Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth was BBC TV film in 1977

Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth was a BBC TV series in 1977: I have at last found some details. (It is now being made into a movie). The TV series was made  by BBC Scotland and  broadcast between 4th September and 9th  October 1977. Rosemary Sutcliff loved the series. She kept a photo of Marcus (Anthony Higgins) by her writing desk in Sussex. I am on the hunt for any reviews at the time, and anyone who remembers it. Meanwhile here is some detail:


Producer: Pharic MacLaren

Writer: Bill Craig

Production Design: Gordon Campbell

Director: Michael Simpson


Anthony Higgins as Marcus; Christian Rodka as Esca; Matthew Long as Hilarion; Patrick Malahide  as Cradoc; Bernard Gallagher as Drusillus; Peter Whitbread as Marcus’ Father; Bill Henderson as Duty Centurion; Brian Carey as Aulus; Laura Graham as Guinhumara


1. FRONTIER FORT (Broadcast Sunday 4 September 1977 at 5.45pm)

Young Marcus, a Roman living in a conquered Britain of AD 117, is on a quest to find not just his father but also the Ninth legion’s gold eagle standard. Guest cast included: IAIN AGNEW as druid; GEORGE HOWELL as Soldier

2. ESCA (Broadcast Sunday 11 September 1977 at 5.45pm)

Marcus is befriended by the warrior Cradoc. Guest actors included: Patrick Holt as Aquila; Gillian Bailey as Cottia; Willie Joss as Stephanos; Paul Chapman as Clodius Maximus

3. ACROSS THE FRONTIER (Broadcast Sunday 18 September 1977 at 6.10pm)

Stuck in Calleva after being invalided out of the army after getting involved in an uprising Marcus meets up with British gladiator Esca. Guest actors included: Kalman Glass as Rufrius Galarius; Patrick Holt as Aquila; Gillian Bailey as Cottia; Willie Joss as Stephanos; Darien Angadi as Placidus; Martin Heller as Cladius; Gerard Slevin as Decurion; Iain Glass as soldier

4. THE LOST LEGION (Broadcast Sunday 25 September 1977 at  6.10pm)

Marcus and Esca get word that the Legion’s Eagle is rumoured to be up north. Guest Actors: Conrad Phillips as Legate; Victor Carin as Guern; Moultrie Kelsall as Tradui; Alec Heggie as Dergdian; David Hayman as Liathan; Robert Docherty as Gault

5. WILD HUNT (Broadcast Sunday 2 October 1977 at 6.05pm)

Marcus gets his first glimpse of the Eagle and also meets a centurion, Guern, from the Ninth Legion. Guest Actors included: Moultrie Kelsall as Tradui; Alec Heggie as Dergdian; David Hayman as Liathan; Robert Docherty as Gault

6. VALEDICTORY (Broadcast Sunday 9 October 1977 at  6.10pm)

Marcus comes face to face with the man responsible for the death of his father and also determines to steal the Eagle. Guest actors included: Patrick Holt as Aquila; Victor Carin as Guern; Gillian Bailey as Cottia; David Hayman as Liathan; Martin Heller as Claudius; Linal Haft as guard commander

Source: Memorable TV website here

22 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth was BBC TV film in 1977

  1. Hoping that the BBC will release the DVD – Antony Higgins certainly matches my mental image of Marcus more thanTatum Channing!

    Love the book and the 1977 series – dont forget Darien Angadi as, I think, Placidus?


    • Thanks for comment – I’m not really the right person to judge, but I
      Suspect Rosemary would have liked Channing Tatum if she had seen the film.


  2. I suspect – and hope – that the 1977 series will come out on DVD to cash in on the movie. It was a wonderful series and Anthony Higgins was perfect for the role. The movie trailer looks good, but I cringed at the bit where Marcus yells at Esca,”You’re still my slave!” Huh? Also read that it was going to throw in hints of modern political ideology, colonialism critique, etc. – urk! Please, please, let the BBC bring this version out on DVD soon!


    • Rosemary loved the BBC TV series, and Anthony Higgins as Marcus. She always had a very soft spot for both men! I shall try to find out if the BBC are indeed thinking to do this; they have not been so far despite approaches. Might I suggest that you and any other blog readers who think this a good idea write to the Beeb. I will try to find out who to lobby abd post the name here. Meantime maybe the ‘feedback’ programme is one place to email/write?


  3. That was easier than I thought, I will do a better full post in the future but I find with google that:

    Broadcast in Children’s Hour on the then Home Service (now Channel 4). Said to be for older children. Adapted by Felix Felton.

    It had in it Marius Goring as Marcus and Esca was played by a Martin Starkie. David Davis was the producer

    1. The Attack On The Fort
    27 February 1957

    2. The Saturnalia Games
    6 March 1957

    3. Marching Orders
    13 March 1957

    4. Across The Frontier
    20 March 1957

    5. In Enemy Country
    27 March 1957

    6. Tradui’s Gift
    3 April 1957

    The serial was edited into a 90-minute play, also broadcast on the Home Service in the Saturday Night Theatre slot on Saturday 8 June 1963.

    If anyone know or finds out any more, and if anyone knows of a recording, do let me know!

    Anthony Lawton


  4. I don’t remember this production. My life in the Autumn of 1977 didn’t include watching much television! What I do remember is a radio dramatisation, which would have been in the late 50s, possibly the very early 60s. It was a weekly (I think) serial and I couldn’t wait for the next episode!


    • Hi Lyn W (same name and inital as mine). I remember vividly the Children’s Hour dramatisation of this book which was broadcast in 1956. The opening and closing music was ‘The Pines of Rome’ BUT, does anyone remember the song of the Legionaires… It went something like, “It’s a long way, a long way and twenty leagues to go (?) But the girl I left in…..” I believe when the BBC made the series for children’s television in the 70’s, the same song was used. If someone can help, I’d be delighted. I can recall the tune but not the words.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s 9 years since you left your response, so I’ll be surprised if you see this! However – I think the words were “It’s a long road, a long road, and twenty Years or more, since I left my girl in Fluvium, beside the threshing floor.” That’s all I can remember, and I would love to find out more. I loved the original Children’s Hour serial.


        • “It’s been a long road, a long road, and 10 years in store,
          “But I kissed a girl in Clusium before I marched away.”
          I used to sing that on the way to school, something like 30 years ago.


          • Found it! You were right about Clusium, but I was right about the threshing floor. If you Google “The girl I kissed at Clusium”, you will find both verses of the legionary’s marching song in the Rosemary Sutcliffe Archive. Lyndsey Davis quoted it in one of her Falco novels.

            Liked by 1 person

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