Dad's Army

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Television

Dad's Army

The characters of Dad's Army (left to right): Private Pike, Private Frazer, ARP Warden Hodges (front), Private Godfrey, Captain Mainwaring (front), Private Walker, Corporal Jones and Sergeant Wilson
Genre Comedy
Running time 30 minutes per episode
Creator(s) Jimmy Perry
Starring (listed in closing credits)
Arthur Lowe
John Le Mesurier
Clive Dunn
John Laurie
James Beck
Arnold Ridley
Ian Lavender
Bill Pertwee
Frank Williams
Edward Sinclair
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original channel BBC-1
Original run 1968–1977
No. of episodes 80

Dad's Army was a British sitcom about the Home Guard in the Second World War, written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft and broadcast on BBC television between 1968 and 1977.

The series starred several veterans of British film, television and stage, including Arthur Lowe (1915–82), John Le Mesurier (1912–83), Arnold Ridley (also a veteran playwright; 1896–1984), John Laurie (1897–1980) and Clive Dunn (1920--). Relative youngsters in the regular cast were Ian Lavender (1946--) and James Beck (1929–1973), the last dying suddenly part way through the programme's long run despite being one of the youngest cast members.

Popular at the time and still repeated, it was voted into fourth place in a 2004 BBC poll for Britain's Best Sitcom. Previously, in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, it was placed thirteenth.


Originally intended to be called "The Fighting Tigers", Dad's Army was based partly on Jimmy Perry's experiences in the Local Defence Volunteers (later known as the Home Guard), the film Whisky Galore!, and on the work of comedians such as Will Hay and Robb Wilton. Perry wrote the first script and gave it to David Croft while working as a minor actor in the Croft-produced sitcom Hugh and I, originally intending the role of the spiv, Walker, to be his own. Croft was impressed and sent the script to Michael Mills, head of comedy at the BBC. After addressing initial concerns that the programme was making fun of the efforts of the Home Guard, the series was commissioned.


The show was set in the fictional seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea, on the South Coast of England. (though it was mostly filmed in and around Thetford, Norfolk). Thus, the Home Guard were in the front line in the eventuality of an invasion by the enemy forces across the English Channel, which formed a backdrop to the series. The first series had a loose narrative thread, with Captain Mainwaring's platoon being formed and equipped - initially with wooden guns and LDV armbands, and later on full army uniforms (the platoon were part of the The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment).

The first episode, The Man and the Hour, began with a scene set in the "present day" of 1968, in which Mainwaring addressed his old platoon as part of the contemporary "I'm Backing Britain" campaign. The prologue opening was a condition imposed after initial concerns by Paul Fox, the controller of BBC 1, that it was belittling the efforts of the Home Guard. After Mainwaring relates how he had backed Britain in 1940, the episode proper began; Dad's Army is thus told in flashback, although the final episode does not return to the then-present. Later episodes were largely self-contained, albeit referring to previous events and with additional character development.

Since the comedy was in many ways dependent for its effectiveness on the platoon's failure to participate actively in World War II, opposition to their activities had to come from another quarter, and this generally showed itself in the form of Air Raid Patrol Warden Hodges, although sometimes the Verger or Captain Square and the Eastgate platoon. However the group did have some encounters related to the war such as downed German planes, a U-boat crew, parachutes that may have been German, and German mines.

The humour ranged from the subtle (especially in the relationship between Mainwaring and his sergeant, Wilson, who also happened to be his deputy at the bank) to the slapstick (the antics of the elderly Jones being a prime example). Jones had several catchphrases, including Don't panic!, They don't like it up 'em, Permission to speak, sir, and talk about the Fuzzy-Wuzzies. Mainwaring said Stupid boy, in reference to Pike, in many episodes. The first series occasionally included darker humour, reflecting the fact that, especially early in the war, members of the Home Guard were woefully underequipped and yet still prepared to have a crack at the German army. A poignant moment to this theme occurs in 'The Battle Of Godfrey's Cottage' episode, during which the platoon believes an invasion to be taking place. Mainwaring and a few volunteers decide to stay in the village to hold off any German advance so information can be relayed back by the rest of the platoon; "Of course, that will be the end of us." says Mainwaring, "We know sir." replies Frazer, before getting on with the task in hand.


