In Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II, small-time Con Artist Gerhardt Schulz (Michael Elphick) is released from prison to do his bit for the war effort. Using his skill with languages to land what he thinks is a safe, comfortable job in Postal Censorship, Schulz is instead transferred to SS Counterintelligence. Their commander — the fanatical Major Neuheim (Ian Richardson) — is less than impressed, but immediately ropes in Schulz for a mission to abduct two British agents from Holland, where his ability to hot-wire a car gets them out of a very sticky situation.
When the nefarious British start air-dropping forged ration coupons over Germany, Major Neuheim suggests to Adolf Hitler that they retaliate with forged British five pound notes. Hitler gives his covert approval, and top forgers are rounded up from prisons and concentration camps all over Germany; including Solly, a Jewish former cellmate of Schulz.
The rest of the six-part series covers Schulz's attempts, both during and after the war, to get his hands on the expertly-forged banknotes, and stay alive in the process.
Provides examples of:
- Based on a True Story: Though historical fact is altered for drama and comedy, the series draws on real-life events including:
- The Venlo incident where two British intelligence officers were abducted from just across the Dutch border.
- Salon Kitty, a high-class brothel allegedly used by the SS to spy on foreign diplomats and high-ranking Germans.
- Operation Bernhard, the German plan to forge British five pound notes, involving prisoners at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Plus the eventual disposal of the notes in Lake Toplitz.
- The use of the forged banknotes to pay German agents.
- The British Double Cross counter-intelligence operation, which nearly captures Schulz on his mission to England.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Schultz is more likable than his superiors, but he's not exactly a con artist with a golden heart — he was jailed for bilking poor widows during the depression following World War I. When Schultz encounters people from the Allied powers, they are just as greedy and corrupt as the Nazi characters in the story.
- Bringing Running Shoes to a Car Chase: After the war Schulz enlists the help of a gang of British criminals. After their sudden yet inevitable betrayal, Schulz is able to jump on a bus with a parachute container full of the notes. The leader of the gang starts running after Schulz and continues to do so for the entire bus route (he's assumed to be a marathon runner by the conductor) only to have the notes blow up in his face when a panicked Schulz throws the booby-trapped container into a boat in his attempt to get away.
- Counterfeit Cash
- Deadly Euphemism:
"Finally we questioned him and ah (slaps Schulz's shoulder heartily) when he recovered we questioned him again..."
- Neuheim's Sexy Secretary helps Schulz at one point with a scheme that amounts to betraying Neuheim and the Party. In a later scene, Neuheim makes a comment about her "ripping out her fingernails in grief".
- Plus the Gestapo man who detained Schulz.
- Double EntendreBertha: "Oh not now, I'm tired. I haven't been on my feet all day."
- Even Evil Has Standards: Parodied/subverted (see Moral Myopia); the Nazi characters think of counterfeiting as dishonorable, but gladly do much much worse things.
- Failure Is the Only Option: At the end of the series, Schulz only succeeds in getting his hands on a single five pound note. Which is then plucked from his hand by a waiter who thinks it's a tip. Likewise Bertha ends up working as the servant of a wealthier woman, despite all her careful hoarding of foreign currency.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: The warden of Spandau Prison is rather dismayed when his former inmate returns as an SS officer, though Schulz just requisitions his office and drinks his booze.
- Hammerspace: Averted with the Nazi officers towards the end of the war, walking out of the vault where the banknotes are kept with conspisciously bulging uniforms.
- Honey Trap:
- The Salon Kitty bordello, which is wired for sound in the hope that its high-ranking clients will reveal state secrets and subversive talk. All this does is aggravate Schulz, who has to sit on the other end of the microphones listening to everyone else have a good time.
- Schulz forms an alliance with Neuheim's secretary to hit the guard over the head and steal the banknotes. Turns out the secretary and the guard are already lovers, and are just playing Schulz to steal the money for themselves.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Averted with Salon Kitty courtesan Bertha Freyer, who has a psychological block preventing her from sleeping with any soldier below the rank of major. The lovelorn Private Schulz has no chance...unless he should happen to get his hands on some foreign currency, which is what sets the whole thing in motion.
- Hypocritical Humor: "How dare you come back alive!"
- Master Forger: In retaliation to the British dropping forged ration coupons, the SS recruit the greatest forgers from prisons and concentration camps, supervised by an also recruited convicted con artist (the titular Schulz), to make forged British pound notes in an attempt to wreck the British economy. The fake money turns out to be so well made they use them to pay their own Agents. Schulz spends a large part of the series trying to steal a large portion to secure his future after the war. He only succeeds in getting one five pound note, which he promptly loses to a waiter who mistakes it for a tip.
