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Dad's Army

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Dad’s Army

Series title card
FormatSituation comedy
Created byJimmy Perry and David Croft
Written byJimmy Perry and David Croft
Directed byDavid Croft
Harold Snoad
Bob Spiers
Starring(listed in closing credits)
Arthur Lowe
John Le Mesurier
Clive Dunn
John Laurie
James Beck
Arnold Ridley
Ian Lavender
Bill Pertwee
Frank Williams
Edward Sinclair
Colin Bean
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes80 (3 lost) + shorter sketches. (List of episodes)
Production
Producer(s)David Croft
Running time30 minutes per episode
Broadcast
Original channelBBC1
Original run31 July 1968 – 13 November 1977

Dad's Army is a British sitcom about the Home Guard in the Second World War. It was written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft and broadcast on BBC television between 1968 and 1977. The series ran for 9 series and 80 episodes in total, plus a radio series, a feature film and a stage show. The series regularly gained audiences of 18 million viewers and is still repeated on BBC Two.

The Home Guard consisted of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service, usually owing to age, and as such the series starred several veterans of British film, television and stage, including Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Arnold Ridley and John Laurie. Relative youngsters in the regular cast were Ian Lavender, Clive Dunn (who was made-up to play the elderly Jones), Frank Williams, James Beck (who died suddenly during production of the programme's sixth series, despite being one of the youngest cast members) and Colin Bean.

In 2004, Dad's Army was voted into fourth place in a BBC poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom. Previously, in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, it was placed thirteenth.[1] The series has had a profound influence on popular culture in the United Kingdom, with the series' catchphrases and characters well known. It is also credited with having highlighted a hitherto forgotten aspect of defence during the Second World War. The Radio Times magazine listed Captain Mainwaring's "You stupid boy!" among the 25 greatest put-downs on TV.[2]

Contents

Origins

Originally intended to be called The Fighting Tigers, Dad’s Army was based partly on co-writer and creator Jimmy Perry’s real-life experiences in the Local Defence Volunteers (later known as the Home Guard). Perry had been 17 years old when he joined the 10th Hertfordshire Battalion and with a mother who did not like him being out at night and fearing he might catch cold, he bore more than a passing resemblance to the character of Frank Pike. An elderly lance corporal in the outfit often referred to fighting under Kitchener against the "Fuzzy Wuzzies" and proved to be a perfect model for Jones. Other influences were the film Whisky Galore!, and the work of comedians such as Will Hay whose film Oh, Mr Porter! featured a pompous ass, an old man and a young man which gave him Mainwaring, Godfrey and Pike. Another influence was the Lancastrian comedian Robb Wilton, who portrayed a work-shy husband who joined the Home Guard in numerous comic sketches during WW2.

Perry wrote the first script and gave it to David Croft while working as a minor actor in the Croft-produced sitcom Hugh and I, originally intending the role of the spiv, Walker, to be his own. Croft was impressed and sent the script to Michael Mills, Head of Comedy at the BBC. After addressing initial concerns that the programme was making fun of the efforts of the Home Guard, the series was commissioned.[3]

In his book, Dad's Army, Graham McCann explained that the show owes a lot to Michael Mills. It was he who renamed the show Dad's Army. He did not like Brightsea-on-Sea so the location was changed to Walmington-on-Sea. He was happy with the names for the characters Mainwaring, Godfrey and Pike but not with other names and he made suggestions: Private Jim Duck became Frazer, Joe Fish became Joe Walker and Jim Jones became Jack Jones. He also suggested adding a Scot to the mix. Jimmy Perry had produced the original idea but was in need of an experienced man to see it through. Mills suggested David Croft and so the successful partnership began.

