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 (Paul McGann). 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 (Matthew Marsh, 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 (Cherie Lunghi), 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.
Cast: 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
Writer: Alan Bleasdale / Consultant: William Allison / Music: George Fenton / Producer: Richard Broke / Director: Jim O’Brien
UK / BBC-1 / 2×75 minute episodes 1×80 minute episode 1×95 minute episode / Broadcast 31 August – 29 September 1986