‘Allo ‘Allo! is a British sitcom television series created by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, starring Gorden Kaye, and originally broadcast on BBC One.
The sitcom focuses on the life of a French café owner in Nouvion, during the German occupation of France in the Second World War, who has to deal with problems caused by a dishonest German officer, a local French Resistance leader, a stolen painting, and a pair of trapped British airmen, while concealing from his wife the secret affairs he is having with his waitresses.
In France during World War II, Rene Artois runs a small café where Resistance fighters, Gestapo men, German Army officers and escaped Allied POWs interact daily, ignorant of one another’s true identity or presence, exasperating Rene.
David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd devised the concept as a parody of BBC wartime drama Secret Army, and initially launched the programme with a pilot on 30 December 1982.
The sitcom was eventually commissioned following the success of the pilot, and ran for nine series between 07 September 1984 until its conclusion on 14 December 1992. Both Lloyd and Croft wrote the scripts for the first six series, while the remainder were handled by Lloyd and Paul Adam.
Much like previous sitcoms created by Croft and Lloyd, the programme employed notable elements such as memorable catchphrases and ending credits, cultural cliches, physical humour and visual gags. However, ‘Allo ‘Allo! differed from these other sitcoms by featuring over-arching plotlines rather than simple stand-alone stories, and the device of having actors speaking English but with theatrical foreign accents to distinguish each character’s nationality. The sitcom proved popular with viewers and drew respectable ratings during its broadcast, with its success leading to it receiving stage show reproductions. A special entitled The Return of ‘Allo ‘Allo!, aired on 22 March 2007, featured a number of cast members returning to reprise their original roles to perform in a special story after the conclusion of the programme, alongside a documentary about the sitcom including a highlight reel of episodes, and interviews with the cast, production team and fans.
‘Allo ‘Allo! is set during the Second World War, between the occupation of France by German Axis powers in 1940 and its eventual liberation by Allied forces in July 1944. The story of the sitcom focuses on René Artois, a café owner in Nouvion and a reluctant member of the town’s local French Resistance cell who operates under the codename of “Nighthawk”. Because of the occupation of the town by German forces, led by the dictatorial Major-General Erich von Klinkerhoffen, René finds himself caught up between dealing with four problems – the scheme and plots of the town’s corrupt commandant, Colonel Kurt von Strohm; the sabotage plans of the Resistance’s leader Michelle Dubois; the efforts by Gestapo agent Herr Otto Flick to find a stolen painting and unmask Resistance members; and the love affairs with his waitresses, particularly Yvette Carte-Blanche, each of which he must conceal from both his wife Edith and each of the other waitresses.
Throughout the programme’s broadcast, the sitcom features a number of overarching storylines, with two of these being the most prominent within episodes. The first, and most prominent plot, concerns the theft of a valuable painting from the town’s chateau – The Fallen Madonna by fictional artist van Klomp (usually referred to as “The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies”) – stolen by von Strohm, and the subsequent effort by him to conceal the theft from his superiors and Herr Flick. René is notably forced into handling the stolen painting out of threat of execution, but also due to being indebted to von Strohm for allowing him to fake his death when he is sentenced to execution for unjustified accusations of aiding the Resistance in an act of sabotage. The painting itself is subjected to being lost during the course of its concealment, before receiving a forged copy upon being found, only for it be lost again and sought out by not only by von Strohm, but also Herr Flick who, rather than return it to Berlin, intends to keep it himself.
The second storyline concerns the involvement of two stranded British airmen, shot down while over Nouvion. Because of their predicament, several plots in a number of episodes focus on the efforts of Michelle to devise plans that can help to send them back to England, with René not only forced to help hide them within his café or keep them under disguises, but also help in her schemes, sometimes devised by London who relay these plans via a radio installed within the bedroom of Edith’s mother. Often, the schemes devised are so complicated, that they invariably backfire, especially when they collide with other schemes conducted by von Strohm and his assistants, leaving him, René and Michelle often worse off than before. Most other storylines concern various events that occur, including the efforts to remove von Klinkerhoffen’s replacement from power, sabotaging the Germans’ plan to invade England, and the subsequent build-up of German concern about an Allied invasion of France following the defeat of Italy.
