Secret Army – Guilt (26th October 1977)

Carrying on the story from Lost Sheep, Guilt is an episode of two halves. The first is rather low-key (but not without interest) but it’s the second half where the plot really kicks into gear.

Curtis is smarting that the RAF’s latest technological wonder has been splashed all over the papers (thanks to the loose-lipped Peter Romsey) and becomes desperate to find out who betrayed Romsey and Victor. So he heads out into the French countryside, with the untrusting Lifeline close on his heels ….

Albert is the most suspicious about Curtis’ motives. Director Paul Annett heightens the pressure during these early scenes by ensuring that the camera tightly frames each member of Lifeline as they debate what to do. The decision is made to send Monique after Curtis – to observe what he does and liquidate him if he turns out to be a spy.

This gives Angela Richards a little more to do than usual. Up until this point in the series her main plot function has been to complain at regular intervals about the way Albert pays more attention to his wife than he does to her. Don’t worry though, she still manages to do that today.

For a while it looks like Monique has Curtis closely under tabs, even if she appears to be hideously conspicuous (her dark glasses don’t help). Thankfully, Curtis turns out to be a sharp operator and has been aware of her presence all along. In the episode’s first key scene he confronts her in a two-hander that crackles with energy. “I worry about being shot, getting caught, being tortured. So what’s new apart from that?”

Peter Barkworth and Joanna Van Gyseghem don’t really feature until the last twenty minutes or so. That makes sense since the characters of Hugh Neville and his wife Dorothy were well established in the previous episode . In this one there’s merely the question of establishing their guilt or innocence.

After curfew, Curtis calls on them – begging a bed for the night. For some reason, Curtis is affecting a Leeds accent (or so he says) which is a tad distracting, but once the scene really kicks into gear it proves to be less of a problem. This is the point where the episode really picks up momentum as Barkworth and Neame face off (with Van Gyseghem stuck in the middle as a rather baffled outsider).

It doesn’t take much prompting by Curtis for Neville to reveal his hatred of war. “I should have been playing cricket for my school but I was fighting on the Somme instead. Mud, filth, corpses, so many corpses it was hideous. Your country needs you. I saw screaming men trying to hold in their own intestines”.

There then follows a philosophical debate where the honours are about even. But early next morning, Neville’s admission that he told the police about Romsey seals his fate. Curtis, flick knife in hand, advances menacingly although it’s interesting that we don’t see the blow struck (nor, when Dorothy later returns, his body). Instead, Van Gyseghem is required to sell this key moment purely by her reaction.

The episode’s coda (a battered and weary Curtis travels back on the train to Belgium with Monique) is almost (no pun intended) derailed by some very obvious CSO. But the quality of their conversation – Curtis admitting that Neville was the first man he’d killed face to face (dropping bombs doesn’t count) – saves the day.

This is a slow burner of an episode, but once it gets going it carries a real punch. Curtis reveals that he liked Neville, but he had to be executed anyway. That it’s possible to see why Neville acted the way he did (and even to sympathise with him) is what makes Traitor so powerful. Secret Army rarely produced simplistic stories of good & evil/black & white and that’s one reason why the series stands up so well today.

Secret Army – Lost Sheep (26th October 1977)

En route to Paris via the escape route, Flight Lieutenant Peter Romsey (Christopher Guard), is separated from his colleagues. Disembarking from his train in a rural French village, he desperately searches for help – eventually stumbling across an English writer, Hugh Neville (Peter Barkworth), who appears to offer sanctuary ….

Lost Sheep opens in a fairly striking way. During this first scene where Curtis interrogates Romsey, the airman remains seated and passive whilst Curtis strides up and down – almost bumping into the camera. So while Curtis is foregrounded and creating an oppressive figure, Romsey and Lisa (silently smoking) are placed in the background.

Out of the regulars, Curtis probably gets the most to do. Later – when Romsey’s identity has been verified – the pair have a convivial chat, but even this early on it’s clear that Romsey is something of a liability (the navigator of an advanced Mosquito, he carries in his head information that the Germans would dearly love – and he seems distressingly happy to chat about such things at the drop of a hat).

N.J. Crisp’s script (the first of nine Secret Army efforts) is really centered around the guest performers. Guard is perfectly cast as the seemingly naïve and far too trusting Romsey. Although given that he’s a veteran of many hazardous flight missions it may be that, as opined by Curtis, he’s simply burnt out and is no longer thinking clearly.

After all, instead of trying to make his way to Paris, he stumbles around asking perfect strangers for help – seemingly trusting that they won’t turn him in. His first approach (a fisherman) does fetch the local police, but luckily Romsey had made a dash for it by then.

So he ends up at a palatal house owned by Hugh Neville and his wife Dorothy (Joanna Van Gyseghem). Dorothy is instantly welcoming, but Neville himself, whilst convivial, keeps his own counsel. Peter Barkworth was no stranger to WW2, having spent the best part of six months starring in Manhunt (a sometimes engrossing, sometimes infuriating LWT drama) and his casting is a major plus point. Barkworth never gave a bad performance and there’s plenty to enjoy and mull over in this one.

Neville is an English writer firmly ensconced in France. He doesn’t share Romsey’s patriotic leanings (“I was on the Somme in the Great War. Saw a generation slaughtered for nothing”). And later, Neville snorts at the idea that France will one day be liberated – for him, life has gone on under German occupation pretty much as it always has. Thanks to the area’s rich farmland, there’s no such thing as rationing and he claims never to have seen a German soldier in the area.

This statement is undercut by the very next scene, in which Dorothy – out cycling – spies numerous German troops beginning an intensive search for Romsey. At first it’s possible to believe that Neville is a fantasist who up to this point has simply ignored anything unpleasant, but later it does seem that the Germans have only just moved into the area, so his comments – self-centered though they may be – do seem to be accurate.

