Dad’s Army: The Man (Men) and the Hour

The cast of Dad's Army. Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, Arnold Ridley, Ian Lavender and James Beck.

The cast of Dad’s Army (left to right) : Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, Arnold Ridley, Ian Lavender and James Beck.

What Black and White Film Can Do!

Dad’s Army the well-known British Home Guard sitcom played from 1968 – 1977  with the first two series, of nine, being filmed in black and white. Recently I sat down and watched Series 1 Episode 1, The Man and the Hour, and chuckled my way through the dialogue. I wonder how, when I watched the series years earlier, had I grasped many of the jokes? Now, after years of study and interest, as well as having developed a great appreciation for British humour, I find much wit that was unlikely to have occurred to me years earlier. As I watched Dad’s Army I became curious about the actual actors who played senior soldiers in the sitcom. Did any of the cast have prior service, especially during the Great War?

Home Guard tunic on exhibit at the IWM. 2010.

City of London Home Guard tunic on exhibit at the IWM. 2010.

The Second World War Veterans of the Cast

Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring) was born in 1915 and served with the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry in the Middle East; John Le Mesurier (Sergeant Wilson) was born in 1912 and served in the Royal Tank Regiment. The much beribboned character played by Clive Dunn O.B.E. (Lance Corporal Jones) was not born until after the Great War, being one of the first boomers of that era arriving January 9, 1920. Dunn served with the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, and was captured in Greece spending four years of the war in captivity.

The Great War Veterans of the Cast

John Laurie (Private Frazer) experiences in the trenches and on the fields of battle haunted him for the remainder of his days. Arnold Ridley O.B.E. (Private Godfrey) enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry in 1915 and suffered several injuries during the Great War. Ridley’s left hand was very badly injured on the Somme rendering it almost useless., He was also riddled with shrapnel, received a bayonet wound to the groin and suffered from blackouts due to having been rifle-butted by the enemy. Ridley received a medical discharge but, during the Second World War, was commissioned and served in France. However his health issues continued and Ridley was discharged whereupon he joined the Home Guard, formerly the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) nicknamed Dad’s Army and also known as Look, Duck and Vanish!  Connotations of the popular perceived view of Dad’s Army abound with that nickname!

The Youngsters of the Cast

Ian Lavender (Private Pike) was the youngest of the seven main characters being born in 1946 and gained much knowledge of the acting world playing with such veteran actors. James Beck (Private Walker) was born in 1929 and served in the British Army on National Service.

And now the Segue is Complete

After watching that first episode it is the black and white film that today takes me to other places. Somehow the show brings home to me the news reels of the day, those informative visual messages played before the main feature. That Dad’s Army is a story, a historical comedy, about Great Britain under serious threat of invasion, the blitz, the endless possibilities of what might occur is ceaseless in capturing the spirit of the time. “You shall not pass” comes to mind as the British prepared for the onslaught.

The Blitz. Exhibit detail from the IWM, 2010.

The Blitz. Exhibit detail from the IWM, 2010.

As I reminisce about my wandering about the old Imperial War Museum (old because I await its reopening with new exhibitions) I often recall walking into the Homefront exhibition and the 1940s House with their artefacts, documents and images of that time. “Run, Rabbit Run” plays in the background of the traditional exhibit area, there is a large image of the German bombers over the Thames, a UXB, Fire Service, Air Raid Precautions, rationing and yes Dad’s Army – the British Home Guard.

As I wander upstairs to the Victoria Cross exhibition, The Ashcroft Gallery, I wander about and discover footage of the making of the Victoria Cross, a black and white newsreel shot during the Second World War. How I wish I could find that clip; and as if Dad’s Army leads the way, somehow the footage appears this week after endless attempts searching and much time having passed, thanks to Dad’s Army, the men and the hour.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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