“A seaside saga of pier perpetuation starring John Le Mesurier as Arthur Wilson, Ian Lavender as Frank Pike, Bill Pertwee as Bert Hodges and Vivienne Martin as Miss Perkins.”

Dad’s Army is considered to be one of the greatest sitcoms ever made.  The series had a sequel; It Sticks Out Half A Mile which was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 in the early 1980s.

The series was written by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles, the team responsible for the adaptations of the Dad’s Army television series into radio. When Dad’s Army finished in 1977, Snoad felt it was a pity that such wonderful characters like Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, Private Pike and ARP Warden Hodges would be lost. With the agreement from original writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft, he suggested to Knowles that they should team up to write a sequel, which developed into It Sticks Out Half A Mile.  Arthur Lowe had wanted the series to be made for TV, but when Snoad suggested the idea to the BBC, they turned him down but offered that it be made for radio.

The original idea for the spin-off, set in 1948, was that it would feature Mainwaring and Wilson meeting up after the war had ended. The premise was that Wilson had moved out of Walmington-on-Sea and become the manager of his own branch of Swallow’s Bank in Frambourne, another fictional town on the south coast. Meanwhile Mainwaring had moved back from Switzerland, where he’d worked as the supervisor at a firm making cuckoo clocks. However the Swiss air had not suited the chest of his dreaded wife Elizabeth. Upon his return, Mainwaring was shocked to learn that Frambourne council wanted to demolish their old pier, so goes to the bank to take out a loan, not knowing that the manager is Wilson. Wilson loans him the money, and Mainwaring gets to buy the pier from the council, who are delighted that someone wants to buy such a wreck.

A pilot episode with this premise was recorded with Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier returning as Mainwaring and Wilson.  Lowe was not well at the time of the recording and kept slurring his lines, so badly in fact that at times he sounded drunk. Sadly, Lowe’s health continued to fluctuate and he eventually died 10 months later, before the pilot could be broadcast or any further episodes could be produced. Consequently, it seemed that the idea of It Sticks Out Half A Mile was at an end; but at Lowe’s memorial service, his widow Joan Cooper told Snoad and Knowles that Lowe had loved the idea and that they should continue in his honour  – so they did.

As a result, a second pilot was recorded, but now it was Hodges buying the pier, with young Pike as his business partner (but only because he needed the loan from ‘Uncle Arthur’). They easily get the money, as Pike threatens Wilson that if he does not get the loan, he will reveal to his mother (whom the bank manager is still seeing), that Wilson once had a fling with another woman when he first moved into Frambourne.

After the second pilot was broadcast in 1983, the cast went on to record a further 12 episodes. The series saw Hodges and Pike managing the pier, with Wilson acting as their financial advisor. There was also the introduction of a new regular character: Wilson’s secretary Miss Perkins, played by Vivienne Martin. Perkins, just like every other woman ever to come into contact with Wilson, is head-over-heels in love with him.

Sadly, Le Mesurier himself died just two days after the first episode of It Sticks Out Half A Mile was broadcast. Had he survived, it seems likely that a second series would have been commissioned.

An interesting aspect of It Sticks Out Half A Mile is its survival. Even into the 1980s, the BBC was still carrying out a policy of wiping television and radio episodes so that the tapes could be used again. The master of the first pilot was wiped by the BBC, but Snoad had kept a copy of it and later returned it to the corporation. Most of the episodes from the series were wiped from the archives, but the BBC’s Treasure Hunt scheme later discovered recordings of all the episodes, so all are now available.