'Allo 'Allo writer speaks about new stage version

Sarah HardyWhat a back catalogue - Dad's Army, You Rang M'Lord, Hi de Hi, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Are You Being Served - to name but a few. David Croft, who has lived on the Norfolk/Suffolk borders for the past 40 years, is up there, with his writing partners Jeremy Lloyd and Jimmy Perry, as one of the greats of our entertainment heritage.Sarah Hardy

What a back catalogue - Dad's Army, You Rang M'Lord, Hi de Hi, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Are You Being Served - to name but a few. David Croft, who has lived on the Norfolk/Suffolk borders for the past 40 years, is up there, with his writing partners Jeremy Lloyd and Jimmy Perry, as one of the greats of our entertainment heritage.

Now a stage version of 'Allo 'Allo, that cheeky, cheery show set in occupied France in the second world war which followed the fortunes of the hapless French caf� owner Rene and his wife Edith, opens in Lowestoft on Monday.

It's on tour for most of the spring and summer and stars Hi de Hi's Jeffrey Holland as Rene and original series member Vicki Michelle, who will don her French waitress outfit in the role as Yvette Carte-Blanche.

David, who is now aged 86, plans to make the short journey to the seaside to see the show. 'Yes, I'm looking forward to it, it should do very well: most of our shows translate on to the stage - Hi de Hi certainly did,' he says.

The show promises to include many of those great catchphrases, such as 'Good moaning,' 'Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once,' and 'My little tank!' It tells of Rene and Edith's struggle to hide a priceless portrait, the Fallen Madonna, stolen by the Nazis and hidden in a sausage in their cellar. Rene is also being urged by the French Resistance to help two bumbling British airmen escape - and attempting to continue his long-running affairs with two waitresses.

So, it's a busy show and very typical of what David used to write. 'It always starts with the characters and their location - and the funny situations and events that come out of that,' he explains, adding that their mini conflicts with authority were always a good hunting ground for funny moments, too.

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He believes that he was lucky enough to have a natural ability to write, saying that he produced his first script when he was just 11. Coming from a theatrical family no doubt helped him, too. His mother, Anne, was an actress while his father, Reginald, was a successful radio actor in Hollywood and David acted for a while himself - although he is always keen to point out that he wasn't that great. Have a look inside his autobiography, You Have Been Watching, and you'll read his very funny comments about his acting abilities.

He also served in the army, which provided him with plenty of insight into some great possible characters and locations, as he was based in North Africa, India and Singapore. In the mid 1960s he was introduced to the then actor Jimmy Perry who had their original idea for a comedy based on the Home Guard during the second world war and Dad's Army was born. They went on to write It Aint' Half Hot Mum and Hi de Hi. With Jeremy Lloyd, he produced Are You Being Served and 'Allo 'Allo.

So, and David admits this, it has been a fabulous career, with You Rang M'Lord as his favourite show. 'We had 50 minutes to play with rather than just the half hour, so we could do a bit more. And the BBC was great to work for then, we could do pretty much what we wanted. I think it is very different now.'

David, who was very charming on the telephone, spends his days relaxing at his wonderful 13th century home near Bury St Edmunds. He is a big fan of the area which he discovered when they started to film Dad's Army in the Thetford area. Indeed, many of his shows, including 'Allo 'Allo and You Rang M'Lord were filmed in this area, using locations such as Thetford Forest, Lynford Hall and the army battleground at Stanford Training Area.

And despite a life spent in television sitcom land, he isn't, perhaps unsurprisingly, that fond of today's television offerings. 'Well, it is all so vulgar, so coarse. It lacks any genuine humour - many of the stars just like to shock.'

He likes American shows such as Friends and Frazer but says that they are produced in a very different way to how he worked. 'They have very big writing teams - maybe 12 people around a table. But that's not how I used to do it.'

He also spends a lot of time with his children and grandchildren. With his wife Anne, a former theatrical agent, they have seven children and 15 grandchildren so there is nearly always someone visiting. 'We had 32 for Christmas lunch,' he says, clearly getting a great deal of enjoyment from his large crew! 'We have some marvellous parties.'

Perhaps then, there's an idea for a new TV sitcom that he would like - one based around family life and the weird and wonderful things they get up, too. Get writing, David!

'Allo 'Allo opens at the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, on Monday March 9 and runs until Saturday March 14. Call 01502 5332000; www.marinatheatre.co.uk