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Beau Geste

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Originally published


Media type

P. C. Wren

Beau Geste (1939)

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P C Wren books, Adventure fiction books

Beau geste bbc 1982 ep 1

Beau Geste is an adventure novel by P. C. Wren, which details the adventures of three English brothers who enlist separately in the French Foreign Legion following the theft of a valuable jewel from the country house of a relative. While written in 1924 the novel is set in the period before World War I. It has been adapted for the screen several times.


Beau geste bbc 1982 ep5

Plot summary

Michael "Beau" Geste is the protagonist (and an archetype). The main narrator is his younger brother John. The three Geste brothers are portrayed as behaving according to the British upper class values of a time gone by, and "the decent thing to do" is, in fact, the leitmotif of the novel. The Geste brothers are orphans and have been brought up by their aunt Lady Patricia at Brandon Abbas. The rest of Beau's band are mainly Isobel and Claudia (possibly the illegitimate daughter of Lady Patricia) and Lady Patricia's relative Augustus (caddish nephew of the absent Sir Hector Brandon). While not mentioned in "Beau Geste", the American Otis Vanbrugh appears as a friend of the Geste brothers in a sequel novel. John and Isobel are devoted to each other and it is in part to spare her any suspicion of being a thief that he takes the extreme step of joining the French Foreign Legion.

The detonator of the main plot is when a precious jewel known as the "Blue Water" goes missing or is stolen. Suspicion falls on the band of young people, and Beau leaves Britain to join the French Foreign Legion in Algeria, followed by his brothers, Digby (his twin) and John. After recruit training in Sidi Bel Abbes and some active service skirmishing with tribesmen in the south, John and Beau are posted to the little garrison of the desert outpost of Fort Zinderneuf, and Digby and his friends Hank and Buddy to Tokotu to train with a mule mounted company. The commander at Fort Zinderneuf (after the death of two senior officers) is the sadistic Sergeant Major Lejaune who drives his abused subordinates to the verge of mutiny. An attack by Tuaregs prevents mass desertion (only the Geste brothers and a few loyals are against the scheme). Throughout the book and adventures, Beau's behaviour is true to France and the Legion, and he dies at his post. Digby, Hank and Buddy arrive with a relief column that reaches Fort Zinderneuf too late and Digby is subsequently killed in a skirmish.

At Brandon Abbas, the last survivor of the three brothers, John, is welcomed by their aunt and his fiancée Isobel, and the reason for the jewel theft is revealed to have been a matter of honour, and to have been the only "decent thing" possible. In "Beau Ideal" and other sequels P.C. Wren ties loose strings together, including recording that Michael Geste's originals reasons for joining the Foreign Legion were honour but also his doomed and impossible love for Claudia.


The phrase "beau geste" (pronounced: [bo ʒɛst]) is from the French, meaning "a gracious (or fine) gesture".

In French, the phrase includes the suggestion of a fine gesture with unwelcome or futile consequences, and an allusion to the chanson de geste, a literary poem celebrating the legendary deeds of a hero.


P.C. Wren wrote the sequels Beau Sabreur (in which the narrator is a French officer of Spahis who plays a secondary role in "Beau Geste") and Beau Ideal. In this third volume Wren details what happened the night of the theft of the Blue Water. He also wrote Good Gestes, a collection of short tales (about half of them about the Geste brothers and their American friends Hank and Buddy, who also feature prominently in Beau Sabreur and Beau Ideal) and Spanish Maine (UK) (The Desert Heritage (USA)), where loose ends are tied up and the successive tales of John Geste's adventures come to an end. Life in the Foreign Legion is also represented in some, but not all, of Wren's subsequent novels: "Port O'Missing Men", "Soldiers of Misfortune", "Valiant Dust", "Dead Men's Boots", "Flawed Blades", "The Wages of Virtue", "Stepsons of France" and "The Uniform of Glory".


The original novel, on which the various films are more or less loosely based, provides a detailed and fairly authentic description of life in the pre-1914 Foreign Legion, which has led to (unproven) suggestions that P. C. Wren himself served with the Legion. Before he became a successful writer Wren's recorded career was that of a school teacher in India.


  • Beau Geste (1926), starring Ronald Colman, William Powell, Noah Beery
  • Beau Geste (1939), with Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston
  • Beau Geste (1966), with Guy Stockwell, Doug McClure, Telly Savalas
  • Beau Geste (1982 BBC serial), starring Benedict Taylor, Anthony Calf, Jonathon Morris
  • Beau Geste was also adapted for the stage in 1929 by British theatrical producer Basil Dean. The production featured Laurence Olivier in the lead role. The play ran for just five weeks.


  • Beau Hunks 1931, a 1931 movie starring Laurel and Hardy.
  • The Goon Show episode "Under Two Floorboards (A Story of the Legion)" (broadcast January 25, 1955)
  • Follow that Camel (1967) A Carry on film featuring a character called B. O. West.
  • The Generation Game (around 1975) did a parody of Beau Geste, may have been the first to use the name Beau Peep.
  • The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977), starring Marty Feldman, Ann-Margret and Michael York
  • Beau Peep (started 1978) a strip cartoon in the Daily Star newspaper.
  • Soul Music (1994), by Terry Pratchett. The Death of the Discworld uses the name Beau Nidle and has him join the Klatchian Foreign Legion, a parody of the French Foreign Legion.
  • The comic strip Crock claims to be "the greatest and longest-running parody" of Beau Geste, although it bears little similarity to the original novel.
  • Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip frequently refers to Fort Zinderneuf when roleplaying as a Foreign Legionnaire.
  • References

    Beau Geste Wikipedia