Classic TV Revisited: All Gas & Gaiters

What was it all about? 
Comedy in the cloisters between a rum bunch of clerics. This was gentle Sixties stuff where the Archdeacon’s biggest sin was the occasional sly drink. He was no Father Jack.

When was it on?
There were five series (32 episodes) on BBC1 between 1967 and 1971.

Who were the principal characters?
The elderly Archdeacon, a kindly soul with a penchant for an extra slice of cake and the odd tipple; the conscientious Bishop who liked to play everything according to the Good Book; and Rev. Mervyn Noote, a sincere young Chaplain but an accident waiting to happen. He had a habit of tying himself in verbal knots. Their common foe was the stern Dean.

Who were the star turns?
Whitehall farce veteran Robertson Hare played the Archdeacon, William Mervyn was the Bishop and Derek Nimmo played Noote. The Dean suffered something of an identity crisis. In the pilot and the first series he was played by John Barron, in series two and three Ernest Clark took over, before John Barron returned for the final series.

Who wrote it?
Husband and wife team Pauline Devaney and Edwin Apps. Devotees of ‘Whack-0!’ will remember Edwin Apps as Mr. Halliforth.

How did it come about?
Under the pseudonym ‘John Wraith’, Devaney and Apps wrote a ‘Comedy Playhouse’ pilot, ‘The Bishop Rides Again’, which was screened in 1966. It proved successful enough to warrant a series.

Derek Nimmo was picked after playing another ‘silly ass’ role — Bingo Little — in ‘The World of Wooster’. Nimmo said that Frank Muir — the then head of BBC comedy — plucked the title ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ from a line in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’.

Who watched it?
14 million viewers were rolling in the aisles each week.

Where was it set?
Around the cathedral of St. Oggs, a building dating back to the 13th century.

Any catchphrases?
Noote’s ‘Oh, golly gosh!’

Any real-life resonance?
Nimmo made such an impact as the bumbling Noote that when he took a break from ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ to star in the BBC sit-com ‘Sorry I’m Single’ — about a young man living in a Hampstead house with three girls — he received letters from distressed clergymen.

He became even more closely identified with the clergy from 1968 when as well as ‘All Gas and Gaiters’, he played accident-prone novice monk Brother Dominic in ‘Oh Brother!’ While filming in Rome dressed as Brother Dominic, Nimmo was arrested by Vatican police following a misunderstanding with a nun who spotted him with his arm around two girl fans…

Any spin-offs?
A radio version of ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ aired on Radio 4 in 1971 featuring the TV cast. Nimmo left after the first series of 13 and was replaced by Jonathan Cecil.

For Nimmo, ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ led to a succession of religious roles, notably in ‘Oh Brother!’ and ‘Oh Father!’ In 1986 he said: ‘I still have the highest hopes of appearing in my old age as “Oh Pope!”‘ He died earlier this year without realising that particular ambition.

Any distant cousins?
‘All in Good Faith’, ‘Hell’s Bells’ (another Derek Nimmo series), ‘Our Man at St. Mark’s’, ‘Bless Me, Father’, ‘Father Charlie’, ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ etc.

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