We Know Our Onions sees the redoubtable Walmington-on-Sea platoon in trouble as they attempt to take part in a Home Guard efficiency test. The day starts badly with Wilson complaining about having to take the platoon’s new Smith Gun, of which Mainwaring is so proud; and they get no better when Godfrey provides a gun cover made from a floral sofa cover. To make matters worse Walker has been using Jones’ van to deliver black market vegetables and the platoon’s troop transport is full of onions due to be delivered to Hodges. When Mainwaring insists they leave immediately to go to the test, the platoon is forced to travel among the onions, pursued by an outraged hodges accompanied by the verger.
The test, overseen by the fearsome Captain Ramsay, presents problems both for the platoon and Ramsay who gets increasingly irritated by Pike snivelling, Jones dithering and Wilson’s nonchalence. The final test, requires the platoon to scale a seemingly impregnable fence to retrieve the ammunition they need to defend themselves, using the Smith Gun, against regular troops. While their attempts at fence scaling are a disaster, Mainwaring’s last minute decision to use the onions as ammunition against the regulars saves the day and the platoon passes the test with top marks.
The episode was first broadcast almost exactly 41 years ago, on the 21st November 1973. A technicians strike had meant that studio filming was impossible so the episode was shot on film, almost entirely on location in Norfolk and this gives it a filmic quality reminiscent of some of the early scenes of the (original) Dad’s Army feature film. The storyline itself harks back to the episodes from series 1 and 2 which focussed on the platoon’s attempts to clothe and arm themselves while dealing awkward military powers – Fulton Mackay’s magnificant Cpt Ramsay harks back to the earlier Major Regan (except Mackay makes much more of the role). This sets We Know Our Onions out from the other epsiodes of series 6 which tend to be based on slightly unlikely scenarios (stranded German submariners, a Russian visitor, a runaway train, Wilson’s ennoblement). As a consequence we feel this stands as one of the most successful episodes of the sixth series and one of the last, of course, to feature James Beck.