It Ain’t Half Hot Mum
is one of those strange comedies, in that during it's time it was hugely popular, but today receives little acclaim. It was a groundbreaker in the 1970’s, in that it differed vastly from the usual sitcoms that revolved around a family living room. It took viewers to an exotic setting and introduced a bunch of characters the likes never before seen on TV. Plus it was the first comedy to introduce Indian and Asian actors in regular and strong roles, rather than the usual bit parts they’d been seen in previously.
The work on many of the sets was extraordinary when considering the usual tight BBC budget, with results producing authentic looking Indian bazaars and railway stations, barren deserts and even steamy jungle, all filmed in Britain. For me, it is one of the few shows I remember vividly as being on the television when I was really young. I have always enjoyed it, but only in recent years have I come to really appreciate it.
Written by the incredibly talented writing partnership of Jimmy Perry and David Croft, the plot revolves around a concert party which performs shows for troops at a base called Deolali in India (and later in the series ‘up the jungle’ in Burma) during World War Two. Perhaps if coming across the show for the first time a viewer may wonder how on earth the creators came up with such an unplausable situation to turn into a comedy. Few fans realise it is actually a true story. The plot is based on actual events which happened to none other than a much younger Jimmy Perry in 1945.
Having already served in the Home Guard as a ‘stupid boy’, which lead to his creation of arguably the greatest and most successful comedy ever, Dad’s Army, Jimmy joined the Royal Artillery in 1943. After a time in the UK, and narrowly missing out on becoming one of thousands who stormed the beaches on D Day (his unit was cut to ribbons), he went on to upset an officer on his base. This lead to retribution from the said officer in the form of a posting to the worst battle front of the war, the Asian sub-continent.
Jimmy spent some time in the Burmese jungle, trying to shoot down Japanese aircraft with obsolete anti-aircraft guns. He soon fell ill, as many in the jungle did, and after a long recuperation he was posted to Deolali, which was a famous Royal Artillery holding unit. On arrival he decided he did not wish to be sent back up the jungle, and given his acting experience in Home Guard shows, he decided to audition for the concert party. He was accepted, and withing weeks, due to the posting elsewhere of the show producer, Sergeant Perry found himself running the show.
Memories of that time were recreated into the show we know as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. The setting of Deolali was true, the attitudes of the characters are totally authentic, and furthermore, every single character except for Lofty Sugden and the Char Wallah are based on real people he’d known and worked with. Some based loosely, others totally on the nail. The officers really were silly arses who thought the world of the concert party. The ‘leading lady’ really was over the top and totally theatrical (ps, Gloria was not gay!), the Sergeant Major really did hate them and called them a ‘bunch of poofs!’. Even the main character of Rangi Ram, played so marvellously by Michael Bates (though white, the only real Indian in the cast!) was based exactly on how their real Bearer had been – he truly thought he was one of ‘we British’ and not ‘some damn native’! And of course Jimmy himself was recreated in the show, all-be-it only in the first two series, in the form of George Layton’s character Bombardier Solomons.
IAHHM is always returning to New Zealand television screens for repeat runs, and has appeared on several networks over the years, always to the delight of its many fans. Sadly the BBC decided it is culturally insensitive and have been reluctant to repeat the series, citeing that the Indians are seen as a lesser class, and are supposedly abused by the British Army. However, these politically correct factions within the BBC have in many opinions made a big mistake here. The attitudes expressed in the show, both that of the British to the Indians and vice versa, are truly demonstating how real attitudes were in 1945 in that country. This is a real part of the British Empire’s history, whether the Brits today like it or not. Both the show’s writers were in India during the war and they went to every length to make it factual. The Indian community in Britain were among the show’s greatest supporters when it screened, so how it can be said today that it is now insulting to them is beyond belief.
The series began screening on the 3rd of January 1974, with the one-off pilot simply called It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (but now referred to on video covers and elsewhere as Meet The Gang). The first series screened throughout January and February 1974, and two episodes in that series were A Star Is Born and It’s A Wise Child, respectively episodes 4 and 6.
A Star Is Born was first broadcast on the 24th of January 1974. This saw Gunner Parkins, the gormless young soldier who the Sergeant Major believes to be his son, perform in his first big show number. He makes a total hash of it and makes the whole cast look like fools. Following this, the other concert party members decide he has to leave. However the Sergeant Major does not want to see ‘his boy’ posted up the jungle. He wants nothing more than to see all the other ‘poofs’ posted up the jungle however, and he therefore persuades the Colonel to go on leave in the hills (where the Colonel meets Mrs Waddilove-Evans, the WVS lady whom he begins and affair with). Whilst the Colonel’s away, The Sgt-Major sets about having the concert party posted, all except Parkins, whom he has now seen to it will be employed in the Battery office as a clerk. However, Solly and Gloria devise a plan to save their skins, and convince Captain Ashwood that if they stayed at Deolali he can have a part in the show, as Noel Coward! The Captain revokes the postings to the Sgt-Major’s fury. This episode was repeated only once on the BBC, on the 31st of July 1974.