Dorothy isn’t as well-drawn a character, but there’s still enough there for Van Gyseghem to work with. Given that she and her husband exist in an atmosphere of chilly politeness, it’s possibly not too difficult to work out why Dorothy greets the arrival of a handsome young stranger so warmly (although this is never spelled out explicitly).

Plot-wise, Lost Sheep then stumbles a little. Given that Neville is the only Englishman in the area, his house would be the obvious place to find Romsey – and yet the Germans never search there. Instead, Neville’s friend – Inspector Pierre Dubois (Bruce Montague) – does so but makes sure to give him fair warning. Barkworth and Montague share several nice scenes, ones in which Dubois and Neville carry out two very different conversations at the same time (one implicit, one explicit).

Credibility is also stretched by the fact that not only do Lifeline have a man – Victor (Ivor Roberts) – in the area, but he also manages to locate Romsey with embarrassing ease. If he could do so, why couldn’t Brandt and his merry men?

After an episode of tension, there seems to be a happy ending – Victor leads Romsey away to safety. But there’s an ambush and Victor is shot dead whilst Rosmey is delivered into the welcoming hands of Brandt. And, as feared, it seems likely that the charming Brandt will be able to get the ingenious Romsey to talk ….

Had this been a single episode story, then this ending would have been nicely ambiguous.  It’s hinted that Neville may have betrayed Romsey to save his own skin, but it’s equally likely that Dubious – convinced that Neville was sheltering Romsey but possessing no proof – could have decided to stake the place out.

As it is, Crisp will develop and conclude the story in next week’s episode – Guilt.

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.

Upstairs Downstairs – A Special Mischief (29th December 1972)

For the first time in a little while, the relationship between Miss Elizabeth and Rose forms the centrepoint of an episode. Time hasn’t softened Elizabeth at all – she’s still hopelessly self-centered (refusing to visit her daughter at the seaside) whilst it’s notable that Rose seems more inclined to speak back to her (“my Rose has thorns”, comments Elizabeth early on in the episode).

Possibly this is because virtually all of the household are in Scotland, with only Elizabeth from upstairs and Rose, Edward and Ruby remaining from the downstairs staff. Rose therefore is keen to keep things running smoothly with a reduced staff, although she couldn’t have predicted quite how things would turn out ….

In an episode light on levity, there’s one brief bright spell early on – Ruby makes a cake, all the time carrying on an imaginary conversation with the absent Mrs Bridges (at one point calling her a cow!). This jollity soon dissipates once the main plot kicks into gear though.

Inspired by her friend Ellen Bouverie (Claire Nielson), Elizabeth has become a suffragette – throwing herself into their world with enthusiasm. Although their aims are laudable, others – especially Rose – react with horror. Elizabeth later comments that she finds that her life is now exciting.  But with Rose deciding that the suffragettes are simply her new toy, it’s impossible not to draw the conclusion that Elizabeth is nothing more than a dilettante – looking to fill her aimless life with some purpose (for the moment the suffragettes have filled that hole).

Upstairs Downstairs tended to use videotape for its location film work, but this episode featured night filming. I’m glad they spent the money, as it adds a little extra gloss to the scenes of the suffragettes, led by Ellen and Elizabeth, gleefully trashing the house of Arthur Granville, M.P. (Harold Innocent). Rose, tagging along in a vain attempt to keep Elizabeth out of trouble, is arrested with all the others and that’s where the trouble really begins.

Elizabeth is spared jail-time thanks to the intervention of Julius Karekin (Donald Burton) but Rose is not so fortunate – she faces the unnerving prospect of two months in Holloway Prison. Elizabeth retires to Julius’ palatial house for tea and acid banter (she’s more than a little miffed that he’s prevented her from becoming another suffragette martyr).

At this point in the story, Elizabeth does express concern about Rose’s situation, although she makes no particular move to win her freedom. Had she called her father then no doubt he could have pulled some strings, but Elizabeth is keen to keep this from him (swearing Edward and Ruby to secrecy). And it says a great deal about her character (none of it good) that she couldn’t be bothered to visit Rose in prison.

When the by now wretched Rose hears that she’s got a visitor, she eagerly rushes out (expecting it to be Miss Elizabeth). The sight of Edward and Ruby is small comfort, as is the cake brought by Ruby (Rose has been forced by the others to undertake a hunger strike).

And this is where the story gets even darker, as the women are later force-fed with a tube (either down the throat or up the nose).  Whilst we don’t see it used on screen, Ellen’s later description of it (and the hoarse voices of the women after their “treatment”) more than adequately paints the picture.

These prison sequences – despite the odd wobbling wall – are pretty uncompromising, and since the blameless Rose is one of those suffering there’s even more impact. Luckily, both for Rose and the audience, the suffragettes are released shortly afterwards thanks to the intervention of Julius (spurred on by Elizabeth’s description of their plight).

And although a seemingly chirpy Rose tells Elizabeth that she’ll be “right as a trivet” once she’s had a cup of tea, the fact that the episode ends with Rose – all alone – dissolving into tears, tells its own story.

Elizabeth and Julius disappear upstairs. Elizabeth might have displayed contrition to Rose and agreed that the life of a suffragette wasn’t for her, you don’t really get the feeling that she’s learnt anything from this adventure. Indeed, as has happened previously, she simply blithely sails on – unheeding of the damage left behind her.

It’s not jolly Sunday evening fare, but A Special Mischief lingers long in the memory. With only a small regular cast, there’s room for some nicely judged guest performances (Rosamund Greenwood, Veronica Doran and Deirdre Costello as three of the more prominent suffragettes, for example).

Secret Army – Second Chance (5th October 1977)

Rear-gunner Eric Finch (Paul Copley) is seeking refuge in Switzerland (Finch, sickened by the war, is determined not to return to England to fight again). A bargeman called Hans Van Broecken (Gunnar Möller) offers to help, but can he be trusted?

An uncompromising episode, from early on there’s an air of doom that settles around Eric Finch. Injured, weary and frightened, he’s a far cry from most of the airmen we’ve met in the series so far. One or two have been a touch on the nervy side, but in the main they’ve all been rather gung-ho and blithely unconcerned about their fate.

