Monday 7 May 2018

Carrying On with Dad's Army

The classic BBC situation comedy series Dad's Army will reach a major milestone this summer. The venerable series, which spanned eighty episodes over nine years, debuted on 31st July 1968 making it an amazing fifty years old. Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, Dad's Army told the story of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, a platoon of older men who would defend home soil as they were considered to old to fight overseas. As a child I didn't really appreciate just how wonderful this show is. I was put off by the old fashioned sets and costumes and the mainly older cast of actors. What a short-sighted boy I was!

It is only now, in adulthood, that I have come to view Dad's Army as a complete and utter joy. It is packed with sublime acting talent with a cast headed by Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and Clive Dunn and the scripts from Perry and Croft are, if you pardon the pun, uniformly superb. The series has different layers of humour from quite smart, subtle jibes at the class divisions between Lowe's Mainwaring and Le Mesurier's Wilson. There is also a fair amount of slapstick too which means it appeals on a broader level, and still to this day. I love the ensemble feel to the programme and so do the audiences of 2018 as the series is still shown  each week on BBC Two. 

So in this, the Golden Anniversary year of Dad's Army, what better time than to take a look back at some of the intriguing Carry On links with this best of British sitcom for the glory days of comedy? 

Let's begin with a Carry On connection you may not be completely aware of. Dad's Army only really came to fruition in the guise we've come to know, love and cherish thanks to the then Head of Comedy at the BBC, Michael Mills. Not only did Michael rename the original setting for the show from Brightsea-on-Sea to Walmington-on-Sea, he also came up with the title for the series itself. And Dad's Army is a term which is still very much in common parlance to this day. Perhaps Michael's biggest and best decision was to pair Jimmy Perry with David Croft to work together on the series. Thus began one of the most successful comedy writing and producing partnerships in British television history. And the Carry On connection here? Well, Michael Mills was married to the very glamorous star of six Carry Ons, the lovely Valerie Leon.

So what of the on-screen talent then? Let us start off with the main cast. In the role of Private "stupid boy" Pike was the actor Ian Lavender. Ian, by far the youngest cast member in Dad's Army, appeared in the 1975 Carry On film, Carry On Behind, in the supporting role of Joe Baxter. Next up is the wonderful actor Arnold Ridley, who played the beloved, gently bewildered Private Godfrey in all eighty episodes. In 1973, Arnold's small screen fame led to him making a cameo at the beginning of Carry On Girls. Playing the sleepy Alderman Pratt in the initial council offices scene saw him work with Sid James, Marianne Stone, June Whitfield and Kenneth Connor. The brilliant James Beck played the spiv Private Walker in the series from 1968 until 1973, when the actor died very suddenly at the age of just 44. Sadly, James was one of the many actors who filmed scenes for a Carry On only to find them cut from the final print. In 1970 he shot scenes as a Mr Roxby, a client of Kenneth Williams (I believe) in Carry On Loving.

Finally, another regular in the series, best remembered for playing ARP Warden Hodges, the thorn in the side of Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army - yes Bill Pertwee. Pertwee popped up briefly in two Carry Ons, first of all playing a barman in Carry On Loving in 1970. Bill did film scenes for Carry On At Your Convenience the following year as the manager of The Whippit Inn, however his performance was cut. He did return once more to the world of Carry On, playing the local fire chief in the 1973 film Carry On Girls.

Now to the legion of guest actors who dropped in for some fun with the platoon during their nine year reign. Let's start with main Carry On team members. The classic 1975 episode "The Face on the Poster" guest starred one of my all-time favourite Carry On actors, the late great Peter Butterworth, in the role of Mr Budgen. Another leading Carry On face to appear in Dad's Army was the brilliant Barbara Windsor. In the very first series in 1968, Barbara played Laura La Plaz in "Shooting Pains". One of Barbara's longest serving EastEnders co-stars who found lasting fame as Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served? also appeared in Dad's Army. The much-missed Wendy Richard made four separate appearances in the series between 1970 and 1973. Wendy played Edith Parish in two episodes in 1970 - "The Two and a Half Feathers" and one of my favourites, "Mum's Army". In 1972 she returned to play Private Walker's cockney girlfriend Shirley in the episode "The King was in his Counting House". Wendy came back again the following year to reprise the role of Shirley in the episode "My British Buddy".

