AWARD-WINNING film producer David Parfitt feels his First World War service record is just about at an end having opted to take on both the epic Tom Stoppard TV adaptation of Parade’s End and the lighter-hearted Wipers Times, which has moved from TV and West End success to full-blown tour.

“There were some laughs in Parade’s End, but I’ve done my war now,” says Parfitt, who admits that the Wipers Times wasn’t on his radar at first in spite of well-known Ian Hislop being involved.

“Parade’s End wasn’t a project I developed. I joined it later. With Wipers Times, Ian and his writing partner Nick (Newman) had been working on it for ages.

“I’d worked with them before and then they came to me with the idea of a satirical newspaper being created in the mud and mayhem of the Somme and I didn’t get it. I told them it seemed very weird and asked how they were going to put these sketches onto the screen. I really didn’t go for it. Luckily, they went away and wrote it anyway and came back with a script. When I read it I could see what they meant and it was brilliant. From that point I was hooked in and we got it made as a film for TV and then, later as a play,” Parfitt says.

It’s based on the true and remarkable story of how two officers, Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) Frederick John Roberts (Frederick John Roberts), MC, and Lieutenant (later Lieutenant-Colonel) John Hesketh Pearson, DSO, MC, used an abandoned press in Ypres (mispronounced Wipers by British soldiers), Belgium, to create a newspaper for the troops.

“At the point we were making the film the country was going into the commemoration of the 100th anniversary and the BBC felt quite smartly that it wanted to get this one out there ahead of it. That was good for us because it appeared before people were swamped with First World War projects. It went down so well that the BBC repeated it.

“The film could be down and dirty at the right moments, but there were areas that we felt we couldn’t explore in the film. The core of the original script is in the play, but there are more jokes, more musical and, ultimately, it is a much more theatrical piece.”

Wipers Times, which tours to Newcastle’s Northern Stage until October 7, is a peculiarly British project born out of Hislop’s belief that “in the whole of 1914 to 1918 nobody laughed”.

“The soldiers had time behind the lines as well as at the front and in a recent Q&A the other night we talked about five million men being there, and one million died, which is absolutely horrendous, but four million came back. People kept on interacting and it’s a remarkable thing. This is also a voice very much from the moment. These are not things written after the war, looking back at the horror. These were things written in the trenches on the day,” says Parfitt.

British top brass weren’t particularly happy about fun being poked at the war effort, even though the contributors were battling bombardment and gas attacks. “Articles, poems and drawings were being submitted from the trenches and the proofs were being checked in the trenches and Ian has an original copy of the paper which was sent to him by someone who had seen the film. It has mud on it because these publications were passed around and enjoyed.”

Parfitt co-founded the Renaissance Theatre Company with Kenneth Branagh on a series of Shakespeare productions and went on to Oscar and Bafta success as a film producer. Henry V, Peter’s Friends, Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Madness of King George, The Wings of the Dove, Twelfth Night, Shakespeare in Love, My Week With Marilyn and Loving Vincent are just some of Parfitt’s projects.

He father fought in the First World War and didn’t talk about it. “He was an older dad because he was born in 1897 and was wounded at The Somme. He was shot by a sniper and saved by the Germans who sent him to Switzerland, where he sat out the rest of the war. My father lost two brothers and this project has been fascinating for me because he never talked about his war service. We’ve all found out things in the process of developing the Wipers Times.

“I found out a lot through my half-brother from an earlier marriage who had researched him and tried to find out the truth because my father had been inclined to make things up. I remember looking at his dentures as a small child and he said, ‘I lost my teeth during the war’ and I now think, ‘Did he?’ Probably he got them pulled out with lots of people of his generation,” says Parfitt.

His Trademark Touring company have got in touch with relatives of Roberts and Pearson, who have come to see the show, and provided extra material including an unfinished memoir from Roberts.

“That gave us extra lines and also information from Pearson and we were fortunate to take part in the recent commemoration in Ypres and performed in the town square and some of the cast stepped in for relatives and read over the graves which they found incredibly affecting.”

The cast includes Kevin Brewer (Henderson), Clio Davies (Lady Somersby/Madame Fifi), Sam Ducane (Lieutenant-Colonel Howfield), James Dutton (Captain Roberts), George Kemp (Lieutenant Pearson), Chris Levens (Dodd), Dan Mersh (General Mitford), Jake Morgan (Barnes), Joseph Reed (Bobby) and Emilia Williams (Kate Roberts).