Prolific Shakespearean actor Clifford Rose who rose to TV fame as the evil SS officer Kessler in the BBC hit series Secret Army – obituary


Clifford Rose, who died aged 92, gained his greatest fame as an actor in BBC Television’s WWII drama Secret Army as the coldly sadistic leader Ludwig Kessler of the Gestapo in Belgium which does not respect the Geneva Convention.

During three popular series (1977-79), Rose – without a smile, with cropped hair and rimless glasses – was the arch-nemesis of Bernard Hepton’s cafe owner Albert Foiret, who provided the foundation for Lifeline. , a Belgian escape group risking their lives to rescue Allied crews shot down by the Luftwaffe.

High-quality scripts and totally convincing performances by Rose and others created tense drama, especially in Kessler’s heated exchanges with Major Brandt (Michael Culver), the less brutal leader of the Luftwaffe. Tensions peak in the third series as Kessler’s fanatical loyalty to the Führer collides with Reinhardt’s melancholy disillusionment with Terrence Hardiman, a “good German”, war hero and Iron Cross recipient, who sees that Germany is losing the war but is nonetheless determined to penetrate the resistance.

The character of Rose, based on the real SS leader in Belgium, Ernst Ehlers, who committed suicide before being brought to justice, rises to the rank of Standartenführer as the Allies sweep over Belgium. Rose convincingly portrays Kessler’s scheming malice – for example, to save himself after his capture, he cruelly betrays Reinhardt, who ultimately managed to uncover the truth about Lifeline – and also sentimental, in tender moments with his Belgian girlfriend , Madeleine Duclos (Hazel McBride).

The creepy character Rose brought to the screen convinced BBC bosses to turn him into her own series, Kessler (1981). In this sequel taking place today, he had a new identity, Manfred Dorf, and was a wealthy industrialist and neo-Nazi who turns out to be a fugitive from the Israelis.

But Kessler lacked all of the ingredients that made the original series so compelling. Secret Army would inspire the debauchery sitcom ‘Allo’ Allo, which usurped the deadly seriousness of the original.

Surprisingly perhaps, Rose’s fan mail was overwhelmingly positive, applauding her down-to-earth portrayal. “Anthony Valentine, who played a similar character in Colditz, told me he got a lot of really nasty letters,” he recalls.

For a while, Rose was cataloged and found herself playing Moltke, a Gestapo officer, in the TV movie The Cold Room (1984) and Heinz Kammler, an SS general, in the epic American miniseries War and Remembrance (1987).

Most recently, he played a small role as Dean of Windsor in an episode of The Crown in 2019.

John Clifford Rose was born in the village of Hamnish Clifford (hence his name), near Leominster, Herefordshire, on October 24, 1929, the eldest of three sons, Violet (née Pratt), piano teacher and former nurse , and Percy Rose, who operated a small estate and was a lay preacher.

After the family moved to Whitton, near Ludlow in Shropshire, he attended King’s School in Worcester, but his hopes of entering medical school were dashed when he was turned down five times.

Instead, he planned to follow his younger brother, David – who was trained at Rada – into acting, but first graduated in English from King’s College London. David Rose went on to become a television actor whose roles included that of Harry Wade, a married man whose affair with Sheila Harvey in Crossroads caused a thrill of excitement among viewers of the soap opera in the early 1970s.


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