A delight. 'Allo 'Allo!: The Complete Series Six, the popular World War II comedy farce from England that ran from 1982 to 1992, is the perfect Saturday evening TV comedy for those viewers who treasure anything British, from Monty Python to Are You Being Served?, to The Royle Family. In fact, fans of Are You Being Served? will be glad to know that the same creators of that funny series (David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd) are behind 'Allo 'Allo! (which was conceived as a parody of a straight British TV drama, Secret Army). Now, there are some readers and others out there who've made it known that they feel only reviewers "familiar" with a show (read: they love it) are qualified to write about the various seasons of a series, from beginning to end (and therefore, confirm their own thoughts about the show). Of course, this is utter nonsense, because a show should be able to stand on its own, regardless of when a viewer comes in on it. Sure, there may be nuances or repetition of gags that won't come through as strongly for the new viewer, but any critic worth his or her salt should be able to pick up a show at any point, and write about the merits or faults of what they're seeing. After all, a show like 'Allo 'Allo! didn't have the exact same viewers watching from day one, that it did for its last episodes. Believe it or not: new viewers were actually welcome (as they are for any TV show). So, with that silliness out the way, don't let the fact that you may be coming blind to 'Allo 'Allo!: The Complete Series Six (as I did), stop you in any way from diving right in, and enjoying it.
Set in the German-occupied French town of Nouvion, this sixth series (season) of 'Allo 'Allo! finds café owner Rene Artois (Gorden Kaye) with many of the same problems that have plagued him since the start of the war (by the way, Rene is pretending to be his twin brother, because Rene was supposed to have been shot by the Germans. You see...well, it's a long story). First and foremost, he's having affairs with both of his waitresses: the dark, lush Yvette (Vicki Michelle) and firecracker, blonde Mimi (Sue Hodge). Of course, Rene's wife Edith (Carmen Silvera) suspects hanky-panky, but every time she catches Rene in the clutches of one of his mistresses, he exclaims, "You stupid woman!" and talks his way out trouble. Edith's mother, Madame Fanny La Fan (Rose Hill), gives Rene further grief by generally being a pain in every way, often crying, "Will nobody hear the cries of a poor old woman?" At the other end of Rene's troubles sits the German officers, specifically Colonel Erich Von Strohm (Richard Marner), the town commandant, who covets two of the town's valuable artifacts that reside in Rene's basement: the first cuckoo clock ever made (it's solid gold), and an incredibly valuable painting by Van Klomp called The Fallen Madonna (with the Big Boobies). Not helping matters is General Erich Von Klinkerhoffen (Hilary Minster), Von Strohm's superior, who is constantly stirring up trouble by trying to crush the Resistance movement in Nouvion. The town's Resistance movement is led by Michelle Dubois (Kirsten Cooke), who is constantly cooking up plans to get the same two grounded British airmen (John D. Collins and Nicholas Frankau as Fairfax and Carstairs) who are hiding in Nouvion, back to London. Aiding her is undercover British espionage agent Captain Crabtree (Arthur Bostrom), who speaks wretched French. Further complicating matters is Herr Otto Flick (Richard Gibson), the Gestapo officer assigned to Nouvion, who's assisted by Herr Engelbert Von Smallhausen (John Louis Mansi); Flick is in constant friction with the Army in trying to find the downed airmen. Aiding Colonel Von Strohm in his own efforts to find the airmen are Private Helga Geerhart (Kim Hartman), a blonde Teutonic tease who drops her clothes at the drop of a hat; Lieutenant Hubert Gruber (Guy Siner), who has a crush on Rene; and Captain Alberto Bertorelli (Gavin Richards), an Italian officer who lusts after Helga. Aiding Rene in his reluctant covert actions are Ernest LeClerc, a decrepit old geezer who's to marry Madame La Fan, and Monsieur Alfonse (Kenneth Connor), the local undertaker.
'Allo 'Allo!: The Complete Series Six marries traditional boulevard farce with typically black, bawdy English humor (with particularly delightful British emphasis on toilet and sex humor), to create a satirical, insulated world worthy of a classic Ealing comedy. Creators Croft and Lloyd obviously love puns and wordplay, and the four different languages referred to in 'Allo 'Allo!: The Complete Series Six offer endless opportunities for the writers to get off a gag. Now, only English is spoken in the series (so don't worry), but the various character are supposed to be speaking French, German, Italian and English. So to get across these differences, the characters speak in broad, cliched accents that convey whatever their nationality may be. The best example of this (at least for sustained laughs) is Captain Crabtree. An English spy who can't pronounce French vowels, posing as a French police officer, Crabtree speaks like Inspector Clouseau, but almost every mispronounced word is a scatological reference or sexual double entendre. His signature greeting, "Good Moaning," is only the beginning each time he shows up (my favorite: "You made me look like a right duckhead.").
And as with all classic farce, certain subjects and targets solidly remain the basis of parody, including the infirmaries of old age, sex (in all its variations), women's breasts, anything that remotely resembles a phallus (particularly when its aimed at someone's bum), men in drag, slapstick, knockabout physical comedy, any mention of underwear (knickers), disguises, mistaken identities, and of course, cultural stereotypes, all filtered through a very wry British sensibility. Noel Coward this ain't, but its bawdy, Benny Hill sexuality and its smart wordplay are quite cleverly merged, giving the viewer an earthy, fun, fast-paced 30 minutes per episode. Another important convention of farce - repetition - is also liberally employed in 'Allo 'Allo!. Now, some people find repetition of gags in a comedy annoying or one-note, but following the lines of classical farce such as 'Allo 'Allo! does, is a legitimate technique, and one that's used in so-called "modern" comedies like Seinfeld all the time (Kramer is almost all repetition).
Conveniently for the viewer (and particularly for me, since I've never seen the show), almost every episode starts with Rene sitting down in front of the camera, detailing what happened in the previous episode. And for this sixth season, the main story arcs, spread over eight, one-half hour episodes, are the efforts of Rene to keep from getting killed by the Germans, while trying to aid the Resistance who want to get the British fliers out of France. As well, the impending wedding of Edith's mother to LeClerc is an integral part of the stories. But really, it doesn't matter what the stories are about; 'Allo 'Allo!: The Complete Series Six isn't about plot; it's about funny accents, naughty double entendres, rude noises, expert comedic timing, and a cast of pros who delight the audience each episode. Gorden Kaye as Rene fulfills the role that every sitcom needs in order to run successfully for such a long time: he's the sensible straight man who reacts to the insanity that surrounds him. In a cast full of stand-outs, particularly memorable are Guy Siner as the wonderfully fey Gruber; Kim Hartman as the deliciously erotic Helga, and the marvelous Kenneth Connor (from all those delightful Carry On films) as Alfonse.
Here are the eight, one-half hour episodes of 'Allo 'Allo!: The Complete Series Six:
Desperate Doings in the Graveyard
The Gestapo for the High Jump
The Nouvion Oars
The Nicked Airmen
The Airmen De-Nicked
The Crooked Fences
Crabtree's Podgeon Pist
Rising to the Occasion
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.