Dad's Army has been entertaining TV audiences for 50 years. In this feature we take an A-to-Z look at some of the component parts that helped make such a brilliant sitcom.
A: ARP Warden Hodges
A is for ARP Warden Hodges, who was portrayed by Bill Pertwee. Bill, founding president of The Dad's Army Appreciation Society, was cast by chance by David Croft, who thought he would be good for the role. He had worked with him before when Bill had played an extra in Hugh And I. Bill's cousin Jon Pertwee was originally considered to play Captain Mainwaring too.
B: Bud Flanagan
Bud Flanagan sang the theme tune to Dad's Army, which Jimmy Perry wrote as a pastiche of wartime songs. Many thought it to be a real wartime tune. Sadly, Bud died a year after the recording so didn't get to see either the longevity of the programme or its theme song win the Ivor Novello Award for Best TV Signature Tune in 1971.
C: Charles Godfrey
The character Charles Godfrey was portrayed by actor and writer Arnold Ridley. Godfrey was appointed the First Aid supervisor having served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher-bearer, and heroically saved injured men whilst under fire. Similar to Godfrey, Arnold Ridley served during the First World War where he sustained serious injuries, which meant he could not carry a heavy rifle in the role. It was much easier for him to carry the first aid bag.
D: Don't Tell Him, Pike!
"Don't tell him, Pike!" is probably the most famous line from the show's entire run. It is from the episode The Deadly Attachment, which was adapted as the pilot episode for an American version of the series by ABC. Titled The Rear Guard, the pilot was broadcast on the 10th August 1976 but did not go any further.
E: Elizabeth Mainwaring
Elizabeth Mainwaring is the mysterious wife of Captain Mainwaring and never seen on screen. The closest we get to her making an appearance is her large figure looming towards him when they share a bunk bed in their Anderson shelter.
Whilst trying to get a Home Guard sitcom commissioned, Perry wrote a second script to show its longevity. The script, entitled The Sharpshooters, featured Mrs Mainwaring on screen as a thin 40 year-old woman, who played war games to keep her husband happy and gives him her tiny cheese ration each week. However, when this script became Shooting Pains in Series 1 the scenes involving Elizabeth were dropped.
David Croft has since said that Mrs Mainwaring became a good gimmick and they had never set out to keep her a mystery: it simply happened. By the end, he thought any on screen appearance by her would have been a let down.
F is for Frazer, played by John Laurie. A Scotsman, Walker ironically nicknamed Frazer 'Taffy', a slang pejorative for Welsh people. In real life, Laurie served in the First World War but was haunted by his experiences, later asking Jimmy Perry to stop showing footage of the war, which was part of a film he was making about veterans.
G: Goodnight Sweetheart
The sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart paid tribute to Dad's Army in their 1995 episode Don't Get Around Much Any More. Gary Sparrow, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, goes in to a bank in 1941, where he meets a bank manager called Mainwaring and his chief clerk, named Wilson. When Gary hears the names Mainwaring and Wilson, he starts to sing the Dad's Army theme song. It turns out both of them (surprisingly!) are in the Home Guard!
Later in the series, the 1990s-adult incarnation of Gary's 1940s-born son was played by Ian Lavender.
H: Home Guard
The Home Guard was made up of approximately 1.5 million volunteers and ran from 1940 till 1944. As the soldiers were often too old, young or inexperienced to join the services, it was dismissively nicknamed 'dad's army'. Unpaid, it gave those older and inexperienced soldiers the opportunity to support the war effort. CS Lewis, George Formby, George Orwell, A.A Milne and Sir Patrick Moore were all notable members of the Home Guard, as well as Arnold Ridley, John Laurie and Jimmy Perry themselves.
I: It Sticks Out Half A Mile
After the original series, many episodes were remade for Radio 4 using the original cast, except the deceased James Beck. Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles adapted the scripts from Croft and Perry's originals.
Knowles and Snoad later created a sequel radio sitcom called It Sticks Out Half A Mile. Referencing Walmington-on-Sea's pier, the series charted what happened to some of the platoon after the war. It was meant to star Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier reprising their original characters, but Lowe died shortly after the 1981 pilot was recorded. Bill Pertwee and Ian Lavender were brought in to record thirteen episodes with Le Mesurier, before his own death in 1983. It was in this series that it was publicly revealed that Wilson was definitely Pike's father.
