Serbian “Great Retreat” Begins

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 210th installment in the series.  

November 17-24, 1915: Serbian “Great Retreat” Begins

By the second half of November 1915 Serbia was staring annihilation in the face: on November 16 the victorious Bulgarians captured the town of Prilep and the Babuna Pass, opening the way to Monastir in southwestern Serbia (now Macedonia). On November 20 the French relief force, cut off from the Serbs by the Bulgarian conquest of the Vardar River Valley and its strategic railroad, began withdrawing to their base at the Greek port of Salonika, while to the north the Austro-Hungarians conquered the territory known as Novibazar (which was, in a convoluted way, one of the main causes of First World War). 

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There was no question about Serbia’s fate now. But rather than accept defeat the Serbian government, led by Prime Minister Nikola Pasic, made the heroic decision to abandon their homeland and fight on from exile. From the beginning they knew this plan would mean death for many thousands of soldiers and civilians. As the armies of the Central Powers closed in from the north and east, the only possible avenue of escape lay to the southwest, over the towering Korab and Prokletije mountain ranges of Albania, both part of the Dinaric Alps (below, part of the Korab range). 

The “Great Retreat” (not to be confused with the Russian Great Retreat earlier in 1915) would take the remnants of the Serbian Army, along with hundreds of thousands of civilian refugees, across some of the roughest terrain in Europe in the middle of winter (“Prokletije” translates as “Accursed Mountains” in Serbian; image below). They set out on this journey, challenging under the best of circumstances, with no more than a week’s rations and insufficient cold weather gear. Pack animals struggled to climb mountainsides turned to trackless wastes by several feet of snow, and what little shelter there was belonged to hostile Albanian villagers, who robbed and killed stragglers (perhaps in retribution for Serbian brutality in the First Balkan War).

No surprise, then, that the Great Retreat is still remembered as one of Serbia’s worst ordeals, as around 70,000 soldiers and 140,000 civilians froze, starved to death, died of disease or were killed by bandits between November 1915 and February 1916. Out of around 400,000 people who set out on the journey, just 130,000 soldiers and 60,000 civilian refugees arrived at the Adriatic coast to be evacuated to the Greek island of Corfu. 

By late November the weather was already turning against them, with autumn rains turning primitive roads into expanses of mud, followed not long after by snow. The British war correspondent Gordon Gordon-Smith described the miserable conditions as Serbian troops retreated from the town of Mitrovica in the middle of the night: 

By the light of the guttering lantern swinging above the door of our café, I could see company after company, squadron after squadron, and battery after battery pouring past. Hour after hour the steady “tramp, tramp” of thousands of feet echoed in the narrow streets. It was four o’clock in the morning when the last battery rumbled through, the roll of the wheels drowning the soft patter of the oxen drawing the guns. And then it began to rain, and such rain!... It came down in sheets, it came down in buckets, it rained ramrods. The gutters in the centre of the streets became rushing torrents, while Niagaras poured from all the overhanging eaves. 

Even before they reached the mountains, freezing weather was taking its toll on the starving animals, according to Gordon-Smith, who witnessed the final passage over the famous Kosovo Polje, or Field of Blackbirds, from November 20-25: 

As far as the eye could reach, the snow-covered plain of Kossovo extended on every side. Every feature of the landscape was blotted out by a shroud of snow feet deep. Over this, long lines of snow-clad figures could be seen moving, the columns extending for miles… By this time the wind had fallen, and the curious silence which accompanies heavy snow reigned everywhere. In every direction were the ghostly columns plodding in single file over fields and long roads. On all sides were dead horses and oxen, singly and in heaps, half buried in snow, with swarms of carrion crows whirling and croaking overhead. 

Olive Aldridge, a British nurse following the same route, remembered passing the first corpses by the roadside, as well as the suffering of prisoners of war even worse off than their captors: 

A few hours after leaving Prishtina and within a few miles distance of each other, five men were stretched out stiff and lifeless across our path. Nobody took any notice of them: all passed by, just stepping over or round the dead bodies. The driver of my ox waggon caught my glance as we passed the second man, but the only comment he made was “Niye dobro” (not good)… One saw, too, many hungry Austrians… Many of them were literally starving. They would come to us with clasped hands begging for bread, but we had nothing to give them. It was terrible, for in many cases we knew that within the next few days they would be dead, and would never see their homes or their country again. 

