It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum is a BBC television sitcom about a Royal Artillery concert party based in Deolali in India and the fictional village of Tin Min in Burma, during the last months of the Second World War.
It was written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, who had both served in similar roles in India during that war.
It was first broadcast on BBC 1 in eight series between 1974 and 1981, totalling 56 episodes in all, with each episode running for 30 minutes.
The title comes from the first episode, in which young Gunner Parkin (Christopher Mitchell) writes home to his mother in England.
It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum is set during the Second World War (in the period just after the German surrender when the Allies were trying to finish the war by defeating Japan in Asia). The scripts make clear that the performers are members of a Royal Artillery concert party and are thus enlisted soldiers, rather than being members of Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). Initially, the British soldiers are stationed at the fictional Royal Artillery Depot in Deolali, India, where soldiers were kept before being sent to fight at the front lines. The series used the experiences of its creators during the Second World War; Jimmy Perry had been a member of a similar performing troupe in India, while David Croft had been an entertainments officer in Poona (now in the Indian state of Maharashtra).
The main characters are performers in the base’s concert party, which involved performing comic acts and musical numbers (similar to those seen in a music hall) for the other soldiers prior to their departure for the front lines. The soldiers in the concert party all love this particular job, as it keeps them out of combat duty, but some do daydream of becoming world-famous actors when they leave the army.
The main characters include Gunner “Lofty” Sugden, a short, fat soldier who wears a pith helmet and possesses an incredible singing voice; Gunner “Parky” Parkin, a young recruit who, though eager, is slightly bumbling and has very little aptitude for the theatre; Gunner “La-de-dah”/”Paderewski” Graham, a bald-headed and intelligent Oxbridge graduate who is a pianist; Gunner “Atlas” Mackintosh, a short-tempered Scotsman who specialises in feats of strength; Gunner “Nobby” Clark, an unintelligent soldier who does bird calls and whistling acts; and Gunner “Nosher” Evans, a soldier who does a paper-tearing act and tends to eat a lot, spraying food whenever he speaks. Rounding out the enlisted crew are Bombardier “Solly” Solomons, a soldier from London, who is Jewish and a former theatrical agent; and Gunner “Gloria” Beaumont, an effeminate, cowardly soldier who specialises in performing female roles in drag (as there are no women assigned to the concert party). Beaumont is later promoted to Bombardier after Solly is demobbed and sent back to Britain.
The soldiers are under the orders of Battery Sergeant Major Williams, a belligerent Welshman who has spent almost all of his career as a professional soldier. In turn, Williams reports to the two officers in charge of the concert party: Captain Ashwood and Lieutenant-Colonel Reynolds. Both Ashwood and Reynolds are characterised as coming from upper-class backgrounds. Ashwood, the younger officer, is rather stupid and slightly excitable, while Reynolds is older and more worldly-wise and sensible. While often bemoaning the rough conditions of Army life, both Ashwood and Reynolds realise that keeping their concert party administrative duties (and thus remaining behind friendly lines) is infinitely preferable to combat duty at the front line.
A small contingent of Indian workers are also usually found alongside the Britons: Bearer Rangi Ram, who acts as their butler and porter, displaying an outwardly obsequious nature that hides a very savvy intelligence; he is a friend of the concert party and helps them out when they are in trouble; Muhammad, the idealistic chai wallah who, in the traditional role, carries an urn of hot tea and a box of pastries for everyone to purchase, and Rumzam, the lazy punkah wallah whose job it is to fan the officers, who is often kicked and told off by everyone.
While both the enlisted men and the officers are extremely reluctant to give up their relatively cushy assignment behind the lines, Sergeant Major Williams hates being assigned to the concert party. Williams resents not only the lack of an active combat role, but also having to be in charge of men who perform what he considers to be effeminate duties (often deriding them as “poofs”), instead of being able to command men he considers to be “real soldiers”. As a result, Williams is routinely found shouting orders at the men (both soldiers and native workers) in the manner of a drill sergeant, delighting in putting the enlisted men through endless drills, parades and PT sessions. His ultimate goal, and the focus of many of his schemes, is to have the concert party disbanded, and the men sent off to join other troops fighting at the front. However, the soldiers usually find a way to get out of these schemes (often with the unwitting help of the two officers), and so are able to continue with their concert party duties. However, the concert party eventually finds themselves transferred to the village of Tin Min, Burma, which is located very near the front line.
