Secret Army – Radishes with Butter (21st September 1977)

Curtis, having played a relatively minor role in the previous episode, now steps to the forefront. His relationship with the escape line – most notably Lisa and Albert – is still (to put it mildly) an uneasy one. The reason for Lisa’s antipathy is teased out across the course of the episode and by the end they appear to reached an uneasy truce. Albert is a different matter though – he’s quite prepared (if Lisa gives to word) to have Curtis killed. Fortunately for Curtis, the word isn’t given ….

Gaston Colbert (played by James Bree) also enjoys his first major chunk of screentime. Bree was an actor who could, at times, tip over into embarrassingly histrionic playing (see Doctor WhoThe War Games) or high camp (see Softly Softly: Task ForceJustice). His SA role is quite different though – it’s subtle, underplayed and very impressive.

Gaston’s links with Curtis – providing him with papers to pass onto a Jewish family and handling British funds which turn out to be forged – helps to keep him in the thick of the action.

Although their total screentime isn’t more than a few minutes, it’s the desperate Jewish family, led by Michael Burrell as Schliemann, who leave an indelible mark in the memory (as well as providing the episode with its title). The Germans are deporting vast numbers of Jews in strict order – by the colour of their identity cards. Gaston hopes to buy the Schliemanns a little extra time by giving them new cards in a “safe” colour.

After Curtis and Lisa hand over the cards, a clearly moved Schliemann offers both of them a treat – a small radish on a plate. Lisa politely declines but Curtis accepts with alacrity, wolfing down the radish (despite the fact there’s no butter) with every sign of genuine enjoyment.  As he says later, he knew that it was all they had but he felt compelled not to refuse – had he done so then Schliemann would have been robbed of his last small shred of dignity.

This scene of squalid despair can be contrasted with Kessler and Brandt’s convivial (on  the surface anyway) coffee meeting – with real coffee and English biscuits (not named, but they’re clearly bourbons). The Kessler/Brandt conflict takes a back seat today, but it’s still clearly bubbling away – the fact that Kessler ends the episode by opening a secret Gestapo file on his colleague indicates that things are only going to get worse.

Later, there’s one more scene with the Schliemanns as Curtis returns with some meagre supplies and a small tub of butter for their radishes. Once again Schliemann is pathetically grateful, even more so when Curtis tells them that there might be a chance for them to escape Brussels.

It won’t be via Lifeline as they – for good operational reasons – don’t take Jews but despite this, Curtis can’t help but angrily ask Lisa if she doesn’t care about their fate. This doesn’t help their already bumpy relationship ….

There’s no one plotline which dominates in Radishes with Butter. Curtis inadvertently passing over forged money to Lifeline is another subplot (as is Kesser’s unsuccessful attempt to find the forgers).  The plight of the Jews also bubbles away – with some discussion about their ultimate fate (everyone seems aware that the concentration camps they’re being sent to are just a cover) – whilst there’s also an RAF evader, Vidler (Anthony Smee), to be dealt with.

Vidler isn’t too important a character in his own right – he exists mainly to bring Lisa and Curtis closer together. When the Germans close in on Vidler’s hiding place, all three are forced to flee across the rooftops. This sequence – shot on film and at night – clearly would have cost a fair bit and helps to give the episode a little gloss (although if one were being cynical, you could say that it’s also a good way to pad out the running time).

This scene almost ends in farce when Lisa misses her footing, slides down the roof and ends up hanging by her fingertips (with nothing but a sheer drop beneath her). There’s some not entirely convincing back projection in this scene (showing the Germans on the ground) and it also puzzles me that the Germans fail to notice the dangling Lisa. Were they blind or simply not very efficient?

Curtis, of course, hauls her to safety and you can probably guess what happens next. They lock eyes and then lock lips (thankfully there’s no corny swell of incidental music).  Lisa later regrets this moment of madness and later tells Curtis that there can be nothing between them, recounting her own backstory (just one tragic tale amongst so many).

Another occurs at the end of the story when Curtis learns that the next batch of Jews to be deported includes the Schliemanns. He rushes to try and save them, but he’s too late – the only sign that they were ever in their room is a plate with a couple of discarded radishes and a dab of butter.

Radishes with Butter is a really good character piece for both Curtis and Lisa, with Gaston also benefiting. The silent menace of the Germans – invading the Candide to haul out another unfortunate – is also effective as is the continuing enmity between Kessler and Brandt. Three episodes in and the series is now really up and running.

One thought on “Secret Army – Radishes with Butter (21st September 1977)

  1. Thanks for these reviews. I enjoyed this series. Would be interested in your views of the spin off series’Kessler’ which i just watched on Talking Pictures

    Liked by 1 person

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