On November 23, as Pristina and Mitrovica fell to the Central Powers and the Serbian government abandoned Prizrend, its last temporary capital in Serbia, the defeated Serbian Army split into four columns and headed west into the mountains of Albania and Montenegro. Their only hope was reaching the coast of the Adriatic Sea, where Allied ships would rescue them from the Albanian ports of San Giovanni di Medua, Durazzo, and Valona. 

The army’s rock-bottom morale was boosted somewhat by the presence of the ailing, 71-year-old King Peter, who had stepped aside in June 1914 to let his son Prince Alexander rule as Regent but now resumed his throne to face the crisis with his people. The elderly monarch, who was almost blind, traveled through the mountains riding in an ox cart (below). 

In the snow-covered mountains, hunger, exposure and disease killed Serbian soldiers and civilians, as well as POWs traveling with them, by the thousands. Donovan Young, a British junior officer attached to the Serbian Army, recalled: 

We awoke one morning to the fact that snow lay from three to four feet on the ground… Day and night we were exposed to the full blast of the blinding sleet and cold… Our rations became increasingly short, and very soon we were faced with hardships which was impossible to contend with. Men went down in dozens from frostbite. It was a common event to see a man suddenly fall into the snow, frozen stiff and insensible, or a man half lying, half kneeling at the entrance of the hole he had scraped for himself, quite unconscious. 

Similarly, Gordon-Smith described the horrifying scenes that greeted refugees following in the footsteps of the retreating columns: 

Up and up we went, thousands and thousands of feet. Every few hundred yards we came on bodies of men frozen or starved to death. At one point there were four in a heap. They were convicts from Prisrend penitentiary, who had been sent in chains across the mountains. They had been shot either for insubordination or because they were unable to proceed. Two other nearly naked bodies were evidently those of Serbian soldiers murdered by Albanians. 

Despite everything, like some other observers and participants in the war, Gordon-Smith was still able to recognize transcendent beauty in the midst of horror, highlighting the insignificance of humanity in the face of nature:

By midday we reached the summit of the mountain, a wind-swept plateau several thousand feet above the level of the sea. For fifty miles extended range upon range of snow-clad mountains, the crests of which had never been trodden by the foot of man. Nothing could be seen but an endless series of peaks, glittering like diamonds in the brilliant sunshine. The scene was one of undescribable grandeur and desolation.

But these moments of beauty were fleeting, while the scenes of suffering became ever more frequent and shocking:

After traversing the plateau we began the descent, skirting the edges of precipices of enormous height and traversing narrow gorges running between towering walls of black basalt. Every few hundred yards we would come on corpses of Serbian soldiers, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups. One man had evidently gone to sleep beside a wretched fire he had been able to light. The heat of it had melted the snow, and the water had flowed over his feet. In the night during his sleep this had frozen and his feet were imprisoned in a solid block of ice. When I reached him he was still breathing. From time to time he moved feebly as if trying to free his feet from their icy covering. We were powerless to aid him, he was so far gone that nothing could have saved him. 

Britain Implements “Derby Scheme” with Threat of Conscription 

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Britain was unique among the Great Powers in having an all-volunteer professional army that was much smaller than the conscription-based forces maintained by the continental states – reflecting the centuries of security afforded by Britain’s “Splendid Isolation,” behind the protective barrier of the Channel. 

By autumn 1915 the traditional system was under attack, however, as the war’s vast manpower requirements quickly outstripped Britain’s tiny army. The British Army that went to war in July 1914 had been virtually wiped out by the end of that year, much of it at the desperate First Battle of Ypres; and while hundreds of thousands of patriotic young Britons enlisted voluntarily to form Secretary of War Lord Kitchener’s “New Army” in 1914-1915, grievous casualties at Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge and Festubert, and above all Gallipoli and Loos had once again cut wide swathes in the ranks. 

Indeed, Britain was rapidly catching up with the other belligerents in terms of both military strength and casualties, although huge discrepancies remained. By November 1915 Britain had mobilized 94 divisions and sustained well over half a million casualties, including around 150,000 dead (with over 100,000 of these on the Western Front), over 60,000 taken prisoner, and 340,000 wounded. For comparison, by November 1915 France had mobilized 117 divisions and suffered around two and a quarter million casualties, including roughly 680,000 dead, 300,000 taken prisoner, and 1.5 million wounded (may of the wounded returned to duty and sustained multiple wounds, so they are counted twice). 

