Secret Army is a television drama made by the BBC and the Belgian national broadcaster BRT (now VRT) created by Gerard Glaister.
The series tells the story of a fictional Belgian resistance movement in German-occupied Belgium during the Second World War dedicated to returning Allied airmen, usually having been shot down by the Luftwaffe, to Great Britain.
It was made in the UK and Belgium and three series were broadcast on BBC1 between 7 September 1977 and 15 December 1979.
Kessler is a sequel to the series, set in contemporary times.
This is set during the final weeks of German occupation. Paul Vercors (Michael Byrne and Ralph Bates), the leader and sole survivor of the Communist cell to which Max belonged, begins a conspiracy of revenge against Albert. He lodges an accusation with the authorities that Albert murdered his wife. With Albert in prison for much of the series, responsibility for Lifeline falls to Monique. She becomes increasingly independent and eventually her relationship with Albert collapses, owing to his aloofness and her realising that he is more concerned about money than her. After the Germans severely restrict travel to and from Brussels and the Communists sabotage the main railway line, the evasion lines are closed. The rescued airmen can now only be hidden while they all await the end of the war. With Albert away, Monique and Natalie face accusations of being German collaborators, prostitutes and black-marketeers. As news of the Allied troops’ imminent arrival reaches the streets, the Germans find it increasingly difficult to keep order and eventually they leave the Belgians to their own devices.
Kessler, promoted to Standartenführer, finds himself in constant conflict with new arrival Major Hans Dietrich Reinhardt (Terrence Hardiman), who has been sent to replace Brandt. The pair clash because Reinhardt can see the desperate situation the Germans face, whereas Kessler remains blinded by patriotism and Nazi ideology. Reinhardt is a cynical and world-weary war hero (he has been awarded the Knight’s Cross), whose unorthodox approach is at odds with Kessler’s by-the-book methods. Reinhart begins to get results and near the end of the series succeeds in identifying Le Candide as the headquarters of Lifeline.
In Albert’s absence, Lifeline is helped by Major Nicholas “Nick” Bradley (Paul Shelley), a charismatic British agent who previously appeared during the second series. Monique resents his presence, believing he threatens her new authority, whereas Natalie has been attracted to Bradley since his earlier visit. Bradley’s job is to make sure the remaining evaders are fed and armed to protect themselves whilst they hide in the Ardennes. During his time in Belgium, Bradley succeeds in saving Alain from torture by the Gestapo, blows up a convoy, destroys a V-2 site and discovers where the Germans have laid explosives in the city. Bradley is later shot dead the day before the German withdrawal, being found in the streets after curfew.
When the order for German withdrawal is finally given, Kessler tries to escape with his Belgian mistress, Madeleine. Realizing that his capture could lead to execution, Kessler assumes the identity of a lower-ranking officer, shortly before he is captured by British soldiers and put in a prisoner-of-war camp. Rather than evacuate Brussels, Reinhardt satisfies his own curiosity and visits the Candide. As he suspects, he discovers that this has been the headquarters of Lifeline all along. He chooses not to execute Albert, Monique, Alain and Pascal but hands himself over to Albert as his prisoner. At the same time Paul Vercors and his communists arrive and take Albert, Reinhardt and Monique captive. Albert is hanged after a Communist-run ‘kangaroo court’ finds him guilty of treachery for his part in the death of Max Brocard; just in time, he is cut down and saved by British troops. Monique is captured by Brussels residents and held as a collaborator, waiting to have her head shaved in front of the angry crowds. Natalie and the newly arrived British Captain Stephen Durnford (Stephan Chase) manage to rescue her. Monique and the Captain fall in love and Monique realises that she no longer loves Albert; she decides to marry the captain instead.
Having been arrested by the British officers who saved Albert, Reinhardt is put in the same camp as Kessler. To protect his new identity and with the grudging support of the senior officers, Kessler engineers a court-martial of Reinhardt for allowing himself to be captured and disobeying the orders of a superior officer. Despite there being only flimsy evidence, Kessler arranges for Reinhardt to be found guilty and he is shot dead by a German firing squad. This scene reflects an actual incident in Amsterdam on 13 May 1945.
At the same time Kessler’s mistress Madeleine bribes Staff Sergeant Dexter (John Ratzenberger) to allow her lover’s freedom and the couple escape together. For the members of the evasion line, their happiness is tinged with sadness as they all say goodbye to a tearful Monique, who says her final goodbyes to the Candide and to Albert before starting a new life with her husband. The final episode in the series, ‘What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?’, was set in 1969 and looked at how the characters had fared after the war. It was never broadcast, perhaps owing to a strike (falsely suggesting that editing was never completed) or the episode’s anti-Communist message, or because it was significantly different in tone from the rest of the series. The main themes of the episode were subsequently incorporated into a sequel series, Kessler, which was transmitted in 1981 and explored Kessler’s fate.
Secret Army Series
You can find a full overview of Secret Army here.
- Episode 01: The Last Run.
- Episode 02: Invasions.
- Episode 03: Revenge.
- Episode 04: A Safe Place.
- Episode 05: Ring of Rosies.
- Episode 06: Prisoner.
- Episode 07: Ambush.
- Episode 08: Just Light the Blue Touch-Paper.
- Episode 09: Sound of Thunder.
- Episode 10: Collaborator.
- Episode 11: Days of Judgement.
- Episode 12: Bridgehead.
- Episode 13: The Execution.
- Episode 14: What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (never broadcast).
Production & Filming Details
- Release Date: 22 September 1979 to 15 December 1979.
- Running Time: 50 minutes (per episode).
- Rating: 12.
- Country: UK and Belgium.
- Language: English.