It's OK to Laugh at the English
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
If you already love silly walks, you need to add this show to your must-watch list.
By David Gerrie
In any list of “Funniest-Ever Scene in a British TV Sitcom,” one clip always vies for a spot on the podium. What has become known to critics and fans alike as “The List” from Dad’s Army subtly pricks at a particular type of middle-class British pomposity, a trait that became a mainstay of mirth-making throughout its 1968-77 run on BBC-TV, attracting 18 million viewers at its height. Now, Universal Pictures is producing a feature film reboot, set in 1944 after the action from the television series concluded. The producers have assembled an almost impossibly starry cast of the U.K.’s finest acting talent, including Sir Tom Courtenay, Sir Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy and Felicity Montagu, just to name a few eager to take part.
“The List” scene comes from a Dad’s Army episode titled “The Deadly Attachment,” which aired in 1973. Dad’s Army was, by this time, in full swing as an all-the-family-could-watch ratings fixture, centered around the fumbling antics of a mismatched troop of largely over-the-hill WWII reserve soldiers, all recruited from their daytime High Street jobs. Set in the fictional town of Walmington-on-Sea, bang opposite the French coast, the Home Guard was tasked with being prepared for an imminent German invasion.
Pvt. Pike quickly, innocently and unwisely sees the chance to rattle off a popular song …
As a cross section of British social foibles, it was impeccable. In the lower ranks of the platoon were a Boer War veteran, an incontinent old duffer, a spiv, a doom-mongering undertaker and a naïf. But it was the upending of the usual comedy trope at the top of the command that created the show’s funniest comic friction. Here we had the lower-upper-class, beautifully spoken, slightly fey Sgt. Wilson subjugated to the overbearing ineptitude of middle-class Capt. Mainwaring, not only in the army but also in the bank that was home in their civilian life.
In “The List,” this motley crew have somehow managed to capture the crew of a German U-boat. Mainwaring instantly draws attention to himself by declaring the Führer to be “a lunatic who looks like Charlie Chaplin,” leading the German captain, suitably bedecked in a thickly ribbed, polo-neck sweater, to waste no time in informing his captors he is compiling a list of names for future retribution.
See photos from the set of the “Dad’s Army” movie.
Our naïf, Pvt. Pike (played by Ian Lavender, who also appears in the new film), quickly, innocently and unwisely sees the chance to rattle off a popular song with amended lyrics stating that Hitler’s off his rocker. The sub’s commander fixes on the young reservist, demanding to know his name. In a heartbeat, Mainwaring blurts out: “Don’t tell him, Pike!” In just a few seconds and words, the jumped-up Mainwaring’s overbearing and ludicrous pomposity and stupidity are perfectly encapsulated as classic British humor in a way no fall or silly walk could ever hope to do.
Find more episodes of Dad’s Army and information on how to purchase the entire series at BBC Two.
- David Gerrie, OZY Author Contact David Gerrie