Secret Army – Too Near Home (2nd November 1977)

There’s a palpable sense of unease in this episode – right from the opening few minutes. Lisa visits Sophie (a key link in the escape line) to see if she will take three new evaders. Sophie – genial as ever – is only too happy to help, but Lisa can’t stay in the sanctuary of Sophie’s comfortable house for long. But when she leaves, the problems really begin ….

I think part of the reason why the stakes feel a little higher than usual (even before anything really bad happens) is that we don’t have a Candide scene until we’re about twenty minutes in. Usually, the sight of the Candide serves as a reassurance – no matter how bad things are outside, the Candide is a place where plans can be made and problems solved.

But with no Candide, the real world feels a little harsher. This is demonstrated by the sight of Natalie and two airmen (played by the very recognisable figures of Daniel Hill and John Alkin) sitting shivering on park benches the rain. During these scenes there’s a curious red herring – a woman pushing a pram (containing not a baby, but a doll) is rather conspicuous. Is she a member of the escape line or could she be a spy? Actually she turns out to have nothing to do with the story at all, so it’s odd the way the camera favours her (possibly this was a directorial flourish added by Viktors Ritelis).

Alkin would spend several years in court (Crown Court, that is) while Hill was only at the start of his career. He’d return to Secret Army with a much larger role in the season two story The Big One (and would also work again for Gerard Glasiter in the serials Blood Money and Skorpion). The Welsh accent he essays today came as a bit of a shock, but luckily he only had a handful of lines (boyo).

The first odd piece of plotting occurs after Lisa is arrested. Earlier, Lisa told Sophie that Natalie was on her way with the evaders. That’s fine, but according to Natalie they were waiting in the park for Lisa to lead them to Sophie’s house. That makes no sense – it’s quite clear that Natalie was familiar with Sophie, so why wait for Lisa? Indeed, having two key members of Lifeline in the same place seems to be a bit risky. 

I can see why, in story terms, it happened (Natalie has to be made aware that Lisa had been taken) but it’s just clumsily done. The fact that we never see the airmen again reinforces the point that they existed only to put Lisa into a part of France where she might get picked up.

Lisa visited Julius (Shaun Curry) – a member of the resistance who mughr have had news about Lifeline’s contacts in Paris. Curry and Jan Francis would go on to work together again in Just Good Friends but it’s fair to say that the taciturn Julius is a world away from the ebullient Les Pinner.

Lisa was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Juluis is arrested by the police and Lisa – simply by being there – is guilty by association. She’s interrogated on the spot by Inspector Landre (Gerald James). This was an excellent performance by James – all the more chilling for the fact that Landre remains so calm and matter of fact.

Lisa is sent to a local prison, pending further investigation. It’s the point of the story where you wish that the storyline had been eked out over several episodes as (good though it is) it now has to be concluded in double quick time. And we’ve not yet mentioned the quite substantial secondary plot of today’s episode.

Quickly befriended by her cellmates, Denise (Helen Gill) and Maria (Souad Faress), Lisa is able to prove her identity to the resistance leader, Jan (Damian Thomas), and therefore joins the others in a daring escape attempt. Hmm, okay. As I’ve said, it’s a shame that events now move so fast and it’s also hard to swallow the fact that for about half an hour every evening all the German guards go off for a bite to eat, leaving the prison so deserted that it’s possible just to walk out. Presumably there’s no guards outside, or searchlights, or dogs, or barbed wire. Not much of a prison then.

Still, Gill and Faress do sketch their characters very deftly even though they’re not given that much to work with, and the fact that Denise and Maria don’t escape (and face being shot) helps to rachet up the tension levels even more.

While all this is going on, Gaston finds himself a prisoner of Kessler. There’s excellent work from James Bree, Clifford Rose and Maria Charles during these scenes. If Lisa’s escape never really seems in doubt, then it seems equally clear that poor old Gaston is doomed. Small touches – Gaston’s unshaved face, red-rimmed eyes and askew tie – all help to demonstrate his inner turmoil, even though Bree resists the attempt to go over the top.

