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Radio / The Navy Lark

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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.

CPO Pertwee put in an indent for the following Tropes (which will not end up being sold at his cousin's surplus store in a few days):

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    Tropes A-M 
  • Armed Farces: Set in the UK's Royal Navy, and occasionally featuring other branches of the British military and even foreign services. Leslie Phillips famously claims that his character caused more damage to military equipment than World War 2.
  • Ashface: In the episode "Refitting Ebenezer Pertwee", the funnel of Uncle Ebenezer's tug falls off, leading him to getting a face full of soot and being referred to as "A Tennessee Minstrel". Later in the episode the tug blasts CPO Pertwee in the face, leading to him being referred to as "Sambo".
  • 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, who would occasionally show up to be either a sultry voiced seductress or a leather catsuited whip-cracking antagonist.
  • Breaking Bad News Gently: During a very confusing conversation with Sub-Lt. Phillips, the ship's chaplain had to sit down, stand up, and sit down again.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Sub-Lieutenant Phillips, half a lemonade shandy (a drink that is 50/50 lemonade and mild beer) and he is anyone's.
  • Captain Crash: Sub-Lieutenant Phillips. He's cause more damage to Royal Naval property than both World Wars.
  • Catchphrase :
    • Sub-Lieutenant Phillips' "Left hand down a bit", CPO Pertwee's "Everybody down!!", and "Belt up!" 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.
    • Able Seaman Johnson's "I'm not happy. I'm not happy at all"
    • Birwasher, after long rambling external dialogue, 'good morning!' And then after more of the same '... how d'you do?', at which point someone will say 'can we dispense with the formalities sir?'. Also, 'hullo! Hullo, hullo. Hullo?' Whenever startled by new information.
  • 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. Was only rarely on the same plane of reality as the rest of the cast, and likely to go off on the most bizarre tangents.
    • 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. In the first couple of seasons Pertwee was running a shop out of the Navy stores, even when Troutbridge put to sea he managed to continue his wheeling and dealing.
  • Cover-up Purchase: C.P.O. Pertwee has to get Number One a luxury chair that he really isn't entitled to, and decides the best way to do it is by indenting for a large quantity of them because the only time he indents for a single anything is when it is a battleship. Ultimately it fails because everyone else up the supply chain has the same idea, and by time the request reaches the naval supplier it has multiplied into every single luxury chair in the Royal Navy.
  • Cryptid Episode: In one episode, the Troutbridge crew is reassigned to find the Loch Ness Monster.
  • 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.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: 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.
  • 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. Another good example is "The Multiple Mines" where Johnson and Goldstein's drunken antics kickstart the episode's plot note .
  • 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.
  • 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, CPO Pertwee's perennial fall guy for when a scheme falls through. Fatso is also prone to get into trouble at the mention of food too.
  • Happily Married: Commander Murray and his wife.
  • Handsome Lech: Sub-Lieutenant Phillips, playing off Leslie Phillips' common screen persona. He was very dashing in a thin moustached sort of way, but very prone to chasing the ladies.
  • Henpecked Husband: Povey, completely under the thumb of his overbearing wife Ramona.
  • Honest John's Dealership: CPO Pertwee can sell anything from a can of beans to a battleship. Often without the previous owner knowing. By requisitioning all the Royal Navy's higher-class chairs to resell — if Povey hadn't caught on.
  • Horny Sailors: One of the stock plots is Sub-lieutenant Phillips' romantic pursuit of WRNS Heather Chasen. He's also not opposed to a bit of freelance womanising and innuendo if some other female is around.
  • Insane Admiral: Too many to count, although resident 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: The cast would often interact with the Narrator at the top of the show.
    • Lemony Narrator: in one episode having the cast abandon the story to go look at the narrator's saucy calendar, starring an attractive actress.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: 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.
  • Large Ham: Everyone, frequently leading to Ham-to-Ham Combat.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: While stranded in a lifeboat on Loch Ness, CPO Pertwee attempts to keep everyone's spirits up by singing a (presumably) Bawdy Song, only to be forced into a last second word swap by a threatening interjection from Commander Murray.
    Pertwee: (singing) Oh, there once was a sailor named Kelly
    Who, when not reading poems by Shelley,
    Would slide on the grass
    On the seat of his...
    Murray: CHIEF!
    Pertwee: ...shovel
    Shouting "Look what's tattooed on my belly!"
  • 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 wreckernote  after he and Johnson accidentally got stranded on a storm isolated lighthouse.
  • Long Runner: 1959-1977, eighteen years.
  • 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.

