A 1980s BBC sitcom, set in Occupied France during World War II. Lasted from December, 1982 to December, 1992. A total of 85 episodes in nine seasons.Very much a parody of Secret Army, it starred Gorden Kaye as René Artois, owner of a restaurant (who broke the Fourth Wall with his monologues to camera at the beginning of every episode) and a whole host of other characters. For a character list see here.This show has its own tropes:
Bad French accents. In fact, all of the accents were bad, including the British ones. Whilst all the dialogue was actually in English, comical 'national' accents were used to imply the language being spoken — several times, a 'French' character overhears a conversation in e.g. a British accent, then tells another 'Frenchman' (in the show's default French-accented English) they have no idea what was said, as they don't speak English.
Multiple character and actor replacements of various types - Suspiciously Similar Substitutes for Leclerc, and various waitresses. The Other Darrin, for the Italian Captain. The Nth Doctor, for Herr Flick in later seasons, whose actor is replaced, and the change explained by Magic Plastic Surgery. Subverted, inverted, or simply trashed completely by Rene himself, who spent most of the series' run posing as his non-existent twin brother - ie, the same actor playing the same character, posing as a non-existent different character, well-known or undetected in-universe as the plot required....
At least four Put on a Bus schemes involving various characters leaving Nouvion. (Maria, Hans Geering, the original Leclerc and eventually, the British Airmen, though they returned for a brief appearance in the finale)
A very big Story Arc involving a MacGuffin painting. (Namely "The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies")
Two very stereotypical British pilots and the Resistance's disastrous plans to get them back to England.
The British agent disguised as a French policeman, who got his words wrong ("Good moaning").
Ambiguously Gay — Lt. Gruber. Camp as all get-out, and flirts endlessly with René. The Distant Finale makes it decidedly unambiguous, as he's hooked up with Helga.
Or it was a marriage of convenience.
As You Know — René recaps, originally meant to merely ape similar, more dramatic shows.
Attending Your Own Funeral: René was executed by the Nazis but the Colonel and Hans save him by giving the firing squad fake bullets (and the real bullets as well, but they were lucky). René then poses as his own twin brother and has to organise his own funeral, and pose as the dead body when the undertaker arrives.
Bad Habits: One of LeClerc's many disguises, such as when he came to give René and the others a saw to break out of prison. It doesn't help.
Crabtree was replaced as the priest to marry René and the head of the resistance (who was replaced twice anyway).
Back Up Twin: An in-universe example, after René stages his death he pretends to be his own twin brother... who's also called René.
Becoming the Mask: Agent Crabtree. Almost immediately, Crabtree starts to live his assumed role of policeman, practically forgetting that he's supposed to be an undercover agent. Leads to much consternation and hilarity on several occasions as when Crabtree reports Gruber's little tank as missing (Rene and Capt. Geering have 'borrowed' it for a secret task) and bravely confronting Bertorelli's gang trying to break into Secret Gestapo Headquitters, *ahem* Headquarters, and getting knocked out as a reward. In fact, in the reunion special set years after the war, Crabtree is still in Nouvion and still a gendarme.
Breaking the Fourth Wall — Many episodes begin with René addressing the audience, recapping the previous episode to explain why he is in whatever bizarre situation du jour that he is in. ("You may be wondering why...")
Break Out The Museum Piece: One plan to get rid of the British Airmen evolved around stealing an old plane out of a museum and use the engine for the General's lawnmower.
Bride and Switch — One of the many Gambit Pileups had Rene due to marry the leader of the Communist resistance, who was replaced by his waitress Yvette, who was then replaced by his wife Edith (although Rene at that point was playing his own twin brother). The vicar had also been secretly replaced by Officer Crabtree, so we aren't sure exactly whether anyone had managed to get married.