The actor E.V.H Emmett makes six appearances in the first series of Dad's Army in 1968, although we only ever hear his voice. Credited as "The Voice Of…:" Emmett played a similar role four years earlier when he was the narrator in the film Carry On Cleo. Between 1969 and 1972 Larry Martyn guest starred in four episodes playing in no particular order, a soldier, a sailor, an Italian Prisoner of War and the Signals Private. Larry made cameos in two Carry Ons in the 1970s. He was the irate shooting gallery owner in Carry On At Your Convenience in 1971 while four years later he was the clubhouse electrician in Carry On Behind.

Playing a character called Mrs Prentice in a 1972 episode entitled "All is Safely Gathered in" was that familiar face the actress Brenda Cowling. Brenda cropped up in two of the later Carry Ons in small roles. In Carry On Girls she played the Matron of the maternity hospital Mayor Bumble visits to unveil a commemorative plaque. Two years later she returned for an uncredited role as a woman in the audience of the lecture Professor Crump delivers at the start of Carry On Behind. In the episode "Room at the Bottom" in 1969, character actor Anthony Sagar made the first of two appearances in the show. He played Drill Sergeant Gregory before returning the year later to play the Sergeant Major in "Fallen Idol". Sagar made several small appearances in the Carry Ons. In the very first, Carry On Sergeant, he played the Stores Sergeant. In Carry On Nurse he was the First Ambulance Man and in Carry On Constable he was an angry customer. In 1960 he played a Bus Conductor who encounters Kenneth Williams out for walkies with a chimp while Carry On Cruising saw Anthony play a cook opposite Lance Percival. He played a Policeman in Carry On Screaming in 1966 before returning for his final screen credit as a hospital patient bemused by Richard O'Callaghan and Jacki Piper in 1970's Carry On Loving. Sagar apparently filmed scenes as a Heckler in Carry On Henry later that year however the scenes were deleted.

The glamorous Penny Irving played the Chambermaid in the very clever 1975 episode "My Brother and I" which saw Arthur Lowe play the dual role of Captain Mainwaring and his scheming brother Barry. Penny was something of a regular in the works of Perry and Croft - she went on to play Mr Grace's secretary Miss Bakewell in 22 episodes of David Croft's Are You Being Served? between 1976 and 1979 before joining the Perry and Croft holiday camp comedy Hi-de-Hi, playing yellow coat Mary between 1980 and 1981. Penny had, back in 1974, played Lizzy, one of Joan Sims' Birds of Paradise in Carry On Dick. Another glamorous Carry On face to guest star was Sally Douglas. in 1969 she played Blodwen in the episode "War Dance." Sally had by then played a girl at Dirty Dick's in Carry On Jack, an Amazon Guard in Carry On Spying, Antony's Dusky Maiden in Carry On Cleo, Kitikata in Carry On Cowboy and finally, a girl in 1966's Carry On Screaming.

In 1975, the actress Janet Mahoney played a Barmaid in the Dad's Army episode "Ring Dem Bells". Janet had played the supporting role of Gay, girlfriend to Julian Holloway and "flat" mate to Jacki Piper and Imogen Hassall in the 1970 film Carry On Loving. Finally, there was the original big screen film version of Dad's Army, made in 1971. While the vast majority of the original television cast reunited for the film, there was one exception. Janet Davies played Mrs Pike over the course of thirty episodes between 1968 and 1977, however for the film her part was re-cast with familiar Carry On actress Liz Fraser in the part. Apparently this decision was down to the film company and had nothing to do with the cast or crew of the television series. Indeed, many of those involved voiced their criticism at the move, showing loyalty to Davies. Despite this, Liz is of course very good in the film.

I hope you've enjoyed this run through some of the classic Carry On connections with the wonderful comedy series, Dad's Army. I am sure there will be many commemorations to mark this special milestone this summer, so look out for those. And of course, Carry On watching the show both on BBC2 and on GOLD.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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