“Private Sponge Speaks!”
A chat with Colin Bean
Colin Bean was a longtime member and supporter of the New Zealand Branch of the DAAS, and he was the first member of the Dad’s Army cast to give an interview for “Platoon Attention!” Here is that interview, with an insight into the life of the man who played Private Sponge, from Issue Three, published in Issue Three, August 1995. My interview with Colin Bean, was conducted May 1995 before Tadge Muldonn's death.
Dave: Colin, were you ever in the Home Guard during the war yourself or were you too young? If so, was it just like Dad’s Army?
Colin: No. When the war started I was already in the scouts; when a school unit was formed I was, for a time, a member of the Air Training Corps. Things mechanical and mathematical have never been of interest to me and so I handed in my uniform when I became 16 so that I could be a Fire Watcher. (Rota Duty in various large buildings , trained to look out for and deal with incendiary bombs during air raids). Despite the seriousness of our national situation in those days, there was most certainly something odd about seeing men one knew so well from everyday life parading in platoons in uniforms which, one might say, were not exactly tailored, being led by my Form Master lightly disguised as a Second Lieutenant.
Dave: Private Sponge was a man of few words, but he appears in nearly every episode, what was it like to stand behind all those great actors for all those years?
Colin: From the beginning we in the second line were always made to feel part of the platoon as a whole, after all we’d all been chosen for that job. What was it like to stand behind such famous names, and know we were a part of it? A privilege. Even prouder was I, due to circumstances with which I had nothing to do I hasten to add, when, towards the end “Pte Sponge” suddenly appeared in the front row, to make up the number - usually at what I called the ‘non-working end’. The end away from the camera and the two or three principle artistes involved in that particular little scene.
Dave: Do you remember any outstanding bloopers or foul-ups, things going wrong that were caught on film or otherwise?
Colin: Why do people always want to know about ‘cock-ups’ (Candid Camera has a hell of a lot to answer for!). Yes, there were mistakes during filming and rehearsal - we wouldn’t be normal if there weren’t, but I’m not going to embarrass friends past and present by naming names. There was an occasion when a raft (which was supposed to be secured by a rope underwater) sailed off ‘into the distance’ with three distinguished actors on it because, during the night, vandals had cut the rope. I think I heard someone near me on the shore saying “They’re ddoooooomed, they’re aw doomed!” but I won’t swear to it! Once in an exercise crossing a stream on a pole, my trousers got caught on some protrusion, and I’m no light-weight. It took four of the crew to get me free. I hope that wasn’t recorded.
Dave: Dad’s Army was, and still is loved by people all over the world, but did the ‘background’ platoon members such as yourself get stopped in the street by fans?
Colin: Yes, someone stopped me in the Market only the other day to say “I’m a Farmer too, AND I’m a Sheep Farmer!” In my Local, when I order a pint, a wit will say “Not a drop will touch my lips Capt. Mainwaring - We’ll use two straws!” (a Sponge line from “My Brother And I”).
Dave: Have you ever been to New Zealand?
Colin: No; but if anyone wanted to ‘shout’ me for an all-paid holiday, you’d be able to have your own ‘Meet Pte. Sponge’ meeting for free!
Dave: What is your most treasured memories from your days with Dad’s Army?
Colin: Oh dear, so many. Sorry, I daren’t start or I’d take up the whole of the newsletter. The ten days of Location work before each series was always looked forward to. I called it ‘ten days paid holiday’, I simply enjoyed it and many, many happy moments.
Dave: Did your small but important role in Dad’s Army affect your career much, or has it remained the same as before you joined the series?
Colin: Not so much my theatre career, for I was already fairly well established in that line, but it opened a lot of TV doors to me, hence appearances in Up Pompeii, Are You Being Served, Hi De Hi, The Goodies, The First Churchills and many others. These in turn led to radio work - which in old age is enjoyable and my main work outlet.
Dave: What do you think of the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society as a whole? Do you like to contribute to it? Do you think it has become a foundation that will see that this great series will never be allowed to fade away?
Colin: Tadge Muldoon is (was, ed) a very courageous man to take on such a task. I believe Jimmy Perry warned him “You don’t know what you’re taking on!” He must have ‘got it right’ because lo and behold - another intrepid man (Dave Homewood) and there’s the NZ Branch. (Wake Up Sydney, I think you’re living in the realms of fantasy by not having an Oz Branch!) If enough people still enjoy the show it won’t fade - look at Laurel and Hardy! My great-nephew is 11 years old, he wasn’t born when we made the series, let alone know much about the war, he thinks it’s “Triffick”, and he thought that before he knew his G. Uncle was in it. Now that WWII has turned up in the History Curriculum over here, he tells everyone he has a Historical Uncle.
Dave: What is your opinion of our little branch in New Zealand? Have you any comments or suggestions for us?
Colin: See previous answer. The only thin I can add is that, if I can support and
promote the NZ Branch in any way I will. It has, I’m sure, the best wishes of all ‘The Last Of The Few’ who are left from the cast.
“You’re Our Inspiration Sir!”
An Interview With Jimmy Perry
In Issue Four, I interviewed the creator of Dad’s Army himself, Mr. Jimmy Perry OBE. Jimmy had taken time out of a very busy schedule to answer the following questions...
Dave: We know that you spent some time in the Home Guard during WWII, were any of the storylines based directly on your own experiences?
Jimmy: Quite a few of the storylines were slightly based on real experiences, eg. Don’t Forget The Diver, The Day The Balloon Went Up and Sgt Save My Boy.
Dave: Were any of the characters based on real people that you know or knew? Were any based on members of your own platoon?
Jimmy: The part of L/Cpl Jones was based on an old soldier I served with in the Watford Home Guard in 1942. He had fought in the Boer War and the Sudanese War. He was at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898.
Dave: Did you ever think that Dad’s Army would still be such a strong rater today and have it’s own appreciation society while you were making it?
Jimmy: I always thought it was a good idea - but never in a million years thought it would be the success it turned out to be.
Dave: Who’s idea was it to make the movie version of Dad’s Army for the big screen?
Jimmy: Columbia Pictures - I didn’t think it really worked. Both David and I were unhappy with it.
Dave: The movie version was made by Columbia Pictures, which is an American company, but did it ever screen in the USA?
Jimmy: It was shown world wide.
Dave: Did you have any input into the making of the Radio Series, apart from writing the original scripts which were adapted? Did you attend the recordings?
Jimmy: No, David and I left it to Michael Knowles and Harold Snoad, but I attended every recording.
Dave: In the radio series, it seems Mrs Pike was always played by someone else other than Janet Davies, and the same goes for the movie, why was Janet not kept in her role? Also, when and how did she die?
Jimmy: The fact that someone else played her part in the film and the radio series was nothing to do with David or Me. Sadly she died of cancer in the early 1980’s.
Dave: I believe that when you drafted up the characters to be in the first script, you had hopes of playing the role of Private Walker yourself. What was the story behind this? Do you think you would have been as successful as James Beck was in the role?
Jimmy: The BBC would not let one play the part. As I wrote the character of Walker for myself in the first place - I would have been good.
Dave: Was Private Cheeseman originally hoped to be a replacement for Walker? Why did he only last for one series? Was he unpopular?
Jimmy: Private Cheeseman was not a replacement for Walker, we only intended him to be in a few episodes.
Dave: Which episode do you consider your favourite?
Jimmy: The Deadly Attachment.
Dave: You have been involved in writing and making many of Britain’s greatest and most popular Television comedies, eg - Dad’s Army, It ain’t ‘alf ‘ot Mum, Hi De Hi and You Rang M’Lord. Which series do you consider your best, and which is your favourite?
Jimmy: Best - Dad’s Army Favourite - It Ain’t Half Hot Mum
Dave: Do you think you may ever visit New Zealand?
Jimmy: Who knows? My sister lived in Auckland for ten years.
Dave: Do you have any message for the New Zealand Branch members?
Jimmy: Thanks for liking our shows, you might be on the other side of the world, but your appreciation of the Old Country is very much felt in the UK.
“An Interview With A Vicar!”
In Issue Five I interviewed Frank Williams, who brilliantly played the part of the Reverend Timothy Farthing, Vicar of St. Aldhelms Church, Walmington-on-Sea...
Dave: First of all, I’d like to ask you how you came to be cast as the Vicar, Reverend Timothy Farthing, in Dad’s Army? Did you audition or were you picked?
Frank: When Jimmy Perry was running the repertory company with his wife Gilda at Watford, I was the president of the theatre supporters group. I also appeared in a couple of plays there for him, so we knew each other quite well. I guess when the part of the Vicar came up, initially only for one episode, he thought of me. I had also worked in television for David Croft on a number of occasions, so he also knew me. I didn’t therefore have to audition and the character grew from that one episode.
Dave: Do you remember what you were doing for work before you started in Dad’s Army?
Frank: Before Dad’s Army, I was working in a wide variety of things, mainly on television, though some film and stage work as well. I was in a number of films with Norman Wisdom which still come up on British television from time to time. I was lucky enough to have been in another very successful TV series in the early sixties called The Army Game - a comedy about National Service in which I played the Commanding Officer for the last two and a half years. It was live television, the very thought terrifies me now! - and we used to do 39 episodes a year, one each week and then a thirteen week break in the Summer. I also did some serious acting - in serious plays, I mean - including three appearances out at the English Theatre in Vienna.
