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 'We Were Tommies Once And Young' by Guest Historian Chris Oakley
Guest Historian Guest Historian Chris Oakley says, this thread was inspired by a New Statesman What if? article. I call it "We Were Tommies Once And Young": If you're interested in viewing samples of my other work why not visit the Changing the Times web site.

December 10

In 2009, on this day movie director Ken Loach started filming on his movie adaptation of the 1973 Alistair MacLean Vietnam-themed novel Searching For Albert. The much-anticipated and highly controversial epic, whose cast was headlined by former soccer star-turned-action hero Vinnie Jones, focused on an SAS squad probing the Mekong Delta for their missing comrade.

Searching For AlbertGiven that almost three thousand British servicemen had died during the Vietnam War, it was perhaps inevitable that Albert would arouse strong passions both for and against it. Two Facebook pages, one calling for a boycott of the movie and the other urging people to see it, each registered over 100,000 hits within three days after they went online. (The movie's official website recorded 85,000 hits in its first week.)

A new thread by Chris OakleyPaddy Ashdown, head of Britain's largest Vietnam veterans' association, denounced the makers of the movie as "vultures" and promised to lead nationwide protests against it when it was released. However, one of his fellow vets, Boothberry MP David Davis, defended Albert as "a valuable reminder of the horrors of war". The ongoing debate between Ashdown and Davis recalled the controversy stirred up by the original novel, which was first published in 1973 just as popular outrage over the British presence in that country was hitting its peak. British troops had first been deployed to Vietnam in 1967 at the behest of then-prime minister Harold Wilson, who made the decision to enter the war as a sign of support for the United States after the U.S. helped shore up the British pound; Wilson's successor, Ted Heath, continued Britain's troop commitment in return for U.S. backing of British intervention in the Rhodesian Bush War. Indeed, British combat forces would stay in Vietnam long after the last U.S. servicemen had gone home-- during the final NVA/Viet Cong assault on Saigon in 1975, a detachment of Royal Marines fought side by side with South Vietnamese units in a last-ditch defense of South Vietnam's capital.

December 20

In 2012, on this day Searching For Albert was re-issued in paperback in advance of the 40-year anniversary of the novel's original hardcover publication.

Searching For AlbertAccompanying the paperback launch was an e-book version of the novel that within 24 hours of release would become the most downloaded non-game app in Amazon UK's history. The re-issue of Albert also enjoyed huge success in the United States, debuting at number three on the New York Times bestseller list and reaching the top spot within a week of its release. Not surprisingly, the brisk early sales of the 40th anniversary paperback fueled anticipation on both sides of the Atlantic for the release of the film adaptation of Albert's sequel Memorial in November of 2013.

Ironically, one of the biggest overseas markets for the Albert 40th anniversary re-issue paperback was Argentina, Great Britain's adversary in the Falklands War. The Spanish-language translation of the novel sold one million copies in Buenos Aires alone during its first week on bookstore shelves. Critical reaction among Argentine reviewers to Albert was sharply divided, with some accusing the novel of glorifying alleged British imperialism and others praising it as a vivid portrait of the realities of combat. A well-known Argentine film director would later be inspired by the novel to write a script for a Falklands-themed historical drama sharing some of Albert's basic themes.

January 16

In 2011, the movie adaptation of Searching For Albert premiered in London. Paddy Ashdown, making good on his previous threats, led his supporters in a nationwide protest against the movie; those protests, however, were dwarfed by rallies held in Albert's defense.

Searching For Albert
Part 5
The drama only served to help the movie's cause, as it set UK box office records for the highest opening gross profit by a theatrical release. Albert would also make a major splash at the American box office, opening to packed houses in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco in a special preview run held a month prior to its February 2011 U.S. nationwide release.

From his home in Wales Ken Follett, a fan of the original novel, pronounced himself "highly pleased" with the movie in an interview for Sky TV. In that same interview Follett confirmed that he would be working with Loach on a screen adaptation of Albert's sequel, Memorial.

