The Day the Balloon Went Up will be shown on BBC 2 at 18:00 tonight.
Okay, I have to declare a bias here – this episode from series 3 of Dad’s Army is one of my favourites so I’m going to give it a longer than usual review.
Synopsis: All is not well with the Walmington-on-Sea platoon with Godfrey parading in slippers, Walker carrying sultanas in his uniform and Jones with his hands in his pockets to keep his trousers-up. To instil some discipline, Mainwaring has Jones drill the platoon while he and Wilson attend to graffiti that has mysteriously appeared on the vicar’s harmonium in the church tower. While there they find themselves face-to-foot with the verger who is dangling from the ropes of a runaway barrage balloon. With the help of Miss Godfrey the platoon bring the balloon to ground, but what to do with it, especially with the warden making trouble? Jones marches them to Pinner Woods to tie the balloon to a tree but on the way it breaks free again, taking Mainwaring aloft. A chase, involving the RAF, ensues and the Captain is eventually brought back to earth safely. At that moment an officer arrives to take charge of the thing; and, drilled by Jones to reflexively salute all officers, they release the balloon once again.
So what is it about this episode that works so well? Well this is another ‘seven get into trouble’ tale, as I like to call them, and they generally make the best episodes. Also, it comes in the middle of the third series when the scripts where pretty much at their best, and the classic line-up was smooth and fresh. In the first two series the episodes were often built around conflict with military authority. In this series the happy trio of warden, vicar and verger are established as the thorns that Mainwaring has to pull constantly from his side. Balloon features all of them: the Vicar at his camp and pompous best, accusing the platoon of desecrating his spare harmonium. The verger, tethered unwillingly to the balloon, and the warden making trouble for Mainwaring. We also have a lovely cameo by Nan Braunton as Cissy Godfrey uttering the immortal line: “And he called out unto me, ‘help, I’m caught in this ruddy thing’.”
Dad’s Army is often cited as the ultimate example of safe family entertainment; but this episode is one of many where Perry and Croft sneaked in a risqué joke that would go over the heads of the kids (we were so innocent then) but be picked-up by the adults. If you don’t know this episode well then all I will say is listen closely to the exchange between Mainwaring and Jennifer Browne (see right) as the WAAF sergeant when he is reporting the balloon. It’s on the mild side of risqué , admittedly. Watch the very last episode, Never Too Old for one occasion when they nudged closer to the edge.
So there we have it: The Day the Balloon Went Up has a fantastic script, a brilliant ensemble cast working together at their best, and a plot brimming over with comic potential. How could it fail?