Dave: Did your role in Dad’s Army greatly influence or change your acting career?
Frank: I suppose the Vicar has tended to type-cast me, and with all the repeats this seems to be perpetuated. However, I am grateful to have done it.
Dave: Did you enjoy playing the Vicar?
Frank: Yes I did enjoy playing the Vicar. He was a fun character and it was a wonderful team to work with. I think my Dad’s Army time was one of the happiest in my career.
Dave: Do you often get recognised by fans as the Vicar? Do you keep in contact with fans through the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society
Frank: Yes I do get recognised from time to time, especially when, as now, repeats are being shown. I do keep in touch with the appreciation society.
Dave: Can you remember how many episodes you appeared in?
Frank: No I’ve never counted. Perhaps about just over half?
Dave: Which is your most favourite episode of Dad’s Army? Why?
Frank: Two, I think. The Day The Balloon Went Up and The Royal Train. Because we had such fun doing the location bits (despite getting soaked at the end of the latter!). The location filming was always a highlight of the year.
Dave: Have you any outstanding great memories from your time as the Vicar, on screen or off?
Frank: Meeting the Queen at the Royal Variety show in which we had done an extract from the stage show. On screen, rushing down the railway line in The Royal Train on the truck and wondering if the train was going to catch up with us!
Dave: Who was your personal favourite of the Dad’s Army characters?
Frank: Impossible to say. We were all a team and I think all the characters were so brilliantly written. Watching actors like Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier was always a total joy.
Dave: On screen, the Vicar seems to only just tolerate the Verger through his ‘Christian Charity’, but I imagine off-screen things were much more pleasant between yourself and the late Edward Sinclair. Have you any memories to share with us about him?
Frank: Edward and I were very good friends. He was the kindest of men. Although he came to professional acting late in life, his parents had been a variety act. When we were on tour, he went off to find his baptism record. He had been baptized while his parents were on tour with a show, by the Actor’s Church Union chaplain at the theatre where his parents were playing. He had a great interest in Dickens an was delighted to play Barkis (if that’s how you spell it) in a television version of David Copperfield.
Dave: Since Dad’s Army, we in New Zealand have seen you as the Bishop (a promotion!) in You Rang M’Lord a few years ago, but can you please fill us in on your more recent and current work?
Frank: Apart from pantomime each year, things have been a little quiet. However I have written a number of stage thrillers and have appeared in productions of them from time to time.
Dave: Do you still keep in touch with the remaining members of the cast of Dad’s Army?
Frank: Yes, and the widows of those who have died. Even Clive comes over from Portugal from time to time.
Dave: Have you ever visited New Zealand. Do you hope to ever visit in the future?
Frank: No. I would love to visit New Zealand, especially if I got the chance like Ian to come out there in a play. I always remember Arthur Lowe and his wife talking of the happy time they had there.
Dave: Your role as the Vicar is still admired by all of us at the New Zealand Branch, and all of the DAAS, and you are a welcome member of the Branch. Do you have a final message for all of the members in New Zealand?
Frank: We had fun making it. It’s good to know it’s still appreciated. Long may it continue. I hope the New Zealand Branch goes from strength to strength. All good wishes, Frank.
Clive Dunn Has
“Permission To Speak!”
In late 1995 I interviewed Clive Dunn, the following being published in Issue Six in June 1996. Clive approached the interview in his wonderfully humorous way...
Dave: Clive, many people who watch re-runs of Dad’s Army today find it incredible that the man who played seventy-year old L/Cpl Jones some 25 years ago is still alive and well. Not only that, but you look even younger now than you did as Jonesie. Do you often find people are surprised by this?
Clive: Thanks for the complement. I only look younger if you stand thirty yards distant and look the other way. Nothing surprises me; like the question - “Didn’t you used to be Clive Dunn?”
Dave: You now live in Portugal, which I imagine would be a very different lifestyle from that in Britain, can you please tell us what attracted you to live there?
Clive: Lack of Margaret Thatcher and the sun!
Dave: Are you completely retired from acting now, or do you still do the odd bit here and there?
Clive: Very odd bit now and then.
Dave: I’ve read one of your great loves is painting, do you still do much of this? Do you sell your paintings?
Clive: I paint in the nude - but I always keep my socks on - somewhere to keep the brushes! Mostly for charity and fun, but sometimes for the other.
Dave: Before Dad’s Army you had already worked in television for a number of years, in such shows as ‘Bootsie and Snudge’ an ‘It’s A Square World”. Which of all your TV shows was your favourite to work in?
Clive: I enjoyed them all.
Dave: I have read that you almost didn’t take the job of playing L/Cpl Jones in Dad’s Army, and the role was then offered to David Jason, before you accepted. Can you explain this story?
Clive: No, can you?
Dave: Do you think that, if you had declined the role, David Jason would have suited the part? (He’s a very famous actor now, but at that time he was surely unknown, and very young too).
Clive: He probably would have been splendid.
Dave: What was your favourite time during the making of Dad’s Army? (eg was it the TV location shoots, the stunts, the stage play, the Radio recordings, the film?)
Clive: Whenever I had funny lines to say I was very happy - not the film or the stage play.
Dave: You starred in every episode made of Dad’s Army, do you have one or more favourite episodes? Why? Which was your favourite scene to make?
Clive: So many good scenes but I rather like the court room scene. (in A Brush With The Law).
Dave: Do you have any particular fond memories you’d like to share with us from the years when you starred in Dad’s Army (eg. about the other cast members, or funny situations during filming, special memories, etc.)?
Clive: They’re all in my book. Try the library.
Dave: You were already a household name from Dad’s Army, but in 1971 you went onto also become a Number One selling Pop Artist, on Top Of The Pops, with Grandad. Do you attribute the record’s popularity to your fame from Dad’s Army or had you previously had experience in the recording world?
Clive: Many things contributed, but mostly having a world beating voice - constipated baritone. Any offers?
Dave: The single Grandad came from your album Permission To Sing Sir, did any other tracks from this album ‘make it big’ in the Pop world? Did you ever record any other solo albums or singles?
Clive: I did a single produced by George Martin of Beatles fame. It was called “Oh What A Beauty!” It was about a man who built his own rocket and it was banned by the BBC.
Dave: A photo appears in John Le Mesurier’s autobiography ‘A Jobbing Actor’ with the caption stating that it was from a single called There Ain’t Much Change From A Pound These Days, recorded by John and yourself. What was it about? Did you
record any other songs with him at that time? Was it related to your respective Dad’s Army characters?
Clive: It was fun to do - as always with John but it didn’t get anywhere. PS the photo was not Dad’s Army but was taken on Primrose Hill, London.
Dave: In the late 1970’s you toured New Zealand with a cabaret tour. What did you think of our country? Have you any special memories you’d like to share?
Clive: Loved it very much and the people were terrific, great experience, particularly doing cabaret in Balclutha at 6:15 in the evening.
Dave: Are you ever asked to reprise your role of L/Cpl Jones these days, eg. for advertisements, guest appearances or charity events? If you are asked, are you still keen to get the old uniform on?
Clive: I use the uniform occasionally for Cabaret but not often now, but if you give me a lot of money I will I will I will I will!
Dave: You wrote a brilliantly entertaining autobiography called ‘Permission To Speak’, which was published in 1996 by Century Hutcheson. Is it still in print or available for readers of this magazine who would like to buy a copy?
Clive: Library or Second Hand book stall.
Dave: Have you a personal message for all the Dad’s Army fans in the New Zealand Branch of the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society?
Clive: Thank you all very much for all the kind attention. Much love to all. Clive.
“Attention!” For The
Commander-in-Chief - Jack Wheeler
In mid 1996 I took the opportunity to interview the man in the top job at the DAAS, my good friend Jack Wheeler. This was a two-part interview, published in Issues Seven and Eight, in which Jack discussed his role in the DAAS.
Part One - From Issue Seven...
Dave: When did you first discover Dad’s Army? Was it right back when the series began, or later on?
Jack: I don’t remember watching the series when it began. I became interested in 1988.
Dave: Were you automatically taken by the series, did it become an instant favourite?
Jack: Yes, I think it did, I was impressed with it’s authenticity and it took me back to the war years, which were not all doom and gloom. Everyone pulled together and there was a pervading spirit of comradeship, as illistrated in many of the episodes.
Dave: Did you have any involvement with the Home Guard or the ARP during the war?
Jack: My only involvement was in fire watching, standing on the roofs of buildings to give warning of the event of incendiary bombs falling. I then joined Frazer in the Royal Navy.
Dave: You were one of the people who joined the original Dad’s Army Appreciation Society when it formed under David Lovering in 1989, weren’t you? How did you find out about the fledgling society and what did you think of it?
Jack: Yes, I was delighted when I heard of the society (via the radio), and after much difficulty at last succeeded in enrolling. Dave was not an easy man to track down and it took many letters and telephone calls to attract his attention.
Dave: The original DAAS unfortunately folded after just the one magazine when Dave Lovering lost interest, how did you feel about the collapse of the society?
Jack: I was extremely disappointed, especially as I had gone to so much trouble to join. The first (and only) magazine Dave produced was excellent and I had looked forward to many more. I joined up with two other enthusiasts and we ran our own little society for a couple of years until the real thing came along again.