Another British airman, Alan (Richard Austin) who briefly features today, certainly falls into this latter category. Sidelined with a foot injury, he’s anxious to get up and about but still has time to flirt with Lisa (surprisingly, Lisa is quite keen to respond – which is the first time we’ve seen her in quite so playful a mood).

There’s no such jollity with Finch though, who’s deftly brought to life thanks to Paul Copley’s sensitive performance. Late on in the episode he’s given a very decent speech in which he outlines his philosophy – not only to Van Broecken and his wife, Lena (Marianne Stone) but also to Natalie and Curtis who have been brought in to try and help.

Matching Copley’s fine performance, are two equally good turns from Gunnar Möller and Marianne Stone. To begin with, both Finch and the viewer at home might be unsure whether Hans can be trusted – he claims he wants to help, but at times he casts a sinister shadow. This is only heightened when he reveals that he’s not, as he initially claimed, Dutch but is in fact German. But as a German deserter from the First World War, he’s able to sympathise instantly with the slightly crumpled and pathetic figure of Finch.

Lena is more fearful though – not only for herself and her husband should Finch be discovered, but she’s also been worn down by the strain of Hans’ double life over the last twenty years or more.

Hans and Lena will both return later in the series, but Finch is less fortunate – coldly sacrificed by Lifeline in order that they can strengthen their reputation with the German authorities. It’s a chilling moment, although it’s only afterwards that a few questions bubble to the surface – most notably, what would have happened if Finch hadn’t been shot dead? Had the Gestapo questioned him, it’s certain he would have revealed all he knew about the escape line (Curtis, Natalie, etc) so surely Curtis was running an incredible risk by betraying him.

But on the positive side, it means that Gestapo man Dupont (David Trevena) is now be happy that the Candide is a hotbed of collaborators and will no longer keep them under surveillance. The future ghost of Allo! Allo! is strong with Dupont – maybe it’s the hat or the spectacles, but there’s something unintentionally comic about him. Oh, and why choose an undercover man who sticks out a mile as he does? Yes, maybe that has its positives, but surely selecting someone who blends in just a little would have been more sensible.

Other brief items to report – Hetty Baynes makes her first appearance as bitchy Candide waitress Yvonne (Yvonne and Monique entertain themselves by spitting fire at each other), Monique sings for the first time and Curtis and Lisa continue to enjoy an awkward relationship – not least because of the possible feelings each has for the other.

Second Chance is quite an ironic title, as Finch was denied one. The way the Candide regulars react to his death is quite instructive – Monique is shaken whilst Curtis confesses to feeling rather sick. On the other hand, Albert, Lisa and Natalie appear to shrug it off more easily. Natalie is by far the most outspoken, telling the others that they risk their lives to get airmen back to the UK (since Finch didn’t want to fight any more, he now has his wish).

Whether she’s really so ruthless or is simply good at compartmentalising her feelings is something that the viewer will have to decide for themselves. The first of a handful of Secret Army scripts by James Andrew Hall, the quality of this one suggests that the others will be worth looking out for.

Secret Army – Child’s Play (28th September 1977)

Brandt is given an article written by an American airman who escaped over the Pyrenees. Although the writer changed many details in order to safeguard the identities of the people who helped him, Brandt still believes that he can use it to pinpoint the escape line. So he travels into the French countryside, meeting up with a policeman called Malaud (Ian McCulloch) ….

If you watch enough of Gerard Glaister’s series, then you’ll see the same faces cropping up time and time again. That’s evident today, as Child’s Play’s key role is taken by Ian McCulloch, who had previously appeared in the Colditz episode Odd Man In.

Coincidentally (or maybe not) both episodes were written by Arden Winch.  This would be his only Secret Army credit, but he’d work with Glasiter again (in 1981 for example, writing the six-part thriller Blood Money which starred a gaggle of former Secret Army actors – Bernard Hepton, Juliet Hammond-Hill and Stephen Yardley).

Child’s Play is an oddly static tale. Several lengthy two-handed scenes between McCulloch and Michael Culver take up a fair amount of its running time – but whilst on the surface everything seems fairly mundane (Brandt and Malaud slowly debating where the safe house could be) the combative interaction between them is very nicely done.

Unlike Kessler, Brandt is conciliatory – happy to pay for information that leads to the arrest of British airmen. Malaud, a capable officer exiled to a countryside backwater because of his ‘crime’ of speaking his mind, seems initially reluctant to help – but eventually does so. Not for money (to Brandt’s surprise) but simply as a way of proving to his superiors that he’s still a good policeman.

Malaud is outspoken in his loathing of the Gestapo (understandable, since they’d previously pulled out his fingernails). Kesller wouldn’t have stood for this sort of talk, but Brandt (of the Luftwaffe) just lets it go by. It’s an early indication that Brandt is no fanatical Nazi, unlike his Brussels colleague.

We meet Sophie and Madeline Chantal (Mary Barclay and Ruth Gower) for the first time. A pair of elderly sisters, they’re an important link the escape route – Madeline is the suspicious one, whilst Sophie is warm-hearted and welcoming (always keen to greet new airmen and sorry when they have to leave so suddenly).

As for today’s airmen (played by Jonathan Coy, Jonathan Darvill, Nigel Greaves and Richard Reeves) they’re fairly anonymous types – albeit several are rather boisterous and irritating. Maybe this was intentional, although it means that when Brandt and Malaud capture them I can’t confess to being too upset.

Thankfully they’d left Sophie and Madeline by then, so at least the sisters live to fight another day.

Given that earlier in the episode Malaud was very pessimistic about locating the safehouse, it seems a little hard to swallow that he later pinpoints it without too much trouble. But it does mean that the pace dramatically lifts during last fifteen minutes, as Lisa is forced to abandon the airmen to their fate whilst she goes into hiding with Baroja (Ken Stott). Later, they’re discovered by Malaud ….