It’s A Wise Child first aired on the 7th of February 1974. In this, Solly is in the Sgt-Major’s basha (house) with Rangi when he notices that the Sgt-Major has a photo of Parky’s mum by his bed. Rangi, who once declared “I hear all evil, I see all evil, I speak all evil”, of course knows the whole story. He has to break it to Solly that the Sgt-Major thinks Parkins is his son because he’d known his mother nine months before the boy’s birth in Colchester, and they’d had a fling before he embarked for India. Solly tells the concert party, but Parky is reluctant to believe that the man they all hate is his real Dad. They decide to find out once and for all by checking the medical records for their blood types. Rangi thieves the records and they find the blood types of Parky and BSM Williams are different. However, they’re now aware the Sgt-Major also intends to check the records for proof. If he discovers the difference, and that Parky is not his boy, he’ll probably post him up the jungle. So Solly doctors the records to make them look the same. Rangi is returning the records in the dead of night when the Sgt-Major sneaks into the medical office, dressed as an Indian, all blacked up, to steal the records himself. They both get caught by M.P.s and are jailed. The concert party hear Rangi was arrested and decide to break him out of jail using an elephant, but before they can the two have already escaped by their own means. However, in the end the Sgt-Major is convinced Gunner Parkins is his flesh and blood, and will do anything to protect him from being posted. Meanwhile the concert party see Parky as their own protection from being posted and he’s put back in the show. This episode was repeated only once by the BBC too, on the 14th of August 1974.
Sometime after August 1974, although I have never been able to trace exactly when, the master copies of these episodes disappeared from the archives. I do not know whether they were accidentally lost or misplaced, whether they were deliberately wiped due to the Equity clause, or if they were even stolen. It is unlikely that they were deliberately wiped as they required the signature of David Croft to do this, which he would not have given. Plus why would just two from the series be wiped if that were the case? Does not make sense. And since there was an overseas market they should not have been erased.
Although I’ve only briefed over the episodes here, storywise these two episodes would easily have been the most important of all in the series after the pilot in setting up the little relationships and scenarios between characters. Of all the episodes to lose, the BBC chose the worst possible because they are necessary for enabling viewers to fully understand the rest of the intertwined story through the series. The relationship between Parky and his ‘Dad’ is fully set up, and how Parky becomes the one thing apart from the Colonel protecting the Sgt-Major posting all the others. Also the affair between the Colonel and Mrs Waddilove-Evans, a Major’s wife, is introduced and mentioned in both episodes. This theme developes in later episodes. We also see the lengths that Rangi is willing to go to to help his concert party, and we discover that the Sgt-Major has no respect for the officers, especially Ashwood, as he schemes against them.
It was not until a little over a year ago that I discovered these two episodes had been lost by the BBC. I know that I vaguely remember seeing them several years ago on New Zealand television. Therefore the master tapes must have been lost but prints still exist. In fact, during my research for a book I am writing on the series, I discovered that most of the cast members I’ve spoken with were unaware they had even been lost. At the request of my good friend David Croft, the co-writer, producer and director of this show and many other classic comedies, I began a campaign to find them. I put special notices into several issues of my Dad’s Army Appreciation Society New Zealand Branch magazine “Platoon Attention!”, with no result, and I contacted a number of people and places with again no result. A rumour had circulated that the BBC had unbroadcastable versions in the vaults, but Steve Roberts confirmed later that this was untrue. There was confusion, Jimmy Perry said he’d heard they’d already been found, but David Croft was adamant they hadn’t. He was right. I began to come to a dead end and thought I’d never find them. However, in the course of my search I had posted a message on this website’s excellent forum asking if anyone had leads to where they can be found. Some time later I received an email from Australian David Baker, who said he had them in his private video collection. This was the breakthrough we’d hoped for. He had recorded the two episodes from television in about 1988.
David said they had aired on the Channel 7 network, who sadly are one of those annoying and totally dishonest networks that sees fit to cut scenes out of BBC-made shows so they can fit more advertisements into the timeslot provided. People in the UK find it hard to believe this, but in the 1980’s and 90’s, TV stations in New Zealand and Australia, and no doubt elsewhere, have been butchering everything from comedies to dramas to the ever-sacred Coronation Street for the even more sacred dollar!
David Baker kindly sent the two episodes to me, which I handed onto David Croft. It is not an understatement to say that, despite Channel 7 removing a few scenes from each, and despite the beginning and end being chopped off when David Baker recorded the episodes, David Croft was ecstatic to have them back! So was I. I estimate after reading the scripts, which David Croft kindly supplied me, that the episodes are about 85 – 90% complete. The recording is not a bad one, despite a few glitches in It’s A Wise Child. And to see these episodes is a great priviledge.
When David Croft received the episodes he handed them onto his old ‘right hand man’ Charles Garland, an ex BBC producer who now works in the archives preparing old programmes for broadcast. Charles assesed the footage, and converted it to a more modern system for BBC storage. He cleaned up the episodes as best he could, and being a fan of the series he told me he too was very glad to see them returned to the BBC. But due to the missing scenes, Charles and David decided they were unable to restore the episodes to a broadcastable standard.
At least for the time being we have some record of the two shows, more than we would ever have had if it were not for a vigilant fan, David Baker, and this website. The ironic thing is David had known the two episodes were not held in the archive, and several years before had contacted the BBC offering his copies to them. They did not respond. It’s not what you have, it’s who you know that wants what you have!
I am eternally grateful to David Baker for kindly supplying the episodes, he has saved a piece of television history which will now allow many fans to enjoy these once lost treasures. The new It Ain’t Half Hot Mum Appreciation Society will have a copy in their archive for fans to view, and the BBC has it’s own in case they ever chose to use it. Perhaps some day they’ll be included on a video release?
Meanwhile our hopes are boosted now that somewhere out there in a vault the master tapes must surely still exist. Charles Garland is actively persuing that line. If you have any leads as to where complete copies of these two episodes might be, or even off-air audio recordings of the soundtrack, please contact me on email@example.com or Mike Geraghty of the IAHHM Appreciation Society at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also feel free to visit the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society New Zealand Branch website at www.whispersfromwalmington.com/daas/ and Mike’s It Ain’t Half Hot Mum website at http://www.geocities.com/iahhm/