Tommy Atkins marches to the Web

Tommy Atkins marches to the Web

Tommy Atkins filming in Florida with cinematographer Chris Coppolo on camera dolly (far right).

Is there an audience for Kipling in a world obsessed with Kardashian? So. Miami resident Ronald Shelley believes there is and that his audience can be found on the web.

Shelley is currently working to bring his 1996 dramatization of Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads to the small screen. “Tommy Atkins” follows a common English soldier from his recruitment in 1882 to his retirement in 1910. Directed and produced by Shelley who also plays the lead role, the work was filmed in south Florida. He also sourced, purchased and made period-appropriate clothing and equipment.

Originally intended as a one hour educational video for students, the new project will digitize and edit the film for video-sharing websites like YouTube. The first vignette will be aired later this year and features Kipling’s famous poem, “Gunga Din”.

Introducing Shelley’s performances as “Tommy” to internet audiences was suggested by the film’s cinematographer, assistant director, and friend Pastor Chris Coppolo.

Tommy Atkins marches to the Web

Ronald Shelley in early test shot west of Homestead

“Chris and I filmed all over south Dade and chose landscapes that could pass as the Sudan or India. Of course that was in the late 80s and early 90s—some of that land looks a lot different now,” said Shelley.

The idea for a one-man show featuring Kipling’s work began with a suggestion in the 1970s from the late Bill Hindman, radio host and fellow actor. Relying on his Shakespearian training, knowledge of history, period clothing, and weaponry, the Britishborn Shelley performed “Tommy” at the Biltmore in Coral Gables and other venues.

Shelley’s father, a soldier in the Royal Horse Artillery during WWI, shared many stories of the plight of soldiers in the military, igniting an interest in the Victorian and Edwardian periods of British colonialism. Rudyard Kipling’s writings continued to have particular resonance for the actor throughout his lifetime.

Tommy Atkins marches to the Web

Promotional still with a period heliograph (to send Morse Code)

Can an old and often controversial English poet resonate with modern audiences? Aquick internet search demonstrates that there is a lot of interest, especially when the same war-torn territory of Kipling’s time is today’s theater of conflict.

“The common soldier is the same throughout time. Those sent to foreign lands to serve their country are called to sacrifice; their suffering is generally ignored once they return home,” said Shelley.

To learn more about Ronald Shelley and the “Tommy Atkins” project, please contact him via email at

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