Back in Brussels there’s not too much to report. An unseen Andree contains to cast long shadows over Albert and Monique. It’s fascinating that she won’t actually reappear in person until episode thirteen, but a few knocks on the ceiling means that her presence is still well and truly felt today.

James Bree and Maria Charles share a nice scene in which, once again, Louise expresses her fears for her husband and her niece. In retrospect, knowing how things turn out, these moments carry a little extra weight.

Thanks to Ian McCulloch in full-on brood mode, Child’s Play isn’t without interest. It’s not the best that the series had to offer, but Arden Winch was one of those writers who, over the course of twenty years or so, contributed to a varied selection of drama series, so any examples of his work will always be of interest.  It’s slightly surprising that he never wrote for SA again, as his work on, say, Manhunt and Colditz suggest it would have suited him very well.

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.

Secret Army – Sergeant on the Run (14th September 1977)

Although they’ve barely had time to become acquainted, already the enmity between Kessler and Brandt is simmering away nicely. On observing Kessler’s departure to personally locate evading British airmen, Brandt is mildly amused. “Isn’t there a saying about having a dog and barking oneself?”

Kessler icily counters that he bites rather than barks and follows this up by stating that “I suspect there is one fundamental difference between us. My work matters to me”. Not the beginning of a beautiful friendship then, but the conflict between them (sometimes open, sometimes concealed) will provide the motor which drives many episodes during Secret Army‘s first two series.

There’s a lot to enjoy in John Brason’s Sergeant on the Run, even if certain parts (which I’ll get to in a minute) are rather baffling. Positives first. There’s a noticeable shift in tone from the series’ opening episode in terms of how the escaping airman are portrayed. In Willis Hall’s script everyone seemed to treat it as a bit of lark, but that’s certainly not the case here.

A fair amount of this episode was shot on film. Director Viktors Ritelis certainly makes his mark during a lengthy film sequence set in a café. Three extremely nervous British airmen are waiting to be collected – all they have to do is act naturally, but even that seems beyond them.

You could argue that Ritelis’ work is a little showy and obvious (a close up on a fly trapped in some flypaper mirroring the desperation of the airmen as they see enemies all around them) but all these visual touches manage to create a sense of tension and unease which – due to the length of the scene – becomes almost unbearable.

When eventually the airmen are spotted by some German soldiers, two make a break for it and are shot dead. The third, Sergeant Walker (Martin Burrows), hides and eventually slips away.

My first query is why the Germans didn’t seem to realise that there were three suspects not two. There were three meals on the table, so why not hunt for the missing third man? Maybe they were just happy with shooting two ….

Given the episode title, we’re now set up to assume that Walker’s evasion from capture will be the focus of the story from now on. Well, not really. After some more disorientating film work he’s rather easily picked up and delivered into Kessler’s hands.

Burrows excels at teasing out Walker’s character – he’s no laconic hero, rather he’s a bewildered and frightened young man desperately searching for a way out.  When he spies that there’s no guard on the door (yes, really – Kessler’s security leaves a lot to be desired) he makes a break for it. Having only got a few hundred yards he chucks himself over the stairwell, plummeting down multiple floors, rather than face recapture.

This is another well executed film sequence – not only Walker’s fall (which looks pretty convincing) but also its sequel, where an incensed Kessler attempts to question the bloody and broken Sergeant while an appalled Brandt looks on. Their brief battle of wills – won by Brandt who orders an ambulance – is another of those moments that’s a gift for both Culver and Rose.

Another plot oddity is that our first glance at Walker in hospital shows him to be in a pretty bad way – a bandaged leg in traction, arm in a sling, neckbrace – and yet shortly afterwards he’s lost all of these things and looks pretty much like his old self. And then a scene or two later he’s beginning to walk with crutches and gets on with them so well that he’s able to hotfoot it away from the doctor (Brandt’s guards – like Kessler’s – seem woefully inadequate).

Whilst all this is going on, the Candide regulars are beginning to enjoy some more character development. Albert and Monique share a nice relaxed scene in which Albert wistfully recalls the first time they met (this brief moment of peace is rudely interrupted by the angry knocking of Albert’s bed-ridden wife). We don’t actually see her in this episode, but then we don’t need to – just the banging and Monique’s anguish at being the mistress of a man still guiltily devoted to his wife tells us all we need to know.

The end of the episode feels like it could have done with a redraft, but since John Brason was also the series’ script editor he had no-one to blame but himself. Walker, having endured a nightmarish travelogue, hasn’t found anyone to help him (his inability to speak the language being a bit of a problem). Having collapsed on the street in despair, he’s immediately collected by two ambulance men.

In the next and final scene Albert tells the others that Walker is dead – shot with a German bullet. Since we’ve already seen Albert preparing a gun, the inference is clear (Walker, a weak man who knows far too much about the escape line, has been silenced for the good of Lifeline). 

What’s slightly jarring is the fact that Albert didn’t seem to be present when Walker was picked up, not to mention that if they’d got him to the ambulance, surely they then could have taken him to a safe house (no German soldiers seemed to be in the area).

Albert as killer is a powerful way to end the episode, demonstrating even this early on that he’s quite prepared to do any dirty work that’s required (it won’t be the last time either). It’s just a pity that the moment seems slightly bungled – and this, not to mention the way the Germans lose Walker twice, slightly drags the episode down.

A pity, because otherwise it’s a taut tale thanks to Martin Burrows’ turn as Walker. Surprising that his film and television credits were so slight (seven other roles between 1977 and 1982) as he more than holds his own here.

Secret Army – Lisa, Codename Yvette (7th September 1977)

The debut episode of Secret Army, Lisa – Codename Yvette is required to hit the ground running as it has to introduce all of the regular characters and set up the parameters of the series within the space of fifty minutes.

Willis Hall’s script deftly achieves this, although with so much ground to cover it’s not surprising that fairly broad brush strokes are used (future episodes will begin to explore the recurring cast in more detail).