Lloyd & Croft Sitcom Elements
As with previous sitcoms created before ‘Allo ‘Allo!, such as Lloyd and Croft’s earlier collaboration Are You Being Served?, much of the humour is derived from classic elements of comedy including classic farce set-ups, physical comedy and visual gags, alongside a large amount of sexual innuendo, and a fast-paced running string of broad cultural clichés. Like most characters devised for previous sitcoms, the cast for the programme were designed with notable elements to distinguish them throughout the series, whether it is a catchphrase, gimmick, or saying.
Like previous sitcoms devised by the creators, ‘Allo ‘Allo! ends each episode with the caption “You have been watching (in order of appearance)”, followed by a short vignette shot of actors who performed in the episode – whether as a main or supporting character – identified by their name in caption within each sequence. Although the shots appear like a clip from the episode, the production team conduct a separate filming session aimed as a reenactment of a scene the actor was involved in, mostly pertaining to a specific camera angle or action conducted by their character, with the vignette sequence often done in order of their first spoken line; the exception to this is that actor Gorden Kaye is always first in the sequence, regardless of when his first appearance is made.
“René Recaps” Device
As each episode builds on previous ones, viewers are often required to have followed the series to the episode they have reached in order to understand the plot. As ‘Allo ‘Allo! revolved around individual story arcs spread across several episodes, the creators opted for using a comical version of the “As you remember …” device, commonly used in serials, to acts as a recap of events in the current story for the beginning of a new episode. This device within the sitcom was always conducted by René, who would open an episode by breaking the fourth wall (which Michael Bates did in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum) to interact with the audience and provide a brief summary of events that had occurred previously, including notable events that had taken place, and also intermittently during episodes to make comic comments. The use of this plot device within the sitcom had considerable benefits for re-runs, as it allowed local TV stations who had reshuffled episodes for their schedule to ensure that their audiences could be aware of the plot events surrounding the story of the episode being broadcast.
One of the trickier problems with ‘Allo ‘Allo! was the setting of the sitcom itself, and the fact that the main characters for each story hailed from four nationalities – French, German, English, and Italian. Regardless of whether the cast could speak fluently in the language of their character’s nationality, Lloyd and Croft determined it would be too much for their audiences to follow the plots through multiple languages, and devised a simple plot device to help overcome the issue – all cast members would speak English, but make use of theatrical foreign accents attuned to the nationality of their character. The plot device’s rules were simply devised on the understanding that each character’s language would be done in English but with a specific accent and speaking style assigned to the nationality, and that despite the English words being used, they could not understand the other character’s words when spoken in that accent unless their character understood that “language”. In a general sense of the rule, the French and German characters could understand each other when speaking, despite them sticking to their accents, but the English characters could not understand these characters without someone translating for them and vice versa.
Because of this plot device, each particular main language for the show required a specific accent and speaking style to be devised. While the French-speaking characters mainly spoke with a French accent, the English-speaking characters mostly focused on Bertie Wooster-esque “top-hole, old chap!”-style banter in an upper-class English accent, and German speaking characters mainly spoke in a guttural manner. When Italian characters were added to the series, particularly Captain Alberto Bertorelli, in the fourth series, the cast members assigned to these role were instructed to speak in a nasal tone, and make use of the letter “a” on the ends of certain words (i.e. “What a mistake-a to make-a!”).
One of the more notable aspects of this plot device was in the design of the character Officer Crabtree, introduced in the second series. Because his character was designed to be English with a poor grasp of French, the sitcom’s creators opted for his actor, Arthur Bostrom, to speak perfectly in the English style, but to mangle his words when speaking in the French style, which required Bostrom to alter certain words in his sentences with changes, substituting a single or a variety of letters to different vowels and/or consonants, thus changing them into different words or nonsensical words, usually laden with innuendo. An example of this character device is that for the line “I was passing by the door, and I thought I would drop in.”, Bostrom altered two words to create a line for the programme that implied a different meaning to the sentence, changing it to “I was pissing by the door, and I thought I would drip in”.
