So, this Sunday (28 March) Talking Pictures TV will show the very last episode of the outstanding Enemy At The Door that has been our companion on the last 26 Sunday nights. Its final episode appropriately titled Escape was the last episode of Series 2- which was also the last ever made. That is a great pity as the show which explored the occupation of the Channel Islands by Germany in WWII took in the years from June 1940 to April 1943 and was of a consistently high standard, and later series would have surely looked at further deprivation that the likes of Guernsey suffered as well of course at the joyous liberation to come.
However, Enemy At The Door is easily the best portrayal of the only part of British territory that had been occupied by a foreign invander since 1066. Although filmed in Jersey the series focussed on Guernsey and what life was like under the Nazis and its strength has been to give perspectives from both sides of the occupation.
It originally ran from 1978 to 1980 and was made at a time when wartime dramas about people living under the German occupation were very much in vogue. One of the first was ITV’s Manhunt (1970), followed by BBC’s Colditz (1972-1974) which set a very high bar in terms of the quality of its production, and then came Secret Army (1977-79). If Enemy At The Door is similar to any other series then it is Secret Army which looked at how Belgian people and especially its resistance dealt with life under Nazi rule and was hugely successful.
The creator of Enemy At The Door is a familiar name to Talking Pictures TV’s viewers -Michael Chapman- who had previously produced Public Eye, Van der Valk and later on served as Executive Producer for over 1,100 episodes of The Bill as well as writing a number of episodes of Rooms, and you can see his careful and observant touches in the two series themselves.
At the core of Enemy At The Door is the relationship between the commander of the German occupying force Major-Doktor Richter (Public Eye’s Alfred Burke) and Dr Martel who in effect is a kind of notional head of the Guernsey community (the ever reliable Bernard Horsfall). The series shows how Richter is the ‘good German’ who is not a Nazi Party faithful but a soldier who is trying to oversee the occupation with as much ‘harmony’ as possible. For his part, Dr Martel is trying to get the best possible conditions for his community to live under but at the same try avoid collaborating with the invaders.
The real villain though is Hauptmann Reinecke (Simon Cadell) who most definitely is a Nazi Party faithful and whilst Richter seeks to give Channel Islanders the benefit of the doubt on incidences, Reinecke wants strict discipline, enforcement and SS interrogation to be the order of the day, leading to multiple clashes during the series. Here, Simon Cadell shows that he was a very fine actor – and was so much more than simply Jeffrey Fairbrother in Hi-de-Hi!
Most of the Enemy At The Door’s stories focus around two Channel Island families that of Dr Martel’s and of Helen Porteous -especially her son Peter (Richard Heffer). There is tension around the two families as the latter and Clare Martel (Emily Richard) are strong Resisters and are critical of Dr Martel’s closeness with their invaders. This reaches a climax during the end of Series 1 episode Judgement of Solomon, that leads to both Dr Martel and Peter Porteous being arrested for spying and being sent to prison in France-leading to a nervous breakdown for Clare.
In fact, we see little more of Clare as she is supposedly being rehabilitated by a group of nuns. Emily Richard who played her with so much verve and passion later went on to have a major role in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987) as well as being part of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and was last heard of as running London historical tours.
Through its 26 episodes covering 3 years of the occupation, we see a variety of subjects covered on what people on the islands had to submit to. They included the shooting of islanders trying to escape, a librarian sent to jail for refusing to ban books the Germans disagreed with, the rape of a local girl by a soldier, black market activities and racism. In the stand out episodes The Jerrybag & The Right Blood, we see the impact of a local girl falling in love with a German soldier and the dilemma of trying to bring up their baby in those circumstances-and the tragic consequences that follow.
A major reason for Enemy At The Door’s success has been its use of a range of outstanding British character actors which reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of acting talent- John Malcolm (Together), Pam St Clement & Michael Cashman (EastEnders), Ray Smith (Public Eye & Rooms), Antony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer), Alun Armstrong, John Nettles, Joss Ackland, David Hayman, Martin Jarvis-the list goes on.
We shall miss Enemy At The Door but it has been an accurate and poignant memorial of those difficult days which hopefully will have educated as well as entertaining many.
The good news of course is that in its place is the equally wonderful The Champions (1968-1969)- another winner Talking Pictures!