At the Candide (in its series one incarnation as a fairly earthy café/bar) Albert is in charge – caught between his bedridden and suspicious wife (Andree) and his mistress (Monique). Also on hand is Natalie whilst Alain (later established as the escape line’s radio operator) spends this episode pounding the streets.

Albert might run the Candide, but the escape line (Lifeline) is controlled by Lisa Colbert, who, as the episode title suggests, has the codename of Yvette. Why Lisa should be the only member of Lifeline to have a codename is never made clear.

Working as an assistant to Dr. Keldermans allows her to break curfew whilst the doctor’s surgery is a useful place to temporarily store airmen in transit. Lisa’s uncle and aunt – Gaston and Louise – also make an appearance. Gaston is a key Lifeline member (handling documents) whilst Louise, apparently, remains ignorant about her niece’s and husband’s extra-curricular activities.

Over in Britain, Flight Lt. John Curtis, who has knowledge of Lifeline’s work, prepares to return to Brussels in order to act as a liaison between the escape line and the airmen.

On the German side, there’s Major Erwin Brandt, the cliché of the ‘good German’ – a Luftwaffe officer who – whilst keen to capture all the British airmen he can – has a humane streak. No such humanity can be detected in Sturmbannführer Ludwig Kessler – the newly assigned Gestapo officer for the area.

As I said, that’s quite a hefty cast list (not to mention today’s guest artistes who also have to be catered for).

Particular highlights today include Bernard Hepton’s weary Albert (juggling a wife and a lover, not to mention escaping airmen, obviously isn’t good for the nerves) and the early conflict between Brandt and Kessler.

At certain points in the series, the Germans emerge as the more interesting and three-dimensional characters and we get an early taste of that here. The episode opens with Brandt and his men searching a farmhouse for a suspected evader – they find nothing, but take the farmer and his wife away for questioning (leaving two young children behind). After they’ve gone, Natalie escapes from her hiding place (those German soldiers weren’t very good then) and tells the children that their parents will be home soon. Her words seem brittle and unconvincing, but when Albert agrees it’s likely, we feel a little better.

But our optimism turns out to be misplaced as Kessler later tells Brandt that he’s shipped all four members of the family to a concentration camp. Even though it happens off screen, it still has quite an impact. This moment ties into a comment earlier in the episode where a fairly boisterous airman is told that if he’s caught he’ll be sent to a prisoner of war camp – but those who have helped him will more than likely be killed. It’s an early reminder of just how high the stakes are for every member of Lifeline and their associates.

It’s also established that Lifeline have no connection with the resistance or any other escape routes. This helps to keep them safe but also isolates them.

If anybody suffers for lack of characterisation in this episode then it’s the British airmen. They’re fairly anonymous types – although one stands out a little (because he’s played by Neil Dickson, later to portray the ultimate WW1 flying ace, Biggles).

Kenneth Ives’ direction has a few unusual touches, such as the handheld camerawork when Curtis returns to the Candide and is questioned by a suspicious Lisa (offhand I can’t remember a great deal of handheld camerawork in this era of vt drama).

Back to April 1977 (27th April 1977)

First stop is The Peacemaker, an episode from the third and final series of Survivors. Written by Roger Parkes it was the first of three scripts he contributed to series three (having already penned two episodes the year before). Parkes had an interestingly varied career – beginning with ITC series like The Prisoner and Man in a Suitcase before plying his trade during the seventies with the likes of Doomwatch, Crown Court, The Onedin Line, Blakes 7 and Z Cars (amongst others).

The M*A*S*H boxset has been sitting on my shelf for a number of years, so I might as well dust it down in order to enjoy a repeat of Check-Up.

Over on ITV there’s a repeat of Bless This House. The Frozen Limit is the episode in question (in which Sid and Jean buy a fridge freezer with the inevitable hilarious consequences).

For more light relief there’s Coronation Street. In today’s episode Alf, Fred, Renee and Mavis go fishing and have a day to remember. Renee ends up in the river (the stuntperson performing an athletic forward roll) and Mavis gamely jumps in to save her.

Back to April 1977 (26th April 1977)

First up today is Z Cars. Transit is an episode from the series’ penultimate run and like a fair number of the seventies episodes I’ve sampled, it’s reasonable enough fare (although far less compelling than the series’ early sixties heyday).

Having caught up with the Play for Today repeat yesterday, tonight it’s the sequel – The Country Party. Again written by Brian Clark and starring Peter Barkworth, this one isn’t as memorable as The Saturday Party, but there’s plenty of familiar faces in the cast (such as Tom Georgeson, Donald Pickering and Malcolm Terris). Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson share the screen together, possibly the first time they did so (they had earlier both appeared in several episodes of You Must Be Joking! but I’m not sure if they were on screen at the same time).

Following the recent announcement of Eric Chappell’s death, I’ve been dipping into his back catalogue during the last few days, so tonight’s series three episode of Rising Damp is just the ticket. Rigsby takes Miss Jones for a spin in his new sports car (with the inevitable hilarious consequences).  Tonight’s episode features a nice guest turn from the always reliable Derek Francis.

Back to April 1977 (25th April 1977)

I’ve fired up the Randomiser, which has taken me back to 1977 to spend a week riffling through the television schedules. Hope there’s some good programmes to watch ….

There’s something pleasing about Monty Python and Q6 sitting next to each other on BBC2 (especially since the Pythons were always quick to acknowledge the debt they owed to Spike). Today’s edition of Python hails from the first series (Man’s Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century) which is fine by me, as it’s probably the run of episodes I return to the most.

Given the lengthy gap between Q5 and Q6, Milligan was on top form throughout most of Q6 (later series tended to crop up more regularly and were much more bitty).

I’ve just started rewatching Don’t Forget to Write! so that’s going on the list. This programme always has a slightly odd feel for me – it could easily have fitted into a 30 minute sitcom slot, but instead was a 50 minute non-audience drama/comedy. George Cole, Gwen Watford with Francis Matthews head the cast.

