IT AIN’T HALF HOT, MUM. (TELEVISION SERIES: 1974-1981.)
WRITTEN AND CREATED BY JIMMY PERRY AND DAVID CROFT.
STARRING WINDSOR DAVIES, DONALD HEWLETT, MICHAEL KNOWLES, MICHAEL BATES, DINO SHAFEEK, BABAR BHATTI, MELVYN HAYES, DON ESTELLE, GEORGE LAYTON, CHRISTOPHER MITCHELL, JOHN CLEGG, STUART MACGUGAN, KENNETH MACDONALD AND MIKE KINSEY.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Don’t be such a silly arse!’
‘Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.’
‘Move yourselves, move yourselves!’
‘Land of hope and glory, mother of the free…’
‘Meet the gang ‘cause the boys are here, the boys to entertain you…!’
I bloody love this television series, one of the best and funniest I’ve ever watched and certainly the one with the biggest heart. The camaraderie, affection and even love between the characters and the actors who play them is just wonderful to witness, and the laughs and ridiculous shenanigans helped my kids and I through the rather grim months of April and May of 2021, the last uncertain days of Ireland’s third – and hopefully last- coronavirus lockdown.
The series will no longer be shown on television, as it doesn’t conform to modern standards of political correctness. It’s racist, sexist and homophobic, according to these modern standards, but it was the way people talked back then and we can’t pretend they didn’t.
My kids and I simply looked at each other and remarked, you couldn’t get away with that nowadays, whenever a character said or did anything outrageous by today’s standards, and then simply went back to enjoying the genuine laughs, jokes and witticisms with which the show is chock-a-block.
The show is set in Deolali, India, and then Burma, in 1945. The characters are soldiers in the British Army, but they’re soldiers with a difference. ‘They is a bunch of bloody poofs,’ as their largely intolerant Sergeant Major Williams would say, or, if you prefer, they are artistes in the concert party, putting on shows for their fellow soldiers to keep up morale and whatnot. Courtesy of ENSA, or the Entertainments National Service Association, or even ‘Every Night Something Awful,’ as screenwriter Michael Armstrong once rather wittily put it…!
The theme of Imperialism runs through the show, as the British are still occupying India for the first half of the series, and then the action moves to Burma after the war in Europe is technically over, but the Japanese seemingly never read the memo and are still fighting away until a certain bomb, lightly handled in the show, puts a definite stop to all that.
The concert party are somewhat privileged in that they are excused the usual duties of soldiers- fighting the enemy, being killed and sent home to Blighty in a box, etc.- in order to dress up as women and dance and perform variety acts and sing all the old show-tunes for the benefit of the demoralised British troops still in India and Burma.
Sergeant Major ‘Shut up!’ Williams, magnificently played by the barrel-chested Windsor Davies, is always bawling and screaming at them and trying to turn them into proper soldiers by means of rigid army discipline, drills, inspections and PT, but mostly he just despairs of them and their unseemly transvestism and ‘parading around dressed as tarts,’ as he so sensitively puts it.
He loves ‘em too, though, deep down- very deep down- especially Gunner Parkins whom he suspects of being his son from a dalliance with an English bird twenty-something years ago. Gunner Parkins- ‘Parky’- is the concert party ventriloquist and resident comedian (not a very good one, mind) and has a fine pair of shoulders, bless him, and will really make summat of himself one day, what wiv ‘im being so good-looking an’ all.
Gunner- later Bombadier when ‘Solly’ Solomons gets demobbed back to England- Gloria Beaumont is the concert party’s producer and resident diva. He is effeminate and highly prone to ‘getting historical’ (‘I can’t take it anymore! Is there no end to this green hell?’), but apparently not a homosexual, despite the Sergeant Major’s frequent assertions, merely a transvestite who adores to dress up as Ginger Rogers…!
Lofty Sugden is the smallest and feeblest of the concert party, and is therefore the one who hilariously gets stuck with all the worst and most dangerous jobs. (‘Well, ta-ra then!’) He has a beautiful tenor singing voice, and is the pride of the concert party, next to Gloria’s show-stopping razzle-dazzle Busby Berkeley-style full costume numbers.
