I visited the Norfolk town of Thetford a year earlier but didn’t do my research properly and the Dad’s Army Museum wasn’t open. The reason was that it is run by volunteers who have jobs to go to and only opens on a Saturday so this year I made sure that we went there on the right day.
This post isn’t going to make a lot of sense to overseas readers because Dad’s Army was an English situation comedy which was first broadcast in 1968 and fifty years later remains one of the funniest and most popular of all BBC programmes. I am a huge fan and will happily sit through endless reruns of the shows.
It is set during the Second World War and is a story about the British Home Guard which was a amateur defence force army made up of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service either because of age (hence the name “Dad’s Army”) or by being in professions exempt from conscription. Their job was to defend Britain against a German invasion force of Panzer Tanks and battalions of crack Wehrmacht troops. This was most unlikely and is the real basis of the whole series of programmes.
The show called the fictional town they defended Walmington-on-Sea which was said to be on the south coast of England but it was actually filmed in Thetford in East Anglia.
In 2004 Dad’s Army was voted fourth in a BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom. It had previously been placed thirteenth in a list of the one hundred Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000.
English humour is the finest in the World but doesn’t always travel that well but just watch this little scene which was voted the funniest ever Dad’s Army gag line of the entire series (over eighty programmes) to get a little flavour of the show…
American humour especially struggles to cope with British wit and interestingly a pilot US show based on Dad’s Army was tried and piloted. It was called Rear Guard but flopped badly and never made it into a full series. If you watch this disaster then you will understand why…
The little museum turned out to be a real treasure store, crammed full of memorabilia relating to the series, pictures, video clips, scrap books, newspaper articles and pictures and photographs of all the stars. Kim is not such a big fan of Dad’s Army as I am but enjoyed this place just as much as I did. We stayed longer than expected and then finished with a cup of tea and a cake at the Marigold Tea Room which is a recreation of one of the sets famous from the series.
The star of the show was an actor called Arthur Lowe who played the lead character of Captain Mainwaring. There is a statue of both of them, as it were, in the centre of the town by the riverside (The Little Ouse) so after the museum we made our way through the town and the Saturday market and found the Captain sitting pompously as ever down by the waterside.
It was always going to be hard to follow the visit to the Dad’s Army Museum and so it proved when on the way back to the car park we visited the Ancient House Museum which had a few interesting items but didn’t detain us very long and soon after we were on the road again and on the way to the caravan park destination.
Along the route we chose another National Trust property and forever keen to get maximum value for our annual membership we called in at Ickworth House bear Bury St. Edmunds.
It turned out to be an interesting stop at an unusual eighteenth century stately home built in the Italianate style with a huge central rotunda and two complimentary wings to the east and the west. There are a sequence of rooms to pass through, first the servant’s quarters below stairs and then the largely Victorian rooms of the nobility and upper classes who once lived there.
We stayed for an hour or so and then completed our journey to the village of Kessingland on the extreme east coast of England.
We had intended to arrive first at the caravan so that we could organise the arrival of my daughter and grand-children in an orderly way but we were delayed by supermarket shopping and they arrived before us and by the time we turned up Sally and the children had the place looking just the way they like it – rather like England would have looked like if the German Panzer Divisions had successfully invaded and passed through in 1941.
We dealt with the unpacking as best we could and then in early evening to satisfy the children made our way to the nearby beach and although it had been a very warm day I have to say that I didn’t expect to find myself swimming in the North Sea at seven o’clock in the evening. This was probably my first time in the North Sea for about fifty years or so, since I was a boy on family holidays but under intense pressure from grandchildren…
… the North Sea, let me tell you, is not the warmest water in the World!