The BBC schedules are stuffed with repeats today. Apart from Python and Q6 on BBC2 there’s also Poldark and Play for Today on BBC1. The Play for Today repeat makes sense as the sequel to this play will be broadcast tomorrow, so I’ll be tuning in for both of them (anything with Peter Barkworth is worth a look).

All of this means that I won’t have much time over on ITV, although if I’ve a spare half hour then there’s always Coronation Street.

Back to April 1979 (4th April 1979)

During the next seven days I’ll be sampling April’s schedules between 1979 and 1985. As before, I’m only going to choose programmes that I can actually source from my archive, so anything which looks intriguing but I don’t have will have to be sadly passed over. Let’s dive in ….

BBC1 offers a repeat of Happy Ever After which is followed by a repeat of Accident (no doubt the high preponderance of repeats was irritating certain viewers).

Accident has reached episode two, Take Your Partners. It’s an interesting series, which focuses on the ramifications of the same event (a multi vehicle accident) from different perspectives. This gives it a similar feel to Villains (LWT, 1972). There’s no shortage of good actors across the series’ eight episodes and this was one of three directed by the always reliable Douglas Camfield.

Over on ITV, there’s chicken issues in Coronation Street (a short-lived but nevertheless amusing plotline which sees an initially reluctant Hilda transformed into a doting fowl lover). Later I’ll be crossing over to BBC2 for the start of a new series – Q8. By this point, Spike Milligan’s idiosyncratic sketch show defies any sort of description – but, if you’re in the right mood, there’s usually some nuggets of gold still to be found.

On this day (8th January)

1937: The Removals Person, the first episode of Six Dates With Barker, was broadcast on ITV in 1971.

Although Six Dates With Barker doesn’t look to have been set up as a breeding ground for subsequent television series or film projects, three episodes did go on to have a life outside the series.

Spike Milligan’s The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town was revised and expanded for The Two Ronnies, The Odd Job by Bernard McKenna was developed into a film (with David Jason reprising his role and Graham Chapman replacing Ronnie Barker) and The Removals Person by Hugh Leonard was rehashed in 1988 by Ronnie Barker as Clarence.

A Land Fit for Heroes and Idiots, the first episode of When The Boat Comes In, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1976.

Created by James Mitchell (and as far removed from Callan as you could imagine) When The Boat Comes In is one of those period programmes that’s aged very well.  Possibly series four (which aired in 1981, some three years after the series had apparently come to a conclusion) doesn’t quite match the earlier runs, but overall my impression is that it was always pretty consistent. Another one that I think I’ll add to the 2022 rewatch pile.

Horse Sense, the first episode of All Creatures Great and Small, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1978.

Perfect Sunday evening viewing (even though it began on Saturdays) this first television incarnation of All Creatures was as well cast as you could have possibly hoped for. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them all, so I’m tempted to consider a rewatch – although considering it’s only the 7th of January and I’ve already got a tottering rewatch pile, maybe I’ll hold off for a while ….

Hail the Conquering Hero, the first episode of Shine On Harvey Moon, was broadcast on ITV in 1982.

Something of a neglected gem, Shine On Harvey Moon was a series which featured a fine ensemble cast headed by Kenneth Cranham as Harvey.  Nicky Henson made a decent fist of the role when he replaced Cranham in the 1990’s revival, but he never displayed the same sparkle that Cranham always had.

The immediate post WW2 setting is an interesting one – a Britain of shortages and economies provides plenty of scope for both drama and comedy. In some ways this opening episode has a feel of When The Boat Comes In‘s debut, albeit with a much lighter tone.

It’s a pity that the DVD release of the early series was very comprised – originally airing in 25 minute episodes, they were re-edited into 50 minute form for the DVD release (losing large chunks of various episodes along the way).

A decent DVD re-release or another television rescreening (it turned up on the Yesterday channel a while back) would be very welcome.

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, the first episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, was broadcast on ITV in 1989.

It’s a funny thing, but back in 1989 I was impatient for the series to start tackling the novels and found these early adaptations of the short stories rather flimsy. Thirty years on, my opinion’s totally switched around (mainly because some of the tv versions of key novels – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with the chase ending, say – rather tried my patience).

Many of the stories adapted for the first few series were originally published in the 1920’s in magazine form and were fairly brisk in terms of word count. That means that the adaptors have plenty of room to add incidental colour (mostly this works pretty well).

David Suchet is, of course, excellent as Poirot. In 1989 he might have been a little too young (and a little too slim, even with padding) but in all other respects he had the character of the little Belgian dandy nailed right from the start.

On this day (4th January)

The first episode of Ivanhoe was broadcast on BBC1 in 1970.

Adapted by Alexander Baron in ten parts, this Classic Serial was directed by David Maloney, so you can expect to see plenty of familiar faces (such as Graham Weston, John Franklyn-Robbins, Hugh Walters, Tim Preece, Bernard Horsfall and Noel Coleman) filling out the cast.

Eric Flynn cuts a dash as Ivanhoe with the always dependable Anthony Bate as his nemesis, Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert. Vivian Brooks and Clare Jenkins supply the female interest.

Released on DVD by Simply Media in 2017, I reviewed it at the time and it’s still an enjoyable watch – albeit with the usual strengths and weaknesses of the Classic Serial from this era.

The Prisoner of Spenda, the first episode of Carry on Laughing, was broadcast on ITV in 1975.

Hmm, I wonder what novel this could be based on?

There’s a good reason why the television incarnation of the Carry On franchise doesn’t receive the same number of rescreenings as its big screen counterpart (they’re not very good) but approached in the right mood it’s still possible to derive some enjoyment from most of them.

This one features most of the main Carry On players (one notable absentee was Kenneth Williams, who loathed the whole idea) and at 22 minutes it’s brisk enough.

The first episode of The Prince and the Pauper was broadcast on BBC1 in 1976.

