Radio: The Navy Lark

The Royal Navy's finest

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we present... the Navy Lark."

A radio comedy produced by The BBC which ran from 1959 to 1977 starring Leslie Phillips, Stephen Murray, Jon Pertwee, Richard Caldicott, Ronnie Barker, Heather Chasen, Tenniel Evans and loads of others. The Navy Lark followed the adventures of the Royal Navy's least wanted crew on HMS Troutbridge note  as scheming Commander (promoted over the course of the series to Commodore) Povey tried to dump them overboard and they tried to avoid life on civvy street. Generally these were interspersed with CPO Pertwee's doomed-to-failure get-rich-quick schemes and Sub-Lieutenant Phillips' equally doomed attempts to chase down WRN Chasen.


  • Acting for Two - Close attention to the closing credits reveals that the main cast appear as some of the caricature-voiced minor characters
    • Also, Heather Chasen plays both lovely Wren Chasen and the appalling Mrs. Povey (as well as most of the female spies).
  • Annoying Laugh: Commander Bracewell, who typically delivered bad news to Captain Povey, had a variety of annoying laughs, ranging from the tauntingly mocking to the loud and goofy.
    • In-show at least: people have this reaction to Mr. Murray's laugh, too
  • Apron Matron - Povey's wife, Ramona.
  • Armed Farces
  • Bandit Clan: The Pertwee Clan has been selling Naval stores ever since the Battle of Trafalgar. It's a tradition.
  • The Baroness - A Lighter and Softer version in the form of Forbodian spy Natasha Snogitoff.
  • Breaking Bad News Gently
  • Brits with Battleships - Mostly dented by Sub-Lieutenant Phillips, who caused more damage to naval property than two World Wars.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor - Sub-Lieutenant Phillips, half a lemonade shandy and he is anyone's.
  • Captain Crash - Sub-Lieutenant Phillips. He's cause more damage to Royal Naval property than both World Wars.
  • Catch Phrase - Sub-Lieutenant Phillips' "Left hand down a bit", CPO Pertwee's "Everybody down!!", and Able/Leading Seaman Goldstein's "Starboard lookout here, Able Seaman Goldstein chatting".
    • In series one, there's Lieutenant-Commander Price's drawled and slightly gloating "graaand morning/day/evening, isn't it?" when he's got one over on CPO Pertwee.
  • Ceiling Banger - The thin bedroom walls (and the requisite banging) were one of the reasons Commander Murray was so keen to move out of his parents-in-law house
  • Chronically Crashed Frigate - Poor old HMS Troutbridge, the only ship in the Royal Navy with a corrugated iron-effect hull.
  • The Clan - There are Pertwees in every branch of the UK services, all dedicated to running it for their own profit.
  • Cloudcuckoolander - Sub-Lieutenant Phillips.
    • When it comes to this trope, Vice-Admiral 'Burbly' Burwasher takes the biscuit, the set of chunky tumblers and the collection of World Cup Winners' medals with three Bobby Charltons and still no Bobby Moore. They are, of course, kindred spirits:
      Birwasher: Hello, I like this fellow with the blond rinse. Yes... he doesn't know what the hell's going on either!
    • Lt Cmdr Bell, during his time as the mostly-absent captain of Troutbridge, also counts.
  • Comically Missing the Point - Phillips is prone to this, what with his being a Cloudcuckoolander and all.
  • Companion Cube - Troutbridge herself is treated like this.
  • Corrupt Quartermaster: Pertwee, and his entire family.
  • Cryptid Episode: In one episode, the Troutbridge crew is reassigned to find the Loch Ness Monster.
  • The Danza - All three of the central characters have the same names as the actors who played them.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud? - Vice-Admiral 'Burbly' Burwasher who used to deliver all of his stream-of-consciousness internal monologues out loud, apparently completely unaware that he was doing it.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty - C.P.O. Bull in the episode set during Phillip's naval training. Well at least according to Phillip's recollection anyway..
  • The Drunken Sailor - Several, but star example is Vice-Admiral Prout whose liver can be used to sole and heel boots.
  • Eagleland - Any visiting American character ended up here. Usually with only barely authentic American accents.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep - "The Lad", the only member of Troutbridge's engineering crew who actually knows how the ship runs.
  • Executive Meddling - It was decided halfway through the run that forces based humour had had its day and that the series would therefore be Retooled to be set in a tv studio and called The TV Lark. A few episodes were recorded before sanity prevailed and the whole ghastly thing became Canon Discontinuity.
