Dad's Army

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler?
If you think we're on the run.
We are the boys who will stop your little game,
We are the boys who will make you think again.
Cos, who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler?
If you think old England's done.

Dad's Army was an ensemble sitcom on The BBC about the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon in World War II, a band of mostly elderly volunteers who would have been their (fictional) town's first line of defence, had the Germans invaded (Walmington-on-Sea and Eastgate (their rival town) are mirrored in the real Northern Kent seaside towns of Birchington-on-Sea and Westgate). The show aired for nine years (1968-77), though the war had only lasted six.

While waiting for the invasion, the platoon did its best to prepare, resulting in many hilarious mishaps. They occasionally did some military work, such as guarding downed German pilots, and took part in training exercises with the regular army, where they were often surprisingly successful. They also had a vigorous rivalry with the neighbouring platoon and with the Chief Air Raid Warden, who sometimes tried to sabotage the platoon. Almost every character involved had a catchphrase that most British people can still repeat with very little memory-searching.

The characters included:

  • Captain George Mainwaring - pompous bank manager, no combat experience, appointed himself captain. Pronounced "Mannering".
  • Sergeant Arthur Wilson - diffident deputy bank manager, Captain in the Royal Artillery during World War I, higher social class than his superior as well as more experienced - alternatively verging on being a Cloudcuckoolander at times.
    • Catchphrase: "Are you sure that's wise?" (usually in response to the Zany Scheme of the week) as well as "How absolutely lovely!" when responding to something that Mainwaring would prefer to treat as Serious Business.
  • Lance-Corporal Jack Jones - butcher, veteran of the Sudan (i.e. the late 1890s), longwinded but eager for action.
    • Three catchphrases: "Don't panic" (while panicking), "Permission to speak, sir?" and "They don't like it up 'em" (talking about the African tribesmen ("fuzzy-wuzzies") he fought in his youth and flourishing a bayonet.)
  • Private Frank Pike - mollycoddled teenager. Was often seen wearing a scarf. Always addresses Wilson as "Uncle Arthur", though Pike may in fact be Wilson's (illegitimate) son. Word of God confirms he was.
    • Catchphrase: "Uncle Arthur?"
  • Private James Frazer - Scottish undertaker, former Royal Navy cook, very gloomy.
    • Catchphrase: "We're doomed!" (words can't quite describe his delivery, but it would not look out of place on the set of a Hammer Horror film, on a villager warning the hero not to go up to the castle.)
  • Private Charles Godfrey - Even older than the rest of the platoon, excessively polite and friendly and a butt of constant humour relating to his weak bladder.
    • Catchphrase: "Might I be excused ..." (Gesturing to the bathroom, or a convenient hedge)
  • Private Joe Walker - good-natured spiv who evaded conscription on dubious grounds. (Allergic to corned beef. Allegedly...) Usually to be found trying to sell people things. Occasionally came good by happening to have just the item the platoon needs - for a price, of course. The actor died during the course of the series and was replaced by...
  • Private Cheeseman - Welshman with a camera, big teeth and glasses, introduced only in later seasons. (First appeared as a one-off press photographer character the year before he became a regular.) Almost no-one remembers him, he didn't stay long, and his departure gave a small boost to...
  • Private Sponge - farmer, generic guy, used when one of the main cast needed a supporting character to talk to. Later put in charge of the second half of the platoon, and given slightly more plot relevance.
  • William Hodges, Air Raid Warden - a grocer, Mainwaring's would-be nemesis.
    • Catchphrases: "Now look 'ere, Napoleon ...", "Ruddy 'ooligans! and "Put that light out! PUT THAT BLOODY LIGHT OUT!"
  • Yeatman, the Verger - Hodges' fawning lackey (He's exactly the same with the Vicar too)
  • The Rev. Timothy Farthing - The Vicar
  • Mrs Pike - Pike's neurotic, overprotective mother who often interrupts him in the middle of platoon activity. Suspiciously close "friend" of Wilson.
  • Mrs Fox - overbearing and flirty local woman, often causes trouble when the platoon is involved in arranging public events. Later marries Jones at the end of the series.
  • Captain Square - leader of the Eastgate platoon and occasional rival to Mainwaring

Wilson was strongly implied to be having an affair with Pike's mother, with a suggestion that he might actually be the boy's father. (One episode revealed that he already had a daughter by his estranged wife.)