Situation

The show was set in the fictional seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea, on the south coast of England (the external scenes were mostly filmed in and around Thetford, Norfolk).[4] Thus, the Home Guard were on the front line in the eventuality of an invasion by the enemy forces across the English Channel, which formed a backdrop to the series. The first series had a loose narrative thread, with Captain Mainwaring’s platoon being formed and equipped—initially with wooden guns and LDV armbands, and later on full army uniforms; the platoon were part of the The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment.

The first episode, "The Man and the Hour," began with a scene set in the 'present day' of 1968, in which Mainwaring addressed his old platoon as part of the contemporary 'I'm Backing Britain' campaign. The prologue opening was a condition imposed after initial concerns by Paul Fox, the controller of BBC 1, that it was belittling the efforts of the Home Guard.[5] After Mainwaring relates how he had backed Britain in 1940, the episode proper began; Dad’s Army is thus told in flashback, although the final episode does not return to the then-present. Later episodes were largely self-contained, albeit referring to previous events and with additional character development.

As the comedy in many ways relied on the platoon’s failure to participate actively in World War II, opposition to their activities had to come from another quarter, and this generally showed itself in the form of Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Warden Hodges, although sometimes the verger of the local church, or Captain Square and the neighbouring Eastgate Home Guard platoon. However, the group did have some encounters related to the war such as downed German planes, a U-boat crew, parachutes that may have been German, and German mines. Also, an IRA suspect appeared in one episode, Absent Friends.

The humour ranged from the subtle (especially in the relationship between Mainwaring and Wilson, who also happened to be his deputy at the bank) to the slapstick (the antics of the elderly Jones being a prime example). Jones had several catchphrases, including "Don't panic!", "They don’t like it up ’em", "Permission to speak, sir", and talk about "the Fuzzy-Wuzzies". Mainwaring said "You stupid boy" to Pike in many episodes. The first series occasionally included darker humour, reflecting the fact that, especially early in the war, members of the Home Guard were woefully under-equipped and yet were still prepared to have a crack at the German Army. An example of this theme occurs in "The Battle of Godfrey’s Cottage" episode, in which the platoon believes an enemy invasion is underway. Mainwaring, Godfrey, Frazer and Jones (along with Godfrey's sisters, who are completely unaware of the invasion) decide to stay at the cottage to delay any German advance, giving the rest of the platoon time to warn the town; "Of course, that will be the end of us", says Mainwaring. "We know sir", replies Frazer, before getting on with the task in hand.

Characters

Main characters

The characters of Dad’s Army (left to right): Privates Pike and Frazer, ARP Warden Hodges, Private Godfrey, Captain Mainwaring, Private Walker, Lance-Corporal Jones and Sergeant Wilson
  • Captain George Mainwaring (pronounced /ˈmænərɪŋ/ (MAN-ər-ing)) (Arthur Lowe)—the pompous—if essentially brave and unerringly patriotic—local bank manager, Mainwaring appointed himself leader of his town’s contingent of Local Defence Volunteers.
  • Private Frank Pike (Ian Lavender)—a cosseted mother’s boy, constantly wearing a thick scarf with his uniform to prevent illness, and often the target of Mainwaring’s derision.
  • Private Sponge (Colin Bean)—Private Sponge had the job of representing those members of the platoon not in Corporal Jones’ first section.
  • Private Cheeseman (Talfryn Thomas)—A Welshman who joined the Walmington-on-Sea platoon during the seventh series to compensate for the death of James Beck who played Private Walker.

Opening and closing credits

The show's opening titles were originally intended to feature footage of refugees and Nazi troops, in order to illustrate the threat faced by the Home Guard. Despite opposition from the BBC's Head of Comedy Michael Mills, BBC One's controller Paul Fox ordered that these be removed on the grounds that they were "offensive".[6] The replacement titles featured the now familiar animated sequence of swastika-headed arrows approaching Britain.[7] In Series 6 they were updated - in all previous versions one of the Nazi arrows passes over the tail of another but then appears under. This was corrected.