Dave: I believe it was because of your persistence that Bill Pertwee decided to restart the society, and he found Tadge Muldoon to run it. Is that true?
Jack: Such was my enthusiasm for Dad’s Army that, looking back, I must have made a nuisance of myself to Bill in my endeavours to get the Appreciation Society restarted. After one false start he found Tadge and the rest is history.
Dave: You also started a branch of the society called the Mid-West Platoon. Tell us about the activities of this group, and what are they up to now?
Jack: The Mid-West Platoon was formed to bring together members who resided in the South and West of the country for outings. There was a very interesting meeting held in ‘The Crown’ at Chalfont St. Giles, which doubled as the bank in the film. I do not have time required to organise any events and the member who thought of the idea in the first place is also too busy.
Dave: When Tadge Muldoon was tragically killed in an accident, the position of leadership for the society became open. Although to many you seemed the perfect choice to step in and take over, you were reluctant to do so weren’t you?
Jack: I suppose I was, not having done this sort of thing before, but I was acutely aware that the Society just had to continue after all the hard work and enthusiasm Tadge had put into it.
Dave: Even when you did take the society on, after some persuasion, you seemed to only want to be in charge on a temporary basis. For example, in your first magazine you described yourself as “acting Commander-in-Chief”. Have you had a change of heart now that you’ve settled in, or do you still hope to hand over the society to someone else?
Jack: I was concerned that my age might prevent me from carrying out the duties satisfactorily, especially as the editor of the quarterly newsletter as I did not wish to see standards drop. I have a good right hand man in Paul Carpenter, thank goodness, and my confidence is boosted by so many members writing to tell me they are satisfied with my performance so far.
Dave: The NZ Branch of the DAAS came into being a little while before you took over as C-in-C, and it has always enjoyed the co-operation and assistance of the team at the DAAS. The NZ Branch sees itself as affiliated to the UK main Society, with the UK DAAS being the next up the rank in the chain of command. Do you like the arrangement of how our two groups work together, or would you prefer to see us become a stand-alone NZ society with no UK connections?
Jack: The NZ Branch may see itself as an affiliated Society but I consider it to be a Society in its own right, having been started by an enthusiast without any help from its UK counterpart. I enjoy our co-operation and comradeship but we each “do our own thing” without reference to one another, which is as it should be.
Dave: We both produce society magazines for our members, which is the biggest part of the work of running the DAAS. Do you see our magazine “Platoon Attention!” as a competitor to your magazine “Permission To Speak Sir!”, drawing fans in New Zealand away from your readership, or do you see the magazines as complimentary to each other?
Jack: No, I don’t consider we are in competition. As I said in the previous answer, we are entirely independent of each other and our magazines reflect this. This is particularly important to the UK magazine as it is read by some of the NZ members who are also members of the UK society. It is imperative that we do our best to avoid repetition and allow our magazines to continue to compliment each other as they do at present. I always enjoy reading “Platoon Attention!” and hope that my pleasure is reciprocated when “Permission To Speak Sir!” arrives in NZ.
Dave: Would you like to see the NZ Branch magazine become more accessible to all the UK based members?
Jack: Yes, I’m sure it would be appreciated by a larger readership in the UK, members are always anxious to read anything relating to Dad’s Army.
Part Two - From Issue Eight...
Dave: Would you like to see more NZ Branch members subsribing to the UK magazine?
Jack: Yes, but I am sure that they are quite happy with “Platoon Attention!”, especially as it is produced specifically for New Zealanders.
Dave: Do you think there will be a point in time when the society magazines run out of material to report on? Do you think the two society magazines will eventually have to merge together in order to keep going?
Jack: This is a fear that lurks at the back of both our minds, I’m sure. Hopefully I shan’t be in the ‘hot seat’ when it happens, as I suppose it must eventually. If members wish to see societies flourish then it is their responsibility to provide articles for publication in their magazine. I am fortunate in this respect as I have a considerably large membership. As a last resort then perhaps a merger is the only answer.
Dave: What is your favourite part of running the DAAS? Is it publishing the magazine, researching for articles, meeting members, answering letters...?
Jack: In order of preference, editing the magazine (choosing articles for publication), meeting members, meeting the cast and answering the many letters I receive.
Dave: You’ve been involved in a few functions with the celebrities of Dad’s Army since your rise to C-in-C, can you please share with us some of the things you’ve got up to and tell us who you’ve met?
Jack: Bill Pertwee is a good friend and telephones me for a chat or when he has important news for me. I first met Clive Dunn when I travelled in the same car from the late Hattie Jacques home to a hotel reception, it was a priviledge to sit back and listen to him and Bill reminiscing. I was honoured to have a place at the top table at a function called “Bill Pertwee and Friends”. Clive Dunn sat on my right and Eric Longworth (the Walmington Town Clerk) on my left all evening. Also at the table were Ian Lavender, Pamela Cundell and Frank Williams. I have also met Liz Fraser (Mrs Pike in the film) on many occasions.
Dave: Do you get much co-operation from the writers and the surviving cast members in running the society?
Jack: Bill Pertwee is a great help - it would be difficult to function without his co-operation. As for the others you have mentioned, both cast and writers, I am happy in the knowledge that they are willing to co-operate should I call upon them.
Dave: How is the membership of the UK Society going? Is it holding steady, rising or falling?
Jack: Unfortunately subscriptions were allowed to lapse (when Tadge was C-in-C), in fact I’m sure some members thought that their original payment enrolled them for life! Because of this almost 140 members were “dishonourably discharged”. Since I took over I have nearly made up the losses with new members. I would say that membership is stadily rising.
Dave: Do you think it’s a good idea for Kiwis to join both societies and get a broader picture of the DAAS?
Jack: Yes I do, but I appreciate that the extra expense is quite considerable for them.
Dave: A couple of New Zealand members who had joined with the UK DAAS have decided to not renew their subs with you, and only remain with the NZ Branch. Is this a worrying trend for you? Do you know why members are opting to stay only with the NZ Branch?
Jack: These members may well have joined the UK Society before the NZ Society started. I suppose it makes sense that they reduce the expense of belonging to both.
Dave: Do yourself and the team have any grand plans for the future of the society? Will the convention become a regular event, are you planning any massive recruitment drives, will any videos be produced by the society in the future, do you hope for more get-togethers...?
Jack: Running the Society consumes a great deal of my time. Fortunately I am retired and therefore able to devote many hours to the job. Thanks are due to Nick Randall for organising the forthcoming Convention, I could not have found the time to do this. A member has given me an idea for a recruitment drive by circulating all lapsed subscribers. Bill Pertwee is re-issuing his ‘Dad’s Army Bible’ in the New Year with several additions (including Talfryn Thomas) and the Society will get a mention in this. As for videos, no thank you. The society lost well over 200 pounds on the first one. We do hope for more get-togethers especially in the South of England. We had an excellent meeting in London, arranged by Tadge, to meet my friend Colin Bean. It’s finding someone to organise it!!
Dave: Have you any final message for the NZ Branch members, especially those whom haven’t yet come to know you through joining the UK DAAS?
Jack: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the members of the NZ Dad’s Army Appreciation Society. Please give as much support as you are able to your Platoon Commander by submitting copy for your excellent magazine, without you the Society would not flourish. Write letters to him for publication, your opinions, I am sure, woul be welcome. Tell him about your favourite episodes, your favourite characters, these would be of interest to your fellow members. You have a very good Society, please support it to your best ability. Remember, without your co-operation there would be no NZ DAAS! You are of course, welcome to enrol in the UK DAAS, which has a good following in this country, but I imagine that you are completely satisfied with your own society in New Zealand.
“Put That Ruddy Light Out!”
An Interview With Bill Pertwee
This interview first appeared in Issue Thirteen, published in March 1998.
Dave Homewood: How would you describe Warden Hodges?
Bill Pertwee: Well, he’s an over the top character. A bit of a bumbling fool, and probably a coward don’t you think? I mean it was a great piece of writing because they wrote the character over the top so that he wasn’t just accepted as a villain, he was accepted as a bit of an idiot. I think that probably describes him.
Dave: Is any part of Hodges’ personality an extension of yourself, or is he a complete opposite?
Bill: Ah, well I should think probably in any character, if you actually portray it fairly successfully, which I hope that I hope that I did, then there is always something of one’s self in the character. I’m a sort of, at times, fairly impatient person and I think that’s what Hodges was. He was always bursting in on Mainwaring and wanting to know what was going on without thinking first.
Dave: You appeared in Dad’s Army right back from Episode One, what was your first impressions of the series when you first started?
Bill: Well, the first day that we were starting, I spoke to Jimmy Perry at lunchtime. He introduced himself to me, and he said “What do you think?”. He was obviously fairly nervous about the whole thing, because he’d never written anything for television before. He had written for the theatre but not for television. I was able to sit around and watch because I only had a couple of lines anyway. I said “I think from what I’ve seen this morning, I think it has something quite extraordinary about it.” You know, even at that early stage, I thought the characters were coming to life. I said to him “. As one producer said to me in Radio a long time ago “Some people can get the words off the paper, and others can’t” and they certainly were getting the words off the paper.
