Michael Knowles On The Dad’s Army Radio Series
From Issue 21 of "Platoon Attention"
Dad’s Army was adapted for BBC Radio between 1973 and 1975. A total of 67 episodes were recorded for radio, based on scripts from the TV episodes. Michael Knowles and Harold Snoad were responsible for rewriting them to suit radio. While recently speaking with Michael Knowles, the subject of the Dad’s Army Radio shows came up.
Dave: I thought you did a brilliant job with Dad’s Army.
Michael: Oh, thank you very much. Well, yes, it was a labour of love, we enjoyed it.
Dave: I think some of the re-written material was better than the original because you had the benefit of hindsight.
Michael: Ooh, (he laughs), don’t say that to Jimmy!
Dave: Well, I mean some of them on television ended abruptly, whereas on the radio there is sometimes a little extra bit.
Michael: Yes, you can’t do that on radio.
Dave: The extra piece ends it better.
Michael: That’s true, yes.
Dave: I think another thing that was brilliant about the radio series was bringing Larry Martyn in to play Walker.
Michael: Oh you liked him? Yes, we had several of course. Graham Stark, then Larry. I think Larry worked best.
Dave: Yes, I think he played that part extremely well, coming in under the circumstances, because everyone knew the character already.
Michael: I know, yes. It was tricky, but he was a good actor. He’s dead now, of course. And of course, Jimmy Beck was the original, but there you are. Jimmy was a natural.
Dave: A lot of people didn’t like Graham Stark’s portrayal of Walker.
Michael: No. He wasn’t right for it, no. We had the same problem to a certain extent with Mrs Pike. We had Pearl Hackney, I think she worked all right. But I think one of the best Mrs Pikes was Liz Fraser in the film. That’s the image I have, but you know, it’s up to the writers. They know what they want.
Dave: Why didn’t Janet Davies carry on as Mrs Pike in the radio series?
Michael: Well, there again it’s politics. BBC Radio didn’t want her. It’s often very awkward when that happens. One feels sorry for the original actors because they expect these things, and the BBC says “No, I want so and so, and so and so”. It’s up to them really. We had to fight to get anywhere. When we did the first series, they only put in three actors who were regular, Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and Clive Dunn. Because BBC Radio were rather grand, they'd said “Oh well. We’ll bring the others in as and when we need them.” But after the first series it was decided that we would use all seven of the platoon.
Dave: I always wondered why some of the platoon were dropped out of it, it didn’t make sense.
Michael: Exactly. It was money. But it was so successful they realised “We have to have them all in.” You can’t leave people like John Laurie out, or give them just the odd episode here and there. It didn’t work.
Dave: Did those actors who got dropped out feel insulted by that?
Michael: Yes they did actually, yes. Quite rightly. I mean to say people like John Laurie were extremely experienced actors who’d been around a long time, so it was a bit of an insult really. It all worked out in the end, it was only after they made us cut down. So you had to give five actors the lines of seven characters, it made life difficult. We had characters saying things that weren’t right for them.
Dave: Yes, John Laurie often took on the lines that were originally for Walker, didn’t he?
Michael: That’s right, yes. Often when they were plot lines, they were necessary, so we had to do that.
Dave: How many people would have been in the audience when making the radio series?
Michael: About two hundred I suppose, two or three hundred. In the Paris, we recorded those mostly in what we called the Paris Studios. Originally we started in Charing Cross, in an old theatre there, for the first ones, and afterwards we moved to the Paris.
Dave: And you did two or three a night?
Michael: Two, yes. On one famous occasion we recorded twenty in ten days. It was the only time we could get all the cast together. So that was a marathon. Particularly considering the age of some of them. But they earned a lot of money because they made it all in one go. That was the only way we could get it done with all the cast, due to their other commitments.
Dave: I suppose they didn’t dress up for the recordings.
Michael: No, no. When we first started, it had been suggested they wear uniform. Clive did, he was very good about that, and so was Jimmy Beck. But the older members weren’t inclined to go along like that. And Clive would often ride a bicycle, things like that if it were called for. But in the end we just ended up with the microphones and the actors standing in front of them.
Dave: Do you know if any photographs exist of them actually making the radio series?
Michael: None at all, no. They didn’t do that sort of thing, not for radio. They may have done some publicity stills, outside with other actors at some time, but I never saw any taken in the studio, not that I can think of.
Thanks to Michael Knowles. It was very interesting to learn some of the background behind this series._