On the other side the Central Powers, led by Germany, were doing their utmost to mobilize untapped manpower as well, relying almost entirely on conscription. Bulgaria’s entry into the war in October 1915 immediately added twelve divisions, and millions of new recruits inducted by Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire in 1915 would allow them to begin fielding dozens of new divisions beginning in early 1916. 

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At the same time, after a promising start in 1914 and the first half of 1915 Britain’s own voluntary recruitment efforts were lagging, as the first burst of patriotism wore off and horror stories from the front filtered back via letters, news accounts and men on leave (as the aftermath of Loos showed, there was only so much censors and propaganda could do to cover up the truth). 

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This was especially ominous because, looking ahead, Lord Kitchener estimated Britain would need at least another million men to carry on the war in 1916, as France was fast approaching its maximum strength and Russia (though still able to draw on massive reserves of manpower in the long run) was temporarily out of the game following huge losses in the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive of mid-1915. In short, disaster was looming if British recruiting continued to fall short. 

This was the background to the “Derby Scheme,” a last-ditch attempt to fill the ranks through voluntary recruiting alone – although “voluntary” proved to be a relative term. The scheme was named for Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who was appointed Director-General of Recruiting on October 5, and oversaw a national program whose goal was to strongly encourage eligible men to enlist, using every means short of compulsion, including social pressure and public shaming. 

The Derby Scheme built on earlier efforts to come to grips with the manpower problem. In August 1915 a small army of 40,000 census takers had surveyed the population and drawn up a registry of around 5.1 million men of military age in England and Wales. Of these, it was determined that 1.5 million were in “reserved” occupations in some way essential to the war effort. Another quarter were assumed to be probably unfit due to physical or mental shortcomings. That left somewhere between 2.7 and three million men of military age who qualified for military service but had not yet enlisted. 

Public Shaming

Beginning October 16, Derby’s office sent forms to every household in England, Wales, and Scotland, encouraging all men ages 19-41 to either join the army immediately, or make an official declaration of their willingness to join at a later date if needed. In order to “persuade” young men to embrace their patriotic duty, the Scheme employed a range of high-profile tactics including posters, banners, flag ceremonies, parades, announcements before and after music hall performances, and newspaper editorials. 

Beyond that, in each town and village it also relied on local notables, friends and family members – especially women and children – to cajole and if necessary shame young men into signing up. Men who had signed up, declared their willingness to do so, or received exemption because they were in war essential industries received a khaki armband to wear in public (below); everyone else was fair game, and “shirkers” were liable to be given a white feather by women in a public place, signifying cowardice. 

It would be hard to exaggerate the intense feeling in all the belligerent nations around the subject of “shirkers” or “slackers.” In August 1915 Private Robert Lord Crawford, serving as a medical orderly on the Western Front, wrote in his diary: 

Talking with men back from leave. They all seem to have had words with slackers they met everywhere at home. I observe the growth of resentment against this desertion of us – I hear threats of what should and will be done after the war, and I doubt not that, though many would forgive, there are some who will carry their threats into effect… The excuse that the country doesn’t realise the situation can no longer be pleaded, unless indeed we acknowledge ourselves to be a nation of idiots. 

Meanwhile John Ayscough, a Catholic chaplain with the British Expeditionary Force in France, wrote to his mother, complaining that “there are two or three millions in Great Britain who could and should come, but they stick at home, and let married men and only sons and widows’ sons come. Lots of the wounded we get here are quite old fellows.”

Even worse, foreign troops couldn’t fail to notice the reluctance of some young British men, heightening public embarrassment among the proud English. Yusuf Khan, an Indian soldier, wrote a letter home in October 1915 that combined contempt with a bit of inaccurate rumor-mongering: 

The news here is that the white men have refused to enlist… An Indian black man went off to preach to them. He asked them if they were not ashamed to see us come from India to help the King while they, who were of the same race, were refusing to help him. But really, the way these whites are behaving is a scandal. Those who have already enlisted have mutinied. 

