The DEC4 Podcast: In Conversation with Oliver Crocker - Part II

Talking guerrilla filmmaking, Frank Williams, British TV legends, and lots more...

Thank you for joining us again on the DEC4 Podcast, for this concluding instalment of our two-part conversation with Oliver Crocker. In this episode we shift our focus from Oliver’s work relating to The Bill, and talk more broadly about his career to date, including his early experiences in guerrilla indie film making. You’ll find background information, cast details, and production notes and photos at the IMDb pages for Oliver’s productions of Tanner (2007), Murder by Appointment (2009), and Extended Rest (2014).

BAFTA nominated director Mervyn Cumming (1943-2021) (Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Family Affairs, Byker Grove) on the set of Tanner with Frank Williams

Prolific television director Mervyn Cumming played a pivotal role in Oliver’s life and career, as did late actor Ian Cullen, whom we discussed in more detail in the context of his Z-Cars career in our first episode. Oliver shares some wonderful personal anecdotes about working with these two talented professionals, also Mervyn Cumming’s contribution to the famously chaotic, short-lived and disastrously scripted BBC soap, El Dorado, a rare mis-step for producer Verity Lambert, who otherwise had great success as a pioneering producer of Doctor Who, and during a golden run for Thames Television / Euston Films.

We spend a significant part of this episode discussing Oliver’s friendship with, and the fascinating career of, playwright and actor Frank Williams. Oliver’s short film biography, Dad’s Army and Beyond: The Frank Williams Story, also directed by Mervyn Cumming, was screened at the National Film Theatre (BFI) as part of the official 40th Anniversary celebrations for Dad’s Army in 2008. You can watch the full documentary here, courtesy of Oliver’s YouTube channel. It really is essential viewing for serious Dad’s Army fans, and there is some wonderful candid footage of the cast having great fun while on tour for the stage production in 1976.

Frank Williams won lasting fame for his portrayal of Timothy Farthing, the vicar in Dad’s Army, and although actually featuring in only half of the 80 episodes, made such an impression that it’s easy to imagine he was prominent in each one. He had previously appeared as Captain Pocket in The Army Game, and later in Croft and Perry’s You Rang, M’Lord, amongst a number of other film, television and stage credits. He is also a successful playwright. Some information about his plays can be found at the UK website of stage scripts.

Frank Williams with friend and co-star Edward (Teddy) Sinclair, one of the great comic pairings of all. Teddy Sinclair sadly passed away a matter of weeks after filming the final episode of Dad’s Army in 1977

Oliver also shares with us memorable and at times poignant encounters with some authentic television legends, including Bill Pertwee, Philip Madoc, Pamela Cundell and Paul Shane.

Philip Madoc (1934-2012) left an impressive body of work on stage and screen and created perhaps the most memorable cameo in the entire run of Dad’s Army, as the U-Boat Captain.

Although Dad’s Army was played largely for laughs, writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft frequently reminded us of the frightening reality behind the comedy, even in the final episode when the platoon was mobilised following an invasion alert. According to the Imperial War Museum, by July of 1940, nearly 1.5 million men and boys aged 17-65 had enrolled in the Local Defence Volunteers, which was then renamed the Home Guard. Over the course of the war, 1,206 members were killed by direct enemy action.

Oliver explains how he was engaged to produce the DVD extras for the 2016 Dad’s Army feature film, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Toby Jones (Captain Mainwaring), Bill Nighy (Sergeant Wilson), Michael Gambon (Private Godfrey), and Alison Steadman (Mrs Fox). Frank Williams reprised his role as the Vicar, and received a standing ovation from the other cast members when he arrived on set. It seems that Catherine Zeta-Jones is quite a fan of the Vicar as well!

We allude very briefly to the Dad’s Army Podcast, to which Oliver, Frank Williams and Mervyn Cumming contributed. Although no longer being updated, there are over 80 episodes to explore, including commentaries and production insights on some favourite episodes, and the original 1971 movie with Frank Williams; a fascinating interview with Nicolas Ridley (son of war-hero, playwright and actor Arnold Ridley who played Private Godfrey), Dad’s Army events featuring cast members as well as Jimmy Perry and David Croft, and lots more as well. Link to the episodes on Apple /iTunes.

Some recommendations for further reading and listening;

Find Oliver’s books, Witness Statements: Making the Bill Series 1 -3 and the new edition of All Memories Great and Small at Devonfire Books.

Link here to The Bill Podcast.

Bill Pertwee has written a number of books, including Dad’s Army: The Making of a Television Legend, an autobiography, as well as histories of forces entertainment and variety.

Another recommended read for Dad’s Army buffs is Graham McCann’s Dads Army: The Story of a Classic Television Show.

Other relevant memoirs are from Frank Williams himself with Chris Gidney (Vicar to Dad’s Army: The Frank Williams Story), Clive Dunn (Permission to Speak) and John Le Mesurier (A Jobbing Actor). Nicolas Ridley’s biographical memoir about his father Arnold is Godfrey’s Ghost: From Father to Son.

Please feel free to leave any other suggestions in the comments below.

A big thankyou once again to Oliver for joining us for two episodes of thoroughly enjoyable conversation, to Steve Collins for technical support, to Gainesville for writing and performing the podcast theme and incidental music. And thanks especially to all our readers and listeners.

Podcast supported by and the Armstrong and Burton book series.