Top positive review
B, O, B-O-Y-S, Boys to entertain youuuuu!
on 15 October 2015
This is the first series without Solomons (George Layton). I don't know why he left, but clearly the writers realised it worked better without him (which is how I first remember the show) - more focused, more comedic. More formulaic, but that's not always a bad thing for a sitcom. The officers, hardly used previously, come to the fore and start to develop characters; the Sgt Major, Olympic Shouting Champion, becomes the centre as he always should have been; and the main dynamic is between him and the misfits of the concert party - but the Indians keep up a running commentary on the Brits' ridiculous behaviour.
Solomons was in fact the only 'ordinary Joe' of the main characters, the man in the street. That's what makes it ironic that political correctness has banished this to the outer darkness: with Brit and Indian, toff and tough, lah-di-dah and butch all working together for a common aim (to avoid getting posted 'up the jungle'), it's a better expression of 'different strokes for different folks' than any recent programme I can think of. If it was made today, either everyone would be the best of chums and have the same middle-class liberal outlook whatever their race or class, or the authority figures would be ludicrous caricatures and the Indians and humbler soldiers too good to be true (also, in fact, ludicrous caricatures). It would also, almost certainly, be deathly unfunny.
As it is, although everyone is not the same the programme attempts to enter into everyone's point of view. The Indians' ethnicity is not meant to be a joke in itself, like Manuel's for example. In my book, true racism - or homophobia - is not simply seeing others as different, or understanding that lots of people have had to do degrading things to get by. It's failing to recognise that others are real people, like you. Hot Mum (as my daughter calls it) certainly doesn't fall into that trap, and the Sgt Major generally ends up having to live and let live despite himself.
It's probably a fair portrait, as far as it goes, both of National Service life and British colonialism - which is not whitewashed and which, whether we like it or not, was part of a lot of people's lives for a long time. It remains the only mainstream British show to have a significant amount of dialogue in Urdu (or any language other than English). But most of all, it's a good show - not as good as the Queen Mum of sitcoms, Dad's Army, but good. Even when you get a weak ep, that theme song and the final SHAAAAADAAAAAP! always send you away smiling.
See, you're smiling now just thinking about it!