The boys to entertain you!
With music and laughter to help you on your way,
To raising the rafters with a hey-hey-hey!
With songs, and sketches, and jokes old and new,
With us about, you won't feel blue!
So meet the gang 'cause the boys are here,
The boys to entertain you!
B! O! B-O-Y-S! Boys to entertain you!
Yet another vintage BBC sitcom from before the days of political correctness. It Ain't Half Hot, Mum was written by the creators of Dad's Army. The show, which broadcast between 1974 and 1981, was about the adventures of a Royal Artillery Concert Party stationed in India (later Burma) during World War II.
Nominally in charge of things were officers Lieutenant Colonel Charles Reynolds (Donald Hewlett), a stereotypical, stiff-upper-lip British army officer, and Captain Jonathan Ashwood (Michael Knowles), Reynolds' none too bright second-in-command. Actually in charge of things was the hard-as-nails Battery Sergeant Major Bryn "Shut Up" Williams (Windsor Davies), the only true soldier among the main cast, and always quick to seize any excuse to berate the motley assortment of actors and musicians under his command.
The performers included Jewish Bombardiernote "Solly" Solomons (George Layton), the resident leading man; effeminate Gunner/Bombardier "Gloria" Beaumont (Melvyn Hayes), the resident leading lady; comically short and fat Gunner Harold "Lofty" Sugden (Don Estelle), who possessed a remarkable singing voice; inept but eager ventriloquist Gunner Nigel "Parky" Parkins (Christopher Mitchell), whom Williams suspects might be his son as he had a romantic affair with Parkins' mother years earlier; upper-class, university-educated pianist Gunner Jonathan "Paderewski" Graham (John Clegg); tough Scottish strongman Gunner "Atlas" Mackintosh (Stuart McGugan); bird caller and later George Formby impersonator Gunner "Nobby" Clark (Kenneth MacDonald); and the perpetually eating paper tearer Gunner "Nosher" Evans (Mike Kinsey).
Natives included "bearer" Rangi Ram (Michael Bates),note a confidante to all; "char wallah" Mohammed (Dino Shafeek), who sold tea from a kettle and later replaced Rangi as bearer following Bates' death; Indian "punkah wallah" Rumzan (Babar Bhatti), who frequently displayed Hidden Depths of intelligence and savvy; and Chinese cook Ah Syn (Andy Ho), who replaced Rumzan in the final series.
Common plot devices included conflict with the Indian locals, Sergeant Major's belief that Gunner Parkins might be his son, and his attempts to have the Concert Party "posted up the jungle". Eventually he was successful, and from the fifth series onwards the action relocated to Burma. The Concert Party would usually perform a musical number Once an Episode.In 2023, in common with many other British sitcoms of the era, the series is now being rescreened in full on the nostalgia channels lower down Freeview and gaining a big audience both from those who remember it from first time around, and new viewers who want to know what all the fuss was about. Either way, political correctness gets a great big "SHUT UP!"
- AB Negative: In the episode "It's a Wise Child", Rangi steals Williams and Parkins' medical records, and the Concert Party discover that Parkins has Type O blood while Williams has Type AB blood, meaning he cannot be Parkins' father. However, since this would remove Williams' reason to keep Parkins from being posted up the jungle, throwing the door open to the rest of them being likewise posted, they doctor Parkins' record to list his blood type as AB before Williams can see it.
- Armed Farces: The officers are Upper Class Twits, the non-commissioned officer is a brute, the enlisted men are various flavours of liabilities, layabouts, and ne'er-do-wells... it's the armed farces, all right.
- Beware the Nice Ones: In the episode "Monsoon Madness", Sugden is driven insane by the heat and attempts to kill Sergeant Major Williams.
- Big "SHUT UP!": Williams is pretty much the king of this trope, to the point that his nickname among the Concert Party is "Sergeant Major Shutup" or just “Old Shutup”. It's also the last thing the audience hears after the end credits, when Sergeant Williams bellows at the Char Wallah for singing Land of Hope and Glory.
- Bilingual Bonus: The Urdu spoken by the Indian characters is real.
- Bittersweet Ending:
- The concert party and its officers survive the war and go back to Britain, however they are forced to leave Mohammed behind, though he hopes to be able to join them later and open a restaurant. Rationing means that they cannot enjoy the luxuries they have been looking forward to for so long and their efforts in the war go largely unappreciated by the people they speak to. The officers (particularly Ashwood) almost immediately forget the wartime camaraderie and go back to the "them and us" mentality of the class system. Despite these things, they all part on friendly terms with hopes to make new lives for themselves as civilians.
- Sgt Major Williams, a career soldier, is forced to leave the army, cannot immediately find employment due to his age and finds that the widow he hoped to make a life with has already remarried. Parkin takes pity on him and offers him a place to stay until he gets back on his feet, which Williams gratefully accepts.