Main characters

  • Captain George Mainwaring , pronounced "Mannering" ( Arthur Lowe) - the pompous - if essentially brave and unerringly patriotic - local bank manager, Mainwaring appointed himself leader of his town's contingent of Local Defence Volunteers. Of the platoon, he and Joe Walker were the only adult members with no prior combat experience, and, therefore, had no medals - a fact which sometimes caused tension with the other members of the Home Guard. He did, however, serve in the British Army of occupation in France, "during the whole of 1919 - somebody had to clear up the mess." Although an ensemble piece, the series focused particularly upon Mainwaring, who has invested all his efforts into the platoon as a way of escaping from an unhappy marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of a Bishop, and a stalled career at the bank.
  • Sergeant Arthur Wilson ( John Le Mesurier) - a diffident, upper-class bank clerk, Wilson was nonetheless Mainwaring's inferior in the bank and on parade; his suave, understated social superiority, public school education and handsome looks led to a certain amount of jealousy on Mainwaring's part. During World War I he fought in the Royal Artillery at Mons, Gallipoli and the Somme. In the last episode he revealed that he had been a Captain.
  • Lance-Corporal Jack Jones ( Clive Dunn) - born in 1870, Jones was an old campaigner who had participated, as a boy soldier, in the campaign of Kitchener of Khartoum in the Sudan between 1896 and 1898, and also fought in World War I. By 1940 he worked as the town butcher, which occasionally enabled him to supplement his superiors' meat ration. Jones was leader of the platoon's first section. He has a story for every occasion, and will never hesitate in telling it, regardless of how long-winded or irrelevant it is. Despite being the oldest member of the platoon, Jones demonstrates an almost boyish enthusiasm for combat and is the first to volunteer for anything, no matter how ill-advised that may be.
  • Private Joe Walker ( James Beck) - a black market " spiv", Walker was the only fit, able-bodied man of military age in Walmington-on-Sea's home guard. His absence from the regular armed forces was due to a corned beef allergy, evidenced in the episode "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Walker". Mainwaring often turned a blind eye to his profiteering as he could sometimes supply the platoon (and Mainwaring) with useful items. On more than one occasion, Walker's willingness to use underhand tactics allowed Mainwaring's platoon to triumph over rivals in the Home Guard, Army and ARP. He was disciplined several times by Captain Mainwaring for making jokes at inappropriate times.
  • Private Frank Pike ( Ian Lavender) - a cossetted mother's boy and often the target of Mainwaring's derision ("Stupid boy!"), Pike was a junior bank clerk. He called Wilson "Uncle Arthur", and although never explicitly stated, it was often implied that Wilson and Pike's mother were having a relationship. It was also occasionally suggested that Wilson was Pike's father (although the writers only acknowledged this in interviews after the programme ended). He frequently threatens to set his mother on Mainwaring or Wilson whenever he is shouted at or forced to do anything he doesn't want to do.
  • Private James Frazer ( John Laurie) - a dour Scottish coffin maker and a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy who fought at the Battle of Jutland (although his main duty was cooking), Frazer was tight with money, had wild staring eyes, and was known for issuing regular pronouncements of doom. In the early episodes Frazer was the keeper of a philately shop, but by series four the writers had decided that he should become the local undertaker, in keeping with his gloomy nature. He sometimes led rebellions against Mainwaring and was the only member of the platoon to be portrayed as a villain in episodes such as A Soldier's Farewell and The Two and a Half Feathers, though for the most part he was loyal and well-intentioned.
  • Private Charles Godfrey ( Arnold Ridley) - the platoon's medical orderly, who had served in World War One as a conscientious-objecting stretcher bearer, winning the Military Medal before becoming a tailor at the Army and Navy Stores. Godfrey was an amiable, vague, lifelong bachelor who lived with his sisters Dolly and Cissy in an idyllic cottage, and was a martyr to his weak bladder, leading to many requests to be "excused". He was very loyal to Captain Mainwaring, except on one occasion when he took part in a plot to make Mainwaring's feet hurt.
  • ARP Warden Bert Hodges ( Bill Pertwee) - the platoon's major rival and nemesis. An uncompromising, grumpy greengrocer by day, and pompous and officious Chief Air Raid Warden by night, he relishes in teasing the platoon when they are caught in sticky situations. His nickname for Mainwaring is "Napoleon".
  • Mrs. Mavis Pike ( Janet Davies) - Pike's mother and Sergeant Wilson's lover. She was fiercely protective of Pike, to the point that she was accused of "mollycoddling" - not without justification - by Captain Mainwaring.
  • Reverend Timothy Farthing ( Frank Williams) - the effeminate vicar of St. Aldhelm's Church, he shares his church hall and office with Mainwaring's platoon, much to his dismay because he never gets to use it when he needs it.
  • Maurice Yeatman ( Edward Sinclair) - Mr. Yeatman was the verger at St. Aldhelm's church and head of the Sea Scouts group, and was often hostile to the platoon. Labelled a "troublemaker" by Jones, he is ridiculously loyal to the vicar, and his good friend Mr. Hodges.


