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Episode credited cast:
Anthony Carrick ...
(as Antony Carrick)
Thomas Heathcote
Anthony Sagar
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Drama

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Release Date:

2 May 1963 (UK)  »

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The continuing human cost of war
28 June 2012 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Another website refers to this play as 'Return TO the Regiment' which, in view of its plot, seems more apposite.

I have been watching TV drama for many years and no doubt at least 90% of it has slipped from memory. Some though remains, in essence if not detail. For example in January 1960 I watched a dramatisation of Oscar Wilde's ' Lord Arthur Savile's Crime' which was so funny and featured such a superb performance from Terry-Thomas in the title role that I remember it still.

For similar reasons, despite the vastly different subject matter, I remember Return to the Regiment, the fiftieth anniversary of which will occur next year. I stress that what follows constitutes a spoiler though in view of the age of the play and the unlikelihood of a rebroadcast that may be academic. Also, after all this time my grasp of its detail is shaky. The main character (Michael Redgrave), for instance, is an ex WW1 officer probably, though not certainly, a Colonel.

The play is set in the then present of 1963, when many WW1 survivors were still around. The regiment in question is holding a dinner to celebrate the Colonel's achievement during that war of taking from the Germans a military objective, a ridge, albeit at great cost. So memorable is the occasion that a hack journalist has been employed to write a book about the encounter and, very unusually, some of the other ranks from the battle are to be invited into the officers' mess later on.

The dinner is convivial until the Colonel gives a rather smug speech about his role in the battle. The journalist (excellently played by Nigel Davenport), who has been invited and is a cynic even when sober, becomes drunk and begins to interrupt the speech, finally shouting him down with the (approximate) words "I'm a professional. When I do a job I do it thoroughly and I've researched this one". He goes on to claim that the Colonel had been duped by the Germans into a Pyrrhic victory, concluding "Can't you understand. THEY WANTED YOU TO TAKE THAT RIDGE!!".

He is hustled out and it is tactfully suggested that now would be a good time for the other ranks to enter and file past the Colonel. As they do so he notes with increasing horror that scarcely one of them is whole. Some are in wheelchairs, most have lost at least one limb, some are blind. All respectfully salute him and call him "Sir".

As the appalling realisation of what he did, and probably for nothing, hits him, the Colonel becomes increasingly distressed until, as the play ends, tears stream down his face.

Redgrave's acting in that final scene was remarkable. His face was static yet the Colonel's pain, guilt, shame and pity were obvious. He would never be the same man again.

The 'war is stupid and obscene' point made by the play was hardly original even then - 'The Case of Private Hamp' (later a 1964 film 'King and Country') had made the same point three years earlier - and has been made many times since but 'Return to the Regiment' did hit a nerve with me. Perhaps it was because a member of the WW1 officer class felt sympathy for his men and because it at last dawned on him that events of nearly fifty years earlier could retain a devastating effect. In both cases that was almost a first.


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