||For British viewers, sitcom Dad's Army needs no introduction, it has just always been on, or it seems like it. Starting in 1968 and running eighty episodes long until 1977, the series established itself as a firm favourite with Brits of all ages and was successfully exported to many countries into the bargain. Even now it is still repeated on the BBC and UK GOLD because it is guaranteed an appreciative audience, not something you could say about many of its peers, as writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft fashioned an ensemble of characters so well-drawn, and so well-acted by the cast, that they have passed into television legend.
Compare Dad's Army to other sitcoms of the late sixties and seventies and you find it rising above - uh-oh - problematic and outdated attitudes that see the channels that exist to repeat such shows in the twenty-first century either editing them for potentially offensive content, or simply not broadcasting them at all. Take Croft and Perry's other big hit of the seventies, wartime sitcom It Ain't Half Hot, Mum, and no matter that Perry believed it was their finest collaboration, the way the dialogue is littered with racial and sexual slurs has seen it consigned to the bin - or the DVD collections of those who can take the offense.
With Dad's Army, it was such a safe bet for entertainment that the whole family could watch and never be troubled, so you can well understand why it the nation holds it in such affection. Not least thanks to the interplay of the actors, each so finely crafted that it is impossible to imagine anyone successfully stepping into the shoes of Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and the rest - little wonder when it was remade as a film in 2016, with Toby Jones leading the cast as Captain Mainwaring, the nation steadfastly refused to take it to their hearts. It appeared the exact magic of the source had caught lightning in a bottle.
Therefore, when it was announced there would be a further remake, for the UK GOLD channel, there were more grumbles, but there was a very valid reason, as the series title Dad's Army: The Lost Episodes pointed out. Back in the sixties and into the seventies, even beyond, magnetic tape to record programmes on was expensive stuff, so the BBC and ITV had a very good reason to save money and reuse the tapes that had previous shows on. From a modern perspective, this is enormously frustrating as many gems (as far as we can tell) were lost: just ask a vintage Doctor Who fan. Yes, a lot of dross went too, but it would be nice to work that out ourselves.
Every Dad's Army episode was in the archives, some of them recovered after the fact, apart from three from series 2, and with no sign of them ever turning up, it was decided to remake them to Croft and Perry's old scripts, with recreated sets and the same stage and camera directions. Obviously, this arrangement was not going to please everyone, and some people are determined never to be impressed, but on the whole this endeavour was received in the spirit intended, not as replacements (there was no question of filming more) but as complements to the classic series, with far better casting than the then-recent movie had enjoyed.
Kevin McNally was our Captain Mainwaring, no stranger to recreations of lost entertainment for he had been cast as Tony Hancock in radio revivals of lost Hancock's Half Hour scripts; he insisted, as the whole cast did on these remakes, that he was not pursuing a straight impersonation, but he did manage to evoke a lot of Lowe's mannerisms in a way that was very pleasing. Robert Bathurst was Le Mesurier's Wilson, taking the gestures and timbre of the original and evoking his chemistry with Lowe. Perhaps it was down to these characters being so carefully rendered decades before, but the whole new ensemble never set a foot wrong.
The three instalments detailed the spiv Walker (James Beck first, but Mathew Horne here) trying to avoid getting called up and Mainwaring trying to assist, mostly because of Walker's black market connections, then Fraser (John Laurie before, David Hayman now - a standout) gets promoted and allows that to go to his head, and finally a more energetic tale as an air raid sees the platoon of Walmington-On-Sea's Home Guard battle against a possible spy and an unexploded bomb in their church hall base of operations. While you were always aware you were watching a careful facsimile, it was presented with a genuine love of the material and how it had been rendered all those years ago, and most importantly offered a very decent idea of what the stories would have looked like, with Kevin Eldon a near-perfect impression of Clive Dunn's Corporal Jones, Timothy West an endearing Godfrey (Arnold Ridley as was) and Tom Rosenthal a fresh-faced Pike (Ian Lavender's role). No, it was not a replacement for seeing the real thing, but it was a damn good try.
[Network have released these episodes as Dad's Army: The Lost Episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with extensive cast interviews as special features. Click here to buy from the Network website.]