‘This is going to be a complete disaster’ … the Home Guard regulars in a 1968 episode. Photograph: BBC/Sportsphoto/Allstar
To explore the history of Dad’s Army, you have to enter a near-military environment.
Speed bumps, vehicle checks and CCTV impede the route to the building in Caversham, Berkshire, where the paperwork about the show’s creation is stored.
These levels of security are because the BBC Written Archives are housed on the grounds of BBC Monitoring, whose duties include listening to global media on behalf of MI6.
But if the records of any TV show were to deserve such protective apparatus, it would be Dad’s Army, the BBC’s single most durably valuable programme. 31 July marks 50 years since the first episode was shown, while the last original show was screened in 1977 – but repeats still top the BBC Two ratings.
The origins of this TV phenomenon are recorded in pink folders containing yellowed press cuttings, letters from viewers and internal memos typed on paper so flimsy the letter O sometimes goes right though like a bullet hole.
The first documents trace the payment of £200 each to producer-director David Croft and co-writer Jimmy Perry for a script originally called The Fighting Tigers, based on the latter’s second world war experience in the Local Defence Volunteers, later called the Home Guard.
Arthur Lowe, was paid £170 and two shillings per episode to play the role, as the pompous Captain Mainwaring.