Again, these attitudes were evident across Europe. In his play The Last Days of Mankind, Karl Kraus includes a scene in which “The Grumbler” dismisses a naïve statement by “The Optimist” asserting that young men in Vienna were eager to go to the front. Thanks in part to the rickety public telephone system, “The Grumbler” gets to listen to the plans of draft dodgers taking advantage of official corruption to stay out of the trenches: 

I don’t get around much. But my phone is on a party line… Ever since the outbreak of the war, which has in no way improved the national telephone service, the conversations concern yet another problem, and every single day, whenever I am called to the telephone to listen to other people talk to each other, which is at least ten times every day, I hear conversations such as these: “Gus went up and got things fixed.” “And how is Rudi doing?” “Rudi went up, too, and he also got things fixed.”…

It’s worth noting that these attitudes, while common, weren’t universal; a strong current of pacifism, especially among socialists, positively discouraged military service. Dominik Richert, a German soldier from Alsace, was on sentry duty in the Baltic port of Memel as 1915 drew to a close, and recalled one occasion when:

… a lad aged about seventeen came along and chatted with me. He wanted to volunteer to join the army. I advised him not to and described life on the Front to him in a way that made his hair stand on end. “No, if it’s like that, I would rather wait until I am called up.” “Even then it will be too early,” I said. He thanked me and went away. I had the feeling that I had done a good deed. 

In the same vein, in his novel and memoir All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque bitterly criticized schoolteachers like the unflattering character Kantorek, who pressured their students into joining the army early: 

There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best – in a way that cost them nothing. And that is why they let us down so badly. For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress – to the future… The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more human wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces… We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through. 

It was apparently a common occurrence for teachers to shame students into joining up before they were conscripted. In Arnold Zweig’s novel Young Woman of 1914, the character David Wahl noted the activity of one particularly disliked teacher, “The Bedbug”: 

“The fact is,” he went on, “no one can hold out any more at school. The masters treat a fellow with open contempt. There are now only eight left in the Lower Sixth, all the others have given in… The Bedbug honored them with a funeral oration, which contained sundry hidden threats and allusions to certain football players and swimmers who would do well to take a lesson from those departing.” 

Many young people privately lamented the unfairness of a situation in which old men declared war but young men had to do the actual fighting and dying. The English diarist Vera Brittain later recalled: “The war, we decided, came hardest of all upon us who were young. The middle-aged and old had know their period of joy, whereas upon us catastrophe had descended just in time to deprive us of that youthful happiness to which we had believed ourselves entitled.” Similarly in April 1915 a German soldier, Wilhelm Wolter, wrote in a letter home:

People are always saying that it is easier for the young men to face death than for the older ones, the fathers of families and others. I hardly think so, for such a man knows – at least, if he has been conscious of any mission in life – that he has at any rate partially fulfilled it, and that he will survive in his works, of whatever kind they are, and in his children. It can’t be so hard for him to die in a just cause.

The Derby Scheme Fails 

In Britain the Derby Scheme soon ran into some difficulties. Most importantly, it was widely assumed that single men without families would be the first to be called up, but married men (and their wives) wanted guarantees they wouldn’t have to go until all the available single men had enlisted. On November 2, Prime Minister Asquith made a vague statement to that effect in Parliament, but the lack of specifics only generated more confusion and anxiety. Above all, married men wanted to know, what would happen if not enough single men volunteered? The answer would inevitably involve conscription. 

On November 19, 1915, Lord Derby wrote a letter to Asquith to clarify the terms under which married men promised to join the military. According to the press bureau which publicized the letter and Asquith’s response (see poster below), the prime minister confirmed his statement on November 2, promising: 

Married men will not be called upon for war service before young unmarried men. If the latter do not offer themselves in adequate numbers, voluntarily, the married men who have offered as recruits will be released from any pledge, and a bill will introduced compelling young men to serve. If this Bill should not pass, the married men will be automatically released. Mr. Asquith, in his reply, says the letter correctly expressed the Government’s intention. 

In short, it was up to Britain’s male citizens whether the country would retain its tradition of voluntary military service or be forced to resort to conscription; either way, however, young men were going to join the army. Also on November 19, Lord Derby extended the deadline for men to declare and be attested from November 30 to December 11, 1915; this marked the beginning of the final phase of the Derby Scheme, with the threat of conscription hanging over the country if voluntary enlistment failed. 

Fail it did, as many expected (including Lord Derby, in private). From October to December, the Derby Scheme produced 215,000 direct enlistments in the military. Furthermore, out of 2.2 million single men of military age, only 840,000 declared themselves willing to serve if necessary – and over 200,000 of these were in “reserved” occupations (which might explain their willingness to volunteer, since they were much less likely to actually be called up) while another 220,000 were rejected as unfit. Meanwhile over a million unmarried men had not made any declaration or openly refused to enlist, of whom 650,000 were not in reserved occupations; in other words, the men most liable to service had (unsurprisingly) stayed away. 