    Tropes N-Z 
  • 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!"invoked
  • 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, in-universe, 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.
  • Read the Map Upside Down: One of the many, many, navigational blunders involving Sub-Lt Phillips involved him reading the map upside down, backwards, or in some cases entirely fictional maps, although it is highlighted by the other cast members that him reading it the right way up would hardly make a difference.
  • 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: Pertwee's plans usually end up revolving around this to varying degrees. For instance, he once got Commander Povey to believe he was really selling the Troutbridge to derail Povey's plans to get the entire crew Reassigned to Antarctica note . When Povey's plans to throw the book at Pertwee failed (since the ship wasn't techically Navy property at the time, Pertwee couldn't be charged with selling a warship), he decided to outbid everyone at auction, an auction otherwise completely composed of Pertwee's relatives. Povey won, and then found out what he'd actually bought: The "veteran, ex-naval vessel" in the advertisement was actually an old ricketty tug owned by Pertwee's even more larcenous uncle, who demanded Povey pay up. When he refused, Pertwee had him over the barrel because not paying lawful debts was conduct unbecoming an officer!
  • Reminder Failure: Seaman "Fatso" Johnson once went around for an episode with a bit of string tied around his finger, unfortunately he couldn't remember tying it there so all it did was remind him he had forgotten something (at the end of the episode it was revealed: It was to remind him to buy string).
  • The Remnant: See Those Wacky Nazis below.
  • Right Through the Wall: When Commander Murray and his wife are sharing a house with her parents, she refuses to have sex because the bed squeaks and her parents will hear them. Murray's frustration levels are not helped when he puts his back out attempting to fix the bed, and his crew assume he put it out indulging in a different bedroom activity.
  • 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.
  • Salvage Pirates: CPO Pertwee once attempts to become a lighthouse keeper so he can lure ships on to the rocks and loot them.
  • Scotland: At one point Troutbridge is assigned to hunt for the Loch Ness monster.
  • Sea Mine: HMS Troutbridge once thought they had salvaged a missing American satellite. What they had actually found was a World War II era sea mine. Hilarity Ensues.
  • 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.
  • Signature Laugh: Sub-Lieutenant Phillips' 'silly-ass' laugh (usually at his own jokes). Most of the other characters find it irritating, especially Captain Povey.
  • 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.
    • According to Jon Pertwee's autobiography, the film production company wouldn't employ Dennis Price for the film because of his sexuality. Because of this, Pertwee refused to do the film without Price.
  • 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".
  • Staircase Tumble: When Pertwee and Johnson get stuck on a lighthouse, this is how poor Able Seaman Johnson always ends up getting down from the top. Pertwee of course, taking an inordinate delight in sending him up there for various reasons.
  • Stopped Reading Too Soon: In one episode Povey's scheme to drum the HMS Troutbridge crew out of the navy falls apart because he only read the front of the orders sheet, there was information on how they could get out of it on the back. Even worse The Admiral admits that he makes the same mistake constantly, and only noticed some important stuff when he turned some paper over to use as a drink's coaster.
  • String-on-Finger Reminder: Seaman "Fatso" Johnson once went around for an episode with a bit of string tied around his finger, unfortunately he couldn't remember tying it there so all it did was remind him he had forgotten something (at the end of the episode it was revealed: It was to remind him to buy string).
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The lead officer was changed from Lieutenant Price to Lieutenant Murray after season 1.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Whenever the crew and Povey are forced to work together.
  • 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.
  • Yellow Peril: The Master, a steotypical Fu-Manchu style villain, who would show up from time to time to theatrically threaten the crew.
  • 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.