The original owner of Café René. He is married but maintains simultaneous affairs with his waitresses. He is mostly interested in actually surviving World War II, hopefully with a beautiful woman at his side. But to do this René has to keep several different factions happy. This involves serving the local German authorities in their schemes, which gets more complicated when different members of said authorities conspire against each other. He has also been recruited to the pro-Charles de Gaulle Resistance under the codename Nighthawk, and constantly assigned with risky missions. He is at a later point recruited into the Communist Resistance.
Backup Twin: Parodied. At some point, the Germans publicly execute René. But Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering help him survive (by switching the firing squad's bullets with duds). He has to spend the rest of the War pretending to be his long-lost identical twin brother, also called René. He then has to re-marry his "widowed" wife, because his will left everything he owned to her. That led to some hilarious statements like, e.g.: "I've been his ex ever since he died."
Bad Liar: René is a terrible liar, never more than when trying to explain to his wife why he is embracing one of the waitresses. He comes up with implausible excuses. She however seems to accept his nonsense — whether she genuinely believes it or just wants a quiet life is never clear.
Catch Phrase: "You stupid woman! Can you not see..." His immediate response when caugh in a compromising position by his wife. Typically followed by a flimsy excuse, which Edith buys anyway. Subverted in the final episode: "You stupid woman! Can you not see I am eloping?
Deadpan Snarker: Most of the characters have their moments as this. But René can be relied to be one in each episode. Particularly because of his awareness of the absurdities of most of the plans and schemes around him.
In-Series Nickname: His affairs with multiple women have not gone unnoticed. According to Herr Flick, people have started calling him "Menage Artois".
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Rene isn't a bad guy per se, but he often needs a bit of prodding to get him to do the right thing. And, lets face it, he's got a lot on his plate being the Only Sane Man in Nouvien so he tends to be more than a little testy and snarky.
Kavorka Man: He is romantically involved with virtually every woman in the cast at some point. He even gets a few guys pursuing him romantically. But his attractive qualities are hard to recognize. He is a fat, middle-aged, balding, greedy, cowardly fool.
Lampshaded when Michelle started coming on to him, purely for manipulative reasons. Yvette learned of this and Michelle promised to dump him when the war was over, asking what the hell Yvette saw in him anyway. Yvette began comparing him to many cultural references of the time. From Michelle's reaction she also seemed at a loss as to why Yvette liked those things either.
Lovable Coward: Rene wants a free France and the Germans gone, but what he wants even more than that is to get through the war with his skin intact. The sheer ludicrousness of most of Michelle's schemes mean he is not exactly invested in them, after all, he's already been executed once.
Mr. Exposition: At the beginning of every episode, Rene breaks the Fourth Wall to explain to the viewer what has been going on. In one subversion he starts off by discussing the doings of some of the townspeople, before saying "You have never met these people, nor are you ever likely to. I am simply giving you the local gossip because with my own affairs I don't know where to start."
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: More of an Ugly Guy Hot Mistresses example. His wife is past her prime and aged badly. But his mistresses and love interests tend to be much younger and more attractive than him.
Edith Melba Artois/Madame Edith
Actor: Carmen Silvera.
The wife of René. Aging and rather unattractive. Her most prominent subplot involves her singing aspirations. She fancies herself a cabaret singer and regularly performs at the Café. Her singing has a tendency to scare away people, make dogs howl and shatter glass. The customers have taken to stuffing cheese in their ears to muffle her wails. Devoted to her husband and to the Resistance. She tends to come up with her own risky plans for the Resistance. The faked death of René leaves her the legal owner of the Café. Attracting suitors of her own.
Catch Phrase: "Rene! What are you doing holding that serving girl in your arms?" Whenever catching her husband in a compromising position with the waitresses.
Dreadful Musician: Her attempts at singing are so bad that customers will stick any readily available foodstuffs into their ears to avoid having to hear her.
Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Supposedly Edith fails to notice how horrible her own singing is. She also fails to notice the singing talents of other characters. With several descriptions of the show simply listing her as Tone Deaf. Carmen Silvera really couldn't sing and good-naturedly went along with the writers making Edith such a horrible entertainer.
Lethal Chef: Running gag. In one of the earliest episodes, Yvette is mixing cement in Edith's mixing bowl. She reports that a German officer put his finger in the bowl and then tasted it. He only remarked that Edith's cooking is getting better. The series often mentions how awful Edith's cooking is.
