Wednesday, 30 November 2016

548 Private Schulz

First  viewed : Uncertain

I  think  I  may  have  seen  one  or  two  episodes  of  this  first  time  round  when  it  was  shown  on  BBC 2  in  May  1981  but it's  certain  my  sister  and  I watched  it  all  the  way  through  when  it was  repeated  on  BBC  1  in  July  1982.

Private  Schulz  was  the  last  work  of  acclaimed  screenwriter  Jack  Pulman  who  made  his name with  I  Claudius.  He  died  in  1979  before  it  went  into  production. In  the  comic  drama, Schulz ( Michael  Elphick )  is  an  unsuccessful  fraudster  who  is  released  from  prison  in  Berlin  in 1939 to  aid  the  war  effort  and  finds  himself  working  for  the  Gestapo  under  the  fanatical  but incompetent  Major  Neuheim  ( Ian  Richardson ) . At  his  own  suggestion  he  is  put  in  charge  of a  plan  to  ruin  Britain's  economy  by  means  of  forged  bank  notes. Schulz  has  no  ideological attachment  to  the  Nazis  who  he  thinks  are  nuts  nor  any  real  patriotism. He  just  wants  to enrich  himself  and  get  off  with  mercenary  prostitute  Bertha  ( Billie  Whitelaw ).  However  he does  look  out  for  Jewish  friend  Solly  ( Cyril  Shaps )  who  is  a  skilled  forger   and  can  be seen  as  something  of  a  Schindler  figure.  Two  of  the  episodes  are  set  in  Britain  where Schultz  encounters in  the  first  a  double  agent  and  in  the  second  a  gangster  both  also  played by  Richardson.

The   series  divided  critics.  Some,  like  Clive  James,  believed  that  it  was  just  too  early  to make  members  of  the  SS  figures  of  fun. Those  who  got  past  that  hump  enjoyed  the  coal -black  humour  and  farcical  elements  immensely , hence  its  repeat.  

It  made  a  star  out  of  Elphick,  hitherto  a  thuggish  character  actor. Richardson  of  course  would  make  his  name, some  years  on  , playing  a  more  famous  TV  villain   but  I'd  say  he  was  even  better  here  as  Neuheim, a  man  without  any  redeeming  features  but  yet  absurd  enough  to  be  amusing.

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