The Rear Guard
By Dave Homewood
One of my big discoveries was The Rear Guard. Not just discovering that it had happened, it had been made, since it was long forgotten till my investigation, but also my actual rediscovery of the lost episode allowing me to return copies to Jimmy Perry and David Croft who wrote it, and who thought they'd never see it again. Brilliant.
The Rear Guard was an American-made adaptation of Dad's Army. It was set in the USA and re-written to be enjoyed and understood by an American audience.
The first time that this came to my attention was in December 1996. I was in Wigan, Lancashire, UK, visiting my friend Colin Bean. You will know Colin as the actor who played Private Sponge the sheep farmer in the Dad's Army platoon. Colin was a long-time member and supporter of the DAAS New Zealand Branch. My visit included a long and very interesting chat with him about the making of the comedy series, and suddenly he mentioned 'the day the Americans came to the set'.
I quizzed him on this and he said they were there to watch them filming an episode. Colin explained that Jimmy Perry and David Croft had sold the rights for a US-made version of the show, and several producers and executives visited the Dad's Army set to get the feel for the show, so they knew what they were making. At that stage Colin did not know any more about the whole thing, the actors were not really told much about what was going on. He wasn't even sure if the project had indeed gone ahead in the United States. But this morsel of information set me on a path of research, which would last no less than two years.
The first thing I did was ask Jack Wheeler, who ran the UK DAAS, whether he'd heard of such a thing as an American Dad's Army. He hadn't, and neither had others in the society top brass. I then had a meeting with Jimmy Perry, and I asked him if he could confirm anything about the story. He recalled instantly that he and David Croft had indeed travelled to Hollywood, USA, in 1975, and been involved in making a pilot for ABC-TV. This pilot was based on the script of the famous episode The Deadly Attachment, in which the Home Guard have to look after a captured U-boat crew for the night.
He also recalled that the lead actors were Lou Jacobi and Eddie Foy jr. But he could not remember any other specific details, apart from the fact that it hadn't been too popular in the US and no further episodes were made. At that stage Jimmy had thought from memory that the premise had been set around the Legion of Guardsmen, rather than the Home Guard. This was later to be proven a mistake, but an understandable one after such a long time.
Jimmy also remembered he'd once had a video copy in the American NTSC format. As he'd not been able to play it in the UK, it had been discarded. Later when he'd tried to get a copy converted to the British Pal system from the ABC-TV archives, he was told the show had been wiped. So this meant we had another lost 'Dad's Army' episode to add to the list.
A few days later I was speaking with Bill Pertwee (Warden Hodges), and I asked him what he knew. He also remembered that something had been done, and he said he thought the title had been The Rear Guard. This was the first time I had heard the actual name of the show. Although he could recall no further details, slowly the jigsaw was piecing together.
Then later in the month a co-incidence happened. I had bought a book back in December, called 'Forty Years Of British Television', for Jack Wheeler for Christmas. When I read later it, a small section listed British TV shows which had been adapted for US screens, and among the list was Dad's Army, adapted to The Rear Guard. This confirmed Bill's memory.
Anyway, I soon had to return to New Zealand, but my research didn't stop. I wrote to ABC-TV in America, but was disappointed and surprised that they did not even have the courtesy to reply. Then sometime in 1997 I found a book in the Hamilton Public Library called 'The Complete Encyclopaedia of Television Programs 1949 - 79' by Vincent Terrace. This had the breakthrough information which I needed. It actually listed The Rear Guard. And it had a partial cast list and other details such as an approximate broadcast date.
Armed with this information, I wrote to the US TV Guide, who were able to reply with a photocopy of the original broadcast notice and further details of cast. This was indeed a big help. I now had the broadcast date, the time it aired, and the channels (it went out simultaneously on two stations, Channels 7 and 8).
One member of the cast listed there was Conrad Janis. He had played the part of the U-boat Commander in The Rear Guard. I managed to get his address, and we made contact in early 1998. Conrad, who has been a prolific actor for many decades, is probably best remembered world wide as Mindy's father Fred (who owned the music shop) in the Robin Williams hit show Mork and Mindy. Conrad was able to provide several more details and some nice memories of the making of the show. He even remembered where it was made.
