wed 19/02/2020

The Choir: New Military Wives, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Choir: New Military Wives, BBC Two

The Choir: New Military Wives, BBC Two

How Gareth Malone took his new choir to the First World War centenary Prom

Gareth Malone conducts his new ensemble at Brize Norton airbaseBBC/Twenty Twenty/Myles Jenks

This feelgood programme hit all the buttons with almost unerring precision, as we followed Gareth Malone's project to prepare a military wives choir for a special prom, commemorating the World War One centenary on 3 August 2014. On the way we witnessed the joys of singing, the therapeutic value of music, and the virtues of hard work, mutual support and bonding.

However, most of us might harbour a natural suspicion and even an uneasy cynicism about everybody’s wonderful niceness, generosity, kindness and supportiveness. Not a meow was to be heard from any of the women, and conductor Gareth of course is universally adored, greeted by his choirs as a conquering hero. We badly needed some spice among the sugar, the only shadows being supplied by the inevitable separations of partners and families with soldiers on tours of duty abroad. (Below, the choir outside the Albert Hall, August 2014).

The back story is familiar. In 2010 some army wives at Catterick, perhaps inspired by Malone’s programmes about starting community choirs, started a choir of their own, and drafted Malone to the cause. At Christmas 2011 the wives' original single "Wherever You Are" topped the charts by a huge margin, and also made a hefty financial contribution to military charities. The Military Wives Choir Foundation itself was founded in 2012.

For the World War One Prom, what should the Military Wives Choir sing, and who should sing it? Via email auditions, Malone finally selected 100 singers out of 400 applications from 42 different choirs. He also visited the charming and scholarly archivist of the Royal Academy of Music to find appropriate music from the period. An unexpected fact emerged: because the men were away at war, more choral material was written for women’s voices during the war.

There was one unusual technical problem which provided the musical tension of the real-life story. Holst’s sumptuous Ave Maria is a choral setting for eight parts, and the Military Wives had hitherto only sung three-part pieces. Their conductor was understandably worried about whether his amateurs, devoted as they are, were up to it. The logistics of getting 100 singers together from various locations were partly solved for most of the rehearsal period by separating  the singers into three separate choirs, bringing them all together just for the final rehearsals.

Cue much driving about Britain, and one very affecting event: the choir visited the vast empty building in Nottingham which in 1914-1918 housed the largest munitions factory in Britain, supplying half the ammunition for the entire war – and staffed by women. The choir sang in tribute to those workers, several hundred of whom had been killed or wounded by an unexplained explosion near the end of the war. The choir also went to Brize Norton air base to welcome returning soldiers with a performance of Elgar’s The Snow, which seemed perhaps a step too far for people just anxious to be united with their families.

The grit in the pearl is Malone’s ambition, not only for the choir’s achievements but also, and oddly attractive because so honest, for his own. “I’ve just got to do it,” he declared – that is, conduct at the Proms – “and I’ve just got to pray.” It was also perhaps curious that in spite of the broad spectrum of class on view in the choirs, not a single black face was to be seen singing.

The second part, climaxing with views backstage and at the Prom, will be broadcast on Christmas Eve, and the whole Prom itself on Boxing Day.

The grit in the pearl is Malone’s ambition, not only for the choir’s achievements but also, and oddly attractive because so honest, for his own


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article


At no point does this review actually discuss the merit or demerit of the choir. Did they sing well? Did they not? It seems the reviewer was desperate to find fault where there was none. Weird. The negative tone without justification is really just insulting.

Am I alone in finding the relentless procession of self-regarding clichés from Gareth Malone a problem?

You seem to me to be one of those very lucky people who has never had to write a CV. Fact is if you do't blow your own trumpet nobody else will do it for you.

I sang 'The Snow' at school over 50 years ago and it brought back so many forgotten memories. The Military Choirs are a fantastic provider of togetherness, public thank you and creates a wealth of happiness and well being. Singing makes you happy...I dare you, sing your favourite song now.

Gareth wants the whole world to sing. His theory is that singing gives pleasure. Throughout the years I enjoyed all the choirs he got together. From schoolboys to a whole village. Roger Neill seems to me a person with the green dragon. I pity him. He will never be a happy bunny. The same for the fault finding Mariza Valzey.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters