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Other Man, The (1964)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Other Man, The (1964)
Granada Television for ITV, tx. 7/9/1964
135 mins, black and white
DirectorGordon Flemyng
ProducerGerald Savory
ScriptGiles Cooper
DesignerRoy Stonehouse

Cast: Michael Caine (George Grant); Siân Phillips (Kate); John Thaw (Henry Potter); Peter Dyneley (Major Ritter)

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An Army officer imagines an alternative past in which Britain was absorbed into Hitler's Third Reich.

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When broadcast in 1964, The Other Man was ITV's longest and most ambitious drama presentation. Running for nearly two and a half hours, broken only for a news bulletin, the play had a cast of 200, with 60 speaking roles.

It was epic not just in terms of its production, but also of its subject and scope. Giles Cooper's story depicts an alternative history in which Britain made peace with Germany in 1940 and was absorbed into the Third Reich. With this setting, Cooper articulates his disturbing central premise that within each of us is another, who, in certain circumstances, is capable of decisions and actions that we would normally find morally repugnant.

British officer George Grant (Michael Caine, just after his breakthrough in Cy Enfield's Zulu) is personable and apparently decent until he finds the way to career advancement open when his unit comes under German control. As the play progresses, Grant passes through successively more troubling episodes, becoming first tacitly, then actively, complicit in Nazi crimes.

The play's mounting horror culminates in an appropriately devastating conclusion. Finally cracking under the weight of his actions, Grant tries to get himself killed in battle, only to be revived as a war hero of the Reich through a miracle of Nazi medical science. Like Hitler himself, he has been sustained through the transplanting of organs harvested from the prisoners of war he can see from his hospital window.

Despite its horror, the play is not without a strain of Cooper's typically dry humour. Eccentric senior officer 'Nanny' Norris maintains a very British composure in the face of Nazi fanaticism, replying to each 'Heil Hitler' greeting with a genteel 'good afternoon', and acts the buffoon as he chairs an enquiry into the loss of a German weapon that he himself has stolen with a view to resistance. However, set against the chilling world of Cooper's play, he doesn't last long.

The Other Man illustrates how decent people can be turned onto unpalatable courses, but, crucially, neither excuses nor mitigates their choices. Although encouraged along his fascistic path, Grant is not forced. Like Norris and other characters, he could have resisted. The play therefore conveys not only the power of circumstances, but also the responsibility that comes with free will. The play was critically lauded following transmission and, though now sadly incomplete, remains compelling and thought-provoking viewing.

Ollie Wake

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Video Clips
1. A toast (5:00)
2. New postings (2:23)
3. The lost machinegun (4:07)
4. Slave labour (1:29)
Caine, Michael (1933-)
Cooper, Giles (1918-1966)