Turn­ing a suc­cess­ful sit­com into a film is a bumpy ride, says the Dad’s Army cre­ator

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - YOU TV WEEK - JIMMY PERRY

Mi­randa Hart may turn her hit sit­com into a movie, I hear, some­thing writ­ers Da­mon Beesley and Iain Mor­ris did to great ac­claim with the 2011 film of The In­be­tween­ers, which broke box of­fice records for com­edy.

Most sit­coms don’t sur­vive long enough now to war­rant a film ver­sion but it was fash­ion­able in the 70s. Back then, Step­toe And Son, Are You Be­ing Served?, Bless This House, and Por­ridge were all turned into films; David Croft and I even adapted Dad’s Army for the big screen in 1971. Some earned plau­dits. Ris­ing Damp won the Evening Stan­dard Award for Best Com­edy Film in 1980 and On The Buses was the sec­ond most pop­u­lar film in Bri­tain in 1971. Dad’s Army was fifth.

But any­one con­tem­plat­ing turn­ing a sit­com into a movie faces many chal­lenges. One of the big­gest is en­sur­ing the script doesn’t lack the in­ten­sity that made the show suc­cess­ful ini­tially. It has to be com­pact and not re­sem­ble a tele­vi­sion episode ag­o­nis­ingly stretched over 90 min­utes. You’ve got to pace it to en­sure it can sus­tain the greater screen time.

A lit­tle warn­ing for Mi­randa and her team – mak­ing Dad’s Army for TV was a de­light, which is more than can be said about the film. Ini­tially, David and I weren’t keen to write the film script but we even­tu­ally agreed. It was made by Columbia, and I worked as tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor with the di­rec­tor, Norman Co­hen, earn­ing £ 20 a day. Mak­ing TV com­edy shows in front of an au­di­ence is what I do; mak­ing fea­ture films is en­tirely dif­fer­ent. It’s slow and painful. I think the cast missed the stu­dio au­di­ence, too.

The Dad’s Army movie, based on three of our TV episodes, is funny in places but couldn’t cap­ture the at­mos­phere of the se­ries. One scene I’ll never for­get, though, sees the pla­toon march­ing along. Grad­u­ally their clothes change from civvies to long johns and, ul­ti­mately, Home Guard uni­forms. Ab­sent is Arthur Lowe, who had a clause put in his con­tract prevent­ing him hav­ing to re­move his trousers. We had a sim­i­lar prob­lem in the TV episode The Deadly At­tach­ment, when Arthur re­fused hav­ing a bomb put down his trousers!

The film re­ceived a cool re­cep­tion from crit­ics and for years I couldn’t watch it. But it’s re­peated reg­u­larly – most re­cently at Christ­mas – and I’ve since caught it sev­eral times. Do you know what? It’s not that bad.

Mi­randa Hart is a fine com­edy ac­tress and I wish her well if she makes a film. But it’s a bumpy ride and a long way to the Academy Awards! Jimmy is cu­ra­tor of the­atri­cal char­ity The Grand Or­der of Water Rats. Visit: www.gowr.net

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