Gunner ‘Atlas’ Mackintosh is aggressively Scottish, and ‘a big butch hairy haggis,’ according to Gloria. He’s the concert party’s resident ‘strong man’ and tears telephone directories in half on stage. His funniest moment on the show is when he’s dressed as Marlene Dietrich and singing ‘Falling in Love Again’ in the most Scottish accent imaginable. ‘I cannae help it…’
Gunner ‘Nobby’ Clark does lovely bird impersonations and has a great face for comedy, especially when he’s pissed off or taking gentle(!) abuse from the Sergeant Major. Gunner ‘Nosher’ Evans does a paper-tearing act and his main hobby is eating.
‘Mr. La-di-dah Gunner ‘Paderewski’ Graham is ribbed and imitated mercilessly by the Sergeant Major for having a bald head and a super-posh voice due to his ‘university heducation,’ but sometimes he has good ideas that get the gang out of the crazy scrapes they find themselves in in every episode. If his ideas fail, well then, ‘bang goes that theory!’
The ‘hofficers’ next. Colonel Reynolds and Captain ‘Tiffy’ Ashwood are English toffs, basically kind-hearted but they consider themselves a cut above the soldiers and the Indian and Burmese ‘hoi-polloi’ and end each day with cocktails on the veranda.
When there’s a food shortage and they have to break into the maraschino cherries and olives to escape starvation, Captain Ashwood hilariously remarks, in the middle of the jungle, in a horrified voice, ‘what if someone pops round for drinks?’
Colonel Evans is splendidly embroiled in an extra-marital affair with the wife of a fellow officer who’s away in the Punjab. Tiffy, with a brilliantly affected posh voice to rival Gunner Graham’s, is a supposedly uxorious hubby who wouldn’t dream of being unfaithful to his wife Fiona, that is, until a particularly juicy ‘Chinese bit,’ as the Sergeant Major calls her, happens along…
The ‘hofficers’ are humorously portrayed as being work-shy, selfish, idle and cowardly. They go out of their way to avoid confrontations with the war-like Japanese, and they unashamedly pass all the dirty work onto the Sergeant Major, who lives for the Army and wouldn’t dream of shirking any duty, however unpleasant.
The English are definitely as much figures of fun as the Indian characters they look down on. In fact, the three constant Indian characters are constantly taking the piss out of ‘we British,’ and they get a good few clever little digs in about their imperialistic overlords. People only seem to see the racism directed against the ‘damned natives,’ but I’m telling you the so-called ‘coolies’ get their own back neatly at times. Racism is a two-way street, you know.
For the first five series, an Anglo-Indian actor, Michael Bates, portrays Bearer Rangi Ram, the Indian narrator of the series who ends each show on a piece of native wisdom. He was chosen for the part because he spoke fluent Urdu and had been a captain in the Gurkhas, and in any case the producers were unable to find a suitable Asian actor for the role.
Muhammad is the lovely, cuddly char wallah, which means he’s in charge of the tea, and Rumzan, the punka wallah, is responsible for pulling a string all day which turns a fan which keeps the officers cool in their quarters.
Yes, it’s a horribly demeaning job, and people often feel entitled to kick him as they pass by to gee him up a bit work-wise, but he’s dryly sarcastic and sees more and knows more than his dopey British overlords give him credit for.
His ‘thing’ is to speak fluent passages of Hindu ending with a pithy epithet in English that exactly sums up the situation ongoing in the army camp at the time. Who’s laughing at whom, exactly? I tell you, it’s a two-way street, this.
June Whitfield from the CARRY ON movies and ‘Nineties sitcom ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS plays the spicy little Captain Tollemache, the visiting welfare officer for the soldiers, in one very funny episode. It’s funny because she’s more interested in the welfare of a certain Captain Ashwood’s than in anyone else’s, lol, but the- mostly- faithful Captain Ashwood is horrified by her close attentions.
Apart from Daphne Waddilove-Evans, the pipe-chomping Colonel’s occasional love interest, and Ling Soo, the ‘Chinese bit’ – not my words!- that’s pretty much it for the women, except for the odd mention of Gunner Parkins’s ma, who was once the Sergeant Major’s sweetheart. Once being the operative word, if you know what I mean…
I’m glad I decided not to let feelings of political correctness stop me from enjoying this lovely, big-hearted comedy series. It was a different time, that’s all. They were men of the ‘Seventies making a show about men in the British Army stationed in India during the war. You’d have to expect some wildly colourful and even racist, sexist or homophobic cracks. Remember, the term ‘woke’ back then still referred to the time you got up. Don’t let it ruin your enjoyment of this excellent show.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: