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The Wednesday Play: The July Plot (BBC Drama, John Carson)

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The Wednesday Play

Original Publicity: The July Plot – Roger Manvell, the author of tonight’s play, outlines its historical background: Twenty years ago, on July 20, 1944, the most carefully organised of the many attempts to kill Hitler all but succeeded. A senior staff officer in the German Army, Colonel von Stauffenberg, whose war wounds had left him with a mutilated hand, managed to place a live bomb under a table at Hitler’s feet. A provisional government, headed by General Ludwig Beck, stood ready to take over and negotiate at once to bring peace back to Europe. Success would have meant the shortening of the war by ten months; hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved; and the shape of Europe might well have been very different from what it is today. But the attempt failed in the most tragic circumstances.

Tonight’s play, The July Plot, tries to show why. Undoubtedly certain elements of bad luck influenced the conduct of the plotters. But the real reasons for failure lie far deeper and are of a nature that affects us all. The leaders in the attempt were men of the bravest order and of the highest principles, but the awkward question has to be faced: were they too good morally to make efficient and ruthless conspirators against an enemy as tough as the Nazis? Did they, with their differences in age, temperament, and background, understand each other well enough to create a victorious team? A year’s research conducted by Heinrich Fraenkel in Germany lies behind the interpretation of events and characters in the play. Every surviving major witness of “the day” helped us to reconstruct this heroic action in its most human terms.

The story is intensely moving, with something of the concentration in action and depth of theme which were characteristic of Greek tragedy. These few men, pitted against the whole machinery of Nazi tyranny, brought their desperate attempt to within a hair’s breadth of success. They undertook what they did not only for the honour of Germany but for the honour of all mankind in a world grown sick with violence. The director of tonight’s play, Rudolph Cartier, who painted a large canvas of German war-history in his production of “Stalingrad”, is mainly restricted in “The July Plot” to one background: the German War Office in Berlin. Richard Henry, the designer, has re-created that vast building, with its corridors, offices, courtyard, stairs, and cellars, exactly as it stood before it was partly destroyed in the last year of the war. Only in the short prologue is Hitler’s Headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia, shown. (Radio Times, December 3, 1964 – Article by Roger Manvell).

Cast: John Carson (Colonel Claus Schenk Count von Stauffenberg), Charles Lloyd Pack (General Erich Hoepner), Graham Leaman (Receptionist), Patricia Denys (Delia Ziegler), Laurie Leigh (Anni Schmidt), Peter Copley (General Friedrich Olbright), Michael Anthony (Colonel Albrecht Sir Mertz von Quirnheim), Joseph Furst (General Fitz Fromm), Peter Claughton (An Adjutant), Cyril Luckham (General-Colonel Ludwig Beck), Mark Petersen (Lieutenant Ewald von Kleist), Clive Russell (Lieutenant Ludwig von Hammerstein), Graeme Brock (Captain Hans Fritzsche), John Lee (First Lieutenant Werner von Haeften), John Abineri (Colonel), Jeffrey Wickham (Major), John Paul (Doctor Bernd Gisevius), Barry Keegan (S.S General Count von Helidorf), Thomas Gallagher (S.S Oberfuhrer Piffraeder) and Geoffrey Matthews (Radio Announcer)

Writer: Roger Manvell / Based on the book by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel / Producer: Peter Luke / Director: Rudolph Cartier

UK / BBC One / 1×95 minute episode / Broadcast 9 December 1964