The closing credits of the show are a homage to the end credits of the 1944 film The Way Ahead which had covered the training of an everyman platoon during the war and was released as a propaganda film in 1943. In both instances, each character is shown as they walk across a smoke-filled battlefield. One of the stars of Dad's Army, John Laurie, also appeared in that film, and his performance in the end credits of The Way Ahead appears to be copied in the sit-com.

Music

The show's theme tune, "Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler?" was Jimmy Perry's idea, intended as a gentle pastiche of wartime songs. It is not uncommon for people to assume the song dates from the war (as other music in the series does). Perry wrote the lyric himself, and composed the music with Derek Taverner. Perry persuaded one of his childhood idols, wartime entertainer Bud Flanagan, to sing the theme for 100 guineas. Flanagan died less than a year after the recording.

The version played over the opening credits differs slightly from the full version recorded by Flanagan; an abrupt but inconspicuous edit removes, for timing reasons, two lines of lyrics with a different tune: "So watch out Mr Hitler, you have met your match in us/If you think you can crush us, we're afraid you've missed the bus." Bud Flanagan's full version appears as an Easter egg on the first series DVD release.[8] Arthur Lowe also recorded a full version of the theme.[9]

The closing credits feature an instrumental march version of the song played by the Band of the Coldstream Guards conducted by Captain (later Major) Trevor L. Sharpe, ending with the air-raid warning siren sounding all-clear. It is accompanied by a style of credits that became a trademark of David Croft: the caption "You have been watching", followed by vignettes of the main cast.

The series also contains genuine wartime songs between scenes, usually brief quotations that have some reference to the theme of the episode or the scene.

TV episodes

The television series lasted nine series and was broadcast over nine years, with 80 episodes in total, including three Christmas specials and an hour-long special. At its peak, the programme regularly gained audiences of 18.5 million.[10] There were also four short specials broadcast as part of Christmas Night with the Stars in 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1972.

Missing episodes

The first two series were recorded and screened in black and white, after that series three to nine were recorded and screened in colour. Even so one episode in series three Room at the Bottom could only be found in black and white, despite being recorded in colour. On the official DVDs, the episode is also in black and white. Technology eventually allowed the BBC to put the full colour version out in late 2008.

Until 1978 the BBC (along with ITV) did not have proper archives for programmes recorded on video tape. This, combined with the cost of 2 inch Quadruplex videotape reels and no appreciation of future commercial possibilities, resulted in significant amounts of material being wiped after they were transmitted (contractual agreements at that time often allowed for one repeat showing before being wiped).

Although the BBC has recovered many recordings from overseas broadcasters and private collectors through BBC Archive Treasure Hunt, many are still missing. Dad's Army is less affected than most, but three second-series episodes are lost, and one third-series episode was filmed in colour but had only existed in black and white. However this third-series episode has been re-coloured, using an existing colour signal in the black-and-white tele-recording, and was transmitted on 13 December 2008 on BBC Two.[11] Two further series-two episodes were believed lost until 2001. Two of the Three lost episodes have since been performed as part of the latest stage show.

In 2008 soundtracks of the lost episode "A Stripe for Frazer" and the 1968 Christmas Special "Untitled Sketch" were recovered, but it is unlikely that a visual version of either will be found.[12]

Film

As with many British sitcoms of that era, in 1971 Dad's Army was made into a feature film. Backers Columbia Pictures imposed arbitrary changes, such as recasting Liz Fraser as Mavis Pike and filming outdoors in Chalfont St Giles rather than Thetford, which made the cast unhappy. The director, Norman Cohen, who was also responsible for the idea to make the film, was nearly fired by the studio.[13]

Jimmy Perry and David Croft wrote the original screenplay. This was expanded by Cohen to try to make it more cinematic; Columbia executives made more changes to plot and pacing. As finally realised, two-thirds of the film consists of the creation of the platoon—this was the contribution of Perry and Croft—and the final third shows the platoon in action, rescuing hostages from the church hall where they’d been held captive by three German pilots.