The show's famous theme tune, " Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler?", was Jimmy Perry's idea, and was intended as a gentle pastiche of wartime songs. It is not uncommon for people to assume that the song genuinely dates from the war (as the other music heard in the series does) but this is not the case. Perry wrote the lyrics himself, and composed the music with Derek Taverner. Perry persuaded one of his childhood idols, popular wartime entertainer Bud Flanagan, to sing the theme for a fee of 100 guineas. Flanagan died less than a year after the recording. The version played over the opening credits differs slightly from the full version recorded by Flanagan; an abrupt but inconspicuous edit removes, for timing reasons, two lines of lyrics with a different tune: "So watch out Mr Hitler, you have met your match in us, If you think you can catch us, I'm afraid you've missed the bus". Arthur Lowe also recorded a full version of the theme.

The closing credits feature an instrumental march version of the song played by the band of the Coldstream Guards conducted by Trevor L. Sharpe, ending with the air-raid warning siren sounding the all-clear. It is accompanied by a style of credits that became a trademark of David Croft: the caption "You have been watching", followed by vignettes of the main cast.

The series is also notable for its use of genuine wartime songs between scenes, usually brief quotations that have some reference to the theme of the episode or the scene.

TV episodes

The television series lasted for nine series and was broadcast over a period of nine years, with eighty episodes made in total, including three Christmas specials and an hour long special. At its peak in the early 1970s, the programme regularly gained audiences of 18.5 million. There were also four short specials broadcast as part of Christmas Night with the Stars in 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1972.

The missing episodes

A number of the early episodes of Dad's Army were wiped by the BBC, as was standard practice at the time. However, as a series thought to have commercial potential overseas, the first series was offered for sale to broadcasters by BBC Enterprises. To this end, 16 mm film recordings were made of the first six episodes by the BBC Engineering department before the master videotapes were wiped for re-use. In the event, series 1 sold very poorly and BBC Enterprises did not express interest in selling series 2 abroad - so no film recordings were made of any episodes for them. "Sgt. Wilson's Little Secret" was recorded onto 35 mm film instead of videotape, either because it required additional editing (which was easier to perform with film before the advent of modern electronic editing methods) or because no videotape recording facilities were available on the day it was recorded. This inadvertently assured the episode's survival: being effectively a production made on film it fell within the BBC's then-current remit of keeping only filmed productions for posterity.