Another was Crabtree’s greeting of “Good morning”, pronounced good moaning – this was used no matter what the time of day, and was compounded by the fact that there is no French translation of the greeting.
- Gordon Kaye … Rene Artois (season 01-09).
- Carmen Silvera … Edith Melba Artois (season 01-09).
- Vicki Michelle … Yvette Carte-Blanche (season 01-09).
- Francesca Gonshaw … Maria Recamier (season 01-03).
- Sue Hodge … Mimi Labonq (season 04-09).
- Kirsten Cooke … Michelle “of the Resistance Dubois” (season 01-09).
- Jack Haig … Monsieur Roger Leclerc (season 01-05).
- Derek Royal … Monsieur Roger Leclerc (season 06).
- Robin Parkinson … Monsieur Roger Leclerc (season 07-09).
- Kenneth Connor .. Monsieur Alfonse (season 01-09).
- Rose Hill … Madame Fanny La Fan (season 01-09).
- Hilary Minster … Major General Erich von Kilnkerhoffen (season 01-09).
- Richard Marner … Colonel Kurt von Strohm (season 01-09).
- Guy Siner … Lieutenant Hubert Gruber (season 01-09).
- Sam Kelly … Captain Hans Geering (season 01-04 and 07).
- Richard Gibson … Herr Otto Flick (season 01-08).
- David Janson … Herr Otto Fliock (season 09).
- John Louis Mansi … Herr Engelbert von Smallhausen (season 02-09).
- Kim Hartman … Private Helga Geerhart (season 01-09).
- Gavin Richards … Captain Alberto Bertorelli (season 04-06).
- Roger Kitter … Captain Alberto Bertorelli (season 07).
- Arthur Bostrom … Captain Crabtree (season 02-09).
- John D. Collins … Flight Lieutenant Fairfax (season 01-07 and 09).
- Nicholas Frankau … Flight Lieutenant Carstairs (season 01-07 and 09).
After the pilot aired in December 1982, a full-length first series of seven episodes was commissioned and aired from September 1984 onwards. Series two, three and four followed annually, with six episodes each.
Series five was commissioned with a view to syndicating the show in America. As a result, it aired as a single long series of twenty-six episodes between September 1988 and February 1989, with each episode running only twenty-five minutes to allow for commercials. The attempts to air the show in America failed (although the series later became popular on PBS), and so series six had only eight episodes commissioned, which aired from September 1989 onwards.
On 25 January 1990, Gorden Kaye suffered serious head injuries in a car crash brought on by gale-force winds. This delayed the start of the seventh series, which consisted of ten episodes airing from January 1991 onwards. Series 8 (7 episodes) followed in January 1992, and the ninth and final series of six episodes aired later that year from November onwards.
Two Christmas specials were also made. The first was a 45-minute episode, which followed Series 2 in 1985, and the second was also a 45-minute episode, screened at Christmas 1991, preceding Series 8.
In 1994, two years after the series ended, the BBC broadcast The Best of ‘Allo ‘Allo!, a compilation of clips from the series, linked by new scenes featuring Gorden Kaye and Carmen Silvera, in which René and Edith reminisce about the events of the war.
On 22 March 2007, a one-off special episode entitled The Return of ‘Allo ‘Allo! was filmed in Manchester, and was broadcast on 28 April 2007 at 9.00 pm on BBC 2. The storyline involves René writing his memoirs after the war, and the events from the final episode in 1992 have been overlooked. The new scenes were interspersed with clips from the original series and new interviews. The actors who reprised their roles were: Gorden Kaye, Vicki Michelle, Sue Hodge, Kirsten Cooke, Arthur Bostrom, Guy Siner, Robin Parkinson, John D. Collins and Nicholas Frankau. In addition, Richard Gibson and Sam Kelly are interviewed, although they are not reprising their respective roles. The only main characters who did not appear in the reunion at all (barring those cases where the actor or actress had died) were Private Helga Geerhart (played by Kim Hartman) and Herr Engelbert von Smallhausen (played by John Louis Mansi). Jeremy Lloyd wrote the new material.
