Hollywood calls for author of wartime prison escape story
An Essex author’s account of a daring wartime prison break is set to be adapted for the big screen.
Colchester-born and educated writer, Dr Mark Felton said he was “thrilled” to learn that makers of period drama Saving Mr Banks would be adapting his 16th book, Zero Night, for cinema audiences.
The book tells the true story of a dramatic Second World War prison escape, Operation Olympian, led by 38-year-old Major Tom Stallard, of the Durham Light Infantry.
It recounts the night of August 30, 1942, when a group of 40 officers from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa mounted the ‘first Great Escape’ from Oflag VI-B, prisoner-of-war-camp in Warburg, Germany.
After numerous attempts at tunnelling, the men decided to cause havoc by charging a double perimeter fence and plunging the camp into darkness by hijacking the electrical system.
“The Germans opened fire and they split into smaller teams,” said 40-year-old, Dr Felton. “Most were captured over the next two weeks. Three managed to get back to England via Spain.
“It’s a thrilling story of an incredibly dangerous escape, but because it happened early in the war it has been kind of overlooked.”
Fellow prisoner Douglas Bader was part of the diversion team tasked with distracting the German soldiers. The fighter ace, who served at Martlesham Heath Airfield in 1940, described the break-out as the war’s ‘most brilliant escape’.
Dr Felton first learned of interest from the movie world following a radio interview in Australia. “A Hollywood producer was home for Christmas and heard the story,” he said. “Apparently, she bought the book and loved it. The first thing I knew was being told by my agent to expect a call from Hollywood.
“These things take several years but I know it’s in good hands. I realise there will be some alterations but I don’t have a problem wit that because the story is so strong. If it could gain similar popularity to the The Great Escape it would be fantastic.”