Secret Army concludes

When I cited Secret Army as an example of Quality Telly a few days ago, I was unaware that the third and final season was so near the conclusion of the series. I had deliberately avoided sight of any episode numbering, previews, or even counting the episodes themselves to avoid spoiling the ending – in fact, the only clue I had was the inevitable voiceover (they’re sickening, aren’t they?) making sure we “don’t miss the final episode tomorrow”, and “Now, the final episode”. All quite unnecessary, and of benefit only to the announcer (whose wages I an shamefully putting at risk), and the broadcaster, who MUST keep their channel ident in high profile to keep the sponsors happy.

I won’t let slip any plot details, rather note that I was interested to see how the plot would switch from the activities of Lifeline (which smuggled downed Allied aircrew from Brussels back to Britain), and deal with the end of the war.

It was, or rather continued to be, an example of television and writing at its best. We were not presented with the overblown, overacted, drama-out-of-a-crisis presentations that we are subjected to now, where the writers feel they have to justify their jobs and inflated salaries (ironically, there is a writer’s strike in America – instead of everyone jumping for joy and and yelling ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish’ there seems to be negotiations to get them back to work. Dump ’em all, and give the new talent a chance, at a fraction of the cost) by creating high drama, histrionics, ridiculous shoot-outs and running gun battles, ‘deep, meaningful relationships’ (not forgetting the endless gratuitous sexual scenes of course), and convoluted plot twists that only the writer can even remember let alone follow. Rather, we were presented with believable conclusions to the various scenarios that had played out during the course of the series, not all perfect, not all tragic, and not all as might have been expected. Without any stupid surprises being pulled out of the proverbial hat, a satisfactory conclusion was possible, with surprises, sadness, pity, pleasure, and many more emotions being raised, but not disappointment and disbelief.

It was also interesting to watch the series on a daily basis. Now that it’s over, there’s an empty hour in the day, and a loss of the anticipation and pleasure of sitting down with a coffee to watch it as it started each afternoon – there’s a feeling of having lost some people you came to know through seeing every day.

I wonder if the episodes would have been written differently if it had been intended to be seen daily, rather than weekly? I hope not, as they had a strength and attraction that was based on each one generally being complete within itself, again benefiting from another media requirement that seems to be so intrusive and unecessary – some sort of ‘Teaser’, deliberately inserted by the modern writer to keep the viewer hooked, and being them back for the next episode. Pity they can’t write better, and keep viewers interested in the stories themselves, and not their contrivances. I was just reading some notes about the original Paul Temple radio series from the 1930s, presently broadcast as daily episodes, the writer pondered the question as to how listeners of the time followed the many plot threads and twists, scattered with clues and Red Herrings, when there was a full week between each episode, as they found it hard enough to grasp the detail with only one day between airings.

It’s interesting to see series that actually come to a proper conclusion, something that is sadly lacking in modern TV series. The only series I can think of that managed to see its intended five year story arc through from start to finish was Babylon 5, and that was fraught with cancellation threats all through the latter parts as J Michael Straczynski fought to keep it on air. If we don’t get cheated because it gets promoted from terrestrial to satellite (and only available to those who subscribe), then most series that we might find enjoyable nowadays get terminated because the sponsors don’t think that the next series will attract enough viewers/sponsors/revenue. I was amazed to learn that they will even drop a successful show with consistent numbers if they have another show that will fill the same slot an provide more numbers.

I look forward to a forthcoming repeat of Secret Army, not because I want to see the whole series again, but because I missed a number of episodes at the start of the first season, and I’d like to see how it started, and see (with the benefit of hindsight) if it started as it finished. Apparently Tenko will be along next… I don’t think it really works. Too many well fed actors (well actresses), and although its never managed to attract me as a viewer, a little to much defiance of their captors by the inmates. I can’t believe the women would have lived through many of the scenes of disrespect to their jailers that I’ve seen portrayed, where they make them back down. I also wonder about the amount of flesh on view. Oops, I’m almost talking myself into watching it, just to see if the few passing scenes I’ve seen were representative of the whole story!

The reference to flesh is purely an acreage point… the make-up means that there is nothing attractive to be seen, or any titillation, deliberate or otherwise. That’s almost amusing, given the glamorous roles played by some of the actresses in later years.

It reminds of the occasions where I found myself working on equipment installed in a local chicken processing plant. Here, chickens were delivered, slaughtered, plucked, prepared, cooked, carved, frozen, and packaged. The staff were all female, and it was amazing to see the same girls leaving the plant at night – it was almost impossible to believe they were the same that I had been working beside. The production area was chilled to keep the final product frozen, and everyone had the same dreadful pale, white, bloodless, face, yet at home time, they had all warmed up, and completely unrecognisable from the freezing production area.

You have to see this effect to realise just how striking it is.


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