Now there was no way around the issue: on December 14, 1915 a Cabinet committee began considering how to implement compulsory conscription, and on December 20, Lord Curzon and Leo Amery began drafting a bill to introduce to Parliament in the New Year. One of Britain’s proudest traditions was about to become a casualty of war. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
20 Surprising Facts About Silicon Valley
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO

You don’t have to know a PDF from a CMS to understand that Silicon Valley is one of the funniest comedies on television right now. While it’s been a hit with tech insiders—proving to be as cringe-worthily authentic to their industry as This is Spinal Tap was to musicians around the world—the show’s creators are banking on the fact that the majority of viewers don’t understand the first thing about compression or any other technical process. As the Emmy-nominated series prepares to debut its fifth season—its first without T.J. Miller—here are 20 things you might not know about the hilarious, Mike Judge-co-created comedy.


Zach Woods and Thomas Middleditch in 'Silicon Valley'
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO

More than 10 years before Silicon Valley made its debut in 2014, co-creator Mike Judge—who had logged some hours as an engineer in the real Silicon Valley—toyed with the idea of creating a feature film centered around America’s tech giants. “I’ve been hovering around with something like this for a while,” Judge told Deadline during the show’s first season. “Way back, before the dotcom burst in 2000, I thought about doing something like this, about a tech billionaire [Microsoft co-founder] Paul Allen-type, but that was as a movie.”


Though Judge never got around to writing that feature, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky—writers and showrunners on Judge’s King of the Hill—eventually came to Judge with their own take on the tech world. “[Altschuler] suggested an idea like Falcon Crest, but instead of wine and oil money, it would be tech money,” Judge said. At the same time, HBO had expressed interest in working with Judge on a project. “HBO came to me with an idea about gamers with Scott Rudin attached, and from that point it was always going to be a TV series,” he explained. “I told them that I didn’t know enough about the gaming world, but I had worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley, and I suggested we do a project about that.”


Though HBO was anxious to work with Judge on a project, network executives were reportedly less than thrilled with the original pilot, which revolved around two women who come to Silicon Valley from Los Angeles in order to land the next dot-com billionaire. “We wanted women," one HBO exec told The Hollywood Reporter, "but not like that.”

Though Altschuler and Krinsky remained committed to the original idea, HBO was ready to walk away from the project. The writers departed the project, and Judge recruited writer-producer Alec Berg (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) to help rethink the series. “We reshot half the pilot," Casey Bloys, HBO's president of programming, explained. "And what those guys turned in was a comedy that was genuinely funny and also had something to say."


Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO

Though Thomas Middleditch was better known for his standup and some smaller film and television roles, he is the person Judge had in mind when he was writing the role of Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks. “This project felt charmed from the beginning,” Judge told Deadline. “I was a little worried before we started the casting process. I thought of Thomas Middleditch when I wrote it. He auditioned like everybody else and was great. It was important to me that the cast was believable, that they are highly intelligent and not just goofy caricatures. They had to be both funny and good actors.”


Nearly every actor who ended up as a series regular (with the exception of Middleditch) auditioned to play Erlich Bachman, the self-centered entrepreneur who runs the incubator in which Pied Piper is born. Eventually, it was T.J. Miller who landed the part—or, more accurately, his silhouette. Judge told The New York Times that they were auditioning for the role in a frosted glass conference room, and when Miller walked by, just his silhouette elicited laughter. “If someone’s silhouette can make you laugh, they’re probably pretty funny,” Judge said.


Silicon Valley is very much a boy’s club—so much so that it gave Amanda Crew, who plays Pied Piper board member Monica Hall, pause when it came time to audition. Concerned that she’d play more of a “seductress” than the whip-smart venture capitalist she became, she admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that, “I almost canceled my audition.”


When discussing the authenticity of the series, Judge told Esquire that his past experience as an engineer working in Silicon Valley certainly helps, especially as “the personality types haven't changed that much.” But Berg shared that the writers really immerse themselves in the research, telling the magazine that, “At the beginning of each season, the entire writing staff goes up to San Francisco and the Valley for about a week. We pack our days with meetings with startups and with venture capitalists and different serial entrepreneurs. We have lunches and dinners with all kinds of oddball people with a lot of interesting thoughts.”


