Eagle Of The Ninth
BBC 1977
Frontier Fort
TX : 4th September 1977

Publicity : The Eagle Of The Ninth: One day in the year 117 AD or thereabouts the Ninth Legion marched north from Eboracum, where York now stands, to deal with tribal uprisings in Caledonia. And disappeared. It is one of those lovely mysteries of Roman Britain that fascinate Rosemary Sutcliff. Another is how a Roman eagle, a legion's standard and symbol of its honour, came to be at Silchester where it was unearthed. She put the two together and the result was one of her best-known books, The Eagle Of The Ninth, now dramatised for television.

Her hero Marcus, whose father was a centurion with the Ninth, sets out in hazardous search for the lost eagle. He hopes to restore the honour of the legion - and his father. What really happened remains a total mystery. "I didn't find out any more about it, there isn't any more to be found," says Rosemary Sutcliff. "The legion marched off and disappeared. And it is missing from the army lists and all records thereafter". This banishment from official record suggests that what happened was known and disgraceful. "It must have been disgrace otherwise the legion would have been reconstituted. There would have been people on leave and seconded to other legions and sick, say two-thousand. They did not do this which points to a scandal and suppression of it".

Rosemary Sutcliff has written many children's books set in Roman Britain and the Dark Ages. Her passion for this epoch stems from her own childhood, when her mother read to her from books like Kipling's Puck Of Pook's Hill; the three Roman tales entranced her. "I didn't read myself till the last possible minute, about nine. I was brought up on Arthur Weigall's Wanderings In Roman Britain and Wanderings In Anglo-Saxon Britain. He mentions this eagle dug up at Silchester and I've been fascinated by it since I was five". At about three she was crippled by juvenile arthritis, or Still's Disease. And this was another key factor in her writing. "I think most children's writers are writing a chunk of unlived childhood," she says. She writes, superbly, of adventure, battle, young warriors. Rosemary Sutcliff's comversation is rapid and merry and very funny.

She claims to be completely uneducated. "I left school at fourteen. I haven't got a very literary or intelligent kind of life. I have very ordinary friends". In fact, she has completed art school and was a successful professional miniaturist in her late twenties when she wrote her first book. It just happened to be for children and somehow her books have kept on being, theoretically at least, for children. But she doesn't believe in a rigid division between adults' and children's books. "When I was a child I was reading Dickens and Beatrix Potter at the same time". As far as writing goes she does not find it restrictive. "Very occasionally a subject is verboten. And one may have to simplify - no, not that, uncomplicated a very complex emotion. But usually I just write as I want to write".

She does not know all that many children and does not automatically like them. "I like a child or a dog or an adult according to their merits. I am prone to like more dogs on a percentage basis". When a book is going well Rosemary Sutcliff enters into, almost becomes, her characters. The Eagle Of The Ninth, published in 1954, is one of her very favourite books. "I rather wish it weren't because it is quite early. I think and hope I have written better since. But it is my best beloved. Part of me was Marcus, and part was in love with him". (Radio Times, September 3, 1977).

Synopsis : Sometime about AD 117, the Ninth Legion, the Hispanas, which was stationed at Eburacum, where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes…and was never heard of again.

Notes :
Episodes were originally transmitted 5:45pm to 6:15pm on BBC 1.

TX : 11th September 1977

Synopsis : Obsessed with discovering the fate of his father's lost legion, Marcus arrives in Britain to take command of a frontier fort. He makes friends with Cradoc, a British warrior, and all seems peaceful. Then, on the night of the full moon, the tribes rise in rebellion to attack the fort.

Across The Frontier
TX : 18th September 1977

Synopsis : Badly wounded in the battle, Marcus is discharged from the legion, his soldiering at an end. He goes to recuperate with his Uncle Aquila in Calleva. There he saves Esca, a British gladiator, from death in the arena, and from him he hears of the lost legion.