February 17

In 2011, Ken Loach's Searching For Albert had its U.S. premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles; the screening was attended by a host of VIPs including Platoon director Oliver Stone and Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly; in a rare moment of accord for the political antagonists, both men gave high marks to Albert for its accuracy and intensity in portraying the British presence in Vietnam.

Searching For Albert
Part 6
President Barack Obama and his staff had much the same reaction two days later when Loach screened the movie at the White House at Obama's invitation. Obama's praise of Albert as "an eloquent portrait of war's devastation" helped boost the movie's ticket sales in its first weeks of U.S. theatrical release.

In Obama's first TV interview following the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the president mentioned that he had seen Albert again just hours before giving the green light for the Navy SEAL Team Six raid which killed bin Laden.

June 7

In 2010, the cast and crew of Searching For Albert took time out of their busy shooting schedule to welcome a special visitor to their set: newly elected British prime minister David Cameron, a longtime fan of the original novel who in his election night victory address had quoted the main character's famous "fight to the last cartridge" speech from Albert's final chapter.

Searching For Albert Part 3Accompanied by his family and some of his top political aides, Cameron spent three hours on the set and was given an autographed copy of the movie's shooting script. Cameron's immediate predecessor, Gordon Brown, had also been a fan of Albert and owned an original hardcover edition of the book; Margaret Thatcher, prime minister at the time Albert's sequel Memorial was first published in 1980, used Albert as a metaphor for Britain's struggle against Argentina in the Falklands War.

A new article by Chris OakleyIn the days and weeks leading up to the theatrical release of Ken Loach's movie adaptation of Albert many British veterans' organizations would petition Cameron not to attend the movie's London premiere. Undeterred by the petitions, or Paddy Ashdown's threats of a nationwide protest against the film, Cameron accepted an invitation to attend a special VIP screening of the movie prior to its offical January 2011 release.

April 15

In 2010, the British newspaper Evening Standard, in honor of the approaching 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, reissued a 1975 compilation of front line stories by Standard war correspondent Max Hastings.

Searching For Albert, Part 2Hastings, who came to Vietnam with the first wave of British combat troops in 1967 and left the country only when the last Western diplomats were being evacuated from Saigon in 1975, was widely respected throughout Britain both for the clarity of his reports and his ability to empathize with the "squaddies"(foot soldiers) who made up the backbone of the British expeditionary force in Vietnam. 2nd installment of Tommies by Chris OakleyHastings also enjoyed a substantial following in Canada and the United States, where his stories appeared in over a hundred newspapers via the Associated Press, and in Australia, where millions of listeners faithfully tuned in to his monthly radio commentaries for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Also on this day in 2010, the New York Times printed a guest op-ed article by American film director Oliver Stone defending Ken Loach's adaptation of Searching For Albert. Stone was no stranger to controversy when it came to Vietnam movies-- he'd generated a fair amount of it himself with his 1986 drama Platoon. In his Times commentary Stone described Albert as "a needed window into a chapter of the war seldom told in most U.S. history books". When Albert made its American theatrical debut in Los Angeles ten months later, Stone was among the VIP guests who attended the premiere.

September 18

In 2010, Ken Loach and his production team completed final editing on Searching For Albert in advance of the movie's scheduled January 2011 release.

Searching For Albert, Part 4Although Paddy Ashdown and his supporters still planned to stage nationwide protests in Britain against Albert when it premiered, opinion of the movie within the rest of the British Vietnam veterans' community had by this time begun to shift considerably in the movie's favor thanks partly to an outreach effort by Loach and his cast aimed at allaying the veterans' concerns about Loach's handling of its subject matter.

Loach's PR campaign even managed to sway some people who had previously sided with Ashdown's boycott plan; in a New Statesman interview published just before Albert's theatrical release, a House of Commons MP who at first had supported the boycott disclosed that he had reversed his stance after meeting with one of the movie's technical advisors. Eventually the boycott plan would fizzle out and Albert would open to rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

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© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.