Secret Army (TV series)

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Secret Army
Secretarmy.jpg
This is the main title caption that was seen throughout the series.
Format Drama
Created by Gerard Glaister
Starring
Country of origin United Kingdom
Belgium
No. of series 3
No. of episodes 43 (List of episodes)
Production
Running time 50 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel BBC
BRT
Original run 7 September 1977 (1977-09-07) – 15 December 1979 (1979-12-15)
Chronology
Related shows Kessler

Secret Army is a television drama series made by the BBC and the Belgian national broadcaster BRT (now VRT) created by Gerard Glaister. The series tells the story of a fictional Belgian resistance movement during the Second World War dedicated to returning Allied airmen, usually having been shot down by the Luftwaffe, to the United Kingdom. The series was made in the UK and Belgium and three series were broadcast on BBC1 between 7 September 1977 and 15 December 1979.

Series overview[edit]

Series One[edit]

Lisa Colbert (Jan Francis) runs 'Lifeline', a Brussels-based resistance organisation that helps Allied aircrew to evade capture and return to Britain via neutral countries such as Switzerland or Spain. She is helped by Albert Foiret (Bernard Hepton), proprietor of the Cafe Candide, his mistress Monique Duchamps (Angela Richards) and waitress Natalie Chantrens (Juliet Hammond-Hill).

Their already dangerous operations are put under further strain when Sturmbannführer Ludwig Kessler (Clifford Rose) is assigned to the Belgian capital to assist Major Brandt (Michael Culver) close down the evasion line.

Another challenge for Lifeline arrives as Flight Lieutenant John Curtis (Christopher Neame), a former evader whom London has sent back as a Special Operations Executive liaison officer to co-ordinate its activity. At first he is greeted with hostility and suspicion, and there is also romantic tension between him and Lisa.

The episodes of Series One introduce the main characters and show the daily risks they take to rescue and move on the young Allied airmen, whilst living under German occupation, protecting their safehouses, and evading investigation. By the end of this series Kessler and Brandt are closing in on Curtis, as their investigation into a murder in France has led them to the name 'Monsieur Maurice', which is Curtis's pseudonym. Brandt and Kessler pay their first visit to the Candide to locate him. Kessler's interest in Curtis poses a significant threat to Lifeline, and so it is agreed that Curtis will return to England. However Kessler begins a troop encirclement of Brussels in order to trap him. Curtis manages to escape to Switzerland by posing as bus driver for a local Hitler Youth group that is travelling out of the city on a day trip.

A continuing storyline is Albert's affair with barmaid Monique Duchamps, while his wife Andrée Foiret is bed-ridden (due to an accident two years previously between an out-of-control lorry and Albert's car, with Andrée as passenger). In the final episode of the series Andrée finds out by spotting Monique going into Albert's bedroom. She tries to speak to Albert and gets into her wheelchair for the first time, but falls down the stairs and breaks her neck, dying instantly.

Other characters introduced in the first series are:

  • Gaston Colbert, Lisa's uncle and bank manager, who has been helping Lifeline, and his wife Louise. A batch of forged banknotes is traced to Gaston, and Kessler interrogates him in the belief he will lead to the people running the evasion line. Lisa later learns that Gaston was shot dead trying to escape from German HQ.
  • Alain Muny, who is Lifeline's wireless operator enabling contact with London, and also supplies the Candide with food from his farm.
  • Dr. Pascal Keldermans, who helps with medical treatment for the airmen, and employs Lisa as a nurse at his surgery as her cover.

Series Two[edit]

In the second series, Albert is rewarded by the British with a share in a restaurant also named Le Candide, which is prominently placed on the Grand-Place. This venture was 60% owned and financed by London to enable the members of Lifeline to cater for the Germans and eavesdrop on their conversations. Albert takes over the running of Lifeline when Lisa is tragically killed in the first episode by an Allied bombing.

The German officers now frequent the new establishment regularly, allowing all the major characters to interact and increasing the dramatic tension. To capitalise on actress Angela Richards' singing talents, Monique performs regularly for the diners, and this became a staple feature of the series. Not only did these scenes transform the character of Monique from a dowdy waitress to a sultry chanteuse, but they also served as a sophisticated contrast to the often tense events of the series.

Other key story arcs played out during the second series include Kessler's developing romance with lonely Belgian society woman Madeleine Duclos (Hazel McBride), whom he met whilst dining alone at Le Candide; and Brandt being asked to join his friends in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Although he declines to join them he becomes guilty by association. His discovery of this, together with the death of his family in a British air raid on Berlin, results in his eventual suicide at the end of series 2 to avoid facing a court martial.

This series also introduced a new key character, pianist and forger Max Brocard, whose forgery skills were required after the loss of Gaston. Max is a Communist resistance infiltrator of Lifeline and he is responsible for the death of François, Natalie's boyfriend. Max is shot dead by the civil police; the shooting was orchestrated by Albert, after finding out definitively that Max was indeed working for the Communists and intended to take over Lifeline. The death leads to further complications in the third series.

Series Three[edit]

The final series is set in the final weeks of German occupation. Paul Vercours, the leader and sole survivor of the Communist party cell that Max had belonged to, begins a slow conspiracy of revenge against Albert for his actions against the Communists. He lodges an accusation with the authorities that Albert murdered his wife.

With Albert in prison for much of the series, responsibility for Lifeline falls to Monique. She becomes increasingly independent, and eventually her relationship with Albert collapses owing to his failure to commit or marry her. However, after the Germans severely restrict travel to and from Brussels and the Communists blow up the main railway line, the evasion lines are effectively closed down. The rescued airmen can now only be hidden while they all await the end of the war.

