Based on true events recalled in a book by William Allison and John Fairley, The Monocled Mutineer was the story of dashing rogue Percy Toplis. The cynical Nottinghamshire miner, a private in the British army, was stationed at the Etaples training camp in France and, on the night before the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, instigated a mutiny among his harshly treated fellow recruits. His partner in the action was Charles Strange, a political idealist.
This four-part dramatization by Alan Bleasdale (whose own grandfather had died at Passchendaele) added fiction to the bare facts and depicted how Toplis escaped into the French hills, took to impersonating an army officer and led a group of renegades in the taking of a bridge. He then returned to England and fell in love with Dorothy, a young widow, before being captured in the Lake District and ‘executed’ for his crimes by Ml5 assassin Woodhall.
The series proved to be the most provocative of Bleasdale’s works to date and roused the ire of Establishment figures and old soldiers. The suggestion that deserters were executed by their own side (exemplified in the drama by the shooting of an officer named Cruikshank) was heavily condemned. The fact that Michael Grade, the BBC’s Director of Programmes, had passed a press release stating that the story was totally factual only made matters worse. According to Grade, the fuss detracted from the quality of the drama itself.
UK / BBC-1 / 2×75 minute episodes 1×80 minute episode 1×95 minute episode / Broadcast 31 August – 29 September 1986
Writer: Alan Bleasdale / Consultant: William Allison / Music: George Fenton / Producer: Richard Broke / Director: Jim O’Brien
Paul McGann as Percy Toplis
Cherie Lunghi as Dorothy
Timothy West as Thomson
Dave Hill as Frank Webster
Penelope Wilton as Lady Angela Forbes
Jerome Flynn as Franny
Matthew Marsh as Charles Strange
Jane Wood as Annie Webster
Philip McGough as Woodhall
Anthony Calf as Guiness
Ron Donachie as Strachan
Billy Fellows as Geordie