Yes, it's the launch of a hilarious new D-Day sitcom

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The Independent Online
AS IF recent upheavals in the TV soap opera battles weren't enough, the BBC has just decided to throw another major spanner in the works. It has announced that it is going to change the timings of its hugely popular wartime sitcom, D-Day Landings. Instead of showing three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6.30pm, it will now have two extra episodes and be shown five times a week at times that will not be announced until the day itself.

'If it maintains its audience, as we believe it will do,' says the BBC schedule manager, Jake Twerton, 'there is absolutely no reason why we should not eventually go for another two episodes and make it daily over the weekend as well.'

D-Day Landings, one of the BBC's most popular serials, and a powerful ratings weapon, is set in a hotel in Normandy in 1944, a hotel which used to be a flourishing family holiday place before the war but is now occupied only by rather suspect members of the various forces.

There is Colin, a middle-aged British civil servant who has been sent in advance of the Normandy invasions to spy out and allocate parking spaces for officers.

There is Yves, a French resistance hero who has just finished work on his Underground Cook Book, and is trying to escape to England to find a publisher for what he thinks will be a best-seller.

There is Hans, a nice German officer who was a professional footballer before the war and is heartbroken because he thinks Germany could well have won the World Cup in 1942, if only the blasted war hadn't scuppered it.

And there is Frank, an American liaison officer who has been sent ahead to make sure that the French Communist Party doesn't take over the first French postwar government, or, if they do, to make real good friends with them.

There are some hilarious misunderstandings in the Hotel du Soleil, where these four are for the most part the only guests.

Frank, for instance, thinks that Yves is a woman's name (it sounds like Eve to him) and has for a long time believed that there is a woman in the hotel whom he never meets.

Hans commandeers the room at the top of the hotel so that he can watch through his binoculars for any sign of a British sea invasion, and - in the absence of anything else interesting - quickly becomes an expert on sea birds.

Colin insists on leaving his shoes outside his room every night for cleaning. These are invariably taken away and not returned. He darkly suspects the proprietor, Monsieur Fourchette, of being a shoe fetishist, but cannot prove anything. Meanwhile, he is fast running out of shoes.

Yves spends most of each day wandering the Normandy cliff-tops looking, so he says, for sorrel, rare fungi and wild strawberries. None of the others believes this for a moment, but they are unable to make out what he is really up to.

Frank has a short-wave radio in his room on which he is constantly trying to contact his American superiors somewhere back in Devon, but for some reason he can only receive Workers' Playtime, which is driving him nuts.

'The innate tension of the drama - and we do consider it a comedy drama rather than a sitcom,' says Mr Twerton, 'derives from not knowing whether the hotel will ultimately be repossessed by the German authorities or captured by the arriving Allies. All four of the guests, of course, are united against the outside world - they may be at war with each other officially, but in reality they think that the hotel's independence is more important than anything else.

'In one episode, for example, there is a visit from a high-ranking German officer whom they all assume is checking the place out prior to military occupation. In fact, he is a roving reporter from the German Good Food Guide, which is planning a special supplement on hotels in occupied France, but they don't know this and make his stay as horrible as possible.'

One can see why the BBC should want to milk this unique programme for all it's worth. But what on earth is the idea of refusing to announce the time of the programme until the day of transmission?

'In a way,' explains Mr Twerton, 'this is in the great tradition of the D-Day landings themselves, whose timing was in doubt till the last minute in order to confuse the enemy. We as a television company also have enemies, namely all other television companies. I think they're confused, too. We also have allies, of course. They're pretty confused as well. But these are confusing times we live in, n'est-ce pas?'