Maria Charles does indulge in histrionics, but then Louise (Charles) has just been told that her husband, Gaston, has been shot by the Gestapo, so that’s understandable. Viktors Ritelis throws in a slightly showy, but effective, shot towards the end of the episode. A distressed Maria, wandering the street at night, stops to paint a red V for Victory sign. As she collapses, dragging her hands through the paint, we intercut to Gaston’s death scene again (which eerily mimicked this moment).

If one were being picky (and I can’t help it) you’d have to say that it’s very convenient that Lisa suddenly appears to find her aunt prostate on the floor. It’s also not clear why Kessler – having decided that Gaston is part of the escape line – decides not to question any of his closest relatives (Louise, Lisa).

And finally, it seems slightly strange that nobody interrogates Lisa when she’s in prison or checks out her story. So that when she destroys her file in the prison office, it appears that all records of her arrest are removed and the story is over. That’s obviously not right, as we saw Inspector Landre writing in his notebook, but this is conveniently forgotten.

But minor quibbles apart, this is a top notch episode. Yes, Lisa’s escape can’t help but feel contrived, but it’s contrasted by Gaston’s self-sacrifice (deliberately running towards a guard in the hope he’d be killed before undergoing interrogation).

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.

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).

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.

Secret Army – Guests at God’s Table (29th November 1978)

A badly wounded airman has been found and hidden by a group of street children. Desperate for food and clothing, they attempt to sell him for a handful of Christmas treats ….

Given that a sense of repetition is unavoidable (oh look, it’s another important airman who has to be returned to Britain as quickly as possible) it’s always good when the series does something a little different.

The Group Captain (played by Mark Taylor) remains mute throughout – only occasionally opening his eyes and managing a smile before slumping back into unconsciousness.  So since the focus isn’t on him (we don’t even learn his name) it can instead be directed towards the four grubby children who’ve found him.

They’re led by Wim (Keith Jayne). Easily the most experienced actor of the four, by this point Jayne had already racked up credits in a number of popular series (Upstairs Downstairs, Survivors, Angels, Rumpole of the Bailey, etc).  Marie-Clare (Rachel Beasley) is his trusted lieutenant, with both taking it in turns to look after the two younger children – Bobo and Gaby (John Nani and Natasha Green).

Throughout the story there are numerous reminders that winter is really biting – with things made especially hard by the reduced rations and lack of fuel (Albert has secured a coal supply, but only because he was willing to pay way over the odds). Even the Germans aren’t immune to these cutbacks, with Kessler doing his best to eke some warmth out of his office fire.

Despite this, Monique and Natalie remain in a festive mood – even more so when the demands of the children reaches them. The items they request – clothing, jelly, a doll, etc – are piffling (in total, about the cost of a bottle of wine). So once the reluctant Albert gives the go-ahead, they begin to assemble the box of goodies with glee (Monique even going so far as to raid the till to give them a little extra cash!).

Throughout these scenes, Albert finds himself in the role of a stern father (with Monique and Natalie as a couple of unruly children) but there’s a sign that his bark is worse than his bite.When no-one is looking, he takes some notes from his wallet and adds it to the cash already pilfered from the till.

All this is quite low-key and touching, and that’s how the first half of the episode plays out (as a nice character piece, bereft of tension). But as we reach the conclusion of the story a sense of danger and anxiety begins to build.

Key scene of the episode, in terms of character development amongst the regulars, occurs between Kessler and Brandt. Kessler is concerned about Brandt’s excessive intake of alcohol, but Brandt is more concerned about the rumours he’s heard regarding German atrocities in the East. That the pair choose to have a row in the middle of the Candide only adds a little extra spice – as does the fact that after Kessler leaves, Monique (with Albert’s blessing) shares a drink with Brandt. Albert’s smug expression makes it plain that there could be a weakness to be exploited here.

