Masterpiece’s new period drama Home Fires was inspired by the book Jambusters and is about Britain’s Women’s Institute and the work its members did during the Second World War. The book’s title was based on a pun of the name “Dambusters,” the British squadron that beat the Germans in 1943.
Now, however, the book has been repackaged and the television series named Home Fires. Author Julie Summers told me via e-mail that when ITV bought the option for her book Jambusters, they polled random members of the public and asked what the title conjured up. “Most people thought it would be the title to a cop show or something about traffic jams, though once they were told it was about the Women’s Institute in the Second World War, they thought it was very clever.”
However, she continued, “As this  was before the Americans were playing a significant role in the war in Europe, it was not a name or indeed an action that would be familiar to an American public. The 1955 film, The Dambusters, would be barely known in the U.S….so the decision was taken to try and find a title that would be more immediately obvious. Home Fires was born out of several weeks of consideration of hundreds of possible options. It comes from a First World War hit by Ivor Novello ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning.’”
While the book’s original title may have resonated with British audiences, producers changed the TV series’ name from Jambusters to Home Fires with an international audience in mind. Renaming TV shows or movies for audiences on either side of the Pond is nothing new, and the rationale behind the decisions is often based on cultural factors and not a reflection on the sophistication of the audience. Here are seven series that reworked their titles after crossing the Atlantic.
Jam and Jerusalem to Clatterford
Hit British series Jam and Jerusalem, another show about a rural women’s group, briefly appeared on BBC America entitled Clatterford, which is the name of the village it is set in. It took my mother and I months to realize we were talking about the same show, but the name change is understandable. Most Americans would not get the references to the Women’s Institute and its history of jam-making, nor would they recognize “Jerusalem” as the patriotic hymn sung in churches and church halls around the U.K.
Gogglebox to The People’s Couch
Channel 4’s smash hit Gogglebox has come to the U.S. under the name of The People’s Couch (Bravo), which is hardly surprising since, in my 25 years here, I have never heard an American refer to the telly as “the gogglebox.” The nickname is well known in the U.K., probably deriving from “goggles” or “glasses.”
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader to Are You Smarter Than a Ten-Year-Old?
Similarly, Fox’s franchise Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? ran on Sky in the U.K. as Are You Smarter Than a Ten Year Old? to save the Brits a lot of head scratching. (Grades, as a level of education, don’t exist in the U.K. so you’ll find many Brits counting on their fingers when trying to work out the age. I find that adding one usually helps—a fifth grader would be Year 6 in England and Wales.)
Strictly Come Dancing to Dancing With the Stars
The enormously popular Strictly Come Dancing (referred to simply as Strictly in the U.K.) couldn’t possibly have kept its name in the U.S. without a 10-minute explanation in the opening credits. The clever title is a play on a long-running, televised, British ballroom dance competition called Come Dancing, which ran from 1949 till 1998, and the 1992 Australian rom-com Strictly Ballroom. In the U.S., the show is called Dancing with the Stars.
Hollywood Squares to Celebrity Squares
In Britain, the recently resuscitated Celebrity Squares is a comedy quiz show based on the American Hollywood Squares. Obviously, since the British version isn’t filmed in Hollywood, the name would not have made sense, but since the neither the hosts nor the guests are known outside the U.K. it’s not very “Hollywood” anyway.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Movie titles are also subject to change when crossing the pond, the most famous example perhaps being the Harry Potter series. In the U.K. the first book was entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while the American version preferred a sorcerer. Rumors abound that it was because American audiences wouldn’t be familiar with the legend of the Philosopher’s Stone, a substance believed to change base metals into gold or silver. I would wager though, that a quick, unscientific poll of passersby on any of Britain’s High Streets probably wouldn’t result in too many correct answers either. In one of the only interviews on the matter, author J.K. Rowling states “The title change was Arthur‘s [Levine, U.S. editor] idea initially, because he felt that the British title gave a misleading idea of the subject matter. We discussed several alternative titles and Sorcerer’s Stone was my idea.” So there you have it.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas to The Grinch
The 2000 Jim Carrey movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas was entitled simply The Grinch when released on video in the U.K. British kids did not typically grow up with Dr. Seuss books, nor did we see the original cartoon version of the movie on TV. There was therefore no need to differentiate the Christmas story from any other Grinch story since they were all fairly unknown anyway.
There are countless more re-titled TV shows and movies, most based on the cultural or linguistic differences between two countries—still separated by that common language.Read More