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Sunday, 19 July 2015
''Interview with a Wargamer'' [ Part Two]
''Interview with a Wargamer'' [ Part Two]
RR, Charlie, the early 1970's were an exciting time for wargamers, and some great books were written to help us novices. How did you decide to write your first book, Practical Wargaming.
CW, I was in hospital would you believe. I was having a hernia operation and had to remain in there for a week, before being sent to a convalescent home to recover.
As a result I asked my wife to bring in a load of military history reference books, and I decided I would write a wargaming book.
RR, Just like that.
CW, Yes. I wrote several of the chapters whilst in recovery, and one day when I returned to my bedroom, there was a young nurse reading my book, the cheeky beggar.
She told me she found it fascinating, so after that critical review I thought I'd better finish it.
I sent it to a publisher who accepted it, and the rest is history as one says.
I was amazed when I discovered that it had been released in the United States where it sold 1500 copies. Imagine that, with me receiving 8 old pence royalties for each copy.
I remember receiving a letter from a gentleman in America who said he wanted to meet me and walk some battlefields over here. I invited him over and stayed for a few days.
Another chap wrote saying that I was a hero of the Benedict Arnold Society, I wasn't quite certain how to take that, as I thought Arnold was classed as a traitor of the republic.
I knew that I had written a best seller when I discovered that the copy of Practical Wargaming that was in Newcastle Central library was actually stolen. What a complement!
RR, So how did your second book, With Pike and Musket come about.
CW, Well Practical Wargaming had been well received. Donald Featherstone wrote a very nice review of my book in the Newsletter, and my peers all seemed to like my ideas so I decided to write a second book about the pike and musket period.
However when I took it to the publishers, they didn't really want it. I think they thought wargaming was a passing fad. Luckily other wargaming books, especially Donald's were selling well, so they changed their minds and accepted it and it was published. The rest is history as they say.
RR, The book contained some quite obscure battles of that period, how did you manage to research those particular battles when research material was so hard to find.
CW, Donald Featherstone always said, until you visit a battlefield you will never understand the battle. I have been lucky enough to have walked the Napoleonic battlefields of Spain and Portugal. I also visited the battlefields of ancient Rome and Greece and followed in the footsteps of Alexander in Asia Minor. Whilst I was still fit I also travelled to the wonderfully preserved battlefields in the United States to study the American Civil War.
I have always been a keen amateur historian and visited the various battlefields that I described in my book. However I totally got the Battle of Yellow ford wrong, but it was only later after I had done more research that I realised that. Luckily wargamers didn't seem to notice, so I may have got away with that. Again the book was well received and did well.
Years later I was at an historical gathering in York, where I met this Irish chap who began blathering on about Benburg. I finally realised what he was talking about. He wanted to fly me to Ireland to walk the battlefields of Yellow ford and Benburg. I ended up making models of both battles for the local museums near the battlefields. Some people are very generous.
RR, With Pike and Musket is a particular favourite of mine, with a lot of ideas that still stand the test of time.
CW, I wrote a historical book you know, on the Battle of Otterburn, which was a particular favourite battle of mine.
RR, Tell me about that then.
CW, I was invited to Otterburn in 1988 to conduct a presentation of the battle. Anyway it was quite an affair, we all marched into Otterburn, which isn't actually where the battle took place, but that didn't seem to matter. I was asked to do a commentary of the whole battle.
There was a regiment of soldiers to act as the Scots and English, but for some reason they were positioned well away from where people were supposed to be viewing the events. It ended up as a bit of a brawl, but fortunately no one was badly hurt.
The funny thing was the men playing Hotspur and Douglas didn't actually get to the battlefield in time as they got stuck in the traffic which was en route to the event.
RR, Did you ever consider writing a further wargaming book.
CW, I actually wrote it, but it was never published, which was a shame.
The book was titled, Seven Steps to Freedom. The idea was to describe and fight a series of battles in North America that shaped the republic. I started with a description and refight of Braddock's Massacre leading through to the start of the War of Independence. I thought there were seven key military events that shaped the republic prior to the war of independence. Sadly it was never accepted by the publishers.
RR, Charlie you must try again, it sounds a terrific idea.
CW, I must find my manuscript, its somewhere in my home, filed away.
[Since this interview John Curry, contacted Charlie, and published his book, which is widely available.]
RR, I recently discovered that you had some input into the iconic Battleground series produced by the now defunct Tyne Tees Television. How did that come about?
CW, I had been asked by North Tyneside Council to do a series of six historical wargames for them.
On the first night two ladies from the local television company turned up and asked me about wargaming in general. I heard nothing for a while, but then I received a telephone call out of the blue from Tyne Tees Television asking if I could write a series of six scripts of battles fought by famous military personalities. Originally I wanted to portray the Battle of Cannae, and Hannibal, but the producer said very few people would know who he was! So they asked me to do Julius Caesar instead. I call them scripts but actually they had to be written on one page of foolscap, it was an interesting problem.
RR, I remember watching the series, and wanting to re fight the battles, it was amazing to a young wargamer.
CW, What actually happened was that I got John Braithwaite to help me prepare the battles. It was decided by the producer that we should record a pilot battle to see how things looked. I remember the producer, she was a vicar's daughter who swore like a trooper, I was appalled!
A younger wargamer called Peter Gilder was supposed to do the first battle, but nerves got the better of him. Peter had an anxiety attack and ended up fainting and being taken to hospital.
So John and I did the pilot. I remember that the producer wanted us to throw a six to hit a gun, well of course neither John or I could manage to throw one, so we had to cheat a bit. They then insisted on smoke being blown all over the battlefield to add some drama, as if having beautiful wargames figures on a table wasn't enough.
