Monday, 23 October 2017

Theme Time: Robert Farnon - Colditz

Running for two series between 1972 and 1974, Colditz was an impeccable production and a jewel in the BBC's crown during that illustrious, prolific decade. Loosely based on former Oflag IV-C POW Major Pat Reid's 1952 memoir, The Colditz Story (which had been made into the film of the same name in 1955), the series - devised by Brian Degas and Gerard Glaister - Colditz told the story of the brave and plucky Allied POWs, including Captain Pat Grant (Edward Hardwicke, playing a thinly disguised Reid), Flight Lieutenant Phil Carrington (Robert Wagner), Flight Lieutenant Simon Carter (David McCallum), Lieutenant Dick Player (Christopher Neame) and the Senior British Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Preston (Jack Hedley), who each pitted their wits against their German captors, the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton), Hauptmann Ulmann (Hans Meyer) and Major Mohn (Anthony Valentine) and dared to escape from the seemingly escape-proof Colditz Castle.


My own particular favourite from the cast was McCallum's Carter, a hot headed  RAF officer that was a world away from the usual 'chocks away' urbane charmer. Carter had a chip on his shoulder, and often found himself frustrated by the escape council and the formalities of captivity. As a result, this quick temper and a fervent passion to return home meant that he was more often than not found in solitary confinement or punished by the guards. As with many of the characters presented in the drama, Carter was based on a real person; Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce. Alongside the impressive regular cast the series boasted some fine guest performances from the likes of Patrick Troughton, Ian McCulloch, Jeremy Kemp, Geoffrey Palmer, and Willie Rushton. Most memorable of all however was Michael Bryant's BAFTA nominated turn as Wing Commander George Marsh who feigns insanity in a bid for freedom in the brilliant, unforgettable episode 'Tweedledum' by writer John Brason.


Unsurprisingly, Colditz was a huge hit for the BBC with a real cross generational appeal. Children were utterly transfixed by the brave exploits each week whilst their parents and grandparents, who experienced the war first hand, were equally as absorbed. The success led to numerous tie-in novelisations, an atmospheric effects album (Colditz Breakpoint) and even a popular board game, Escape from Colditz.

Robert Farnon's theme music was the perfect accompaniment to the series. Those bombastic doom laden and fear inducing opening chords immediately conjure to mind the perceived might of the Nazi foe and the confines of the imposing, legendary castle, before breaking into a more reassuring and familiar militaristic march that offers hope and the suggestion of escape and victory. 



Creators Degas and Glaister would go on to strike gold again at the BBC later that decade with Secret Army, their dramatisation of the experiences of the French Resistance that is just as highly regarded and shared many of the same cast.

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