    • The official Retcon in the last episode of The TV Lark showed it to be a particularly ambitious scheme by CPO Pertwee.
  • Faking Engine Trouble: In one episode Commodore Povey orders the crew of HMS Troutbridge to fake various problems with the ship so he can get out of dinner with his mother-in-law, a variety of Springtime for Hitler plot complications soon take place though.
  • Fat Idiot - Able Seaman "Fatso" Johnson
  • Happily Married - Commander Murray and his wife.
  • Handsome Lech - Sub-Lieutenant Phillips
  • Have a Gay Old Time - Tying in with Values Dissonance.
  • Hey, It's That Guy! - There are some rather famous names in the cast list, as well as a lot of guest stars. One actor on the show, in fact would go from his fame in The Navy Lark to other memorable roles as well.
  • Henpecked Husband - Povey.
  • Honest John's Dealership - CPO Pertwee can sell anything from a can of beans to a battleship. Often without the previous owner knowing. Would have had a minor Crowning Moment of Awesome by requisitioning all the Royal Navy's higher-class chairs to resell — if Povey hadn't caught on.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun - Number One was a frequent dealer of these. It was a Running Gag that he'd laugh at his own joke, and in everyone else there'd be an awkward silence.
  • Insane Admiral - Too many to count, although Admiral Ffontbittocks can be disturbingly sane on occasion.
  • Insane Troll Logic — Sub-Lieutenant Phillips had a Ph.D in Insane Troll Logic. Later in the show's run, a Running Gag would be that Phillips would take a word said by the announcer or another character and craft an insanely tortured etemology around it based on the sounds of the word's syllables. Pertwee would then chime in, trying to knit the thought together in some sort of coherence.
    Phillips: "Sacrosanct". Now, that's an interesting word. Funnily enough, they gave the derivation of that word in my comic last week.
    Murray: Oh, dear, Noddy's off again!
    The Master: In my opinion, he's a raving nut!
    Phillips: No, no, this is jolly interesting. "Sacrosanct". "Sack", as in "race", or "the thing you fill up with coal", if you've got any, that is, "rose", as in "cod" or "to smell as sweet as...", unless you happen to be sitting on two thorns at the time, and finally "sanked", which is the past tense of "sink", as in "washing up" or "where you do your smalls."
    The Master: Now, let me see if I've got this right, clever boy. According to you, the word "sacrosanct" means that somebody called "Rose" is sitting in the sink with a sweet-smelling cod, who's just delivered a sack of coal in her smalls.
    Phillips: Exactly. Now, that's another interesting word, "Exactly"...
    Murray: Oh, shut up!
  • Interactive Narrator and Lemony Narrator - in one episode having the cast abandon the story to go look at the narrator's saucy calendar, starring an attractive actress.
  • The Klutz - Lt. Commander Bell.
  • Large Ham - Everyone, frequently leading to Ham-to-Ham Combat.
  • Laughing At Your Own Jokes: Commander Murray made a habit of this and he was usually the only one laughing.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall - Frequently. The characters often interacted at the beginning of the show, with the show's announcer, interrupting him during the show's introduction. One episode has the characters engage in an Overly Long Gag wondering if they can pick up The Navy Lark on the radio, with Sub-Lieutenant Phillips and CPO Pertwee remarking on the quality of the characters of "The silly-ass Sub-Lieutenant" and scheming CPO, respectively.
  • Lethal Chef - Johnson's attempt at pie making produced some very convincing substitutes for limpet mines.
  • Lighthouse Point - One episode had Pertwee becoming a lighthouse keeper to try and become a smuggler.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities:
    • Certain characters are introduced at the same rank they finished with (CPO Pertwee, Sub-Lieutenant Phillips), but others such as Commander, then Captain, then Commodore Povey and The Second Number One Lieutenant, then Lt Cmdr, then Commander Murray rise up the ranks as much as they would in the real navy. Notice however that the two straight examples of this trope are a petty crook and a cretin, respectively; who'd want to promote them?
    • Phillips was supposed to go before a promotion board in one episode, but ended up being court-martialled instead thanks to some kind of paperwork screw-up and nothing ever came of it.
    • And Pertwee was a career NCO. As a Chief Petty Officer, he is pretty much at the top of his career tree. At the time Chief Petty Officer was the highest NCO rank in the Royal Navy. The modern form of Warrant Officers (originally called Fleet Chief Petty Officer) were not introduced until 1973, and the older form was abolished in 1949. One could be commissioned from CPO at this time, but that was only available to certain branches.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters - Later in the run, they nearly all turned up Once an Episode.
