As a big Dad’s Army fan I was looking forward to seeing the dramatisation of the making of the original series. I am certainly looking forward to it more than certain film adaptations coming up next year.
I was slightly worried however when at the start of the programme it says that some of the scenes had been imagined, although it is a fact-based drama. However, once you actually start watching it you realise that the imagined parts are affectionate, often referencing Dad’s Army or other works by the original writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft, played by Paul Ritter and Richard Dormer.
The drama begins with Perry a struggling actor and Croft not getting enough respect as a BBC director. Perry decides to write a sitcom script based on his own time in the Home Guard, originally titled The Fighting Tigers, and plans to play the part of spiv Private Walker. Croft likes the script, although decides that Perry needs a co-writer, namely Croft himself. Together they make the script as good as it can be, but their main problem is dealing with senior BBC staff, in particular head of BBC One Paul Fox (Keith Allen).
With casting seemingly the key to making the show work, the story moves to finding the right actors, although the BBC we at first hesitant in casting Arthur Lowe (John Sessions) because he was then with ITV. After the Beeb’s first choice of actors turn the role down, Lowe gets the part (despite insulting Croft) and soon the project begins to come together as the rest of the cast appear. However, there is still a lot of conflict going on, with Lowe not remembering his lines, Perry’s anger at not being the part of Walker with the role instead going to James Beck (Kevin Bishop), and a battle about whether or not the opening titles should feature actual war footage.
This show makes for very likeable viewing. Firstly there is story it tells, especially with all the conflicts between the crew and BBC management. The debate about the title sequence is one of the best moments, partly because Perry and Croft’s wish to use actual war footage rather than the animated credits we now know was one in which Perry and Croft were probably in the wrong. One scene features Perry examining the footage when John Laurie (Ralph Riach) enters the room and find the idea distasteful. Another sees Croft fly into a rage at the BBC’s insistence that the titles should be changed. A third sees the original war-footage being played to a studio audience, and makes for really uncomfortable viewing as Nazi soldiers march as the credits appear on screen.
But the best moment of all is when Perry records Bud Flanagan (Roy Hudd) singing “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr. Hitler?” in which Perry cries as he watches Flanagan perform. It is the most poignant moment during the entire programme because it is at that point that you feel like Perry – it is that nostalgic memory that brings back so many great memories: for Perry the joy of hearing one of his heroes perform a song that he himself wrote; for us, it is hearing the theme tune to what is one of the greatest comedies ever made.
There are other enjoyable moments too, namely those ones where you can clearly tell that the writer Stephen Russell has developed his own imagined scenes referencing the show. For example through the programme Lowe talks about his beloved wife Joan – but like with Captain Mainwaring’s wife Elizabeth, you never actually see her. Then there is the moment when Perry and Croft mention that they both worked at Butlin’s, leading to a quick reference to Hi-de-Hi!, another of their sitcoms.
On top of this are the more sensitive moments, the best of which seems to be when Perry is talking to Arnold Ridley (Michael Cochrane), both when we learn about the terrible bayonet injury he got during World War I, and when Ridley warns Perry to never sell the rights like Ridley did to his plays.
The acting is great, especially from John Sessions as a very believable Arthur Lowe. Aside from the main Dad’s Army cast members already mentioned, credit should also be made to Julian Sands as John Le Mesurier, Mark Heap as Clive Dunn, Kieran Hodgson as Ian Lavender and Shane Richie as Bill Pertwee.
The only down points of We’re Doomed! are the short length of the episode (it might have been better if it were 90 minutes like many other BBC comic biopics) and at times it is slightly hard to fathom where reality and fiction mix. Other than that though, it is delightful.
We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story is available on the BBC iPlayer.