Matt Ross stars in 'Silicon Valley'
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO

Silicon Valley nails the true spirit of the Bay Area tech corridor and the people who inhabit its cubicles—sometimes, a little too well. “I get a good chunk of people saying hey, 'I love the show, it’s great, that happened to me' or whatever,” Middleditch told Den of Geek, “and then I get a really large amount of people saying ‘I can’t watch your show, it’s too painful. It’s like all my painful memories of being an entrepreneur are brought up in your show and therefore I can’t watch it.’”

For his part, Berg takes that as a compliment. “I’ll take that,” he said. “To me, if you look at a bell curve, rather than being at the center of the curve where everybody thinks it’s alright, I would rather live out at the edges where we’ve got fanatical fans and we’ve also got fanatical haters. I’ll trade mediocrity for the extreme.”


While Judge, Berg, and their talented team of writers have no problem bringing out the humor in the series’s colorful cast of characters, the biggest challenge they face is creating drama and excitement around a group of guys who spend the bulk of the day sitting in front of a computer monitor. Having funny actors helps. “We found these guys and juggled things around and wrote to them,” Judge told Deadline. “These guys are programmers and sit in front of the computer screen for 16 hours—how do you film that and make that funny? That was a challenge. This world is so absurd, there’s a lot of great material along the way.”

“We try and make it about emotions or you try and get characters on opposite sides of a point of view so that they can argue about it in words, like Dinesh and Gilfoyle are constantly at each other and that’s not a thing that plays inside an IM window, that’s two people talking to each other,” Berg told Den of Geek. “We have to be good at figuring out what the emotional angles are and having characters play that.”


Technology moves at a breakneck speed—and so does Silicon Valley. “There were a few instances where the show would describe something, and by the time the episode came out, it had already happened in real life. I mean, bad ideas included,” Judge told Esquire. “Like that app that was in the pilot, Nip Alert. It was supposed to be a bad idea. We had already shot the pilot and we went to TechCrunch Disrupt to kind of check it out. There was a big controversy because some Australian douchebag programmer had started a thing called Titstare. It brought out the sexism in Silicon Valley, and by the time our show aired—which was like nine months after that or so—it was written up somewhere as, ‘Oh they're making fun of Titstare,’ but we actually had that before.”


While some potential viewers may be turned off by the idea of a “tech” show, you don’t need to know a thing about technology to understand what’s going on. In fact, Judge and Berg half expect that their audience knows nothing about the subject. “We kind of make it so when there are technical things in play that it’s really not about the technology, it’s about some kind of emotion or a story that’s rooted in some kind of personal stakes that are relatable in an emotional way, hopefully,” Judge told Den of Geek.

“Fundamentally this is a show about outsiders and that’s one of the things that I think makes it, as you said, relatable,” added Berg. “These are guys trying to do something but they face long odds and they’re decidedly not part of the establishment which I think makes them somebody you root for.”


Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr in 'Silicon Valley'
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO

Though he plays a master programmer on the show, Martin Starr is the first to admit that he isn’t the tech-savviest of actors. “For the most part, I use my computer to write and Google whatever pops up in my brain that I want to know about in the moment,” Starr told Fast Company. “Other than that, tweeting may be about as tech-savvy as I get.”

Fortunately for Starr and the rest of the cast, there are consultants on the set to help the actors better understand what the hell they’re talking about. “Most of my questions to those guys are about understanding what I’m saying,” Starr said. “In our [first] season finale, there’s perhaps the most complicated dick joke that’s ever existed. It makes you feel real stupid when a base-level joke is too complicated for you.”


In October 2017, Kumail Nanjiani, who plays programmer Dinesh Chugtai, took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the power of technology. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t overly optimistic.


Though Silicon Valley’s stars and writers are just that—actors and writers—that doesn’t stop the would-be Richard Hendrickses of the world from pitching anyone involved with the show their own tech ideas. “You have to be careful, because if you start talking to them, then they’ll start pitching you their thing,” writer Clay Tarver told The New York Times. “So I just don’t talk to anyone. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb here.”


Amanda Crew stars in 'Silicon Valley'
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO

The upside to all that pitching? Some of the show’s stars have been bitten by the Silicon Valley bug and actually invested in some startups. Amanda Crew has invested in a handful of female-run businesses, including Darling, a magazine that adheres to a strict “no retouching” photo policy. Middleditch, meanwhile, has focused on companies dedicated to aviation and the environment­, including Beyond Meat, a plant-based ‘meat’ company. Both Middleditch and Martin Starr have also invested in WaterFX, a solar desalination company.


