Magazine article The Spectator

Television: We're Doomed! the Dad's Army Story

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: We're Doomed! the Dad's Army Story

Article excerpt

The two things I hate most about Christmas are a) Advertland showing me how sparkly and joyous my home and bright-eyed kids are at this time of year, and b) the Doctor Who Xmas special telling me that if only I can open my heart and put cynicism aside, then I too can enjoy a mash-up of Dickens, C.S. Lewis and the Brothers Grimm, where daleks with tinsel round their guns exterminate the spirit of Scrooge as laughing children come pouring from the Ice Queen's dungeon and something nice happens on a London housing estate. Or similar.

That's what was so great about We're Doomed! The Dad's Army Story (BBC2, 22 December). With all the season's comfort and joy but none of the mawkishness, it dramatised the delightful, cocklewarming story of how two middle-aged has-beens called Jimmy Perry and David Croft triumphed over adversity to create the greatest British sitcom of all time.

Well, I say 'adversity'. I think if you'd been scripting it as fiction you might have come up with obstacles a bit more insuperable than the ones here: Jimmy being cruelly denied the chance to play the part he'd written for himself -- spivvy Private Walker; BBC controller and ex-para Paul Fox being a bit sniffy about their use of the war for comedic purposes; somebody you've never heard of not taking the part that went instead to Arthur Lowe...

But the feebleness of the 'jeopardy' (as it's known in the trade) was all part of its amiable charm. You really didn't mind that Croft (Richard Dormer) and Perry (a perma-mugging Paul Ritter) had it so easy because they were clearly such likable fellows -- the former a slightly crusty, well-organised major, the latter, a cheeky chappy ex-sergeant -- and also, though little did they realise it at first, such comedy-writing geniuses.

Perry, a struggling ex-Butlins repertory actor, dreamed up Dad's Army when the sight of a Guards band playing in St James's Park reminded him of his wartime service. Croft was called in to polish and discipline the scripts. They got on like a house on fire. 'We'd always see eye to eye,' Croft once told me. 'No, we never had a row. We couldn't afford to. There was too much money at stake,' quipped Perry. (This was for a big Dad's Army number I did for the Telegraph a few years ago: look it up, it's rather good. You'll go: 'How come James Delingpole doesn't do nicely turned pieces like that any more?' And the answer is: he bloody would if newspapers still paid for them. …

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