With Albert away, Monique and Natalie face various accusations of being German collaborators, prostitutes and Black Marketeers. As news of the Allied troops' imminent arrival reaches the streets, the Germans find it increasingly difficult to keep order, and eventually decide to leave the Belgians to their own devices.

Kessler, promoted to Standartenführer, finds himself in constant conflict with new arrival Major Reinhardt who has been sent to replace Brandt. Reinhardt is a war hero whose seemingly lazy approach is at odds with Kessler's own by-the-book methods, but he begins to get results, and near the end of the series succeeds in identifying Le Candide as the headquarters of Lifeline.

When the order for German withdrawal is finally given, Kessler tries to escape with his Belgian mistress, Madeleine. Realising that, should he be captured, he risks execution, Kessler assumes the identity of a lower ranking officer shortly before he is captured by British soldiers and put in a Prisoner of War camp. Rather than evacuate Brussels, Reinhardt satisfies his own curiosity and visits the Candide. He discovers that this was the headquarters of Lifeline all along. He chooses not to execute Albert, Monique, Alain and Pascal, but hands himself over to Albert as his prisoner.

At the same time, Paul Vercours and his gang of communists arrive and take Albert, Reinhardt and Monique captive. Albert is lynched after a Communist-run kangaroo court finds him guilty of treachery for his part in the death of Max Brocard; but just in time he is cut down and saved by British troops. Monique is put in a cage where her supposed fellow collaborators have their heads shaved for the amusement of the crowds. Thanks to the determination of Natalie and the arrival of Captain Stephen Durnford, Monique is saved from such indignities. Monique and the Captain fall in love and, despite having once been Albert's mistress, Monique realises that she no longer loves him and decides to marry the Captain instead.

Having been arrested by the British officers who saved Albert, Reinhardt is put in the same camp as Kessler. To protect his new identity, and with the grudging support of the senior officers, Kessler engineers a Court Martial of Reinhardt for allowing himself to be captured and disobeying the orders of a superior officer. Despite very flimsy evidence, Kessler arranges that Reinhardt is found guilty and is shot dead by a German firing squad. This scene reflects an actual incident in Amsterdam on 13 May 1945[1]

At the same time, Kessler's mistress Madeleine bribes the greedy Staff Sergeant Dexter (John Ratzenberger) to gain her lover's freedom, and the couple escape to a new future together. For the members of the evasion line, however, their happiness is tinged with sadness as they all say goodbye to a tearful Monique, who says her final goodbyes to the Candide and to Albert before starting a new life with her husband in London.

The final episode in the series, "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?" was set in 1969, and looked at how the characters had fared after the war. It was never broadcast — perhaps due to a strike (falsely suggesting that editing was never completed), or the episode's anti-Communist message, or because it was significantly different in tone from the rest of the series. The main themes of the episode were subsequently incorporated into a sequel series, Kessler, which was transmitted in 1981 and explored Kessler's fate.

Production[edit]

Secret Army was created by Gerard Glaister as a follow-up to his drama series Colditz. Glaister was a former RAF pilot and his experiences provided the inspiration for the series. Lifeline loosely resembled Comet line. The character of John Curtis was influenced by the experiences of the series' technical consultant, Group Captain William Randle, who escaped from Occupied Europe in 1942 and was later Keeper of the Battle of Britain Museum.

The series followed the timeline of the war to show how it affected Belgium. Filming took place in Belgium itself, with the assistance of BRT. Other locations were in London and Norfolk. The aircraft type that featured throughout the series was the Westland Lysander.

The title sequence was created by Alan Jeapes, whose credits include EastEnders. Theme music was by Robert Farnon.

The serious tone of the production led it to be parodied in the BBC comedy series 'Allo 'Allo!, with a few cast members appearing in both series.

Recurring cast[edit]

Crew[edit]

  • Producer — Gerard Glaister
  • Script editor — John Brason
  • Script supervisors — Frank Radcliffe, James Cadman
  • Designers — Ray London, Richard Morris, Marjorie Pratt, Austin Ruddy
  • Music arranger — Ken Moule (Series 3)

Merchandise[edit]

Books[edit]

John Brason wrote a prequel novel entitled Secret Army and two novelisations of his episodes entitled Secret Army Dossier and The End of the Line.

An unofficial guidebook to the series is available entitled The Complete Secret Army. This features reviews of every episode, information on the real-life events that inspired the series, behind-the-scenes production material, a location guide, and reminiscences and photos from cast and crew. The book is written by Secret Army fan Andy Priestner, and was published by Classic TV Press in December 2008.

VHS[edit]

In 1991 the retailer W H Smith released an exclusive double-tape compilation of seven selected episodes between - and including - the first and last of Series 2, running to 326 minutes in total.[2]

DVD[edit]

The complete three series set of Secret Army is available on DVD (Region 2, UK) from DD Home Entertainment. This also carries interviews with cast members Angela Richards (Monique), Clifford Rose (Kessler), Juliet Hammond-Hill (Natalie), Terrence Hardiman (Reinhardt) and Hazel McBride (Madeleine). It does not include the final unscreened episode (see above).

CD[edit]

The songs performed by Angela Richards and pianist Ken Moule in the series proved so popular with the audience that a BBC soundtrack album entitled "Au Café Candide" was released. Long since deleted, the songs are now available on a new CD recorded some 25 years after the first, entitled "An Evening at Le Candide". Tracks include Richards's own compositions such as "Memories Come Gently" and "If This Is The Last Time I See You", together with popular Forties numbers such as "Lilli Marlene" and "J'attendrai".

See also[edit]

  • List of Secret Army episodes
  • Kessler, a spin-off series featuring the character Ludwig Kessler played by Clifford Rose
  • 'Allo 'Allo!, a 1982–92 BBC sitcom, set in occupied France, which drew considerable inspiration from the restaurant setting and resistance intrigue of Secret Army

References[edit]

External links[edit]