Another Classic Serial debuting on this day, The Prince and the Pauper boasts an impressive duel performance from Nicholas Lyndhurst as well as the usual strong supporting cast. With Barry Letts directing, it’s no surprise that CSO comes into play – the meeting between Prince Edward and Tom Canty is excellently done (the mirror shot still looks very good today).

Another Classic Serial released by Simply Media, you can read my full review here.

The first episode of Clarence was broadcast on BBC1 in 1988.

Ronnie Barker’s sitcom farewell is a series that I’ve never warmed to – the single joke premise (Clarence is a short-sighted removals man) wore pretty thin when the character (with a different name though) appeared back in 1971, so a whole series based around this concept has never seemed inviting to me. Still, Barker and Josephine Tewson are always worth watching, so maybe I’ll give it another go this year.

Iain Cuthbertson, born in 1930.

I’ve chosen Mutiny, an episode from The Onedin Line‘s first series, as my anniversary Cuthbertson programme. It sounds promising – Cuthbertson plays the dangerously unstable Captain Kirkwood with the likes of Kevin Stoney and John Thaw also making appearances. It’s written by Ian Kennedy Martin (his sole script for the series).

On this day (2nd January)

Four of a Kind, the first episode of Z Cars, was originally broadcast on BBC Television in 1962.

So it’s the sixtieth anniversary of Z Cars (looks in vain for BBC4 documentary and extensive repeat season. Ho hum).

This opening episode hits the ground running by deftly establishing the differing personas of the four policeman selected for the new crime patrols (Lynch, Steele, Smith, Weir) and their two bosses (Barlow, Watt).

It’s true that broad brushstrokes are used though – Lynch is a garrulous Irishman, Steele might knock his wife about but we’re assured he’s a good chap really, Fancy is a ridiculously confident Teddy Boy and Jock … ah poor Jock (he very much gets the short end of the stick in this debut episode, only being called upon to mumble a few incoherent words).

Fare Forward Voyagers, the first episode of Manhunt, was originally broadcast on ITV in 1970.

The premise of the series is simple – Nina (Cyd Hayman) has vital information about the French resistance networks. The Germans desperately want it, but so do the British – which means that Jimmy (Alfred Lynch) and Vincent (Peter Barkworth) have to somehow spirit her out of occupied France and back to London.

Rewatching this opener, it’s impossible not to nitpick a little – how did Nina escape after the Germans gunned down every other member of the Paris resistance cell? We’re never told (and given how hysterical she is for most of the episode, it’s difficult to see how she could have gone more than a few paces).

And why are the Germans so trigger happy? If they hadn’t massacred everyone, then Nina wouldn’t be such a valuable property.

All of the three regulars have a tricky time in this episode, as their characters are so extreme – Jimmy’s a wisecracking RAF pilot, Vincent’s a cold-hearted killer and Nina’s little more than a bundle of nerves. Putting the three of them together seems like a recipe for disaster, but hopefully they’ll settle down over the course of the next 25 (!) episodes. Given that Secret Army tended to spirit British airmen out of Belgium in a single episode, 26 episodes to get Nina over to Britain seems rather generous ….

The fine guest performances of Peter Copley, Andrew Keir and Yootha Joyce are one of the saving graces of Fare Forward Voyagers. Keir is especially impressive as the doomed Robespierre, a radio operator who sacrifices himself in order to allow Jimmy, Nina and Vincent the chance to escape.

Ringer, the first episode of The Sweeney, was broadcast on ITV in 1975.

Following the Armchair Cinema ‘pilot’ in 1974, The Sweeney burst onto our screens with this effort. Subtle it isn’t (the closing punch up is so ridiculously over the top that I’ve never been sure if it’s supposed to be tongue in cheek or not) but overall the episode is still rather bracing.

Brian Blessed (with a stick on beard) and Ian Hendry are the main guest stars whilst there’s plenty of familiar faces (Ray Mort, June Brown, Alan Lake, Angus Mackay) also present and correct.

The Way Back, the first episode of Blakes 7, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1978.

This dystopian tale of thought control and (thankfully trumped up) charges of child abuse had a surprisingly early evening slot. Fair to say that The Way Back is very much a one-off as the following 51 episodes never recaptured the tone of this opening installment.

Writing (or at least credited for) all 13 episodes of the first series, it’s not surprising that Terry Nation’s at his sharpest here. As time wore on and inspiration began to dry up, his scripts became rather more perfunctory.

All Memories Great and Small – Expanded Edition by Oliver Crocker (Book Review)

With one notable exception (Doctor Who) the production histories of many British television programmes aren’t terribly well documented. There are exceptions of course (the sterling work carried out by Andrew Pixley for a variety of series, David Brunt’s painstaking Z Cars tomes and recent books about programmes as diverse as Star Cops and The Brothers have all been more than welcome).

Until the original edition of All Memories Great and Small in 2016, the BBC version of All Creatures was one of those neglected series, but Oliver Crocker’s wonderfully exhaustive book certainly rectified that. Now reissued with additional interviews and fascinating production information for 35 of the series’ 90 episodes, it’s better than ever.

Since the original publication, several of the interviewees (such as Bill Sellars and Robert Hardy) have sadly passed away, which makes the book even more of a valuable resource as there’s no substitute for first hand recollections. The roster of those who agreed to be interviewed is impressive – not only key regulars such as Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Carol Drinkwater and Peter Davison, but also a plethora of guest stars and behind the scenes crew who are able to share many stories about the series’ production.

The icing on this particularly succulent cake has to be a slew of wonderful production photographs with the odd studio floor plan thrown in for good measure,

The format of All Memories Great And Small is straightforward and effective. Each episode (from Horse Sense in 1978 to the final Christmas Special in 1990) is given its own chapter. All have reminiscences from a variety of contributors (some specific to that episode, some more general) whilst selected episodes also contain production info (handy if you’re looking to pinpoint specific locations used, for example).

Clocking in at just over 400 pages, it’s plain that this book was a real labour of love. If you’ve got the original edition then it’s still worth an upgrade for the additional material. But if you’ve yet to buy it and have any interest in the BBC series, then All Memories Great and Small is an essential purchase. An absolute treasure trove of a resource, I know that it’ll be something I’ll return to again and again in the future.

