(Grand) Dad’s Army, 1939

I love it when I can link something from one of my old books or pieces of ephemera to some current story. This one is all about Dad’s Army, new and old. You might have seen the trailer for the new film recently. Here it is.


Despite being a history buff, I never much liked Dad’s Army when I first saw it on TV as a teenager. It wasn’t my sort of humour, I thought, although then as now I still had a massive affection for Clive Dunn – or “Grandad” as I always thought of him. Here he is, singing his famous song – and I really can’t believe that at this point, he was a mere 51 years of age:



Watching the series later on though, I appreciated it a lot more. The writing, the performances – it was a class act. My first thought when hearing about the new film was a big “Why?” and it still is, really. But….what a cast! Toby Young, Bill Nighy and Michael Gambon are enough to make me put the film on my must-see list, when it comes out next February.

And this is where my (real) Grandad comes in. I’ve blogged quite a bit about his wartime experiences and ephemera but I haven’t posted this piece up before. It’s the menu and programme for the British Army Public Relations Christmas Party, 1939. As my Grandad was an official driver for Richard Dimbleby, he came into contact with such journalistic-type events. There is no information on where this meal was actually held, and I haven’t been able to find out more online, but I presume it was somewhere near the Maginot Line as that was where Grandad and the British Expeditionary Force were at that time.

The menu is rather impressive, or at least maybe it sounds more impressive than it is, as it’s written in French. I have to say that Pommes Vapeur sounds rather grander than what I believe is actually “Boiled potatoes”. Plum Pudding aux Feux Follets is intriguing. As far as I can tell “feux follets” is French for “Will-o’-the Wisp” or fireflies. So maybe this means plum pudding set alight in the traditional (English) way.

However, the most interesting part to me is the entertainment. “The Crimson Cocoanut” was a little play dramatized for the occasion, and was particularly notable for two facts – firstly, that it was rather appropriately written by the Director of Public Relations at the War Office. This was John Hay Beith, but his pen name was Ian Hay – as well as a soldier, he was a novelist, playwright, essayist and historian, and adapted The 39 Steps, among other things. He wrote the play in 1913 though, not especially for this event.

Secondly, the play was produced by Arnold Ridley, Officier de Champ at this time, and later to be Dad’s Army’s Private Godfrey. His Army post translates as “Conducting Officer”, and it was his job to supervise the journalists visiting the front line in France. He had a hell of a time on the battlefield. He was in the First World War, and sustained dreadful injuries – his left hand was badly damaged in the Battle of the Somme and left virtually useless, he was hit on the head by the butt of a German soldier’s rifle which led to him suffering blackouts over the rest of his life, and he was bayonetted in the groin. Bayonetted in the groin. It wasn’t enough to put him off signing up for the army as the Second World War began, but he was discharged in health grounds in 1940. Pleasingly, he joined the Home Guard for real for the rest of the war.

I found out that the University of Bristol has his showbusiness ephemera collection – the Arnold Ridley archive, although it is not especially accessible at the moment. I found a copy of this menu and programme on there too.

My mum tells me that Grandad used to love watching Dad’s Army. But when she gave me this programme she didn’t realise that a cast member was mentioned on it. She doesn’t remember him mentioning Arnold Ridley as someone he was ever acquainted with, so I wonder if he even knew of this connection.

(As an aside, I have to say that the purveyor of the comic song has an excellently suitable name – Bugler Dipple.)

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1 Response

  1. Brilliant post. I also had doubts about the new Dad’s army film but the pre-pub is beginning to win me over. They wouldn’t dare mess it up. It wouldn’t be wise. They would be doomed I tell you, doomed!

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