Kessler is a television series produced by the BBC in 1981, starring Clifford Rose in the title role.
The six-part serial is a sequel to the Second World War drama series Secret Army, set in contemporary times.
The story begins when a self-serving Belgian journalist, Hugo van Eyck, broadcasts a documentary about Nazi war criminals, and investigates the whereabouts of the former Chief of Gestapo and SS of Belgium, Standartenfuhrer Ludwig Kessler (Clifford Rose) with the help of West German intelligence officer Richard Bauer. Kessler has changed his name to Manfred Dorf and is now a rich industrialist, with factories manufacturing plastics, explosives, and pharmaceutical products. His wartime Belgian mistress Madeleine Duclos (Hazel McBride) is now deceased, but after the War the pair married and had a daughter, Ingrid (Alison Glennie). Kessler is part of an organisation called the Kameradenwerk, made up of Nazis on the run, trying to evade trial for their war crimes, led by Kessler’s close friend Colonel Hans Ruckert (Ralph Michael, a character based on Luftwaffe ace Colonel Hans Rudel.
Ingrid is sleeping with her father’s manservant, Franz Hoss (Nicholas Young), and the pair are part of a group of young Neo-Nazis who dream of leading Germany back to Nazism.
Van Eyck invites three other Secret Army characters to his studios: Albert Foiret (Bernard Hepton), Monique Durnford (née Duchamps), (Angela Richards) and Natalie Chantrens (Juliet Hammond-Hill). Some of the serial’s first scenes take place outside the Restaurant Candide in the Grand Place in Brussels. The trio reminisce about their wartime activities running the resistance organisation Lifeline. Monique and Natalie are certain that Dorf is Kessler, but Albert claims to be less sure.
Van Eyck and Bauer meet a young Israeli woman soldier called Mical Rak (Nitza Saul). Mical’s mother’s family was sent to Dachau to be killed, on Kessler’s orders. Mical breaks into Kessler’s home to see him, but is discovered and forced to flee. Her companion Ruth Lieberman (Ishia Bennison) is murdered by the Kameradenwerk, and Van Eyck becomes their next victim. Mical is kidnapped and beaten by Franz, before being thrown into the River Thames. Fortunately, she survives and is rescued. Mical and Bauer team up to get Kessler. Bauer’s agents break into Kessler’s home and find a photo album which proves he is Kessler. When it is discovered, Kessler, Ruckert, Franz, and Ingrid travel to Paraguay, and Bauer and Mical set off in pursuit. After a brief detour in Buenos Aires, the pair arrive in Ascunsion.
Kessler and Ruckert stay with a Nazi-sympathizing Paraguayan aristocrat, Don Julian Yqueras (played by Guy Rolfe, who previously appeared in the Secret Army episode, Russian Roulette as Oberst von Elmendorf). Yqueras is partly based on the former President of Argentina Juan Peron, a famous Nazi sympathizer who welcomed war criminals into his country and prevented their extradition, and partly on Paraguayan President Alfredo Stroessner – still in power in 1981 – who also allowed his country to become a safe haven for Nazi war criminals. Mical and Bauer stay with pigeon-fancier Jose Garriga (John Moreno), who quickly charms them and wins their friendship.
Ingrid and Franz meet fellow Nazis and discuss a plan to convince Kessler to take over their group and to bring with him a fund of 48 billion Deutschmarks, to be used to support the exiled Nazis. Kessler and Ruckert also meet their comrades, under the command of Martin Bormann, who does not appear on screen, apart from one arm. At the same meeting, Kessler is repulsed to be introduced to Josef Mengele (Oscar Quitak), Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death”.
In real life, Bormann had died in 1945, but this was not revealed until 1998. Similarly, Mengele had died in 1979, but this did not come to light until 1985.
Kessler realizes that the Kameradenwerk are just too old and too tired to lead Germany back to Nazism. They care much about their own safety, little about building a new Nazi regime in Germany. After much soul-searching, Kessler decides to turn his back on them and turns instead to the young Nazis, agreeing to give them the Nazi fortune.
Deciding that Mical has become too much of a threat, Ruckert orders his followers to kill her. Ingrid and Franz go after her for the same reason. After killing Garriga, the assassins mistake Ingrid for Mical and shoot her and Franz dead, thereby killing the only people who could have resurrected Nazism. Mical and Bauer find their bodies and proceed to blow up the Nazi convoys, but Ruckert escapes. Bauer and Mical corner Kessler. After a discussion about the Holocaust and Communism, Bauer informs him of Ingrid’s death. Realizing his dream of a new Nazi dawn is over, and having lost the one thing he has left of Madeleine, Kessler shoots himself. Mical and Bauer leave, knowing the Nazis will never now get their hands on the billions and will never be able to return to power.
- Ludwig Kessler – Clifford Rose.
- Richard Bauer – Alan Dobie.
- Mical Rak – Nitza Saul.
- Ingrid Dorf – Alison Glennie.
- Franz Hoss – Nicholas Young.
- Colonel Hans Ruckert – Ralph Michael.
- Albert Foiret – Bernard Hepton.
- Monique Durnford – Angela Richards.
- Natalie Chantrens – Juliet Hammond-Hill.
- Don Julian Yqueras – Guy Rolfe.
- Josef Mengele – Oscar Quitak.
- Hugo van Eyck – Jerome Willis.
- Jose Garriga – John Moreno.
- Karl Leider – Robert Morris.
- Gidney – Jeremy Wilkin.
- Deakin – Harold Innocent.
- Maurer – Royston Tickner.
- Graun – John Dearth.
- Ruth Lieberman – Ishia Bennison.
- Heinrich Himmler – Robert Eddison.
- Muller – Gareth Milne.
Many former Secret Army production personnel were involved with Kessler, most notably producer Gerard Glaister, writer John Brason and directors Michael E. Briant and Tristan de Vere Cole.
Kessler was released on DVD (Region 2, UK) by DD Home Entertainment, who had previously released the complete (barring “What Did You Do in the War Daddy?”) series of Secret Army.
Production & Filming Details
- Creator(s): John Brason and Gerard Glaister.
- Director(s): Michael E. Briant (4 episodes) and Tristan de Vere Cole (2 episodes).
- Producer(s): Gerard Glaister.
- Writer(s): John Brason and Gerard Glaister.
- Music: Robert Farnon.
- Editor(s): Malcolm Banthorpe, Robin Sales, and John Stothart.
- Production: BBC.
- Release Date: 13 November 1981 to 18 December 1981.
- Running Time: 50 minutes (per episode).
- Rating: 12.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.