The Lost Legion
TX : 25th September 1977

Synopsis : His wound healing after a painful operation, Marcus considers where his future now lies. A Roman commander visiting his uncle tells him of a rumour that the Caledonian tribes are about to rise and that the Eagle of the Ninth is in their hands. Marcus and Esca go north to recover it.

The Wild Hunt
TX : 2nd October 1977
Director : Baz Taylor
Script : Donald Bull

Synopsis :
After months of searching, Marcus and Esca meet Guern, the hunter. Now living as a British tribesman, Guern confesses that he was once a centurion with the Ninth, and tells them how the legion was annihilated. Later, at a tribal ceremony, Marcus sees the Eagle.

TX : 9th October 1977
Director : Baz Taylor
Script : Arden Winch

Synopsis :
Marcus learns of the legion's last stand and meets the man who killed his father. He conspires with Esca to steal the Eagle but fleeing with it, they discover the tribesmen are close behind them.

Portrayed By
Marcus Flavius Aquila
Anthony Higgins
Bernard Gallagher
Matthew Long
Patrick Malahide
Marcis' Father
Peter Whitbread
Duty Centurion
Bill Henderson
Laura Graham
The Druid
Iain Agnew
George Howell
Brian Carey
Patrick Holt
Christian Rodska
Gillain Bailey
Clodius Maximus
Paul Chapman
W H D Joss
Rufrius Galarius
Kalman Glass
Darien Angadi
Martin Heller
Gerry Slevin
Iain Glass
Moultrie Kelsall
Conrad Phillips
Alec Heggie
David Hayman
Robert Docherty
Victor Carin
The Guard Commander
Linal Haft

Adapted from the popular children's novel of the same title by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle Of The Ninth (as dramatised by Bill Craig) remains an outstanding entry into the family entertainment genre transmitted on Sunday evenings by BBC Television. The series took as it opening gambit the events which lead to the mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Roman Legion in Britain, the Hispanas, which vanished in 117 AD en route to a battle with rising Caledonian tribes in the North.

Marcus Flavius Aquila (Anthony Higgins) is the hero of the piece, though primarily the mysterious events concerning the Hispanas bears a connection with his father (played by Peter Whitbread), who was engaged with the Ninth and is now believed dead. Bored with his seemingly mundane life in Rome, he ventures to Britain in the capacity of an auxiliary cohort in search of his father and the Ninth. However, his passionate pursuit does not last long before he is near-mortally wounded in a conflict with the Caledonian rebels, and his recuperation in his uncle's home is plagued by the certain knowledge that he will never fight as a Roman soldier again. However, as he nears complete recovery, he is offered the chance to engage in a mission to recover the lost standard of the Hispana, a brilliant Eagle.

From here, the story enters into a tale of adventure and derring-do (accompanied by a bawdy bunch of tribesmen) in the pursuit of the standard and an explanation for the Ninth's mysterious disappearance. Their pursuit brings them inevitably into contact with the Caledonian rebels, and b can once again enjoy conflict on the field of battle (albeit no longer as a serving Roman soldier). The eventual acquisition of the standard (without an explanation for the Ninth's disappearance, which is never resolved) ensures that Marcus is rewarded with being unofficially pensioned off and allowed to remain in Britain as a citizen.

An exciting series which never proved overly demanding yet sustained its entertainment value over the course of six half-hour episodes, The Eagle Of The Ninth was virtually the last attempt by BBC Television to portray a series embracing "the grandeur that was Rome", as it were (until the recent spate of documentary dramas exploring historical events in that particular part of the world). The series was produced for BBC Scotland by Pharic MacLaren and directed by Michael Simpson, and featured attractive performances from Patrick Malahide, Iain Agnew, Patrick Holt, Gerry Slevin and Conrad Phillips. The series was exported worldwide but never commercially released (though the possibility still exists, as the programme is retained in its entirety in the BBC Archives).

Text © Matthew Lee 2004.

The series was dramatised by Bill Craig, and adapted from the novel of the same title by Rosemary Sutcliff. The series was produced by Pharic MacLaren. The series was directed by Michael Simpson.

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