A satirical newspaper, produced under bombardment amid the carnage of the First World War, The Wipers Times stands as a testament to the bravery and ingenuity of the men who produced it.

Launched under fire both from the enemy and their own top brass, it was written and printed in the most trying of conditions on a succession of salvaged rickety presses. Yet it became an immediate hit with its readers – the bedraggled, demoralised, gassed, bombed, traumatised Tommies entrenched in the mud of the Western Front.

Named after the bombed out Belgian city of Ypres – known as Wipers to the squaddies who struggled with the French pronunciation – it was packed with jokes, spoof adverts, agony aunt columns, poetry, music hall-style skits and satires on the official war reports which were written by celebrity journalists far behind the frontline.

Irreverent, sarcastic and very funny it defined trench humour. No wonder then that when satirists Ian Hislop and Nick Newman of the magazine Private Eye came across it, they were hooked.

The pair turned the story of the paper’s editor Capt Fred Roberts and sub-editor, Lt Jack Pearson of the 24th Division of the Sherwood Foresters into a film (rejected at first) then a stage play which returned to the Oxford Playhouse this week.

When it first came to Beaumont Street a year ago, it received rave reviews and a five star review from this newspaper. That remains the same. The story is so powerful, moving and funny, that it amply rewards a return visit.

Since its first run we have been bombarded with coverage of the 100th anniversary of the ‘war to end all wars’, with magnificent adaptations of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse and Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. Each utterly brilliant in their different ways. But this is different.

Hislop and Newman don’t shy away from the horror of the trenches, but this is not mawkish or grief-ridden. It is funny, touching and uplifting.

How, we are left wondering, can human beings create something so wonderful under conditions so appalling. To Roberts, Pearson and Sergeant Tyler (a printer in peacetime) The Wipers Times was more than a newspaper, it was an emotional crutch, a last vestige of civilisation and culture to which to cling. It represented the best of humanity in a time of inhumanity and in its self-deprecating, irreverent tone (its sights were levelled at their senior officers rather than ‘the Bosh’), it was uniquely British.

Performances are well-observed throughout and faithful to the period in mannerisms, speech, deference and wit. James Dutton and George Kemp are perfect as the rebellious yet gentle-souled Roberts and Pearson, as is Dan Mersh as the plain-speaking, but plucky, Tyler – who risks his life to salvage a press from No Man’s Land.

Out to thwart them is the weasel-like jobsworth Lt Col Howfield (whose simmering passive aggression and humourless self repression is brilliantly portrayed by Sam Ducane), who takes umbrage at their insubordination, despite grudging respect for the paper’s wit and morale-boosting properties from his own superior Gen Mitford - also played by the outrageously versatile Mersh, with perfectly patrician tones (and an uncanny likeness to Stephen Fry’s Gen Melchett in Black Adder).

Powerful, heart-wrenching and hilarious, this is an extraordinary piece of theatre which will leave you smiling; a fitting tribute to those plucky trench journalists.

Don't miss it.

  • The Wipers Times runs at the Oxford Playhouse until Saturday. Go to oxfordplayhouse.com