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.