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René François Artois is a fictional character, the main character in the BBC sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!, which ran from 1982 to 1992. The character was played by Gorden Kaye. In the 2009 stage production of 'Allo 'Allo!, the part was played by Jeffrey Holland.
The character is loosely based on Albert Foiret, the café owner at the centre of the action in an earlier BBC drama series, Secret Army.
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Artois (usually referred to as René, but codenamed Nighthawk by the Résistance) is the owner of the Café René in the occupied French town of Nouvion, during World War II. He leads an extremely complex life, in which the day-to-day problems of the ongoing war and his home life bring numerous consequences. During one episode, in which René Artois was alluding to his own fictitious twin brother (also called René), he claimed he was originally from Nancy and that he and his brother "were both Nancy boys" (a double entendre referring to Lieutenant Gruber's implied homosexuality).
Café René is regularly frequented by the German forces. René has to be polite to them (as they are winning the war); but he also has to be careful not to be seen as a collaborator. The fact that the café's cabaret is performed by his tone-deaf wife, Madame Edith, goes some way towards protecting his claim that he remains as impartial as possible. Actually, René's waitresses, Yvette and Maria, are responsible for entertaining the Germans upstairs with the flying helmet, egg whisk and wet celery. The local commandant, Colonel Von Strohm, and his assistant Captain Hans Geering are two of the most frequent visitors to the café. In a war where money means very little, René trades the girls' services for wartime luxuries such as butter, sugar, paraffin and gasoline.
René has also been forced by the local pro-Charles de Gaulle Résistance to hide shot-down British airmen, and help them escape to England. The leader of the Résistance, Michelle Dubois, is responsible for devising the plans to help the airmen escape; but also for hijacking ammunition convoys and bombing railway lines. René, his wife, and his staff are therefore forced to help in any way necessary to achieve this; but also to man the Résistance's secret radio, which is hidden under René's mother-in-law's bed.
Meanwhile, the Colonel has uncovered some very valuable local artefacts, which he is hoping to sell after the war. As the Gestapo are also looking for these items (silver, a cuckoo clock and The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies), René is forced into hiding the painting in his café on behalf of the Colonel. When the Colonel finds out about René helping British airmen to escape, he threatens to have René shot; in which case, René responds by saying that he will tell the Gestapo the whereabouts of the painting. Naturally, this brings about an agreement between the Colonel and René, who each turn a blind eye to the dodgy activities of the other. One more complication is that René has to spend almost the entire series posing as his own twin brother after he was ordered to be executed by General von Klinkerhoffen in an early episode. Von Strohm had the execution detail's bullets swapped for blanks, but to keep up the pretence René had to spend the rest of his life pretending to be his brother, who also happened to be called René.
Although middle-aged, René seems to be a magnet of attraction for quite a few of the local women. He is secretly trying to keep his love affair with his waitress/mistress Yvette secret from his wife; and his affair with his other waitress Maria, a secret from Yvette.
The character of René is portrayed as a coward who is trying to save his own skin. The elaborate plots formed by the Résistance often bring about talk of him quitting the Résistance. The thought of wearing disguises and sneaking around the local occupied château is something which René does not look forward to, and often refuses to do so. For this, René is often rebuked by his wife or Michelle and more often than not is forced to carry out the work of the Résistance anyway, often at gunpoint. On the other side of the fence, René is constantly being interrogated by the Colonel, the General or the Gestapo. This is usually for links to the painting or increased Résistance activity. When it came to the crunch, René would always try and escape or go into hiding before he was arrested for interrogation. Despite all this René is constantly referred to as "the bravest man in all France" by everyone else.
When it comes to René's love life, it is a different matter. Although he is often caught in the arms of another woman by his wife; he responds to his wife with the line "You stupid woman!" This would be followed by a convoluted explanation, which Edith would always believe. Similarly, he often speaks to his mother-in-law with the line "Shut up, you silly old bat!"
As the main character in the show, René is usually at the forefront of any plots involving the paintings, love affairs or British airmen. Such was the popularity of the character that the BBC published a book, 'Allo 'Allo!: The Complete War Diaries of Rene Artois in 1991. An audio version was subsequently produced, read by Gorden Kaye.
The recording of the series was temporarily interrupted in January 1990, when Kaye suffered a near-fatal accident during the "Burns' Day storm". However, he was able to return to filming in the following year and a further two series were made.
The last episode is set at the end of the war. René is awarded the Magnificent Brother of France medal by the Allies (though the medal really stands for "Mad Bloody Frog"); and a statue of him is placed in the town square. Unfortunately, the painting of The Fallen Madonna goes missing shortly before the end of the war.
The painting is eventually found many years later when Lt. Gruber, Helga and Von Strohm return to the town and accidentally knock the arm off the stone statue – inside which is hidden the painting. René (now an old man) takes the painting, then drives away with Yvette, telling Edith, "You stupid woman! Can you not see – I am eloping!"
The character of René also appeared in The Best of 'Allo 'Allo! This episode was mainly made up of archive footage; but also featured new scenes in which René and Edith review the war together for Edith's birthday.
René's final appearance was in the Return of 'Allo 'Allo! in 2007, which featured a stage play including him and some other characters. This was accompanied by several archive clips from the series, and interviews with the cast and crew about the history of 'Allo 'Allo.
Medals and recognition
René François Artois was recognised for his role in helping the Resistance twice, once during the last episode entitled A Winkle in Time where René received the Magnificent Brother of France (MBF) Medal. The second award given was the Légion d'honneur by Michelle Dubois formerly of the Resistance during the special episode The Return of 'Allo 'Allo! and informing René that the award is usually given by Charles de Gaulle to which René mentioned that it would be difficult for De Gaulle to present the medal over his big hooter.
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