Anyway the series was accepted, filmed and released for television.
RR, I have been lucky enough to have a dvd of four of the battles, I still think they are great, especially Gettysberg and Waterloo.
CW, That wasn't the end of my television career you know.
RR, I didnt know that Charlie.
CW, I did a series for television called Bob's Battles. It was presented by Bob Johnson the weatherman at 5.55pm on Tyne Tees Television. We did a total of ten battles. Bob and I would do a walk around one of the local battlefields and talk about the actual battle. Included in the series was Newburn, Pinkie, Flodden, Otterburn and the like. Poor Bob always got his lines wrong, but he was a very nice man. When we finished the series he gave me a lovely card titled, ' a true professional'.
RR, So did you know Peter Gilder, who is a particular hero of mine.
CW, I didnt really know Peter Gilder very well, I only met him once or twice. I had this ridiculous idea to make an actual wargaming film. My idea, if you can call it that, was to stage a famous battle and constantly film the troops as I moved through what actually happened on the day. The idea was to place the troops, move them slightly film it, and then run each shot together, a bit like a cartoon I suppose. Anyway Frank Hinchliffe and Peter saw the film. They thought it was hilarious. Unfortunately it looked like a silent film, all jerky and moving at the wrong speed, heavens knows how I thought it could work. I gave the film to John Braithwaite.
RR, I know you were a very close friend of Terry Wise and Stuart Asquith,and you used to meet once a year for an annual wargame and battlefield walk. How did that come about.
CW, I received an invite to the first meeting of Conference of Wargamers [C.O.W.]
What happened was that invites were given to people who had done something in wargaming. There were about 50 given out. The meeting was at Missendon Abbey and organised by Paddy Griffiths. Anyway I turned up and these two men came over to meet me, they said that I was the man they had been wanting to meet. It was Terry Wise and Stuart Asquith. A year later at the same convention I met them again. We all decided that we didn't want to attend C.O.W. again and instead arranged to meet for an annual weekend of wargaming and general company.
I'm afraid I didn't take to the ideas that Paddy Griffiths was proposing. I remember we were all given hats at the convention, mine said I was a Colonel of a cavalry regiment. I was supposed to go around talking to the other delegates about the coming battle. It wasn't for me, it wasn't my thing.
But meeting Terry and Stuart, was worth wearing that silly hat.
Terry Wise was a very knowledgeable person and a true friend. Both were great wargaming companions. Terry wrote some very good reference books and was a very generous person. Stuart edited a first rate wargames magazine in Practical Wargamer. They were good wargaming companions. I still get a Christmas card of Stuart every year.
RR, In Practical Wargaming you stated that there would never be a universal set of wargames rules, has this view changed at all?
CW, Wells said that wargaming was like chess with a thousand pieces. It's not, and never will be. Wargamers are individuals, each has a view about how to wargame and each has a view about what they want from a game. That's one of the wonderful thing about wargames. That and the military history. It's amazing what you learn as you research a period.
RR, You also wrote, in Practical Wargaming, ''a game played with easily understood rules that gives a result played within a broad outline of a particular period, is to be preferred to a game that is so accurate in detail that more often than not, the only result is a genuine hostility towards your opponent''.
CW, In the 1970's there was a move towards excessive detail and charts. The game aspect took a secondary role, and things became too serious. I can't stand rules where you have to end up having to throw a dice to agree a point. By all means research the history, but don't spoil the point of wargaming.
RR, Are there any rules currently published which you feel achieved the purpose you wrote of?
CW, I can't afford to buy them! [ laughing] I am a pensioner you know.
I do like Fire and Fury, and Regimental Fire and Fury. Those rules are well thought out. I mainly use rules written by my good friend Mike Fisher, but we also use rules based on hexagons as you have seen in my wargames room. Wargaming shouldn't be about the rules, it should be about historical tactics, knowing your period, the rules should be secondary.
RR, Charlie, before we finish the interview, just as a bit of fun,can I ask you some quick fire questions?
CW, Right you are.
RR, Favourite wargaming period?
RR, Least favourite period?
CW, World War one and World War Two, especially Two. All the different weapons and excessive detail. I'm also afraid I never understood fantasy wargaming. I wargame up to the Zulu Wars and join in at my wargames club with members games, because one should always join in.
RR, Favourite Book?
CW, Well I read a great deal but at the moment I am particularly enjoying The Waterloo Companion. It is a very interesting book and well presented.
RR, Favourite personality from history?
CW, Malborough. John Churchill overcame so many obstacles and managed to never lose a battle. David Chandler also said, that Churchill serviced his wife twice whilst still wearing his campaign boots! He was a fascinating man.
RR, Best wargame you ever fought in?
CW, That would have to be Gettysberg. I really enjoy multi player games, it always makes for an interesting game. I have fought this battle many times. It holds problems for each side.
I have toured the actual battlefield, and walked several of the other less well known ones as well. The Americans do a wonderful job of preserving their battlefields. They also present the history really well.
RR, Finally Charlie, you have probably met most of the personalities who helped wargaming to grow in this country. Who was the most influential person in your opinion?
CW, Donald, definitely Donald Featherstone. His little magazine was so exciting every time I received my copy, it was a wonderful inspiration. I never realised that it went to America, originally I thought there were only wargamers in England. Donald and his wife were lovely people, he was a very generous person and a great friend. You know wargaming is a wonderful hobby and I believe that it has kept me young.
RR, Charlie I would like to thank you again for taking the time to tell me a little bit about your wargaming life and thanks for writing two excellent books for wargamers.