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.