In 1940, fearing a Nazi invasion, the British Government created the “Local Defense Volunteers” (later re-named The Home Guard) to assist the Army by slowing down the advance of the enemy, even if only for a few hours, thus allowing the regular forces time to regroup.
It consisted of some 1.5 million volunteers who either to young, old, or unable to serve as they were in ‘reserved occupations’. This quickly earned the home guard the nickname ‘Dads Army.’ Although poorly trained and equipped the Home Guard shot down numerous Luftwafe flying aircraft and Rocket bombs and were also trained in guerrilla warfare should an invasion occur.
The Home Guard lost 1206 members on duty to air and rocket attacks.
Although formally stood down on 3 December 1944 the Home Guard was revived between 1951-57 to help combat the threat from the Soviet Union and again from 1982-1993.
However, in 1968, the Home Guard was transformed into a situation comedy by writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
Utilizing the wartime nickname of ‘Dads Army’ the show ran for 9 series (consisting of 80 episodes, 3 of which are now considered ‘lost.’), it was also turned into a state show, radio series and has been turned into two feature films. One released in 1971 and another to be released in February 2016. The show is still aired around the world and was voted the 4th best sitcom in history in 2004 (losing out to Only Fools and Horses) and the 13th ‘Greatest British Television Program’ in 2000 (losing out to Fawlty Towers.) It’s theme song and catchphrases are still popular today and the show is nostalgically popular although historically dubious in its portrayal of the lives of the Home Guard.
Set in the fictional town of Walmington-on-sea, Dad’s Army revolved around the exploits of Captain George Mainwaring a pompous, brave and incredibly patriotic bank manager who is aided and abetted by his platoon of mostly elderly volunteers who are determined to do their bit. They know that as a seaside town, they will be on the front line of any future Nazi invasion.
However, the Nazis appeared only sporadically and most of the episodes revolved around the platoon being in conflict with Air Raid Precautions Warden Hodges, the Verger of the local church and Captain Square of the neighboring Eastgate Home Guard Platoon.
The humor ranges from slapstick (mostly provided by elderly Butcher Jack Jones) to subtle (especially in the class reversed relationship between Mainwaring and Wilson who is his deputy at both work and the Home Guard.)
The show is still reliably funny, with a certain timelessness to it and I highly recommend watching a few episodes (especially Season 6 Episode 1 ‘The Deadly Attachment’ where the platoon have to guard a real captured U-Boat crew.) Although there is a certain darkness due to the fact that that the platoon know that in the event of an invasion they will be expected to lay down their lives purely as a delaying tactic.
“It’ll probably be the end of us, but we’re ready for that, aren’t we, men?”, says Mainwaring. “Of course”, replies Frazer.
Will the upcoming film be true to this much loved institutions or will it just be a cheap cash in on a familiar name?
Only time will tell.