Czech classic tales of the Black Barons make new TV series

Director Juraj Herz (right), photo: CTK

Ceska Televize produced a new television series based on author Miloslav Svandrlik's book Cerni Baroni, or Black Barons, a book recognized in every household in the Czech Republic as well as Slovakia. Mr Svandrlik looks at the life and daily interaction of the technical assistance battalion, or the PTP, in a comedic light. He himself spent two years in the battalion. The PTP were a group of men relegated to physical labour by the communists and often given very dangerous jobs. The renowned director of the TV series, Juraj Herz, said that had he not had his own experience as an outcaste, he would not have been able to direct the series. Andrej Hyrc is one of the actors in the series who plays the Commander and Chief of the Czechoslovak Army. Here he tells Kay Grigar why the infamous unit was called the Black Barons.

Director Juraj Herz  (right),  photo: CTK
"People called them Black Barons because they wore black epaulettes. The soldiers who served in these battalions were generally sons from good families and educated people. In the minds of the communists they were enemies of the state or enemies of socialism. So, the regime did not want to give them weapons so they were called to serve in working battalions and given very hard jobs such as digging in stone mines etc."

Because we have listeners who are from all around the world, could you explain to them the type of humour that is in Black Barons?

"It's a kind of black humour. When you read the book and you imagine how these young men were serving 4 or 5 years in the military and under very cruel conditions. Sometimes you are laugh at the absurdity of the situation and sometimes from this laughter you begin to cry."

What did you have to do to prepare for this role? Or do you have experience you can draw from to act in this particular TV series?

"Of course I also served in the military and it was at a very bad time in the early 70s just after the Russians occupied Czechoslovakia. I have my own experience and I can say that they were very similar to what you see in this show."

So you feel this television series is very authentic?