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"Secret Army" Growing Up (1977)

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Badge of death

10/10
Author: ShadeGrenade from Ambrosia
16 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Dominic Sandbrook's 'The 70's' has just finished on B.B.C.-2. After viewing the excellent opening episode, I immediately placed an order with Amazon for his new book 'Seasons In The Sun', but then the remaining episodes descended into hoary clichés about strikes and power cuts, and I cancelled the order. Dominic seems to have researched his series by watching old Tory party political broadcasts ( remember them? Pythonesque-affairs about men in bowler hats walking backwards! ). I wish Five would repeat its excellent 'The 70's: The Decade That Was' to show him how it should be done.

With the money I saved from buying the book, I bought Season 1 of 'Secret Army'. Unfairly remembered in some quarters as the show that inspired 'Allo, Allo', it is in fact one of the jewels in the B.B.C.'s crown. 'Growing Up', the sixth episode, was written by Willis Hall, co-creator of 'Budgie' and co-author ( with Keith Waterhouse ) of the film and television versions of 'Billy Liar'. Hall was a talented writer who could turn his hand from comedy and drama to children's television ( 'Worzel Gummidge' ). An R.A.F. sergeant, 'Clifford Howson' ( Norman Eshley ) is shot down over Belgium. His fellow crew members wind up with the Resistance, but Howson gets separated. He meets a young boy 'Jean-Paul Dornes' ( Max Harris, no relation to the film and television composer ), and requests help. The boy runs home to tell his mother, 'Anna' ( Susan Tracy ), but she is ( ahem! ) entertaining an obese German Corporal by the name of 'Emil Schnoril' ( Brian Glover ). Finding Howson's R.A.F. badge in his possession, his teacher informs the Resistance. 'Lifeline' launches a plan to get Howson to a hospital under the very noses of the Germans...

This is an excellent episode, full of suspense and with a genuinely shocking denouement. Good performances too, particularly from Harris as the boy whose assistance to the injured R.A.F. man ultimately costs him his mother's life. Only Brian Glover's German is a bit hard to take, as one is used to seeing him in comedy roles such as dimwitted inmate 'Heslop' in 'Porridge', but he does not unduly damage the show. One of its main assets at this time was Christopher Neame as 'Curtis', the British officer assigned to liaise with Lifeline. The late Vivien Merchant makes a fleeting appearance as 'Mlle.Gunet'.

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