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.  

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