Tonight at 19:40 BBC2 will show the episode A. Wilson (Manager?). This episode was originally screened on 4th December 1970 as part of the fourth series of Dad’s Army.
As Dad’s Army progressed through its third series and into the fourth it is fairly apparent that Jimmy Perry and David Croft had run through the range of storylines that had inspired the series in the first place and that formed the basis for the episodes of the first two series. Quite simply there was a limit to how many more struggles to get the platoon equipped and trained, how many more brushes with the higher powers they could come up with while keeping it fresh. At this stage many sitcoms start to fail, introducing ever more far-fetched situations and outlandish characters to keep them going (Last of the Summer Wine suffered in this way from about 1980 onwards).
However, Perry and Croft had two things, apart from their talent, in their favour: they had created a large and diverse cast of characters and then brought it to life with actors of real depth, experience and talent. Instead of looking outside of the platoon for cheap laughs they went deeper into the characters they had created.
Nowhere is this exploration of character deeper or more touching than this episode. Here we see the civilian lives of Mainwaring and Wilson laid bare – ambition, disappointment, frustration, blame and revenge all in one 30 minute episode.
Mainwaring is having a trying morning: in a matter of minutes he is telephoned by Mr West of Head Office to tell him that Wilson has been promoted to manager of a neighbouring branch. Moments later the Colonel calls to say that Wilson has won a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in Cpt. Square’s Eastgate platoon. He is even more vexed to discover that Pike had known about it for a while. Furious he calls in Jones, promotes him to Sergeant on the spot; he dictates an order announcing the promotion and instructs Pike to circulate it to all platoon members. Unfortunately Pike gets hold on the wrong end of the stick and by that evening’s parade everyone but Pike has been promoted to sergeant. Meanwhile Wilson is being inducted to his branch of the bank in Eastgate, impressing Mr West and charming the staff in the process. With relish he embarks on his first working day as manager, but moments into his staff talk there is an air-raid and they all go to the shelter. When they emerge it is to find the bank has been obliterated by a bomb. In Mainwaring’s words, at 9am he was manager of a bank but by 9-15 he had no bank to manage. Softening from his earlier rage at Wilson Mainwaring welcomes him back to the Walmington branch and platoon, in his former roles as chief clerk and sergeant, with only a hint of victory in his manner.
Describing the plot of the episode like this does not do it justice. A Wilson (Manager?) is filled with rage, jealousy, tragedy and pathos. The responses of Walker and Fraser to their apparent promotions make for two lovely cameos; as does Jones’ genuine promotion. Wilson’s quiet moments of victory over Mainwaring and his tolerant forbearance when it all goes wrong show the quiet resilience of the man. But the episode centres around the yawning chasm of Mainwaring’s frustrated ambition: he is a man in middle age who knows he has reached as far as he will be allowed because class, background and schooling will permit him to rise no further in the highly structured society of the 1940s.
This is not a typical Dad’s Army episode as it ignores the ensemble and concentrates largely on the Captain and Sergeant. Nevertheless, like Branded before it and Mum’s Army still to come this is one of the episodes that gives us the insights into the characters we have come to know and love. One to watch, more than once!