Much humour was derived from Mainwaring's resentment of Wilson. Even though Mainwaring was in charge, both at work and in the Home Guard, Wilson was from a much higher social stratum and eventually inherited a title. His effortless charm and dignity utterly infuriated Mainwaring, the archetypal "pompous little man".

The interplay between the two characters was always beautifully worked and the series is often held up as an example of near-perfect character comedy, enhanced by the acting talents of Arthur Lowe (Mainwaring) and John Le Mesurier (Wilson). Lowe has merely to bristle his moustache to render the audience helpless with laughter; Le Mesurier was hired because (in the words of a member of the production team) "He suffers so beautifully."

The show, whilst at all times remaining funny, also had more serious plots, like the way the platoon react when they find out that Private Godfrey was a conscientious objector in the first world war. It later turns out that he had in fact enlisted as a stretcher bearer and received the Military Medal for his bravery.

The show did not have an arc, but it did have continuity. During the first season, the platoon's equipment gradually improved as the regular army provided them with surplus gear. Over the series, Jones had a romance which culminated with a marriage in the final episode.

Came fourth in Britains Best Sitcom.

Tropes used in Dad's Army include:
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Mrs Fox occasionally fills this role, although Jones didn't seem to mind her too much ...
  • Acting for Two: In one episode Arthur Lowe starred as both Mainwaring and Mainwaring's estranged brother.
  • Armed Farces
  • Ascended Extra: The previously unnamed Private Desmond, when he joins the main characters on a mission in the episode "Sons of the Sea." It's never explained why they didn't use Sponge, who by this stage was getting more lines and character focus.
  • Baseball Episode: Well, Cricket episode, Home Guard vs. ARP Wardens.
  • Bawdy Song: Godfrey's song about a monk, although we're only told he sang it, not what it was about. The cast's reactions are more than enough for us to guess.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: It's not "Don't tell him [your name], Pike!"
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Sergeant Wilson. In the last episode it was even revealed that he had been an artillery captain during the First World War.
  • Big Damn Movie: The Movie has this atmosphere to it, even though it's adapted from the early episodes.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The cast turning to the camera and toasting the real Home Guard at the end of the final episode.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: In an early episode the platoon go to the museum with the intention of taking weaponry, but do not succeed. The museum's caretaker who is trying to stop them, however, makes good use of the pieces inside to stop them entering.
  • Catch Phrase: Aside from their individual catchphrases, a character tended to say, "There is a war on, you know" in almost every episode.
  • Character Outlives Actor: Walker. When actor James Beck was taken into hospital, Walker got a Written-In Absence, leaving a note in his place on patrol to explain that he has gone to conduct "business" in London. Beck later died and Walker was never heard of again, but when the show got a radio sequel years after the end of its run, Walker was mentioned as alive and having returned to Walmington-on-Sea.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the episode "Battle of the Giants", Walker mentions having made flags for both their platoon and the Eastgate platoon. They will be used at the end of a contest, in short form, whoever flies their flag first, wins. Although just a passing remark, it turns out later that Walker made both flags say "Walmington-on-Sea" so they would win whoever flew the flag first.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Miss King vanishes without a trace after series one. Also happens to Private Cheeseman; Ascended Extra Private Desmond, who had a role in one episode and was never heard from again; and Private Bracewell, a character who appears only in the first episode. Word of God has it that Bracewell was intended to be a recurring character but was cut because the producers felt his character was too much like Godfrey's.
  • Classically-Trained Extra: John Laurie as Private Frazer. The actor was somewhat bitter about being best remembered for this role rather than his theatrical work.
    • According to show writer Jimmy Perry, most of the background platoon members were played by retired actors or writers rather than the usual extras.
  • Colonel Makepeace: Private Sponge.
  • Cosmetic Catastrophe: In the episode "Keep Young and Beautiful," where the men must disguise themselves to look younger in order to avoid being drafted into the ARP.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: In "The Armoured Might of Lance Corporal Jones", Joe Walker lights his cigarette from a flame sprouting from a leaking gaspipe without realising it.
  • The Creepy Undertaker: Moody dark moor Scotsman Fraser.
  • Criminal Doppelganger: "The Face on the Poster" is based around Jones being chosen as the face of a Home Guard recruitment campaign, but his photo gets switched at the printing shop, causing his face to end up on the Wanted poster for an escaped POW instead.
  • Dawson Casting: Inverted with Clive Dunn (then in his early to mid 50's) playing the septuagenarian Corporal Jones. Played straight with Ian Lavender, who was 22 at the start of the series and playing the 17 to 18-year-old Frank Pike, and 31 when the series ended while Pike had not aged.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wilson.
