On a sadder note: a valedictory salute to archetypal British Army Sergeant Major comedy actor Windsor Davies

by | Jan 21, 2019 | On a Sadder Note, Seradata News

Seradata is sad to learn of the passing of Welsh comedy actor Windsor Davies at the age of 88.  While he had appeared in small parts in several films, Davies came to prominence in the 1970s appearing in two carry on films, including the just-about-ok Carry On Behind (1974) – really a rerun of Carry on Camping with Davies effectively taking over the lecherous role usually played by Sid James – and the very poor Carry on England (1976) in which he played a wartime Sargeant Major – a typecast role which became his forte.

Although Windsor Davies later starred with veteran British actor Donald Sinden in in ITV’s Never The Twain which both played warring antique dealers, it will be for the long running BBC wartime set comedy It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, made between 1974 and 1981, that Windsor Davies will be most remembered.  It is set around a Royal Artillery concert party based in India and Burma at the tail end of the Second World War, its title is taken from a notional letter back home from one of the soldiers involved. In it Windsor Davies starred as Sergeant-Major Williams, a typical hard-as-nails non-commissioned officer who is keen to see action against the Japanese, and is thus miserable at being put in charge of troops he considers as too effeminate, fearful or intellectual to fight, and frustrated that he will have no chance to do so himself.

While others have made fun characterisations of shouty British Army Sergeant-Major types before –  Richard Attenborough in The Guns at Batasi (1964), and Terry Scott in Carry on Up the Khyber (1967) come to mind – it is Windsor Davies’ performance in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum which stands out as probably the best of them all.

Windsor Davies as Sergeant-Major Willams in “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”. Courtesy: BBC

Written by Dad’s Army’s talented creators, Jimmy Perry and David Croft, who both served in India and Burma during the war, this army-based show’s humour made extensive use of amusing national, racial, sexual, class and religious stereotypes as it accurately displayed (and made sport of) that era’s colonial, white supremacist and anti-gay sentiment which was evident in all ranks, from staff officers right down to the lowliest of the British soldiers.

Still, in between Windsor Davies’ Sergeant-Major Williams character’s pro-imperialistic and casually racist diatribes against the serving Indian native porters, char-wallahs and punka-wallahs (who themselves were amusingly racist), and his anti-gay and anti-transexual rants against “poofery” in his army battery, he had many famous less incendiary catchphrases, including the ubiquitous exclamations “Sh-arrtt up!” and “Move yourselves! Move yourselves!”, along with his mock sympathetic, “Oh dear, how sad, never mind!”.

Amusing and excellent as Windsor Davies’ performance was (and still is on DVD), the It Ain’t Half Hot Mum comedy series is no longer actively shown on British television. Even though it actually made fun of racism and homophobia, BBC executives remain fearful that its not very-politically correct quips against the natives and their strong Indian accents might be repeated by unfunny and not-so-clever racists in real life, just as, it has to be said, often did happen around British school playgrounds and workplaces in the 1970s.

It is for the similar reasons – that is, for the good of society if not for the good of comedy – that other amusing national stereotype-reliant comedy shows from that era  – an example being LWT’s language school-set show Mind Your Language – have also been banned from being repeated in today’s broadcast television schedules

Nevertheless, we give our valedictory salute to Windsor Davies for making us laugh – at least the first time around – and we give our condolences to his family and friends.

Post Script: We are also sad to learn of the premature passing of stand-up and BBC radio comedian Jeremy Hardy who has died from cancer at the age of 57. While his left wing politics were often rather obviously woven into his jokes, nevertheless his wittily self-deprecating and humorous way of always seeing the funny side was very apparent on BBC Radio 4 comedy panel shows such as I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and The News Quiz.  Hardy joked why he preferred radio to television by saying: I think I’m best on the radio, really. I know my place. Me and Finisterre.”  By the way, Jeremy Hardy had a space-connected upbringing.  He was brought up in Farnborough, Hampshire, as his father worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and was in charge of the launch of Britain’s first launched satellite, Prospero.

Jeremy Hardy will be missed and we give him our salute, and give our condolences to his family and friends.

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