SAS Rogue Heroes: Dominic West interview

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Dominic West has turned in a delicious performance as charismatic cross-dressing spy chief Lieutenant Colonel Wrangel Clarke in the hit BBC series SAS Rogue Heroes.

In our latest BBC interview series with the cast, West takes us inside one of the most colourful characters in recent military history…

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Who do you play?

I’m playing Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, the chief of British Secret intelligence, Middle East, Cairo bureau. 

Dudley Clarke is the man who came up with the idea of the Special Air Service, he named it the SAS. 

But it was just a propaganda tool before Stirling came along and made it real – so he reckons he invented the SAS, and that’s good enough for me.

Tell me a bit more about why he had to ‘invent’ the SAS

It was a ghost regiment, he made it up to scare the Germans and Italians into thinking the Brits had a parachute regiment to destroy their aircraft – and then of course, they did. 

But, he called it L detachment, meaning that there was A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H… and it was called First Division. 

Anyway, he was pretending that it was this vast division with thousands of paratroops – in fact it was just Stirling and bunch of his ragtag mercenaries. 

Dudley Clarke said that his job was jokes and tricks, so he just operated out of a basement and made up lies to spin the Germans. Hilarious character.

Tell me a bit more about the man, because his costume can be quite interesting at times…

Dudley the man, when he wasn’t hatching plots and lies to tell the Germans, would sometimes wear delicious long gloves and dress up as a woman, and there are photographs of him doing that. 

He’s a fascinating, very complex character.

We’ve got his pictures and I’ve been made to look like him. But to be honest I don’t, because he looked much better in a dress than me. I just don’t look good in a dress.

How has it been for you? Have you enjoyed playing the part?

I had a great time, though I missed out on the 50 degrees of the desert unfortunately! I was in minus 4 where we were. It’s a wonderful part, with wonderful scenes.

What did you know of the true story of the SAS before you started on this?

I love anything about the SAS, I think it’s fascinating. I’d read the book by Ben Macintyre when it first came out. 

When Tom Shankland, who I worked with on Les Miserables a few years ago, rang me up and said “I’m doing this, do you want to be involved?” I said, “Yes Thomas – yes I do Shanky!”.

As a fan of the history, are you excited about the story of the SAS coming to the screen?

I think it has such mystique and romance, the SAS. Especially for people like me who remember the Iranian embassy siege in the 80s – that was when suddenly this crack regiment with the ‘who dares wins’ motto seemed to really enter the public mythology, and I’ve been fascinated by them ever since.