This is not a regular habit of mine I promise, but earlier this morning – having read the broadsheet reviews of Tuesday night’s television programming in which it seemingly received 4 stars out of 5 all round – I deliberately took up my zapper and negotiated through my cable company’s administrative system to ‘play back’ the BBC iPlayer recording of the drama/documentary We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story which had aired on BBC2.
The iconic – I hesitate to call it classic only because it tends to be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ programme for some, viz. you either loved or hated it – Dad’s Army, written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, which ran on the BBC for 9 series and 80 programmes between 1968 to 1977 (not counting endless repeats) discovered a mine of affectionate and nostalgic fun in the antics of a fictitious unit in Britain’s Home Guard based at ‘Warmington-on-Sea’ during World War 2. According to its Wikipedia entry, it was voted fourth in a 2004 poll to decide Britain’s best-ever sitcom and 13th in a 2000 British Film Institute list of 100 Greatest Ever British Television Programmes.
As it happens, although I don’t watch it now because I reckon I saw all 80 episodes long ago, I loved Dad’s Army. Partly because it was so well cast and acted, partly because as a kid I found it funny, and partly because my family elders (my parents to a lesser extent than my grandmother who had been a senior officers’ ATC driver during WW2 and regarded it as much as a documentary as a sitcom) absolutely adored it.
It was archetypal family viewing of its day, an era when there was a lot of edgier and tougher offerings around, but it benefited from its timeless virtues of absurd plots, deft comic timing and familiar actors and characters, ranging from the pompous bank manager Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe), his assistant the public-school rogue Sergeant Wilson (John Le Mesurier), the hyper ARP warden Hodges (Bill Pertwee) and the ‘stupid boy’ teenager Pike (Ian Lavender) to the intensely loyal Boer War veteran Corporal Jones (Clive Dunn), the slightly batty Private Godfrey (Arnold Ridley), the spiv Private Walker (James Beck) and the doom-monger Scottish undertaker Private Frazer (Ian Laurie).
I also thoroughly enjoyed We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story.
Not so much the plot, which was pretty threadbare, being an understated but largely true tale of how a jobbing actor (Perry, played by Paul Ritter) met up with a BBC light entertainment producer (Croft, played by Richard Dormer) and between them managed to overcome the overwhelming complacency and strictures of BBC’s systems and senior management to pilot their sitcom to its first – and ‘live’ – recording. The problem with creating a 60-minute drama/documentary film about a story whose outcome we all know in advance is, of course, that the instances of surprise and drama involved are by definition pretty minimal.
Why this programme worked for me is down to three things.
Firstly, the script by Stephen Russell was inventive, witty and felt alarmingly to the point when illuminating the various trials and tribulations of working in a vast organisation like the BBC. It also seemed to capture accurately the worlds of 1960s television and acting perfectly, though I can only say that from the perspective of someone who had no experience of them myself.
Secondly, whoever was responsible for the casting did a splendid job: John Sessions as Arthur Lowe, Julian Sands as John Le Mesurier and Mark Heap as Clive Dunn – to name but three – were outstanding, a splendid ensemble cast playing an ensemble cast who themselves gradually became splendid against all the odds almost fifty years ago.
Thirdly, and finally, another ‘hats off’ to Steve Bendelack (the director) and whomever did the lighting, props-buying and wardrobe duties. The entire show looked and sounded as much ‘of the 1960s’ as any real-life programme of that era ever did.
As Janice Nicholls used to say on ITV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars pop music show (1961 to 1966) … “Oi’ll give it foive “…