Are You Being Served?
It Ain't Half Hot Mum
They were all British comedy classics from the pen of comic genius, David Croft.
I caught a re-run of an old British comedy classic, ‘Allo ‘Allo, the other day on TV and it reminded me of just how funny and clever some of these old shows were. It was also perfect timing in that it was only a couple of weeks ago that I published my Why all the Bloody Swearing article about the amount of unnecessary swearing that there seems to be on British television today.
It’s rare that I actually find myself giggling out loud to myself, but ‘Allo ‘Allo, which was a British sitcom set in Nazi Occupied France during the Second World War, had me doing just this. The show creates much of the humour by the representation of the different nationalities of the various different characters through their speaking of their lines in English, but with stereotypical national accents. Along with the accents, came the innuendos of the mispronounced English words.
In the show, the character of Crabtree, an undercover English Agent disguised as a French speaking Gendarme, would mispronounce his vowels in lines such as:
"I was pissing by the door, and I thought I would drip in".
The show was broadcast at peak time viewing on the BBC between 1982 and 1992 and an excellent example of how you can swear without swearing. It was written and created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, who also co-wrote other classic shows including Are You Being Served?
David Croft, along with co-writers Jeremy Lloyd and Jimmy Perry were responsible for many of the British comedy classics from the 1960’s right up until his death in September 2011.
David Croft was born 7 September 1922 into a showbiz family. His mother was a famous stage actress; Annie Croft and his father Reginald Sharland a radio actor. In World War Two, Croft served in North Africa, India and Singapore and rose to the rank of Major.
When he had finished his military service he went into a career in entertainment. Following a period acting and TV production, he met Jimmy Perry who gave Croft a script for a pilot TV show called The Fighting Tigers about the British Home Guard during the Second World War. The show, re-named, became the classic Dad’s Army, which Perry and Croft went on to co-write between 1968 and 1977.
While Dad’s Army was still running, Croft began to Write Are You Being Served with Jeremy Lloyd, another show that became a long running classic. He continued writing in partnership with both Perry and Lloyd for many years and between them they created some of the best loved British TV comedy shows of all time.
David Croft died in his sleep at his home in Portugal on 27 April 2011, aged 89.
“Don’t tell him Pike”
Written by David Croft and Jimmy Perry, Dad’s Army was a sitcom about the British Home Guard during the Second World War which ran from 1968 to 1977.
The Home Guard was a military force intended to be the last defence against German invasion of Britain and consisted of those not eligible for military services due to age, reserved profession or ill health.
The show depicts the antics of, the generally elderly, members of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard as they bumble their way through the war preparing to fend off the impending invasion often armed with no more than broomsticks and wooden guns.
Though the inept soldiers even have difficulty fending off their own local Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden let alone the Nazi Hordes, the show still managed to present a respectful homage to those who were left at home, but who were still ready to fight.
"Listen very carefully; I shall say 'zis only once!"
‘Allo ‘Allo!, co-written by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd was set in the Second World War, but this time in a small village in occupied France. Written as a parody of the TV drama series Secret Army, the plot revolves around Rene, who owns and runs a small café, and his attempts to return home English airmen stranded in France whilst at the same time keeping some valuable artefacts that the local German Commandant has forced Rene to keep for him hidden from the Gestapo. Artefacts which include the painting: The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’.
All of the characters of various nationalities, including English, French, German and Italian speak their lines in English, but in exaggerated stereotypical accents which leads to many bad pronunciations of words which in turn lead to many innuendos. If it were not for the fact that the upper class English airmen were lampooned as well, the stereotyping might be considered offensive today but instead are still hilarious.
“The least sign of danger and my pussy's hair stands on end"
More stereotyping, but this time sexual rather than national with the ambiguous, never quite outwardly gay, character of ‘I’m free’ Mr. Humphreys played by John Inman.
A further collaboration with Jeremy Lloyd, the show, which was set in a department store, ran for 69 episodes between 1972 and 1985.
Nearly all of the episodes were set inside the men’s and ladies-wear department of the store, Grace Brothers and parodied beautifully the British class system of the time.
The show that had a name that became a national catchphrase. ‘Hi-de-Hi’ was the cry that greeted the happy campers from loudspeakers situated around the post war holiday camp, Maplins, where the series was set.
For those who are not British, or those never had the pleasure, a holiday camp was a place where people, particularly in post war Britain, could get a cheap holiday, entertainment included, for the equivalent of one week’s pay. To give you an idea of the type of holiday, such camps were used as military camps during the war.
Set in a Joe Maplins camp, the show revolves around the antics of the staff of the camp known as Yellow Coats owing to their yellow blazers that they wore as a uniform and which was a parody of the real life Red Coats of Butlin’s holiday camp fame.
A mixture of pure slapstick and comical observation of the British class system, I have to be honest and say that it was not really one of my favourites but I’ve included it here because of its popularity.
Written again by David Croft and Jimmy Perry, the show ran from 1980 to 1988 and attracted large audiences and its catchphrase and its characters, particularly the welsh Yellow Coat, Gladys Pugh who was for ever fawning over the upper class entertainment manager of the camp.
"Shut up, you 'orrible little man!".
Of all the classic comedy’s that David Croft wrote, the one that will rarely, if ever again, be repeated on British TV is It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
Co-written with Jimmy Perry, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was broadcast between 1974 and 1981 and was set in the later period of the Second World War following the German surrender but before the defeat of the Japanese in Asia.
The show revolved around a concert party providing entertainment for the troops that were being stationed in India before being sent to the front lines.
The reason that this show in particular caused controversy was its use of a white actor, Michael Bates, playing an Indian role in the form of the character Rangi Ram. A move that led to accusations of the use of ‘blackface’ actors as the practice was called.
Jimmy Perry refuted this claim in an interview in 2013 by claiming that Michael Bates wore only a light tan makeup!
British Comedy Classics
Whatever your views are on the rights and wrongs of stereotyping people for comedic purposes, these shows were right for their time and never written to be offensive.
Put aside your more modern sensitivities for a while and just listen to the quality of the writing. The set up and commitment, as a salesman would call it, is brilliant and all delivered by some of the best comedy actors of the era.
These shows didn’t become comedy classics for nothing.
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