Max continues to be a mild topic of conversation, with the others wondering what he gets up to when he’s not with them. The audience has long known about his Communist sympathies, but the other Lifeline members remain ignorant – for now.

Max keeps a watching brief on the children – even after they’ve handed over the airman – much to Albert’s puzzlement. Although when it’s revealed that Max was an orphan himself, things become clearer.  The episode’s conclusion – a snow-covered Max gives the children some money before being forced by the Germans to move on – means that things end on a slightly hopeful note. Although with food and fuel becoming scarcer and scarcer, the situation still looks bleak for them.

Guests at God’s Table is a totally studio-bound story, but a well designed street set helps to give the “outdoor” scenes some depth. It’s another strong script from John Brason, SA‘s most prolific writer.

Secret Army – Little Old Lady (22nd November 1978)

Wing Commander Kelso (Andrew Robertson) is required back in Britain as soon as possible. But it won’t be easy to move him – as he sustained severe facial burns when his plane crashed. There are ways though, but will Kelso agree?

The second series of Secret Army has already suffered from some melodramatic music cues, but there’s several in today’s episode which take the biscuit (especially the one during the opening few minutes). Rather than helping to create tension, their over the top nature somewhat dissipates the mood.

Although Albert briefly escapes from the Candide to meet Kelso, he otherwise remains pretty much rooted to the spot. But Hepton does have some decent scenes today, which makes a nice change (he’s been somewhat underused so far during this second series). Albert’s love for the Candide is displayed after someone drops a bomb into the middle of the dining room (luckily it doesn’t go off). More than helping the airmen to escape, more than his relationship with Monique, you do get the sense that Albert’s first love is the Candide – mainly because of the money it makes him.

Albert’s close fraternisation with the likes of Kessler hasn’t gone unnoticed, hence the bomb. We never discover if it was a dummy or whether it had a faulty fuse. But in story terms that doesn’t really matter as it serves to shake everyone up – especially Madeline, who is feeling isolated during Kessler’s absence.  She latches onto Monique and the pair strike up a hesitant friendship – encouraged by Albert (who can see the benefits) and despised by Max (who has no love for collaborators).

One running theme throughout the episode is Madeline’s fur coat, which she gives to Monique. She decides to wear it when taking Kelso down the line and gifts it to him as a parting present (he later throws it away). Amazingly it’s found by a German soldier and Brandt mentions it to Kessler. Could this be a clue that leads Kessler a step closer to discovering that the Candide is the headquarters of Lifeline? Presumably not, but you never know ….

Andrew Robertson gives a solid performance as Kelso. Despite notching up over fifty flying missions, Kelso eschews the aura of a hero – maintaining that he’s simply been lucky. His abrasive nature means that initially he clashes with Monique, but in a not terribly surprising plot twist they part on much better terms.

Things get a little odd mid way through the episode when Kelso decides, for no good reason, to hop off the train he and Natalie are travelling on. Partly this seems to have been done so that Kelso (a locomotive expert) can pinch another train and go chugging down the track. Commandeering a steam engine is not exactly the thing do to if you’re trying to keep a low profile.

Later safely ensconced with Sophie and Madeline (two old ladies who we’ve met before), Kelso is then introduced to Louis-Victor Condé (David King). An experienced actor, he uses his knowledge to instruct Kelso how to masquerade as a woman (as a female he’ll be able to use heavy make up which will disguise his scars). The scene where Louis-Victor fashions a tablecloth into a baby and proceeds to demonstrate the art of the actor is another of those odd moments. It’s certainly an unusual scene for SA.

Francois pops up again. He continues to be Lifeline’s least interesting member as either he’s fretting that Natalie’s in danger or he’s embracing her heartily once she returns.  Max doesn’t have a great deal to do, but Stephen Yardley’s aura of simmering danger is put to good use – particularly when Albert is carted off by the Gestapo. Albert returns later – shaken, but unharmed – although Max continues to brood.

