Dad’s Army – Series One

It may be difficult for the young ‘uns to believe, but there was a time when Dad’s Army repeats were thin on the ground. During most of the eighties the show only received a few limited re-runs – so the more lengthy series of repeats that began in the late eighties were very welcome (by this time I’d also picked up some episodes on VHS – although it was a slight irritation that the three episodes on each tape had some of their opening and closing credits snipped out).

Fast forward thirty years and DA always seems to be with us. Although BBC2 have begun another repeat run from the beginning (albeit sometimes jumping ahead with a later, random, episode for no particular reason) I haven’t really dipped into them. But I’ve been eyeing my DVDs sitting on the shelf and have decided that the time is right for my own sequential rewatch ….

What’s noticeable right from the first episode (The Man and the Hour – tx 31st July 1968) is that the series’ familiar ingredients are already in place, although I could have done without the audience cackling at the animation during the opening titles (this feels very odd).

And the way each episode opens with a few minutes worth of film misadventures, showing the platoon on hapless manoeuvres (with E.V.H. Emmett providing an authoritative voice-over) is also something I’m glad was eventually phased out.

The major casualty of the debut episode is Bracewell (played by John Ringham). He might be mentioned in the second episode, but after The Man and the Hour he never appears again. It’s a slight shame that such a good actor – equally adept at both comedy and drama – as Ringham didn’t become a regular, but it seems obvious that Bracewell was rather too much like Wilson for comfort (at least Ringham returns later for a handful of appearances as Captain Bailey).

This first series chugs along quite nicely, although the reversed film used in Command Decision (14th August 1968) is painfully obvious. They may have got away with it once, but using it again and again (to show that the horses supplied by Colonel Square were more used to circus, than military, action) wasn’t very wise (sir).

It’s fun to look out for the first time some of the series’ familiar motifs were used. For example, Museum Piece (7th August 1968) debuts a piece of Arthur Lowe business that never fails to amuse (even when you can guess what’s coming). Mainwairing, keen to lead from the front, heads for a ladder – only to trip and fall over with the result that his dignity (not to mention his hat and glasses) is askew when he straightens up.

Whilst the series employs plenty of broad gags (as it would always do) it’s the quieter character moments that I prefer. There’s a lovely example in Command Decision – which sees Mainwairing, having rather rashly promised the platoon a supply of rifles, facing the probability that he’ll have to dash their hopes again.

Happily the guns turn up just in the nick of time, and he exits the office with them. We don’t see the reaction of the men in the hall, but then we don’t have to. Their sudden stunned silence (followed by a series of appreciative cheers) tells its own story.

It’s little moments like this that make the series so rewarding to revisit. Mainwaring might be pompous and pernickety, but we know his heart is in the right place. And the fact that the audience – like the platoon – is invited to laugh with him, rather than at him, is an obvious reason why the show continues to endure.

7 thoughts on “Dad’s Army – Series One

  1. One of my all time favourite series and just about the only thing I watch on the BBC these days, sadly. From the series end in 1977 until the start of first major set repeats in 1989 there was very little Dads Army on TV, I think Season 1 was repeated early in 1982, I recorded The Man the Hour off air and again picked up a few colour Episodes in 1985 when they were repeated on Sunday afternoon along with Some Mothers Do Ave Um and the Eastenders Omnibus! Still have those tapes, (Beta), and give them a run out every once in a while…

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  2. Where I grew up in Australia, the first series we saw on TV was series three, and I didn’t actually see the first two black and white series until decades later when they were released on DVD. One thing that has always fascinated me about the early black and whites was Sergeant Wilson’s Little Secret, which I think is one of the surviving episodes of series two. If I’m remembering this one correctly, there is a misunderstanding between Sgt Wilson and Mrs Pike over the fact that a young evacuee is coming to stay – Wilson believes that Mrs Pike is pregnant. I was surprised that they were actually very blatant about the relationship between Sgt Wilson and Mrs Pike ( nothing left to the imagination if Wilson believed he was going to be a father) whereas in later episodes it was only hinted at, although very broadly, and to much better comic effect.

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  3. Nice to see you reviewing this.

    I’ve been enjoying the radio series on Radio 4 Extra, but decided to dip into some of the TV reruns to compare episodes. It’s an interesting exercise. The radio series was an adaptation of the TV series, not a straight re-recording of the scripts, so there are differences. Much less visual humour and more verbal gags. Also some of the lines are given to different characters.

    Unfortunately James Beck died during the recording of the first radio series, and so only appears in a few episodes. His place was taken by other actors, but they sound quite different. However, both series remain very funny, each in its own way.

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    • I haven’t listened to the radio episodes for some years so I’m sure I’ll dig them out soon and do some comparing and contrasting.

      Yes, it’s certainly true that a fair amount of retooling had to be done. Unlike, say, the Hancock episodes of The Blood Donor/The Radio Ham which transferred from tv to audio with very few changes, a great many DA episodes had visual setpieces that simply wouldn’t work on radio.

      The one that springs to mind is ‘The Day The Balloon Went Up’ where Mainwaring on radio has the company of Jones (which saved him having to talk to himself during his balloon adventure!)

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  4. ‘The Day The Balloon Went Up’ was adapted in the second radio series, so it will be interesting to see how they have done that episode!

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  5. One trait from the first series that was dropped early on was Private Pike saying “Now let me tell you” a catchphrase from the radio series Happidrome.

    If they’d continued with this people would think that “Now let me tell you” was a Dad’s Army catchphrase. But Dad’s Army developed enough catchphrases of its own.

    In the early episodes there were a few ther young men in the platoon.

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