Charles COWARD (1905-1976)

This Is Your Life Big Red Book

programme details...

  • Edition No: 135
  • Subject No: 135
  • Broadcast live: Mon 24 Oct 1960
  • Broadcast time: 7.30-8.00pm
  • Venue: BBC Television Theatre
  • Series: 6
  • Edition: 6

on the guest list...

  • Norbert Wollheim
  • Mrs Dixon
  • G A T Walton
  • R A Hartland
  • Cecil Sklan
  • Grigor Anderson
  • W R Kinnear
  • T Reynell
  • C Skeels
  • H J Powell
  • Herbert Rice
  • Wallace Clarke
  • T W Daldry
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Jayne Mansfield
  • Line Renaud
  • John Carter

production team...

  • Researcher: Liam Nolan
  • Writer: Robert Stuart
  • Director: Michael Goodwin
  • Producer: T Leslie Jackson
related page...

Military Life

saluting the armed forces

This Is Your Life Big Red Book
Heroes of the Holocaust book cover

Lyn Smith recalls this edition of This is Your Life in her book, Heroes of the Holocaust...

After the war Coward and his family continued living in Edmonton. Another child was born after his return. He obtained work with Harris Lebus furniture factory, working as a timber porter. When the factory closed in 1969, he worked as a despatch clerk for an Oxford Street department store. His love of football continued, as did his support for Tottenham Hotspur. He became a freemason in 1955 joining the Camberwell Old Comrades Lodge, and is remembered by Charles Stancer, one of the brethren from another Lodge, as 'a remarkable hero, a modest self-effacing man'.

It wasn't until the publication of the book by John Castle, The Password is Courage, that Coward's story became public. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film of the same title starring Dirk Bogarde as Coward followed. This was a derring-do, light-hearted account of Coward's escape exploits from the time of his capture in France with the briefest reference to the time he spent in Auschwitz and his rescue work there.

This was rectified in 1960 when the BBC programme This Is Your Life celebrated Coward's remarkable story, including his I G Farben Auschwitz experience, reuniting several of his old comrades and Norbet Wollheim.

Britain and the Holocaust book cover

James Jordan recalls this edition of This is Your Life in the book, Britain and the Holocaust...

Charles Coward, tx. 24 October 1960

There is much to say about Coward's life and his (now questioned) experiences in Auschwitz, but that fame is little in evidence from the surviving material of his appearance on This Is Your Life.

There is virtually no surviving material in the BBC's WAC, with one of the few references coming from a review in the Jewish Chronicle:

The remarkable story of how Charles Coward, a former British POW in Germany, rescued Jews from Auschwitz was told in the BBC feature This Is Your Life on Monday. Cecil Sklan, a fellow prisoner with Mr Coward, paid tribute to all he had done to save Jews from almost certain death. Also brought to the studio for the occasion was a former inmate of Auschwitz [Norbert Wollheim], now living in New York, who lost his wife and three year-old son in the camp. Shots taken at Auschwitz were seen by viewers.

Although only offering glimpses, it is a review that shows how the Holocaust was developing its own narrative. Coward's Britishness and heroism were still very much the focus (his guests included other former inmates), but the interview with Sklan meant an explicit connection to the Jewish victims in a way that had been missing from Glyn Hughes account. This was emphasised by the appearance of Norbert Wollheim at the end of the programme, his appearance as the final guest suggesting that this was in some way the culmination of the life story:

It was certainly the climax of the broadcast, when, at the end, Norbet Wollheim appeared. In a most dignified and impressive way Wollheim paid tribute to this unassuming Cockney, who, out of a sense of unshakeable decency and at a danger to his own life, single-handedly conducted his rescue work.

Once again, therefore, the surviving evidence suggests that Coward's programme was about British rescue and resolve in the face of the horrors of Nazi Germany, a celebration of one life lived fully and not a memorial for the six million lost. And yet the programme was also moving closer to the survivor's story and it was no surprise that in the final This Is Your Life under discussion the victim was also a victim of the Holocaust.

Series 6 subjects

Leonard Cheshire | George Bennett | David Sheppard | Sybil Thorndike | Clarence Wolfe | Charles Coward | T E B Clarke
Helene Jeanty-Raven | Cyril Smith | Victor de Spiganovicz | Bill Hartley | Ellen Martha Field | Anthony Deane-Drummond
John Mills | Richard Bancroft | Freddie Mills | William Simpson | Alan Herbert | Madame Vacani | Elizabeth Ambridge | Robert Fawcus
Flora Robson | Edward Chad Varah | James Zarb | Maryan Rawicz and Walter Landauer | James Chipperfield | Anthony Kimmins
Thomas Cosmo Jones | Jessie Matthews | Helen Wilson | Charlie Chester | Brunel Cohen | Godfrey Winn | Billy Wright