Angela Richards probably comes off best, script wise. Not only does she share a fascinating two-hander with Hazel McBride which helps to bulk up both their characters, but later there’s a handful of strong scenes between Monique and Kelso (who by now is thawing somewhat).

Little Old Lady lacks many moments of real tension, but David Crane’s script is a good character piece and, apart from a few minor plot niggles, works well.

Secret Army – The Big One (15th November 1978)

The RAF mount a massive raid over Berlin – the big one. But things go awry after bombs are dropped short, destroying a residential suburb on the outskirts of the city. Amongst the dead are Brandt’s wife and son ….

The Big One is an episode that could easily have centered totally around the Germans as Lifeline’s contribution is pretty negligible.  Opening with the bombing raid (stock footage mixed in with newly shot material and somewhat melodramatic music cues) we then cross to the Candide, where Brandt is dining with Oberst Neidlinger (Mark Jones).  Neidlinger is the latest oficer attempting to draw Brandt into the conspiracy to kill Hitler, but Brandt still refuses to commit himself.

The conflict between the aristocratic military (as represented by Neidlinger) and the thuggish Gestapo (as represented by Kessler) is given another airing today. Kessler, dining with Madeline, repeats his views on the subject (he’s still fuming about the way the Gestapo is treated with arrogant comtempt by the military elite). The cliché of the good German hovers in the background of this episode, but by the end the lines between Kessler and Brandt have been somewhat blurred.

Brandt travels to Berlin in order to arrange the transfer of his family to a safer location – ironically on the same day that the bombs hit. There’s some more stock footage patched in, along with a small rubble strewn set which is the only bit of desolated Berlin we see. Brandt’s collapse (after he learns of his loss) is nicely underplayed by Michael Culver.

The relationship between Kessler and Madeline inches forward (he gives her a chaste kiss).

I like the way we switch from Lifeline (listening to the BBC radio broadcast stating that 22 RAF aircraft failed to return) to Kessler and Madeline (German wireless reported 45 aircraft shot down). Both Max and Albert have a suspicion that the German figures are more likely to be correct.

Lifeline pick up one airman, Flight Sgt. Bert Lewis (Daniel Hill), but they don’t hold onto him for very long. Frankly it’s not surprising as their interrogation of him is brutal and hectoring. Plot-wise the reason for this is obvious – Lewis, believing they were German spies, later makes a run for it – but given the experience Lifeline have, it’s hard to believe that Monique and Alain would be quite so clumsy.

And this is Lifeline’s major contribution to the story. Whilst a little tension is generated (will Lewis betray any of Lifeline’s secrets?) this falls flat as Lewis doesn’t really know anything about them. So this part of the plot would have played out just the same had Lewis spent a couple of days wandering around the countryside before getting picked up by a German patrol.

Brandt returns to Brussels and is treated to a meal by Kessler. This is a fascinating scene, not least for the way that Brandt behaves (in a very jolly and hyperactive manner). Seemingly shrugging off the death of his wife and son as matters of no consequence, he then playfully begins to mock Kessler’s liaison with Madeline. The reason for doing so is obvious – it’s Brandt’s way of telling Kessler that whilst others may gossip about his totally innocent relationship, he doesn’t (and hopes in turn that Kessler doesn’t read anything into the meetings he’s had with known anti-Hitler officers).

Given that Brandt earlier confessed to being somewhat wary of Kessler, it’s strange that he decided to be quite so blunt. But maybe it’s a sign that he’s not thinking clearly.

Matters come to a head for him during his interrogation (or debriefing, as he calls it) of Lewis. It begins amicably enough, in his trademark friendly style (something which Kessler has long derided). But a still grieving Brandt eventually loses control and takes out his frustration on Lewis. The few minutes leading up to his sudden outburst of violence are mesmerising – it’s framed as a tight two-shot of Brandt and Lewis, which slowly closes in on Brandt as his anger increases.

