Secret Army (TV series)

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Secret Army
Secretarmy.jpg
This is the main title caption that was seen throughout the series.
Created by Gerard Glaister
Starring
Country of origin United Kingdom
Belgium
Original language(s) English
No. of series 3
No. of episodes 43 (list of episodes)
Production
Running time 50 minutes
Release
Original network BBC1
BRT
Original release 7 September 1977 (1977-09-07) – 15 December 1979 (1979-12-15)
Chronology
Related shows Kessler

Secret Army is a television drama 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. It was made in the UK and Belgium and three series were broadcast on BBC1 between 7 September 1977 and 15 December 1979.

Fay Weldon said of the series: "There is, in the making of such programmes, a level of professionalism, and sheer patient, largely unacclaimed, hard work from producer to script editor to writer to designer to vision mixer to editor by way of sound and lighting engineers that is probably equalled only in a heart transplant theatre".[1]

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 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 operations are put under further strain when fervent Nazi Gestapo Sturmbannführer Ludwig Kessler (Clifford Rose) is assigned to work with Luftwaffe Major Erwin Brandt (Michael Culver) and close down the evasion line.

Flight Lieutenant John Curtis (Christopher Neame), a former evader, is sent back by London as a Special Operations Executive liaison officer to coordinate its activity. At first he is greeted with hostility and suspicion; there is also romantic tension between him and Lisa.

Series One introduces the main characters and the daily risks they take to rescue the young airmen whilst under German occupation, protecting their safehouses and evading investigation. By the end of this series Kessler and Brandt are closing in on Curtis, since their investigation into a murder in France has led them to the name 'Monsieur Maurice', which is Curtis' 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 orders 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 (Eileen Paige) is bedridden (owing 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 (James Bree), Lisa's uncle and bank manager, who has been helping Lifeline, and his wife Louise (Maria Charles). 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 has been shot dead trying to escape from German HQ.
  • Alain Muny (Ron Pember), who is Lifeline's wireless operator who maintains with London, and also supplies the Candide with food from his farm.
  • Dr Pascal Keldermans (Valentine Dyall) who helps with medical treatment for the airmen, and gives Lisa cover by employing her as a nurse at his surgery.

Series Two[edit]

Albert has sold the Cafe Candide and now owns an upper-class black-market restaurant, called the Restaurant Candide, which is prominently located in the Grand-Place. This venture is 60%-owned and -financed by London, so as to enable the members of Lifeline to cater for senior German officers, to enable them to overhear indiscretions and to provide a better cover for their activities. Albert takes over the running of Lifeline when Lisa is killed in the first episode by Allied bombing whilst travelling in France.

The German officers 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 becomes a feature of the series. These scenes both transform the character of Monique from a dowdy waitress to a sultry chanteuse and provide a contrast to their often stressful undercover activities.

Secondary storylines include Kessler's developing romance with lonely Belgian 'society woman' Madeleine Duclos (Hazel McBride), whom he meets while dining alone at Le Candide, and Brandt being asked to join the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Although he declines, he becomes seen as guilty by association. This, and the death of his family in a British air raid on Berlin, results in his suicide, to avoid a court-martial, at the end of these series.

The series also introduces a new character, pianist and forger Max Brocard (Stephen Yardley), whose forgery skills are required after the death of Gaston. Max is a Communist infiltrator of Lifeline, responsible for the death of Natalie's boyfriend François (Nigel Williams). Along with other Communist saboteurs, Max is shot dead by the Germans and the civil police whilst taking part in resistance activities, their whereabouts having been tipped off by Albert after he has confirmed that Max is indeed working for the Communists and intends to take over Lifeline and Le Candide by betraying Albert to the Germans. His death leads to terrible repercussions for Albert in the third series.

Series Three[edit]

This is set during the final weeks of German occupation. Paul Vercors (Michael Byrne and Ralph Bates), the leader and sole survivor of the Communist cell to which Max belonged, begins a conspiracy of revenge against Albert. 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 and her realising that he is more concerned about money than about 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 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 they leave the Belgians to their own devices.

Kessler, promoted to Standartenführer, finds himself in constant conflict with new arrival Major Hans Dietrich Reinhardt (Terrence Hardiman), who has been sent to replace Brandt. The pair clash because Reinhardt can see the desperate situation the Germans face, whereas Kessler remains blinded by patriotism and Nazi ideology. Reinhardt is a cynical and world-weary war hero (he has been awarded the Knight's Cross), whose unorthodox approach is at odds with Kessler's by-the-book methods. Nevertheless, he begins to get results and near the end of the series succeeds in identifying Le Candide as the headquarters of Lifeline.

In Albert's absence, Lifeline is helped by Major Nicholas "Nick" Bradley (Paul Shelley), a charismatic British agent who previously appeared during the second series. Monique resents his presence, believing he threatens her new authority, whereas Natalie has been attracted to Bradley since his earlier visit. Bradley's job is to make sure the remaining evaders are fed and armed to protect themselves, whilst they hide in the Ardennes. During his time in Belgium, Bradley succeeds in saving Alain from torture by the Gestapo, blows up a convoy, destroys a V-2 site, and discovers where the Germans have laid explosives in the city. Bradley is later shot dead the day before the German withdrawal, being found in the streets after curfew.

When the order for German withdrawal is finally given, Kessler tries to escape with his Belgian mistress, Madeleine. Realizing that his capture could lead to 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. As he suspects, he discovers that this has been 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 Vercors and his communists arrive and take Albert, Reinhardt and Monique captive. Albert is hanged 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 captured by Brussels residents and held as a collaborator, waiting to have her head shaved in front of the angry crowds. However, Natalie and the newly arrived British Captain Stephen Durnford (Stephan Chase) manage to rescue her. Monique and the Captain fall in love and Monique realises that she no longer loves Albert; she 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 there being only flimsy evidence, Kessler arranges for Reinhardt to be found guilty, and he is shot dead by a German firing squad. This scene reflects an actual incident in Amsterdam on 13 May 1945.[2]

At the same time Kessler's mistress Madeleine bribes Staff Sergeant Dexter (John Ratzenberger) to allow her lover's freedom, and the couple escape 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.

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 owing 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 subsequent 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, 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. The 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.

Cast[edit]

Character Series 1 Series 2 Series 3
Albert Foiret
Bernard Hepton
Lisa "Yvette" Colbert
Jan Francis
Flight Lt. John Curtis Christopher Neame
Monique Duchamps
Angela Richards
Ludwig Kessler
Clifford Rose
Maj. Erwin Brandt
Michael Culver
Natalie Chantrens
Juliet Hammond-Hill
Dr Pascal Keldermans
Valentine Dyall
Alain Muny
Ron Pember
Andree Foiret Eileen Page
Cpl. Veit Rennert
Robin Langford
Jacques Bol Timothy Morand
Gaston Colbert James Bree
Louise Colbert Maria Charles
Hans van Broecken
Gunnar Möller
Lena van Broecken
Marianne Stone
Yvonne
Henrietta Baynes
Max Brocard Stephen Yardley
Insp. Paul Delon
John D. Collins
Madeleine Duclos
Hazel McBride
Francois Nigel Williams
Maj. Nick Bradley
Paul Shelley
Wullner
Neil Daglish
Genevieve
Trisha Clarke
Maj. Hans-Dietrich Reinhardt Terrence Hardiman
Paul Vercors Michael Byrne Ralph Bates
Capt. Stephen Durnford Stephan Chase
Hauptmann Muller Hilary Minster
Paul Ken Moule (uncredited)

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.[3]

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]