Neither the cast nor Perry and Croft were happy with the result. Perry spent time arguing for changes to try to reproduce the style of the television series, but with mixed results.

Filming took place between 10 August and 25 September 1970, at Shepperton Studios and various locations. After shooting the film, the cast returned to working on the fourth television series.

The film's UK première was on 12 March 1971 at the Columbia Theatre, London. Critical reviews were mixed, but it performed well at the UK box office. Discussions were held about a possible sequel, to be called Dad's Army and the Secret U-Boat Base, but the project never came to fruition.[14]

Stage show

A poster advertising the stage show

In 1975 Dad’s Army transferred to the stage as a revue, with songs, familiar scenes from the show, and individual “turns” for cast members. It was created by Roger Redfarn, who shared the same agent as the sitcom writers. Most of the principal cast transferred with it, with the exception of John Laurie (he was replaced by Hamish Roughead). Following James Beck’s death two years earlier, Walker was played by John Bardon.

Dad’s Army: A Nostalgic Music and Laughter Show of Britain’s Finest Hour opened at Billingham in County Durham on 4 September 1975 for a two-week tryout. After cuts and revisions, the show transferred to London’s West End and opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 2 October 1975. On the opening night there was a surprise appearance by Chesney Allen, singing the old Flanagan and Allen song Hometown with Arthur Lowe.

The show ran in the West End until February 1976, disrupted twice by bomb scares, and then toured the country until 4 September 1976. Clive Dunn was replaced for half the tour by Jack Haig (David Croft's original first choice for the role of Corporal Jones on television). Jeffrey Holland, who went on to star in several later Croft sitcoms, also had a number of roles in the production.[15]

The stage show, billed as Dad's Army—The Musical, was staged in Australia and toured New Zealand in 2004–05, starring Jon English. Several sections of this stage show were filmed and have subsequently been included as extras on the final Dad's Army DVD.

In April 2007, a new stage show was announced with cast members including Leslie Grantham as Private Walker and Emmerdale actor Peter Martin as Captain Mainwaring.[16] The production contained the episodes "A Stripe for Frazer", "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker", "Room at the Bottom" and "The Deadly Attachment".

Radio series

Many TV episodes were remade for BBC Radio 4 with the original cast, although other actors played Walker after James Beck’s death. These radio versions were adapted by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles and also starred John Snagge as a newsreader who would set the scene for each episode. Different actors were used for some of the minor parts; Mollie Sugden played the role of Mrs Fox and Pearl Hackney played the role of Mrs. Pike for example. The pilot episode was actually based on the revised version of events seen in the opening of the film version rather than the TV pilot. The entire radio series has been released on CD.[17]

Knowles and Snoad also developed a radio series It Sticks Out Half a Mile, which told what happened to some of the Dad’s Army characters after the war. It was originally intended to star Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier reprising their Dad’s Army roles, but Lowe died shortly after recording the pilot episode, and Bill Pertwee and Ian Lavender were brought in to replace him for a 13-episode series.

Jimmy Perry wrote a radio sketch The Boy Who Saved England for the Last Night at the Paris evening broadcast on Radio 2 on 3 June 1995. It featured Ian Lavender as Pike, Bill Pertwee as Hodges, Frank Williams as the Vicar and Jimmy Perry as General Haverlock-Seabag.

Other appearances

Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and John Laurie themselves made a cameo appearance as their Dad's Army characters in the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. As Elton John is following incomprehensible instructions to find the BBC studios, he encounters them in a steam room. On leaving, Mainwaring calls him a “stupid boy”.[18] Earlier, Le Mesurier, Laurie, Beck, Ridley and Lavender had appeared as guests in the 22 April 1971 edition of The Morecambe and Wise Show on BBC2 playing pirates to Lowe’s captain in the Monty on the Bonty sketch. The cast also appeared in a 1970's public information film, in character but set in the modern day, showing how to cross the road safely at traffic lights.