Meaningful Name: Edith has a similar repertoire to Edith Piaf (1915-1963), a French singer and cultural icon who became universally regarded as France's greatest popular singer. During World War II, Piaf was a frequent performer at German Forces' social gatherings in occupied France, and many considered her a traitor; following the war she stated that she had been working for the French Resistance. While there is no evidence of this, it does seem to be true that she was instrumental in helping a number of individuals (including at least one Jew) escape Nazi persecution. The middle name Melba is probably a reference to Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931), an Australian opera soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian Era and the early 20th century due to the purity of her lyrical voice and the brilliance of her technique. Melba was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. She and May Whitty were the first stage performers to be granted damehoods of the Order of the British Empire.The joke is that Madame Artois is a terrible singer, unlike her namesakes.
Younger than They Look: Carmen Silvera (1922-2002) was 60-years-old at the beginning of the series. A running gag of the series is that Edith looks ancient. At some point, Edith mentions entertaining soldiers in the previous War. She means World War I. René asks whether that was the Crimean War (1853-1856).
Fanny La Fan/Madame Fanny
Actor: Rose Hill.
The (adoptive) mother of Edith and mother-in-law of René. A former entertainer and/or courtesan, supposedly once famous herself and romantically involved with numerous suitors. Currently, Fanny is an invalid old woman, living in the attic of the Café. She still has a a couple of elderly suitors. She is bedridden, cranky and frequently complaining about the quality of food provided for her. Her room doubles as the communication headquarters of the Resistance, which is a source of constant annoyance for her. A few episodes imply that Fanny is not as helpless as she appears. She has left her room at times to raid the wine cellar of the Café or take over the Café in the absence of her family. She was once discovered reading the book "Wheelchair Jujutsu" which contained, among other things, 12 ways to disable a man with a crutch.
Badass Grandpa: Toyed with. She knows Jujutsu and is studying on ways to use her crutch as a weapon.
Catch Phrase: "Will nobody hear the cries of a poor old woman?" When trying to summon people to her room and nobody answers. Either because they are preoccupied elsewhere in the Café or actually not even present within the building.
Also, "The flashing knobs!", referring to the signal that the British were sending a message on the radio built into her bed.
December-December Romance: Her relationships with brothers Roger and Ernest Le Clerc. Edith is not pleased to find the old men in her mother's bed.
Grumpy Old Man: Grumpy Old Woman variant, complaining about pretty much everything. Has a particular dislike for the Germans. She spits prodigiously every time they are mentioned to her or whenever one enters her room. No matter how polite some of them actually behave.
In-Series Nickname: René has affectionately nicknamed her the "old bat". Uncertain if he means the modern insulting term for an old woman. "Old bat" is also an obsolete slang term for a low whore: "so called from moving out like a bat in the dusk of the evening".
I Was Quite a Looker: Apparently once famous for her looks. She mentions appearing in the Folies Bergère, the famous music hall. Becoming the "talk of Paris". Her beauty and voice lured many a young man to her. She has not aged gracefully.
Lady Drunk: She is the character most likely to get drunk. Often trying to get her hands on a bottle.
Playing Gertrude: Rose Hill (1914-2003) was 68-years-old when the show began. Her character is a centenarian and her on-stage daughter Carmen Silvera was only 8 years younger than her.
One of the waitresses of the Café and the main love interest of René. She is truly in love with her boss and blissfully unaware of his relationships with other women. She serves as a part-time prostitute for the German patrons of the Café, selling her body for paraffin, gasoline, sugar and butter. Or for whatever rare resource is available. She doesn't really mind. Yvette is also a loyal and competent member of the Resistance.
Catch Phrase: "Oh René", said in a long growling tone. Her way to address her lover.
French Maid: Technically a French waitress. Otherwise an incarnation of this trope. Her work uniform provides fan service, she is very seductive and perky.
Meaningful Name: Carte blanche (French for white/blank paper) is a military term for "surrender", a legal term for "the authority of a person to sign a treaty or convention on behalf of a sovereign state" and a financial term meaning "blank cheque".
Ms. Fanservice: Role arguably shared between Yvette and Helga. Both can be expected to show off their feminine charms at least once an episode. Some scenes focuse on their legs in stockings. Others have them stripping down to their underwear or wearing fetish-fuel outfits.
The other waitress of the Café and love interest of René in Seasons 1-3. Also a part-time prostitute and Resistance member. Several jokes focused on her small height. She had to stand on a stool before embracing her lover. Maria is otherwise one of the most cheerful and naive characters. Several of her missions required her to dress as a boy. Apparently her concept of what a boy wears includes stockings, suspenders, short pants and lipstick. Her last appearance involved her attempting to escape a prisoner-of-war camp. She accidentally posted herself to Switzerland. Her subsequent activities are unknown.
French Maid: Technically a French waitress. Otherwise an incarnation of this trope. Her work uniform provides fan service, she is very seductive and perky.
