One thing's for sure: they don't make 'em like they use to.
Remember Hi-De-Hi, You Rang M’Lord, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and, of course, Dad’s Army? Behind all these comedy classics lay the genius of comedy writers Jimmy Perry and the late David Croft.
They were the men who gave us Gladys' “Good morning campers”, Sergeant Major Williams' eardrum-shattering “Shut, Up!” (actor Windsor Davis pictured top left) and of course, Lance Corporal Jones’ “Don’t panic!”
As the DVD of a film remake of their pièce de résistance, Dad’s Army, goes on sale, and the BBC revive a number of comedy classics for a special landmark sitcom season, we caught up with Jimmy Perry (92) who recalled his memories of making the world howl with laughter.
“Back in the Sixties, I was working as an actor and director doing several sitcoms and was getting fed up with the parts I’d been given,” says Jimmy. “So I decided I would write my own situation comedy and give myself a part. Joan Littlewood, the famous theatre director I worked with, told me the first rule of comedy is that you must always have reality, so I thought I'd write the situation comedy of my life.
"I decided to write about the Home Guard, which I’d been a part of from age 16. I realised nobody had really written about the Home Guard, so I started work on this script, based on my own recollections and creating the characters from people I’d known.
“My agent at the time was Ann Croft and once I’d written the pilot script, I asked her if she would pass it on to her writer husband, David Croft.
“Five days went by and I hadn’t heard from him. I thought he was probably not interested and hadn't read it. Then later that day, as I was sat in the dressing room, David came bursting through the door. ‘It’s good,’ he said, waving my script. ‘I’ve shown it to Head of Comedy, Michael Mills, and he wants me to take you to see him.’
“So we went to see Michael, who had this big booming voice – he’d been a lieutenant in the navy – and he said ‘Now, now Perry. I don’t like this title’. I’d called it The Fighting Tigers. He said, ‘I’m going to call it
Dad’s Army and I want you to work with David Croft.’ And so it began.
“But it was a still a bit of an uphill struggle even then. Various people in the BBC didn’t like it and kept saying oh, why are you writing about the Home Guard? No one wants to know about that old thing. But when we did a series of Dad’s Army, it was suddenly this big hit."
The show ran for nine years and 80 episodes. After Dad’s Army, Jimmy went on to write four more sitcoms with David that became household favourites, too, but his personal favourite was It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
“A lot of the stuff in that really happened. It turned out both me and David had been in the Far East, in India and Burma, and there, we were all artists and would put on little shows. It was an experience I’ll never forget, I knew I had to write a sitcom about it.”
Perry and Croft remained not only co-writers but firm friends right until David passed away in 2011.
“David Croft was just so right for me. We had both been in the war and had similar experiences, although I didn’t know him back then. A lot of writers are very quarrelsome but we never ever had a row. We just loved what we did.”
- Dad’s Army, is out now on Digital HD and on Blu-ray, and will be released on DVD from June 13, from Universal Pictures (UK)
- For more star chat, pick up the latest copy of Yours magazine