Seven Life Lessons From Dad's Army
Dad’s Army needs no introduction. The misadventures and charming incompetence of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard not only formed a perfect little microcosm of the way everyday life in Britain was fractured during the Second World War, it also told us something about ourselves. On TV and radio through the 1960s and 70s - and still to be enjoyed on BBC Two and Radio 4 Extra - it reflected British eccentricity, obsession with social status and dogged determination through the gentle and genial fun it poked at the sometimes foolish, but always brave, characters.
So, what lessons we can all learn from the characters and antics of this nation’s would-be last line of defence?
1. Stay young at heart
In between suffering dodgy bladders, twinging backs and geriatric love affairs, the majority of the platoon can’t avoid the ravages of old age. Yet in ‘The Godiva Affair’ the platoon decides to raise money for a Spitfire by Morris dancing and leaping around waving a whiffling stick. “This is a dance done by the young, fertile men of the village,” explains Private Frazer. “Well there’s not much point us doing it then, is there?” Jones points out.
2. It's not where you come from that matters
One of the delights of Dad’s Army is the way it pokes fun at British attitudes to the 'class system'. A reversal of regular status places Captain Mainwaring, with his working class roots, above the upper-middle class Sergeant Wilson. But despite this Mainwaring is frequently left bristling as Wilson recalls his nanny and private school education. For example, in the episode ‘A. Wilson (Manager)?’ he almost bursts out of his waistcoat with fury when Wilson is offered a promotion: “Just because you went to a tuppeny ha’penny public school, Wilson!”
3. Never underestimate the strength of women
If the female characters in Dad’s Army formed their own platoon they may well knock the old chaps for six. The terrifying Mrs Pike, lover of Sgt Wilson and doting mother to Private Pike, has no truck with Mainwaring’s pomposity and can’t see why Hitler shouldn’t wait until her little boy has clean socks on before invading. The widowed Mrs Fox has ways of extracting pork chops from Jones the butcher (“It’s a purely Teutonic arrangement” he says) and her wig alone would have made the Nazis think twice. And then we have Elizabeth Mainwaring herself, who “disapproves of fun” and spends her entire time off-screen sulking in the Anderson shelter or slamming the phone down on Mainwaring as he tries to appease her.
4. Ignorance might just be bliss…
Private Frank Pike, frequently dismissed by Mainwaring as a “stupid boy”, is naïve, mollycoddled and obsessed with the cinema. He’s the classic perennial schoolboy, like Bluebottle in The Goons and Arthur in Cabin Pressure. “Mum! Can I have a glass of water? Kitchen water, not bathroom water.” He’s permanently bewildered by the fact that Sergeant Wilson seems to have ‘popped in’ to see his mother in the middle of the night. Bless.
5. Honesty might not always be the best policy
It was all about 'being like dad and keeping mum' during World War Two, with careless talk costing lives. In ‘The Deadly Attachment’ the hapless Walmington-on-Sea platoon is left in charge of a group of German prisoners of war. Determined to maintain authority and conscious of giving away sensitive information to the enemy, Mainwaring gives us the most famous Dad’s Army quote ever; “Your name vill also go on ze list! Vot is it?” says a German prisoner. To which Mainwaring blurts out “Don't tell him, Pike!”
6. Always remember your manners
Although the members of the platoon are frequently feuding with each other, they band together in their loathing of the bullying and ignorant ARP warden, Hodges. He refers to Mainwaring as "Napoleon", manages to annoy the placid Wilson, and even the usually genteel Private Godfrey is moved to tell him he is a "rude, common and nasty fellow." So, if you ever find yourself as an Air Raid Warden on duty, how about a "please" with your order to "put that light out!"
7. Even with the odds stacked against you, never give up
Despite their obvious shortcomings, the whole band are absolutely ready to protect their little bit of England come what may. Captain Mainwaring seems never happier than when swaggering around lecturing his platoon on "being under the heel of the Nazi jackboot". Even the opening titles of the programme, with three swastika-headed arrows advancing across Europe only to be stopped in their tracks by a solitary Union flag, epitomized the idea that this rag-tag band of underdogs might just play David to the Nazi Goliath.