Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Private Schulz (1981)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Private Schulz (1981)
BBC, tx. 6/5-10/6/1981, 6 episodes of 50 mins each, colour
DirectorRobert Chetwyn
Production CompaniesBBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
ProducerPhilip Hinchcliffe
ScriptJack Pulman
MusicCarl Davis

Cast: Michael Elphick (Private Schulz); Ian Richardson (Major Neuheim); Cyril Shaps (Solly); Alla Sharova (Violinist); Walter Sparrow (Becker); Terence Suffolk (Schumacher); Billie Whitelaw (Bertha Freyer)

Show full cast and credits

The comic misadventures of Private Schulz, an easy-going conman who, after being drafted into the SS, instigates a plan to forge five pound notes, ostensibly to destabilise the British economy, but really to make himself rich.

Show full synopsis

Jack Pulman's posthumously produced comedy serial is firmly in the picaresque mould, depicting the multiple adventures of a wily and resourceful character who, while working for various masters, undertakes many ingenious schemes before eventually settling down. The moon-faced Michael Elphick charmingly plays the cunning, eternally optimistic Schulz, who joins the SS shortly after serving a jail sentence for purporting to be able to turn base metals into gold. Deep down, Schulz is a dreamer who wants to believe in the possibility of alchemy and is prepared to sacrifice almost anything just to see his fantasies, albeit somewhat base ones, come true.

The action spans a period of ten years in both the UK and Germany, beginning just a few weeks before the beginning of the War, when Schulz is transferred from the underpants factory of the voluble Herr Krauss (a great comic turn by Ken Campbell) to the SS, thanks to his knowledge of languages. It is here that he meets the incompetent Major Neuheim (a scintillating performance by Ian Richardson). In a truly eccentric touch, Richardson plays three separate roles (he also plays a German double agent and a Scottish crook), and represents Schulz's eternal nemesis, thwarting all his attempts to get away with the forged banknotes.

Pulman's script, combining clever repartee and broad physical comedy, is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and is helped along by a score by Carl Davis (who can be seen playing the piano in the Salon Kitty sequences) wittily based on themes by Wagner, as well as a gesturally perfect performance from Gawn Grainger as Adolf Hitler. Billie Whitelaw is also thoroughly amusing as Schulz's great love, a brothel madam who claims to have a psychological block making it impossible for her to go with anyone below the rank of Major.

Although the plot is frequently outrageous, such as when Schulz becomes a Dunkirk hero after stealing a boat to get away from British agents, newsreel footage (with faked commentaries) are peppered throughout the episodes so that one never really loses touch with the reality of war. Amazingly, the story is based on a true event, codenamed 'Operation Bernhard', in which the Nazis used Jewish prisoners to manufacture billions of British banknotes. Although Schulz doesn't realise it, it is his successful freeing of all the forgers before they can be killed by the Nazis that is his true achievement, his one really successful scheme.

Sergio Angelini

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Outside (4:20)
2. Joining up (2:10)
3. First mission (3:33)
4. A brilliant idea (2:35)
Complete first episode (50:56)
Davis, Carl (1936-)
Elphick, Michael (1946-2002)
Pulman, Jack (1925-1979)
Whitelaw, Billie (1932-)
WWII Dramas