It’s Classic Clip Friday: M*A*S*H – Henry Blake Departs

The young Choob only caught on to M*A*S*H fairly late on its 11-year run (the TV show famously lasted almost four times as long as the war that served as its backdrop).

The show, a black comedy set in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, was a TV adaptation of Robert Altman’s 1970 feature film of the same name.

The first episode aired in September, 1972 and the finale was broadcast in February, 1983. The last episode attracted an astonishing audience (in the US) of 106million (77 per cent of all viewers watching TV that night) – it still holds the record for the most-watched TV programme in American history.

By the time I was old enough to watch it, the show was on the home straight and I only saw the last two or maybe three seasons, with Colonel Potter, Charles Winchester and BJ Hunnicutt well-established characters in the cast. Imagine my surprise a few years later when BBC2 began reruns of the show from the start and I realised the original cast was considerably different from the one I was familiar with.

One of my favourite characters from those early days I caught up with later on was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, the hospital’s original commanding officer, played by the late McLean Stevenson.

His easy-going charm and on-screen rapport with Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) was a real highlight of the early seasons of the show.

Obviously, while I was watching those early episodes, I knew that Stevenson would leave the show at some point to make way for Harry Morgan’s Colonel Potter.

And, sure enought, at the end of season three, Henry got his discharge papers, said his goodbyes and set off on the journey back home to his family in the US.

But Henry’s story wasn’t quite over – there was a sting in the tale, as the episode’s final scene revealed. It’s one of the most powerful and memorable I’ve ever seen on TV.

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