The Big One is Michael Culver’s episode and he doesn’t disappoint.

Secret Army – Weekend (8th November 1978)

Kessler is taken hostage by two desperate American airmen whilst Lifeline are keen to get their hands on three priceless paintings by Rubens ….

Even those with only a rough working knowledge of ‘Allo! ‘Allo! will be able to spot that this episode was used as the inspiration for the long-running saga of the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies (by Van Klomp).  And whilst the later parody by ‘Allo! ‘Allo! means that the paintings subplot raises a titter (as it were), events later in this episode take a rather grim turn.

I’ve previously raised an eyebrow at some of the series’ plotting and I’ll do so again here. Kessler knows that three paintings by Rubens are stored in a convent somewhere in the country, but he doesn’t know their location. Then up pops Oberleutnant Horst (Christian Roberts) who helpfully tells him exactly where they are. Well, that’s lucky.

Not only that, Lifeline are preparing to take possession of the paintings with the full consent of the Mother Superior (Sylvia Barter) and plan to leave expert forgeries in their place. What were the odds that Kessler and Lifeline would suddenly both decide to take a great interest in art?

For Albert the paintings mean security – at least for a little while. With no money currently coming in from London, once the paintings are sold they will allow the escape route to carry on (although not indefinitely). The shifting objectives of the war are touched upon here, with Albert unhappy at the way London are attempting to take more control (insisting that Communist spies are weeded out from the line). Although given that Albert’s first love has always been money (others in Lifeline may be patriots, Albert is much more mercenary) I’m not quite sure why he doesn’t just go with the flow.

It’s interesting to ponder what Kessler’s motives are. He tells the Mother Superior that the paintings are being taken into protective custody, bemoaning the fact that other art treasures have been looted. Is he telling or truth or does he plan to squirrel them away for his own use?

Christian Roberts gives a nice performance as the hapless Horst. Keen to impress Kessler at every turn, he nevertheless ends up a fellow prisoner after the pair are captured by Peter Harris (Paul Wagar) and Charles McGee (Vincent Marzello). The series has presented us with unpleasant airmen before, but McGee is in a class of his own.

Whilst Harris is mild-mannered and conciliatory, McGee is arrogant and reckless. Both are lucky to stumble across a friend of Lifeline who takes them in for the night – but McGee isn’t prepared to wait around to be collected the following day. Instead he ambushes a car (containing Horst and Kessler) and puts his masterplan into operation. Actually I don’t really think he’s got a plan, so it’s rather fortunate that he happens to stumble across the barge owned by Hans Van Broecken (this seems a tad contrived).

Kessler, now a prisoner on the barge, seems to be deriving a certain pleasure from the situation, confiding to Horst that he rarely has had the chance to study evaders at such close quarters. Clifford Rose, yet again, is on top form – contrast Kessler’s early (and quite informal) conversations with Horst to his later business-like persona.

Another plot oddity concerns the three Rubens. They’re in the boot of Kessler’s abandoned car which is located quite easily by Monique and Max (they swop the originals for the forgeries). How did they know where the car was, especially since it was moved off the main road and hidden?

The episode really springs into life towards the end.  When McGee and Harris finally end up with Lifeline, McGee’s sexist banter doesn’t go down well with either Natalie or Monique. Angela Richards has a mesmerising moment as Monique spells out the facts of life to McGee at gunpoint.

And for those thinking that everything has gone just a little too smoothly, there’s a late sting in the tail – Hans and his wife Lena are taken away by Kessler for questioning. Kessler is at his most chilling when he tells them that they have nothing to worry about – provided they have nothing to hide.

Lena – unable to face the prospect of interrogation – commits suicide by stepping out into the path of an oncoming car. The bitter irony is that Kessler’s questioning was (or so he says) purely routine. Hans tells him that he doesn’t realise the fear he instills in people. Kessler replies that he does ….

