30 Years Of 'Allo 'Allo by Richard Webber

Book review by Steve Bennett

Though it’s hard to think it, two enduring British sitcoms celebrate their 30th anniversary this year: Blackadder and ’Allo ’ Allo. Perhaps the fact that their setting was already historical makes them seem less old.

Blackadder attracted more critical acclaim – at least after the deeply flawed first series – but author Richard Webber clearly believes that ’Allo ’ Allo is something of a masterpiece, too.

Certainly it has its place in cultural history. It was a bold move at the time to make a comedy around the tough realities of Occupied France, yet the catchphrases entered the national psyche and some touches – especially regarding the languages – were inspired.

However the Broad Comedy almost certainly outstayed its welcome by the time it came to an end after a decade, and although Webber – who has made a career from books about fondly-remembered sitcoms – makes some acknowledgement of this, it’s also clear that this ‘Inside Story’ is more of an uncritical celebration aimed squarely at fans. After all, who else would by the book?

He has tracked down a lot of the show’s former stars, most of whom gush about how ‘delightful’ and ‘wonderful’ it was to work with their colleagues, while he makes the occasional strange assertion such as: ‘The deadpan seriousness, a striking trademark of the series...’

Nonetheless, there is a general feeling from the interviews that this was a fun show to work on, without going too much into the nuts and bolts of how it was put together each week (especially the fifth series, which ran to 26 episodes amid interest from the American market).

After a general introduction to the genesis and the ongoing production of the sitcom, Webber gives a section to each of the stars; although sometimes the balance is a little off. The late Hilary Minister, who played General Von Klinkerhoffen in 60 episodes, gets just three paragraphs listing all the other shows he’s been in – isn’t IMDB a blessing? – while Estelle Matthews, has small parts in two episodes gets a page.

The second half of the book, though, is little more than a waste of trees. This is a guide to each of the 85 episodes, one per page, giving a cast list and a one-paragraph plot description. Since 90 per cent of the actors were the same from week to week, it seems pointless to repeat their names. Do you really need to say 85 times that Gorden Kaye played Rene Artois?

Still, there are some nice anecdotes and lesser-known facts in the book, which can’t help but instil a more affectionate view of the sitcom in anyone who reads it.

Here a few snippets contained in its pages:

  • John Sessions was considered for the role of one of the English airmen hiding out in Rene’s cafe.

  • The team once played a prank on the cast of Juliet Bravo, who were in the BBC rehearsal rooms below them – with the aid of Gorden Kay’s bloodied, dismembered head. It was a prop from a Shakespeare production Kaye had been in, and John D Collins, who played British airman Fairfax, spotted the perfect opportunity on his way up to work, when he saw the cast of the police drama were beng briefed by the director, who had his back to the window. Collins lowered the head out of the window, with a note attached: ‘I ain’t got no body’. The Juliet Bravo team – reputedly including star Stephanie Turner – got their own back 20 minutes later, when four people in balaclavas ran into the ’ Allo ’ Allo rehearsal with a headless dummy and a first aid kit, which they dumped on the floor with the note: ‘Dr Finlay on the way’.

  • Sam Kelly, who played German Captain Geering in the first four series, made a one-off comeback in Series 7, but it didn’t go quite as he hoped. ‘I expected people to remember who Geering was and give a big round of applause., but there was absolutely no reaction. They’d forgotten the character, I guess.’

  • Arthur Bostrom, who played vowel-mangling Officer Crabtree, says he based his character on Edward Heath, who was a fluent French speaker but made no attempt at the accent. ‘Hearing him talk used to crack me up,’ Bostrom says,

  • Carmen Silvera, who played Edith, once arrived at the studio with tears running down her face. When director Robin Carr asked her what was up, she said it was nothing – just a ruse she regularly pulled on the car park attendants to ensure she could get a space at Television Centre.

  • Creator David Croft once had the idea of a rude X-rated version of the show, seeing ‘what happened behind the curtains’. But it never came off.

  • 30 Years Of 'Allo 'Allo: The Inside Story Of The Hit TV Show by Richard Webber is published by Carlton price £18.99. Click here to buy from Waterstones for £15.19.

Published: 19 Nov 2012

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