Two other episodes from the second series were returned in 2001, ironically as 16 mm film recordings of the type believed not to have been made from the second series. It has since been established that the two episodes were film recorded to show to executives at Columbia Pictures during discussions on the structure of the Dad's Army feature film (see below).

The other second series episodes are still missing and were probably lost forever once the original broadcast videotapes were wiped. The only remaining (slim) hope is that the episodes may have been recorded during their original UK broadcasts by a person wealthy enough to afford an early videotape recorder such as a Shibaden or Sony CV-2000 machine, and also of sufficient means to be able to afford new tapes rather than wiping and reusing their existing recordings. The BBC is running a "Treasure Hunt" for the wiped episodes; they encourage anyone with copies to contact them at the Treasure Hunt Website. Tape wiping also affected the later, colour, series badly but recoveries of colour versions from overseas broadcasters such as in Australia and New Zealand have ensured there is only one casualty; "Room At The Bottom" from the third series. This episode exists as a 16 mm monochrome film recording prepared once BBC Enterprises resumed their interest in selling the series overseas.

The film

As was the case with many British sitcoms of that era, in 1971 Dad's Army was made into a feature film. Backers Columbia Pictures imposed what seemed arbitrary changes, such as recasting Liz Frazer as Mavis Pike and filming outdoor scenes in Chalfont St Giles rather than Thetford, which made the cast unhappy. The director Norman Cohen, who was also responsible for the original idea to make the film, was nearly fired by the studio.

Jimmy Perry and David Croft wrote the original screenplay. This was expanded by Cohen to try to make it more "cinematic"; Columbia executives made more changes to plot and pacing. As finally realised, two-thirds of the film consists of the creation of the platoon - this was the contribution of Perry and Croft - and the final third shows the platoon in action, rescuing hostages from the church hall where they'd been held captive by three German pilots.

Neither the cast nor Perry and Croft were particularly happy with the result. Perry spent some time arguing for changes to try to reproduce the style of the television series, but with mixed results.

Filming took place between 10 August and 25 September 1970, at Shepperton Studios and various locations. After filming the movie, the cast immediately returned to working on the fourth television series.

The film's UK premiere was on 12 March 1971 at the Columbia Theatre in London. Critical reviews were mixed, but it performed well at the UK box office. Discussions were held about a possible sequel, to be called Dad's Army and the Secret U-Boat Base, but the project never came to fruition.

The stage show

In 1975 Dad's Army transferred to the stage as a revue, with songs, familiar scenes from the show, and individual "turns" for cast members. It was created by Roger Redfarn, who shared the same agent as the sitcom writers. Most of the principal cast transferred with it, with the exception of John Laurie (he was replaced by Hamish Roughead). Following James Beck's death two years earlier, Walker was played by John Bardon.

Dad's Army: A Nostalgic Music and Laughter Show of Britain's Finest Hour opened at Billingham in Cleveland on 4 September 1975 for a two-week tryout. After cuts and revisions, the show transferred to London's West End and opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 2 October 1975. On the opening night there was a surprise appearance by Chesney Allen, singing the old Flanagan and Allen song Hometown with Arthur Lowe.

The show ran in the West End until February 1976, disrupted twice by bomb scares, and then toured the country until 4 September 1976. Clive Dunn was replaced for half the tour by Jack Haig (David Croft's original first choice for the role of Corporal Jones on television). Jeffrey Holland, who went on to star in several later Croft sitcoms, also had a number of roles in the production.

The radio series

Many TV episodes were remade for BBC Radio 4 with the original cast, although other actors played Walker after James Beck's death. These radio versions were adapted by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles and also starred John Snagge as a newsreader who would set the scene for each episode. Different actors were used for some of the minor parts; Mollie Sugden played the roles of Mrs. Pike and Mrs. Fox for example. The pilot episode was actually based on the revised version of events seen in the opening of the film version rather than the TV pilot. The entire radio series has been released on CD.

Knowles and Snoad also developed a radio series It Sticks Out Half a Mile, which told the story of what happened to some of the Dad's Army characters after the war. It was originally intended to star Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier reprising their Dad's Army roles, but Lowe died shortly after recording the pilot episode, and Bill Pertwee and Ian Lavender were brought in to replace him for a 13-episode series

Other appearances

Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and John Laurie themselves made a cameo appearance as their Dad's Army characters in the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. As Elton John is following incomprehensible instructions to find the BBC studios, he encounters them in a steam room. On leaving, Mainwaring calls him a "stupid boy".. Earlier, Le Mesurier, Laurie, Beck, Ridley and Lavender had appeared as guests in the 22 April 1971 edition of The Morecambe And Wise Show on BBC2 playing pirates to Lowe's captain in the Monty on the Bonty sketch. The cast also appeared in a 1970s public information film, in character but set in the modern day, showing how to cross the road safely at traffic lights.

A pilot episode for an American remake called The Rear Guard was produced by ABC and broadcast on 10 August 1976, based on the episode The Deadly Attachment. However, it failed to make it past the pilot stage.


During its original television run, Dad's Army was nominated for a number of British Academy Television Awards, although only won "Best Light Entertainment Production Team" in 1971. It was nominated as "Best Situation Comedy" in 1973, 1974 and 1975. Also, Arthur Lowe was frequently nominated for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1978.

In 2000, the show was voted 13th in a British Film Institute poll of industry professionals of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. In 2004, championed by Phill Jupitus, it came fourth in the BBC poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom with 174,138 votes.

Cultural impact

The characters of Dad's Army and their catchphrases are well known in the UK due to the popularity of the series when originally shown and the frequency of repeats.

Jimmy Perry recalls that before writing the sitcom, the Home Guard was a largely forgotten aspect of British defence in World War II, something which the series has certainly rectified. In a 1972 Radio Times interview, Arthur Lowe expresses surprise at the programme's success;

"We expected the show to have limited appeal, to the age group that lived through the war and the Home Guard. We didn't expect what has happened - that children from the age of five upwards would enjoy it too".

However, the popularity and impact of the series is as much down to the lovable and well crafted characters; Sergeant Wilson, for example, is a masterly exercise in understatement and Captain Mainwaring a clever portrayal of lower middle class pomposity. Each of the main characters are well executed by the proficient cast. Underlying the comedy is the portrayal of a group of ineffective but decent and civilised people who embody British virtues, similar to wartime propaganda of the era.

In popular culture

Other productions have included characters resembling members of the Dad's Army platoon for comic effect. The 1987 movie Hope and Glory includes a scene in which members of the Home Guard, looking like characters from Dad's Army, bring an escaped barrage balloon under control. Similarly, characters called Mainwaring (Alec Linstead), Wilson ( Terence Hardiman) and a clerk similar to Pike appear in a scene set in a 1940s bank in an episode of the 1990s time travel sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart. The central character, Gary Sparrow (played by Nicholas Lyndhurst), who is from the 1990s, is astounded to learn that the three are all members of the local Home Guard platoon, and sings some lines of "Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler?" at them. Some of the characters have also appeared in the comic book Jack Staff in flashbacks to the hero's activities during the war.

Several of Ben Elton's productions have featured characters inspired by Dad's Army. In the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "Corporal Punishment", two minor characters named Corporal Jones and Private Frazer are introduced and many of the characters in the Ben Elton sitcom The Thin Blue Line can be compared with those of Dad's Army. Fowler's relationship with Grim is very similar to that of Captain Mainwaring to Warden Hodges, in that they are both on the same side yet enemies. Also, Constable Goody is rather like Private Pike in being a 'stupid boy' that irritates Fowler. Similar comparisons can be drawn from many of the minor characters. In the episode Rag Week, Fowler is briefly seen walking out of a shop called "Mainwaring's".

In addition, Jones's catchphrase "Don't panic!" may have inspired Douglas Adams to use the same phrase on the cover of the fictional Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the radio series, book, TV series, computer game and film of the same name.

Retrieved from ""