  • Downer Ending: 'Mum's Army' -- Mainwaring falls in love, but the woman leaves him rather than destroy his life with a scandal.
  • Draft Dodging: Frank Pike doesn't want to evade military service, but his medical test reveals a rare blood group. He's excused from active service on the grounds that they'd have nothing to transfuse him with in the event of injury. So he stays in the Home Guard instead - except that he doesn't admit to this until after the platoon has held a fish-and-chip supper in his honour.
    • A now Missing Episode from series two was based around Walker's attempts to evade the draft. He fails, and has to join the army - but is soon discharged when he turns out to be allergic to corned beef, the only rations available.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: A few one-off characters fit this trope. Drill Sgt. Gregory in "Room at the Bottom" and Captain Ramsey in "We Know Our Onions" are excellent examples.
  • Drunk with Power: Mainwaring and Hodges throughout the series. Frazer during his brief stint as The Tyrant Taking The Helm.
  • During the War
  • The Eeyore: Private Frazer: "we're dooooooooomed!"
  • Enlistment-Ending Minor Malaise: While most of the cast are relegated to the Home Guard for clear cases of being too old for military service, its younger members are in the Home Guard instead of the army due to examples of this trope. Joe Walker is allergic to ration staple corned beef (though the loss in a BBC archive purge of its debut episode The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker and his Black Marketeer stats give many the impression it's fake) while Frank Pike has a rare blood type.
  • Executive Meddling: Worried that the sitcom would be criticised for ridiculing the Home Guard, the producer insisted on adding an opening scene to the first episode. It shows Mainwaring, in 1968, giving a speech at a formal dinner in which he explains how he and his men 'backed Britain' in 1940. It is utterly redundant. Thankfully it didn't succeed in sinking the show.
  • Face Palm: Sergeant Wilson, frequently.
  • Frozen in Time: The series started in 1940, went through 1941, and then at a point roughly in the middle decided to stay somewhere in 1942. Justified, in that after 1942 it became increasingly clear that the Germans weren't going to win, Britain wasn't going to be invaded, and there was less overall need for the Home Guard.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Barely even trying. In the episode "The Four-and-a-Half Feathers", Jones describes his patrol in the Sudan encountering an elderly fakir (a sort of monk). Jones constantly refers to him as the "Old Fakir". Say it out loud and wonder how that made it past the censors...
    • And at least one episode title. "Round And Round Went The Great Big Wheel" is a quote from a really filthy song.
  • The Ghost: Mainwaring's wife.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: In the episode where the platoon are delegated to guard a captured German submarine crew, the platoon do pretty well on this score. It's Hodges who falls for the old sick prisoner trick and lets the Germans get the upper hand.
    • Mind you, Mainwaring really should've left his revolver with Wilson or Jones before going over to help.
  • Handcar Pursuit: The climax of "The Royal Train" involves Hodges on a handcar chasing a runaway train with the platoon aboard, so he can throw them the widget they need to stop the train. Then they throw the train into reverse, and it becomes Hodges on a handcar fleeing a runaway train instead.
  • Home Guard: The basis of the show.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Private Walker.
  • Hufflepuff House: Private Sponge 'and the others'.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Private Frazer was very fond of asserting one point of view, only to immediately switch to the opposite one when it no longer became a good idea to hold the first one.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Mainwaring frequently has to correct others on the pronunciation of his name. Captain Square continues to say "Mane-wearing," no matter how many times he is told otherwise.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Corporal Jones.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: In a sense; while the platoon rarely saw anything in the form of a genuine military operation, every so often the viewer was reminded that behind the bumbling Mainwaring and his men were brave soldiers fully prepared to fight and die in the defense of their homes and country if it came down to it.
    • And none braver than Mainwaring himself, who would be the last man out of a bombed building and once faced down a desperate German prisoner with an unloaded gun. (It turned out that the German's gun was unloaded too.)
  • Living Prop: The majority of the troop.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: Mrs Pike threatens Wilson with this several times.
  • Madness Mantra: Don't Panic! Don't Panic!
  • Missing Episode: Most of the second season.
  • Mistaken for Pregnant: Mrs Pike in an episode that was surprisingly risque for its time. Also happened to Mrs Mainwaring in one episode.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Miss King, a character in the first series, was intended to be this. She was then inexplicably written out, and hardly anyone remembers she was ever in the show. Later on, Mrs Pike would often take the role.
  • The Movie (which RetConned most of the first episode)
  • The Napoleon: Captain Mainwaring
    • In one episode, he even literally dreams that he's Napoleon.
  • No Longer with Us: Corporal Jones gets one regarding his mother:

