I have a great soft-spot for the episode A Soldier’s Farewell which came near the middle of the fifth series of Dad’s Army and was first broadcast on 20th October 1972. The fifth series was a little less consistently good than the third and fourth series and Perry and Croft began mining less obvious themes to build their storylines around.
This one is very simple – the platoon go to the cinema to see a film about the defeat of Napoleon. On the way back Mainwaring intercedes on behalf of the bus conductress who is suffering from Hodges’ attentions. Back at the church hall Walker delivers Mainwaring some cheese which he plans to take home for a romantic supper with Elizabeth – however she goes to bed early and Mainwaring, Wilson and Jones pool their black-market resources for a shared supper. Well fed and watered, Mainwaring goes home to bed but the cheese makes sleep difficult.
Eventually dropping off he dreams of himself as Napoleon at Waterloo, humiliatingly surrendering to Wilson (as Wellington), Hodges and Frazer. On his way to exile in Elba he enjoys a few last moments with Josephine (played by the same actress as the clippy) and they plan a farewell toasted cheese supper together, echoing Mainwaring’s own plans earlier that evening.
The story is really nothing but a vehicle for a set of beautifully constructed scenes full of Dad’s Army humour at its best – the opening group shot of the platoon watching the film; the mad scramble to leave during the Natonal Anthem; Mainwaring and the Vicar vying to get control of the office chair; the Waterloo scene shot with the cast in period costumes (and some rather less authentic cannon balls!). And of course our first and only sighting of Elizabeth Mainwaring, or at least the outline of her large posterior hanging from the top bunk in the shelter.
This episode demonstrates how rounded and well realised were the characters of Dad’s Army – it only required a simple scenario like this and the characters did the rest, creating great comedy along the way. But also, like the earlier episode Mum’s Army, we see a glimpse into the sad place that is Captain Mainwaring’s loveless marriage which is genuinely touching (and one of the reason’s Arthur Lowe’s Mainwaring was so much more than simply a pompous buffoon).
If I have one reservation about A Soldier’s Farewell it is that the dream sequence was a little far-fetched and perhaps a sign that the writers were beginning to run out of ideas. Coming after the magnificent episodes that make up series three and four (when dad’s Army was certainly at its peak) a number of episodes from series five fall a little flat and this would accelerate from series six onwards. A Soldier’s Farewell is one of the best episodes of the fifth series and for me a firm favourite but by this stage the comedy gold was beginning to tarnish just a little.