Dad's Army is considered as one of the greatest sitcoms ever to have been made. What you may not know is that the series had a sequel; it was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 and called It Sticks Out Half A Mile.
The series was written by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles, the team who were responsible for the original radio adaptations of the television series. When Dad's Army finished in 1977, Snoad felt it was a pity that such wonderful characters like Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, Private Pike and ARP Hodges had to go. He suggested to Knowles that they should team up, and with agreement from original writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft, they developed It Sticks Out Half A Mile.
The original idea for this radio spin-off, set in 1948, was that it would feature Mainwaring and Wilson meeting up after the war had ended. The premise was that Wilson had moved out of Walmington-on-Sea and become the manager of his own branch of Swallow's Bank in Frambourne, another fictional town on the south coast. Meanwhile Mainwaring had moved to Switzerland, where he worked as the supervisor at a firm making cuckoo clocks. However the Ex-Captain had just moved back to England because the Swiss air did not suit the chest of his dreaded wife Elizabeth. On his return, Mainwaring was shocked to learn that Frambourne council wanted to demolish their old pier, so goes to take out a loan, not knowing that the manager of the bank is Wilson. Wilson gives him the money, and Mainwaring gets to buy the pier from the council, who are delighted that someone wants to buy such a wreck.
A pilot episode with this premise was recorded with Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier returning as Mainwaring and Wilson. Lowe had wanted the pilot to be made for TV, but when Snoad suggested the idea to the BBC, they turned him down and so it was made for radio. Lowe was not well at the time of the recording and kept slurring his lines, so badly in fact that at times he sounded drunk. Sadly, Lowe's health continued to fluctuate and he eventually died 10 months later, before a series could be produced. Consequently, it seemed that the idea for It Sticks Out Half A Mile was at an end; but at Lowe's memorial service, his widow Joan Cooper told Snoad and Knowles that Lowe loved the idea and should continue - so they did.
As a result, a second pilot was recorded, but now it was Hodges buying the pier, with young Pike as his business partner (but only because he needed the loan from 'Uncle Arthur'). They easily get the money, as Pike threatens Wilson that if he does not get the loan, he will reveal to his mother (whom the bank manager is still seeing), that Wilson once had a fling with another woman when he first moved into Frambourne.
After the second pilot, first broadcast in 1983, the cast went on to record another 12 episodes. The series saw Hodges and Pike managing the pier, with Wilson acting as their financial advisor. There was also the introduction of a new regular character: Wilson's secretary Miss Perkins, played by Vivienne Martin. Perkins, just like every other woman ever to come into contact with Wilson, is head-over-heels in love with him.
Sadly, Le Mesurier himself died just two days after the first episde of It Sticks Out Half A Mile was broadcast. Had he survived, it seems likely that a second series would have been commissioned.
However, this was still not the end of the road for the show. Snoad and Knowles decided to take the plot of the series and make a television pilot called Walking The Planks. Despite attracting 11 million viewers when broadcast in 1985 on BBC1, the BBC were still not interested. However, the regional ITV broadcaster in Yorkshire commissioned a seven part series under the title High & Dry (broadcast in 1987). However, we now know Snoad (writing under the pseudonym of Alan Sherwood) and Knowles were not happy with the result as there was no location filming and they had to make do with an un-realistic set. Both the pilot and subsequent ITV series are notable for featuring a pre-One Foot in the Grave Richard Wilson.
An interesting aspect of It Sticks Out Half A Mile is its survival. Even in the 1980s, the BBC was still carrying out a policy of wiping television and radio episodes so that the tapes could be used again. The master of the first pilot was wiped by the BBC, but Snoad kept a copy it and later returned it to the corporation. Most of the episodes from the series were accidentally wiped from the archive due to a mix-up, but the BBC's Treasure Hunt scheme has since discovered recordings of all the episodes. The entire series is now sometimes repeated on BBC7.