David Croft’s sitcoms were ‘clean, wholesome fun’? Er, no.

On the BBC news story announcing the death of David Croft, JDCAMERAMAN has left the following comment which has, at the time of writing, been given a score of +6 by other users of the website:

Very sad news.  The passing of one of the great script writers who gave us many great comedy series with clean, wholesome fun.

So are you going to tell JDCAMERAMAN that, all those times he had Mrs Slocombe talking about her pussy, Croft was writing jokes about her vagina?  Or should I do it?

And that’s without mentioning the jokes about cross-dressing and unwitting gay sex in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.  Or the jokes about incontinence in Dad’s Army.  Or all the references to ‘quickies’ and ‘chalet-swapping’ in Hi-de-Hi.  Or those endless jokes about breasts in Allo Allo.

Fair enough to note that Croft and Perry avoided bad language in their sitcoms – although shows broadcast in the same timeslots now would be as linguistically straight-laced.  But it’s absolute nonsense to claim their shows were ‘clean, wholesome fun’ – Mary Whitehouse certainly didn’t think they were.  Croft and Perry’s sitcoms were self-consciously smutty in the tradition of end-of-the-pier comedians and saucy postcards – the same tradition that produced Benny Hill and the Carry On films.  Not being ‘clean, wholesome fun’ was Croft/Perry’s entire schtick.

It was schtick that got old fast, but at their best some of their shows could be quite funny (although You Rang, M’lord and Oh! Doctor Beeching must be amongst the worst sitcoms ever made).  And they were funny precisely because they avoided the dreadful, laboured ‘wholesomeness’ that so many humourless people want to see in comedies.  I’m quite sure David Croft understood perfectly well that nothing kills comedy faster than an attempt to make it ‘wholesome’.  It can be gentle and kind-hearted (as quite a lot of Dad’s Army was, in contrast to their later shows), but that’s not the same thing as ‘wholesome’.

Anyway, I always thought Croft’s greatest talent was for ensemble casting, not scriptwriting.  I reckon you could take the funniest Dad’s Army script and give it to a different group of actors and it would fall mostly flat.  Conversely, I reckon you could give the company of actors from Dad’s Army any old dross – and, let’s face it, in some of the less-well-known episodes they were – and they’d manage to make something of it.

Here’s another interesting thing about Croft/Perry’s shows.  Can you imagine what the present day Daily Mail would make of a press release from the BBC announcing a new sitcom mocking the pretensions and incompetence of those brave men who, although unfit for military service, nonetheless pledged their lives to defending the women and children of Britain from the Nazi threat?  No contemporary BBC executive would dare commission it.  And the idea of a BBC sitcom about the Falklands war (longer ago now than the 2nd World War was when Dad’s Army started) is literally unthinkable.  While we mourn David Croft’s passing we should also mourn the passing of the era when broadcasters would occasionally resist the pressure for ever more blandness in comedy.

Wait, JDCAMERAMAN’s comment wasn’t a parody, was it?  It can be so hard to tell.

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3 Responses to David Croft’s sitcoms were ‘clean, wholesome fun’? Er, no.

  1. Kapitano says:

    I’m sure JD is a sincere idiot – and of one of the more benign species of idiot which infest the Speak You’re Branes forum.

    Taking a charitable view, there’s an element of truth in what he says: Mrs Slocombe never talked about her vagina – it was always her cat, and the joke was that she never realised the double meaning. Rene Artiois, in the tradition of the Carry On movies, was a slave to his libido, constantly trying to get some action with the waitresses and being constantly frustrated by circumstance.

    Mr Humpries and Gloria (from It ain’t half shit mum) were sexlessly camp – emasculated homosexuals, rather than (I think) men emasculated by homosexuality. But I don’t recall any other characters objecting to it. There was a lesbian in You Rang, M’Lord who seemed the only one with a sex life – or indeed intelligence. There was no sense of shame in all the chalet hopping in Hi-di-hi – it was all rather breezy and without consequences.

    By contrast, Men Behaving Sadly had jokes about morning erections, porn stashes and congealed semen.

    You’re absolutely right about the incontinence (and “they don’t like it up ‘em!”) in Dad’s Army and the parade of breast jokes in Allo, Allo. I certainly wouldn’t want those decades back. But their sexual obsession had one advantage over the modern one – for them it was fun. For us, it’s a source of endless self-doubt and resentment. Modern sex jokes are full of anger.

  2. Shaz says:

    I discovered Croft/Perry sitcoms on PBS in the late 90s. To me, they were a much welcome alternative to the American sitcoms of the time. I’d much rather hang out with the staff at Grace Brothers than with my so-called friends as Central Perk. I wouldn’t call the show clean and wholesome, but they were fun. At the height of my Allo, Allo obsession, le boyfriend started referring to me as “the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies”. Ah, happy memories!

    Like Kaptiano, I don’t want to go back to the 70s and 80s, but it would be nice if 21st century sex could be more playful and less spiteful.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

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