What was it all about?
A Jimmy Perry and DavidCroft sit-com charting the escapades of a Royal Artillery Concert Party based in India during the Second World War. Unfortunately these days the whole concept is sadly considered a bit un-pc and reruns are increasingly rare.
How long was it on?
It ran for 8 seasons from 1974-1981
Who was it about?
Although it was very much an ensemble piece, the undoubted star was Battery Sergeant Major Williams, a Welsh disciplinarian who, moustache bristling, barked orders at the bunch of misfits under his command. He saw himself as a leader of men, unfortunately it wasn’t always immediately obvious that it was men under his command – after all Gunner Beaumont took an unhealthy pleasure in dressing up on stage as a Hollywood starlet called Gloria and the refined pianist Gunner Graham (or ‘lah di dah Gunner Graham’ as Williams referred to him) was better suited to a tea dance than jungle warfare.
Nor did Williams find much support from his superior officers — the permanently perplexed Colonel Reynolds and his jackass second-in-command Captain Ashwood.
The only one to escape Williams’ scorn was the intellectually challenged Gunner Parkins whom the BSM believed to be his illegitimate son. Whereas the rest were vilified, Parkins was always his ‘lovely boy’.
Other characters were the anglophile Indian servant Rangi Ram, Wallahs Muhammed and Rumzan, Gunners Evans, Clark and Mackintosh, Bombardier Solomons (for series one and two) and the cook Ah Syn.
Who were the star turns?
Windsor Davies played BSM Williams with Melvyn Hayes as Gunner Beaumont, John Clegg as Gunner Graham, Don Estelle as Gunner Sugden, Donald Hewlett as Colonel Reynolds, Michael Knowles as Captain Ashwood, Christopher Mitchell as Gunner Parkins, Michael Bates as Rangi Ram (until Bates’ death in 1978), Dino Shafeek as Char-Wallah Muhammed and Babar Bhatti as Punka-Wallah Rumzan.
Mike Kinsey played Gunner Evans with Kenneth MacDonald as Gunner Clark, Stuart McGugan as Gunner Mackintosh, George Layton as Bombardier Solomons and Andy Ho as Ah Syn.
How did it come about?
Having utilised his experiences in the Home Guard for ‘Dad’s Army’, Jimmy Perry turned to another area of his war effort for ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’. In 1945 Perry had been a member of a Royal Artillery Concert Party in Deolali, India. Many of the troupe were represented on screen although Perry was at pains to point out that his real Battery Sergeant Major was twice as mean as BSM Williams.
Who watched it?
Nearly 14 million in its prime.
The decision to get a white actor, Michael Bates, to black up as Rangi Ram provoked mutterings of discontent from those who thought the part should have been given to an Indian actor.
Bates replied that he was born in Janshi, India, spoke Hindustani before he learned English and that the two genuinely brown faces in the cast actually belonged to a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi. Therefore, he reasoned, he was the only true Indian in the production.
Whilst the fuss eventually died down, the politically incorrect nature of ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ has been cited as one of the reasons why it has not been repeated as frequently as other Croft originals like ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘Are You Being Served?’ and ”Allo ‘Allo!’
Was it really filmed in the jungle?
Not unless you count Norfolk as the heart of the tropics. Fake palm trees and a polystyrene crocodile were imported to East Anglia to create that ‘authentic jungle look’. Far from being hot, the actors shivered with glycerine ‘sweat’ on their foreheads. And it got even colder when vast quantities of dry ice were dipped in tubs of mud and stirred vigorously to conjure up the mist of the swamps.
Desert scenes were shot at a sandpit on the Sussex coast.
Windsor Davies and Don Estelle (an accomplished singer) formed an unlikely double act and hit number one in June 1975 with their version of ‘Whispering Grass’. But their follow-up single, ‘Paper Doll’, only reached number 41 in the autumn. A nation mourned.
Any distant cousins?
‘The Army Game’, ‘Dad’s Army’.