It’s a slight surprise that we don’t see Natalie’s reaction to the news that her aunt has died.

Weekend was written and directed by Paul Annett. It’s an unusual double for this era of British television (Annett was much more prolific as a director, his only other television writing credits being a couple of episodes of Agatha Christie’s Partners In Crime).  Apart from a few plot niggles, it’s a decent episode. Not the best the series has to offer, but still very watchable.

Secret Army – Scorpion (1st November 1978)

Major Brandt’s wife, Erika (Brigitte Kahn), is in Brussels for a brief visit. Their interactions later provide the spur which kicks the plot into gear, but before that there’s plenty of nice character development on offer.

Brandt is clearly delighted to see her (something she reciprocates, although in a rather cooler way). This is partially explained by the fact that, as a General’s daughter, she suffers from something of a superiority complex – for example, she has no wish to meet Kessler. A member of the SS is plainly a much lower form of life.

Plot-threads which pay off later in the year are established here. Erika now finds living in Berlin, which is suffering heavy bombing raids on a regular basis, intolerable. Fearful for her own life (and that of their children) she begs Brandt to move them to Brussels. This he declines to do, although he concedes that they should leave the city.

There’s an intriguing moment when she finds a photograph of an attractive young woman in his wardrobe. His mistress? Since we know that he’s a workaholic it would seem not and his protestations of innocence do appear to be sincere. And yet ….

You have to say that his explanation for its presence (the cleaning woman could have left it there) is a bit feeble.

Brandt has already tried and failed several times to infiltrate the escape line with one of his officers. Indeed, during series one it seemed like he was doing it every other week.

He hasn’t attempted it for a while, so I suppose it was bound to happen again. The way that the audience (and Lifeline) learn about it today is a touch contrived though. Brandt and Erika are having an argument in bed and he tells her the whole story (an infiltrator – accepted as genuine by London – will shortly be going down the line). But at that precise moment his cleaning lady happens to overhear the whole thing.

That’s hard to swallow moment number one. Hard to swallow moment number two is the fact she knows that Albert is the person who needs to be told about this straight away. Slightly clumsy plotting then.

Hans Van Broecken (Gunner Moller), Natalie’s uncle (and no friend of Albert), returns. As a German himself, he’s the ideal man to try and identify the spy, but given his loathing for Albert, will he agree? Yes of course, otherwise the plot would have floundered somewhat.

If he’s unsuccessful then there will be some difficult decisions to be made. With nineteen British airman in Brussels, one way out would be to shoot them all. It seems cold-blooded, but it might be necessary in order to protect the line.

Some familiar faces can be found amongst the motley collection of airmen. James Wynn (later to play Sooty Sutcliffe in Grange Hill) is one whilst Harry Fielder (someone with a list of credits longer than several arms) is another. The spy isn’t either of these though – but he’s eventually dealt with by Max, with a horrified Hans looking on.

Hans’ disgust that Max resorts to murder is a little difficult to credit. Did he think they’d just let him walk away? He might not have discovered too much about the escape route, but he still would have been able to identify a number of people (Max and Hans, for two).

As touched upon eadlier, the plotting of the episode feels a little suspect in places. We’re told several times that various airmen have been cleared of suspicion, but it’s not explained how this is done. Considering that the infiltrator appears to be, until the very last minute, a perfectly normal British officer it’s hard to work this out.

Kessler only features briefly, but his scene – a meal with Madeleine (Hazel McBride) – is still a fascinating one. There’s some light shone onto Kessler the private man (he admits to being lonely at times, which is why he’s sought the company of Madeline – he’s decided she’s a kindred spirit). And he almost (but not quite) declares that Brandt is his friend, explaining to Madeline that normally he’d be irritated by the superior attitude of Erika, but given his respect for Brandt he’s content not to make a scene.

