The Cockleshell Heroes on Blu-ray

Wednesday, 10 July 2019 16:00

It’s bizarre to think that a war film owes a little of its high profile to mentions in a Spike Milligan sketch show, but it’s true in the case of “The Cockleshell Heroes”. This is an action thriller based on true events, making its debut on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range. Co-star David Lodge was one of the company for Spike’s BBC series Q, and Spike would delight in frequently telling the audience that Lodge was “in Cockleshell Heroes” – where he played Marine Ruddock.

The film, released in 1955, was directed by and starred Oscar-winning José Ferrer as Major Geoffrey Stringer. He also played Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV in “Dune”, had guest roles in the likes of Matlock, The Love Boat, Newhart, Quincy ME, Fantasy Island and Magnum PI, and was also uncredited as a narrator for Bewitched. He was supported in “Cockleshell” by Oscar-nominated Trevor Howard as Captain Hugh Thompson. A famous actor, he appeared in the likes of “Ghandi”, “The Third Man”, and was one of the Elders in “Superman”.

It’s March 1942, the height of the Second World War, and a battalion of German ships are safely docked at the ‘unassailable’ port of Bordeaux. Newly promoted Major Stringer (Ferrer) has a unique idea – send a team of commandos out in collapsible canoes, have them paddle seventy miles upriver in arduous conditions, and blow up the German ships with limpet mines.

Ferrer’s character is brought into the situation where Howard has been stuck as a Captain for years, and who is not convinced that the young turk’s plan has much chance of success. With Lord Mountbatten giving his seal of approval in correspondence, the plan starts to feel less ridiculous, so the project is eventually bought into by one and all.

Anthony Newley is Marine Clarke. Probably better known for his singing rather than his acting, he was the lead in one of the most incredible of Cult TV shows, The Strange World of Gurney Slade. David Bowie cites him as a huge influence on his early musical career. Newley started off in an uncredited role in the 1944 version of “Henry V”, leading on to the co-starring part of the Artful Dodger in the 1948 “Oliver Twist”. In the same year of the release of “Cockleshell Heroes” he had a small role as the X-2 Engineer in the star-studded “Above Us the Waves”, alongside the likes of John Mills, William Russell, Donald Sinden, James Robertson Justice. Michael Medwin and John Gregson.

Victor Maddern plays Marine Sergeant Craig, and can be recognised from a cascade of Cult TV series. He was Robson in the Troughton Doctor Who story “Fury from the Deep”, and guested in the likes of The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Baron, Softly Softly, Gideon’s Way, The Troubleshooters, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Adventures of Black Beauty, 1990 and the Pierce Brosnan 1989 mini-series of “Around the World in 80 Days”. He appeared in “Carry On Constable”, “Carry On Regardless”, “Carry On Spying”, “Carry On Cleo”, “Carry On Emmanuelle” and the TV series Carry On Laughing. He was also a regular on The Dick Emery Show.

Peter Arne was Marine Corporal Stevens. He was another character actor who got around the Cult TV circuit, featuring in the likes of The Avengers, The Saint, Danger Man, Department ’S’, The Champions, Man in a Suitcase, The Baron, The Protectors, Secret Army, Man of the World, Overseas Press Club – Exclusive!,  Out of the Unknown and Special Branch. In the later part of his career, he was Kevin Warrender in 26 episodes of Triangle, and had roles in Hart to Hart and The Far Pavillions. Tragically, he was murdered at the age of 63 shortly after being cast in the 1983 Doctor Who story “Frontios”.

The previously mentioned David Lodge was a serious actor before he stepped in with Spike Milligan. He had an uncredited role in 1954’s “Orders are Orders” with Peter Sellers, Sid James and Tony Hancock, and “Cockleshell Heroes” was his big break.

He would star alongside Anthony Newley once more in 1959’s “Idol on Parade”. He would  feature in The Avengers, The Champions, The Saint, The Sweeney, The Persuaders!, Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), Gideon’s Way, The Main Chance, Z Cars, Thriller, Father Brown (1974) and Lovejoy. However, more and more comedy featured in his career, and he pops up in Benny Hill, Harry Worth, Here Come the Double Deckers!, Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width, On The Buses, Oh No It’s Selwyn Froggitt, Hot Metal, and was a regular in TV’s Carry On Laughing.

Percy Herbert is Marine Lomas. He was MacGregor in all 23 episodes of Cimarron Strip and Mr Whittaker in six episodes of The Worker. He played the Thargon Commander in The Tomorrow People story “War of the Empires”, Gorman in the movie of “Quatermass 2”, and Constable Hardwell in the movie of “Doomwatch”. Also on the big screen, he was in “The Guns of Navarone”, The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Casino Royale” and “The Wild Geese”. He also featured on TV in the likes of The Saint, Danger Man, General Hospital, Dixon of Dock Green, Sea Fury, Police Surgeon, Worzel Gummidge and Bowler.  

