TV Blog: D-Day: The King Who Fooled Hitler

Benjie Goodhart / 02 May 2019

An engrossing documentary reveals a little-known D-Day story.

D-Day: The King Who Fooled Hitler, Sunday 5th May, 8pm, Channel 4

We live in an age of hyperbole, and no mistake. From politics to entertainment to journalism, the idea of nuance and moderation is seen as a twee anachronism. And nowhere is this better reflected than on TV. On TV, Huddersfield v Southampton isn’t a boring, run-of-the-mill football match between two grindingly average teams, it’s Super-Mega-Spiffing-Sunday, billed as North v South, a struggle for the ages, a fight to the death. The Bodyguard isn’t a fun and slightly silly bit of camp melodrama, it’s a white-knuckle thrill-ride that has the entire nation discussing little else. And this isn’t a diverting, well-crafted and interesting documentary about MI5 and George VI, it’s a personal battle of wits between our king and Hitler, a straight-out, winner-takes-all game of chess between good and evil on whose result the fate of the world balanced.

The programme's title, and its breathless references to George VI’s role in D-Day, would have you believe that the king personally drew up plans to bamboozle the Third Reich regarding the Normandy Landings, before being first on to the beach and taking out a key machine gun post. The truth, needless to say, is rather more prosaic, but is, in its own way, an extraordinary slice of history, and a riveting insight into the lengths British intelligence went to in order to misdirect the German high command.

At the start of the war, MI5 were a bit concerned about George VI, thanks in no small part due to the politics of his brother. As a result, although he was given daily updates by MI5 during the war, these generally dealt with fairly unimportant matters.

It didn’t ease officialdom’s attitude to the king that he had a somewhat strained relationship with his new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. “The king was rather frightened of Winston,” recalls Caroline Erskine, the daughter George’s Private Secretary, Tommy Lascelles. But all of that changed when the government tried to arrange a secret plan to help the royals escape to Canada in the event of a German invasion of Britain. George VI immediately vetoed the idea, insisting that they would never abandon their country. He furthermore stated a desire to ‘get his own German’, and I don’t think he was referring to hiring a personal Sauerkraut chef. Churchill, greatly buoyed by this show of courage and patriotism, immediately sent the king his own Tommy gun, which the royals then used for training, taking pot shots at rats in the royal gardens.

As distrust of the royals melted away, so their relationship with the more secretive elements of the British military strengthened. In November 1943 the royal family went to a Special Operations Executive base, where they were given a tour and a demonstration. The Queen (later Queen Mother) was apparently greatly impressed with exploding horse poo, which is both less messy and more dangerous than it sounds.

By late 1943 and early 1944, the war was entering a crucial phase, with thoughts in both London and Berlin starting to turn towards an allied invasion of Europe. British Intelligence embarked upon Operation Fortitude – the attempt to deceive the Germans as to the time and the place of the allied landings. And one of those who played a key role in this deception was none other than HRH King George VI.

This engrossing documentary uses expert analysis, archive material and reconstruction to tell the story of what happened, and the role the king played in duping German intelligence. 

24 Hours in A&E, Tuesday 7th May, 9pm, Channel 4

And so it returns, the show following events in an emergency ward over a 24-hour period, for series six squillion. So why bother previewing it, I hear you ask? Wait… you didn’t ask? In which case it’s the voices in my head. It makes a change, I suppose, from them urging me to eat chocolate and drink wine.

I’m reviewing this show in part because it is a very quiet week. I’ve seen more new stuff in an Oxfam shop than in this week’s schedules. But in part, I’m previewing it because this is just such a brilliantly executed, classy, moving and life-affirming programme. It’s also the most romantic show on television. No, really. This show, filled with suffering and pain and blood and gore and confusion and fear and, occasionally, death, is by a country mile the one that best illustrates what love is all about.

And this episode is, I make no bones about it, the best one I have seen. And I’ve seen quite a few of them (I stay with my mum once a week and she and I always watch this. It’s part of our ritual, just as it is when we go to an ad break and she says “I hate the adverts” like she’s not said it in every ad break for the last five years.)

The 24 hours in question takes place during last year’s royal wedding between Harry and Meghan. In between saving lives and patching people up, the staff at St Thomas’, Tooting, are trying to catch snippets of the ceremony on TV. One of them has put a bet on the Queen wearing a silver hat, which seems like a bad idea financially, for her, and sartorially, for HRH.

But work soon intrudes. It’s quite difficult to skip out of your work when it’s quite literally life-and-death. As it is for David, aged 74, who has fallen from a ladder on to concrete, and is in unbearable pain. He might also be bleeding internally. Staff are worried. Though not as worried as his partner Lynda, whose devotion is plain to see in her subsequent interview. “My life before I met David was a bit of a black hole I couldn’t get out of.”

Minnie, meanwhile, has numbness in her left leg. We know she’s not going to peg out, partly because she’s only got a numb leg, and partly because her hospital footage is intercut with her hugely cheerful interview afterwards, in which she is asked her age. “98,” she says, confidently. “Or 89. 1920. You work it out.” She chuckles. She laughs a lot, Minnie. But as her back story develops, you realise she’s had to laugh through more than her share of heartache.

John is 92. He’s fallen from his stair-lift at home, and injured his head. He and his wife Maggie were watching the wedding when, I suspect like men everywhere, he decided he’d had enough and wanted to be elsewhere. Maggie, in her interview, looks back on 66 years of happy marriage, and reflects on the heartache of looking after John after dementia set in.

The way the interviews are shown, as often as not you have no idea if the patient has recovered or not, and it can be an agonising wait. But this isn’t a show about death. Above all, it’s about people, and about love. It’s beautiful, because people are beautiful, and it’s utterly uplifting. I defy anyone to watch this show and not feel optimistic about humanity. This show is proof, writ large, that everyone has a story, and that every story has value. It’s about ageing, and dementia, and kindness, and sacrifice, and beauty, and compassion, and resignation, and courage, and tenderness, and family. And love. Like I say, the most romantic show on TV.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 4th May

Match of the Day Live: The Women's FA Cup Final, 5:10pm, BBC One: Manchester City Women take West Ham United Women in the showpiece final from Wembley Stadium. Manchester City women will win, by the way.

Sunday 5th May

Line of Duty, 9pm, BBC One: The corrupt police thriller, from man-of-the-moment Jed Mercurio, reaches its dramatic conclusion with a feature-length special.

Monday 6th May

The All New Monty: Who Bares Wins, 9pm, ITV: Alexander Armstrong and Ashley Banjo return with the cheeky entertainment show with a worthy ambition: to raise awareness about prostate and testicular cancer. They do this by getting a bunch of celebs to get their bits out in public. To, ahem, tackle the issue, as it were. Among the names involved are Joe Pasquale, Willie Thorne, and Rav Wilding.

Tuesday 7th May

The All New Monty: Ladies’ Night, 9pm, ITV: The same thing, this time for women. Coleen Nolan and Victoria Derbyshire encourage their celebs to strip for a huge audience at Ally Pally to raise awareness of breast and cervical cancer. Among the famous faces, one sticks out: It’s only Martina Navratilova!!

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