‘World On Fire’: Are Helen Hunt & Sean Bean’s Characters Based on Real People?


Upcoming PBS Masterpiece drama World on Fire stars Emmy- and Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt as Nancy Campbell, an American journalist who uncovers the German invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II, and Game of Thrones alum Sean Bean as Douglas Bennett, a World War I veteran-turned pacifist.

Viewers might be wondering if these characters are based on real people and the answer is yes. Read on to find out what we know about this heroic journalist and British bus driver.

Nancy Campbell is Based on Clare Hollingworth

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Back in 1939, while traveling from Poland to Germany, Clare Hollingworth, a reporter for the Daily Telegraph, saw German forces gathering on the Polish border and reported it to her editors. Three days later, she became the first person to break the historic news of the Nazi invasion in Poland, which was described as the “scoop of the century.” When she first told the secretary at the British Embassy about the invasion, he didn’t believe her, so she “hung the telephone receiver out of the window so he could listen to the Germans invading,” according to The Sun.

Hollingworth, who was born in Leicester, England, in 1911, also rescued thousands of people from Nazi Germany by arranging British visas before she became a reporter, according to her obituary on the BBC’s website. After World War II was over, she would go on to report from war zones in Vietnam, Algeria, and the Middle East.

In 1982, Hollingworth was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for “services to journalism”; in 1994, she received the James Cameron Award for Journalism; and in 1999, she received the lifetime achievement honor from the What the Papers Say journalism awards. Hollingworth died in January 2017 at the age of 105.

Sean Bean’s Character is Also Based on Real Person

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Sean Bean plays Douglas Bennett, a World War I veteran suffering from shellshock who objects to the second world war. He too is based on a real person, albeit a less well-known one.

According to The Sun, Bennett is based on show writer Peter Bowker’s grandfather, who was a conscientious objector to World War II after the horrors he saw fighting in World War I.

“Douglas is named after my maternal grandfather who, like him, was a bus conductor, who had fought in the First World War,” said Bowker. “He was mustard gassed and my mum had talked about him over the years. He was a conscientious objector and I thought it sounded like he had undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.”

World on Fire premieres Sunday, April 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on PBS. It has already been renewed for a second season and Bowker told the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour that he hopes it will continue after that, with every season being one year of the war.

“Hopefully, the longer it goes on, the more people will want to find out what happens next. So yeah, the planning in my head is very there’s a huge series bible in which I planned out for all these characters, but I take it for granted we will lose some along the way,” said Bowker.

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