British Brevity — Played straight with most of the show's seasons, which usually had between 6 and 8 episodes each. Averted big-time by the fifth season however, which had 26 episodes, the same length as a season of most live-action American sitcoms, in an attempt to appeal to transatlantic audiences. The seventh season is a borderline case, as it had 10 episodes; still way short of what most American sitcoms would have in a season, but longer than the average Britcom season.
The Bus Came Back — When René and Edith go to England they meet Hans, who has since been brainwashed into working for the British government. Plus, the two airmen reappearing in the final episode after disappearing at the beginning of the 8th season.
Officer Crabtree's "Good Moaning!" is probably the most famous of the lot and the most likely to be repeated by those only familiar in passing with the show.
Michelle of the Resistance's "Listen very carefully, I shall say zis only once". (There was a tie-in book that included a note from Michelle, which ended "Read this very carefully, I wrote it only once.")
Anytime Edith would catch René in a compromising situation with one of the waitresses (almost never innocent) and ask him what they were doing, René would growl "You stew-pid woman! Can you not see...?!" followed by some ridiculous explanation that, despite its obvious implausibility, Edith would either believe or let slide. This notion was subverted in the series finale with "You stew-pid woman! Can you not see? I am eloping!!!"
And Herr Flick's inordinate pride in all things of Gestapo manufacture. "Come Helga, stand beneath the brim of my wide Gestapo hat." "Come, von Smallhausen! To the special Gestapo disguise cupboard!"
Hans' substitute for "Heil Hitler". This caused rumors that this was due to Sam Kelly (who is Jewish) refusing to do the full salute, which he denied, claiming that the "'Tler!" was meant to emphasize Hans' laziness.
In fact, Harry Enfield once claimed that the show had so many catchphrases, all of which appeared at least Once an Episode, that there were only about ten minutes' worth of original dialogue per show. It nonetheless stayed fresh because so many situational spins could be put on the catchphrases.
Chekhov's Gun — Subverted with the three suicide pill rings; they all turn out to be duds.
Clark Kenting — The running gag of LeClerc, whose disguises are inevitably pathetic, is that he always goes through the formality of taking René aside and revealing himself to be LeClerc by lifting up his glasses. Since he always wears glasses anyway, it's not much of a reveal at all.
Or removing his false moustache to reveal the almost identical real moustache underneath.
Disguised in Drag: Multiple times. Herr Flick and Von Smallhausen pretend to be female German soldiers so they can visit Helga... and they're forced to do gym in their underwear and the obviously fake breasts go flying.
The British Airmen are disguised as resistance girls once (René also takes on the disguise for one episode) and as nuns when they're in hiding.
Distant Finale — Takes place in The Nineties, several decades after the end of the war. The now elderly principal characters get together one last time, "The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies" is reunited with the missing piece, René steals it and finally succeeds in eloping with his waitress.
Double Entendre — a full list of which would be large enough to crash the internet.
Dreadful Musician — Edith, whose attempts at singing are so bad that customers will stick any readily available foodstuffs into their ears to avoid having to hear her. To a lesser extent, the two Leclercs; they certainly aren't good at playing the piano by any means, but their efforts are at least somewhat tolerable, especially when compared to Edith.
Gruber, on the other hand, is very good about it...and seems to get a lot of male attention for it.
Enemy Mine — On multiple occasions, the German military officials find themselves forced to cooperate with the French Resistance in such as plots as helping the British airmen escape or blowing up train tracks to derail a train bearing a superior officer.
Everybody Did It — In the second season Christmas special (included as the finale on the American release of the second season), the French Resistance, the German military officials, and the Gestapo all try to kill German general Von Klinkenhoffen (separately, however).
Faking the Dead: René fakes his own death though he wasn't sure if he was even going to survive. Fortunately he does and returns to be his own twin brother and has to organise his own funeral.
Fanservice — The vibrating ice cream truck for a start. Actually the series is pretty full of fanservice in general, though it admittedly never quite keeps pace with the double entendres. Female characters (come to think of it, quite a lot of the male ones, too) are forever baring legs for increasingly spurious reasons, and it's about 30% odds on a pantyshot per episode (again, some of them are male).
