Spy Catcher
BBC 1959 - 1961
A series of true stories of the search for spies in wartime based on the experiences of Lieutenant-Colonel Oreste Pinto
One Must Die
TX : 3rd September 1959

Publicity : Robert Barr Introduces "Spycatcher" - The series of adventure stories which begans at 8:45pm tonight tells how Colonel Oreste Pinto and his team of investigators sorted out, among the stream of war-time refugees arriving in Britain, those who were genuine and those who were spies:

During the war, when I was attached to General Eisenhower's personal staff, I sometimes saw a Dutch Intelligence officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Pinto, visit the camp to make personal reports. General Eisenhower once referred to him as "the greatest living expert in security". Oreste Pinto, a lean, kindly Dutchman and an excellent story-teller, began his Secret Service career with the Deuxieme Bureau, the French equivalent of M.I.5, and at the outbreak of war was engaged in counter-intelligence work for Britain. With the German occupation of Europe there began a steady flow, at times it was a flood, of refugees into Britain. Most of them were determined anti-NAZIs - young man from the disbanded armies, and fishermen - welcome recruits for the newly-formed Free Forces. But as this flow of refugees continued it became clear to British counter-intelligence that since the Germans could not stop the escapes, at least they could use them to infiltrate spies into Britain.

So every refugee and escaper who arrived in Britain, whether by cockleshell boat across the North Sea, or by the long overland routes to Gibraltar and Lison, was brought before Colonel Pinto's team of interrogators for "screening". Here, in makeshift premises in London, their stories were heard and their few possessions were minutely examined. And it was here that the smallest possessions - a forgotten bus ticket, the old-fashioned watch, the pocket English dictionary, or the odd cigarettes - were made to give up their secrets. The problems facing the counter-intelligence team were infinite: the spies had to be caught before they could engage in espionage; only a tiny fraction of the escapers were potential spies, and the others must not be made to feel that that they had escaped from one Gestapo only to fall into the hands of another; often the most patriotic of the refugees vouched unwittingly for the spy who had travelled with them.

The record of Colonel Pinto and his team in trapping the spies who came to Britain is exceptional and is fully described in Colonel Pinto's two excellent books Spycatcher and Friend Or Foe? which tell in exciting detail both the methods and intentions of the spies and the patience and experience required to trap them. Every efficient spy, says Colonel Pinto, would have a plausible and well-supported story. Only the ability of the interrogator to probe beneath the surface could succeed in breaking the spy's story. Colonel Pinto lists the following qualifications "for a successful spycatcher": a phenomenal memory, patience and regard for detail, a gift for languages, courage, a detailed knowledge of the capitals and towns of the world, a thorough knowledge of international law, a gift for detection, and a long experience of the methods and tricks of spies.

The six stories of the series have been chosen to show these qualities in action. Most of the stories deal with agents who came to Britain at great risk and determined to spy - but not all of them! In choosing the stories I have tried to put the viewer in the same quandary as the spycatcher, for in at least two cases the suspect was finally proved innocent, although in one case you might not agree! (Radio Times, August 28, 1959 - Article by Robert Barr).

Notes : Episodes were originally transmitted 8:45pm to 9:15pm on BBC 1.

Three From Spain
TX : 10th September 1959

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

Friend Or Foe?
TX : 17th September 1959

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

The Gentle Gestapo Man
TX : 24th September 1959

I Know Your Face
TX : 1st October 1959

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

TX : 8th October 1959

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

Double Agent?
TX : 18th February 1960

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

TX : 25th February 1960

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

Like Father, Like Son
TX : 3rd March 1960

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

Game, Set And Match
TX : 10th March 1960

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

Never Say Die
TX : 17th March 1960

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

The Absent Friend
TX : 24th March 1960

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

The Infernal Triangle
TX : 31st March 1960

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

Left Luggage
TX : 4th October 1960

The Photgraph
TX : 11th October 1960

Notes : This episode remains in the archives.

