Fairly Secret Army (Channel 4, 1984-1986)
One of my favourite sitcoms from the 70s is The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin (although I must admit I haven’t seen a huge amount of comedy shows from that era). This one wasn’t a spin-off as such, but it was written by David Nobbs, and also starred Geoffrey Palmer as a character that was almost identical to the one he played in that show.
So I was pleased when I saw that all of the episodes of Fairly Secret Army on YouTube, because it’s always a pleasure seeing Palmer do his thing (and he really does have a terrific voice), and also because this is from the time when Channel 4 were still experimenting with their home-made comedy and were struggling to establish a successful format, something that they wouldn’t achieve for a while yet.
Palmer played Henry Truscott, who is a retired army officer, but he still seems to think that he is a significant figure in the army and talks in a rather unusual and old-fashioned style, speaking in short sentences, ending them with “message received and understood”, and making memorable observations like “treacherous chaps, women”.
Henry feels that he needs to find a purpose in life, so he becomes the self-appointed leader of a secret army, in case, as he puts it, “the balloon goes up”, something that he is convinced is about to happen. He’ll try and save Britain all by himself, or with a few recruits at least. Although they are rather hard to come by, not many people can be found who share his rather odd world view, apart from a few old army mates, including Sergeant Major Throttle.
Henry does feel that he has got to grab the opportunity though, but he stumbles from one mishap to the next and is doomed to failure. Fairly Secret Army was made on location and features no laughter, but barely any critics or viewers took much notice of the show at the time, and the ones that did seemed to think that it was a bit of a cock-up on the comedy front. But then, they were always tricky blighters.
That didn’t stop the show returning for a second series, but viewers continued to be rather unmoved which was disappointing, and there has been no DVD release. This was still a better variation on the idea than The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin though. Palmer would have further comedy success though in the long-running sitcom As Time Goes By, and would collaborate with Nobbs again for the enjoyable radio sitcom The Maltby Collection.