- Boomerang Bigot: Rangi dismisses the other Indians as 'ignorant natives' and uses phrases like 'we British' when talking to the crew. Michael Bates based this aspect of the character on similar encounters he'd had with social-climbing Indians in British India.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Rangi Ram would often address the audience directly during episodes.
- British Stuffiness: Colonel Reynolds and Captain Ashwood.
- Brownface: Rangi was played by the white (though Indian-born) Michael Bates.
- Sergeant Major Williams has several: "SHUT UP!", his stock reaction to attempts by the men to protest against his orders or outwit him; "Lovely Boy", a favoured way to address members of the Concert Party when he isn't barking orders at them; "Oh dear. How sad. Never mind", his stock dismissal of excuses offered to get out of following his orders; and "Mr La-di-da Gunner Graham", his reaction to the university-educated Graham's eloquent attempts to reason with him.
- Captain Ashwood's catchphrases included "That's rather a tricky one, sir", his reaction to the many questions or explanations for which he had no immediate answer, and "Carry on, chaps!", his favourite valediction as he left the performers and Williams to their own devices.
- Rangi Ram's catchphrases include "You know, there is an old Hindu proverb which say ..." followed by a "proverb" which may or may not be relevant to the current situation, and "Don't be such clever dickie!", his preferred way to chastise Mohammed or Rumzan.
- "Gloria" Beaumont's words of choice for expressing his anguish at the conditions in the jungle are, "I can't stand it!"
- Concussions Get You High: When concussed by a coconut, Gloria becomes battle-high, becoming even more intimidating than the Sergeant Major to the concert party, killing a venomous king cobra snake with his bare hands and with the assistance of the Sergeant Major, clears out a Japanese mortar position that was cutting off supplies to the base. He returns to his normal self afterward, but still gets rewarded for his actions with a Mentioned in dispatches, and promptly faints when he gets pricked by the award pin.
- Deadpan Snarker: Sergeant Major Williams.(a visiting officer has tasked the Concert Party with delivering the monthly bribe to a local bandit leader)
Captain Owen: In his own words, he wants it to be delivered "by the ladies who dress up as soldiers during the daytime."
Ashwood: (looks confused) Surely he means the soldiers who dress up as ladies?
Williams: That's a matter of opinion, sir.
- "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Performed by Gloria and the gunners.
- Double Entendre: As with most Perry/Croft series, a fair amount of the humour revolves around innocent phrases with sexual connotations. For example, in "Meet the Gang", Ashwood is standing outside the battery office window dejectedly remarking that "it" shrivels up when exposed to the hot Indian sun, and invites a shocked Williams to take a look. A reverse angle shot finally reveals that he is referring to his unsuccessful attempts to cultivate a window box garden.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Williams never misses a chance to belittle and berate the men under his command, determined to make real soldiers out of these pansy performing artists.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Slight twist on this one with Beaumont, who in several episodes is mistaken for a real woman by sex-starved soldiers.
- Frozen in Time: The series lasted seven years, one more than the real World War II - and the events cover just over four months in 1945 (May to September 1945; V-E Day is announced in Series 1, while V-J Day occurs in Series 8).
- Good Old Fisticuffs: Played for laughs. Ashwood finds out that he and Williams are dating the same woman and challenges him to a fistfight. Williams points out that Ashwood stands little chance as he has no real combat experience while Williams is a career soldier. The resulting “fight” consists of Ashwood throwing punches wildly in the dark jungle while Williams calmly waits for him to tire out.
- Grand Finale: Series 8 covers the last weeks of the war in 1945; in the final episode, the characters return to Britain to receive the ration books and complimentary suits of clothes given to all demobilised soldiers, and they discuss what they have planned for their returns to civilian life. Mohammed, meanwhile, writes to Beaumont that he is gearing up to follow them back to England and open a restaurant.
- Hypocritical Humor: Rangi derides the Indian locals as "coolies" and "natives" despite being Indian himself (as mentioned under Boomerang Bigot, this was a real attitude among socially ambitious Indians during the later years of the British Raj).
- It Will Never Catch On: Reynolds and Ashwood's plans for after the war involve television and laundromats. Neither thinks the other has much chance of success.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sergeant Major Williams may be loud and blustery, but he'll defend those he cares about to the death, especially Parkins (whose mother is a former girlfriend of his).
"Sugden, this is not murder, it is legal hexecution. We are acting under orders from a higher authority, and it is my duty to obey those orders, even if it tears at my heart to do so. However, *voice softens considerably* if you wishes to blindfold the elephant, I will not stop you. *gestures* Move yourself, move yourself."