Graham Stewart is Marine Booth. “Cockleshell Heroes” was his first credited role, and following roles in the likes of OSS, Ivanhoe, William Tell, The Four Just Men, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Danger Man, he went on to become a producer, having an associate role on 191 episodes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook and later Sorrell and Son. He was producer of 1993’s Coltrane in a Cadillac.

In a very small blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role as submarine commander Dick Raikes is the iconic Christopher Lee.

Walter Fitzgerald plays the Gestapo Commandant. He was Senex in the Troughton Doctor Who story “The Dominators”, and featured in The Invisible Man, Peter of Tarsus, Mr Rose and Z Cars.

Dora Bryan played Myrtle, and the actress went on to be a small screen star, playing Roz in 50 episodes of Last of the Summer Wine. She featured in Happily Ever After, Both Ends Meet, CATS Eyes, Dinner Ladies and Absolutely Fabulous.

Sam Kydd has a cameo as a Truck Driver, which is uncredited. Kydd played various folk on The Tony Hancock Show, Here’s Harry (Worth), Sykes, The Dick Emery Show and Charlie Drake, as well as Orlando O’Connor in Crane - a character which had it own spin off into the series Orlando. He played Phil in Freewheelers, and also had roles in Man in a Suitcase, The Persuaders!, Return of the Saint, Minder, Softly Softly, Take a Pair of Private Eyes, Till Death Us Do Part, Curry & Chips, Z Cars, The Troubleshooters, Here Come The Double Deckers!, Dad’s Army, Follyfoot, Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width, Armchair Theatre, Between 1957 and 1975 he featured in 11 episodes of Dixon of Dock Green, and his final role was as Frankie Baldwin in a dozen episodes of Coronation Street in 1982.

Jess Conrad played an uncredited sailor in a pub. He has been both a singer and an actor, having had hits in the UK with "Cherry Pie", "Mystery Girl" and "Pretty Jenny".

Yana is the Wren Singer in the same scene, performing “The London I Love”. She did a similar singing duty in “Zarak” (1956) and “Interpol” (1957). Earlier performances on TV shows featuring Dinah Sheridan, Ed Sullivan and Bob Hope led to her getting her own six-part variety series in 1957, The Yana Show, which gave a big break to a certain Ronnie Corbett. She also featured several times in Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

Executive Producers were Irving Allen and a certain Albert R Broccoli. The pair would work together on many projects through their Warwick Productions outfit, whose golden years began in 1953 with “The Red Beret” (aka “Paratrooper”) starring Alan Ladd.  After making “The Trials of Oscar Wilde” (1960), which was financed out of the pair’s own pockets, they went bankrupt due to the poor box-office returns. The film wasn't allowed to be advertised in the USA and never made back its production costs during initial release. Cubby and Allen ended their partnership after the failure of the film, and they also disagreed on the potential of one particular property which Cubby had turned his attention to... James Bond.

The writing team for “Cockleshell Heroes” was an impressive duo who worked on an original story by George Kent. First, there was Richard Maibaum, who went on to write the screenplays for 13 James Bond movies, from “Dr No” (1962) to “Licence to Kill” (1989).

Then there was Bryan Forbes, who was also a writer and director – he went on to write “I Was Monty’s Double” (1958) in which he also had a cameo role, “International Velvet” (1978), and did some uncredited work on Roger Moore’s “The Man Who Haunted Himself” (1970). On screen he was Marsh in “Quatermass 2” (1957), Porthill in “The League of Gentlemen” (1960), and Cohn in “The Guns of Navarone” (1961).

Music for “Cockleshell Heroes” was by John Adison, who went on to score such productions as “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” (1962), “Sleuth” (1972) and “A Bridge Too Far (1977). He also composed the themes for Murder, She Wrote, Detective (1964) and The Eddie Capra Mysteries.

The video interview with film historian Sheldon Hall, a special feature on the Blu-ray, is fascinating. He reveals that Lord Mountbatten was present at the premiere, and the Duke of Edinburgh actually gave some information which led to a new scene being filmed. The Duke noted that the tactical significance of the ships being targeted was heightened by them having new sophisticated radar equipment that had to be taken out. Broccoli therefore ordered a reshoot where a line was added to the scene involving Nazi officers, where they reveal this fact.


  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
  • Optional English SDH subtitles
  • Brand New and Exclusive interview with film historian Sheldon Hall

The Blu-ray transfer is of a superb quality, very colourful for a war film, and considering the age of the movie it is very well-paced. It’s one of those movies which thoroughly deserves its high standing amongst film buffs, and has a bittersweet centre which you can expect from the majority of war films of the era. This release does the film-makers proud, and lived up to my positive memories from seeing it such a very long time ago.

Well worth your time, and well worth a place in your collection.

“The Cockleshell Heroes” (Eureka Classics) Blu-ray edition is out on 15 July 2019. It has a running time of 97 minutes approx, a ‘U’ certificate, and a RRP of £15.99, or get it for less at

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 July 2019 16:07

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