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Colditz is a Britishmarker television series, made as a co-production between the BBC and Universal Studios and screened between 1972 and 1974. The series was remade as a mini-series, in 2005.

The series deals with Allied prisoners of war imprisoned at the supposedly escape-proof Colditz Castlemarker during World War II, and their many attempts to escape captivity, as well as the relationships formed between the various nationalities and their German captors.

One memorable episode portrays the attempts of a prisoner, Wing Commander Marsh (Michael Bryant), to get out of Colditz by feigning insanity. He succeeds, but is pushed to the limits of his sanity in the process.

Colditz was created by Brian Degas working with the producer Gerard Glaister, who went on to devise another successful BBC series dealing with the Second World War — Secret Army. Technical consultant for the series was Major Pat Reid, the real British Escape Officer at Colditz.


The Internees

The British

  • Lieutenant Colonel John Preston (Jack Hedley) - Colonel Preston is the very embodiment of British stiff upper lip. He is mostly emotionless, highly intelligent (i.e. able to get his way with the Germans and remain the voice of reason in his own contingent), and normally rigid in his application of principles. He gets along quite well with the accommodating Kommandant, whom he respects but is adept at manipulating. His only real sources of passion are recollections of his time in the trenches in WWI and his wife, whom he married late and had to leave behind to go to war.

  • Captain Pat Grant (Edward Hardwicke) - Captain Grant is the first British escape officer in Colditz. He is mild-mannered and mostly level-headed. He often serves as an arbiter between his fellow officers' passion and enthusiasm and Colonel Preston's cold reserve.

  • Flight Lieutenant/Major Phil Carrington (Robert Wagner) - Flight Lieutenant Carrington is an American officer who volunteered to serve with the British early in the war. He served as a journalist in Berlin before the war, so has an intimate knowledge of Germany and German politics. He appears to be sensible at first, but he is prone to bouts of rage if his sense of justice is offended, which gets him in trouble with the Germans and the British alike.

  • Flight Lieutenant Simon Carter (David McCallum) - Flight Lieutenant Carter is a young, upstart, hot-headed RAF officer who enjoys goon-baiting and is very impatient to escape. He misses his young wife, Cathy, very much, and seeks to return to her. He finds himself frequently in solitary confinement. In the second season, he mellows a bit as he accepts the post of escape officer, and is tempered by that responsibility.

  • Lieutenant Dick Player (Christopher Neame) - Lieutenant Player is a quiet but determined officer from the Royal Navy. His perfect German and history of living in Germany cause the Germans to suspect he is a spy at first, which causes him a great deal of trouble. Once in Colditz, though, he is a keen and cool escaper, and participates in some of the most daring and fantastic escape attempts of the series.

  • Captain Tim Downing (Richard Heffer) - Captain Downing is generally the devil's advocate of the group. While he seems to be the most pessimistic of the British contingent, his criticisms are often insightful and valid. He is ambitious, views himself as the second-in-command, and seeks the post of escape officer. He is often at odds with Colonel Preston, whom he challenges quite frequently. He rarely participates in escape attempts himself, but provides reliable support for escapers.

  • Pilot Officer Peter Muir (Peter Penry-Jones) - P.O. Muir is a rash officer who has a reputation for not looking before he leaps. Nevertheless, he is a keen member of the escape team. He formed part of Pat Grant's escape team, but was wounded by a gunshot when he and Player were recaptured.

  • Captain George Brent (Paul Chapman) - Captain Brent is the most nervous and least confident of the officers, but is capable of having brilliant ideas. He is unfortunately known for the number of times he has bungled escapes or ruined others' chances at escape. He has insomnia, and often worries about the future, generally having a pessimistic outlook on his captivity. However, he has occasionally been extraordinarily brave, such as in the episode "Ghosts" where he remained holed up in dreadful conditions, voluntarily, for several weeks.