"My mother's gone to another place. Angmering."

  • Obsolete Mentor: Corporal Jones
  • Only Sane Man: Sergeant Wilson. Pike and Walker also have their moments.
  • Parachute in a Tree: "Time On My Hands" centres on the characters' efforts to pull down a German pilot whose parachute is caught on the town clock.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Captain Mainwaring often naively harps on about the strengths of the allied forces, but quickly dismisses any positive remarks about the Nazis with "We'll have none of that talk here!"
    • Our side displayed "British initiative!", while similar behaviour by the enemy was derided as a "typical underhand Nazi trick!"
  • Phony Veteran: Captain Mainwaring had a habit of exaggerating his military service in the Great War.
  • Playing Against Type: Arthur Lowe usually played Drill Sergeant Nasty types and was thus originally supposed to be the barking sergeant to John Le Mesurier's Officer and a Gentleman (to see them in these roles, check out Jones' Sudan War flashback in "The Two and A Half Feathers").
  • Real Life Relative: In the episode where American soldiers arrive and start monopolising the town's women, Pike's girlfriend Ivy (who appears only in this episode) is played by Ian Lavender's wife.
    • Arthur Lowe's wife, Joan Cooper, took over the role of Godfrey's sister Dolly towards the end of the show's run.
  • Retcon:
    • The Movie retcons most of the first episode.
    • Mrs Fox's first name is initially given as Marcia, but becomes Mildred in the final episode of the show.
    • Square is first introduced as "Corporal-Colonel Square" and later becomes Captain. Handwaved by the show's producers stating that he had simply received a promotion ("Corporal-Colonel" being an amalgamation of his current rank in the Home Guard and his previous one while in the military, Truth in Television as this was done in real life with some veterans).
    • In the first episode, Fraser runs a philatelist's shop. In later episodes, he's an undertaker.
  • The Rival: Hodges. Captain Square occasionally fills this role as well.
  • The Runt At the End: Corporal Jones.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: Pvt. Walker - skirt-chaser and black marketeer who has avoided the draft due to a 'corned beef allergy'.
    • Justified somewhat: a Missing Episode did actually have Walker drafted, and discharged on medical grounds because of the allergy - corned beef was the only rations available!
  • Second Face Smoke: In the episode where the platoon are delegated to guard a captured German submarine crew, the German officer is smoking a cigarette and blows smoke in Mainwaring's face.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: When out of uniform Walker wore incredibly well tailored suits.
  • Shoo Out the New Guy: Private Cheeseman. Also counts as a Replacement Scrappy.
  • A Simple Plan: The Walmington-On-Sea platoon could produce a chaotic outcome to the simplest of tasks.
  • The So-Called Coward: Private Godfrey, as detailed above.
    • Also Corporal Jones in "The Two and A Half Feathers". A veteran of the Sudan War claims that he was saved by a native tribeman after Jones left him out in the desert to die. The tribesman was Jones dressed in Arab robes; he remained silent about his role in order to cover up a scandalous affair the veteran was involved in.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: Private Joe Walker's "allergy" to corned beef.
  • Sound to Screen Adaptation: Reversed: there is an original cast radio series based on the TV episodes.
  • Spin-Off: The aforementioned radio series, It Sticks Out Half a Mile, broadcast between 1983-84. It centred around Hodges, Pike and Wilson teaming up to renovate the abandoned pier in a nearby seaside town, and was later turned into an original TV series called High and Dry
    • The pilot featured Mainwaring and Wilson. Arthur Lowe died soon afterwards hence Mainwarring being replaced with Hodges. Then, when John Le Mesurier passed away after recording one series, it was decided to just put it to rest (as a direct Dads Army Spin-Off, at least).
  • Squirrels in My Pants: In "Room at the Bottom", Corporal Jones gets ants in his pants and, while trying to remove them, accidentally signals the platoon to advance into an ambush.
  • Surrounded by Idiots