  • Long Runner
  • The Master:
    • A recurring oriental/Fu Manchu villain. Funnily enough, The Master was played by Jon Pertwee, who would star in another show with an archvillain called "The Master"...
    • Of course The Master had a Distaff Counterpart in the form of the imaginatively named The Mistress (played by Heather Chasen with an equally OTT accent), although the character was actually a case of The Dragon Lady.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels - CPO Pertwee's less-than-helpful Chinsese phrasebook.
  • Noisy Shut Up - A bickering meeting of Mad Brass is brought to silence by the shout of "SHUT UP or I'll lock up the Gin".
    • Any time Fatso Johnson is about to let the cat out of the bag on Pertwee's latest scheme, he is shut up with a very loud and rapid fire "BELT UP!!" from the panicked CPO.
  • No Sense of Direction - Sub-Lieutenant Phillips, once mistook Shanklin (Isle Of Wight, just off England) for Shanghai amongst other blunders. Yes, he is the navigation officer.
    Sub-Lieutenant Phillips: Assuming we're not going down a one-way channel, and allowing for a nor'easterly up our Faroes — they're the people who live next door to the Cromarties, they often play whist together. Not the Egyptian Pharaohs, because they're dead anyway. Now, if we hoist over our fast nets, I reckon that Portsmouth should be that way, or that way, or that way, but definitely not that way, because that's where we just come from. So what we need now is a little touch of the old — left hand down a bit...
    CPO Pertwee: Left hand down a bit — eventually — it is, Sir!
    Commander Murray: The awful thing is, he calls this "navigation".
    Sub-Lieutenant Phillips: If you think you can do better, sail on! See if I care!
    Commander Murray: Oh, no, no, no! I hate to interfere! The only thing that baffles me is how you know Sardinia is behind us, and why we're not sailing that way?
  • Number One - Commanders Price and Murray who are, well, Number One.
  • Only Sane Man - Povey thinks he is; Commander Murray really is.
    • Among the senior brass, it's Admiral Ffontbittocks.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss and Stupid Boss - Commodore Povey.
  • Porky Pig Pronunciation - Commander Weatherby from Intelligence.
    Cmdr Weatherby (trying to buy an airline ticket to the Digital Islands):""I'd like a return ticket-t-t-t-t-t-ticket-t-t-t-t-t to the Digital-Digital-Digital I-mbrI-mbrI-mbrI-tidley-I-tidley-I, the Digital-mbrDigital-mbr-Digital-mbrI-tidley-tidley-mbro-mbro-mbro to hell with the Digital Islands, I'll go to Jersey".
    The Admiral(explaining Weatherby's job): "No wonder he's head of security. By the time he finished telling secrets to a foreign power they'd be out of date!"
    • Then, there was CPO Pertwee doing a spot-on impression of Weatherby singing in the tub. After attempting to get, repeatedly through the first few words of 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," he ends with "oh, to Hell with it — I've lost the soap!"
  • Put on a Bus - The first Number One Lieutenant Price is put on loan to the US Navy at the end of series one.
    • Later in the run they would try to do the same with Mister Phillips, but he accidentally got on a Forbodian ship and was kidnapped leading to a Pity the Kidnapper plot as he managed to sink half their fleet with his navigation and Troutbridge was forced to accept him back.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica - How Povey ended up in charge of the Troutbridge mob to start with, and it almost happens to all of the cast at some point.
  • Refuge in Audacity - How Pertwee usually ends up explaining things.
  • The Remnant - See Those Wacky Nazis below.
  • Running Gag: Multiple for each character.
    • In the episode where they all take part in a TV Documentary, there's a repeated message for "Leading Seaman Riddle to report to the Bridge" with the messages getting more and more upset and angry over the episode - to the point where everybody's forgotten why he had been called in the first place. It pays off during the climax when the messenger reveals that he is Riddle.
  • Scotland - At one point Troutbridge is assigned to hunt for the Loch Ness monster.
  • Servile Snarker - Goldstein towards the bridge crew and WRN Chasen towards nearly anyone of higher rank than her.
  • Shout-Out - After Jon Pertwee hit it even bigger on television jokes like the following appeared:
    Phillips: I've got the solution. I saw it in a film once. There was this doctor...
    The Master (played by Pertwee): Who?
    (pause for laughter and applause)
    Phillips: No, no, not Doctor Who, ... No, no, no, this chap was a good actor. Doctor No...
