Monday, 24 October 2016

RIP: Jimmy Perry

RIP: Jimmy Perry

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Hitler
If you think we’re on the run?

One of my abiding childhood memories is Dad’s Army which ran from 1968 to 1977. This was an amazing run of 9 years, not because of its length on air, but because of the consistently good quality of the scripts and performances.

“Allo Allo” ran from 1982 to 1992 and “Are you being served?” ran between 1972 and 1985, both longer periods, but they became tired shadows of their greatest days, and their ending was long overdue. “Allo Allo”, once Francesca Gonshaw and Sam Kelly after the fourth season, it began a long decline into a rag bag of catchphrases and farce. And “Are You Being Served?” did capture the reality of a particular kind of department store while Trevor Bannister (1972-79) and Arthur Brough (1972-77) were in it; after that, it went the same way as “Allo Allo”.

The commonality to “Allo Allo” and “Are You Being Served?” was David Croft, but Jimmy Perry was not involved in those. It is very much clear that while David Croft knew what made television comedy, it was Perry who kept its feet firmly on the ground.

One of the major differences between “Dad’s Army” and these is that they capitalised on their success by serving up more of the same, whereas “Dad’s Army” always went back to source, and found new and fresh situations; it always had at least a foot in realism.

Look at the following. Series 6 – by which time most other series had run out of steam:

The platoon is ordered to guard the crew of a sunken U-boat until the escort arrives. However, the escort is delayed, and they must guard the crew all night.

A group of American soldiers arrives at Walmington-on-Sea, but their presence is unappreciated when the soldiers begin flirting with the platoon's girlfriends.

And Series 7, who can forget these:

The platoon dresses up as Morris dancers as part of a carnival to raise money for the town's Spitfire fund, which is still £2,000 short. A Lady Godiva figure will lead the parade, but there is confusion over who this will be.

Lady Maltby donates her Rolls-Royce, and Wilson and Pike are assigned to paint it for camouflage. However, they mistakenly paint the Mayor's Rolls-Royce instead, just before a French general is due to visit the town.

Series 8:

The platoon is chosen to play Nazis in a training film. After they arrive at the set a week early, they are mistaken for real Nazis on the way home.

Despite his bad chest, blocked sinuses, weak ankles, and a recently acquired facial tic, Pike is passed the medical exam and is set to join the army.

Godfrey's cottage is under threat from the building of a new aerodrome, and Frazer blackmails the minister in charge to save it.

And the final series 9:

Pike borrows Mainwaring's recently acquired staff car to drive his new girlfriend to Eastgate, but it runs out of petrol on the way home, forcing Pike to spend all night pushing it back.

Perhaps the only false note was the introduction of Mr Cheeseman as a Platoon regular, after the early death of James Beck as Private Walker, a move that did not work well, and wisely dropped after one season.

Petty went on to collaborate with Croft on “It Ain't Half Hot Mum” (8 series) and “Hi-De-Hi”, both based upon personal experiences.

Unfortunately, “In Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, while it captured the concert parties of the army in the Second World War, suffered from being removed from the domesticity that served “Dad’s Army” so well.

It is watchable, but has its roots in a world that is much more distant from us today, and one that was probably better served by the movie of Leslie Thomas book “The Virgin Soldiers”. And in these politically correct times, army prejudices from a long ago epoch do not fit well into our modern world.

“Hi De High” was however set in a realistic and home-grown environment, that of the holiday camp of the 1950s, with its “Yellow coats” and “Jo Maplin” (a thinly disguised amalgam of Billy Butlin and Fred Pontin”). While not reaching the high points of “Dad’s Army”, the first five series with Simon Cadell were very watchable, but unfortunately it overstayed its welcome.

About “You Rang M’Lord”, the less said the better. An attempt to spoof “Upstairs Downstairs”, it really was desperately unfunny, and was the last collaboration between Croft and Perry. Sadly, Croft by this point was hitting the bottom of his career, and “Oh, Doctor Beeching!” written by David Croft and Richard Spendlove was another, as well as “Grace & Favour” with David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, an ill-conceived attempt to recapture past glories.

But Jimmy Perry will forever be remembered for “Dad’s Army”, a combination of superb scripting, played by an ensemble of some of the very best character actors in the business. A few quotes to finish with, and not a catchphrase among them...

German U-boat Captain: I am making notes, Captain, and your name will go on the list; and when we win the war you will be brought to account.
Captain Mainwaring: You can write what you like; You're not going to win the war!
U-boat Captain: Oh yes we are.
Mainwaring: Oh no you're not.
U-boat Captain: Oh yes we are!
Pvt. Pike: [Singing] Whistle while you work, Hitler is a twerp, he's half-barmy, so's his army, whistle while you work!
U-boat Captain: Your name will also go on the list! What is it?
Mainwaring: Don't tell him Pike!
U-boat Captain: Pike!

Pike: Did the curse come true?
Frazer: Aye son it did, he died....last year, he was 86

Mainwaring: You both went to public schools, didn't you?
Wilson: You know, I can't help feeling, Sir, you've got a little bit of a chip on your shoulder about that.
Mainwaring: There's no chip on my shoulder, Wilson. I'll tell you what there is on my shoulder, though: three pips, and don't you forget it.

The Vicar has just joined the platoon, and Mainwaring is not happy about it.
Vicar: Could I stand by and watch my wife being raped by a Nazi? Finally I said to myself, no I couldn't.
Mainwaring: But you're not married.
Vicar: I have a very vivid imagination

Mainwaring: No liquor is to be taken without my permission.
Frazer: Hold on! That is undemocratic!
Mainwaring: You, Frazer, will be in charge of all liquor permits.
Frazer: I'm right behind you, Cap'n!

But I could not finish without some catch-phrases:

"You stupid boy."
"Don't panic!"
"They don't like it up 'em!"
Listen Here Napoleon'
"We're doomed. Doomed."
"Put that light out!"
"The Vicars not going to like this."
"Do you think that's wise sir?"
"May I be excused?"

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