THE story of a satirical publication with the establishment very firmly in its sights is one which you would expect Ian Hislop to be interested in.

After all, isn’t that what he has been devoting much of his own life to with his work on Private Eye? But when that publication came out of the trenches of the First World War, you can understand his added fascination with the two men behind The Wipers Times.

With long-time collaborator and university friend Nick Newman, Ian has brought one of the most remarkable stories of the Great War to life, first as a TV drama and now as a play which comes to Manchester next week after a run in London’s West End.

The Wipers Times was the work of Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson who discovered a working printing press among the ruins of a bombed out building in Ypres – pronounced Wipers by British soldiers.

Ian said: “It is an inspiring and really interesting story and yet it had been completely forgotten about. I think the men who came back from the trenches didn’t want to talk about their experiences and by the 1930s Roberts and Pearson had gone abroad and basically given up on Britain so their remarkable story in effect disappeared.”

Twenty three editions of the Wipers Times were printed with the British Army’s top brass and the futility of war being major targets.

Ian added: “It was very subversive but it was also very funny. Our play is much more than based on a true story.

“When we were writing it, you have to imagine conversations but most of it is based on fact. Churchill appears in the trenches – he did, there’s a spy called Madam Fifi – there was, they open a pub – they did. It really is about what happened. If anything we’ve toned it down.”

Nick said: “You can’t imagine the circumstances under which they were operating. Roberts wrote: ‘If you haven’t sat in a trench about to go over the top correcting page proofs then you really should because it’s quite exciting’.”

You might think that the authorities would have moved quickly to close down the Wipers Times but Ian believes Roberts and Pearson’s were ‘unsackable’.

He added: “You have to remember how successful it was. It’s quite difficult to close it down once it’s selling thousands of copies and everyone is saying how brilliant it is. And both men won the Military Cross so you can’t really say ‘you are subversives’.

“The Wipers Times is essentially British, that’s how we cope. It fits into a long tradition. In the Second World War, if you look at British comedy everything that people like – the Navy Lark, Men from the Ministry – are all attacks on ourselves. There’s very little effort put into laughing at the enemy and that seems to be the same for the First World War. And it’s what we keep on doing. even today.”

The Wipers Times is at Manchester Opera House from October 31 to November 4. Call 0844 871 3018