  • Padre (Donald Macdonald) - The Padre is a mild-mannered officer who, in his own words, does "not exactly summon a multitude" with his tedious sermons. His cloth unfortunately often conflicts with his duty to the war effort, and so Colonel Preston generally keeps him out of any escape plans.

  • Doc (Geoffrey Palmer) - The Doc is featured in three episodes, most prominently in Tweedledum. He is frustrated by the lack of medicines, and views the German village doctor as a quack.

  • Wing Commander Marsh (Michael Bryant) - A medical orderly and assistant to the British Medical Officer, Marsh is the officer who famously feigned insanity to achieve repatriation.

  • Lieutenant Page (Ian McCulloch) - Lieutenant Page is an antisocial and violent late addition to the British contingent, who appears to have little knowledge of the air force, despite claiming to be an air force officer.

  • Corporal Baker (Alec Wallis) - Colonel Preston's personal NCO who has immense respect for his superior.

  • Cathy Carter (Joanna David) - While not an internee, Carter's wife plays a decent-sized role in the series. Reluctant to let her new husband leave in the second episode, she is devastated to learn he has been shot down and worries that he has not survived. When she learns he is at a POW camp, she keeps in touch with him through letters. Good at crosswords and quick on the uptake, Cathy becomes embroiled in a scheme to connect escaping prisoners with the European underground.

The Other Nations

  • Capitaine André Vaillant (Gerard Paquis) - Capitaine Vaillant is a stereotypical riviera Frenchman who is self-serving, self-righteous, dashing, and a shameless womaniser.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Max Dodd (Dan O'Herlihy) - Old-school and brash, Colonel Dodd arrives with Major Carrington on his second trip to Colditz, and rapidly becomes the Senior American Officer of that growing contingent. He does not take well to being a prisoner, and often clashes with the Kommandant. Unlike his counterpart Colonel Preston, he is more than willing to take substantial risks with his men in order to accomplish his objectives.

The Germans

  • Kommandant (Bernard Hepton) - The Kommandant, known only by his forename Karl, is a moderate, honourable, and soft-hearted Oberst (Colonel) of the Wehrmacht. He holds to the Old Army ways of respecting enemy officers, and adheres to the Geneva Convention to the best of his ability. He has difficulty believing that any authority but the OKW is legitimate, and often finds himself in dilemmas over orders he gets from the Waffen-SS or Reich Security. Fortunately, he has an ally in General Schaetzel, a respected figure in the OKW. With the help of Schaetzel, and Colonel Preston's cooperation, he constantly works to prevent the SS from taking control of the camp. He has a young son, Erich, in the Luftwaffe and a wife named Lise.

  • Major Horst Mohn (Anthony Valentine) - A Luftwaffe hero with the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Major Mohn was wounded severely at Stalingrad by a Russian bayonet, and served on Hitler's personal staff before coming to Colditz. He is an NSDAP Party Member in good standing, and very highly connected (although the series does not mention to whom). He constantly finds himself in conflict with the Kommandant, for he holds the philosophy that war is still going on at Colditz and is frustrated by what he perceives as the treating of prisoners with "kid gloves". The prisoners loathe him, and do whatever they can to foil him or antagonise him at every turn. Unfortunately for them, he is ruthlessly intelligent and occasionally pulls off a devastating capture.
    Contrary to what is said on most websites on the series, Major Mohn is not a member of the SS.

    He is clearly an officer of the Luftwaffe, and his relationship with the SS appears to be fairly chilly.

    He is visibly upset with the SD orders given at the end of the episode "The Guests" and seems nervous around the Obergruppenführer and Hauptsturmführer in "Very Important Person."

    It appears that the reason why Major Mohn would prefer to take SS orders unquestioningly than risk SS reprisals is that he knows, apparently better than the Kommandant, what the SS is capable of.

