On the Dad's Army trail in Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 12:10 06 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:30 20 February 2013
The actors who starred in Dad's Army are sadly mostly gone but they are definitely not forgotten! Now fans are planning a Dad's Army Trail celebrating the Suffolk locations used in one of TV's best-loved sitcoms. Dave Gooderham reports
The actors who starred in Dads Army are sadly mostly gone but they are definitely not forgotten! Now enthusiasts are planning a Dads Army Trail celebrating the Suffolk countryside locations used in one of TVs best-loved sitcoms. Dave Gooderham reports
Taking a walk around some of the most picturesque villages in West Suffolk, you could be forgiven for thinking you had seen certain landmarks somewhere before,
Honington Primary School, Ive seen you somewhere before. The Six Bells pub in Bardwell, you look familiar to me.
The answer lies in the past with many famous scenes from Dads Army shot in the area and also in the future, where local museum chiefs hope to immortalise the role the villages played in the fictional adventures at Walmington-on-Sea.
And there would be plenty of material for a Suffolk-based tour of the various landscapes used by legendary writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
The list is as extensive as it is impressive when thinking of the role this clutch of tiny but charming villages played in providing a setting for one of the best-loved comedies of all time.
Across in Norfolk, Thetford has long been revered as the home of the war comedy with the town now housing a museum dedicated to Dads Army and a soon-to-be-revealed bust of Captain Mainwaring.
But the role of Suffolk in providing backdrops to some of the iconic comedy moments should not be underestimated.
Stuart Wright, chairman of the Friends of Dads Army Museum, explained: They mainly used areas of Thetford in the first series because of the Stanta training ground, the flint buildings in the town and the fact that there were a number of hotels to put cast and crew up.
But once the first series was out of the way, there were a lot more Suffolk locations used around the Honington area.
David Croft had moved close by (and still lives in the area) and he got to know what places would be useful for filming. He was heavily influenced by where he lived but he was very skilled at ensuring that every village or landscape connected up and that it was always in the right period.
Honington Primary School was one such landscape used for exterior shots of the church hall where Mainwaring and his men would meet up.
Bardwell Green was used for a parade of Russian visitors and there were cameo parts for the likes of Brandon Station, Santon Downham, the British Sugar Beet factory in Bury St Edmunds and the small village of Sapiston.
The county also played host to some memorable Dads Army moments. Drinkstone Mill was the setting for Corporal Jones getting caught up in windmill sails, while the inimitable Private Pike, played by Suffolk resident Ian Lavender, dressed up as a Nazi captain for a scene filmed inside the Six Bells pub in Bardwell.
Forty years on, the pub still pays homage to the comedy with a photo from the grateful cast adorning the walls.
As the show became more popular, and a massive 11 million people tuned in, more filming took place in the Suffolk countryside, which inevitably brought excitement to the county.
Mr Wright said: When people knew they were filming nearby, it would always create excitement as it was just something different. And the cast would always do their best to mix in with the locals.
The cast would regularly be bussed out to the various villages and some extras, from senior citizens groups or the local boys brigade, would be used from time to time.
While Thetford might have been central to much of the Dads Army activities, largely due to the Stanta training ground, there was one small problem.
Mr Wright said: You almost couldnt get as far away from the sea as Thetford. So the light boat shed in Lowestoft was also featured when they had to travel to any location where the sea is involved. And The River Waveney at Beccles was also used.
The link between Suffolk and Norfolk and the show is continuing with a bust of Captain Mainwaring unveiled on June 19 as part of a special week of events.
The idea originated from the Friends group, who then commissioned Suffolk sculptor Sean Hedges Quinn after witnessing his excellent craftsmanship on the Sir Bobby Robson statue outside Ipswich Towns Portman Road ground.
Corrine Fulford, from the Friends, said: We are very lucky to have Sean. He is a Dads Army fan and he has been thrilled by the project. Sean obviously had several projects under his belt, like the Sir Bobby Robson statue, and the one thing we wanted was it looking like Captain Mainwaring rather than an artists impression.
It had to be the real man and we knew with the Sir Bobby Robson statue, we would get a great likeness.
Corrine was talking to the EADT Suffolk just three days before she saw the finished statue for the first time.
When asked how she felt, she admitted that she was a little nervous, but predicted it would be amazing.
Sean has been really in tune with what we have been trying to achieve and we have never been worried at any stage, she said. We cant wait to show it to the public. It will be great for the museum but it will also be great in attracting people to the region.
Explaining the continued success of the show and the fact that it picks up legions of fans from every new generation, Corrine described the comedy as timeless.
She said: With the repeats on television, you see children as young as five or six sitting with their grandparents. It is a compete family show, everyone can enjoy it no matter what their age. We are finding a whole new breed of fans. And I think it is particularly special in East Anglia because the local area played such a special part in its success.
People in Suffolk can watch it or walk round their villages and recognise the landmarks that were featured in Dads Army.
Prior to the setting up of the Friends of Dads Army, Mr Wright played an integral part in helping form the Dads Army trail around Thetford something he is now hoping to set up over the border.
He said: There is so much potential in the Dads Army history. We have people coming from afar as Australia and Canada to the museum.
The trail has been a great success but we are conscious there are other areas in both Suffolk and Norfolk that were heavily featured in the programme.
Extending the trail or creating a new one, perhaps covering just Suffolk, is something I would like to look at in the future, maybe in the next year or so.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the show, we did a little taster version and it went down very well. It is on the wish-list, I just need a few more hours in the day.
More information on the Dads Army Museum and the activities surrounding the unveiling of the Captain Mainwaring bust is available from www.dadsarmythetford.org.uk.