Thursday, 6 January 2011

Dads Army - the Making of a Classic Televison Series - Bill Pertwee (2009)

I read a lot of this kind of book. Reference books linked to some popular, long running television show or other, full of glossy pictures, large pull quotes, an episode guide and the re-telling of a set of anecdotes already familiar to most fans.

It's an illness of sorts, I think: the irresistible need to buy anything linked to your favourite tv series. Pages full of lists of episode names, complete with actors and directors; chapters crammed full of biographical sketches of the stars, grainy photos taken on location and little info boxes with effusive quotes from members of the cast; whole sections jam packed with tiny print, where even bigger fans than me have figured out the names of every extra, every setting, every date and carefully placed them in a book for me to pore over in semi-autistic wonder.

Interestingly, it's a phenomenon mainly linked to cancelled or simply moribund programmes, not those in current production. Doctor Who, for example, now seems to have a new reference book out every hour and a half, but at least there's scope for new information in each of these, and a potential reason for every new huge, chunky hardback tome.

(It was different back in the day, of course. When I was 12 or 13 I saved every scrap of written information about Doctor Who, from a cutting from the 'Daily Record' of a strangely bearded Colin Baker apparently balancing Bonnie Langford dressed as Peter Pan on his hand, to shiny silver chocolate lolly wrappers modelled on Cyberheads. Peter Haining was my hero as he produced not one but two coffee table Who books, which I read over and over again, until the pages fell out the middle.)

But back to Dad's Army, and Bill 'Warden Hodges' Pertwee's guide to that show.

There's not really a lot to say, if I'm being honest. Which is not to say that it's not worth reading and good value for money. It is. It's just that on the one hand there are other, more detailed books for the anorak wearing fan, and on the other I'm not convinced there's really a market for a Dads Army book aimed at the casual viewer which isn't just a very straight-forward guide to the television show.

What it is, though, is a solid, well packaged book which more than adequately fills its remit of being a guide to the making of Dads Army.

Helping it stand out from some other books in this respect are quite detailed sections on the stage show, a 'What Did They Do Next?' section, and episode guides to both the radio version of the main series and the radio only sequel It Sticks Out Half a Mile which, so far as I'm aware, are not otherwise readily available.

The fact that a star of the show is also the author also helps, obviously, by providing a value added touch than even the likes of Messrs McCann and Webber can't manage. Interviews and reminisces with the author participating can't help but add a certain degree of extra interest which would otherwise be lacking, and Pertwee makes the most of every such opportunity.

Given it only came out last year, there are some very slightly inaccurate moments, however - all of It Sticks out is now known to exist, rather than the single episode claimed in this book, and while not strictly linked to Dads Army I would have liked to see a guide to radio series Parsley Sidings, which starred both Ian Lavender and Arthur Lowe and guest starred Bill Pertwee, Liz Fraser and Graham Stark.

But neither of these is a major issue and it could easily be argued that Parsley Sidings is not really linked to Dads Army, so probably best to consider those just me trying to be balanced (aka being churlish!).

Not perhaps a must-have book, even for a fan of the tv series then, but it does offer enough not available elsewhere (especially at a tenner) to be worth picking up should be interested in the show and come across it on Waterstones' shelves.

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