Escape from Colditz

Channel 4 Commissioning Editor for History Julia Harrington has commissioned Windfall Films to make Escape from Colditz (working title), due for transmission on Channel 4 in the summer. This 90-minute film is about the most audacious plan ever devised to escape from a prison camp. In 1945, two British prisoners-of-war were to be catapulted from the roof of notorious Colditz Castle in a homemade glider, fly it to a meadow 180 metres below, where they would continue their escape on foot. The “Colditz Cock”, as the glider was called, represents an incredible feat of aeronautical engineering – particularly since it had to be built in secret in a tiny attic using homemade tools and improvised materials like bed boards, sleeping bags, gramophone springs and porridge!

Unfortunately, the war ended before the Cock ever had the chance to stretch its wings and no one knows if the crazy idea would have actually worked…until now. Led by engineer extraordinaire Dr Hugh Hunt (also seen in Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb & Digging the Great Escape), a team of daredevil engineers attempts to rebuild the glider in the very same loft in Colditz, using similar materials to the wartime POWs and comparable homemade tools. Luckily, our modern day escapers are able to follow in the footsteps of their intrepid forebears. Quite a bit is already known about the glider and how it was built; there are the original plans and there’s even a snapshot of it.

However, once they’ve finished building the plane, our team will have to take an almighty leap into the unknown. Precious little information remains about how the Colditz Cock was to be launched from the roof. Officials from the State of Saxony who own the castle have granted Windfall Films permission to restage the glider launch from the roof of Colditz to find out whether the plan would have ever actually worked. Somehow, our team will have to construct a runway 20 metres above ground on the apex of a roof, and contrive a launching mechanism which will dispatch their glider efficiently and silently into the air. It’s hardly surprising the feat has never been attempted before – it’s barmy!

Dr Hugh Hunt has a compelling personal reason for taking part in the project. His beloved uncle William “Andy” Anderson was imprisoned in the castle from 1941-1945. Andy, a celebrated Colditz face, was a leading forger, running a secret production line that conjured up convincing German documents for would-be escapers. Hugh knows very little about his uncle’s time in Colditz, and the film follows him as he learns about Andy Anderson’s inventive genius in the face of adversity, and challenges Hugh to recreate some of his uncle’s wartime improvisations.

Commissioning Editor Julia Harrington says: “I love ideas that put visual spectacle and real engineering challenge centre stage – and that’s certainly what Windfall and Hugh are doing here.”

Executive producer, Ian Duncan says: “I’m already practicing the German for ‘I’m sorry our glider hit your house’. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but that’s why this is exciting – no one knows whether this is actually going to work.”