Don't panic! Thetford guards the memory of 'Dad's Army'

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The Independent Online

Thetford has something of a penchant for erecting statues to its famous sons and daughters. For the past 30 years, a golden statue to the 18th century revolutionary Enlightenment leader Thomas Paine has stood at the centre of the small Norfolk market town where he was born, alongside the inscription: "Justice is due to every man: I seek no recompense I fear no consequences."

Also, on nearby Butten Island, stands a sculpture of Prince Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of the Punjab who, "relieved" of his kingdom by the British, decided to settle in an enormous country estate just outside of Thetford to spend the rest of his days enjoying his favourite sport, shooting.

All that though, is probably of little interest to the bus loads of tourists who come to Thetford on the "Dad's Army Trail". And Thetford, which provided the backdrop for the fictional town of Walmington-on-Sea in the long-running BBC series, seems to have realised that.

So, plans are under way to immortalise in bronze another unlikely leader whose roots also lie in the Norfolk town: the bank manager, Rotarian, and general pillar of the community Captain George Mainwaring. Plans have been submitted for 20,000 statue of the blustering Home Guard leader close to the town's Bell and Anchor hotels, where the stars and crew of the series stayed during filming.

The sitcom, written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, ran to nine series between 1968 and 1977 and featured some of the finest veterans of British comedy at the time including Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and Arnold Ridley. The series was partly based on Perry's experiences of the Home Guard, Britain's domestic volunteer force, and tells the story of Captain Mainwaring, a local bank manager with an overdeveloped sense of his own importance played by Lowe, and his de-termined attempts to bring discipline to his rag-tag bunch of fellow volunteers.

Yesterday, a free museum dedicated to Dad's Army opened in Thetford's Guildhall, featuring a replica of Captain Mainwaring's office, alongside photo displays of the ever-popular comedy series and historical military paraphernalia.

Stuart Wright, a local councillor and ardent fan of the series who runs Dad's Army walking tours of the town, says his proposal to build a statue of Mainwaring has won widespread support from locals and Dad's Army fans alike.

"We've been planning the museum now for about six months but it is the statue that has clearly caught everyone's imagination," he said yesterday. "Initially we intended to take the statue proposal slowly but the feedback we've had has been superb."

The council has backed the plan as have Arthur Lowe's family and those associated with the show.

Earlier this week, David Croft, who lives near Thetford, said he welcomed the idea to build a statue inspired by his show. "I think it is a marvellous idea," he told the Eastern Daily Press. "We had 10 years filming in Thetford and we had a great time. I am surprised and gratified that Dad's Army is still so popular. It is acquiring a new audience all the time because it is funny and for the whole family."

Mr Wright said the idea to build the statue came to him while conducting a walking tour which the town's tourist office has been offering to fans.

The statue will still need planning permission but Mr Wright says he is confident the town is behind the scheme and willing to raise the necessary funds.