  • Hauptmann Ulmann (Hans Meyer) - Hauptmann Ulmann is the Security Officer at Colditz. A calculating and rather robotic individual most of the time, he takes his job of preventing escapes seriously and is sometimes ill at ease with the Kommandant's lax attitude. He took over early from Oberleutnant Lehr, a young and easygoing officer who was drafted to the front lines, and was appalled at the lack of discipline among the security forces. Due to his careful planning and sharp eyes and mind, he is able to avert many escape attempts as well as many attempts of the SS to take over the camp. He seems to have been sent by the OKW specifically to help the Kommandant in these matters. While occasionally he comes up with a brilliant scheme, most of his captures are due to thoroughness. He develops a warm relationship with Carrington over the course of the series.

  • Lieutenant Anton Lehr (Grahame Mallard) - Lieutenant Lehr is the first Security Officer of Colditz, but in the fourth episode is posted to the front. He is easygoing and cheerful most of the time, although he gets the job done with apparent competence. He is not upset at the posting, and looks forward to fighting for his country.

  • Paul Von Essinger (John Quentin) - Von Essinger is a contact of Player's father, who was a diplomat in Germany before the war. He is apparently wealthy, well-connected, and possibly homosexual (for example, his comment that the Gestapo officer's uniform "clashes with the wallpaper"). Although he is willing to help identify Player, he has an ulterior motive of using Player in a conspiracy to overthrow Hitler.

  • Dr. Starb (Kenneth Griffith) - A very stuffy Major who serves briefly on the camp security staff. He is irritated at the relaxed discipline of the British, and decides to enforce saluting. When he gets Carter court-martialled for failing to salute, the Kommandant has him removed for fear of prisoner reprisals. Dr. Starb was apparently based on a real doctor who served in Colditz and had a prisoner court-martialled for failing to salute.

  • Gerda (Sarah Craze) - Gerda is the young German organist at the Colditz town church. She falls for the dashing Capitaine Vaillant and helps him to escape, feeling for him as she does for her brother who is a POW in Russia.

  • Erich (Martin Howells) - Erich, the son of the Kommandant, is a Luftwaffe officer in his early twenties. He is anxious to fly for the German squadrons, despite the deep concern of his father and mother. Much of the angst of the series centers on the Kommandant's worry he will not return home.

  • Brauner (Peter Barkworth) - A chief plain-clothes Gestapo officer of unknown rank, Brauner is the stereotype of the sinister police organisation. He is intentionally intimidating with his precision and cold curiosity. He is not afraid to torture uncooperative subjects of his interrogations, as Phil Carrington discovers the hard way.

  • Player's Interrogators Sturmbannführer (Nigel Stock) and Hauptsturmführer (Terrence Hardiman) - the "Good Cop, Bad Cop" Gestapo team who attempt to determine Player's identity when one of their agents captures him.

  • Baumann (Ralph Michael) - The civilian lawyer, sympathetic to prisoners and intent on imposing the letter of German law, who agrees to take Carter's case against Dr. Starb.

  • Obergruppenführer Berger and Hauptsturmführer Schankel - Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger was the real-life SS commander who took over the Leipzig/Colditz area late in the war, and was in charge of the removal of the Prominente from Colditz. He is portrayed in the series as a boisterous but unyielding individual for whom everyone holds a measure of fear, even Major Mohn. His aide, Schankel, is a yes-man who puts up with the patronising attitude of his superior officer with a smile.

Episode summaries

Season 1

# Title Writer Original airdate Series No.

Season 2

# Title Writer Original airdate Series No.

Historical accuracy

Almost all of the events depicted in the series, except for dramatic points like the Kommandant's son and Colonel Preston's wife and mother, have a basis in truth. Most of the characters are loosely based on one or several actual persons. The most obvious are Pat Grant (Patrick Reid) and Hauptmann Ulmann (Reinhold Eggers).

The series, like the film The Colditz Story, caused controversy with Airey Neave, who objected to Pat Grant's escape being portrayed as the first successful British escape from Colditz.


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