We're not trying to improve on the unimprovable | Kevin Eldon on playing Lance-Corporal Jones in Dad's Army © UKTV

We're not trying to improve on the unimprovable

Kevin Eldon on playing Lance-Corporal Jones in Dad's Army

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 Kevin Eldon, who steps into Clive Dunn's Army boots as Lance-Corporal Jones.

What interested you in The Lost Episodes project?

Well it’s Dad’s Army, for a start, which is a fabulous programme that I love and everybody loves. But specifically, it was because we were trying to recreate some lost episodes. 

It was very interesting to me that there were these scripts that no longer had any matching pictures, apart from a few stills from rehearsals, and so I thought there’s a project to try to bring them to life. 

It was quite a daunting thing to take on because it is, in itself, a national treasure so you’re playing a bit high stakes to try to get it out. I thought it was a very interesting challenge and I was also very flattered to be asked. 

So, a number of reasons to be interested, but the main thing is that we weren’t trying to reimagine, as that’s a dreadful word, and we weren’t trying to improve upon something which is unimprovable really. I think that when you’re trying to do something that’s already been done, it’s like trying to repaint a classic picture. Why would you do it? The Mona Lisa’s already been done so move on. 

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

I think it’s quite obvious really, they’re just very well written. They’re very solid, each character is beautifully drawn, the plot lines are easy to follow and extremely amusing. 

You also have the ingredient of class and status in there and you’re always going to get comedy with that as you get status rubbing against it and over-playing its allotted place and then under-playing its allotted place. 

I think there’s a great warmth to the scripts that people really warm to themselves. It’s an affectionate show as it has no cynicism. There is a place for cynicism in comedy, but this is very warm and I think that’s why people still like it. 

But also you get past a certain time when something has always been part of the cultural background and you suddenly think, "wow this has always been here and it’s really something!"

I think there comes a cut-off point where you stop taking it for granted and for the first time you go, this is fantastic isn’t it? This has been around for a long time and we all love and we all still love it. 

How did it feel walking onto the set for the first time?

It’s like an odd dream really. I have actually dreamt about being in Dad’s Army before, just in a weird disconnected way like all dreams are. 

Then actually walking onto that set, which is beautifully done was surreal because it’s an exact replica. Then you look down and see that you’ve got the gear on and think it’s like a dream, but I seem to be in the Home Guard in Walmington- On-Sea. But of course I’m not because I’m in a television studio. So yeah, surreal is the word for it, but rather wonderful too because it’s very exciting, but then a bit frightening of course because you’ve got a hell of a job to do to try and get up to the comedy heights that they’d done.

That’s something that we never can do of course, as you’re always going to fall short to a certain extent because they did it the best they possibly could you can’t better that, but we’ve had a go. 

How did it feel seeing yourself as Jones for the first time?

It was just a shock, because again makeup and costume have been  fastidious. 

They’ve got the right look, they’ve got exactly the right wigs and the costume is all genuine to what it was. 

I had my Corporal Jones campaign medals, or rather the colours, and I asked our military expert what they stood for and he was saying that one is Sudan etc, and they were all exactly the campaigns that Jones had been on, so all of those were exactly right and I was very impressed. I thought they might just be some random squares of colour, but no. I love that kind of detail, it’s good, and so will the Dad’s Army experts, the fans.  

How did you approach the character of Jones?

I just studied Jones and Dad’s Army, as all the other guys did. I just looked at episodes over and over again, many of which I’d seen thousands of times anyway, but I suppose you’re looking for a different kind of thing when you’re going to try to recreate it. 

I’d always been slightly underwhelmed by the character of Jones, I thought he was a bit more kind of musical, but the others were a little bit more naturalistic. 

But I completely changed my mind having studied what Clive Dunn had done. What Dunn had done was very impressive indeed because there’s a real accuracy to his movements and there’s a consistency all the way through. He actually plays everything completely truthfully and so I’ve got the proper respect I should have had for Dunn, now I find Jones a great character, he might even be starting to become my favourite one anew. 

How did the first episode recording go?

Well it’s nerve-racking. It’s nerve-racking to do something like this because you love it so much and you really really don’t want to do it any disservice. Then you have the extra level of doing it in front of an audience and the extra extra layer on top by having die-hard fans in there and indeed people from the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society, with some of whom dressed as the members of Dad’s Army. 

So, no pressure or anything! For the first ten minutes of the recoding it was blind terror and after that I just had a ball really and we all felt the same I think, just really really enjoyed it. 

There’s particular onus on Kevin and Robert [McNally and Bathurst, who play Mainwaring and Wilson] in all of the episodes, in that a lot of the scenes are just those two and they drive the plot through. They’ve got lots of hard work to do but everyone’s got their bit to play. 

• Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes airs on Gold on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday next week at 8pm Tomorrow: Timothy West who plays Private Godfrey.

Published: 23 Aug 2019

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