Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Secret Army, series 2; the second book; and reflections on Allo! Allo!

Second paragraph of the third chapter of Secret Army Dossier, by John Brason:
Albert sat, silent and morose, contributing nothing and feeling generally sorry for himself. He was still feeling pangs of guilt and self-disgust at Andree's death. Monique bore with him, quelling her own personal mingling of sadness and relief. There was no doubt that Andree's death changed her own situation significantly. She should be rejoicing, but the actuality proved something different. She was feeling slightly sick inside . . . just slightly . . . and even responsible for that wretched woman's death. What purpose did it serve? There was no answer, just as there was no escape. She was standing behind Albert, her hand on his shoulder as Natalie sighed.
The second Secret Army book includes novelisations of four episodes and two original chapters. They are two from the first series, Good Friday, the grim one set in a monastery and Be The First Kid in Your Block to Rule the World (the season finale, which I wrote about last time); followed by the third chapter, Pastures New, not based on a TV episode, telling the story of how Albert moved his cafe to the Grand' Place; and then from the second series, Russian Roulette (the one with the funny Russian escapees, with a grim ending), Phoenix (an untelevised story about a crashed British ace) and the season finale Days of Wrath (where notably the wrong regular character dies, the book having been finalised before the TV series).

The writing is good - we have to remember that at the time, with no home video, it seemed entirely likely that nobody would ever see Secret Army again, unless it got a summer repeat, and the novel would be the only way to experience the show again. How things have changed...

In general the second series hums along with confidence. One of the regular characters from the first season is killed off at the end of the first episode, ironically by a British air raid, and the team need to reorganise themselves. New arrivals include Max the forger with very dubious connections, played by Stephen Yardley who was previously Sevrin the mutant in the great Doctor Who story Genesis of the Daleks, and Madeleine, a Belgian woman who becomes the lover of SS Stumbannfuhrer Kessler, somewhat humanising his monstrous personality (though we can never forget that he is indeed a monster), played by Hazel MacBride who I don't think I've seen in anything else (though I see she wrote three episodes of The Rubbadubbers).

Once again I'm going to pick three episodes that stood out to me for different reasons. First, and most selfishly, the third episode, Lucky Piece, features location filming in my part of Brussels, the European Quarter, then the Quartier Leopold. Most Secret Army episodes include a fair bit of location filming, particularly once the Candide has moved to the Grand'Place and you then make a virtue of necessity. That also tends to mean that the locations used are downtown in Brussels, or in some cases on appropriately war-torn settings in England. (The train stations are all Peterborough, shot from different angles.) But in Lucky Piece, Natalie, played by Juliet Hammond-Hill, is dealing with a safe house out in my part of town (outside lockdown conditions), and I got a real thrill out of identifying the streets that she walks through (assisted by John Bedford and Paul Hagan on Twitter).
So, this is all shot around where the European Parliament is now. It's well done - the shots of Nathalie walking along the street and through the park are actually the same setting twice in both cases, but you wouldn't know unless you knew. All of the buildings are still there with the exception of the bar, knocked down some decades ago to make space for the European Parliament's Spaak building (known as the Caprice des Dieux, because of its resenblance in shape to a cheese of that name).
In the next scene, she and her stalker are outside the cathedral downtown, instantly transported about 2 km.

It's otherwise not one of the great episodes, notable mainly because the stranded airman of the week comes back next season as a regular character. But it's nice to see my part of town from more than forty years ago.

On the other hand the next episode, Trapped, is tremendous. Monique, played by Angela Richards (who you will remember is the lover of Albert) is wounded in France and the Germans are closing in on her in hospital. This is a tremendous ensemble scene from the regular cast on the Resistance side as they find out and decide what to do.
In the meantime Kessler is juggling his SS duties, ie tracking down Monique, whose true identity he does not know, with his new romance with Madeleine. In a superbly intense final scene, Kessler, on his first date with Madeleine, insists that Monique (who has meantime been dramatically retrieved) must sing for him, not knowing that she is recovering from a bullet wound. This is practically my favourite scene of all three series.
One other point to make about Trapped: in most Secret Army episodes with part of the action in France, one gets the sense that there is effectively no border with Belgium (for instance, last year's season finale Be The First Kid in Your Block to Rule the World). While it's true that the German military government of Belgium also included neighbouring areas of northern France, I can't really believe that there were no border checks at all. Anyway, this episode does in fact uniquely include a France/Belgium frontier post, reassuringly realistic.

Anyway. Once again, the season finale, Days of Wrath, is a hit - possibly the weakest of the three season finales, but they are all very strong. The two standout scenes are the attack on Gestapo HQ in Avenue Louise by a Belgian pilot serving with the RAF (based on the true story of Jean De Selys Longchamps). At the same time, the Allied D-Day landings are taking place, and at the same time again Luftwaffe Major Brandt is about to get some very bad news. I have not given Brandt enough coverage in my write-ups - he's hugely important as the Good German (or at least the Not-Quite-As-Bad German) of the first two seasons. Here is how he leaves the show.
These episodes were first shown in late 1978, during the early part of the Winter of Discontent, coinciding with the Doctor Who stories The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara and the first episode of The Power of Kroll.

Finally for today, the elephant in the room whenever we discuss Secret Army is the comedy spoof Allo! Allo! which riffed off many of Secret Army's themes - the innkeeper with a moustache who is cheating on his wife, the young women in charge of the resistance, the invalid in the upper room, German officers including a sinister guy whose glasses have small round lenses. In fact Secret Army lasted only half as long as the real occupation, while Allo! Allo! lasted twice as long. It was a much bigger hit in terms of popular culture - when I worked in Bosnia, my much-missed assistant Danijela used to introduce herself in the mornings with "It is I, Leclercq." But in the end, Secret Army is actually good drama which stands the test of time. I suspect that Allo! Allo! does not. And in any case, there is something pretty awful about having funny Nazis. Secret Army does not make that mistake.
Tags: tv: secret army

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