Oh! What A Lovely War was one of the first to make this argument, and Blackadder cemented it into the collective consciousness, but thankfully The Wipers Times (BBC Two, Wednesday, 9pm) might do a little bit to remind us that it was much more complex than that. The First World War was not a case of lions led by donkeys - there were lions and donkeys at all levels and in all ranks.
Not that The Wipers Times is entirely free of the clichés: there is at least one Colonel Stereotype whose main contribution to the war is tucking into the hot buffet at HQ while complaining about the insubordination of the men in the cold trenches, but there are also some superb, subtle performances from Ben Chaplin and Michael Palin as officers who are doing their best in the middle of the madness.
Chaplin's character is Fred Roberts, a fictionalised version of a real captain who fought at Ypres and the Somme while also managing to produce a satirical newspaper for the troops. Chaplin is very good indeed and clearly understands - because the script does too - that many soldiers never talked about their emotions, let alone showed them, and yet the emotions still showed through in what was not said. RC Sherriff's play Journey's End is the best at capturing this - and, unlike Oh! What A Lovely War and Blackadder, that was written by someone who was in the trenches.
The plot of The Wipers Times is not always rivetting if you're not fascinated by the minutiae of printing, but it does succeed in exploring the role of comedy and laughter in war - probably because it is co-written by Ian Hislop. The point is that comedy, and laughing, have always been part of conflict. Nowadays it would be called banter and it's a coping mechanism. As Captain Roberts puts it when he talks about his paper: "It's important to me because it's not important."
At which point, Michael Palin pops up as a senior officer who, rather than banning The Wipers Times, thoroughly approves of it.
It is delightful to see one of great-uncles of satire and surrealism playing an officer who understands that the men need something to divert them from the horror. "The men are aware that war is not funny," he says. "And that may be the point."
Chaplin as Captain Roberts puts it a different way and suggests satire is important precisely because war can be funny and farcical. "You have to accept," he says, "that it is somewhat comical that we have spent years fighting our way through Flanders only to end up right back where we started." His point is that, despite all the years he has spent writing jokes for The Wipers Times, parody of war can never be as ridiculous as war itself.