- A letter written to Parkins and meant to be opened only when Williams is dead reveals that the Sergeant-Major is only being so "hard on the men" because he is trying to turn them into soldiers, and he actually thinks "they're all grand lads, especially little Lofty". Reading this brings "Gloria" Beaumont to the verge of tears. (Moments later, they discover evidence that proves Williams innocent of the theft they suspected him of, and Gloria does indeed collapse howling.)
- Similarly, in "Lofty's Little Friend", Williams has to order a party to shoot an elephant that has broken into camp, and his voice barely holds steady as he explains that one of the rifles has been loaded with a blank cartridge "so you can all kid yourselves for the rest of your lives that it was not you who shot the elephant". When Sugden insists on blindfolding the elephant "so's he can't see when we murder him," Williams' response is;
- Last-Second Word Swap: In "Money Talks", having just sat through Gunner Graham's piano recital to ingratiate themselves with him:Williams: Does this mean that for two hours, we has been listening to that cr - drivel - for nothing?
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Parkins' mother, Edith, was simultaneously involved with both Williams and the man she ended up marrying when Parkins was conceived, leading Williams to think he might be Parkins' father. Parkins is horrified by the idea (and even Williams isn't that thrilled as he witnesses Parkins' incompetence at everything he tries to do), and is relieved when a look at their medical records in "It's a Wise Child"note reveals that his father probably is his mother's husband after all.
- Not Now, We're Too Busy Crying Over You: In one episode the Concert Party find themselves behind enemy lines and are given a mission to blow up a bridge to cut-off the Japanese retreat, which is then cancelled at the last minute after Lofty's sent to set the charge in place. After trying three times to let him know they see the raft coming back and explode, causing them to mourn Lofty with Williams offering a eulogy just as Lofty comes back from where he got out of the river. When Williams finally sees him he's positively raging.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Reynolds.
- Proverbial Wisdom: Parodied with the native bearer Rangi Ram, who would often close an episode with "There is an old Hindu proverb, which say..."
- Put on a Bus:
- Rangi Ram disappears without mention after series 5 due to actor Michael Bates death.
- Punkah Wallah Rumzan vanishes without a trace after series 7 and is never mentioned again.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Michael Bates death after series 5 caused bearer Rangi Ram to be absent from the show from series 6 onwards.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Williams repeatedly threatens to have the Concert Party "posted up the jungle".
- Scooby-Dooby Doors: In one episode where four of the men think they have arranged a romantic tryst with Mrs Waddilove-Evans and/or her maid. All go over to the house and rush in and out of the various doors to the same room, narrowly missing each other every time.
- Screams Like a Little Girl: Beaumont, at ear-shattering pitch.
- The Short Guy with Glasses: Sugden. To quote Williams, "Is it a mushroom? No. Is it a soldier? No. It's Gunner Sugden!"
- Shotgun Wedding: Parkins' parents are implied to have had one of these, as he was born barely nine months after they were married.
- Shout-Out: At one point, Williams says, "What about that ventriloquist? He did a turn with a fox. I mean, whoever 'eard of a fox talking?" This is a poke at popular children's series The Basil Brush Show, the title character in which is... a fox puppet.
- Stereotypical Asian English: All the Asian characters speak in an up to eleven sort of way.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Averted when George Layton (Solomons) left and Michael Bates (Rangi) died. No one was brought in to replace them but Gloria and Mohammed were promoted to Bombardier and Bearer respectively. When the actor playing Rumzan left in the final series, he got a Suspiciously Similar Substitute in the form of the cook Ah Syn.
- Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: In one episode of the show Gloria is desperate to get right a number that involves him playing a beautiful girl on a garden swing. He gets hurt when Sergeant Major pushes him off the swing, and Sergeant Major is forced to take his place!
- Title Drop: In the first episode, when Parkins writes to his mother, and the last episode, when Mohammed writes to Beaumont.
- The Unintelligible: Rumzan, at least to those who don't speak Urdu. He drops a few English words at the end of each sentence to convey the gist of what he has just said in Urdu.
- Upper-Class Twit: Captain Ashwood.
- Violent Glaswegian: Mackintosh, who had an extreme temper and performed a "strong man" act in the Concert Party's shows.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Mohammed and Rangi appear to be a Type 1 example, with Mohammed blissfully oblivious when Rangi calls him a "coolie", "ruddy fool" and "damn native".
- Welcome Episode: "Meet the Gang", the first episode of the first series, includes the addition to the Concert Party of the newly-arrived Gunner Parkins, who is the latest of many soldiers to be billeted at the camp for a few days before being posted up the jungle.
- We Need a Distraction: The Concert Party would sometimes be called upon to perform a show in order to distract bandits, facilitate an escape, or some other mission (such as trying to foil an assassination). Became Show Some Leg if Beaumont's drag act was used instead.