- Moral Myopia: The Ministry of Economics on the forging of banknotes.Count von Frick: "You are despicable, Major Neuheim. Despicable! Killing is one thing! That is inevitable in time of war. An army may burn a church, sometimes even with a congregation in it, though that would be deeply regrettable. But when you attack the integrity of the British pound, and encourage others to do the same to the German mark, you strike at the roots of European law and order!"
Neuheim: "They brought a firing party! (slaps British officer) You cheating swine!"
- Neuheim is abducting two British officers at gunpoint from a neutral country when their backup starts shooting at him.
- Nazi Gold: Not involving gold of course — Schultz dumps the money into Lake Toplitz so the advancing Allied forces don't get it. After the war he tries retrieving the money with the aid of Neuheim.
- Newsreel: Used for exposition, and to show what time period events are taking place in. All of the commentaries are original to the series, and there's one commentator each for Germany, Britain and the U.S.
- No Sense of Humor: Major Neuheim is totally lacking in warmth and anything resembling a sense of humor. However, his humorlessness is itself a source of comedy.
- Not Worth Killing: After Schultz blows up all the money, Stan is so disgusted he just walks off.
- Novelisation: Concurrent with the airing of the miniseries, New English Library issued a prose adaptation of Pulman's scripts by career novelizer Martin Noble, under the title Jack Pulman's Private Schulz, with Noble by-lined on the title page, but not the cover. An unusually expansive and stylish adaptation, it contains additional plot twists, characters and historical context; notes left by Pulman indicate that the latter was especially important to him: he thought it vital to particularize the backdrop against which the outlandish forgery scheme (based on actual events) could have been conceived and carried out. It would have figured into his own novelization, but he had completed only a few chapters before he died. The original edition of Noble's novel was very well received and became a London Times bestseller. In 2015, Noble, through his own publishing company, Aesop Modern, released a newly revised and expanded edition of the novelization, this time with his novelist by-line prominently displayed on the front, in hardcover, trade paperback and ebook format. It remains in print.
- Only in It for the Money: Schultz obviously, but Neuheim's enthusiasm for getting his hands on the notes after the war is over makes you wonder if his Nazi fanaticism was just an act to advance his career.
- Pet the Dog Schultz helps the Jewish prisoners who staffed his counterfeiting operation to escape, subverting his superiors' plan of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness. Notably, this is really the only one of Schultz's plans that succeeds.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Herr Krause of Krause Underwear. Major Neuheim is a particularly evil version.
- Right in Front of Me: Major Neuheim bursts into a room during a party and catches an officer making out with his secretary."Good God, I'm surrounded by incompetence and copulation! Get the hell out of here! Colonel, sir...I'm sorry to disturb you..."
- Reality Is Unrealistic: SS officer Bernhard Naujocks, on whom the Neuheim character is based, had a heavily-scarred face and wore a black-eyepatch — but that would have seemed too cliched even for a comedy.
- Spot the Imposter: Shulz is sent to infiltrate Britain wearing plus fours. It's only after he's been put on the plane that his superiors ask if they still wear plus fours in 1940's wartime Britain. This and a few other blunders (like asking for a coffee in a British pub) soon give him away and the police are soon on the lookout for "the man in the plus fours" as a suspected German spy.
- Stupid Boss: Major Neuheim, after being warned that the parachute container is booby-trapped, whacks it with his swagger stick. Neuheim is smart enough though to realise that Schulz is a good source of ideas that he can take the credit for.
- Those Wacky Nazis
- Translation Convention: Everyone speaks English. During the Dutch operation Schulz has a slight accent when speaking 'English' to the British spies, but talks normally on his mission to England.
- Video Inside, Film Outside: Except episodes 3 and 6 which are shot and edited entirely on film. These are the only episodes that take place in England, and therefore do not use any of the standing sets.
- Villainous Demotivator: Major Neuheim is full of this."You should look upon yourselves as sewerage being recycled in the national interest. Naturally I want you to put your hearts and souls into this work for your country.""I am most concerned for the welfare of your men...out of the way you swine!"
- Villainy Discretion Shot: The audience certainly knows of the extent of Nazi villainy, but achieves black comedy by pushing it to the background; for instance Schultz was likely tortured at one point, but no violence is shown, only the apologetic torturer who feels kind of bad about it. Similarly Neuheim has a lot of looted art, but there's really no need to comment on the likely source of it.