A pilot episode for an American remake called The Rear Guard was produced by ABC and broadcast on 10 August 1976, based on the episode "The Deadly Attachment". However, it failed to make it past the pilot stage[19]—probably due to the fact there was never a realistic chance of a German invasion of the United States, unlike Britain.

Le Mesurier and Lowe made a final appearance in Dad's Army garb for a 1982 television commercial advertising Wispa chocolate bars. Clive Dunn made occasional appearances as Corporal Jones at 1940s themed events in the 1980s and 1990s.

Memorabilia

As was common with popular TV series, various forms of memorabilia and merchandise were released throughout the run and continued many years after.

  • At least 10 jigsaw puzzles with pictures from the TV series.
  • A set of 25 cigarette cards featuring scenes from the film was released in 1971.
  • Two board games, one as a promotion by Ovaltine in 1971 and another in 1974. In January 2010, online auction site eBay withdrew listings of the board game, claiming that, as the box graphics contained images of swastikas, it was technically Nazi paraphernalia and, as such, breached the firm’s offensive material policy[20].
  • A Pan/Piccolo book of their adventures in comic form with storylines by R.A.G. Clarke and pictures by Bill Titcombe. It was released in 1973 and cost 20p in the UK. It contained six stories.
  • Models of Jones’ and Hodges’ vans, a Walmington-on-Sea taxi, and a Walmington newspaper van were part of a Radio Times promotion.
  • Corgi released 1:50 scale models of a Thornycroft van as Jones the butcher's van and Bedford 0 Series as Hodges’ van. Each came with a figurine of the character.
  • The Imar Models series of 1:32 scale WW2 figurines includes a "Home Guard Captain" which, although not advertised as such, bears a striking resemblance to Captain Mainwaring.
  • Foundry Models released a series of Home Guard figurines as part of the "England Invaded!" series. Although not directly advertised as such, the figurines were clearly based on characters from the series. Available were different models depicting members of the platoon (Mainwaring, Wilson, Pike, Frazer, Jones and Godfrey) in various poses, along with a “civilian” collection featuring figurines based on Hodges, the Vicar, Verger and Mrs Pike.[21]

Awards

During its original television run, Dad's Army was nominated for a number of British Academy Television Awards, although only won "Best Light Entertainment Production Team" in 1971. It was nominated as "Best Situation Comedy" in 1973, 1974 and 1975. Also, Arthur Lowe was frequently nominated for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1978.[22]

In 2000, the show was voted 13th in a British Film Institute poll of industry professionals of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. In 2004, championed by Phill Jupitus, it came fourth in the BBC poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom with 174,138 votes.[23]

Cultural influence

The characters of Dad's Army and their catchphrases are well known in the UK due to the popularity of the series when originally shown and the frequency of repeats.

Jimmy Perry recalls that before writing the sitcom, the Home Guard was a largely forgotten aspect of Britain's defence in the Second World War, something which the series rectified.[24] In a 1972 Radio Times interview, Arthur Lowe expresses surprise at the programme’s success;

We expected the show to have limited appeal, to the age group that lived through the war and the Home Guard. We didn’t expect what has happened – that children from the age of five upwards would enjoy it too.[25]

Media releases

Main articles: Dad's Army books, Dad's Army DVD and Video releases and Dad's Army Audio releases.

The BBC released two "Best of" DVD sets in October 2001 and September 2002, but it was not until September 2004 that the full series began to be released, with the first series and the surviving episodes of the second series being released first, along with the documentary Missing Presumed Wiped. By November 2007, the entire series had been released, with the final edition featuring the specials "The Battle of the Giants", "The Love of Three Oranges" and "My Brother and I", along with various other appearances including several "Christmas Night with the Stars" sketches and excerpts from the stage show. The DVDs also include short individual biographical documentaries about the characters and their actors called We Are the Boys. The Columbia film adaptation is also available, although as this is not a BBC production, this is not included in the boxset.

