Dad’s Army, The Lost Episodes, review: a valiant labour of love

Chris Harvey
Kevin R McNally as Captain Mainwaring - Television Stills

News reports last week that a generation of viewers has taken refuge in watching endless reruns of Friends and the US version of The Office (according to data on Netflix’s most-watched shows) have mostly ignored one salient fact: the generation before has been doing that for years in Britain. They just endlessly watch repeats of Dad’s Army.

The show, depicting the misadventures of the Home Guard platoon of the fictional town of Walmington-on-Sea during the Second World War, began in 1968 and ran for nine series. The mostly superannuated fighting force that would provide the last line of defence in the event of invasion – men who were ineligible for active service but expected to halt the German advance for a few hours to allow the regular troops to regroup – became so loved that Dad’s Army was watched by an audience of 18 million at the show’s peak, and it has continued to hold a special place in the nation’s affections for more than half a century.

Eighty episodes were made in total, including three Christmas specials, but until now, three – all from the 1969 second series – were missing. The 2016 film that attempted to revive the show wasn’t very good, but then again the 1971 film wasn’t very good either. Fans were happy with what they had… until now. Gold has reshot the three missing episodes from the original scripts by the late Jimmy Perry and David Croft (with a new cast, of course). Dad’s Army – The Lost Episodes was certain to either delight or disappoint, but it was at the very least a noble undertaking.

The first missing show (originally episode three of six), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker, faced the tricky task of getting viewers to adjust to the idea that Captain Mainwaring isn’t Captain Mainwaring any more, or rather he isn’t played by Arthur Lowe, whose tone and comic timing remain a thing of wonder. Kevin McNally was handed the impossible task and did his very best with it.

All of the replacements were essentially doing impressions of the originals, while trying to bring the script to life. Robert Bathurst, for instance, made an amazing, almost like-for-like John Le Mesurier, while Matthew Horne was a creditable spiv as black marketeer Private Walker, whose call-up to active duty was the subject of the episode. The sudden loss of illicit bottles of booze, fudge and nylons was judged to be a disaster for the platoon, who joined forces to try to make the authorities rethink.

Timothy West as Private Godfrey, Kevin Eldon as Lance Corporal Jones, Tom Rosenthal as Private Pike, Mathew Horne as Private Walker and David Hayman as Private Frazer in Dad's Army: The Lost Episodes Credit: UKTV

The original would have been in black and white, but it was now in lustrous colour; other elements were less easy to update. Most would have got the punning title in 1969 – Tony Richardson’s film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was made in the early Sixties and would have still been in most memories, less so now. But that really didn’t matter. Everything here was lovingly recreated, from the church hall to the uniforms. It was a good episode, too, with a crisp script that had all the hallmarks of Perry and Croft’s best writing. The originals are clearly irreplaceable, but Gold deserves a lot of credit for this labour of love. Perhaps one day it will even fit happily among the set without us seeing the joins too much.