Dad’s Army Radio Show at The British Library | Review

Dad's Army Radio ShowDad’s Army is still one of the absolute joys of the television world. Over 9 series, and 80 episodes, we followed the ups and downs of a group of, on the whole, elderly men in a quiet seaside town, ready to put their lives on the line in defence of their country.

First transmitted in between 1968 and 1977, the show is regularly repeated on BBC2 on a Saturday night, and still pulls in 2 or 3 million viewers. The highly successful radio spin-off gets regular airings on BBC Radio 4 Extra. With such an iconic show, it might be thought to leave it alone. You can’t improve on perfection – and I’m sure the makers of the recent disastrous movie would concur. However, two men felt there was something more that could be done and last night I was lucky enough to see a performance of the Dad’s Army Radio Show at the British Library.

The first thing to say is that Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s writing is still as fresh today as it ever was. The three episodes that make up this performance – “When You’ve Got to Go”, My Brother And I’ and ‘Never Too Old” have been beautifully adapted for radio by David Benson and Jack Lane and are performed by them as though it was a radio production.

Now the first question you may have is, where’s the rest of the cast? And I have to admit that was my first thought when looking at the programme. I thought maybe the guys had re-written each episode as a simple two-handler between Mainwaring and Wilson. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thanks to the truly wonderful vocal talents of both actors, Mainwaring and Wilson were there, but so were Jones, Frazer, Godfrey, Pike, Warden Hodges, the Vicar, the Verger, Mrs Pike and so on. Dressed only in WWII battle dress uniforms, David and Jack give vocally perfect renditions of the characters we know and love. But they also do more. They bring the character’s personality out in the movement and posture. Wilson, lugubrious and laid back, Mainwaring stiff and unbending, Jones, always on the edge of panic, Fraser, triumphant when he thinks he can get one up on another character, etc.

This is difficult enough at the best of times, but there are moments when the script calls for one of the actors to be playing both parts of a conversation, and it is a real pleasure to see them pull this trick off. This is particularly true in the second episode “My Brother and I” where, just as Arthur Lowe did in the original television show, Jack Lane plays George Mainwaring and his permanently sizzled and highly disreputable brother Barry.

One of the real strengths of Dad’s Army is that, in a time when many of the values that are intrinsic to the storyline – nationalism, the bulldog spirit, standing alone against a common enemy – are not those that abound today, it still feels ‘right’. In the comedy are human stories, and the show is ultimately based on reality. Hoards of just about able-bodied men prepared to sacrifice everything and be the final line of resistance at a time when invasion from a larger, much better-equipped army was not just an idea but an actual possibility. Probably the reason why “Never Too Old’ is so poignant and still raises a tear in my eye whenever I see it again.

At the viewing I attended we were lucky enough to have a guest in the audience – Frank Williams, who played the Reverend Timothy Farthing in the original show. At the end, Frank summed it up perfectly by saying that his eyesight wasn’t what it used to be and leaning back, listening to the voices, he expected to see a large cast of old familiar faces on the stage. What he, I and the rest of the audience did see were two superlative actors who had just given us a truly superb performance and ensured that Dad’s Army will continue to thrill and entertain the next generation, as it did for mine.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s classic BBC comedy is brought gloriously to life on stage with three episodes hilariously and lovingly enacted by two master performers.

David Benson (‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ and ‘One Man, Two Guvnors)’ and Jack Lane (‘Wisdom of a Fool’ and ‘7 Days’) transport the audience right back to Walmington on Sea playing all the characters between them.

This 2020 tour features three classic TV episodes – ‘When You’ve Got To Go’, ‘My Brother and I’ and ‘Never Too Old’ – that were never performed on radio – and now newly-adapted by Benson and Lane with scripts approved and authorised by the Perry/Croft estate’ – complete with sound effects, vintage music and all of Perry and Croft’s beloved characters and catchphrases. Highly acclaimed by critics and by audiences of all ages.

Twitter: DadsArmyRadio
David Benson: @DavidBensonSays
Jack Lane: @RealJackLane
Facebook: DadsArmyRadio

The British Library,
96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB

Dad’s Army: The Complete Radio Series One: 1
Dad’s Army: The Complete Radio Series One: 1Twenty episodes from the first BBC Radio series plus an hour-long Christmas special, starring Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and Clive Dunn.

In 1973 the BBC adapted its hit TV series for radio, featuring the original TV cast and characters. Three series were broadcast between 1974 and 1976, with episodes adapted from their TV counterparts by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles.

Now you can enjoy once again these unique recordings, with a supporting cast including John Laurie, James Beck, Arnold Ridley and Ian Lavender. Among the twenty-one episodes are The Man and the Hour, The Battle of Godfrey’s Cottage, Sgt Wilson’s Little Secret, Something Nasty in the Vault, The Menace from the Deep and No Spring for Frazer.

Also included is a sixteen-page PDF booklet with comprehensive programme history, synopses for all Series One episodes, original transmission dates, photographs and cast biographies.
10 CDs. 10 hrs 10 mins.

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