    • Toward the beginning, they would refer to having seen the latest Carry On movie (e.g. Carry On Caveman) with that stupid blond with the mustache.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Sub-Lieutenant Phillips and WRN Chasen when they finally make up. Pertwee responds with audible retching.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: C.P.O. Pertwee dreads the spectre of active service, mainly because he's making a very good living selling navy stores on the black market. Despite his best efforts HMS Troutbridge eventually does put to sea.
  • Sound to Screen Adaptation - There was a movie, but it replaced virtually all the voice-actors with more telegenic cinema-actors and is pretty much an In Name Only adaptation.
  • Spin-Off: The Big Business Lark and The Embassy Lark were spin-offs, of the "concepts" rather than "characters" type. The Embassy Lark had two Required Spin Off Crossover episodes called "National Grumpshog Week" and "Sub-Lt Phillips Drops In".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute - The lead officer was changed from Lieutenant Price to Lieutenant Murray after season 1.
  • Talking to Himself - Usually averted, as even though the main cast played other characters, the scripts rarely had those characters interact (for instance, CPO Pertwee was almost never in the same scene as either The Master or CMDR Weatherby).
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork - Whenever the crew and Povey are forced to work together.
  • Theme Tune Cameo - Sub-Lieutenant Phillips whistling the show's theme music as a "Ditty" he'd picked up somewhere. He's promptly told to stop it by the rest of the cast as it sounds silly and annoying.
  • Those Wacky Nazis - Literally, in one episode, as Troutbridge manages to capture a straggler U-Boat from World War II, with hijinks and poor German accents abounding. Please note, the episode was set in and aired in 1960...
    • They'd been convinced the war was still on and were being resupplied by (what they thought was) a Dutch Nazi-Sympathiser...called Pertwee.
    • The gag was even an In-Joke — the member of the Pertwee clan outfitting the U-Boat was named "Ingeborg"... which just happened to be the name of Pertwee's real-life wife.
  • True Companions - Once Murray joined they started hanging together no matter what Povey and the Admiralty threw at them, Price was more willing to let Phillips and Pertwee take the fall for their misdeeds.
    • It's telling that it was during Price's time as Number One that the four words most dreaded by CPO Pertwee were "The Unit Comfort Fund" — which was Price's way of relieving Pertwee of his ill-gotten gains or otherwise punishing him for his latest scheme. Pertwee thought he had buried those logbooks pretty deep, and it wasn't for a couple of seasons till Murray started to use it, albeit more sparingly, as a club to keep Pertwee in line.
  • Verbal Tic: CPO Pertwee had a habit-t-t-t of rolling his 't's, either when nervous or mocking.
    • Also, there was Commander Ignatius Aloysius Atchuson, who suffered from a tendency to sneeze himself through his sentences.
      Atchuson: Atchually, I shuffer from a vitchus attack of...of...of...haychfever!
      Phillips: It's more than an attack,'re a one-man epidemic!
  • Wales - The homeland of Goldstein, who joined the Royal Navy to work his passage to Swansea. In one episode, Goldstein is accidentally promoted to Admiral. His first official act is to take the ship to Wales to show off to his family and friends — at least till Pertwee and Murray tire of parading around Swansea and let slip that the ship runs on oil burners, not coal burners. His fiercely proud-of-the-coal-industry Welsh family nearly disowns him.
  • Whole Episode Flashback - Mr Phillips At Dartmouth recounts how Navigation Officer Phillips got lost on his way to Sandhurst and landed up at Dartmouth Naval College.
  • Wire Dilemma - The Troutbridge was once sent to retrieve a lost American satellite. After they think they found it, an American expert read them a ludicrously complicated set of instructions on how to disarm the device. The crew got hopelessly lost, but it turned out not to be really the satellite after all. However, they later found the real satellite and found they couldn't remember the instructions at all.
  • World of Ham - It had to be a radio comedy, The BBC would never have been able to stand the scenery costs of a live action series.
  • Wrong Wire - Happens when the crew of HMS Troutbridge is attempting to defuse the self-destruct mechanism on an American satellite. Fortunately, the first time this happens it turns out that what they have retrieved is not the satellite but a marker buoy. The second time, however...
  • Yellow Peril - The Master.
  • Zany Scheme - Almost every episode involved either; a Get Rich Quick scheme by CPO Pertwee, an attempt by Commodore Povey to drum the crew out of the navy, Sub-Lieutenant Phillips trying to woo WRN. Chasen, Cmdr. Murray trying to save his career from the lot of them, or all at once.