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Secret Army II, the second TV series of the powerful war-time TV drama based on Gerard Glaister's book, is among the DVDs to have been released in the UK this week.
The 1970s programme opened with rumbling music and vivid series of cold photographs of roads and paths reaching away to the horizon. The story of Belgian resistance fighters smuggling Allied airmen home was certainly a nail-biter. But you do get an exceptionally detailed and unusually interesting booklet charting the making of the show. Even if you do not remember Secret Army it seems familiar because it was the inspiration for the sitcom 'Allo, 'Allo - which did not please the Secret Army cast at all.
Many people would take one look at the title of this movie and think it had to be either a bad or entertaining film. It is bad in that it is mindless but it is also entertaining, as sometimes a bit of mindlessness can be fun. Secret Army is, without a doubt, the greatest 'popular' drama series the BBC ever produced. It was supposedly set in the present day but because the BBC were unhappy with the old age make-up, it was never broadcast. Using the setting of Brussels in World War II, the producerswere able to capture perfectly the grim realities of life under Germanoccupation with the distant hope of liberation. Everything from the sinistermusic to the camera angles, special effects and scenery was cleverly thoughtout. The varied plots, whose frequent twists kept everyone guessing, alongwith many clever subtleties and inferences, made each episode thoroughlyenjoyable.The central character of Albert Foiret was carefully scrutinised, his greedand ruthless determination to keep ownership of his beloved Candide at anycost coming out. Bernard Hepton seemed able to show an inexhaustible rangeof emotions, making his character something of a change from the GermanKommandant he had played previously. In contrast, the virtually emotionlessKessler could show generosity, and great loyalty, albeit misguided, to hisbeloved country and Fuehrer.

Keldermans were well played by Ron Pember and Valentine Dyall,along with Monique (Angela Richards) whose lovely singing in the seeminglyhappy atmosphere of the Candide was often made to contrast the oftensinister goings on elsewhere.The series just seemed to go from strength to strength as the charactersdeveloped and plots became more complicated. It also addressed manyissues which were not always fully appreciated, like the uneasy relationshipthe French and Belgian police had with the Germans, the contempt felt by theWehrmacht for the SS and the bitter power struggle between the resistanceand the communists. I had read lots about it, but neverrealisedthat the show was as impressive as it is.The characters are all very well drawn and the series views World War IIfrom many angles. Special mention must also go to CliffordRose who play the head of the Gestapo in Belgium, Ludwig Kessler – theinspiration for Herr Flick in the spoof series Allo Allo. Rose ismagnificent as Kessler and the character is written as a man who iscompletely and utterly devoted to the Fatherland and theFuhrer.Secret Army, along with other greats like Colditz and I, Claudius is anexample of the great drama serials that the BBC no longer produce. Secret Army was transmitted at prime-time on BBC1 when itwasfirst shown: how many period dramas do we ever see on our screens thesedays?
At very best we get a Jane Austin type adaptation, and that wouldonlyever be broadcast on a Sunday night.Why don’t the BBC take the chance to make something as daring as SecretArmy? But having watched it againrecently on UKTV Gold I have to say that it is one of the very bestdramas of its era, and indeed of the subsequent period.It never took a simplistic view of the people involved, and developedthe characters over time. None of the moral situations the charactersfind themselves in are presented in black and white terms.
Even atthis moment it’s running again on Belgian TV, and every time it’s a joyto watch! I got to mention, especially Kessler, played by Cliffordrose, a great performance, even today! I wonder what happened to mostof the actors, cause haven’t heard or seen much about them after theseries. Because the series is telling us of people whorisked their lives to save that of others, when Europe, (Belgium), wasgoing trough his most dark period in history!
However somebody waved their magicwandat the start of the second series, because the show changed it’s anglecompletely.

With the dramatic exit of Yvette, (one of my favourite scenesintelevision)and the introduction of the Candide. And when Monique was left in charge atthe end of series two she turned into a bit of a boozer! It is probably the only TV series of its kind from which Icould recall every character and many of the plots some 25 or 30 yearslater. Therewere so many great shows , everything from the Jon Pertwee and earlyTom Baker episodes of DOCTOR WHO , THE SWEENEY , THE PROFFESIONALS ,FALWTY TOWERS and a dozen other shows that I could list off the top ofmy head .
Imagine for a second how much inferior this drama would havebeen if it'd been produced today by someone from an academic mediastudies background . There's also doubt in his mind after a maincharacter is written out of the first series in a cruelly ironic waybut the money sure comes handy . He is a three dimensional character who is obviouslycapable of great cruelty but who is also very intelligent and is drivenby a desire to bring order to the world . Praise too for the acting ofClifford Rose who gives a restrained and very subtle performance .
You could almost feel sorry for him if he wasn't agestapo headSo why is this show forgotten ? You quickly become so bored with that comedy show that youquickly forget what inspired it . One could, in tiny roles, see actors such as David Neilson (RoyonCoronation Street) as a young German officer.
That the Gestapo officerplayed by Clifford Rose escapes at the end is realistic: though he isreprehensible, we are made to understand him.

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