The last episode of Colditz was screened on Yesterday last night, and today I’m at a loss. I remember it so well from nights at my Granny’s house when it was first on from ’72-’74, and watching it again I don’t think it was just nostalgia that sucked me in, there’s real feeling of peril and tension in many of the episodes.
The episodes are a genuine one-hour in length, so there’s time and space to develop characters and situations at a more natural pace which is missing from so much modern drama.
The second series was subtly different from the first, the first series seemed to be a more linear account of Pat Reid ‘s (series advisor and Colditz escapee) time in Colditz, where the second series was more of a regular thriller set-up, based around an adversarial relationship lit between Anthony Valentine’s wonderfully nasty Major Mohn and David McCallum’s Flight Lt Carter. The detail was still accurate though, escape attempts based on real schemes related from the escapees on whom characters were based.

The casting is a joy, Robert Wagner underplays his way through each episode as the sole American for much of the run, one other who joined later was Dan O’Herlihy as Lt Col Max Dodd. O’Herlihy sticks in my mind as the one who asks Robocop “Nice shooting, son. What’s your name?”
Edward Hardwicke as Pat Grant is famous as Watson to Jeremy Brett’s Holmes, but one in particular which made me smile was Jack Hedley as Lt Col John Preston, he was brought in to play a similar stiff-upper-lipped officer in Mr Don and Mr George, an spinoff of 90’s Channel4 comedy-Absolutely. It’s like Ben Elton having Ronnie Corbett on his show, we are the sum of our influences.
The Germans were no charicatures, Bernard Hepton as the Kommandant wore worry and struggle on his face at all times, Hans Meyer’s security oficer was always hard to read, proper depth to the portrayal, always kept you guessing. They even managed some pathos, when the evil Mohn was in a blind panic trying to escape to Switzerland as the Allies approached, I did have little flashes of ah, poor bastard, while hoping that McCallum would break a bed-board across his face.

It’s just wonderful. If modern eyes can see beyond the production values of the time and adjust to the pace, it’s for everyone to enjoy, not just those of us at a certain age.

One interesting story is the glider they built in the attic from bed-boards and doped bedsheets, both in series two and in real life. They believed it would carry two men from the roof past all the security into a field outside the castle. They inmates were liberated before it could be launched, but a few years back the glider was rebuilt to the original specs and flown in front of a group of inmates who must have been very proud indeed. In the episode where the flew a paper aeroplane out of a high window to test the theory is was fun to see Stirling Castle to act as a lower-budget stand-in for the real castle as the plane swooped from a castle window down to the field next to the roundabout that takes you to the lovey road across Flanders Moss.

Santa, DVD’s, are you listening?

5 thoughts on “Colditz”

  1. Ah, Colditz was unmissable viewing when I was a lad and, iirc, on just late enough to count as a ‘staying up’ treat too :)

    I’d be curious to see it again. I wonder if the DVD’s a bargain?

  2. Yes, it was a brilliant program for a 14 or 15 year old – especially since on of the teachers at school had been imprisoned there. He was a Pole and took part in the desperate cavalry Charge at Krojanty.

  3. £36.97 on Amazon Matt, which is a randomly bizarre price, but there’s a lot of watching in there.

    Santa are you there?

    Hi Paul, that’s fascinating. It’s great to have known the generation that fought in WW2, so many lessons there, both good and bad, that I always worry are going to be forgot if we don’t keep it alive.
    The Poles treatment by friends and foes alike being one of most impoprtant.

  4. Blimey, I’d have been fascinated to meet someone who actually took part in a cavalry charge! (I’m a military historian).
    Sadly, Coltidz was on the ‘not approved’ list, along with virtually everything else, so I only got a few clandestine glimpses of it when we had a babysitter.

  5. It did have some scenes that were challenging for a youngster, the one where the inmate pretends to go mad to get repatriated and soon you’re not sure if he’s faking or not, and neither are the other inmates of the captors. Good ending too.

    Noe, must buy the board game on ebay…

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