Dave: What was your first impression of the calibre of the cast that they’d got into Dad’s Army, because most of them were well known weren’t they?
Bill: Well I didn’t know any of them. I had met Clive I think once. I didn’t know the others. Obviously it was too early for me to assess what they were like as people, but certainly I knew that they were all, from what I’d been told, experienced actors. John Laurie I’d seen in a lot of films, and I’d seen John Le Mesurier in a lot of films. So they were obviously all capable actors who were bringing the characters off the paper as it were. Ian Lavender was the only person who was not a seasoned performer at that time.
Dave: As time went by in Dad’s Army, Hodges developed from an occasional small walk-on part into a key member of the cast. Can you explain why this small character in particular became so big, was it because he was the perfect villain?
Bill: Well, they wanted someone to stir Mainwaring up I think, and someone who lived in Walmington-on-Sea, that was the idea. A tradesman and a bit of a chap who rushed in and did a lot of shouting and so forth. I think they suddenly saw him as a sort of private Hitler to Mainwaring. At times Mainwaring felt that this man was threatening his authority, which he certainly was, he did on many occasions. And so that was a good thing. If they’d had a higher ranked Army officer, then he would have had to have won, you couldn’t have a General being made to look silly by Mainwaring, but it didn’t matter with the Warden if they made him look silly, in what ever escapade they got up to - throwing him in the water or pushing him off a bridge, or anything like that. So I think that was the reason, they just wanted an anti-Mainwaring character. As I say, they made him over the top, but he wasn’t a straight forward villain. He was just like a naughty boy causing a lot of trouble.
Dave: Did you ever get any nasty reactions from the public because of Hodges, or was he generally loved?
Bill: Well, to start with people used to say “ Blimey, you don’t half annoy me when you come in and start shouting.” and so forth, but then as the Mainwaring character became more pompous, they rather laughed at the fact that I was coming in to try to break his pomposity. So, no, I think they quite liked that. I mean a lot of people eventually were rather sorry for this character who was always on the losing end.
Dave: Did you ever find it difficult to act angry or bombastic towards Mainwaring and the others when there were so many funny things going on?
Bill: No, no, no, no. One just does ones job, you do it just like any other job. I mean once you’ve got it under your belt and you know what you’re there for then you just do it and that’s it. I mean you rehearse and during the rehearsals you know how much they want you to give to the character, how much over the top you can go or can’t go, and that’s it. You come out and do it and hope the cheque will be in the post soon afterwards.
Dave: When Dad’s Army shot to popularity, how did you and the other cast members react when your faces began appearing on all sorts of merchandise like the TV Annuals and the Boardgames.
Bill: Well we didn’t have much merchandise, there wasn’t much of that going you know. There wasn’t a lot of it, not really, but I mean the fact is once it was established that we were in a successful situation comedy, I think we all sort of accepted it. There were no vast newspaper stories like there are now about present day sitcom performers. There was none of that at all, it was pretty low-key. But I think we sort of got a little put out sometimes, everybody, when maybe we wanted to have a quiet drink in a pub or a quiet meal out and people came and recognised us and wanted to talk while we were in the middle of a conversation amongst ourselves. Sometimes people can be rude. Other people are very good and wait till you’re perhaps going out of the building or wherever you are, or in the street and they’re very polite. But some are not quite so polite -not being rude about the characters but just coming up and pushing a bit of paper under your nose and saying “Sign this” - you know. So yes, that happened, but we took that in our stride I think. Obviously we were just glad that here was something that seemed to be working, a show that was working quite well and we were getting paid for it! Bottom line. You’re going to get paid, and the more successful it is, the payment will go on as it were. We were all fairly straight forward and common sense-wise, there wasn’t much glamour I think attached to anything. You know, at that time, we were just doing a job. We were pleased that the job was successful.
Dave: What is your favourite episode of Dad’s Army? Do you have a favourite?
Bill: Oh, that’s a very difficult one. Because I liked old Harold Bennett, I thought he was so good, I liked ‘The Day The Balloon Went Up’. It was an early one and we had a lot of fun filming that. It was I think a very good episode. There was another one where the German pilot was hanging from the clock, that was another one that Harold Bennett was in. I can’t remember the name of that episode...
Dave: Time On My Hands
Bill: Oh, Time On My Hands. That’s right, yes, that was another episode I like, yes. There were several you know. I also like The Royal Train, and that one with Philip Madoc, that was a marvelous episode.
Dave: Yes, The Deadly Attachment.
Bill: The Deadly Attachment. One could pick out I suppose several, but those four I could mention.
Dave: Is there any particular scenes that you’d rather not remember? You received all the custard pies and fell in the water the most, so...
Bill: Oh no, it was all part of it, I mean. One of them which was not very pleasant I think... there were two of them... I can’t remember what episode but I was out in a boat and it got turned over. We were out in a long lake, filming, and the boat had to turn over and I went down with the boat underneath it, and I came up all right, I can’t remember what the episode was...
Dave: It must be ‘Battle Of The Giants’, would it be?
Bill: Was it? It might have been, yes. We were trying to get from one side of the lake to the other or something like that. And the other one was very late, about three o’clock in the morning, when we were filming at Lowestoft for the one where the mine was chasing me in the water, in the sea (Menace From The Deep), that was quite a difficult one to do because we were very late that night doing it, and a huge fog came down, and I was sort of lost a wee bit in the harbour at Lowestoft, until they came and found me. I was in this little boat. And the next morning we were up very early to continue that episode at the Britannia Pier at Great Yarmouth. Those weren’t very comfortable moments but you know, one got over those.
Dave: Which of the main actors did you most enjoy watching or doing a scene with?
Bill: Watching, oh dear, that’s a difficult one. I mean I enjoy some of them now from the point of view of seeing things in them that I didn’t see first time around if they’re repeated. You see, they were going out the night we were recording another episode, so…well...mostly we never saw them you see, until they were repeated.
Dave: Did you enjoy the chance to play multiple roles in the stage show version?
Bill: Ah yes, that was fine, yes I enjoyed that..It was quite tiring because there was a lot of change of clothes and things like that, but yes I enjoyed the stage show.
Dave: Was there any difficulty in playing scenes in the Stage Show when there were different actors in several of the roles? Were there any problems there?
Bill: No because I wasn’t involved with them very much, that was only John Bardon and Hamish Roughead. No I wasn’t involved with them very much. Jeffrey Holland, I got to know him quite well, we worked together when he was playing the German Inventor and I was playing the German General. You get to know people fairly quickly, and know how people work and so forth. No I think it was fine and I got on with everybody.
Dave: You’ve written several books which have all been on fairly obscure topics, but they’ve all been well received. What inspired you to write about the various subjects?
Bill: Well I like doing the research into a book. I’ve picked on certain subjects, and certainly Promenades and Pierrots - which probably is going to be completely revamped and done as a large hardback, at the moment they’re talking about that - because it had such an enormous, enormous amount of publicity when it first came out. It almost shocked everybody, you know, having double page spreads in the national press and things like that. It was something I just got together. I was asked to do it as a sort of picture book, which was fine because it was the first thing I’d ever written in the way of a book. I did some research, and I rather liked doing the research. And I learned a tremendous amount, an awful lot in all manner of ways. The railway station book I enjoyed (The Station Now Standing). I don’t like to hang about on certain subjects. I’m not fanatical about one thing and I like to jump about a bit. because it opens new horizons. You don’t get bored, I’d get very bored if I was always writing about one subject.
Dave: Your Dad’s Army book, “The Making Of A Television Legend” was recently reissued in a larger and much more expanded form. Were you pleased with this new version, and has it sold well?
Bill: Yes I think they did a very good job. They are reprinting it, it’s already gone for printing with a thinner paper. Actually I’ve just got a copy of it, and the photos have come out terribly well and that is going to be sold as a slightly cheaper edition. But I think they are not allowed to do that until June or July.
Dave: Will it be sold in New Zealand?
Bill: I don’t know whether the cheaper edition will at all, no I don’t know. But it has come out very well, it’s just thinner to look at, that’s all, because of the paper. The paper is very costly nowadays, so that’s why they can do a slightly cheaper edition using different paper.
Dave: In 1993 you helped establish the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society, of which you’re now President. It’s almost five years since it was started, are you happy with how it’s going, and have you any ideas for future projects?
Bill: Oh, I think it’s going terribly well. Yes. I’ve just received the copy of the latest newsletter which is going back today to Jack. He always sends me one first before it’s printed up, a mock-up of it just to see if there’s anything needing correction, and it’s very good. My wife happened to go through it last night, just the rough copy of it, and she said what a good book it is. I think they do a marvelous book. And there are three, four or five who are very clever people. They’re very enthusiastic about it obviously, and they do a good job, and I’ve been pleased to help them over this convention thing which I was able to use some of the clout that being a person known through the media, I’ve been able to help them in that way. Doors open that wouldn’t open normally. But they’ve done a tremendous amount of work. I mean Jack and Tony Pritchard, Paul Carpenter, David Jefferies and Stephen Poppitt, excellent, he takes all the notes and they’re with us within really no time, in 48 hours we’ve all got copies of the meetings we’ve had to have over the convention. Yeah, I think they’re a great bunch, very enthusiastic, very bright, flowing with ideas all the time. It helps tremendously I think on a big thing like this convention, which is different to anything else, when you’ve got four or five people who are really good like that.
