1 9 5 7 – 1 9 5 8 (UK)
7 x 30 minute episodes
This children’s war story from the BBC told the story (based on fact) of a family of Polish children whose father – schoolmaster Joseph Balicki (Barry Letts) – was sent to a prison camp when the Nazis invaded Poland.
Then, on a cold, dark night in Warsaw in 1942, the Balicki children watch in horror as Nazi Storm Troopers arrest their mother, Magrit (Gwen Watford) to work as a slave in Germany. Now they are all alone.
When their house is blown up, the three children take up residence in a ruined cellar before moving on to the countryside beyond and camp in the woods outside the city.
With the war raging all around them, food and shelter are hard to come by and they live in constant fear.
Ruth (Pat Pleasance), the eldest, has to be the surrogate mother and look after her sister, Bronia (Ingrid Sylvester). Edek (Melvyn Hayes), the eldest brother, plays the part of breadwinner until he, too, is sent to Germany.
When Joseph escapes from the camp he returns to Warsaw to find his family gone. Before he leaves for Switzerland, where he and his wife agreed they would meet should they survive the war, he encounters an orphan boy named Jan (Frazer Hines).
He gives Jan a paperknife in the shape of a sword and asks the boy, should he meet the children, to tell them to head to Switzerland.
Jan later finds the children and – after they find Edek – they set off together for Switzerland in search of the parents – a journey of some nine hundred miles through war-ravaged Europe.
They travel on foot or get lifts in lorries and trains, camping out in fields or barns, arriving at last on the shore of Lake Constance where they can see the mountains of Switzerland – the promised land.
Production limitations meant that the children’s efforts to gain access to Switzerland by crossing the lake in a small boat had to be omitted from the series. The novel details a fierce storm in which the children are caught and nearly drowned. The adaptation, unable to recreate this on-screen, instead had a witness to the incident recall everything that had happened as dialogue.
The Silver Sword – adapted from the novel only a year after its publication and little more than ten years since the end of the war – was incredibly exciting in its time, so much so that members of the public were still writing to the BBC requesting another screening more than ten years after it was broadcast.
Instead of repeating the serial, the BBC responded by adapting the series again, this time in colour. Transmitted late in 1971, the production incorporated a greater amount of location work, with filming taking place in Wales and also in Leeds where a demolition site was used effectively to represent battle-scarred Warsaw.
Escape from the Nazis | Escape from Prison | Burning of the City | Return of Edek | Jan in Trouble | Escape from Bavaria | The Last Lap