Friday, February 12, 2010

Review of 'Dad's Army' by Graham McGann

Dad’s Army: The Story of a Classic Television Show by Graham McCann

Robert L. Fielding
‘A hugely entertaining read’ Daily Telegraph - sums up this marvelous book about a hugely entertaining sit-com, with all our old favourites, now sadly mostly no longer with us.
Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring; his nemesis, John Le Mesurier as Sergeant Wilson; the classical actor, John Laurie as Frazer; the perennial ‘old’ timer, Clive Dunn as everybody’s favourite Grandad, Corporal Jones; Arnold Ridley as the refined old gentleman, Godfrey; Ian Lavender as the “stupid boy”, Frank Pike; and James Beck as spiv, Taylor, with Bill Pertwee as the irascibly nasty, Warden Hodges – members of what seem like everybody’s extended family.

McCann begins this well written, painstakingly researched book, by giving us the facts about the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), later to be renamed, the Home Guard.

It is somewhat difficult, now that we are ‘all in Europe’, to imagine how it must have felt to be on the edge of imminent invasion in those dark days. Thomas Hardy hinted at an earlier threat from Napoleon’s Grande Armee in ‘The Trumpet Major’, but this much more deadly one must have felt like the end, particularly after the evacuations at Dunkirk.

What shows through in all the episodes of comic relief, tirelessly reviewed here by McCann, is Britain’s ‘bulldog spirit’ – a sort of Stoical self-belief, epitomized by Winston Churchill’s stance, and illustrated in a thousand different ways by people like Vera Lynn.

Jimmy Perry and David Croft, the writers, created a team and storylines that were both entirely believable and funny to generations of viewers; not just those who lived through it all.

With background information about Lowe, Le Mez, and all the rest, McCann has ‘fleshed out’ the characters who lived on the small screen every week for nine years and in over 80 episodes. Everybody who has ever laughed through even one is intimately connected to its main characters and the situations they found themselves in. We are all aware of the foibles of Captain Mainwaring, the rivalry underlined by class differences between him and his second in command, ‘uncle Sergeant’ Wilson, but it has taken this book to look further into the two well known and loved characters, magnificently portrayed by Lowe and Le Mesurier.

Really, reading this immensely enjoyable book was something like reading about members of my own family – so familiar, and yet with a life half over before I was born.

My father actually served in the Home Guard before his call-up to the Royal Navy – had served with chaps the same age as his father, even his grandfather, and had his tales to tell. All were retold and embellished with great aplomb and hilarity by this never to be forgotten team of actors who entered our lives as the real life ones had before them; to stand up for us and to make us proud to be British, and to portray for us, that peculiarly British trait - the ability to laugh at ourselves.
Robert L. Fielding