All Memories Great and Small can be ordered directly from Devonfire Books via this link or from them via this Amazon link.

Secret Army – A Matter of Life and Death (6th December 1978)

Poor hapless Francois (Nigel Williams) bites the dust ….

Hardly the most rounded or interesting character, at least he’s given a starring role in his final episode.

The fact he and Natalie are especially lovey-dovey today is an early hint that something rather nasty will happen to him. This bad feeling is then compounded by his refusal to seek the advice of Albert – he’s keen to go it alone and speak to the Communists, who have located two British airmen (even though Francois is warned that they play by their own barsh rules and don’t work well with outsiders).

Max and the Communist leader, Phillipe (Michael Graham Cox), have been planning the takeover of Lifeline, with Albert and Monique to be liquidated. So the cheery Francois turning up on their doorstep is the last thing they need.

Max’s next move (anonymously informing on Francois to Kessler) carries a certain punch, especially since earlier in the episode they had seemed to be on friendly terms (Francois giving Max some materials which would prove more than useful in his forging activities). Although by now it’s plain that Max is more than capable of appearing affable on the surface whilst remaining cold and calculating underneath.

The two airmen holed up with the Communists remain shadowy characters. Much more time is spent with another pair – Tommy Miller (John Flanagan) and Joseph Walden (Leonard Preston) – who have been wandering the countryside looking for help.

Having been turned away from a church by a frightened priest, they land on their feet when an affable baker called Victor Herve (Duncan Lamont) takes them under his wing. Lamont gives, as you’d expect, an excellent guest turn in what would turn out to be one of his final television credits.

Anyone who has worked their through the series up to this point has to marvel at the way so many British airmen manage to latch onto someone who has direct contact to Lifeline. I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but you just have to accept it.

With Miller and Walden being straightforward, affable chaps there’s not a great deal of drama to be found in their part of the story (although we’re left hanging for a short while before it’s finally confirmed whether Victor is a friend or foe – the casting of Lamont was a canny move in this respect, as he was equally adept at playing both).

As has been his lot for most of series two, Bernard Hepton doesn’t have a great deal to do as Albert remains firmly stuck inside the Candide and somewhat buffeted along by events outside. This works in story terms though – Albert’s complacency and inactivity convinces Max that takIng control of Lifeline will be easy.

Francois gets a dramatic death – shot on a railway platform whilst a helpless Natalie looks on in distress (it’s a peach of a reaction moment for Juliet Hammond-Hill). The third of four SA scripts by Robert Barr, A Matter of Life and Death never drags, even if the outcome of events seems inevitable from early on.

But it’s what’s going to happen now with Max and Lifeline that’s the more intriguing question.

Blakes 7 coming to Forces TV – September 2021

Blakes 7 will be teleporting to Forces TV (Sky 181, Freeview 96, Freesat 165, Virgin 274) from next month.

For us old sweats who have the series on DVD (and before that VHS) this won’t be news to get the pulse racing, but it’s always worth bearing in mind that most people have never really assembled DVD archives of any size, so this will be their first opportunity to see the series for a few decades (and it might even pick up a few new fans along the way).

Forces TV have made some interesting digs into the BBC archives recently (such as No Place Like Home, which was only ever partly commercially available) and hopefully they will continue in this vein.

Colditz – Name, Rank and Number (2nd November 1972)

The third of three pre-Colditz episodes, this one centres around the travails of Lt. Dick Player (Christopher Neame). Having already followed an army officer (Pat) and a member of the air force (Simon) it makes sense not to leave the navy out, which is where Lt Player comes in.

Washed ashore in France, Player is taken to a nearby hospital. The French doctor who deals with him is either on his side or rather incompetent (he tells a keen as mustard German officer that Player won’t be in a fit state to be interviewed for at least two days – but as soon as the pair leave, Player opens his eyes and begins to plan his escape).

As Player moves through the hospital, there’s a vague element of farce to his frantic attempts to pinch some clothes (rather reminiscent of Jon Pertwee’s debut Doctor Who story). For example, he steals some trousers (much to the indignant chagrin of their owner) and, when looking for shoes, initially comes across a nice ladies pair.

The episode boasts some well played cameo performances. The first comes from Alistair Meldrum as a chatty German soldier who runs into the absconding Player. Next up is David Garfield as Diels (he’s the sort of actor – rather like Michael Sheard – who portrays cold German officers with casual ease).

Recaptured and forced to admit his identity, Player is interrogated by two Gestapo officers (played by Nigel Stock and Terrence Hardiman). Their scenes together are a highlight of the episode – Stock’s character (the senior of the two) appears to be full of bluster whilst the other (Hardiman) is seemingly more friendly. But you must always be wary of a friendly Gestapo officer ….

Hardiman, of course, would later appear in another Glaister series (Secret Army) playing a not totally dissimilar character. Neame would also be a Secret Army regular for a while (his character was written out at the end of series one).

Player is then released into the care of an old friend, Paul Von Eissinger (John Quentin). That Player has German friends (and indeed, can speak the language like a native) might explain why he’s not immediately slung into a prison camp.

Von Eissinger, like his friend, enjoys a privileged background and professes to be no friend of the Nazis. He paints a compelling picture – Hitler removed from power and an alliance forged between the new Germany and Britain (together they could rule the world). Quentin’s clipped, mannered performance is a slightly odd one, but his dueling dialogue scenes with Neame are still absorbing.

The viewer knows that Player’s brief stint of luxurious living with Von Eissinger will only be transitory, as the price on offer for his freedom is just too great for him to pay. The episode ends with his arrival at Colditz, where he meets some familiar faces (Pat, Simon) and some others that the viewer will get to know during the next few weeks.

These first three episodes have been much more than just padding, but it’s hard to deny that the pulse quickens just a little when we pass through the gates of Oflag IV-C for the first time …