A Salute to ‘ Dad’s Army’

Evergreen - - Summer 2018 -

Over nine years it pro­duced 80 episodes of clas­sic tele­vi­sion com­edy. There was also a ra­dio se­ries, a stage show and two fea­ture films. Since it was first broad­cast 50 years ago on 31st July 1968, Dad’s Army has be­come a na­tional in­sti­tu­tion, one of those rare tele­vi­sion pro­grammes that is gen­uinely funny and loved by peo­ple of all ages, who can watch it with­out be­ing of­fended.

Not bad for an idea that came to Jimmy Perry as he walked through St. James’s Park in Lon­don one morn­ing in May, 1967. At the age of 42, Jimmy Perry was a mod­er­ately suc­cess­ful ac­tor, but he needed a part that would re­ally get him no­ticed on tele­vi­sion. Know­ing that he might wait a long time to find such a role, he de­cided to write one for him­self.

As he strug­gled to think of an idea, Jimmy Perry even­tu­ally chanced upon the Chang­ing of the Guard. Watch­ing the sol­diers on pa­rade, Perry’s mind wan­dered back to the Sec­ond World War. Back then, at the tender age of 15, he had been in the 19th Hert­ford­shire Bat­tal­ion of the Lo­cal De­fence Vol­un­teers. It was the in­spi­ra­tion he needed — he would write a sit­u­a­tion com­edy about the LDV.

The Lo­cal De­fence Vol­un­teers were formed af­ter a ra­dio ap­peal by An­thony Eden — the Sec­re­tary of State for War — on 14th May 1940. He asked for men be­tween the ages of 17 and 65 to come for­ward to form a ci­ti­zens’ army of vol­un­teers. They would be the last line of de­fence if Ger­many in­vaded Bri­tain. Po­ten­tial re­cruits were asked to reg­is­ter at lo­cal po­lice sta­tions, which were soon

over­whelmed by the re­sponse. The Lo­cal De­fence Vol­un­teers of­fi­cially be­came known as the Home Guard on 23rd July 1940.

Some ini­tial re­search into the sub­ject proved rather fruit­less and Jimmy Perry soon re­alised that the Home Guard had been all but for­got­ten. De­ter­mined to rem­edy this, he wrote a pi­lot script en­ti­tled The Fight­ing Tigers. Jimmy Perry was work­ing at the time with the tele­vi­sion di­rec­tor- pro­ducer David Croft on the sit­com Beg­gar My Neigh­bour. Jimmy Perry asked David Croft to read his script and Croft soon de­liv­ered his ver­dict — “What a ter­rific idea!”

The pi­lot script for Dad’s Army went through sev­eral changes. Some of these were sug­gested by Michael Mills, the BBC Head of Com­edy. Mills did not like the ti­tle The Fight­ing

Tigers and in­stead came up with Dad’s Army. He was also not keen on the name of Bright­sea- on- Sea, the coastal town where the ac­tion was set. David Croft there­fore sug­gested Walm­ing­ton- on- Sea.

To­day, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any­one other than Arthur Lowe play­ing the part of Ge­orge Mainwaring, so su­perbly did he do it. How­ever, in his book Dad’s Army: The Story of a Clas­sic Tele­vi­sion Show, au­thor Gra­ham Mc­Cann re­vealed that the part was orig­i­nally of­fered to the ac­tor Thor­ley Wal­ters, who turned it down. Jon Per­twee also de­clined the role.

The ac­tor Robert Dorn­ing was at first con­sid­ered for the role of the in­ef­fec­tual Sergeant Wil­son. How­ever, Michael Mills in­sisted that John Le Mesurier was the best ac­tor for the part — and how right he was.

Robert Dorn­ing did ap­pear later in an episode of Dad’s Army as a bank in­spec­tor. Most in­trigu­ing of all, was the cast­ing of Lance Cor­po­ral Jack Jones, played by Clive Dunn. The role was orig­i­nally of­fered to the young David Ja­son.

Other parts such as Pri­vates Pike ( Ian Laven­der), Frazer ( John Lau­rie), Godfrey ( Arnold Ri­d­ley), and Walker ( James Beck) were eas­ier to cast. Jimmy Perry had writ­ten the part of the spiv, Joe Walker, for him­self. How­ever, for var­i­ous rea­sons it was de­cided that he could not play the role — much to his dis­ap­point­ment.

Only one ac­tor was con­sid­ered for the role of ARP War­den Hodges — Bill Per­twee. A cousin of Jon Per­twee, he was a stalwart of such ra­dio shows as Be­yond Our Ken and Round the Horne as well as comic roles on tele­vi­sion. Though he only had a short scene in the first Dad’s Army

MAINWARING: Oh you’d stick up for him wouldn’t you? You both went to pub­lic school didn’t you? WIL­SON: You know sir, I can’t help feel­ing that you’ve got a bit of a chip on your shoul­der about that. MAINWARING: There’s no chip on my shoul­der. I’ll tell...

ALL STAR PIC­TURE LI­BRARY / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Cre­ators of a com­edy mas­ter­piece: Jimmy Perry and David Croft.

MIRRORPIX/ ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Mem­bers of the cast pose for a pho­to­graph, al­though a few fa­mil­iar faces such as Wil­son, Walker and Mr. Yeat­man are miss­ing.

HODGES: I should have been killed. I was spared. Why me? An­swer me that. Why me? Why, why, why? VICAR: I can’t think. ( from “All Is Safely Gath­ered In”, 1972)

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