It may seem an odd combination, comedy and war, but there have been a lot of films and TV series that have mined (no pun intended) this sub-genre. Many of the best never forget that despite the laughs, all war is tragic. One thing is for certain; both comedy and conflict will be with us this century, and perhaps bedfellows again on the TV. The main sources of TV war comedies are the UK and the US, and I think that Europeans don’t “get” war comedy- maybe because for the last few hundred years, armies have laid waste to mainland Europe and that may sort of blunt your sense of humour I guess…
10. It Isn’t Half Hot Mum!
It Isn’t Half Hot Mum was a British sitcom about the adventures of a Royal Artillery Concert Party, broadcast on the BBC between 1974 and 1981, and written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, writers of the infinitely superior Dad’s Army (see below). It was set in British India and Burma, during the last months of the Second World War, starting just after V-E Day in 1945. It didn’t have the charm of Dad’s Army and there were questionable acting/accents from those who played the Indian cha-wallas. It did make a star out of the barrel-chested Sergeant Major (Windsor Davies) and the limp-wristed Bombardier (Mervyn Hayes). They even pulled off a hit single from it: Whispering Grass- with Windsor Davies gurneying like mad in the background http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10dmK7O-KSY
9. Get Some In!
Get Some In! was a British television series about life in Royal Air Force National Service broadcast between 1975 and 1978 by Thames Television. Scripts were by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, the team behind the BBC TV sitcom The Good Life. However it was pretty lame, and it was surprising that it lasted for 34 episodes. It was one of the first main TV roles for Robert Lindsay as a Teddy Boy who’s called up to do his “National Service”. He later went on to be quasi-revolutionary Wolfie Smith in “Citizen Smith” with the catchphrase “Freedom for Tooting!” before becoming a respected Shakespearean actor and a stalwart of TV sitcoms. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nkmj7jAgzOg
8. Hogan’s Heroes
Our first programme from across the pond, Hogan’s Heroes (made and screened 1965 -1971) was a comedy based upon a German POW camp during World War II starring Bob Crane as Colonel Hogan. Some of the memorable German characters in this show were Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz who, somewhat ironically, were in reality Jewish and fled Germany during the war. Personally, I liked the theme tune the best! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbFdAXIvMVQ
F Troop is a satirical American television sitcom that originally aired for two seasons on ABC-TV. It debuted in the United States on September 14, 1965 and concluded its run on April 6, 1967 with a total of 65 episodes. The first season of 34 episodes was filmed in black-and-white, with the memorable song here:
Needless to say the Indian Wars were totally sanitised and no-one on either side was killed during all 64 episodes, although the script writers for some of the weaker episodes should have been strung up for sure!
6. The Army Game
The oldest of the army comedy sitcoms, this show followed a number of Warwickshire based National Service conscripts determined to dodge duty and create some amusement out of a situation they’d rather not be in. Characters included Privates ‘Popeye’ Popplewell, ‘Bootsie’ Bisley, ‘Professor’ Hatchett and Cupcake’ Cook. In all there were over 20 different main characters. It was a show for its time, when WW2 was still fresh in people’s minds and rationing still around in Britain. If you watch it today it seems strangely irrelevant and not very funny. My Dad liked it though! Featured a number of actors who later graduated to the Carry On films, including Bernard Breslaw who had the catchphrase in the Carry On films- “I only arsed…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kql6Q7oH6Pw
It also featured William Hartnell, centre bottom of the picture who went on to play the very first Doctor Who.
5. McHale’s Navy
1962 – 1966: This popular World War II sitcom starred Lieutenant Commander McHale (Ernest Borgnine) and Ensign Park (Tim Conway) who were members of a PT boat crew. That’s a sort of speedboat with torpedoes!
Ernest Borgnine was a very successful actor in the States, but I remember him best for his portrayal of “Dutch” in Pekinpah’s bloody western, the Wild Bunch.
4. Allo Allo
The title being taken from the cod “Franglais” of the French village cafe owner when he answered the phone. This was a British sitcom which aired on BBC1 from 1982 until 1992. It revolved round the World War II experiences of French café owner René Artois (played by Gorden Kaye), who continuously faces trouble staying on the right side of both the French Resistance and the Germans occupying France. The comedy featured many elements of farce and naturally avoided anything like reality. It was written by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, who were also responsible for the international hit, Are You Being Served? It served up many strong characters all of whom had their catchphrases and mannerisms, such as Gestapo Chief Herr Flick, and the awkward Policeman Officer Crabtree with a gaff-a-line on speaking- “Good Moaning” being the most well-known. The premise that poor French by an Englishman performed entirely in English in a Frenchscenario is distinctly odd, but as you can hear from the laughs, he steals the scenes he is in.
3. Bilko (The Phil Silvers Show)
Sgt Bilko, is the wisecracking money-making head of a military transport pool in the post-war years. It was largely recorded live and it shows, but not in a bad way at all. Silvers is superb as the wily fixit-for-a-price semi-gangster, and it is by far and away the best of the stateside army comedy capers.
2. Dad’s Army
What can you say about this classic show? The acting is superb, the scripts are superb, and the sets are… well, pretty rubbish actually. There were virtually only two sets, the Church Hall for parades, and the adjoining office of the bumptious Captain Mainwaring. But it has stood the test of time and is even today being repeated at peak times on a Saturday evening. Best performance is the laconic Sgt Wilson- who when asked to give an order to dismiss the men, usually says something along the lines of “would you mind awfully going about your business please”. Priceless.
1. Black Adder Goes Forth
The best of the bunch is of course the fourth and final instalment of the BBC’s Blackadder series which combines superb comedy genius from all involved with the clear message of the futility and stupidity of war. The final scene where they finally have to go over the top to their doom is reckoned to be one of the most poignant endings to a comedy series. Here it is: