Season 3-9 Title Card
Jimmy Perry and David Croft
(order as listed in closing credits) Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, James Beck, Arnold Ridley and Ian Lavender, with Bill Pertwee, Frank Williams, Edward Sinclair, Janet Davies & Colin Bean
No. of episodes
30 minutes per episode
31 July 1968 - 13 November 1977
Dad's Army is a British sitcom focusing on the exploits of a platoon of Home Guard in the fictional town of Walmington-on-Sea, set in the 2nd World War. It was written by Jimmy Perry & David Croft, and was broadcast on BBC One from 1968 to 1977. The series ran for 9 seasons 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 TV. 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 and stage, including Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Arnold Ridley & 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 Television Programmes drawn up by the BFI (British Film Institute) in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, it was placed thirteenth. 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.
Origins[edit | edit source]
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. 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 Scottish person 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[edit | edit source]
The show was set in the fictional seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea, on the south coast of England (the exterior scenes were mostly filmed in and around Thetford, Norfolk). 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 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. 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 the episode, "Absent Friends".
The humour ranged from the subtle (especially in the class-reversed 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[edit | edit source]
Main article: List of Characters
- Captain George Mainwaring (pronounced Man-er-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.
- Sergeant Arthur Wilson (John Le Mesurier)—a diffident, upper-class bank clerk who would quietly question Mainwaring's judgement ("Do you think that's wise?"). Wilson served as a Captain in the First World War.
- Lance-Corporal Jack Jones (Clive Dunn)—born in 1870, Jones was an old campaigner who had joined up as a drummer boy aged 14 and participated, as a boy soldier, in the campaign of Kitchener in the Sudan between 1896 and 1898.
- Private Joe Walker (James Beck)—a black market “spiv”, Walker was the only fit, able-bodied man of military age in Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard. His absence from the regular armed forces was due to a corned beef allergy.
- 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 ("Stupid boy!"). He also works under Mainwaring in his day-job as assistant bank clerk.
- Private James Frazer (John Laurie)—a dour Scottish coffin maker and a Chief Petty Officer on HMS Defiant in the Royal Navy who served at the Battle of Jutland as a ship's cook.
- Private Charles Godfrey MM (Arnold Ridley)—he is the platoon’s medical orderly.
- ARP Warden William Hodges (Bill Pertwee)—the platoon’s major rival and nemesis.
- Mrs. Mavis Pike (Janet Davies)—Pike’s mother and Sergeant Wilson’s lover.
- Reverend Timothy Farthing (Frank Williams)—The effete vicar of St. Aldhelm’s Church, he shares his church hall and office with Mainwaring’s platoon.
- Maurice Yeatman (Edward Sinclair)—Mr. Yeatman was the verger at St. Aldhelm’s Church and head of the Sea Scouts group, and was often hostile to the platoon.
- 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[edit | edit source]
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".
The replacement titles featured the familiar animated sequence of swastika-headed arrows approaching Britain.
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 sitcom.
Music[edit | edit source]
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 (This is the only pastiche as the other music used is of the time). 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 shortly 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. Arthur Lowe also recorded a full version of the theme.
The closing credits feature an instrumental march version of the song played by the Band of the Coldstream Guards conducted by Captain (later Lt Col) 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[edit | edit source]
Main article: List of Episodes
The television series lasted nine series and was broadcast over nine years, with 80 episodes in total, including three Christmas specials. At its peak, the programme regularly gained audiences of 18.5 million. There were also four short specials broadcast as part of Christmas Night with the Stars in 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1972.
Missing episodes[edit | edit source]
Main article: 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. 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. 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 Night with the Stars special Present Arms were recovered, but it is unlikely that a visual version of either will be found.
Film[edit | edit source]
Main article: Dad's Army Film
As with many TV shows 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.
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.
Stage Show[edit | edit source]
Main Article: Dad's Army 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 England, Teesside on 4 September 1975 for a two-week try-out. 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.
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. 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[edit | edit source]
Many TV episodes (67, to be exact) were remade for BBC Radio 4 with the original cast, although other actors played some parts (such as the part of Walker after the death of James Beck). These radio versions were adapted by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles and also featured a narrative by veteran newsreader John Snagge who would set the scene at the start of each episode.
Other appearances[edit | edit source]
Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and John Laurie 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”. 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 Bounty sketch. The cast also appeared in a 1970s 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 - 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.
Arthur Lowe appeared on Blue Peter twice. The first time was with John Le Mesurier, reprising their roles of Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson respectively when discussing a mural schoolchildren had painted. Arthur Lowe appeared as Captain Mainwaring a second time on Blue Peter with the Dad's Army vehicle which was featuring in a London-Brighton run.
Cosplay verisions of the characters and Lance Corporal Jones's van appeared at the Lord Mayor's show in 2017.
Awards[edit | edit source]
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.
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.
Tributes[edit | edit source]
In June 2010, a statue of Captain George Mainwaring was erected in the Norfolk town of Thetford where most of the TV series Dad's Army was filmed. The statue features Captain Mainwaring sitting to attention on a simple bench in Home Guard uniform, with his swagger stick across his knees. The statue is mounted at the end of winding brick pathway with a Union Flag patterned arrow head to reflect the opening credits of the TV series, and the sculpture has been designed so that members of the public can sit alongside Captain Mainwaring for the purpose of having their photo taken.
Cultural influence[edit | edit source]
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. 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."
Media releases[edit | edit source]
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.