It's difficult to work out if this strictly speaking counts as fan service as such. Were people tuning in to see Helga get undressed? Who can say, but this was a family show... What we do know is that quite a lot of British comedy from the 70's and 80's had girls dancing around in their underwear for no obvious reason and this was more a genre convention than a deliberate attempt by any particular show to boost ratings. Scantily clad young women show up right from the get-go but there was never really a 'demand' from anyone (or any fan interaction as we now know it).
Farce — If you, as a Brit of a certain age, were to describe Farce chances are the description will resemble an 'Allo 'Allo! episode.
The Fun in Funeral: René's funeral. As René isn't dead his coffin is filled with garbage and bombs the resistance need to get rid of. While on the way to the cemetery the cart with the coffin gets away. It explodes when it reaches the end of the road.
Oh god that's not the half of it. There was also the second painting, the Colonel's gold, the two forgeries of the two paintings each (Because General Klinkerhoffen thought he was getting the original while sending the forgeries to Hitler but they both got forgeries. The real paintings would go to René and the Germans in theory but with everyone trying to short everyone it all got horrible confused.), a whole season focused on getting the Invasion plans, and certain Macguffins that lasted two or three episodes, the forged Gestapo money, the T5 land mines, the exploding Christmas puddings etc. And that's just in one season imagine 9 SEASONS of this mess. And enough gambits by the resistance and the Germans to try and liberate France/Get the British Airmen home/ Defeat the communist resistance and the Germans to make some money out of the mess/ not get sent to the Russian front. This is ignoring the bumbling by the Gestapo, Communist resistance and Berterelli.
Germanic Efficiency: Parodied. The Gestapo and the Wehrmacht have a manual for every occasion, including "Learning To Swim Very Very Fast", the "Manual on Interrogation", and a tape titled "How To Fool The French Into Thinking You Are English In One Easy Lesson".
Alternatively, as they are waitresses in the Nazis' favoured watering hole, it may be that they actually have trouble finding Frenchmen who are interested.
Lampshaded when Michelle started coming-on to him purely for manipulative reasons. Yvette learned of this and Michelle promised to dump him when the war was over, asking what the hell Yvette saw in him anyway. Yvette began comparing him to many cultural references of the time, from Michelle's reaction she also seemed at a loss as to why Yvette liked those things either.
Kavorka Man: Rene has virtually every woman in the cast at some point (and even gets a few guys chasing him) and is a fat, middle aged, balding, greedy, cowardly fool.
Lampshade Hanging: "Ah! Colonel! How nice that you should come into my Cafe at this precise moment!" Also, many of René's opening monologues to camera feature the tendency to lampshade the implausibility of events surrounding him.
A priceless cuckoo clock is stolen, hidden and used as a MacGuffin for the better part of a season, then apparently forgotten by the writers. When, several seasons later, it's once again included in the list of stolen artifacts, René remarks "I had forgotten about the cuckoo clock..."
La Résistance — Two different ones, reflecting the Real Life situation in France; all female and all wearing the same grey trenchcoats and berets. The Gaullist lot, which Michelle is part of and the Communist lot, whose leader wants to sleep with René.
The last name of the Gestapo officer Herr Flick comes from Flic — an insulting French term for a police officer. "Fick" is also the F word in German, causing some confusion when Otto introduces himself as "Flick, the Gestapo."
René's wife Edith has a similar repertoire to Edith Piaf, except that she's a terrible singer, and her middle name Melba is also an ironic reference to a famous singer.
All of the waitresses have Double Entendre last names — Yvette's last name is Carte-Blanche, Maria's is Recalmier, a type of bed, and Mimi's surname, LaBonq has an obvious meaning.
Many of the German officers, including a meeting which included, among others, a General Stiffenwalken and an Admiral Sinkenquicken. And there's the time Flick's diminutive sidekick von Smallhausen (get it?) tries to pass himself off as Field Marshal von Crackenfart.
