We're never going to be as good as the originals... | Robert Bathurst on playing Sergeant Wilson in the Dad's Army remake © UKTV

We're never going to be as good as the originals...

Robert Bathurst on playing Sergeant Wilson in the Dad's Army remake

On Sunday, Gold airs the first of its remake of three lost episodes of Dad’s Army. In the run-up to that broadcast we present an Q&A with a different cast member each day. Today it’s Robert Bathurst, who steps into John Le Mesurier’s shoes as Sergeant Wilson.

What interested you in The Lost Episodes project?

Well, they sent me the proposed idea and I wasn’t sure about it at first, only because I wondered what the point was in recreating something that’s already been made? 

I just think that the only purpose of doing it is the fact that they’re lost, as there’s no point in doing things that are available on DVD. So, it really is the only opportunity that the audience will have of seeing these scripts. 

Why do Croft and Perry’s scripts still work over 50 years later?

The show you might say is dated, but it was dated from day one. In 1969 when it first came out, it was set 20 to 25 years before. It’s never been in date, as it were. 

The scripts are really well constructed in that they’re object lessons on how to write a three-act farce in 28 minutes. So the set-up, the development and the payoff really work and these three are great examples of that. 

How did you approach the character of Wilson?


Well, I think I was given the nod for this show because I had played John Le Mesurier in a biopic of him and Hattie Jacques for the BBC. I wasn’t conscious of playing Wilson then, as I was looking at the This is Your Life episodes of John Le Mesurier to help me play him. 

The biopic was about their private life and their marriage and how, when Hattie took a lover, John didn’t leave the house but moved upstairs to the spare room. Aidan Turner played the lover and Ruth Jones played Hattie Jacques. Anyway, that was out and people seemed to like it, so I wonder if that’s what encouraged the connection between me and Wilson. 

I do see them as different because you’re playing Le Mesurier in one and I had to look again at how Wilson was on the DVDs and things. So there is a difference between the actor and the character, although people like to think that there isn’t any, but there obviously is. 

What were your first memories of seeing Dad’s Army?


I have a very scratchy memory. I remember the black and white one, I was really small and I remember seeing them subsequently and working out the geography of the set. I remember the Vicar’s office. Then, of course, it just became part of the national fabric, along with a lot of Croft and Perry material. 

What I remember was that a lot of the Croft and Perry shows were really unlikely projects. No one really knew anything about the Home Guard, or whatever the defence force was called, and so to propose a show about that in particular was a really unlikely thing. 

Luckily David Croft was head of comedy at the BBC, so he could pitch the idea to himself and decide whether it was a good one or not. But a lot of their shows were set in the likes of a department store, and you think, what is so funny about that? Or set out in Burma and you think the same, as it was very serious business. None of them are overtly funny premises for shows, and yet now they are part of the comic fabric of our TV. 

What is this series hoping to achieve?

It is a celebration of Croft and Perry’s writing with understudies, as I see it. They’re never going to be as good as them, we’re never going to be them, we can’t, but this is the opportunity to have this work filmed, so let’s relish it.  

What happened to the lost episodes?

Well, from what I gather, in the 1960s everything used to be on film and there was a film archive. Then these video tapes came out, these huge chunky great expensive pieces of kit that Dad’s Army, Steptoe And Son and lots of other shows were recorded on. They were kept by the BBC engineering department and I don’t think they had the same sense of heritage that the film archive people did. 

As far as they were concerned, these huge great chunks of expensive kit were just pieces of equipment that could be used again. Also, television at the time was totally ephemeral. 

Channels nowadays have these repeats coming at us all the time from all different platforms and in those days, you would show the show once, repeat it and in order for them to repeat it again you’d have to pay everybody again. So, it was a bit of an expensive business to repeat a show on terrestrial television. 

And so, as far as people were concerned, it was an ephemeral thing as it’s been on and unlikely to be seen again. There were no DVDs of course, so there were no other ways of seeing these things unless they were going to be repeated and the chances of that were minimal. 

Some of the episodes were put on film in order to be sent to other countries to be broadcast on their TV stations, and I think a lot of those episodes have been found in warehouses in those countries. 

So, in the attempt to try to find these lost episodes I think about 150 different forms of Steptoe’s and Hancock’s and Dad’s Army’s, a lot of them have been recovered. However, these three particular episodes of Dad’s Army have long since wrangled with a lot of Dad’s Army fans as they’ve never had the chance to see them, and now we do. 

• Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes airs on Gold on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday next week at 8pm Tomorrow: Tom Rosenthal who plays Private Pike

Published: 21 Aug 2019

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