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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK
DVD review: Secret Army
By William Gallagher
BBC News Online

Secret Army II, the second TV series of the powerful war-time TV drama based on Gerard Glaister's book, is among the DVDs to have been released in the UK this week.

Secret Army
Secret Army ran from 1977 to 1979

The 1970s programme opened with rumbling music and vivid series of cold photographs of roads and paths reaching away to the horizon. Many viewers who saw this will have the images burnt into their minds.

This is backed up by cast member Angela Richards: "I gave a sudden intake of breath when I saw that title sequence," she told me. "I knew then that the show was going to be exciting."

The story of Belgian resistance fighters smuggling Allied airmen home was certainly a nail-biter.

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That tension grew in this second series which arrives on DVD without extras.

But you do get an exceptionally detailed and unusually interesting booklet charting the making of the show. A third season DVD, promised before the end of the year, will have a special documentary.

Even if you do not remember Secret Army it seems familiar because it was the inspiration for the sitcom 'Allo, 'Allo - which did not please the Secret Army cast at all.

Secret Army star Juliette Hammond-Hill said the comedy was "mortifying". "It blackened our work - I do not understand why the BBC elected to deride one of its successes," she added.

'Allo, 'Allo's legacy is that it can still spoil a good moment in Secret Army but it is no exaggeration to say Secret Army was the 24 of its day.

Its studio filming is dated it but the tension builds wonderfully.


Many people would take one look at the title of this movie and think it had to be either a bad or entertaining film. S.W.A.T (Special Weapons and Tactics) turns out to be both.

S.W.A.T is a feature-length remake of a TV show

It is bad in that it is mindless but it is also entertaining, as sometimes a bit of mindlessness can be fun. But, sometimes, not so much.

This film is an updated feature-length version of the old, forgotten TV series. It stars Colin Farrell, Samuel L Jackson and lots of bullets.

There are exciting moments as the S.W.A.T team guard a terrorist. But, it does seem the emptier a film, the fuller its list of extras.

S.W.A.T has a reel of blooper out-takes, a Making Of and sundry so-so featurettes.

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What do you think of these two DVDs? Is Secret Army as gripping now as it was to viewers in the 1970s? Is S.W.A.T light-hearted fun or a trivial waste of time?

Secret Army is, without a doubt, the greatest 'popular' drama series the BBC ever produced. Having just finished watching the DVD box set of the second series, I feel an emotional wreck - it's gripping, disturbing and heart-pounding stuff. Characters you come to know and love get bumped off left, right and centre, and the central message - the bravery and resiliance of the 'secret army' of the evasion lines - is clearly highlighted. Don't let the inevitable comparisons to Allo Allo put you off - this is unmissable stuff.
Scorby Dunbar, London

I was lucky enough to see this series while living in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1979. It was utterly fantastic and among my many regrets at having to return to the States was no longer being able to watch the series. It was simply amazing. And I never understood why it didn't play in the States. I'm delighted to find it is out on DVD! And because Secret Army was so beautifully done (everything about it was perfect), I never understood the "humor" of 'Allo 'Allo -- nor why that show was picked up by US Public Broadcasting, and Secret Army wasn't.
Carol Himmelman-Christopher, Minneapolis, USA

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