On Trial (1960– )
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Sir Roger Casement 

Once a national hero in Britain, Sir Roger Casement, an Irishman, is tried for treason during the First World War.





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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Abraham Sofaer ...
John Robinson ...
John Westbrook ...
Henry Oscar ...
Neil Wilson ...
Brian Phelan ...
John Cronin
James McLoughlin ...
Daniel O'Brien
Liam Gaffney ...
John M'Carthy
Joan O'Hara ...
Mary Gorman
Jack Cunningham ...
Thomas John Hearn
Michael Robbins ...
Sgt, Sidney Waghorn
John Dempsey
John Barron ...
Ballard Berkeley ...
L.W. Kershaw


Once a national hero in Britain, Sir Roger Casement, an Irishman, is tried for treason during the First World War.

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Release Date:

8 July 1960 (UK)  »

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When is a man a traitor?
4 November 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This long forgotten B.B.C. series is similar to a series hosted by Joseph Cotton that appeared in the late 1950s (only a handful of years before this one). It only lasted one season and (I would suspect) no longer exists. Pity because the stories look interesting (at least to this legal historian) and the casts have many names in them that developed into full careers. Again, as I never watched an episode, I cannot judge the performances or productions but I suspect it was above average.

To this day the name of Roger Casement is a sore spot between England and the republic of Eire. He was executed (hanged) for high treason in 1917 for his part in the events leading to the Easter Rebellion of the preceding year. That by itself would not have made a major dent between the countries, as the leaders of that Rebellion (Pearce, Conolly, and the rest) knew that they had a good chance of dying at the end of a rope (or by a firing squad). But Casement was a significant exception. He was (up to 1914) a national hero to the British public because of activities in Africa and South America that made him an international figure. Casement became a member of the British Diplomatic Corps. In the early 1900s he was assigned to the then Belgium Congo, and with Edmund Morel had exposed the cruelty and atrocities practiced on the population there by King Leopold II of Belgium in exploiting the fabulous mineral wealth of that colony for that monarch's personal profit. This resulting scandal led to the King (who literally owned the entire colony - about twenty times the size of his kingdom of Belgium) to surrender possession of it to his nation - not that that totally improved matters. After Casement left the Congo, he was sent to South America, and found similar atrocities to report from his new station. As a result of this fine work of bringing this material to the world's attention, Casement was knighted.

Keeping this in mind, you can understand the degree of anger felt in England towards Sir Roger to this day. Casement identified himself with Ireland, not England. When World War I broke out, Casement headed for Wilhelmine Germany and offered his services there to the Germans in return for their assistance in freeing Ireland. They agreed. Casement was supposed to play a key role in the Easter Rebellion, when he was to deliver a large shipload (the first of many promised) to the rebels. But the delivery was botched up, and Casement captured.

What happened afterward remains a subject of controversy and anger. The British Government was determined to punish Casement (who lost his knighthood by the way - although I suspect he never cared). In preparing their case against him, the Government was aware of his popularity due to his humanitarian work. Unlike Padraic Pearse, who was only known for his work as a champion of Gaelic or for his model public school in Ireland, or James Conolly for his socialist labor activities, Casement was an international figure. So many began to argue for his being given special treatment. People like George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edmund Morel, Gilbert Chesterton, were insisting that Casement was not a simple rebel but a man who may have done his "evil" actions due to mental problems (Casement, by the way, resented this argument - he knew he was not mentally ill). The new Lloyd George government had replaced the less able Asquith regime in a real palace coup in November 1916. David Lloyd George did not believe in half-way measures, and wanted to set up Casement as an example.

A weapon turned up - one that still leaves an unpleasant taste to this day. Casement, like us all, had his secret side. In his case he was a pederast. Worse he kept a diary (or apparently did). Falling into the tender hands of Scotland Yard chief Sir Basil Thompson, the diary was hot in showing Sir Roger as a man who would be considered a pervert. Soon copies of the more salacious sections of the diary were being read all over London. Popular support for Casement collapsed - how could one support a pervert and traitor? The result was that the threat against a conviction for treason was weakened. Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison in 1917.

In the 1960s, at the demands of the government of Eire, Casement's body was dug out of the prison graveyard and returned to his nation. It is in a more fitting memorial there today - as a national hero.

One last point here is the ironic star of this episode. Not as well known in the U.S. (particularly after his own disaster) Peter Wyngarde was once a popular and handsome leading man in British theater and television. Occasionally one can see his face on old episodes of programs like THE AVENGERS. Most of his work is forgotten now due to a homosexual scandal that ruined him in the late 1970s. According to his thread on this board his last television performance was in a 1994 episode of Jeremy Brett's series of Sherlock Holmes' stories, and it was as a minor character. A sad, and (as I said) ironic fall for the man who played Sir Roger Casement in 1960.

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