ATTEN-SHUN! 50 years ago this year, BBC viewers settled down in front of their black and white televisions to watch the very first episode of a new sitcom by Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
Five decades later, Dad’s Army remains one of the best loved British comedies of all time, so much so, that in 2016, the fact all but two of the original cast are now on parade in that ‘great church hall in the sky’ didn’t prevent their characters being brought back to life for a new movie, the second to feature the Walmington On Sea Home Guard.
Over half a century, the nation’s love of these characters, who from 1968 to 1977 appeared in nine TV series totalling 80 episodes, has led to many spin-offs.
These include three radio series, that’s another 63 episodes, a stage musical, two stage plays, the odd advert and numerous skits for the likes of the Royal Variety Performance.
Radio and stage merge in the latest vehicle to feature Perry and Croft’s classic creations, The Dad’s Army Radio Hour, which stars David Benson and Jack Lane.
Having missed it when it proved a hit at last year’s Fringe I was determined to catch it at The Brunton, Musselburgh, last week. I’m glad I did, it was a cracking night of nostalgia and skilful comedy.
Over 90 minutes, Benson and Lane delivered three Dad’s Army radio scripts (The Day The Balloon Went Up, The Deadly Attachment and My British Buddy) playing all the roles themselves.
When the idea of bringing these episodes to life with just two actors playing 25 parts, you’d imagine someone might have asked ‘Do you think that’s wise?’
Yet here they are, a brilliant double-act delivering uncanny impressions of the series’ main players.
Arthur Lowe’s blustering Cpt Mainwaring and Clive Dunn’s bumbling Corporal Jones alongside Ian Lavender’s ‘Stupid Boy’ jostle for attention as Lane effortlessly bounces from one to the next and back again.
Likewise, Benson is simply on supreme form as John Le Mesurier’s fey Sgt Wilson, Arnold Ridley’s permanently befuddled Godrey and John Laurie’s eye-rolling Frazer.
Both draw spontaneous rounds of applause throughout, but it’s when they morph into the ‘ladies’ of the series that laughter levels reach new highs; Mrs Fox, Mrs Pike and Walker’s brassy ‘bird’ Shirley (played on telly by the late Wendy Richard), are all there, with hilarious consequences.
Walker, Hodges, the Vicar and Verger are on parade too in what is a display of mimicry at its very best.
If, like me, you missed at the Festival run last year and didn’t get along to The Brunton last week, don’t panic, The Dad’s Army Radio Hour returns to the Fringe this August.
I cannot think of a better way to celebrate 50 years of Dad’s Army than in the company of Benson and Lane and their lovingly-crafted homage to the best of British sitcoms. Dis-miss!