Russell Baker on Foyle's War
Former New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker has been the host of Masterpiece Theatre since 1993. Mr. Baker introduces each program episode, and his personally researched and written comments add context and background to our understanding of the film we're about to watch. His comments frequently provide a uniquely American perspective on the mores and lifestyles of the British.
More commentaries by Russell Baker, as well as commentaries by his predecessor in the hosting chair, Alistair Cooke, can be found for select programs in The Archive.
Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4
Episode 1: The German Woman
Very early in World War II, England began arresting people and holding them indefinitely without charges. The justification was national security. As Winston Churchill put it, England's plight seemed so "grievous" that "no limits could be put upon the action of the state."
In the spring of 1940, when our story takes place, the German army has overrun Poland, beaten the British in Norway, and is poised to roll across France. Russia is still Hitler's ally, and the United States is neutral, isolationist, and militarily feeble. With survival in the balance, the British do not hesitate to lock up their own citizens, including a few who move in the very best society. But people with German accents are especially vulnerable.
This internment policy figures heavily in tonight's story, which takes place in the town of Hastings on the English Channel. That's where the Normans landed in 1066 to begin the conquest of England -- and Hitler's army is very likely to come this way, too. Hastings is the police bailiwick of Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, who would like to chuck the local crime beat and go fight Germans. He is under orders, though, to leave war to others and stick to the old-fashioned business of preserving law and order among the good people of the town.
Among the good people of Hastings, there is at least one capable of old-fashioned murder.
Foyle's War, first episode: The German Woman.
Episode 2: The White Feather
In the years leading up to World War II, there was a homegrown Fascist party in Britain led by Sir Oswald Mosley. It was pro-German, sympathetic to Hitler, and anti-Semitic. Mosley was socially well connected, schooled at Winchester and Harrow, and married to one of the fashionable Mitford sisters, but the party attracted black-shirted street fighters who enjoyed beating up leftists and Jews. A character somewhat like Mosley figures prominently in tonight's story.
The time is May 1940. The setting is Hastings, a town on the English Channel. After nine months of relatively indolent warfare, England suddenly faces the possibility of finding the German army in its front yard. The blitzkrieg in northern France is threatening to drive the British army into the sea. There is good reason to fear that England is about to become a German puppet state -- and there are a few Englishmen who look forward to that prospect quite happily.
Other Englishmen, like Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, go diligently about their daily jobs. Foyle's job includes coping with humdrum murders of the sort done by ostensibly solid citizens when the lights go out in crowded rooms.
Now Foyle's War: The White Feather.
Episode 3: A Lesson in Murder
In the legend of Britain's heroic stand against Hitler in the early days of World War II, it tends to be overlooked that some people were less heroic than others. Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle is constantly running into people whose activities range from casual swinishness to murder. We've watched him deal with bribe takers, swindlers, corrupt office holders, and killers -- and all this in what Winston Churchill called Britain's finest hour.
Tonight's story centers on a family -- a rather elegant family -- which seems to be trying to do something good. Into their stately country house they have brought a working-class boy from London. It's part of the evacuation program for moving city children away from potential bombs. Unfortunately, this family lacks the talent for granting kindness to strangers, or even to each other.
Just across the English Channel, the German army may be poised to swoop down on the local beaches, but crime, it seems, never quits just because there's a war on. In Christopher Foyle's daily rounds, in the seaside town of Hastings, some people seem as hostile to each other as they are to the Nazis.
Now, Foyle's War: A Lesson in Murder.
Episode 4: Eagle Day
When war dominates the news, domestic crime seems to stop. It doesn't, of course. It's just that run-of-the-mill serial killers can't compete for headlines when armies are killing thousands every day.
In 1940, while Britain was fighting for survival, policemen like Christopher Foyle were still toiling away at the comparatively ordinary job of running down thieves and murderers. In tonight's story, he is confronted with a complicated web of crime, each strand of which seems to be connected to the war. Making Foyle's work doubly difficult are the wartime rules of secrecy. These give military officers the power to withhold vital information, and they do so with pleasure. Foyle's investigation is complicated when his son Andrew arrives for an assignment in a top-secret operation.
As we begin, it is the late summer of 1940, and Hitler's air campaign to bomb England into submission is now under way. To defend themselves, the British have only the Royal Air Force and a new top-secret gizmo called radar.
Foyle's War: Eagle Day.
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