24 Hours, but it was when she moved to a third post at the feature/documentary unit at Kensington House.  Her projects included a series of helicopter-films called Bird’s-Eye View (1969-1971) some episodes of which were written and narrated by the great English poet Sir John Betjeman, with whom Christine enjoyed working.  Others working on the series included two crazy Polish pilots, the distinguished producer/director Edward Mirzoeff and a cameraman named Graham Whittaker whom she married in 1972.  Christine and Mirzoeff worked together with Betjeman on two more films – Metro-Land (1973) and A Passion For Churches (1974), both of which are now considered classics. While at Kensington House Christine found her forte.  Her tasks included researching a series of short films about major events in World War Two including the attack on the Tirpitz and the Norwegian resistance raid on the Nazi Heavy Water Plant all of which required her to locate archive film to illustrate the story.  The process of finding historical film became her great professional passion and she became very good at it.  In due course Christine received full credit as ‘producer (archives)’ in a string of major BBC projects.  Her CV included some of the gems of television history including a history of work called All our Working Lives (1984), the path-breaking history of women’s experience in the twentieth century Out of the Dolls House (1988) of which she was especially proud and the Emmy-award winning The People’s Century, (1995-97).  Her work was often featured in the Timewatch strand of historical documentaries which ran for many years on BBC 2.  She was much admired by her colleagues in the television industry and by those who provided the film she used.  In 2006 she was honored with a lifetime achievement award by FOCAL (the Federation of Commercial Audio Visual Libraries).

At IAMHIST Christine provided leadership during a time of change.  She was kind and generous with her help to younger scholars and practitioners alike as a regular participant in master classes and she worked hard to maintain the presence of top-level practitioners at IAMHIST conferences.  She was saddened by the changes in historical television and the decline of the in-house production teams of which she’d been part, and often shared a sense that she had been fortunate to be part of a golden age at the BBC.  Christine took a great interest in the wider lives of her IAMHIST colleagues and always enjoyed meeting their families and children.  Christine had two children, Georgina and Jack, and in recent years became a grandmother also.  Her final years were marked by a struggle first with Parkinson’s Disease and then with cancer; she died of complications arising from these conditions with her family close by on 16 August.  She will be much missed and our thoughts go out to Graham, Georgina, Jack and all her family at this sad time.  Colleagues who wish to mark her passing might consider donating in her name to the Meadow House Hospice [link], who took care of her during her final weeks.  The hospice mailing address is Macmillan Nursing, Meadow House Hospice, Uxbridge Road, Southall, Middlesex, UB1 3HW.

Nick Cull

President, IAMHIST.

Karel Dibbets (1947-2017) will also be missed – a sad year

It is with great sadness that we have to inform of yet another great loss, the passing away on May 28th of our dear friend, colleague and former teacher Karel Dibbets (1947-2017). Karel was one of the initiators of what to some still may ring a bell: Dutch IAMHIST, what would become the Dutch Association for History, Image and Sound. Together with Bert Hogenkamp and many others he organized the XV IAMHIST conference in Amsterdam in 1993 and published the proceedings with the corresponding title Film and the First World War in 1994. Probably most known, however, Karel is for his work on the pioneering database and encyclopedia Cinema Context.

“Professional expertise: Asparagus with salmon” was the first thing I learned about Karel from his profile page, after I had enrolled for a course about Dutch film culture that he was teaching at the University of Amsterdam. It didn’t tell me much about him back then, but it tells a lot about as I have gotten to know him over the past one and a half decades: bon vivant, witty, modest. He enjoyed great food, fine art, music and gezelligheid as much as he enjoyed his work.

Many of us remember Karel as a dedicated and visionary scholar and historian. In 1971, he graduated at the film academy, but soon turned to the University of Amsterdam to study Economic and social history. This step in fact marked the beginning of a long academic career at the University of Amsterdam – a career that, as Karel himself joked about upon his early retirement in 2011, did not exactly follow the standard path. He graduated in Economic and social history 1982, helped establishing a new department for Film- and TV studies, obtained his PhD in 1993, and would keep his position as assistant professor until his retirement.

Karel was never satisfied with superficial answers (and questions), he loved to engage in critical discussions and his sharp-sighted questions and remarks were thought-provoking and inspiring. For Karel, history was not one-dimensional, but complex, and it was the historian’s task to unravel this complexity. At the end of the 1970s, when Karel was a student, he performed a complex analysis of chain formation in the Dutch cinema sector, the type of analysis that we now commonly refer to as social network analysis. Yet the innovative aspect of this study also lay in the way it was carried out: long before the term digital had entered the standard vocabulary of humanists and historians, Karel used to punch cards and computational calculation to deal with the enormous datasets he had created and to solve (at least part of) his questions. The resulting thesis from 1980 “Cinema chains in the Netherlands: economic concentration and geographical expansion of an industry, 1928 – 1977” (in Dutch) is still highly insightful for cinema historians in the Netherlands.

With this research, though innovative and visionary in itself, Karel paved the way for something even bigger, something that would become his life time achievement: the Cinema Context database. Karel always emphasized that Cinema Context is much more than just a database or encyclopedia for information on cinemas and film programs. To him Cinema Context was most and foremost a research tool, which would allow for generating and answering complex research questions about Dutch film culture, including patterns of film distribution and networks of cinemas, distributors and exhibitors. It is only during the last couple of years that this true potential of Cinema Context has begun to be recognized and that it has undergone a radical improvement, partly by initiatives by researchers of the CREATE project under the supervision of Julia Noordegraaf. In my last talk with Karel only a few weeks ago, he showed how happy and grateful he was to find his legacy in capable hands.

Karel’s legacy of course, extends this by far. Next to countless publications on Dutch film culture, including his dissertation from 1993 about the introduction of the talkies in the Netherlands, it is also the projects and collaborations he initiated as well as the inspiring talks for which he will be remembered and which will undoubtedly result in further compelling research questions and projects. Karel was able to push colleagues and students alike to take that extra step, seek for explanations, think out of the box.

Karel did not enjoy being center stage and if an illness had taken over his live, he would not allow her to dominate his conversations. During the last weeks at the hospital, there was a coming and going of family, friends and colleagues. Although exhausting, talks about future projects and plans fulfilled him with joy.

Karel, his wit and vision will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.


Kathleen Lotze (Utrecht University)



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