Dave: Mentioning the convention, there’s a lot of Kiwis who’d like to attend but obviously can’t because it’s so far away, we are just wondering if you can give us any clues as to what’s going to be happening there, and which members of the Dad’s Army cast will be attending?
Bill: We’ve no idea about the members, we know that Frank Williams can’t be there because he’s in the theatre and he’s got a matinee up at Liverpool on that Saturday. Well, I think it’s going to be a gathering of the clans if you like. It’s sold out as far as membership is concerned. In fact Jack has had to send back some cheques because there’s a limited number that can go obviously, that’s a certainty because of fire regulations and things. There are going to be probably about forty special guests there, people who’ve been associated with the programme, they’ve all got their invitations, and there are one or two sort of star guests who I know are great fans of the show will be trying to come along. But it depends on availability of people, of the guests. I mean all the fans who’ve paid their money will be there and we hope it will be a good day. You know, you make all the good plans and hope that you’ve covered everything but at the last minute something may go wrong, but I don’t think so, from what I’ve heard from the boys. We’ve got stewards, they’ve done the posters and the sound equipment and vision equipment has all been seen to. They’ve done a good job I think, but you never know, something could go wrong - but I don’t think very much will go wrong. We’ve had a great problem with The Oval because they’ve got cricket starting on that day which normally wouldn’t start till a week later - I think they’ve been sorted out now. But they were serious problems at one time about three weeks ago, but they’ve been sorted out.
Dave: What are your feelings on the New Zealand Branch, how that’s going.
Bill: Oh, well I think it’s very good that there is a society that is obviously in existence in an area where people are interested in the programme. I used to call them just fans, but I mean people are really interested, and I think it’s very good that somebody like you is able to run this for even a small amount of people. I mean over here it’s different, I think there’s between 700 and 800 members now, which has climbed dramatically in the last year or 18 months. But it’s very good that there’s a Branch in New Zealand, and by the look of it, a very successful Branch.
Dave: In 1983 you recreated Hodges for the radio spin-off “It Sticks Out Half A Mile”. Did you enjoy doing the character again?
Bill: Yes, I enjoy the medium of radio very much, I was brought up on it as you know in the late 1950’s. Yes I enjoy radio and I enjoy anything that’s a challenge. Whether it comes off or not, one doesn’t know until it’s happened. That sort of thing is all part of work, getting in there and sorting it out, seeing how well you can do it and how well you can’t, if it’s what the producer wants, if it’s what the writers want, that’s the good thing when you can all chat and get together and say “Perhaps we’ll play this slightly differently” or whatever. But it’s another medium for portraying a character, but he was slightly different in It Sticks Out Half A Mile. Very different.
Dave: Yes, he was a bit less rough I think.
Bill: That’s right, exactly.
Dave: Do you think the series would have gone on to be a success if it weren’t for the death of John le Mesurier? Would it have kept going?
Bill: I don’t know. You never know with radio. You do one and they say “Oh we like that.” and the writers say “Well we’re ready to write another series.” and then they say “Oh no, we’ve gone off that.” You never know really, particularly nowadays, but you never know. But I should think that they probably would have done another series.
Dave: Are you currently working on any acting or writing jobs?
Bill: Well, I’ve got this enlarged Pierrot book which we were talking about. I’m doing sort of one night here and there, but not many of them, over the next four or five months. I don’t want to get involved in a long tour with a theatre again. I want to take it easy a bit, you know. Last year was quite hectic with one or two things and the pantomime on top of it, and if you’ve got some free time you can accept some things that come in which you couldn’t if you were very busy. Some things which might interest you, they may only take one or two days to do, but at least they’re interesting, something different perhaps. I do like something different, I don’t like to keep on the same thing all the time. And the play they wanted me to go out in, I’d done it in London for six months, I didn’t want to do it again on tour, and I didn’t want four months trolling around the country, you know. But there are certain things on the go I know that may come to fruition, I don’t mind if they don’t, but I don’t mind if they do. So that’s really what I... I don’t want to have the handcuffs put on me, saying “Well that’s what you’re doing for the next year.” I don’t want all that any more. I want to have freedom to perhaps do something that suddenly comes along which is interesting.
Dave: Just aside from Dad’s Army, who are your favourite comedians, and what are your favourite television comedies? Do you have any?
Bill: I don’t watch a lot of television now to be honest. Only documentary programmes perhaps.All time favourites - I like Frankie Howard, I worked with Frankie. Max Millar was one of the great stand-up comedians. I’m going back now, people over there may not know anything about Max Millar. He was one of the greats. I think a newspaper columnist once called him the “pure gold of the music hall”. He was a tremendous man. Topped the bill at the London Palladium. Sid Field was a marvelous situation comic actor. I saw him in London in the late 1940’s. He was just brilliant, brilliant...as a review artist, and he did the play “Harvey”, he was marvelous in that. Les Dawson of course was a very funny man. Yeah, you know, there are certain people that you do like and respond to. Morecambe and Wise obviously, one laughs at them, you know. All those people had their unique styles.
Dave: One last question, a lot of the members are keen to know if you’re ever going to be able to get out to New Zealand, and come and visit us?
Bill: Well, you never know do you? You never know. I mean I get letters from Australia quite regularly saying “When are you coming out?” from people that I know out there, and I would do the two trips obviously in one. It would be nice to do it, you know. It would be nice to come out when there’s time. I’m not just sort of like hop in and hop out, you know what I mean, it would be nice to spend a few days, a week there in New Zealand, after doing a trip to Australia, or before, I don’t know whichever way round it would be. But I still would like to do it.
Dave: Well we all look forward to seeing you someday anyway.
Bill: Well, that’s nice. Thank you.
Dave: Thanks very much for this opportunity to do this interview, it’s been great.
Bill: OK David, all right .... nice to talk to you.. Thanks very much indeed, and I think you’re doing a smashing job over there.
“Don’t Tell Him Pike!”
An Interview With Ian Lavender
On December the 4th, 1999, I spoke by telephone to one of Dad’s Army’s most popular actors, Ian Lavender, who has delighted millions with his wonderful portrayal of that stupid soppy looking boy, Private Pike. Here is a slightly abridged transcript of our conversation. We began talking about his trip to NZ when he toured in the play One For The Road in 1992.
Ian: Where are you?
Dave: In New Zealand. Cambridge, New Zealand. Just outside Hamilton.
Ian: South Island?
Dave: No, North Island.
Ian: Hang on, where’s Hamilton?
Dave: Two hours south of Auckland.
Ian: Oh yes, I spent five months in New Zealand. Hamilton? I don’t think I played Hamilton. Cambridge, Hamilton, near where?
Dave: Well Hamilton is the biggest city around here.
Ian: (Laughing) Sorry to be insulting.
Dave: No that’s all right. We’re about too hours south of Auckland.
Ian: Ah, on the East Coast?
Dave: Ah, we’re sort of actually central.
Ian: Oh my Godfathers, this is bad. I’m not going to dig my pit any deeper, I’m sorry.
Dave: I’ll send you a map.
Ian: We were in Auckland for five or six weeks, and down to Wellington. Yes, we only did Auckland and Wellington in the North Island. I had a
wonderful time. God, a wonderful time. The best kept secret in the world, your country. I can’t understand why so many people come over here.
You probably send all your youngsters over here for six months so they appreciate New Zealand, and realise what they’ve got.
Dave: Yes, I’ve had two trips to Britain, and I love Britain, but you do appreciate New Zealand when you get back.
Ian: Oh my God, don’t tell me. We’d come back like a shot. We would. My son came out to visit me, quite by surprise, and was with us for a
month, and came back. And then on the year out before University, supposedly going all around the world, he went straight to New Zealand and
spent six months there. I had to threaten him to get him to move on. He adored it.
Dave: Now, you went into acting straight from school, did you always want to become an actor?
Ian: Yeah, I couldn’t think of anything else. I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything else except a cricketer. I wasn’t good enough at that
Dave: Did you do any acting in school, or any amateur stuff before you went to drama school?
Ian: Yeah, at school I sort of ran the drama department for my own benefit. (Laughing) I wanted to be in plays, so I made the school put on plays.
And Good Lord, I wonder who played the ead? And I went straight from there to the University, straight to the Bristol Old Vic school.
Dave: What were your first impressions when you got cast in Dad’s Army, when there were so many well known faces from TV and Films, was
Ian: Well, first of all it was just exciting to have got ten week’s work for the summer in television. Ten weeks of television, it was lovely. And then
when I found out who it was with, that was somewhat terrifying. I’d only ever watched them really, on the screen. I’d never worked with them. And
I didn’t know what the Home Guard was, or anything like that. It was just “I’ve got a job for ten weeks!”
Dave: Do you still watch Dad’s Army these days when it is on television?
Ian: Yes I do. We watch them because we find them funny. Quite honestly. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to know about it, but it got to the stage
where there wasn’t a lot of point in watching the repeats because I knew ‘em. Fine. And then after about three or four years of not worrying whether
I saw them or not, I was away from home one night, and I watched one, and I thought “Ooh, that was funny!” Quite honestly we watch them
because we find them funny.
Dave: So what are your favourite episodes? Have you got any favourites?
