RIP Jimmy Perry: Alan Coren on Dad’s Army

October 24, 2016 at 1:44 pm (anti-fascism, BBC, comedy, funny, history, posted by JD, RIP, television, tragedy, war)

RIP Jimmy Perry, creator and co-writer (with the late David Croft) of Dad’s Army.

In honour of Jimmy Perry’s greatest creation, we reproduce here the late Alan Coren’s brilliant Times review:

Dad’s Army, BBC1, by Alan Coren
They belong to the oldest regiment in the world, the men of Dad’s Army. The Sidewinder may replace the siege-engine and the Armalite the longbow, but the nature and composition of the King’s Own 17th/21st Incompetents change not at all. I watched them all troop on again last night, out of step, ragged, potty, insubordinate, inept, and who are Arthur Lowe and Clive Dunn and John Le Mesurier, I said to myself, but Bardolph and Nym and Ancient Pistol? Or, come to that, Schweik and Yossarian and Stan Laurel and Miles Gloriosus; and, though memory, not to say erudition, escapes me, I will just bet that the literatures of Sanscrit, old High Gothic and Xhosa are packed to their various margins with stories of soldiers who right-wheeled into the wall, fell over their side-arms, and shot the regimental ferret in error.

I suppose the monumental madness of war can be made tolerable only by this kind of miniaturisation; there is a wider lunacy beyond the script in the fact that Clive Dunn might well, in theory at least, have been the only thing standing between us and Dachau, and the alternative to allowing that thought to send the shrapnel shrieking round the brain is to watch him fire his Lewis gun into the ceiling of the church hall while we all fall about gasping on hilarity instead of on gas.

So much for today’s Sobering Thought. What must now be said is that these particular khaki fools do no discredit to the great tradition; the timing of their disasters is impeccable, the individuation of their character has been splendidly fleshed out so that each identity is total, and their personal conflicts are soundly based in those differences. The essential quality of mock-heroic is always sustained by the parody of Brit-in-arms (there was a superb moment last night when Arthur Lowe restrained his enfeebled warriors with a terse: “Steady! We’re not savages”), and behind the daftness there lies a certain valuable poignancy which is not altogether explained by nostalgia. I suppose what I mean is that they would have died, too, if the greater folly had demanded it.

3 Comments

  1. Robert said,

    I stand to attention and salute the memory of Alan Coren too!
    Seriousness enhanced by freedom from wanton solemnity!

  2. februarycallendar said,

    Me on Dad’s Army (which the more time passes the more I don’t need to see again, and even find faintly disturbing now): http://www.mausoleumclubforum.org.uk/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=852&p=9804#p9804

    If you believe, as I do, that the mythology of that war still has a dangerous and delusionary effect on Britain (chiefly England) and arguably led directly to Brexit, it all seems clouded and uncertain. Best not to have fought the first one and orphaned ourselves, never to recover our parentage or our bona fide culture (yes, half the time I’m attacking the elite for not recognising Skepta, half the time I’m saying everything ended a century ago. But those positions are really the same: they both come out of a loathing for the Friday night BBC Four / 6Music new establishment).

    But for a very long time after it, WW2 did not have the unquestionable status it has today for conservatives. Evelyn Waugh was not the only one (“West Country men never shared the general enthusiasm for WW2” wrote his son in 1972; you could say, now, that Mancunians & Liverpudlians never shared the general enthusiasm for the Falklands episode and make an analogous political point). WW2 was seen, quite widely, as some kind of sellout, a defeat disguised as a victory, a cover for the enemy cause. The working class and socialists viewed it, with the Soviet Union, as a Great Patriotic War which had given them what they had fought for without a shot in a way they could never have imagined before, but for those who thought Attlee had left them out, it certainly wasn’t the comfortable myth it is now.

    What neutralised it, made it safe and secure for the Right, was the Falklands, which – now as long ago as the end of WW2 was in 1979 – has a completely different status depending on what side you’re on, just the precise inverse in every detail. It has its own victory porn (mostly written by Max Hastings) for one side, its own defeat laments (mostly written by Elvis Costello and sometimes sung by Robert Wyatt) for the other side, the side who for the three decades after it rightly saw themselves as the victors of WW2 but may now wonder in their own turn, as petit-bourgeois conservatives once did, what exactly they fought European fascism for.

    So WW2’s status as the Good War still has a dying mythological hold for much of the Left, but – in exposing that part of the Left’s antipathy towards modern culture and free expression which it cannot control – also exposes part of the reason for the Left’s long defeat.

  3. Jim Denham said,

    Excellent piece by KB Player, over at That Place:

    http://hurryupharry.org/2016/10/26/war-stories/#comments#disqus_thread

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