Break out with Elmer Bernstein’s The Great Escape, live

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019 - 16:00

In the early hours of 25 March 1944, seventy-six men successfully tunnelled from Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp out into woodland on the edge of Zagan in modern-day Poland. Only three of these men would avoid recapture; only twenty-six would avoid death. The remarkable story of this unprecedented Second World War breakout attempt would become known as The Great Escape

It was Australian journalist Paul Brickhill who first documented the attempted flight from capture. A fighter pilot with the Australian Air Force during the conflict, Brickhill was interned at the camp after being shot down over Tunisia. Involved in the escape’s planning as security for the forgers, claustrophobia prevented Brickhill from eloping through the tunnel, but he resolved to document the event. In 1950 his book The Great Escape was published by Faber.

In 1963 Brickhill’s book was adapted for film by The Mirisch Brothers and United Artists. The Great Escape was a huge hit on the big screen, helped by an all-star cast that included  Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, and James Coburn. 

The Great Escape (1963) Official Trailer - Steve McQueen Movie


But it wasn’t just on-screen talent that helped fuel the film’s success. Elmer Bernstein was already a well established name in Hollywood – having composed the film scores for hits such as The Ten Commandments (1956) and The Magnificent Seven (1960) – when he was brought on board to compose the soundtrack to The Great Escape. 

The catchy, military inspired score Bernstein duly created for the film, boasted one of the most well-known themes in cinematic history; one that has gone on to be performed everywhere from episodes of The Simpsons to the terraces of football stadiums.


This September, 75 years on from the original breakout, and 80 years since the outbreak of the Second World War, Southbank Centre plays host to a truly unique film experience. Alongside a screening of the classic film, hear the first ever live performance of Bernstein’s popular score in The Great Escape - Live in Concert. Performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra and conducted by the composer’s son Peter Bernstein, this is a rare opportunity to experience a much-loved film in a thrilling new way.

The Great Escape - Live in Concert, part of the 2019/20 classical season at Southbank Centre takes place in Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 21 September.

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This is just one of several films with live orchestra accompaniments screening at Southbank Centre in our current classical season. In September The Czech National Symphony Orchestra accompany Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with John Williams’ dramatic score. In October the London Philharmonic Orchestra accompany the popular children’s film Zog, and in June 2020, the Philharmonia Orchestra perform Gabriel Yared’s award-winning score alongside a screening of The English Patient.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Concert
FUNharmonics: Zog
The English Patient Live