Not to mention in the play you also get General von Schmelling.
My Card: Monsieur Alphonse's "Swiftly and With Style".
Minion with an F in Evil: Colonel von Strom and especially Captain Geering are sometimes this to General von Klinkerhoffen (on an ordinary days they just fit the role of Punch Clock Villain). And Gruber for them. Von Smallhausen is this to Herr Flick.
Mistaken for Cheating: Invoked and played with a lot. Edith often catches René making out with one of his waitresses or some other woman, and each and every time he just comes up with a lame excuse to make her believe it's this trope. The kicker of course is that he is very much cheating on her. And she buys it every single time. He only drops the act in the final episode.
Noodle Implements: The accessories that the waitresses would use in bed with Nazi officers, most notably the wet celery and the egg whisk, but also on occasion the flying-helmet. Word Of God has stated that any idea they could actually make sense of was rejected.
No Swastikas: In the early seasons, swastikas are only mentioned. The Nazis gain swastika armbands from about season 3/4 onwards — perhaps once the show was established enough to get away with it. The exception to this was that the painting of the Fallen Madonna with the big boobies was hidden originally in a sausage whose only distinguishing mark was a small swastika which you can hardly see on screen.
Well, they did mention that the sausage was marked, they just never said what the mark was.
There are swastikas present in all seasons. They are simply used realistically. Majority of the scenes are shot in and around the Café René and virtually all Germans are either Wehrmacht or Gestapo officers (swastika armbands were worn only by members of the SS). Whenever their presence is required (flags in front of German command post, insignia in Herr Flick's office, authentic photograph of Heinrich Himmler etc.), swastikas are in place. They are prominently displayed during René's execution in season 1.
Helga's swastika lingerie?
Not What It Looks Like: When René cuddles with one of the waitresses and his wife suddenly bursts in and gets suspicious, he promptly utters the catchphrase "You stupid woman!" and offers an improvised explanation. And Edith always buys it.
"We will show that fat pig colonel, and that queer lieutenant - whoever can that be?"
The Other Darrin: Several times: Capitan Bertorelli, twice for LeClerc (though one of the replacements was specifically declared to be his brother), and also Herr Flick in the final season.
subverted, or perhaps inverted, by the fact that for reasons not worth explaining, Rene spent most of the programme's run being passed off as his non-existent twin brother - ie the same actor playing the same character generally believed in-universe to be a non-existent different character.....
Happens in a different way with Herr Flick and Herr von Smallhausen. Usually their disguises are a lot more convincing than those worn by the French characters, but they undo this by continuing to act like Gestapo officers, regardless of what they're supposed to be disguised as.
Virtually every single disguise (which are numerous given the nature of the show) is as paper-thin as possible (including moustached nuns) for purely comedic purposes.
Averted with Lt. Gruber's nurse disguise.
Playing Gertrude: An unusually aged version; Rose Hill (67 when the show began) was only eight years older than her onscreen daughter Carmen Silvera (59 at the start).
Possibly disguised better than usual as Hill spent most of the series almost invisible under her huge night-cap, with her body hidden under blankets.
Pragmatic Villainy: In the final series, General Von Klinkerhoffen plots to assassinate Hitler... but only because the war is going badly for the Germans and he considers Hitler responsible.
Subverted with the British Airmen: the cast spent the entire series attempting to put them on a bus, but it never stuck.
Queer People Are Funny: Gruber. As an example when Captain Bertorelli is introduced to the Colonel, Helga, and Gruber he gives the first 2 kisses on the cheek, then shakes Grubers hand.
Gruber : Ah the General told me about you.
Bertorelli : The General told ME about YOU.
Reassigned to Antarctica: Von Strom's usual motivation is that he'll be sent to the Russian front if he fails his superiors.
Replacement Goldfish: Gruber feels guilty for executing René but doesn't cry long after him, he falls in love with his "twin brother" instead.