I then was able to make contact with another star of The Rear Guard, Cliff Norton. Cliff had played Captain Rosatti, who was the equivalent of Captain Mainwaring. He kindly sent a letter and autographed photo, but furthermore he was able to actually track down a copy of the episode on video! It had been kept by the director, Hal Cooper, in his personal collection, which was very fortunate considering that ABC-TV had wiped the original tape. Cliff was still friends with Hal, and he gladly made a copy for the DAAS New Zealand Branch. So after almost two years, a once unknown and long-forgotten episode, which had been classified as lost forever, was now back with the DAAS.
I immediately telephoned Jimmy Perry, who was ecstatic to hear this lost chapter in his show's history was recovered. We got the video converted from NTSC to Pal, and made several copies. The Rear Guard is now kept in my collection, the DAAS UK archives, and Jimmy Perry, David Croft and a few others have copies, so it is unlikely that this will ever be 'lost' again.In fact no doubt hundreds of copies have circulated fandom by now.
I'm proud to have unearthed both the forgotten information and ultimately the actual video copy of this very interesting and important piece of Dad's Army's history. Since my research was concluded, the story of this one-off episode has been recorded in several publications, so I'm happy to think that it should not be forgotten as easily as it was before for 25 years.
The full script to The Rear Guard, plus a wonderful coloured photo of the cast and production crew on set (including Jimmy and David) appears in Richard Webber's book 'The Complete A-Z of Dad's Army' (2000, Orion Books). Here are some other details of the half-hour comedy pilot.
The Rear Guard
The Rear Guard was based upon the famous Dad's Army script 'The Deadly Attachment' by Jimmy Perry and David Croft. This was adapted, and actually somewhat cut down in dialogue, by well-known US comedy writer Arthur Julian. In doing so, he decided to switch around some of the characters' personas, and take lines from one charcter and give them to another.
For example many of Mainwarings lines are uttered by Sgt Raskin, who is really Wilson's equivalent character. The result is something which resembles Dad's Army, but does not directly impersonate it. Here is the full cast list…
Lou Jacobi as Sergeant Max Raskin
Unlike Dad's Army, top billing goes to the Sergeant character. This is played by Lou Jacobi, a well known US character actor. Raskin is a rotund Jewish man, with a moustache. The character is slightly reminiscent of Oliver Hardy. He seems to enjoy his job as platoon sergeant to the civilian defence unit, but he's not too keen on actually meeting the Germans. Being American, the sergeant role is built up to be a tougher and louder character than the gentle Sgt Wilson. Lou Jacobi is now retired from acting and lives in New York.
Cliff Norton as Captain Nick Rosatti
Captain Rosatti is an Italian-American. Bearing little resemblance to his counterpart Captain Mainwaring, Rosatti seems to love the sound of his own voice (which is always louder than needed). He is full of gusto and can't wait to get to grips with the German prisoners, or any enemy. His cousin Mario owns a delicatessen in the town, but we're not made aware of his own profession. Cliff Norton lives in Hollywood these days and continues to work in radio.
Eddie Foy Jr. as Bert Wagner
Wagner is a new recruit to the platoon. A direct descendant of the Lance Corporal Jones character, Wagner is an old soldier who likes the cold steel too. However his wars were American ones. He claims to have ridden up San Wan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt. In fact Roosevelt becomes the equivalent of Jones' reminiscences of General Kitchener. This seems a risky piece of writing as Roosevelt is revered in American history, unlike Kitchener in Britain's memories. Rather than a bayonet, Wagner has a long curved cavalry sword, the blade of which more often than not detaches from the handle when drawn. With the gentle Private Godfrey character written out, his comic traits of a weak bladder is written into the Bert Wagner character. Wagner also nods off like Godfrey, and he has trouble walking long distances without getting tired. Eddie Foy Jr. was a famous actor from a famous family. He died in 1982.
John McCook as Don Crawford
An amalgamation of Private Walker, the wide boy, and some traits of the suave Sgt Wilson, Crawford is a professional Hollywood actor, who has dodged the draft on medical grounds. Crawford is a smooth talker, a ladies man. He is also a bit of a coward - it was he who suggested switching the detonators in the grenades for dummies. He seems to have something going on with church secretary Marsha. He is not satisfied with the fact that the platoon are forced to wear old World War One uniforms, and feels he is a war behind. John McCook has gone onto a successful career in US soaps such as Days Of Our Lives.
Dennis Kort as Bobby Henderson
Pike gets off lightly, his equivalent Henderson is an equally stupid, soppy looking boy. Henderson also loves film stars and is keen to see real Germans and action, just like Pikey. He doesn't like going up ladders, just like Pike, and claims he had a note from his mother about this fact. Sadly we did not meet his mother, who would have been the equivalent of Mavis Pike. It is unknown what Dennis Kort is doing these days.
