Bar/fly: Thetford, home of Dad's Army

By Kevin Pilley

Kevin Pilley finds out what fuelled British comedy classic, Dad's Army.
Lance-Corporal Jones, Private Walker and Sergeant Wilson from Dad's Army.
Lance-Corporal Jones, Private Walker and Sergeant Wilson from Dad's Army.

The Bell on the corner of Bridge and King streets in Thetford, in south Norfolk is the spiritual home of Dad's Army. Godfrey, Pike, Corporal Jones, Sergeant Wilson and Captain Mainwaring all drank quite a few spirits there. The vicar, Fraser, Sponge, Hedges, the Warden and Mrs Fox, too.

There has been an inn on the site since 1493. But the timbered 15th century coaching inn's brush with fame came in 1968, when the cast stayed there while making the first series. They stayed there for a fortnight every year for the next nine years.

Dad's Army was first shown on British television on July 31, 1968. There were nine series and 80 episodes, with two specials. It attracted a weekly audience of 13 million. There were also 67 radio shows. The final television episode, "Never Too Old", in which Lance Corporal Jones (of "Don't panic! Don't panic!" fame) marries Mrs Fox, was broadcast on Remembrance Day 1977.

A two-hour, £8.50 Dad's Army location tour begins at the Bell. And your guide tells you that Arthur Lowe (Capt Mainwaring) had his special "Amazon cocktails" and enjoyed kippers.

"I see you have kippers," he was reportedly fond of saying. "Tell me. Are they boil-in-the-bag or the real swim-about kippers?"

The next stop is another pub, the now-closed Anchor Hotel, where the first scene in the first ever episode, "The Man and The Hour", was filmed. The episode then tells of how Mainwaring formed Walmington-on-Sea's Local Defence Volunteers. In May 1940, Anthony Eden, the newly-appointed Secretary of State for War asked for volunteers between the ages of 17 and 75. In August the LDV became Churchill's "Home Guard". A million members were stood down on December 3, 1944.

Other locations include Old Bury Road, Mill Lane, Newton, the Palace Cinema (where the cast watched the rushes) and the Guildhall where an enemy paratrooper famously "dangled" from the town hall clock tower.

The Dad's Army museum is open every Saturday. It is in the old fire station and has mock-ups of Mainwaring's church hall office as well as the Marigold Tea Rooms. Jones' famous Ford BB van can be seen at the nearby Charles Burrell Museum.

A thousand years ago - at the time of Domesday - Thetford was the sixth largest town in the country. Later, it was the home of Thomas Paine, the 18th-century political writer.

The Dad's Army museum is open every Saturday.
The Dad's Army museum is open every Saturday.


The show's famous end credits were filmed at the Stanford Practical Training Battle area. The area is now closed to the public.

Our tour group sat at a wooden table in the Bell and listened to our guide, Stuart. "People ask why location manager Harold Snoad chose Thetford to film Dad's Army. The rows of grey brick-and-flint houses implied the right degree of intimacy, the surrounding area boasted a rich range of natural sights - pine forest, streams and the nearby Stanford battle area vacated in 1942 by its inhabitants provided a perfect period setting."

Filming took place in many outlying villages like Wacton, Honington and Bardwell, as well as further afield in Great Yarmouth. Walmington railway station was nearby Brandon station. Walmington Beach was Winterton Beach. The 1971 film was shot mainly in Surrey and the Home Counties. The dreadful new film was shot in north-east England.

The Bell echoes with Home Guard trivia. And the eternal appeal of a comedy classic. Few people know that the famous song, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler? was written by writer and producer David Croft and was the last thing Bud Flanagan recorded before he died. Also that a 27-year-old Ian Lavender played the 17-year-old Pike and Clive Dunn 48 when he played a man in his 70s.

"All the cast were characters and had great fun here. Arthur Lowe really enjoyed himself," says Stuart. "After filming had finished he stole Jones' butcher's van and ran over a cockerel. He knocked on a farmer's door and said, 'I'm awfully sorry, my man, I'd like to replace your cockerel." The farmer replied with dry Norfolk humour: "Please yourself, the 'ens are round the back!'"

Checklist

GETTING THERE
Emirates presently has daily flights from Auckland to London from $2339 Economy Class return. emirates.com

ONLINE
oldenglishinns.co.uk

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 10 Dec 2016 04:32:56 Processing Time: 1091ms