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24 September 2014

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It Ain't Half Hot Mum

It Ain't Half Hot Mum

"My saviour," says Windsor Davies today, in reference to the sitcom which made him a star. "It saved me from being a great actor!"

The series about the exploits of a Royal Artillery Concert Party during the Second World War was created by David Croft and Jimmy Perry and seemed a natural follow-up to their smash hit Dad's Army.

Another ensemble piece, it drew on both writers' wartime experience in India and set the action in Deolali: a British army camp 100 miles north-east of Bombay where everyone's gone "a bit doolally".

It Ain't Half Hot Mum

The Concert Party is a rag-tag collection of soldiers who'd rather sing, dance and drag up to entertain the troops than be sent forward to the front line.

Initially the series centres on Bombardier 'Solly' Solomons (George Layton), who produces the party's shows and Bearer Rangi Ram (a controversially blacked up Michael Bates): an Indian native who speaks a wobble-headed pigeon English and proudly considers himself British.

Other characters include effeminate drag artist Gunner 'Gloria' Beaumont (Melvyn Hayes); the diminutive Gunner 'Lofty' Willie Sugden (Don Estelle) who possesses a hauntingly beautiful singing voice and ineffectual Colonel Reynolds (Donald Hewlett).

It Ain't Half Hot Mum

However, the show's stand out personality is the bombastic, eye-rolling Battery Sergeant Major Williams (Davies), a role originally offered to Leonard Rossiter, who turned it down feeling the script too caricatured.

Regularly bellowing at his men to "shut up!", Davies' bravura performance ultimately squeezed Layton out of the show, who left following the second series, unhappy his allotment of funny lines were now going elsewhere.

In the fifth series, the gang moved to Burma, following the sad death of Bates from cancer. There, the show continued until 1981, when its creators decided to call it a day and devote their time to their next creation, Hi-de-Hi!.

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