Ian: Yes, I think my favourite one is the one that there’s been a lot of press about over here in the last few months, the one with the German
submariners and Philip Madoc, and the “Don’t tell him Pike!”, that famous line. (episode ‘The Deadly Attachment”, Ed.) It has just been voted the
funniest line on television, which is very nice, lovely. But yes we really enjoyed doing that one. We knew we had got a funny episode there. And
Philip Madoc was just so lovely to work with. Always has been, and still is.
Dave: Have you had the chance to see the American version yet, of that episode?
Ian: They only did the one, didn’t they?
Dave: Yes, I actually researched it for about two years and then finally found a copy of it.
Ian: (Surprised) Did you really?
Dave: I did, yeah. There’s now a copy of it in the society’s video library in England if you want to see a copy of it.
Ian: Oh good, I didn’t know they’d got it. We did see it, once. When they made it David and Jimmy showed it to us. But only the once. I didn’t
know that it was still in existence.
Dave: Well it had been wiped by the ABC, but it turned out the director had kept a copy for himself, and had it in his own personal collection. So
we’re very lucky to have it.
Ian: My word yes. Because I loved that. I thought it was a terrific idea. I thought it was a lovely adaptation. They’d taken the spirit of the whole
thing and made their version of it. I was sorry for them that they didn’t go further. It was Lou Jacobi?
Dave: Yes, that’s right.
Ian: Yes, I thought it was wonderful. Good heavens, I’ll get in touch with them.
Dave: What can you tell me about Janet Davies? We hardly have any information on her.
Ian: I don’t know really. As a person she was a doll. She was sort of in the unfortunate position, although one up from Mrs Mainwaring in that she
appeared, and Mrs Mainwaring didn’t, but Jan was spoken of an awful lot but you only saw her in half of them. She would be sort of a bit miffed
when she would only be in three out of the next series, but talked about in every one. If you could get a fee for every time you’re talked about, she’d
be very happy. But no, she was lovely. She really was. I believe she had a bit of a struggle bringing up her son by herself, before the recognised
days of the single parent and all that. But she never let it get in her way, it was never anything that she forced down anybody’s throats, or anything.
She just got on with life. Then whop, she was gone. So quickly. We loved her, but we all loved each other. We knew each other so well. It really was
being part of a family.
Dave: Did you get much other work while you were doing Dad’s Army?
Ian: (Laughing) I had to. Ten weeks of BBC money didn’t keep you going for the rest of the year! Oh you had to, there was no way!
Dave: And would that work have been mainly on the stage, or on television?
Ian: Yes the stage, television. Anything that paid the mortgage. Still is! That’s one of the main criteria.
Dave: In 1971 you and Arthur Lowe did the radio series Parsley Sidings. How did that come about? Was it written with you in mind?
Ian: I think so, yes, and lovely Kenny Connor. Yeah, as far as I know it was written for Arthur and myself and Ken. I can’t remember the name of
the writer. The director was Edward... ( at this point Ian has trouble recalling the names. On looking it up after the interview I can add it was
written by Jim Eldridge and produced by Edward Taylor. There were 10 episodes) But as you say, it was 1971.
Dave: I’ve got a few of the episodes and I think it was really good. I think it would have been really good if it had been transposed to television.
Ian: Yeah, but the television company didn’t like taking things from the radio and adapting themto television. They’d rather do it the other way
round. You know (posh voice) “Well we’ve got a success, we’ll make a radio version of it.” John Le Mes, Bill Pertwee and I did a thing later on
called It Sticks Out Half A Mile, and there was talk of that being turned into a television series. But then John went and died. (jokingly)We were
very angry with him. He was sitting up there on a cloud going “Ha, ha!”
Dave: So with It Sticks Out Half A Mile, if John hadn’t died, would it have gone straight to television, or would they have continued making the
Ian: Ooh I don’t know, there was talk of it. “Yes, wouldn’t it be a good idea?” It was just a couple of years since Dad’s had finished being made. And we all thought it would be as well, there was talk of it. Of course originally it was written for Arthur. Arthur and John and Bill was who it was originally for. And Arthur died, then they decided to rewrite it with Bill, John and myself, and John died. (Laughs) The little word ‘jinx’ was flashing into everybody’s minds.
Dave: (Jokingly) I guess at that stage then they didn’t consider bringing in Arnold Ridley?
Ian: (Laughs for a while) We could have gone down the list. Version seven. With the third man from the left.
Dave: Do you remember making any special guest appearances on other TV shows as the character of Pike? Did you do that sort of thing? I know
Arthur did a lot of Mainwaring appearances.
Ian: We did Morecambe and Wise. Not as the character, no.
Dave: Did you make any advertisements as Pike?
Ian: No. Oh well, Arthur and I did adverts for Barclays Banks. Yes as the characters, but twenty years on. And Arthur had now retired from the bank. I was believe it or not now the manager and he was continually interfering. And we’d done a year of those, then Arthur died! So that’s another one sitting on my cloud...
Dave: Was there a whole series of these adverts then?
Ian: Yeah I think we did four. They had taken up the option for the next year, and then news came that Arthur had died. So I look up there, and
there’s John Le Mes, and Arthur sitting up there, and I go “Your timing could have been better!”
Dave: Did you ever record any LP’s at all. A lot of the other cast made albums.
Ian: No, no. What? In my own right?
Ian: No. I did for shows I was in, but none in my own right.
Dave: What can you tell me about a couple of programmes you starred in after Dad’s Army? One was ‘Have I got You...Where You Want Me?”
What was that all about?
Ian: Best forgotten! (laughs)
Dave: OK. How about ‘The Glums’? What was that like to work on?
Ian: The Glums was wonderful fun. I don’t know if you know what it was based on. A famous radio programme in the ‘50s called Take It From
Here with Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley. And The Glums was an item in it. And then they wanted to make The Glums into a television series.
Dick was about 70 by then, but Jimmy Edwards was still around . That was great fun with Jimmy Edwards and Patty Brake playing Ethel. Those
were great fun, they were tremendous. In the great tradition of sort of British seaside postcard humour, broad and not terribly subtle.
Dave: What about ‘Come Back Mrs Noah”?
Ian: Ah yes, that was fun. That was David Croft as well. With Mollie Sugden and Gorden Kaye. It was the first time that David had used Gorden
Kaye, and as a result he wrote ‘Allo Allo’ with Gordon in mind. But that was about a woman who won a prize to go and have a look over Britain’s
space shuttle, and she pressed the wrong button and off we went. And eventually we were confined to eternity. I don’t think we ever got back. We
didn’t do the series where we came back. That was before the days of wonderful electronic special effects, so all the floating in the air was done on
hoists and God knows, it was not a comfortable show. But fun, it was fun.
Dave: You had a guest appearance on Yes Minister, what was it like working on that show?
Ian Oh lovely. Paul and Nigel were just lovely to work with. I can’t think of anything else to say, I’m saying everything was lovely, but it was! Yes
Minister was like Dad’s in that everybody loved it so much they wanted to do an episode of it. And when they offered me that part, it was just in
two episodes, wonderful. Great experience to finally work with Paul instead of just knowing him.
Dave: In 1993 you had a bad experience with cancer, and luckily you beat it. Is that completely gone now?
Ian: As far as we know, yes. I have my yearly checkup where they do unspeakable things to me. Yes, it wasn’t fun at the time. But as far as we
know it is all clear.
Dave: That’s good.
Ian: Yes I can get insurance again now. I couldn’t travel. It’s amazing where people get information from. You apply for insurance innocently and
they go “Oh, can we get a certificate as to your health?” Oh all right. It’s a pain in the tookus.
Dave: Do you happen to have a list of all the credits that you’ve been in on television, stage etc.?
Ian: No I don’t. I guess I should start doing that. Things come up from the past and slap you across the back of your neck. “Ooh God I was in that”
or “Ooh did I do that?”. People come up and say “We’ve worked together” and I remember you but I can’t remember what we did. I’ve just been
doing a play with Kate O’Mara. I was Noel Coward and she was Gertrude Lawrence. Kate and I have known each other for years. And we’ve been
asked and asked time and time again in interviews and by ordinary people “Have you ever worked together?”. “No” we both said. We knew we
were in the same thing, but we were both convinced that neither of us met, we just happened to be in the same thing on television, for Granada here.
We were in Manchester three weeks ago doing an interview there, and they duly said “Have you two worked together before?”. We said “No we
haven’t” They said “Aah, you have.” We said “We were in the same thing, but we didn’t actually work together.” We both confidently said to
several million people, at which point they played a clip of me proposing to her! And we were both flabbergasted! Neither of us remembered it.
You’d think you’d remember working with Kate O’Mara, wouldn’t you? But, you see, the brain does it to you. I was going to say middle age, but
it’s old age now. And we’re going to be working together in a new play next year.. We both signed about two days ago.
Dave: Do you read the “Platoon Attention!” magazines which we send you?
Ian: Yes I do!
Dave: What do you think of it?
Ian: It’s lovely. I really enjoy it every time. I don’t know whether it’s because I have such fond, fond memories of being in New Zealand. I mean,
even to the extent that I was even supporting New Zealand in The World Cup. Then the bleeding French went and wrecked it. I sort of feel, if it is
not being too presumptuous, sort of an adoptee.
Dave: Well that’s good. You’re certainly welcome back here any time.
