Cold Feet’s Robert Bathurst was perfect as Sergeant Wilson and Kevin McNally wasn’t far off as pompous Captain Mainwaring; although Mathew Horne as Private Walker did occasionally feel more like a subdued Brian Conley than James Beck’s immortal spiv. Using the original Jimmy Perry and David Croft-penned scripts, Mercury Productions remade three long-lost episodes of series two of Dad’s Army that the BBC wiped in the mid-1970s – an act of cultural vandalism few comedy fans will ever forgive them for. After the pig’s ear BBC4 made of their 2016 classic sitcom remakes, expectations were understandably low. But mercifully these shows are faithful and respectful recreations.
The first, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Walker, was originally broadcast in black and white in March 1969.
A terrible crisis loomed for the Wilmington-on-Sea Home Guard when wily Joe Walker was called up for the regular army – “if Walker goes, so do the cigarettes and the whisky”.
Mainwaring and Wilson make Walker’s case to top brass in London, who wrongly believe him to be a contender for a crack team of long-distance walkers (“What’s this walker’s name?” “It’s Walker, sir.”) That fails but Wilson sits on the Military Service Hardship Committee which considers appeals from one-man businesses that would be ruined by military service.
“Wait a minute,” says Mainwaring. “Walker, he’s a one-man business.” Wilson: “Well if he’s called up he’d hardly be ruined, sir.” Mainwaring: “No, but we shall be.”
The bid conks out when the committee asks to see Walker’s books – he doesn’t have any. In the event, he enlists but is invalided out…
It’s a testimony to the writing the show works so well. Wonderful characters, a terrific cast, memorable catchphrases and scripts gave Dad’s Army universal appeal.
Even an apparent three-in-a-bed scene wasn’t what it looked like, with the camera pulling back to show our heroes on an underground platform.
The last original show was screened in 1977 but repeats still pull in millions. When Dad’s Army launched in 1968, Daily Express TV critic Ron Boyle dubbed it “a classic”.
He wasn’t wrong. If only we could still make them like this…
Episode two A Stripe For Frazer is screened tonight, episode three Under Fire tomorrow, both on Gold at 8pm.