Currently watching (5/10/20) – Secret Army and The Caesars

Recently I’ve attempted to put a little more order into my archive television viewing by selecting ten programmes and watching an episode from them once a week, between Monday and Friday.

Currently they are –

Monday – Secret Army S2 and The Caesars

Tuesday – Special Branch S1 and The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder

Wednesday – The Main Chance S1 and Undermind

Thursday – Upstairs Downstairs S1 and The Brothers S1

Friday – Public Eye S4 and The Biederbecke Affair

Every so often I’ll record a few brief impressions of the episodes I’ve recently watched, and possibly in the future I might want to revisit one or more of these series and examine them in more depth. So to begin ….

Secret Army – Not According To Plan (25th October 1978)

We’re five episodes into the second series, which means that  the reformatting of the series (moving Lifeline’s base of operations from a dingy café to a rather plush restaurant where Albert can conveniently overhear Nazi bigwigs chatting about important matters) is now complete.

It’s rather jarring that Natalie seems to have obtained a boyfriend, Francois (Nigel Williams), out of thin air. Surely this could have been worked into the continuing plotline a little less clumsily?

Performances are key to this episode. Jonathan Newth (one of those actors who turns up in virtually every drama series of this era) is typically solid as Jean Barsacq, a blind aristocrat who is also a member of the escape line. This might seem a little unlikely, but – as highlighted by a scene with Kessler – it’s also convenient, as he’s obviously unable to identify a suspect for the Sturmbannführer.

Valentine Dyall receives a rare character scene (Dr Keldermans is usually called upon to do nothing more than advance the plot) whilst Michael Byrne gives all he’s got (and then just a little bit more) as the hot under the collar Communist Paul Vercors.

I’ve never quite been convinced by the way that Vercors so readily decides to betray Lifeline. In exchange, Kessler agrees not to execute twenty Communist prisoners, held after a train – coincidentally carrying Natalie and Francois – is blown up.  Since the Communists are supposed to have been carrying out a lengthy reign of terror, why hasn’t Vercors crumbled under this sort of threat before?

Emma Williams catches the eye as the doomed Danielle, sacrificed – in part – to save Kessler’s reputation. It’s fascinating to see Kessler squirming under the intimidating gaze of Oberst Bruch (Leon Eagles). Bruch expresses amazement that Kessler hasn’t been able to smash Lifeline, and suggests he moves to a new position (on the Eastern front maybe).

Capturing Barsacq and shooting Danielle therefore allows Kessler to claim that he’s smashed a key part of the escape route, even if we – and Brandt – know that he’s lying. By this point in the series, Clifford Rose has really become SA‘s main performer – certainly Kessler looks to be the character with the most potential for future development.

The Caesars – Tiberius (6th October 1968)

Whilst The Caesars will always have to live in the imposing shadow of I, Claudius (1976), Philip Mackie’s six-part serial has many strengths of its own. Chief amongst these is André Morell’s wonderfully weary performance as Tiberius. It’s a world away, both in terms of writing and performance, from George Baker’s later turn.  This Tiberius is no deviant – instead he’s an icy-cold administrator, thrust unwillingly into the role of emperor.

Today’s episode (the third) chronicles the downfall of Germanicus (Eric Flynn). It plays out pretty closely to the later I, Claudius episode, with John Phillips offering a similar performance (as Piso) to that of Stratford Johns.

One notable aspect of this serial is how downplayed Livia has been – to date, she’s only had a handful of scenes although today Sonia Dresdel is allowed to bare her teeth (previously, you might be forgiven for thinking that Livia was little more than a nice old lady).

There’s plenty of strength in depth amongst the rest of the cast – Freddie Jones, as Claudius, might not be the central character but he still has a few notable moments. Caroline Blakiston glowers wonderfully as Agripinna, the widow of the unfortunate Germanicus whilst John Woodvine steps up to deliver a few lines in his trademark imposing fashion.