So here is a challenge – to choose the ten most important Dads Army episodes from the eighty contenders – that is less than one episode from each series. We’re not talking about the best episodes, or the funniest, but those episodes of Dad’s Army that stand out as the ones that helped turn the series into something great. So we’ve been right through the archive, and racked our brains and these are the ten episodes that we think any Dads Army fan should take to a desert island. Let us know below, in the comments, whether you agree.
- The Man and the Hour – series 1, episode 1. Dad’s Army is born: where it all began and the episode that introduces us to Mainwaring, Wilson, Jones, Frazer, Godfrey, Walker and Pike; not to mention Warden Hodges and Mrs Pike. Not only is it the founding episode, but it is also the episode in series 1 that offers the best glimpse into the success that Dad’s Army would become. And to cap it all it closes with a genuinely magnificent closing speech in which Mainwaring rallies his newly acquired troops.
- Sergeant Wilson’s Little Secret – series 2, episode 4. Dads Army grows up: by the second series Dad’s Army was getting into its stride, with better scripts and more developed characters. Later Perry and Croft would mine the off-duty lives of the platoon in increasing depth and it started with this episode in which Wilson comes to believe that Mrs Pike is pregnant with his child. We shouldn’t forget, either, that this was made in 1969 when references to children born outside marriage were rare on television, let alone in light entertainment.
- The Armoured Might of Lance Corporal Jones – series 3, episode 1. Dad’s Army gets religion: not really, but this episode introduces two characters that became important Dad’s Army fixtures: Jones’ butchers van (converted to become troop transport) and the Reverend Timothy Farthing, Walmington-on-Sea’s tetchy and ambiguously camp vicar. From this episode the unholy trinity of Hodges, the vicar and verger – that would become the main thorn in Manwaring’s side – was complete.
- Something Nasty in the Vault – series 3, episode 5. Dads Army gets serious: Every once in a while Perry and Croft put together a Dad’s Army episode that took the series into new territory. The episode starts normally enough, rather in the spirit of series 1 and 2, with the arrival of a bank inspector to disrupt Mainwaring’s day. It ends in typical fashion with some comic buffoonery on the part of Jones. And in the middle are a few minutes of glorious Samuel Beckett style duologue between Mainwaring and Wilson – the episode which shows us, if more proof were needed, that Arthur Lowe and John le Mesurier were great actors and Jimmy Perry and David Croft were serious writers.
- Room at the Bottom – series 3, episode 6, Dad’s Army gets colourful: notable as a technical marvel this one: along with so many Dad’s Army episodes, the colour master-tape of Room at the Bottom was wiped in the early seventies and the episode existed only as a black and white 16mm film. However, in 2008, a revolutionary Colour Recovery technology enabled the BBC to extract microscopic dots of colour from the film and use it to restore the entire episode to colour. On 9th December 2008 the BBC broadcast this episode in full colour for the first time in forty years.
- Mum’s Army – series 4, episode 9. Dads Army falls in love: if Sergeant Wilson’s Little Secret gives us a glimpse into the private lives of the Dad’s Army characters then this episode is the full opera. A glorious story in which, as a consequence of starting a women’s section of the platoon Mainwaring falls deeply in love with Fiona Grey. The touching final, Brief Encounter style, scene takes Dad’s Army beyond the confines of sitcom and presents us with real drama.
- The Test – series 4, episode 10, Dad’s Army gets distracted: from the heights of drama to this, which is not a bad episode but doesn’t seem to have much to do with Dad’s Army. It was the first sign that writers Perry and Croft were starting to run out of ideas and while there were many more fine episodes to come the true comedy gold would become rarer from this point onwards.
- The Deadly Attachment – series 6, episode 1. Dads Army goes trouserless: The episode that cemented Dad’s Army’s classic status in four words: “Don’t tell him, Pike.” Actually the rest of the episode is a bit weak with a flimsy set-up, a padded script and an implausible end. Reputedly the bomb should have been placed in Mainwaring’s trousers but Arthur Lowe objected. But it is the episode that will always be loved for those four immortal words.
- Things that go Bump in the Night – series 6, episode 6. Dad’s Army loses a friend: A poignant episode for all the wrong reasons. It was during filming of this episode that James Beck (who played Private Walker) was taken suddenly ill and died shortly afterwards. Confusingly because the location work was shot before the studio scenes, Walker appears when the platoon are outdoors but is absent when they are inside. Without Walker Dad’s Army would never be the same again.
- Never Too Old – series 9, episode 6. Dads Army stands down: which takes us swiftly to the end, skipping many episodes, good and bad. By this stage the cast, not young when the series began nine years previously, was now visibly ageing and several members were beginning to struggle. Although at the time it was filmed no firm decision had been taken to end the programme, it was clear that all involved knew the end had probably come. The final scene, in which the platoon collectively makes a toast ‘to Britain’s Home Guard’ is a sad moment but one that celebrates the 80 episodes of comic brilliance that had gone before. A fitting end.
So there we have it – one out of every eight episodes chosen not because they are the best but because they charts the twists and turns in the development of Dad’s Army that took it from an unpromising start to become one of the best and most loved sitcoms in the BBC’s history.