The Sergeant Major is also depicted as being extremely proud of the British Empire (and being blind to the fact that it is in its last days), and disgusted by the idea of Home Rule that India and Burma will gain after the war, and by Asian nationalists who dream of India and Burma being independent from British control. As such, the Sergeant Major is often abusive to the Asian workers and people, and tries his best to treat them roughly, which often gets him into trouble. Rangi, the bearer, is also presented comically as being extremely supportive of British imperialism, and considers himself British, despite his very Asian appearance, and frequently refers to his fellow Asians as “damn natives”.
While Williams heaps scorn and derision upon all the enlisted men, he reserves particular contempt for Gloria (who he considers to be the most effeminate of all), Graham (who he mocks for having a “posh” accent and university education, although he sometimes needs and appreciates his intelligence), and Lofty (because of his height, weight and general lack of military bearing, despite admiring his voice). The sole exception to Williams’ usual callous treatment of the troops is Gunner Parkin, who Williams believes is his illegitimate son as he had an affair with Parkin’s mother, many years before. When the rest of the concert party discover what the Sgt Major believes, Parkin is welcomed into the party, as the Sgt Major would want to stop it being sent into battle as long as Parkin is a member. They change Parkin’s blood group on his medical file to that of Williams, so that the Sergeant Major will have ‘proof’ that Parkin is his son. As a result, Williams routinely compliments Parkin and praises him for even the most minor of successes and often goes to great lengths to defend Parkin to the officers whenever he bungles a task. Williams also routinely excuses Parkin from participating in any event that might be even the least bit dangerous, even when Parkin himself has eagerly volunteered to participate. At times, that means that Williams must intervene to foil a scheme that he himself came up with to disband the concert party when it becomes evident that Parkin will get into the same trouble as the rest of the men. For his part, Parkin does not take advantage of his special relationship with Williams, preferring instead to be treated as just another member of the concert party. For their part, the concert party happily keeps Parkin around because they not only consider him to be a “nice bloke” but also know that Williams will be reluctant to send the concert party into danger if his (alleged) son is likely to have to go with them.
- Episodes were filmed between 1973 and 1981 with a break in 1979.
- Series 01 to 04 took place in Deolali, India, whilst series 05 to 08 took place in Tin Min, Burma.
- All episodes are 30 minutes long.
- The episodes “A Star is Born” and “It’s a Wise Child” no longer exist in their complete form as their original master tapes were wiped by the BBC shortly after their repeat broadcasts.
- Australian off-air VHS copies of both episodes, cut for screening on a commercial channel, were discovered in 1988.
- They are not of broadcast quality, but were included as extras on the series 1 DVD.
- Many songs of the era were performed by the cast in their re-enactment of wartime variety shows.
- In 1975, Don Estelle and Windsor Davies, in character as Gunner “Lofty” and Sergeant Major Williams, released “Whispering Grass”; this reached number 1 on the UK Singles Chart and staying there for three weeks.
- The series is not repeated because of accusations of racism.
It Ain’t Half Hot Mum TV Series
- Series 01 (1974).
- Series 02 (1975).
- Series 03 (1976).
- Series 04 (1976).
- Series 05 (1977).
- Series 06 (1978).
- Series 07 (1980).
- Series 08 (1981).
Production & Filming Details
- Creator(s): Jimmy Perry and David Croft
- Writer(s): Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
- Director(s): David Croft, Graeme Muir, Bob Spiers, Ray Butt, Paul Bishop, and John Kilby.
- Producer(s): David Croft and Graeme Muir.
- Original Network: BBC One.
- Release Date: 03 January 1974 to 03 September 1981.
- Running Time: 30 minutes.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.