Sunday, 12 April 2015
136 Dad's Army
First watched : 30 June 1973
Repeats of Dad's Army replaced Clunk Click in the Saturday schedule. It's enduring appeal is proven by its continued presence on a Saturday evening albeit on BBC2. No other comedy has survived that long on prime time.
Although some of the humour and material such as the class conflict between Mainwaring and Wilson and the latter's liaison with Pike's mother went over my eight year old head there was enough slapstick to entertain me until I got old enough to appreciate the subtler stuff. My mum and gran were a bit ambivalent about it as my grand-dad had been in the Home Guard and they didn't enjoy seeing it mocked that much.
It wasn't long before watching this run taught me an important life lesson. Just days after my first watching it Don Powell of Slade ( bear with me ) was involved in a bad car smash and his life hung in the balance but he came round and, though left with permanent memory problems, was soon back on Top of the Pops. It seemed a miraculous triumph of medical science. But just a fortnight after Powell's crash the actor Jack Hawkins died after an operation to insert an artificial voicebox. His name meant nothing to me but I recall Mum and Gran's harsh moralising that it was his own fault through smoking too much. Four days before Hawkins died , James Beck who played Private Walker, the resourceful spiv who usually helped Mainwaring out of the soup was taken into hospital after falling ill at a summer fete. A heavy drinker he was suffering from pancreatitis. For three weeks he lingered on as the public watched and then died. It was a profound shock to me after Powell's recovery and the repair to my own eye a couple of years earlier. I knew that people died when they were old or had accidents but that the doctors couldn't fix a celebrity in their prime who had just fallen ill and gone to hospital really hit me.
Beck's death was also a shock because at 44 he was so young compared to the rest of the cast ( excluding Pike of course ). It was always likely that one of the cast would expire during the series's run - Beck had been known to tease Arnold Ridley about it - but nobody expected it to be him. He was in fact the only member of the cast to die during the series's run although Edward Sinclair the bumptious verger died shortly after the last episode was recorded which reinforced the decision to bring it to a close.
That was in 1977. Beck was initially replaced by a Welsh character , Private Cheeseman played by Talfryn Thomas but after one series he was bumped apparently for garnering too many laughs for the liking of certain stalwarts. Ian Lavender - along with Frank Williams ( the Vicar ) the only survivor - says something was lost when Beck died but I recall it keeping up the quality well enough. The episode where they think Fraser is hiding a fortune on his premises is particularly good . The cast just got too old to cope; John Le Mesurier in particular was struggling though he recovered to appear in Brideshead Revisited and other things before his death in 1983.