Replacement Scrappy: Captain Bertorelli is an in-universe example, mostly because the Germans tend to view the Italians as their poor cousins, though Bertorelli's personal mannerisms certainly don't help him any. Subverted by Mimi; Rene isn't all that keen on her, mostly because of how insane she is, but most of the other characters actually seem to prefer her over Maria.
Apart from the catch phrases René is always embraching Yvette when Edith comes in, yet manages to think up a halfbaked excuse to explain the awkward situation.
Leclerc always enters in an obvious disguise, yet he still feels the need to explain who he is.
Self-Deprecation: Pretty much all the British characters are presented as complete idiots.
Series Fauxnale: The last episode of the second season was written as the Series Finale, because the show's producer thought there was zero chance of it being renewed for a third season. As it turned out though, he was quite wrong.
Serious Business: Most of the show, but especially anything Herr Flick does. You might think his excessively serious persona is a facade to make his gestapo work easier, but if it is he has long since become the mask.
Shout Out: During the season two Christmas special multiple people were trying to kill General Von Klinkenhoffer during the chicken dinner. Herr Flick was trying to get Helga to kill him with a poison dart and to make a long story short Flick got hit with it instead causing him to convulse on the floor. After Rene and Helga give him the antidote and get him back to his meal, Klinkenhoffer asks Helga what was wrong with him. She answers: "He had the fish."
During the "escape from the prisoner of war camp" arc there's a number of little shout outs to The Great Escape, as they put dirt in Rene's trousers so he can dump it around the camp (in the original they had inside pockets that released the dirt).
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Le Clerc's brother. In a parody, René also has his death faked in the first season and spends the rest of the show posing as his identical twin brother with the same name, although this is forgotten by most of the characters (even the Colonel, despite him being the one who orchestrated the deception) after about a season and only brought up in order to make a joke.
That Came Out Wrong: When Rene is posing as his own twin brother and said he comes from the city of Nancy, Gruber asks if that was also true of his 'late brother':
Rene: Yes, we are both Nancy boys.
Also a rather off-colour Casting Gag: Gorden Kaye who played Rene came out during the run of the show.
Time Skip: The first seven seasons took place over only a few months, then two years pass between the seventh and eighth.
Too Soon: The broadcast of the first season was met by serious protests from some quarters that it was mocking the real horrors and heroism of the Occupation and Resistance, since even though the events were forty years previously they were still within living memory.
Translation Convention: Since the English dialogue is "really" in French, other accents denoted other languages. Michelle would adopt a plummy I-say-chaps accent when speaking English to the British airmen, and Officer Crabtree's malapropisms - "Good moaning! I was just pissing by..." - are due to his poor command of French.
Also, an odd syntax is used to help suggest French's different grammar (such as René saying things like "it is the bed of the mother of my wife!" without possessives).
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Well, maybe not hot wife, but numerous hot women lusted after René... not to mention Lt. Gruber.
And his affairs with his two waitresses have, according to Herr Flick in series 7, given him the nickname "Menage Artois".
Who Is This Guy Again? — No-one can ever remember who it is that Michelle's version of the Resistance works for.
Michelle: De Gaulle!
(Blank looks all around)
Rene: 'E is the one with the big 'ooter.
This is most likely nodding at how the Brits see De Gaulle compared to the French. While he's a hero and great political leader to the French, he is definitively not to the British. Any respect he gained during WW 2 (as a general and organizing the French resistance) immediately began to wane as he continually demanded that France be treated on equal terms with the Great Powers (despite it being full of Germans and lacking any military assets). Furthermore, in the years to follow he vetoed British membership to the European Community twice, withdrew France from NATO command and followed independent foreign policy, which as you might imagine went down quite badly what with the constant worry of soviet invasion and all. While the French, and certainly French nationalists (except the OAS, of course), look upon him fondly, to us across the channel, he will always be "the one with the big 'ooter"