Secret Army – Growing Up (12th October 1977)

A downed airman, Sgt. Clifford Howson (Norman Eshley), is injured and hiding out in the countryside. By chance, a young boy called Jean-Paul Dornes (Max Harris) finds him and promises to do all he can to help …

Growing Up is very much a story of two halves. Initially, the tone is quite subdued with only a low level of tension as Cliff befriends Jean-Paul (or is it the other way around?) and the pair quickly bond. Jean-Paul’s wide-eyed admiration not only for the heroes of the RAF but also for his countrymen’s underground struggles against the Germans is plain to see. But as the episode title suggests, the time will come when Jean-Paul will be forced to learn that not everything is quite as black and white as it first appears.

The first discordant note sounds when the boy returns home and discovers a German soldier, Corporal Emil Schnorr (Brian Glover), chatting easily with his mother, Anna (Susan Tracy). Glover did just about everything during his career – seasons with the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, a stint as an all-in wrester (Leon Arras, the man from Paris), a number of writing credits (including several Play for Todays), not to mention an impressive list of television credits (both dramas and comedies).

The relationship between Anna and Schnorr quickly develops (one criticism would be that it’s rather too quick).  But on the other hand, Glover and Tracy share a very nice scene in which their characters open their hearts and discuss the things they have in common (both are widowers). And although Schnorr appears intimidating at times towards Jean-Paul it seems that, at heart, the German is a kindly man (he’s no rabid Nazi – instead he comes across as someone keen to learn a trade and better himself).

Max Harris is the glue which holds the story together. This is a big ask for such a young actor (although he already had television experience – most notably The Phoenix and the Carpet a few years earlier). The scenes he shares with Norman Eshley are well played by both of them and it seems that an experienced actor like Eshley brought out the best in him.

Holed up in a remote quarry, eventually Cliff is reached by Lisa and Albert (as happens so often, despite being a secret organisation someone always seems to be able to contact Lifeline as and when required). There then follows a slightly strained part of the episode – due to his leg injury Cliff is unable to walk, so Lisa pretends that he’s fallen from a horse and needs help. That’s just about reasonable, but by a remarkable coincidence they stumble across Anna and Schnorr who are out for a walk. What were the chances of that?

With Cliff now safely in Brussels, the danger seems over. But in fact the story has yet to really kick into gear. Anna discovers the RAF badge gifted to Jean-Paul by a grateful Cliff and flies into a rage. This is another slightly odd sequence. Although everything we’ve seen so far suggests that Anna, if not an active collaborator, is very keen not to get involved with the war anymore, why does she feel compelled to report this to the German authorities?

With Cliff no longer in the area, had she kept quiet then there would have been no way for anyone to connect the airman to her son. Possibly you can argue that she was keen to inveigle herself into Schnorr’s good books (she sets out to lay the whole matter before him) but that’s not quite how it plays. Possibly a little tightening of the script would have helped here.

Events then take a tragic turn when, on her way to the barracks, Anna is run down by a member of the resistance (played by Stanley Lebor) thus silencing her for ever. Luckily, for Jean-Paul’s peace of mind, he seems unaware that he was indirectly responsible (after his mother left, a tearful Jean-Paul went to the resistance man’s house). This part of the script also doesn’t quite play right – not least in terms of the timescale.

But minor niggles apart, the aftermath (an impressively mounted funeral with a distraught Jean-Paul) certainly carries an emotional punch. And the graveside rapprochement between Jean-Paul and Schnorr is another stand-out moment. Although there’s no dialogue, Harris and Glover are both at their best here. Schnorr literally becomes a shoulder to cry on and as the pair leave the cemetery hand in hand (Jean-Paul only slightly pausing to toss away the RAF badge – a symbol of his past life) we’re left with the strong impression of a growing bond between a surrogate father and son.

Willis Hall’s second SA script, Growing Up possibly could have done with some editing and redrafting in places, but the human drama at its heart is still compelling.

3 thoughts on “Secret Army – Growing Up (12th October 1977)

  1. I think Anna’s thought process is reasonably clear. She’s worried that if the authorities find out Jean-Paul has helped the British and the resistance, then he’ll be shot, and she sees Emil as a friend who’ll help them out and convince his superiors that Jean-Paul shouldn’t be punished. Perhaps she’s as naive as her son, but the desire to keep their head down is probably ingrained in many of the locals.

    I found the last few minutes of this episode unbelievably tense, given that we’ve just had four episodes on the trot with a cruel twist ending where the people Lifeline have been helping end up dead or captured. The intercutting between Jean-Paul wandering around with the RAF badge in his pocket and Cliff and a bunch of generic fellow airmen being smuggled out of the area left me convinced that any moment the badge would be discovered and/or the Germans would descend on the escapees. It was an immense feeling of relief when Jean-Paul fell into Emil’s arms and the episode closed on the symbolic shot of the discarded badge being trampled by the funeral horse.


    • There’s no link between Jean-Paul and the British airman – so the best thing would have simply been to keep quiet. But in story terms I understand why something had to be done in order to create the crisis, it’s just a shame that it comes across as rather forced.


      • The link is the badge: If anyone found him with that, they’d know he could have only got it from a British airman. Of course, you could argue that simply getting rid of it would have solved the problem, but Anna was obviously panicking and worried about someone finding out.


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