J: Jimmy Perry and David Croft
J is for Jimmy Perry and David Croft, who co-wrote the series and were both awarded OBEs. The show's origin story was told in the BBC biopic We're Doomed! The Dad's Army Story: an out-of-work actor, Jimmy Perry originally wrote the part of Walker for himself. Croft considered this unwise as they didn't want the rest of the cast feeling Perry had written all the best lines for himself. Perry did however make a cameo appearance as music-hall comedian Charlie Cheeseman in the Shooting Pains episode.
K: Kids' Television
Arthur Lowe appeared on Blue Peter twice due to Dad's Army huge popularity amongst young viewers. His first appearance was in character alongside John Le Mesurier, where they judged primary school art themed around the sitcom. On the second occasion Lowe appeared as himself with presenter John Noakes and talked through the defences on the Dad's Army van, which was taking part in the famous London to Brighton run.
L: Lance Corporal Jones
Lance Corporal Jack Jones, portrayed by Clive Dunn, is known for his famous catchphrase "They don't like it up 'em!", which came from Jimmy Perry remembering it have been used by an old campaigner during his time in the Home Guard. Jones is also well known for his butcher's shop, with his supply of off ration meat being suggested as both the reason for his instant appointment to the rank of Lance Corporal in Walmington-on-Sea's Home Guard, and why Mrs Fox marries him.
Mainwaring, though it may seem like he does, is merely an officious busybody with no combat experience. This creates tension with the rest of his platoon, in particularly Wilson, who in the First World War was a decorated captain. Mainwaring had tried to enlist for in 1914 but was rejected due to poor eyesight - in no small part explaining his thorough enjoyment at being Captain in the Home Guard; his patriotism; and his eagerness to see combat; as well as his inability to see any British failings! Similarly, actor Arthur Lowe was rejected from the Merchant Navy prior to the Second World War for the same reason as his character.
N: Never Too Old
N is for Never Too Old, which was the final episode of the show. This is the only episode that breaks the fourth wall. Hodges tells the platoon they would be no good as real soldiers but, once he leaves, the troupe reassure each other that no one is getting past them. They then discuss how there are hundreds of men like them who are willing to fight for their freedom before Wilson suggests a toast to Britain's Home Guard and the platoon, speaking directly to the viewers, raise their glasses "to Britain's Home Guard".
O: Opening and Closing Titles
The show's closing credits were originally planned to feature the cast marching against a backdrop of wartime footage including Nazi troops and refugees, illustrating the threats the Home Guard were up against. However, after opposition from BBC One controller Paul Fox that such imagery was unsuitable for a comedy programme, David Croft reluctantly removed them.
The marching presentation of the credits are homage to the 1944 film The Way Ahead, which showed each character walking across a smoke-covered battlefield. John Laurie also appeared in The Way Ahead and his performance in that film's end credits is replicated in Dad's Army.
P: Private Frank Pike
Pike was based on the teenage Jimmy Perry, who joined the Home Guard in Watford at the age of 16. Ian Lavender was invited to choose Pike's scarf from the BBC costume department. As a supporter of Aston Villa, he chose the team's colours. In 1941, due to a number of Home Guard volunteers being unarmed, Churchill wrote to the War Office saying that "every man must have a weapon of some sort, be it only a mace or a pike", which is where Private Pike gets his name from.
Q is for Queen, to whom the cast performed at the 1975 Royal Variety Performance. In a sketch based on The Cornish Floral Dance, a now lost mini-episode from 1970's Christmas Night With The Stars, it was recorded at the London Palladium before being broadcast on ITV. In the scene the platoon are rehearsing the Cornish floral dance with the ARP wardens and some local ladies from Walmington-on-Sea, for a Christmas concert to entertain injured troops.
R: Rediscovered Episodes
Luckily Dad's Army has been affected by the BBC's policy of wiping videotape far less than many of its contemporary series. Almost all of its episodes were kept and most of those lost have since been recovered, but there are still three full episodes that remain missing as well as two shorter sketches - approximately 110 minutes worth in total.
