A Salute to ‘ Dad’s Army’
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...
Creators of a comedy masterpiece: Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
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)