See also

References

  1. ^ British Film Institute TV100 URL accessed 4 June 2006
  2. ^ BBC NEWS | Entertainment | TV's top 25 put-downs published
  3. ^ Life support (article about Croft & Perry’s writing relationship) by Stephanie Dennison, in The Observer, 16 December 2001, URL accessed 4 June 2006
  4. ^ Thetford tourist website discussing the reasons for shooting in Norfolk, retrieved 5 June 2006
  5. ^ Dad’s Army at BFI Screen online, article by Anthony Clark, URL accessed 4 June 2006
  6. ^ Memo at the BBC Archive, URL accessed 23 October 2008
  7. ^ "Row changed opening of Dad's Army". BBC News. 2008-07-30. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7531401.stm. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  8. ^ Vinyl record: On the Air: 60 Years of BBC Theme Music, BBC Enterprises 1982 (track 4). The Dad's Army title sequences and theme are viewable in Realplayer at TV-Ark
  9. ^ dadsarmy.tv article about the recording by David Noades, URL accessed 14 August 2006
  10. ^ Museum of Broadcast History website, URL accessed 4 June 2006
  11. ^ Norton, Charles (2008-12-11). "Recapturing colour from black and white film". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/dec/11/digital-video-restoration-dad-s-army. Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  12. ^ 'Lost' Dad's Army show back on TV, BBC News, 12 December 2008
  13. ^ Jimmy Perry interviewed in Richard Webber Dad's Army: A Celebration, (Virgin Publishing 1997), p. 168, ISBN 0-7535-0307-7
  14. ^ Richard Webber Dad's Army: A Celebration, (Virgin Publishing 1997), pp 164-169, ISBN 0-7535-0307-7
  15. ^ Richard Webber Dad’s Army: A Celebration, (Virgin Publishing 1997), pp 178-180, ISBN 0-7535-0307-7
  16. ^ BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Dad's Army to be revived on stage
  17. ^ Dad’s Army.tv page about the radio series, URL accessed 4 June 2006
  18. ^ Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special 1977 at IMDb, URL accessed 26 September 2006
  19. ^ The Rear Guard at IMDb, URL accessed 26 September 2006
  20. ^ 'Racist' Dad's Army game ban, The Sun, 01/29/2010
  21. ^ Foundry Models.com
  22. ^ List of awards at IMDb, URL accessed 4 June 2006
  23. ^ The final top-ten of Britain’s Best Sitcom, URL accessed 4 June 2006
  24. ^ Richard Webber Dad's Army: A Celebration, (Virgin Publishing 1997), p. 12, ISBN 0-7535-0307-7
  25. ^ Deirdre MacDonald speaking to Arthur Lowe in the Radio Times 18–24 March 1972. Article from Dad’s Army.tv, URL accessed 4 June 2006

Further reading

  • Croft, David; Perry, Jimmy; Webber, Richard (2003). Dad’s Army: The Complete Scripts. Orion. ISBN 0-7528-6024-0
  • Croft, David (2004). You Have Been Watching...: The Autobiography of David Croft. BBC Consumer Publishing (Books). ISBN 0-563-48739-9
  • Croft, David; Perry, Jimmy; Webber, Richard (2000). The Complete A-Z of Dad’s Army. Orion. ISBN 0-7528-1838-4
  • McCann, Graham (2001). Dad's Army: The story of a classic television show. Fourth Estate. ISBN 1-84115-308-7. 
  • McKenzie, Simon (1995). The Home Guard: A military and political history. OUP. ISBN 0-19-820577-5
  • Perry, Jimmy (2003). A Stupid Boy. Arrow. ISBN 0-09-944142-X
  • Webber, Richard (1997). Dad’s Army: A Celebration. Virgin Publishing. ISBN 0-7535-0307-7

External links

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