Ian: I’d love to. Oh God, I’d come like a shot. I really would.
Dave: Maybe you could come out for our next get together, or something?
Ian: It’s not like getting on a bus, that’s the trouble.
Dave: Yeah I know, otherwise I’d be going to England more often.
Ian: It doesn’t exactly come cheap either. No, my wife and I had such a wonderful time, doing the play was incidental. (He laughs)
Dave: Do you think you’ll ever get the time or inclination to write a book about yourself?
Ian: Oh, several people have said I ought to. No, it wouldn’t be very interesting. Really, I’m only interested in my garden and playing golf. (He
laughs) I’m afraid working now is the means to those two ends. Trying to make sure there’s somebody in the next play who plays golf. These
things are important you know when you’re casting a play. “Ah yes, do we have anybody who plays golf? Fine!” Years ago when Sir John
Clements ran the Chichester, I didn’t get a part because he already had a wicket-keeper. Quite truthfully, at the end of the audition, working some
scenes with him, he said “Now then, do you play cricket? Your agent tells me you do.” I said “Yes I do.” He said “Ah-ha, what do you do, bat or
ball?” I said “Wicket-keeper.” He said “Ah, oh dear, I’ve already got a wicket-keeper.” And I heard nothing else. There’s strange reasons for why
you get parts. It’s nothing to do with whether you can act or not!
Dave: So what are your current or future projects?
Ian: Literally I am at the moment finishing off a pantomime which we start rehearsing on Monday. Then a short holiday after Christmas, and then
doing this new play, “Passport To Plimlico” with Kate O’Mara.
Dave: What is the pantomime?
Ian: Jack And The Beanstalk.
Dave: Whereabouts are you putting that on?
Ian: In Basingstoke, in Hampshire.
Dave: So do you do a bit of writing as well for the theatre?
Ian: Normally because you see the script and think “This is crap! I’ll write my own material” Yes, I’ve been known to put pen to paper. Odds and
Dave: Are you going to be taking part in the Bressingham convention next year?
Ian: It depends where I am. As I say I’ve got this play next year for six months, so it will purely depend where we are. If possible, yes.
Dave: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the NZ members?
Ian: Nothing more than I’ve already said except I wish I could come over there again. I wish I could be there again. I loved it. It is really nice to
receive the magazine every quarter. Great fun, thank you.
Dave: Thank you. Thank you very much for your time and for answering all the questions.
Ian: My pleasure.
“Cooeee! It’s only little me – Mrs Fox!”
Dave: Well, we’ll start right at the beginning, whereabouts were you born?
Pam: I was born in Croydon, and I come from a theatrical family, and I started out my career in the chorus dressing up me legs! I wasn’t really good enough because I couldn’t keep in line with the others, so I thought I’d better go out and get a part. So I did, and that was the start of it all.
Dave: OK, and how old were you when you started in entertainment?
Pam: Oh, I went into the chorus at fourteen. I was very young, you could in those days. And, well, I’ve had a most interesting life really. After I did that I went into musicals and finished up by becoming a comedienne in summer shows – or a stand-up comic as they call
Dave: You mentioned you were from a theatrical family, what did your parents do?
Pam: My mother was an operatic singer, and used to sing with Heddle Nash, and all that, and used to do a lot of oratoria. And my father was a producer. He used to do Gilbert and Sullivan. I had a brother as well, who’s been dead now three years I’m afraid, but he ran his own rep in Yarmouth, and then he became a company mangaer for Triumph
Productions with Duncan Wheldon.
Dave: Oh right, what was your brother’s name?
Pam: Tony Cundell.
Dave: Ah right, I remember seeing him in a photo in Bill Pertwee’s book and have always wondered if he was connected with you.
Pam: Yes, he was my brother.
Dave: So you were originally born as Pamela Cundell, and it’s not a stage name?
Pam: Yes, I have my original name, yes. There are some Cundells in Australia you know - my father’s brother, Uncle Geoffrey, he emigrated to Adelaide. And my second cousin Naomi used to be in The Singlettes, did you ever hear of The Singlettes? They became quite big in London for a while. A three-girl singing act.
Dave: No, I don’t know them.
Pam: She founded them. I think she’s given up now and had a baby and got married I think.
Dave: Now, you were married to Bill Fraser, is that right?
Pam: Yes, I was.
Dave: How did you meet him?
Pam: Well, I met him when my first husband wanted to put on a summer show, and he was in a summer show in Worthing with Bill. And we all met up there, and he and Bob, my first husband, became partners and they put on this summer show called Between Ourselves, which was highly successful. But Bill and I didn’t get married, because Bob eventually left me, so we didn’t get married till the 60’s or early 70’s. And we had a very happy time together. And he was wonderful, wonderful.
Dave: Now Bill was in The Army Game. Did you ever appear in The Army Game with him?
Pam: That’s right, he was. I was in The Army Game and I was called Fat Alice. I was supposed to be his girlfriend and I was just known as Fat Alice. I did a few episodes as Snudge’s girlfriend. And that was very good.
Dave: Yeah. And did your character carry on into Bootsie And Snudge
Pam: Yes, that carried on to Bootsie And Snudge, and Alfie and Bill left The Army Game because they’d written this series called Bootsie And Snudge. But I don’t think I was in any of those, no.
Dave: Do you have any children?
Pam: I have a daughter, Catherine, who has two chilkdren. And I’m really happy to say that both seem to be following in Grandmother’s footsteps, because Emma, a couple of years ago was Molly in Annie at the Palace Theatre, Wartford. And Daniel, my grandson, who is just eleven, has just landed the part of The Artful Dodger in Oliver, again at the Palace Theatre, Watford, next May – in a very good amateur group called the Casio Players. So I’m thrilled to bits.
Dave: Well that’s good then.
Dave: So how did you get cast in Dad’s Army in the first place?
Pam: Well, I did about four episodes of a series, I think it was Ian Carmichael, I was in. And in one of them I had to be a fortune teller, and the last shot of the day was, I winked at the camera. I forecast something and then winked at the camera, and that’s it. And David Croft was appraently in the audience, because it was live then in those days, and he kept this in mind. And when they were doing this thing, Dad’s Army, they wanted somebody to ask Jones if he’d got any kidneys, and give him a wink. And the story goes, and David won’t say yea or nay, but I’ve heard since that he said “There’s only one person who couild wink well and truly, Pam Cundell.” And that’s how I got in. (She laughs) I didn’t have a name at first, and then after about two or three episodes they decided - I wore a fox fur - they decided to christen me Mrs Fox, because of the fox fur really. That’s how it came about. And it was the wink that got me into Dad’s Army!
Dave: It quickly developed into a great character, even though she was only in a few episodes per series.
Pam: Yes, Jimmy Perry was saying only the other day, we were at a dinner together, and I was saying “You know Jimmy, thank you again.” “Don’t thank me,” he siad, “If you hadn’t been any good, we wouldn’t have made the character any bigger. We would have left you as you were and we would have probably lost you.” He said “You added something to the show that was really needed.” So I felt quite proud.
Dave: It’s true though, it’s absolutely true. Those scenes where you and Jonesey were in the picture theatre snogging, and Mainwaring sees you, that was just brilliant.
Pam: (Laughing) I know. And the Daily Mail gave a survey of the msot popular seies, dramas and all, and out of the comedies, Fawlty Towers was first, and Dad’s Army was second!
Dave: Oh excellent.
Pam: Over here, I don’t know about over there, but over here we’re so big still! And of course we’ve got the museum now up in Bressingham, I should think you’ve heard about that.
Dave: Yes, we have.
Pam: It is simply stunning. They’ve created Mainwaring’s office, and the church hall. It’s really wonderful. They’ve got Jones’s van, so it’s really good. Darling, how nice of you to call me.
Dave: Well it’s my pleasure.
Pam: How is the Dad’s Army Appreciaition Society there?
Dave: It’s going well, very well.
Pam: Oh good.
Dave: I don’t think it will ever end, it keeps going strong.
Pam: Well can I just say to all of them out there, thank you for being so loyal. I look forward, and we all look forward, to the newsletter when you send it. It’s lovely.
Dave: Oh good, thank you for that.
Pam: And thank you for being so supportive.
Dave: Well, it’s our pleasure. Now, which was your favourite episode?
Pam: Well I’ve got to say I suppose, where we got married, the last one. (Never Too Old, ed.) Because it was quite moving, apart from it being finishing. But I’ll tell you a funny story, there was one where the Americans came (My British Buddy, ed.), and they were giving us nylons, and I was going to have some nylons. And old Clive, Jonesey, was very cross about this. And anyway, there was one line that I could not remember. So Clive said “What you want to do is write it on your hand.” I just couldn’t remember this line, I got it arse-upwards all the way. And so he said “All you do is make a gesture and look at the words.” So I thought what a wonderful idea. So I did this, and came to transmission, again it was live, and of course with the nerves and everything, when I looked at the writing, it had all gone blurred! But as I did it, the words came out absolutely pristine, clean and really to the point. But it wasn’t from the hand, it was the sheer panic! So I never did it again! My hand had all gone sweaty and it had all run, the words! So that taught me a lesson.
Dave: Here’s a couple of questions within the storyline of the show, did Mrs Fox ever find out that Jonesey was seeing Mrs Prosser behind her back?
