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The film was based on a book by the Australian Po W veteran Paul Brickhill, his first-hand account of the ill-fated mass escape in spring 1943 from Stalag Luft III in what is now Zagan, Poland.

On March 24 76 men initially escaped via a 330ft tunnel, 30ft below ground (Brickhill suffered claustrophobia and stayed behind), one of the most daring escapes of the Second World War.

The set construction was, according to the actor David Mc Callum, who played Flt Lt Eric Ashley-Pitt, in charge of 'dispersal’, sometimes a communal affair.

'Every time we had a break,’ he recalled a few years ago, 'we were asked to sit there and knit together these pieces of rubber tubing, which went on to be the barbed wire that ran around the camp.’ Off-set, life was much more lively. Though not yet a bona fide film legend (Bullitt, Le Mans and The Thomas Crown Affair would come much later), he was already exhibiting the behaviour of a great Hollywood diva.

Given how much the film is loved now, it is surprising to learn that Sturges had some initial difficulties finding a studio that would back the project.