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Colditz (BBC-1 1972-1974, Robert Wagner, David McCallum)



Picture of Colditz Maximum Security.

Atmospheric and tense stories based on the true exploits of P.R. Reid and his colleagues who were imprisoned as P.O.W.’s by the Germans during WWII in the sinister and supposedly inescapable Colditz Castle (officially known as Oflag IVC).

As much screen time was given to the Germans especially the Kommandant played by Bernard Hepton and Major Mohn played by Anthony Valentine. Flying the flag for the allies were Robert Wagner and David McCallum, in charge of the interests of the allies was Lt Col Preston.

Made with heavy US investment in the form of a co-production deal with Universal – hence the appearance of Robert Wagner. The series came to a natural conclusion after two seasons with the inmates being liberated by the advancing allies in 1945.


Jack Hedley on having had enough of the role: (Lt-Col Preston) is “a bit of a cardboard cutout, although I enjoyed doing it. I think I’ve got all the milage I can out of that particular character. I think sooner or later I’ll be awarded something like a DSO and then die.” (Sunday Mirror Dec 3, 1972)

Colditz wasn’t every one’s favourite show, especially some of the people who languished in the Castle during the war. One such person was Abingdon MP Airey Neave (a successful Colditz escapee) who in a publicity grab criticised the show and the BBC accusing the production of lacking in authenticity and that the guards were too easy going. Speaking to the Evening Post on 21 Jan 1974 he said he had talked the BBC into having a meeting about raising the standard of the show. “Colditz was an experience that ruined the lives of many brave people. They came out emotionally damaged after five years inside. Yet this second series is getting dangerously near the comic.” Neave escaped from Colditz by dressing in a German corporal’s uniform and then posing as a Dutch workman. He was the first Colditz prisoner to make a “home run” to England.

For the week of 24 Dec 1972 Colditz was number 11 in the top twenty (with a score of 6.9 million viewing homes), one of only two BBC shows to make the national top twenty that week (the other one was Sykes at number 19). Number one was This Is Your Life with 8.25 million followed closely by Public Eye with 8.20 million.

For the following week of 31 Dec 1972 the show was number 4 in the ratings with a score of 6.95 million homes. This week, possibly with it being Christmas, there were a lot more BBC shows in the top 20 including the likes of Dad’s Army at 3 (7.20 million), Cilla at 6 with 6.35 million and movie The Blue Max at 8 with 6.10 million.

production details
UK / BBC-1 – Universal / 28×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 19 October 1972 – 1 April 1974

Creator: Brian Degas, Gerard Glaister / Producer: Gerard Glaister

JACK HEDLEY as Lt Col John Preston
ROBERT WAGNER as Phil Carrington
DAVID McCALLUM as Flt Lt Simon Carter B
BERNARD HEPTON as Kommandant
RICHARD HEFFER as Capt Tim Downing