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Gorden Kaye is 5' 10½" (1.79 m) and seems to tower over Francesca Gonshaw. Which became a running gag for the show. She even had to stand on a chair before they could cuddle together.
Meaningful Name: Her last name is the same as Juliette Récamier (1777-1849), a leading French socialite of the 19th century. Known (among other things) for first marrying when 15-years-old to a man old enough to be her father. In fact said husband was rumored to be her biological father. She soon inherited a vast fortune. Juliette also gave her name "Recamier" to a type of sofa.
Older than They Look: Maria is an adult. But Michelle has trouble believing it. When Maria asks why she has to be disguised as a small boy instead of a small girl, Michelle answers "Because you are a small girl".
Put on a Bus: After her actress' departure from the show at the end of the third series, the series opted to explain why Maria had suddenly vanished. She was last seen trapped in the prison camp for British soldiers with the majority of rest of the primary cast. The explanation was that she had attempted to escape by disguising herself as a Red Cross package and getting mailed out. Unfortunately, she didn't have enough stamps and was as such "returned to Switzerland."
Written-In Absence: Her disappearances was explained away - Maria, in an effort to escape a Nazi POW camp where she was hiding, while in drag, accidentally mailed herself to Switzerland.
Actor: Sue Hodge.
The replacement of Maria in her duties as both waitress and prostitute. Appeared in Seasons 4-9. Even shorter than her predecessor, the actress being only 4' 9" (1.45 m) tall. She is an experienced member of the Resistance and was planted in the Café as their agent. She would rather kill Germans than sleep with them and has a vicious streak. But René has warned her against poisoning people within the Café: "If you poison them here, people will think that it was our food that did it!" She fell hard for her boss. He reluctantly reciprocates, though her attitude seems to be a turn off for him. Mimi happens to be a talented singer and dancer. When given the chance, the waitress easily outperforms Edith.
Cute Bruiser: In her first appearance, she easily tackles René, who is more than twice her size, to the floor.
Leader of the Gaullist Resistance in Nouvion and its vicinity. She has a cover identity of working in the post office of the "next village over", allowing her to come and go as she pleases. She is typically dressed in a black beret and dark brown trench coat, the uniform used by most women of her organization. Michelle is a crafty, clever woman who can be relied on to come up with more and more creatively complicated plans. Unfortunatelly, even her bast plans tend to fall victim to the Gambit Pileup that regularly takes place in Nouvion. She demands courage and efficiency from her operatives. She can be very convincing, particularly when holding people at gunpoint. Though fiercely patriotic, Michelle is not above using some funds for personal expenses.
Bi the Way: The episode "A Fistfull of Francs" (8.6) establishes that Michelle spends part of her nights in Crabtree's bed. The same episode establishes that Louise, leader of the Communist Resistance spends her nights in the bed of Maxine (Elizabeth Ash), her second-in-command. Supposedly they are preoccupied with "committee meetings". But their eagerness to stay alone and dress manner (Negligees) says otherwise. Michelle catches on and wistfully says: "If only our committee meetings were like that". The implication being that she would like to have that kind of "meeting" with the other Resistance girls.
Catch Phrase: "Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once." With the variant "Look very carefully, I shall show you only once" when visually demonstrating something. In both cases, Michelle insists on secrecy.
The Comically Serious: Michelle is one of the most serious characters of the entire series. Much of the humor in her case is having such a serious character caught up in ludicrous situations. Or having her deliver absurd lines in deadly serious manner.
Good Is Not Nice: She serves a heroic cause. But she forcefully recruited René to her cause. She doesn't hesitate to coerce people to do what she wants. She also manipulates René's emotions by pretending to be in love with him.
Michelle is also not above dipping into Resistance funds (claiming the cash register of Cafe Rene as resistance funds no less!) for such things as visits to the hairdressers.
Rebel Leader: Leads the local branch of the Gaullist Resistance. With loyal followers at hand and several reluctant recruits.
She's Got Legs: While Michelle typically hides her charms under her trenchcoat, she has great legs. Which she demonstrates on occasion, allowing the male characters to drool.
Actor: Phoebe Scholfield.
The second-in-command of Michelle, known for her devotion to "the bravest girl in all France". She first appeared in the episode "Pigeon Post" (1.02) and was a regular in Seasons 1-2. The actress returned in Season 5, featured as a member of the Communist Resistance for two episodes. With no explanation if her character is Henriette or not. Then returned to the role of Henriette in one more episode of Season 5 and three episodes of Season 6. Altogether the actress appeared in 15 episodes.
Action Girl: Her early appearances mostly include combat situations and missions.