There remains some confusion over what the official titles are for each ‘Allo ‘Allo! episode (there were no onscreen titles for any episodes on the original transmission, though many episodes have had such titles added for repeat screenings and DVD releases, nor in Radio Times, though again the magazine has listed titles for some repeats). This had led to different DVD releases using different titles; and some fans have formed their own unofficial titles for episodes which have not yet been released on DVD. For the purposes of clarification, titles shown on this website are as follows:
- Series 01-07:
- These are the titles which appear on the British Region 2 DVD releases.
- Titles shown in brackets are where Region 1 and Region 4 DVD release titles do not correspond to those on the British Region 2 DVD release.
- Series 08-09:
- These are the titles which appear on the American Region 1 DVD releases.
- Series 08-09 and the second Christmas Special (under the title “Pregnancy”) have been released on DVD in Poland, however with no titles, just notes on every episode.
The show’s premise was not to make fun of the war but to spoof war-based film and TV dramas, and in particular a BBC1 drama Secret Army, which ran from 1977 to 1979 and dealt with the activities of a Belgian “escape line” that returned allied pilots to Britain, working from a Brussels café and later restaurant. Many of the elements and characters are directly taken from Secret Army, such as the café owner having an affair in the restaurant under the nose of his wife, a bed-ridden woman in a room above who knocks on the floor for attention, a pianist who is also the forger, and the enmity between the Gestapo and the German military. Many storylines for ‘Allo ‘Allo also derive directly from episodes of Secret Army, such as the valuable paintings and the accompanying forgeries, which both the Germans and the Resistance are seeking to obtain in the Secret Army second series episode “Weekend”. Some actors from Secret Army also appear in ‘Allo ‘Allo!: Richard Marner, Guy Siner, John D. Collins, Hilary Minster and David Beckett. Inspiration was also drawn from patriotic black-and-white British melodramas of the 1940’s.
The French village setting is reminiscent of 1972’s Clochemerle, whilst Rene’s intermediary role between the Germans and the Resistance reflects a comic version of Rick from Casablanca (as well as directly matching the proprietor of the café in Secret Army).
Two of the BBC’s earlier wartime-based comedies – Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum – were also written by David Croft in partnership with Jimmy Perry. Several actors from ‘Allo ‘Allo! also appeared in these series: Carmen Silvera, Rose Hill, Jack Haig, Joy Allen, Michael Stainton, Robert Aldous, John Leeson, John D. Collins and Robin Parkinson in Dad’s Army, and Robin Parkinson, Gorden Kaye, John D. Collins, Iain Rattray and Eric Dodson in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
The Shelburne Escape and Evasion Line (Operation Bonaparte) of the Second World War (Comet Line) has some similarities to this series. More than 300 airmen and agents escaped through this line.
Having a café-cabaret in the plot, music was often performed on the show. This usually took place with Madame Edith singing, and either Lieutenant Gruber or Leclerc at the piano. Occasionally, Gruber sang and played piano at the same time. Characters could also be seen whistling or humming tunes at certain points.
David Croft and Roy Moore composed the theme tune performed at the start and end of each episode. It features a French-style melody performed on an accordion in the 3/4 (waltz) time signature. The title is “London Calling”, but according to Guy Siner the first lyrics are:
‘Allo ‘Allo, we meet again,
And just as before …
Carmen Silvera sang the full song and it was released on LP in the 1980’s.
The café cabaret music usually took the form of 1930s film and show tunes – reminiscent of the way period songs were also used in Secret Army.
Most popular was “Louise” from the film Innocents of Paris (1929), which featured a number of times and was even sung in the “broken-French” language of Crabtree, who pronounced the title “Loo-woes”. Gruber sang a number such as “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Show Boat or “(I Got a Woman Crazy for Me) She’s Funny That Way” by Neil Monet and Richard A. Whiting. He gazed at René in a slightly lustful manner, replacing lyrics such as “woman” and “she” with “boy” and “he”. He caused a particular sensation with his straight version of Noël Coward’s “Mad About the Boy”.
Naturally the “La Marseillaise” and the German National Anthem “Deutschlandlied” featured from time to time, for example where several French peasants sang La Marsellaise to celebrate the expected bombing of the Germans, but the singers flawlessly and without hesitation switch to Das Lied der Deutschen when the Germans come past. Helga also sometimes stripped to a rather raunchy version of the latter tune.