Pam: Well, no, I don’t think I did. Anyway, I wouldn’t have cared because she wasn’t as pretty as me! (she laughs)
Dave: Ha, good answer. And, what were Mrs Fox and the Verger really doing, were they actually going to pick bluebells? Or was there more to it?
Pam: (Laughing loudly) I’d like to think so, but um… She was very flitatious you know, really. Probably had a little flirtation, but nothing more, not with the church!
Dave: Did you realise that Mrs Fox actually had three different Christian names throughout the series?
Pam: No!! This is asked a lot, because some of the questions for quizzes and things have been ‘What is Mrs Fox’s first name?’ I always thought it was Moira.
Dave: Oh, OK, I don’t even think that one popped up in the series.
Pam: Well what have you got?
Dave There’s Marcia, Mildred and Muriel.
Pam: Marcia! That’s right, Marcia Fox Not Moira, Marcia. And there’s also Mildred, no, and what was the other one?
Pam: No, it was Marcia.
Dave: Yeah, that’s the official one then.
Pam: That’s the official one.
Dave: Have you got any interesting memories from the location shootings?
Pam: Well, just great fun, a lot of laughs. It was a pleasure. I didn’t go to Thetford an awful lot, but when we did it was lovely. You know, all the gang and everything, even Arthur – because I got on very well with Arthur. When we were doing the show at the Shaftesbury, he and his wife and Frank, the vicar, and me used to go out for dinner afterwards. I was very close to Arthur, we got on very well. I think he liked working with me because my timing was good and so was his, perfect, you know? And so all I can say is that it was such a laugh really, and perhaps the only person who perhaps was a bit gritty was Arnold. He was old, bless his heart. I mean when we used to stand and have a ‘two-shot’, he used to be pushing me out of his way all the time, sticking his elbow in my ribs, trying to push me out of the shot (she laughs fondly). Otherwise, no darling, they were all lovely, really. And that’s true, that’s not just flannel. Everybody was great.
Dave: Why were you not in the radio version?
Pam: I’ve no idea! I’ve no idea, and nobody seems to know. Because was it Pearl Hackney?
Dave: No, Mollie Sugden played Mrs Fox. (Pearl Hackney played Mrs Pike on radio, ed.)
Pam: Mollie Sugden, that’s right. And you see Janet wasn’t in it, Janet Davies, Mrs Pike, wasn’t in the radio version.
Dave: No, that’s right.
Pam: I’ve no idea at all.
Dave: You would obviously have liked to have been in it?
Pam: Oooh, loved to have been. We just weren’t asked. And I mean Janet Davies, bless her heart, Mrs Pike, she was very upset. I mean, she’d been in it far longer than me, and it really upset her that she hadn’t been offered. I’ve no idea – wev’e never found out. Extraordinary that, isn’t it?
Dave: It is, it is. But do you like moillie Sugden’s version of Mrs Fox, her interpretation? Because she’s not quite the same as how you played her.
Pam: No, I think she was a bit too broad, not flirtatious enough. Not feminine enough.
Dave: Yeah, that’s probably a good description. It is interesting that they even chose her, because she was so well known then as Mrs Slocombe.
Pam: Yes!! Yes, it’s extraordinary! And I’ve never found out dear.
Dave: Now, the stage show. Did you enjoy that?
Pam: Oh yes, we had great fun in that. And of course Joan and I did an Elsie and Doris Waters number, you knoe – Joan, Arthur’s wife – she was very good. And Elsie and Doris came to see us of course. So I’be got a photograph somewhere, I don’t know where it is at the moment, of the four of us together. They were thrilled, they were really thrilled with it.
Dave: Oh brilliant, excellent.
Pam: It was great. And of course we did the Royal Command, as you know, in that show. And that was lovely. It didn’t run as long as everybody thought it was going to. That was the only only snag. I don’t know why it didn’t at all, because it was very good. I think it was perhaps not enough of storyline of Dad’s Army, it was more sort of people doing turns, because Clive did his maurice Chevalier, and we did Elsie and Doris, and there was a musical of all three of us with Janet and all the company… I don’t know why it didn’t, because we were all wanting it to be a success. But it wasn’t really. It didn’t run as long as it should have done.
Dave: Half way through the tour a few of you left, including Clive and Janet and yourself, was that in your case because of contrcatual reasons? Did you have something else to go to?
Pam: I didn’t go on the tour because I’d done with it, and I’d been offered Liza of Lambeth, which was funnily enough going into the Shaftesbury, again. So I wanted to do that. I thought I’ve done that, you know, got the t-shirt, and I didn’t want to go on tour. And Tony Cundell, my brother, was company manager actually for that. So Peggy Ashby went out on tour as Mrs Fox. And Clive and Janet, when they came out, it was for contractual reasons, but I didn’t go on tour at all.
Dave: Right. Now, I hope this doesn’t sound rude, but are you old enough to remember the real Home Guard?
Pam: Yes, yes I was only young then, but I can remember it all. Having a really lovely time, I didn’t realise in a way, because when you’re very young you don’t, do you? But we were all so patriotic, everybody was so patriotic. My father was in the Navy, so he wasn’t in the Home Guard, he went into the Navy. But in Croydon we knew about the Home Guard and all that, but didn’t take any notice, because I was too young to bother with all that.
Dave: Outside of Dad’s Army, did you do anything on TV or other work with other members of the Dad’s Army cast members?
Pam: I think I worked with John Le Mes in something, because I knew Hattie, his first wife. And Bill knew them, you see, so we used to go out together. And I have a feeling I did something with john, some sort of, again, comedy thing, with sketches.
Dave: I’ve heard that you were also in Grandad with Clive Dunn, is that correct?
Pam: Yes, I was in Grandad.
Dave: Oh right, was that a regular role?
Pam: Yes, what did I play now? His sister was it? I forget now what it was, but yes, I did about four out of the six, or whatever it was they did. Yes, oh yes, we all sort of integrated with each other. And I think Arthur would have liked me to have gone on tour with one of his plays. But Joan wanted to do the roles, so (going into a very good impersonation of Arthur) “Oh, well you know Pam, got to take Joanie, got to take Joanie.” Bless him, he was lovely. He was lovely.
Dave: What was John Laurie like to work with?
Pam: Oh, he was OK. He was fine. He was a bit crotchety. I mean, Arnold and he, they were a bit, sort of, vying against each other, because they’d both been kind of stars in their time, you know what I mean? And they would get a bit crotchety with each other. But otherwise he was great. I mean he was OK with me.
Dave: I guess being on the set must have been a bit like watching an episode, just seeing them work together, because their personalities were so much the same as in the show, weren’t they?
Pam; Well, they were. And I expect Bill pertwee has told you the story about Arthur, who never took his script home. He used to leave it in the rehearsal room, and never knew his lines. And David got a bit crotchety one day, apparently, this is what Bill Pertwee tells me, I’m relaying it to you. He said “Arthur, don’t you think it would be a good idea to take your script home and learn your words?” And Arthur said “Oooh no no no, I’m not having that rubbish in my house!” (she laughs) Well look, Bill Pertwee told me this, I don’t know whether it was true, but I suspect probably it was, but I didn’t hear it. “Oh no, I’m not having that rubbish in my house!” Oh he was lovely.
Dave: Did you get to know Jimmy Beck very well?
Pam: No I didn’t. I didn’t do too many with Jimmy. But he was nice, he was lovely, bless his heart. But we still see Kay, his widow, when we do anything to do with Dad’s Army. She’s always invited. And she’s never married again, and she’s sweet.
Dave: Yes, I have spoken with her a few times.
Pam: Yes, she’s a very nice woman. And so is Joan le Mes, she’s nice too, good fun. And what’s very nice about Bill, I think it is who does most of the arranging for things these days, Bill Pert, or the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society over here, they always include the widows.
Dave: Right. That’s really good.
Pam: It’s very nice.
Dave: Are you doing pantomime this year?
Pam: No I’m not, this year I’m not going to do it. I’ve been doing it at Watford for the last three years, but my daughter who runs a stage school, she’s got six of her children in there, so I feel I’m still there! There’s a new administrator and he wanted to put his own mark on, and so none of the cast who’ve done it for Roy for the last three years, none of us are in it. And it’s a very good pantomime as well, I’ve been to see it and it’s lovely. Excellent.
Dave: Do you think you’ll ever follow in the footsteps of other cast members and write your autobiography?
Pam: No, darling, no. I mean there’s so many – Liz Fraser’s done one, Barbara Windsor’s done one, Wendy Richard’s done one – I mean they’re all at it. I mean, no, no, it’s not me. I’ll talk and do interviews, but no, I think there are too many of them.
Dave: Well it has been very nice to talk to you, thanks very much.
Pam: Darling, it’s been lovely. Thank you so much for calling. And havea happy Christmas my dear.
Dave: Yeah, you too.
Pam: And a prosperous New Year.
Dave: And there will be a calendar in the post to you as well.
Pam: Ohhh, is it similar to last year’s one?
Dave: Fairly similar, it just has classic moments from the series in it.
Pam: Because last year’s was lovely! Oh I shall look forward to that darling, thanks very much.
Dave: No problem at all.
Pam: All right my love.
Dave: Thank you very much for speaking to us.
Pam: God bless, bye bye.