Arthur Peterson as Mr Muldoon
This character is the equivalent of the belligerent Verger, Mr Yeatman. Muldoon is the custodian of the Catholic Church where the platoon meets. He is equally as much a troublemaker as Yeatman. Arthur Peterson may best be remembered as the nutty Colonel in the comedy Soap. He died in 1997.
Jim Connell as Father Fitzgerald
Instead of a Church of England Vicar, in the case of the Reverend Timothy Farthing, The Rear Guard has a Catholic priest. Father Fitzgerald is Irish, and it seems he is a bit more supportive of having the platoon in his hall than Farthing was in Dad's Army. It is Muldoon and the priest who cause the hostage situation, because the character of the ARP Warden Hodges was not written into the US version. It is unknown what Jim Connell is doing these days, if he's still alive.
James McCallion as Colonel Walsh
The Rear Guard's equivalent of Colonel Pritchard is actually a member of the regular Army, and in control of the civilian defence in the area of long island where this is set. In Dad's Army, Pritchard is also Home guard, not regular army.
Conrad Janis as the German Captain
A direct transition of the almost evil Captain Muller from the Dad's Army episode, Conrad's playing of the part is very good. He is quite convincing in his part, despite the fact that unlike Philip Madoc in the UK version, he did not speak German and had to learn the few lines in German especially. Conrad continues to act in films and TV, and has appeared in over 500 sitcoms.
Ronda Copland as Marsha Wilson
A new character, brought in for some female interest, Marsha is attractive and all the men of the platoon desire her. She seems to be a secretary at the church, but at nights show works in an aircraft factory. She is a bit like Wendy Richard's character of Edith Parish/ Shirley.
Dave Morick as Frank Sanicola
A new character, Sanicola is the fisherman who actually picked up the U-boat crew. He is the one who phones Rosatti about them, not the Colonel.
Don Diamond as Foster
It seems Frazer has disappeared altogether, which is a sad omission. However, this character which has a few lines, may have been his replacement. This is not clear. But Foster is the man who handles the machine gun, and as Frazer is the Walmington platoon's Lewis Gunner, the connection is there.
Claude Jones as Krupinsky
A tiny role, perhaps best equated with Private Sponge, particularly as Krupinsky is the man who fetches and set up the ladder, as Sponge had done in this episode.
There is no Air Raid Warden, although it's not clear whether one may have come into it if the series had gone on. The USA definitely had Air Raid Wardens, but as they were under the banner of Civil Defense, and as these platoon members are also called Civilian Defense, perhaps the two may have been too similar to set up that clash of authorities which exists so wonderfully in Dad's Army.
This episode screened once only in the USA, and it's thought was never broadcast outside that country. It aired on Channels 7 and 8 at 10:00pm on Tuesday the 10th of August 1976.
The setting is Long Island, but it seems prior plans were for the setting to be in Maine.
Richard Webber discovered in his research for 'The Complete A-Z of Dad's Army' that the producer, Herman Rush, had sketched out some ideas for more storylines if the series had gone ahead as planned. They indicate that only the pilot would have been based on an actual Dad's Army script. Interestingly, Herman Rush also referred to his American characters as Dad's Army. Here they are…
- Local factory that manufactures munitions for US Army is having problems. Dad's Army is called to patrol, and suspects sabotage
- Since town is on the Atlantic Coast and because of U-boat threat, there are local blackouts. Dad's Army assists in making sure blackout rules are adhered to.
- A stranger arrives in town and arouses suspicions of Dad's Army that he is a spy. (He turns out to be an FBI agent and his cover is inadvertently blown by our heroes).
- There is an Army base located outside the town. Dad's Army, not realizing they are holding manoeuvres, decides the enemy has landed and surrounds the GIs.
- The British Home Office sends a Colonel Blimp type from their Home Guard to America to offer instruction to their American cousins and he is assigned to our group in Maine.
- On Flag Day Dad's Army decides to hold a parade to display their newest uniforms and equipment. Unbeknownst to them the Army base has made the same decision and the two parades collide as they round the corner of 5th and main.
- Dad's Army is holding special training and conflict erupts between the General and one of the Privates as to who is in command
- Washington sends a retired General to visit with Dad's Army to bring them up to date with the latest methods of defence. He turns out to be a greater bumbler than our heroes