Neutral Ground
TX : 18th October 1960

Margin Of Error
TX : 25th October 1960

Happy Landings
TX : 1st November 1960

Spitfire Johnny
TX : 8th November 1960

TX : 2nd May 1961

TX : 9th May 1961

Doves Of War
TX : 16th May 1961

Publicity : Bernard Archard - The Man Who Plays Pinto: In tonight's Spycatcher episode you will again see a man who has come to Britain from wartime Occupied Europe being interrogated over an official desk. The verbal duel could mean life or death. The man who asks the questions combines the sympathy and dignity of a friendly headmaster with the calculated charm and evasiveness of a bank manager secretly appraising an applicant for an overdraft. Such as Lieutenant-Colonel Oreste Pinto, of the Allied Counter-Intelligence Service, as we meet him in the person of thirty-nine-year-old actor Bernard Archard. Tonight's story is the third in the final series of Spycatcher, based on the Colonel's wartime memoirs, and it marks a further march in the astonishing career of Bernard Archard himself. Two years ago the actor who confessed to me that he has now given up swimming because autograph hunters spot him even in bathing trunks, was an "unknown". Not even a RADA scholarship and years in the hard school of "Rep" had won him as much as a competence. "When the chance of Spycatcher came along," said Bernard, "I was within ten years of emigrating to Canada". Said Robert Barr, scriptwriter of the series: "Producer Terence Cook and I knew that Colonel Pinto - aged about forty - was a star part, but we wanted an `unknown' to play it. Agents laughed. No one of star value, they said, could possibly have reached that age without being a star". Luckily for Bernard Archard, someone in the BBC had spotted him back in 1958 as a minor Coal Board official in a television commentary on open-cast mining. He was sent for. "We liked him," said Robert Carr, "because for one thing, he could sit still. Spycatcher is a continious trial scene - always a winner in television - boiled down to essentials. Pinto is judge, jury, and prosecuting counsel all in one. But he gets no help from the old stage tricks. There's no wig to fiddle with, no pacing around, no striking of attitudes. He simply sits. A forbidding role? "You'd think so," said Bernard, with the self-deprecatory smile that is part of his charm. "Yet I've had two direct offers of marriage and about a dozen oblique ones. Goodness knows why!". (Radio Times, May 11, 1961 - Article by Ernest Thomson).

One Of Our Aircraft
TX : 23rd May 1961

Keeping A Promise
TX : 30th May 1961

Traitor In The Forest
TX : 6th June 1961

Logic And Lives
TX : 13th June 1961

Portrayed By
Lieutenant-Colonel Oreste Pinto
Bernard Archard
The series was created and written by Robert Barr. The series was produced and directed by Terence Cook.

Bernard Archard as Oreste Pinto.

RADA-trained actor Bernard Archard, having exhausted every possible avenue in the pursuit of regular employment in the United Kingdom, had booked a seat on the next flight to Canada when he was contacted by producer Terence Cook and asked to audition for a proposed new series based on the wartime memoirs of Allied counter-espionage Lieutenant-Colonel Oreste Pinto.

The real Oreste Pinto.

Robert Barr, already having carved out a niche for himself with Associated Rediffusion's Secret Mission (a similarly-theme series examining the stories of women serving during the war), would be responsible for the scripts of the series, which would prove to be a radical departure from the mode of story-telling previously offered by the BBC.

successfully auditioned for the role - at thirty-nine, it was virtually his first major role on British television and a last-gasp attempt to secure employment in England - and worked closely with Cook and Barr to flesh out the character of Pinto for television audiences. The premise of the series would be stemming the flow of refugees into Britain from German-occupied Europe during the Second World War. Pinto would be responsible for screening and interrogating refugees to metre out potential spies determined to infiltrate the British establishment under this guise.

A scene from the episode Friend or Foe.

Archard provided a commanding performance as Pinto, a man who engaged in verbal fencing with his "opponents" in a subtle endeavour to catch out potential spies when their guard was down. The episodes were, for the most part, confined to one set, with Pinto sitting at a desk opposite "refugees" whom he suspected of ulterior motives.

The verbal interplay between two characters in such a claustrophobic environment proved potently compelling, and the audience appreciation figures ensured the programme survived to span four series and twenty-five episodes. Such was the popularity of the series that it topped the list of the five most-watched programmes throughout 1960.

One of the most memorable scenes involved Pinto eliciting a confession from a spy after attaching a photograph of Adolf Hitler to a dartboard and using it as target practice, yet he was not always successful in capturing spies: on two separate occasions he interrogated to the brink of exhaustion two innocent refugees, and was forced to let them go.

The programme would succeed in making Archard an instantly-recognisable household name. He would go on to appear in a wide variety of roles for BBC Television and ITV, some of which would take advantage of his capacity of speak fluent German. The series was never commercially released and only 12 episodes remain intact. These are listed in the episode guide below.

Text © Matthew Lee, 2004.

Please note synopsis are taken from the original Radio Times listings for the day of transmission.