Televisual Advent Calendar #03 – Secret Army

Secret Army

This is my 2019 Televisual Advent Calendar. I did a musical version in 2011 and a cinematic one in 2012. It is in no particular order and I make no apologies for the TV series that I am blogging about. These TV series have either made me think, I have enjoyed or have had some impact on me. These are scripted TV series, some are drama, some are comedy, some are both. I found it really hard to narrow this down to just 24.

Today is about BBC’s Secret Army.

One of the reasons I wanted to write this series of blog posts was to remember some of those series I watched in the 1970s and 1980s that I remember with nostalgia and fondness.

The series tells the story of a fictional Belgian resistance movement in German-occupied Belgium during the Second World War dedicated to returning Allied airmen, usually having been shot down by the Luftwaffe, to Great Britain. It was made in the UK and Belgium and three series were broadcast on BBC1 between 1977 and 1979.

Though this series was eclipsed in some respects by the comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo which was a pastiche of Secret Army, I remember this series well and many of the plots and stories. Of course one thing which is often forgotten or confused was that Secret Army wasn’t set in France, but was set in occupied Belgium.

Secret Army

A few years ago I borrowed a copy of the series from a relative and watched the whole series from start to finish over a few weeks. It was just as good as I remembered. I may have not watched the first season when it was first broadcast, as it seemed (and is) different to the second and third series. As with many series recorded in the 1970s there is a quite a difference as indoor scenes (shot on video tape) cut to outdoor scenes (shot on film). That different grading was quite marked and is something that of course we don’t see today with the use of the same (digital) cameras for both internal and external sets.

The stories were powerful and you started to have a very slight insight into the horrors and struggles that the people who lived through the Nazi occupation had to suffer. One story I remember well was the story based around Operation Market Garden and the impact of that assault on civilians in the background. I think that was one of the powerful aspects of the series, this was not about military forces, but was about the civilians struggling under military occupation.

Secret Army

I also felt that the liberation was covered well, in that it wasn’t this straightforward change of state from occupied to liberated. The confusion over who had collaborated and who hadn’t, and the vigilantism that went on.

And of course the closing credits were a classic.

Get Secret Army on DVD.

 

Look what we found!

Type 22 Pillbox

Close to my house, on an old piece of land, a new petrol station, 24hour supermarket (and not quite yet) Starbucks has been built. No I am not blogging that there’s going to be a new coffee shop…

During clearance work, two Type 22 Pillbox bunkers were uncovered.

I know the area quite well, and have seen a few pillboxes in the area, but having passed this way many times I wasn’t aware that they were even there.

Looking at this old Google Street View image you can see why, this is how it looked before the construction started.

Google Street View of Type 22 Pillbox

Here is how it looks now. Part of the planning permission was that these should be retained and protected.

Type 22 Pillbox

So what we have is a World War Two pillbox defending a Shell petrol station!

The pillboxes were constructed to protect the airfield, RAF Weston-super-Mare, which was a Royal Air Force station on a civilian airfield in Weston-super-Mare. The civilian airfield was taken over by the RAF on the 1st May 1940 and would remain there until 1993.

Cinematic Advent Calendar #09 – Saving Private Ryan

 Saving Private Ryan

The first twenty minutes or so of Saving Private Ryan
is a raw horrific introduction what “modern” warfare is all about. This is no glorified Hollywood war film, this is what, according to many veterans, war is really like.

That opening sequence was brutal and extremely shocking. it is shocking as the violence is sudden, brutal and non-discriminating. You get to see not just the immediate impact of war, but also the brutal impact it has on individuals.

 Saving Private Ryan

It has to be said that though the rest of the film is not as powerful, not that, that is a bad thing, two hours of intense warfare would not make a good film. As a result there was a fair bit of criticism of the pace of the rest of the film. I actually think that the change in pace adds to the story.

I was very impressed with the way in which Spielberg shot and processed the film, very evocative of the colour films of the era of the movie. The beach sequence is very powerful, but I also think that the final scenes in the French village are also well done. The ruined buildings, which were all purpose built for the film and then “destroyed” to represent bombing and artillery really do look the part. If you look at photographs of the Normandy campaign you will see buildings in a similar destroyed state.

Ruined village in Saving Private Ryan

I remember first seeing Tom Hanks in Big and, apart from his more recent stuff have enjoyed his films. He certainly has played a diverse range of characters, think of Hanks, and you can think of Sleepless in Seattle, Toy Story, Apollo 13. I think he does a great job in Saving Private Ryan. He is well supported by an excellent cast.

Saving Private Ryan

As might be expected from a film that won five academy awards, what followed were many films in a similar vein, I did think that Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima were good films, not quite as good as Saving Private Ryan, but certainly well worth watching. Spielberg and Hanks of course went to TV with Band of Brothers (and more recently The Pacific). I didn’t get very far when I originally watched Band of Brothers on the TV, I think I saw two episodes. More recently I borrowed the DVD boxed set from a friend and watched the whole series. I did enjoy that though it was very similar in style to Ryan.

Many years ago I was tasked with testing some projectors for work, so I connected it to a VCR and played Saving Private Ryan against a blank wall. I was very impressed watching that opening sequence on my own big screen!

Download Saving Private Ryan from iTunes.

Get Saving Private Ryan at Amazon.