Steven Knight on WWII drama ‘Rogue Heroes’: ‘So much of it was insane’

The new Epix series “Rogue Heroes” centers around a group of disparate SAS (Special Air Service) British Army commandos in World War II surreptitiously battling German and Italian forces in North Africa.

It’s based on Ben Mcyntire’s book, “SAS: Rogue Heroes,” and it’s all true — which added an extra dimension to how series creator Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”) crafted his six-episode historical drama about this wreckless, flawed — but, above all, brave — group of men.

“The actual truth is that I had to take out a lot of things that really happened, and were so unbelievable, that no one would believe it — because so much of it was insane,” Knight, 63, told The Post.

That’s putting it mildly. “Rogue Heroes” stars Connor Swindells, Alfie Allen and Jack O’Connell as David Stirling, Jock Lewis and Paddy Mayne, all from wildly divergent backgrounds and military ranks, who band together (not always harmoniously) to secretly recruit like-minded warriors to parachute behind enemy lines — something not tried before — and ambush the enemy. It’s a hush-hush operation “answerable to no one” (with the implicit agreement of the British Army) as Stirling, Lewis and Mayne train their “ghost regiment” how to engage in parachute warfare in the harsh, unforgiving African desert. (Most of the series was filmed in and near Morocco — “Everything that looks like a desert is the desert,” Knight said.)

Alfie Allen, Connor Swindells and Jack O'Connell in a scene from "Rogue Heroes." they're wearing brown parachute-jumping uniforms and are walking side-by-side on an airstrip, with a plane barely visible behind them.
Alfie Allen (left), Connor Swindells and Jack O’Connell star in “Rogue Heroes” on Epix.
BBC/Kudos/Sophie Mutevelian
Dominic West as Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke. He's smiling impishly and is dressed in his military uniform, with some medals visible on his chest.
Dominic West as Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke in “Rogue Heroes.”
BBC/Kudos/Sophie Mutevelian

Dominic West (“The Crown”) and Sofia Boutella co-star as Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, who backs the mission, and Eve Mansour, the deputy head of French intelligence in Cairo who reports to French General Charles de Gaulle, in exile in England after the Nazi invasion of France.

“These men would go on their so-called ‘jollies’ [missions] and they would come back and rest up and go back and do it all over again,” said Knight, whose father fought for the British 8th Army in North African in World War II. “The enemy was completely baffled because they thought, ‘Well, I thought you’d left.’

“I hope it captures the tone of the people who were involved,” he said. “They were from public school, very posh or very working class and they just got on. Normally the British military is incredibly divided by class, and the SAS had all the extremes — but no division.

“These were very young men and I had the good fortune to meet the only surviving member [of the unit], Mike Sadler, who’s 101 and was 100 when I met him,” he said. “Just talking to him, even now, he had this sort of lightness about everything. He would say, ‘We were approaching the Italian machine guns and they fired three grenades and mortars. It wasn’t ideal.’ [Knight laughs.] That’s just how they were. There was a sort of madness about it, a recklessness … they were amused at the prospect of danger.

Sofia Boutella as Eve Mansour. She's wearing a white shirt and holding a cigarette in her hand. She's looking off-camera with a "side-eye" type of look.
Sofia Boutella as deputy French intelligence chief Eve Mansour, who’s based in Cairo.
Sophie Mutevelian

“There’s a scene near the beginning [of ‘Rogue Heroes’] where Stirling throws a hand grenade onto a snooker table [to clear the room out for a meeting],” Knight said. “That’s true, and it’s never been written down, but [Sadler] told me that story. What I changed was that, in the scene, it was a dummy hand-grenade — in reality it was a real one. That’s a classic example of how I had to tone it down.”

While “Rogue Heroes” takes place during the early 1940s, its soundtrack includes some unusual choices, including “Borstal Breakout” courtesy of ’70s English punk band Sham 69, and several AC/DC tunes, which imbue the series with a slightly whimsical touch.

“It’s a good way of connecting the contemporary audience to events that happened in a different era,” Knight said. “My theory is that people always have the same emotions and reactions, good and bad, so music that inspires a particular emotional reaction is just as relevant as watching something that happened.”

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