With the sad passing this week of Gordon Kaye a brief look back the series for which he is best known for. The WW2 Sit Com ‘`Allo `Allo’.
Set in Northern France during the occupation ‘`Allo `Allo’ follows the life of René Artois a cafe owner who walks a fine line between the occupying army and the resistance. Not at first glance the obvious subject for a farce but it worked.
‘`Allo `Allo’ was created by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, who’s previous collaborations had included ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ both also set during WW2. As well as ‘Hi-Di-Hi’ which more or less ran concurrently with ‘`Allo `Allo’ and would go on to create the forgotten gem ‘You Rang M’Lud’.
On the face of it a sit com about The French Resistance does seem a strange idea. However ‘`Allo `Allo’ is basically a parody of the BBC Drama series ‘Secret Army’, and manages to lampoon and parody most of the common tropes of the endless WW2 drams that were shown on British TV during the 70s and 80s.
The series plays up to the stereotypes: The Germans are kinky, the French are randy, the Italians are lazy and the British are idiots. Everyone speaks English with either a French, German or Italian accent and they can all understand each other, apart from the English who can’t understand anyone. With the exception of Crabtree an undercover British officer posing as a policeman who speaks mangled ‘French’.
Plot wise René runs his Cafe, serving the Germans but has to hide two British Airmen who are supposed to be moved on by the resistance, but the increasingly fantastical schemes to get them home all fail, at the same time he is hiding a painting ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’ by van Klomp and a historic Cuckoo clock for the German Officers from Herr Flick of the Gestapo, as well as engaging in an affair with his two waitresses while avoiding the unwanted attentions of Panzer officer Gruber.
All of these threads do overlap and work themselves out one way or another. Although apparently even the writers forgot about the Cuckoo clock for a couple of years, and I defy anyone to keep track of all the forgeries of the ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’ that were produced during the run of the series.
The early years are by the best, and also the darkest. As well as carrying on with René it is made obvious that the waitresses Yvette and Maria are supplementing their wages by taking the German Officers upstairs for some fun with flying helmets and limp celery, and walking the streets. This is played down when Maria is replaced by Resistance fighter Mimi. There are also hints to the more bizarre things that Herr Flick of the Gestapo gets up to with Private Helga Gerhart. None of which would make it to prime time Saturday night now.
Of al the characters the most beloved was Crabtree, a bumbling British Intelligence officer who speaks bad French and poses as the towns policeman. Like all the characters he speaks English, badly, but we accept that he is speaking French badly. “God Moaning” for ‘Good Morning’ and the classic “I was just pissing by the door” for ‘I was just Passing…’ to name just a few. Ask most people about ‘`Allo `Allo’ and they will quote Crabtree.
Like many series it could be argued ‘`Allo `Allo’ went on too long. It lasted nearly twice as long as the occupation of France, and towards the end the plots grew thinner and the catch-phrases more numerous. But for the first four years it was gold.
‘`Allo `Allo’ was and is a classic of British comedy, and it is shown all over the world, including in Germany, so find a box set and settle in for a farcical ride through history, and never again will you impart important information without saying “Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once” first.