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We’re having something of a run of classic comedies this week, already we’ve looked at To The Manner Born and the peerless Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, but now we turn the clock back and don our khaki denims to go on parade with
DAD’S ARMY – The Radio Series
>>> By Jimmy Croft and David Perry >>> British comedy >>> 67x 30 minute episodes >>> Transmitted: 1973– 76>>> Starring Arthur Lowe, John Le Messier, Clive Dunn, Ian Lavender, John Laurie and Bill Pertwee.
“Here is the news and this is John Snagg reading it”. And so is the opening to every radio-produced episode of Dad’s Army. A tidy device, used to introduce the show but it also deftly lends these (mostly) faithful adaptations of the television episodes a place in a bigger wartime picture. These neat intros also side-step the fan conspiracy that reckons Dad ‘s Army are someone’s (Pike’s, perhaps?) latter-day reminiscences being played out at length in front of us.
For those that don’t know, Dad’s Army is about a World War II Home Guard unit on the English south coast. The Walmington On-Sea platoon commanded by Captain Mainwaering are a particularly inept example of the Home Guard, a real life organisation attached to the British army made up of local volunteers and ex-army officers too old to be conscripted. Often these units were a melting pot of class struggles, local rivalry and ageism, all beneath raining bombs and locatef beside a 20 mile strip of water separating Britain from Nazi-occupied France. Britain’s finest hour for sure, but this show is never afraid to show us the in-fighting, backbiting and bloody-minded bureaucracy involved in protecting the nation.
Snagg’s intros are the exception rather than rule because other than him many of these episodes are a straight retelling of their television counterparts. A few days ago I bashed To the Manor Born a little for failing to offer anything new to those that had seen the television series, so why am I not using that same stick to beat Dad’s Army?
I think because it is Dad’s Army. The brilliance of it translates seamlessly to radio. The chemistry between every character arrives in tact and ever so slightly polished. The jokes all hit their mark, even those you might think too visual to work on audio.
Three of the early television episodes are still missing from the BBC archives. Fortunately, their radio counterparts survive for us to enjoy in their place. They’re a decent stand-in and lend this series a little bit more importance that it didn’t enjoy when originally transmitted.
The excellence of the classic TV comedy has been espoused at length elsewhere but this radio series usually gets overlooked. Radio programmes are often regarded as the poor relation when a series moves from, or to, the visual medium, and sometimes that is justified but not here.
Dad’s Army really couldn’t fail to attract a radio audience in 1973, already hailed as a real comedy classic it was naturally given the full radio treatment. It was such a hit, it seems only natural that it would spawn a radio spin-off series. It Sticks Out Half a Mile features the post-war characters of Arthur Wilson, Pike and Hodges as they try to run a family seaside pier. How many other radio shows based on a TV show can boast a spin off series? I don’t think any.
So with every impecable comedy beat in tact how could Dad’s Army the radio show be anything other than sheer undiluted brilliance? It’s no replacement for the television original but will help you enjoyably while away the hours in the company of familiar voices, and much-loved characters.
Dad’s Army the radio series (and the spin-off It Sticks Out Half a Mile) can be downloaded from radioechoes.com and selected episodes can be streamed via the BBC Sounds app.
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Curious ears with a love for Dad’s Army may find this interesting: http://www.dadsarmyradioshow.co.uk
Copyright Martin Gregory. 2020