Though the show’s creators had trouble getting industry insiders to open up to them in the early days, before the show was a proven quantity, they’ve since managed to lure a number of A-list tech names to sit in the writers room.

“[A]fter the first season aired … I do think we got a lot of fans, and it became much, much easier to get people to talk to,” Berg told Esquire, adding that they ended up having former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo “sitting in the writing room once a week. He's just a fan of the show, and he found himself out of work, and he decided to come down once a week and just hang.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (who was a classmate of Berg’s at Harvard), LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman are among the individuals who have offered input to the show’s creators.


Zach Woods as Jared in 'Silicon Valley'
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO

Though Donald “Jared” Dunn (Zach Woods) may be the heart of Silicon Valley, you’re probably best not knowing too much about his oft-hinted-at dark past. According to Judge, many of the seemingly out-of-nowhere lines that Jared delivers about his bizarre personal history come straight from Woods. “A lot of this originally came from lines that Zach would just improv in the first two seasons,” Judge told Entertainment Weekly. “Almost none of them made it in, but they did influence our writing of the character. Then we just started putting them in in ways that made a little more sense, where it was a little more organic to the scene.”

As for Woods himself: “To me, there’s like a hazy toxic fog that’s behind Jared,” he told IndieWire. “You don’t really know what happened, but you know it was real bad … If you could see the amount of backstory I have for Jared! I’m constantly trying to shoehorn in Jared’s unbelievably traumatizing history. Because in my head, one of the things that’s funny about Jared is that he’s endured unspeakable, constant tragedy for the first 30 years of his life, but is completely un-self-pitying and resilient.”


If you’ve ever wondered what Pied Piper’s website might look like if it existed in real life, you’re in luck: HBO built a website for the company, complete with company bios, a blog (written by Jared), cheesy font, and banner that proudly touts the fact that, “Pied Piper's Space Saver App Hits Top 500 in Hooli App Store!”


Season four ended with a bit of a shakeup when T.J. Miller and the series very publicly parted ways with the show. As one of Silicon Valley’s breakout stars, the departure left the writers with a couple of challenges, but Judge—for one—believes that Miller’s departure was for the best. “It just wasn't working,” Judge told The Hollywood Reporter. He and his fellow creators offered Miller the chance to return for three episodes in the fifth season, in order to give Erlich a proper sendoff, but Miller declined.


With Erlich Bachman gone, Jian-Yang is ready to take up the role of becoming the series’s resident a**hole. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jimmy O. Yang—who has spent several seasons in Erlich’s shadow—said he is ready to ratchet up the obnoxiousness of his character. “I kind of love it,” he said of his character’s recent transformation from quiet incubee to Erlich’s nemesis. “Because me, myself, I don’t think I’m an a**hole in real life. Something about me playing an a**hole is very funny, because I look very small and nice.” 

Warner Bros.
Pop Culture
Jack Torrance's Corduroy Jacket from The Shining Can Be Yours (If You've Got $12,000 to Spare)
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy … but at least he's stylish. In a 60-year career full of memorable performances, Jack Nicholson's role in The Shining as Jack Torrance—the husband, father, and blocked writer who convinces his family to move to an empty ski resort for the winter so that he can finally finish writing the great American novel, then slowly descends into madness—remains one of his most iconic, and terrifying, characters. Now, via Italian auction house Aste Bolaffi, director Stanley Kubrick's former assistant and longtime friend Emilio D'Alessandro is giving fans of the brilliantly nuanced psychological drama the chance to own a piece of the movie's history, including the burgundy corduroy jacket that Nicholson wore throughout the movie.

According to the item's listing, the jacket was chosen by Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero "after Jack Nicholson insisted it should be worn by his character, Jack Torrance, and a small number of it were made for the shooting of the film." It's a perfect accessory for a variety of activities, including shooting the breeze with a cocktail-serving ghost or chasing your family through a hedge maze in the middle of a snowstorm. Just be ready to pay a pretty penny for it: the bidding starts at €10,000, or just north of $12,000.

The jacket is one of many pieces of original Kubrick memorabilia going up for sale: props from A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut, and Full Metal Jacket are among the other items up for grabs (for the right price), as is a rare cut of The Shining featuring a never-released scene. "These cuts, given by Kubrick to D'Alessandro, are particularly rare because the director notoriously burned all the leftovers at the conclusion of the editing," according to the listing.

You can browse the entire auction catalog, here.

[h/t IndieWire]


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