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The Great Escape
Photograph: MGM

Classics Corner: ‘The Great Escape’

TV presenter and historian Dan Snow shares his love for the all-star POW classic on the 75th anniversary of the event itself

By Phil de Semlyen

‘I remember watching “The Great Escape” with my family at Christmas, and I’ve seen it four or five times since then. It’s a remarkable story about Allied airmen digging tunnels out of a POW camp and keeping it a secret from the enemy. Plus, it’s got Steve McQueen in it, which automatically makes it cool. In a world of politicians who aren’t very good at their jobs, it’s the perfect fantasy to watch a crack team that can achieve anything. It’s a wartime “Ocean’s 11”.

‘The filmmakers took a few liberties with the story but that doesn’t matter. A great film doesn’t necessarily have to be great history. There’s some scholarship to suggest that the impact of the escape wasn’t as great as the movie suggests, because it ended up galvanising the Germans to crack down on escaped POWs across Europe. But getting dozens of people over the wire was a huge achievement.

‘My favourite bit is when Dickie Attenborough and Gordon Jackson get caught out by a Gestapo agent speaking in English. We used to do that one in the playground at school.

‘How would I have got on in the camp? In my early twenties, I think I’d have been trying to bust out all the time. Now I’m 40 with three kids, I’d have told those idiots to keep quiet and get to the end of the war in one piece!’

Dan Snow presents ‘The Great Escape’ at the Hammersmith Apollo on Sun Mar 24.

The gala screening will be simulcast live into more than 350 cinemas nationwide. Head to for ticket information.


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