Actors: Jack Haig (Roger); Derek Royle (Season 6, Ernest), Robin Parkinson (Season 7-9, Ernest)
A rather incompetent Resistance operative and counterfeiter who works as a bartender at Café René. Known for his Paper Thin Disguises. Former lover of Madame Fanny. At the end of Season 6, due to the unexpected death of Jack Haig, he is replaced by his "twin" brother Ernest played by Derek Royle who swapped places with Roger in jail after not believing that prison food was better than Edith's cooking. Unfortunately, Royle himself died at the end of the season and thus was replaced by the much younger Robin Parkinson (in old age makeup) this time with no plot explanation.
Monsieur Alfonse is a man of many occupations: Mayor of Nouvion, photographer, vineyard owner, sculptor, photographer, etc. However, he is first and foremost the town's undertaker (slogan "Swiftly and with style") and thus is always seen in the traditional top hat and dark clothes. Pines for Edith but agrees to back off due to his unwarranted admiration for René, "the bravest man in all of France".
RAF Flight Lieutenants Fairfax and Carstairs ("the British Airmen")
Actors: John D. Collins (Fairfax) and Nicholas Frankau (Carstairs)
A pair of British pilots who were shot down over Nouvion. One of the main plots of the show was trying to get Fairfax and Carstairs (AKA "the British Airmen") safely back to England. Unfortunately, the language barrier between the pair and the French characters as well the Resistance's wacky plots to accomplish this make it so that Failure Is the Only Option. Eventually they do make it home somehow during a Time Skip but briefly reappear during the Series Finale
Those Two Guys: Those two British officers in the same uniform. They also always wear the same generic outfit as a part of the escape attempts.
Actor: Arthur Bostrom
A British secret agent undercover in Nouvion posing as a Gendarme. Legendary for his atrocious French which manifests as a speech full of malapropers and Accidental Innuendo ("I was just pissing by..."), which somehow never raise suspicion. He often aids the Resistance, much to the chagrin of Réne and co.
Rene: Right, English cretins! Why do you not take a seat here, and sit down? These are known as chairs. Maybe you do not have them in England? But please, be welcomed — you set of fools. Crabtree: He says it's very nice to meet you, and thank you for all your help during the war.
Translation Convention: Crabtree's malapropers are meant to indicate his poor grasp of French (a few one-off British characters show the same speech patterns as a Running Gag). Whenever he speaks in "English", he speaks perfectly normally.
Colonel Kurt von Strohm
Actor: Richard Marner
The cowardly, corrupt commander of the Nouvion Garrison. A frequent client of Café René and his waitresses' "services". Since catching René with the British Airmen in the first episode, he often blackmails him into helping along with his schemes.
The meek and lazy assistant to Colonel von Strohm until he was Put on a Bus in series 4.
Catch Phrase: Whenever the "Heil Hitler!" salute is used, Hans always replies with "'Tler!". According to Sam Kelly this is to emphasize his laziness and NOT the result of Kelly (a Jew) refusing to give the salute, as it was often rumored.
Put on a Bus: During the POW camp arc, he is "extracted" by the Resistance and mistakenly sent to England.
The Bus Came Back: When René and Edith visit London in Series 7, they find Hans, who has been brainwashed into working for British Intelligence.
Aide-de-camp to General von Klinkenhoffen. Polite, kindhearted, and Transparently Closeted, Gruber is most definitely not cut out for the Nazi business, and frequently helps René avoid trouble... in part due to his massive, unrequited crush on the man.
Baby Talk: Has been known to use it. He refers to his tank as "my little tank" and has officially named it Hubert, Jr. He referred to one of the garrison's German Shepherds as "the little doggie," which is 1.) an incongruously cutesy thing to call an attack guard dog; and 2.) an incongruously adorable thing for a 30-something-year-old man (and soldier, no less) to say. Also, when he was distressed that his little tank had been stolen, and was asked to describe said tank in a police report, he described it as "a little armored vehicle with a big gun on top."
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The numerous medals would imply that he's actually a fairly competent soldier - or was during his time on the Eastern Front, at least.
Minion with an F in Evil: The Wehrmacht handbook probably doesn't list whimpering and sniffling among things to do while conducting a firing squad. But we love Gruber all the more for doing those things.
Tears of Remorse/Tender Tears: Gruber carries a lot of guilt about conducting the firing squad that "killed" the first René, and he has been seen to cry about it. Added to this is the fact that he just seems to cry about a whole lot of things in general, too.
What Happened to the Mouse?: He and Smallhausen are noticeably absent from the Distant Finale. Then again, considering that the last we see of them is when they mess up their escape route during the Allied invasion and burst through the wall of Café René while it's full of British soldiers, it's safe to assume things didn't work out for them.