Captain Bertorelli could be seen singing “‘O Sole Mio (It’s Now or Never)”; and the British airmen in a prisoner of war camp could be seen singing “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball”.
In 1986, Gorden Kaye and Vicki Michelle released a version of the hit song “Je t’aime… moi non-plus”. The characters of Yvette and René could be heard talking and canoodling in a comic manner whilst the familiar musical “Je t’aime…”‘ melody played in the background. The song got to number fifty-seven in the UK Singles Chart.
In 1985, Gordon Kaye and Carmen Silvera appeared in the Royal Variety Performance in character as René and Edith, and sang “I Remember It Well” from Gigi.
The show gave rise to a successful touring stage-show featuring most of the TV cast. This ran from 1986 to 1992, and included three London stage runs as well as international tours.
In January 1990 Gorden Kaye suffered serious head injuries in a car accident. As a result, his understudy, John Larson, played the part in a London Palladium production. Kaye had a dent in his forehead for the rest of his life from a piece of wood that smashed through the car window. He wanted to end the television show after his accident, but was convinced by Jeremy Lloyd to continue. In Australia Gorden Kaye’s part was played by Australian comedian/impressionist Max Gillies (later, Gorden Kaye repaid the favour when he took over Max Gillies’ role in another play in Australia, when Max Gillies was unable to take part).
The show was last performed for a summer season at Bournemouth’s Pier Theatre in 1996.
In 2007 Gorden Kaye, Sue Hodge and Guy Siner reprised their roles in a production of the stage show in Brisbane, Australia. They were joined by Steven Tandy as Colonel von Strohm and Jason Gann as Herr Flick.
A new touring show, based on the 1992 tour written by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, opened at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage, Hertfordshire on 29 August 2008 before going on a national tour in 2009. Vicki Michelle reprised her role as Yvette Carte-Blanche. The cast also included Jeffrey Holland playing Rene Artois and his wife Judy Buxton playing Michelle Dubois. Other cast members included Robin Sebastian as Gruber, James Rossman as Herr Flick, Nell Jerram as Private Helga Geerhart and Claire Andreadis as Mimi Labonq.
The theatrical version is also frequently performed by amateur theatre companies in the UK and elsewhere.
Although the French town of Nouvion in which the series is set indeed exists, all filming was done in Norfolk, much of it at Lynford Hall.
Between 1982 and 1987, and from 1989 to 1992, all interior scenes were filmed in front of a studio audience at the BBC Television Centre studios in London. For the fifth series, recorded from December 1987 to August 1988, production moved to BBC Elstree Centre in Studio D. With hopes for a US syndication deal, the BBC planned to make 26 new episodes of the sitcom; hence, a bigger space was needed for the production. Even though the US syndication deal did not go ahead as planned, production remained at BBC Elstree Centre for the remainder of the fifth series. With more space available, the outside set of Café Rene became a semi-permanent structure in the former ATV Garage building.
- When Edith catches René embracing another woman and asks for an explanation, one writer sets up the situation, while the other writer writes the excuse René gives.
- The original painting of The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies, which features in many episodes, was given to production designer Shaun Moore after the series ended in 1992.
- In April 2007, he auctioned it for £4000 to raise money for the charity the Ace Centre, which helps children with communication problems in Oxford.
- “Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once” was never meant to be a catchphrase.
- It was said once and it got a laugh, so the character of Michelle said it in every subsequent episode.
- Many famous catchphrases were created by accident.
- David Croft said the inspiration for Officer Crabtree, the policeman (played by Arthur Bostrom) who speaks spectacularly bad French, came from Edward Heath, former British Prime Minister, who spoke French with a broad English accent.
- In real life, Arthur Bostrom speaks French fluently.
- There is a restaurant on the Great Square of Kortrijk in Belgium named “Bistro Allo Allo” after the series.
- The inside of the restaurant is decorated with black and white photos of a few of its most hilarious scenes.
- In 1986, Gorden Kaye and Vicki Michelle in character as Rene and Yvette released a single, which was their cover of Serge Gainsbourg “Je T’Aime”.