"You know, Wilson, over the years that I've come to know the members of the platoon, I've become quite fond of them. But I can't help feeling sometimes, that I'm in charge of a bunch of idiots."

  • That Came Out Wrong: Captain Mainwaring manages to get a block of rationed cheese as a surprise for his wife. However, when he telephones her with the good news, things don't quite go as he planned.

"Yes, Elizabeth. I think I may have a little surprise for you tonight..."

    • One episode revolved around the platoon trying to find out whether a parachute that had landed in a nearby field was a British parachute (which are white) or Nazi parachute (which are cream.) Unfortunately, Walker had found it and had it made up into women's lingerie to sell. Hilarity Ensues as Mainwaring visits each of Walker's customers and has to ask to see their underwear...
  • Those Two Guys: The Vicar and Verger.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The captured German U-Boat captain in one episode ("your name vill also go on ze list!" etc.)
  • The Unintelligible: Ivy, Pike's occasional girlfriend.
  • The Other Darrin: Mrs Pike was recast for The Movie because the studio felt the original actress wasn't high-profile enough. During the live stage show, several parts were recast while the TV actors had other commitments.
  • Upper Class Twit: Wilson exhibits some of these traits, although not as much as Mainwaring would like to think he does. Captain Square also has elements of the trope.
  • The Vicar
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Mainwaring and Wilson's differences of class and methods often put them at odds with each other but they stick together nevertheless.
  • War Was Beginning: The very first scene of the series takes place in 1968, as Mainwaring (who is an alderman and Chariman of the Rotary Club by this point) speaks at a function in support of the then-contemporary "I'm Backing Britain" campaign and describes how the war began and the platoon was formed.
  • Whole-Episode Flashback: "The Two and A Half Feathers" has Jones reminiscing about the Sudan War, with the members of the cast playing the various heroes and villains.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Jones: "Please let me be a nun Mr Mainwaring."
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Frazer, with his Doomy Dooms of Doom pronouncements, appears to think he's a character in a horror. Luckily for him, he's a sitcom character.
  • You Didn't Ask: In one episode where the platoon helps to gather in a harvest, Mainwaring asks Sponge, a farmer, to show the others how to operate a threshing machine. Sponge admits that he is a sheep farmer and doesn't know how the machine works. When Mainwaring demands to know why Sponge never said so before, Sponge points out that Mainwaring never asked him ...
  • You Look Familiar: Michael Knowles played various small roles in different episodes. John Ringham played Private Bracewell in the first episode and returned later as Captain Bailey for several episodes.