Don’t Panic! Talks are underway to bring Dad’s Army to the big screen, with a new cast and a novel twist - Captain Mainwaring could be played by a woman.
Nearly four decades since the last episode of the classic sitcom aired on the BBC, co-writer Jimmy Perry has revealed to members of the show’s official fan club that a new film version is in the early stages of development.
However, with nearly all of the original actors having passed away - most recently Clive Dunn, who died last week at the age of 92 - any new film would require an entirely new cast.
Even more controversially, the studio behind the project have hinted to Perry that they want the lead role of Captain Mainwaring, played by Arthur Lowe in the series, to go to a woman.
Perry made the shock announcement at a meeting of the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society (DAAS) last month – where the news was met with “groans from his audience”, according to the DAAS website.
Jimmy Perry, 89, penned Dad’s Army with long-standing writing partner David Croft, who died last year at the age of 89. Perry has said he will not be writing the script for the new film, but his agent, Lynda Ronan, confirmed that he was “in the midst of discussions” about the project, but could give no further details. No film studio has yet been attached to the project, although Ms Ronan said there had been “interest”.
It would not be the first cinema outing for Dad’s Army. In 1971 Columbia Studios produced a feature film starring the original television cast. Sony Pictures Entertainment, who now own Columbia, did not respond to a request for comment on the new project.
The original film, a re-tread of plots from early episodes, told the story of the foundation of the Walmington-on-Sea branch of the Home Guard. The studio made several changes to the series, such as recasting the role of Mrs Pike, and the film tends not to be remembered fondly by fans of the television series.
In the Norfolk town of Thetford, where the series was filmed, a statue of Lowe as Captain George Mainwaring takes pride of place by the river Little Ouse. David Brooks, 53, who leads tours and talks at the town’s Dad’s Army Museum said that fans would be intrigued by a new film – but was not so sure about a female Mainwaring.
“As long as they were loyal to the genre of the comedy series fans would be fine about it,” he said. “It’s a classic form of British comedy so they’d have to continue in that vein. Jimmy Perry is probably aware that there is a new generation of Dad’s Army fans. We get a lot of teenagers coming into the museum. But I’m not sure whether a woman Mainwaring would go down very well.”
Corinne Fulford, the manager of the Dad’s Army Museum, was more direct. “We’re talking about an iconic series that was written by two geniuses. I can’t even imagine how he could played by a woman,” she said.
Historically speaking, the idea is not quite as wild as it might seem. Women were permitted into the Home Guard after 1943 and before that Women’s Home Defence groups were established in which the wives, mothers and sisters of serving soldiers learned unarmed combat and how to fire tommy guns in preparation for a German invasion. However, Midge Gillies, author of Waiting for Hitler, a history of British preparations for invasion in 1940, said that it was very unlikely that a woman would have served as a captain in the Home Guard.
“A female Captain Mainwaring sounds pretty unlikely to me,” she said. “It sounds like the film-makers are trying to update the series. The humour of it was originally about class and this would confuse things.”