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