The three full episodes are all from Series 2: The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Walker, A Stripe For Frazer and Under Fire. Two of the three missing episodes have been performed as part of stage adaptations of the show and, more recently, in 2008 the soundtrack for A Stripe For Frazer was recovered. It has since been mixed with animation to replace the missing visual footage.
S: Sergeant Wilson
Sergeant Wilson was played by John Le Mesurier. After being second choice for the role to Robert Dorning, Le Mesurier was offered the part of Arthur Wilson in 1968 but was first reluctant to take it as he did not want to commit to another long television role having just finished George And The Dragon with Sid James. It was only after hearing of the casting of his friend Clive Dunn as Corporal Jones, and a slight increase in his pay offer, that he was persuaded to accept the part.
Le Mesurier was advised by Jimmy Perry to make the part is own, so he decided to base Wilson on himself and make him an extension of his own personality. Therefore he always left a few buttons undone; had his military uniform sleeve slightly turned up; spoke softly; and issued commands as if they were invitations, thus making them unlikely to be followed.
T: The Morecambe And Wise Show
The cast starred in The Morecambe And Wise Show twice. In a 1971 edition they starred in a Monty on the Bonty sketch, with Lowe playing Captain Bligh and the others as the crew onboard HMS Bounty. As they are leaving the ship, Le Mesurier delivers his well-known Wilson line, "Do you think that's wise?" to which Lowe replies, "No, no - that's Morecambe."
U: Uncle Arthur
U is for Uncle Arthur, which is what Pike calls Sergeant Wilson. His 'uncle' was in an unmarried relationship with his mother - scandalous in society of the time, hence the obfuscation of their real relationship. Pike initially called Wilson 'Daddy' but was told to refer to him as 'Uncle'; Perry and Croft have since confirmed that Wilson is indeed Frank Pike's biological father. On the radio, Mainwaring asks Wilson "And how's your son?" to which Wilson laughs and says he has left the bank to become an Under Manager.
The van often used by the men was Jones's two-ton Ford BB, which made its screen debut in The Armoured Might Of Lance Corporal Jones and was used again in the 2016 Dad's Army film. However, a different van, the Ford Model AA, was used for the 1971 film, with a roof box added so that the platoon could stand inside it. The original Ford BB van is now on display at the Charles Burrell Museum in Thetford, Norfolk.
W is for Walker, the Cockney spiv portrayed by James Beck. Sadly Beck died of pancreatitis near the end of filming for the sixth series. The Recruit is the last time Walker is mentioned in the show. The character leaves a note where he stands when the unit goes on parade. It is explained he is absent as he is in London ("gone up the Smoke") to conduct a shady deal.
X: Xmas Specials
My Brother And I is notable as it has a dual role for Arthur Lowe, with the actor also playing the Captain's drunken brother, Barry. The siblings only appear on screen at the same in one scene, with the help of a little camera trickery.
In Battle Of The Giants, several scenes were removed from the television broadcasts but were later restored for the Christmas episodes DVD release of 2007, including scenes detailing how Private Walker earned his medal. The platoon also took part in four sketches for Christmas Night With The Stars that were transmitted on BBC One on Christmas Day in 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1972, respectively.
Y: You Stupid Boy!
One of the most popular catchphrases from the show, "You stupid boy!", has been listed by Radio Times as one of the top 25 greatest put-downs on television. It was often used in reference to Private Pike but on one occasion it was aimed at a famous singer. In the 1977 Morecambe And Wise Show Christmas special, Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and John Laurie were discovered, in character, in a steam room by Elton John, who was following a series of ludicrous instructions to get to the BBC studio. On leaving, Mainwaring refers to him as a "stupid boy"!
Z: Zeta Jones
Z is for Zeta Jones, as in Catherine Zeta Jones, the star of the 2016 Dad's Army film, alongside Toby Jones as Mainwaring, Bill Nighy as Wilson, Blake Harrison as Pike and Michael Gambon as Godfrey. Zeta Jones plays Rose Winters, a journalist who arrives to report on the platoon but may also be hiding a secret. Ian Lavender makes a cameo as Brigadier Pritchard, which links in to the original series, and Frank Williams reprises his role as the Vicar. However, the main difference is Mrs Mainwaring - an unseen character in the original series - who has a greater and visible role in this film, as a Chief Volunteer for the local Auxiliary Territorial Service.
Published: Monday 30th July 2018