REVIEW / Oh, what a terrible war . . . once again

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The Independent Culture
ONCE YOU'VE written one successful sitcom, the rest just write themselves. To bear out this happy theory, you need only peer into the ideas tray of David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, the team responsible for such delights as Are You Being Served and 'Allo 'Allo.

Almost certainly, a formulaic series of half-hour pilots is in the pipeline. In Ole Ole, a troupe of raunchy flamenco dancers perform nightly at a club owned by a ring of cockney Costa del Criminals. One of the criminals is a houseproud homosexual. In Cuckoo a family of strait-laced Swiss clock-makers, one of whom is a houseproud homosexual, are somewhat distracted by the saucy girls from the posh English finishing school next door. In Mammary Mia, four Allied soldiers are marooned in the desert with four randy Italian prostitutes posing as Red Cross nurses. One of the soldiers is a houseproud homosexual.

Actually, Mammary Mia was on last night, although for some reason a creative duo not renowned for subtlety have restrained themselves and called it Which Way to the War? (ITV). The other two pilots are as yet just brainwaves awaiting a sidesplitting script.

The war remains an attractive place for Croft and Lloyd to take their crayons because, like language schools, it affords access to a bottomless pit of gags about racial stereotypes. No matter that some of them creak towards you on a Zimmer frame. 'Them Eyetie trucks have got special gears,' said the cockney soldier in Which Way to the War?: 'one forward, five reverse.' It's believed that a version of this joke was first cracked by one of Hannibal's elephant handlers as the Carthaginian army gazed down from the Alps on to the mist-covered plains of the Po valley.

In the comic universe painted by Croft and Lloyd, if a joke isn't about race then it must be about sex, just as a coin that doesn't land heads must land tails. Unless perchance it's about both race and sex. As a plot device, the Italian whores are a masterstroke of double- decker joke construction: they're not English, which you've got to admit is hilarious, and they're on heat, which is hugely sniggersome. 'No getta da dough, no droppa da drawers,' the dolled-up tarts chant in unison when they discover that the soldiers are penniless. And no spenda too much time ona da catchlines.

From one or two promising situations, it's plain that Croft and Lloyd know their Shakespearian comedy; they just choose not to follow the example. When two pairs of British and Australian soldiers meet in the desert, run out of ammo and then surrender to each other simultaneously, a case of mistaken identity is sitting there waiting to be milked, but the script doesn't actually take you to the point of maximum comic potential, the point when the enemies realise they are in fact allies. Instead we cut to inside the barracks (where the Scottish soldier is being a houseproud homosexual) and both parties admit that, 'we thought you was Gerries'.

Under fire, one Aussie asks the other if he's got anything white with which to surrender. 'If you asked me five minutes ago,' he replies, 'I would have said my underpants.' What's in those underpants is pretty much the same as what's in this comedy.

Just as the umbrella term 'humour' is wide enough to include Which Way to the War?, so Tights] Camera] Action] (C4) qualifies as dance. Last night Lea Anderson introduced a head shot of a Japanese woman screaming, several Japanese men being expressionist in a dockyard, three pixillationist commercials for a New York hotel and herself as Joan of Arc. You get some pretty big umbrellas these days.