At 63, he is a little old to be written off as Captain Mainwaring’s “stupid boy”, but Kevin McNally nevertheless wonders whether his impression of the head of Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard this weekend was entirely wise.
It had been 50 years, almost to the day, since the late Arthur Lowe had first delivered the lines to an audience at BBC Television Centre, but his performance has not been seen since. The second series of Dad’s Army, the last to be recorded in black-and-white, did not survive the corporation’s policy of reusing expensive video tape – and although film copies of three episodes have since been recovered, the rest have remained lost in the ether.
The idea to re-shoot them with a new cast was not taken lightly, said McNally, who has previous experience of standing on the shoulders of giants. Three years ago he impersonated Tony Hancock in another resurrection of long-lost performances.
“The difference with this though was that the people who loved Dad’s Army are slightly younger, and you can see Dad’s Army all the time – it’s never not been on the television,” he said. “So, there was a sense of a bit of a challenge.”
McNally and his fellow cast members, who include Timothy West as Pvt Godfrey and Robert Bathurst as Sgt Wilson, did at least have the voices of the original cast to guide them – the episodes they re-shot had been re-recorded for Radio 2.
“We’re performing it with a love of the original. And I think people who really like the original can watch it in that spirit, because this is their only chance to see these three episodes,” McNally said.
“If you love Dad’s Army and you’ve gone all these years going, ‘I’d love to see those episodes’, well, we’ve tried to recreate those three episodes so that you can see them.”
He hopes they will serve the memory of the original better than the big screen remake of three years ago, which was filmed in and around Bridlington and released to a mixed reception.
Recalling something one of his co-stars had observed, he said: “It’s a really silly idea to get something that was old fashioned and passé when it was successful and then try to do it for the 21st century.”
This time, the reconstruction took place in a TV studio at Pinewood, sinilar to the ones at TV Centre. But the BBC played no part in making it.
The shows were recorded instead for the Gold channel, which will screen them on consecutive evenings from Sunday.
McNally, whose other roles include the First Mate Joshamee Gibbs in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, said: “We were very lucky, in a way, that the three episodes were three very different versions of what Dad’s Army could be.”
“One of them is a beautiful show about Frazer, one is about Walker, but the third one is physical comedy at its best – it’s about incendiary devices hitting the wall and their inept efforts at trying to deal with it.”
The channel’s director, Gerald Casey, said the episodes were “previously lost masterpieces”, adding: “As a huge fan of the show myself, it has been an honour to help complete the Dad’s Army story.”
A worldwide hunt for the missing original episodes, and other classics from the BBC and ITV archives, has been going on for years.
At one point, an animation was produced to accompany an audio recording of one show kept by a private collector. The episode, A Stripe For Frazer, is among those to be screened with a new cast this weekend.
Much of Morecambe and Wise’s first colour series for the BBC, in 1968, was erased and three episodes remain lost. And many of the earlier shows made by the cast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus are missing and the subject of appeals among collectors.