- Many incorrect explanations have circulated since the start of the series as to what Captain Hans Geering actually shouts when he does the Nazi salute.
- Sam Kelly has often said that it had cost him a fortune in stamps writing to people to tell them what it actually was, namely ‘-tler!’ which is short for ‘Heil Hitler’.
- Kelly felt that Hans could not be bothered saying all of ‘Heil Hitler’.
- Though René is referred to as the ‘hero of the resistance’ it is usually Edith who comes up with the solution to a problem.
- Hilary Minster, who played General von Klinkerhoffen, also appeared (as Hauptmann Muller) in Secret Army (1977), from which ‘Allo ‘Allo! (1982) was derived.
- Richard Marner (Colomel von Strohm), Guy Siner (Lt. Grüber) and John D. Collins (Flying Officer Fairfax) also played small roles in Secret Army (1977).
- The character of Herr Otto Flick is a combination parody on the Nazi minister Joseph Goebbels and the Gestapo agent Arnold Toht from the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
- Gorden Kaye was injured, almost fatally in an accident during the Burns Day storm of 25-26 January 1990, when a piece of wood flew through the windscreen of his car and penetrated his skull, leaving him with a large scar on his forehead.
- Kaye claimed in a interview that he had no recollection of any details of the accident.
- Although the scar was noticeable on his head in Series 7 it was not written in the show to explain why Rene had a scar on his head.
- Series 5 was commissioned with the intention of syndication in America. As a result, it aired as a single long series of twenty six, twenty five minute shows, from September 1988 to February 1989.
- The attempt to air the show in America failed but it did get a cult following later on when shown on PBS.
- Madame Edith (Carmen Silvera,1922-2002) and Madame Fanny La Fan (Rose Hill,1914-2003) are only 8 years apart in age in real life, yet they played mother and daughter in ‘Allo ‘Allo.
- Herr Flick was originally intended to be the main threat to the other main characters, which is evident in the first two seasons of the show.
- This was downplayed later, since the writers could not resist giving him certain running gags like poor disguises and Gestapo jokes, which made him far less intimidating.
- This was also the reason for expanding the role of General von Klinkerhoffen, to fill the void of a shared antagonist.
- Maria Recaimer is never seen after the episode The Great Un-Escape because Francesca Gonshaw (actress who portrayed her) left the show after three series to play the role of Amanda Parker in the BBC drama series Howards’ Way.
‘Allo ‘Allo! Series
|Series||Episodes||First Aired||Last Aired|
|Pilot||1||30 December 1982||30 December 1982|
|1||7||07 September 1984||19 October 1984|
|2||7||21 October 1985||26 December 1985|
|3||6||05 December 1986||09 January 1987|
|4||6||07 November 1987||12 December 1987|
|5||26||03 September 1988||25 February 1989|
|6||8||02 September 1989||21 October 1989|
|7||10||05 January 1991||09 March 1991|
|8||8||24 December 1991||01 March 1992|
|9||6||09 November 1992||14 December 1992|
|The Best of ‘Allo ‘Allo!||1||17 August 1994||17 August 1994|
|The Return of ‘Allo ‘Allo!||1||28 April 2007||28 April 2007|
Production & Filming Details
- Creator(s): Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft.
- Director(s): David Croft, Robin Carr, Martin Dennis, Susan Belbin, Richard Boden, Mike Stephens, Sue Longstaff, and John B. Hobbs.
- Producer(s): David Croft, Mike Stephens, John B. Hobbs, and Charles Garland.
- Writer(s): Jeremy Lloyd, David Croft (1982-1989), Paul Adam (1991-1992), Ronald Chesney (1 episode, 1989), Ian Davidson (1 episode, 1989), and Ronald Wolfe (1 episode, 1989).
- Music: Roy Moore and David Croft.
- Editor(s): John Dunstan and Rob Poole.
- Distributor(s): BBC Worldwide (original airing).
- Original Netwwork: BBC One.
- Release Date: 30 December 1982 to 14 December 1992.
- Running time: 25 to 45 minutes (26 x 25 minutes, 55 x 30 minutes, 1 x 35 minutes, and 3 x 45 minutes).
- Rating: PG.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.