“A safe space for people to properly geek out.” Al Murray and James Holland on We Have Ways Fest 2024

With the fourth year of the popular military history festival just days away, the comedy and history duo talk history pet peeves and what visitors can expect in this year’s lineup.

Featured image by We have Ways Fest

A portrait of Al Murray and James Holland leaning against a cannon.
Murray and Holland, hosts of the We Have Ways of Making you Talk podcast and organisers of the festival.
(Photo: We Have Ways Fest)

Four years ago, Al Murray and James Holland decided it was time to meet the thousands tuning in every week to listen to their iconic WWII podcast We Have Ways of Making you Talk. They put on the inaugural We Have Ways Fest in September 2021 with a packed line-up of speakers, re-enactments and historic military vehicles.

This year’s We Have Ways Fest is no different, albeit triple the size of its first weekend. Alongside Murray and Holland speakers include Andy Chatterton, Saul David, Clare Mulley and James May. You can also hear wartime experiences from veterans including 22nd Engineer Regt, Royal Engineers veteran Ingram Murray and former RAF fast jet pilot Flight Lieutenant Matt Doncaster.

Here, Murray and Holland share a few thoughts about each other’s work, their historical pet peeves and how We Have Ways Fest has grown into one of Britain’s best and biggest military history festivals.

You each have an impressive body of work. Which is your favourite by the other – be that favourite book, documentary, novel… or even standup show?

JAMES: Obviously, I really love Al’s comedy. He’s hilarious. The Pub Landlord is totally brilliant and his turn at the Chalke History Festival was superb – it wasn’t just me doubled-up laughing but everyone in the audience. And frankly, no-one does a better German accent!

AL: Jim’s writing is so compelling, which is just as well, as I do his audio books for him. The storytelling in Brother’s in Arms is just tremendous. I think it is one of the great history books of our time.

A re-enactor drives a green armoured car towing a field gun
Reenactors will demonstrate military vehicles from across military history during the weekend.
(Photo: We Have Ways Fest)

Do the two of you have any points of disagreement on a contentious historical topic? (big or small?) 

AL: Mark Clark, James has become the ultimate fan boy of the general and he’s still doing his best to win me around.
Oh, and obviously the Spitfire Mk1.

Related: “Why does everyone hate the British Empire?” – An Interview with Al Murray

What’s your pet peeve pervasive myth about WWII that annoys each of you the most?

JAMES: I really cannot stand this pervasive myth around the quality of German troops and kit. It seems that over the years we keep telling ourselves that the Allies were the underdogs throughout the war, it is just a nonsense. 

Al: The myth that bugs me most is that somehow for six years the British miraculously stopped being a fractious, grumbling, good-humoured, downright complex people and simply knuckled down and got along with pulling together. Yes they did pull together but it was much more complicated than that! And how the hell did they manage that? 

Related: The Road To Rebuilding Britain

This is the fourth We Have Ways Fest. How has the festival changed since 2021?

AL: Scale more than anything. We started off with a thousand people and a single bar – which ran out of beer on the Friday night. We now have 3,000 people, three bars, four stages, over 300 hardware re-enactors, a dozen food trucks and live music all night. Also, the number of listeners of the podcast who are now speaking on stage at the festival on their passions and in some cases the books they have published – the podcast has had a real impact on some of our listeners’ lives!

JAMES: The growth of the operation is incredible, we always knew that there should be a massive festival dedicated to our combined obsession with WW2 – and that the podcast has brought so many people together is amazing. 

A crowd are seated to listen to a talk from two historians.
Gather with other military history buffs to learn from the world’s best military history experts.
(Photo: We Have Ways Fest)

Which speaker, or display, are you most excited to welcome to this year’s Fest?

AL: I love that we have been able to birth new communities out of thin air. Our scale-modelling team are producing a 1:35 scale of D-Day vehicles. All for charity, it’s something that you can gawp at all weekend – their level of dedication and detail is second to none.

JAMES: We are able to mix some of the world’s finest historians with really passionate fans of the subject. James May is coming to speak about Spitfire wingtips, and Dermot O’Leary has an entire presentation on the RNLI during WW2. The nature of the Second World War means that there are so many rabbit holes you can disappear down and the festival gives every a chance to do exactly that!

In one word what can people that haven’t heard the podcast, or been to WHWF before, expect from the festival?

AL: We sometimes say TALKS, TANKS, TANKARDS. But it is much, much, more. If anything it has become a safe space for people to properly Geek Out on military history, make new friends and learn so much more about the most fascinating period of world history. That may be more than one word!

“It has become a safe space for people to properly Geek Out on military history”

James Holland and Al Murray’s We Have Ways Fest runs from 19-21 July. Head to wehavewaysfest.co.uk to book day or weekend tickets with VIP add-ons available.