What Does the SAS Think of ‘Rogue Heroes’?

The creators of Rogue Heroes, a new drama about the creation of an elite British commando force during World War II, have told Newsweek about their intensive efforts to ensure the show’s authenticity, including speaking with the original unit’s only surviving member, now 101 years old.

Over eight decades after a young Scottish officer in the British Army had the idea of setting up a force to operate behind enemy lines, the EPIX period drama brings to life the story of the Special Air Service (SAS), founded in July 1941 by David Stirling, along with Paddy Mayne, Jock Lewes, and others.

Premiering on Sunday, November 13, the six-part series—based on the book of the same name by Ben Macintyre—is helmed by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight and sees Connor Swindells, Jack O’Connell and Alfie Allen play Stirling, Mayne, and Lewes respectively.

What Does the SAS Think of ‘Rogue Heroes’?

Jack O'Connell and Connor Swindells
Jack O’Connell and Connor Swindells in “SAS: Rogue Heroes,” which tells the story of the founding of the Special Armed Forces. Director Tom Shankland and Swindells told Newsweek what the real SAS thought of the show.
Kudos/Banijay Rights

Rogue Heroes tells the origin story of the SAS, which Stirling set up as a regiment within the British armed forces while he was based in the North African desert.

Their mission was to go behind enemy lines and conduct small-scale raids that had a big impact on the Nazis and the other Axis powers, by destroying enemy aircraft on their airfield bases, for example. They have since grown into one of the most elite units of the British Army.

While making Rogue Heroes, it was important for Knight and director Tom Shankland to ensure the real SAS were involved as much as possible, they told Newsweek.

Knight spoke with 101-year-old Mike Sadler, the last surviving member of the original SAS, to inform the story, while Shankland explained that they had a number of members of the regiment around during rehearsals to help steer the show in the right direction.

“I was very keen that we would have at least a few of the guys when we were in the rehearsal process who would come and give us a history lesson, that was always valuable,” Shankland said. “But, more importantly for me, they shared what their connection was with the founders of the SAS and it also allowed the actors to interact and make some human connection with these guys.

“Because I think what you quickly realize when you get involved with something like this is that [the SAS is] made up of very particular and interesting individuals.”

It helped, Shankland said, for the cast to have members of the SAS available so that they could understand them on a deeper level, and also so the show itself didn’t do them a disservice.

“They were not cookie-cut soldiers—they were unique individuals that reveled in their individuality rather than conformity, as it were,” the director continued. “So, in a tough love way it was like ‘right what we want you to do is don’t f*** it up and do the boys proud.’ That’s what I had to take away.”

SAS Rogue Heroes
The cast of “Rogue Heroes.” The real SAS were said to have had an “emotional response” to seeing their predecessors be depicted onscreen.
Kudos/Banijay Rights

Reflecting on the regiment’s thoughts on the show, Shankland added: “They saw it and they did feel that we’ve done them very proud and we didn’t f*** it up, so I’m very happy.”

Swindells also spoke to Newsweek about the real SAS and their thoughts on the show, revealing that the unit was given an early preview of the series and was said to have an “emotional” reaction to it.

“I think we’ve been very fortunate to screen the whole thing to the SAS [Regimental] Association, which is sort of like the old boys club of the SAS, the entire members, and we’ve had the official sign-off from them,” the actor said.

“They’re obviously very keen for [the show] to be successful and they’ve given it their stamp of approval, which, if nothing else, means everything. We really made the show for them—anything else is a bonus I think.”

The Sex Education star added: “It was quite an emotional response because these guys have such an intimate relationship with these characters that we portrayed and they really are their heroes.

“They’ve grown up on the legends and the stories being told amongst them, it’s the thing that probably got them through so much hardcore training—so hardcore we couldn’t believe it—and to see those people manifested in real life, I think [they had] quite an emotional response, from what I’ve been told [by] Steven Knight and Tom Shankland.”

Rogue Heroes premieres on EPIX on Sunday, November 13 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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