Storms ahead for the ‘shower’ of Hut 29

Billy Hartnell returns to The Army Game

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 25 September 1960

THE “shower” of Hut 29 will fall in on parade again on Tuesday, when Granada’s The Army Game returns. But with a difference that is not really a difference. It comes back with two of the favourites from the early days — William Hartnell as Company-Sgt-Major Bullimore, and Geoffrey Sumner as Major Upshot-Bagley.

Geoffrey Sumner’s return also means the return of Major Upshot-Bagley’s pigs. Harry Fowler continues as “Flogger” Hoskins, Ted Lune soldiers on as Pte Bone, and Mario Fabrizi as Merryweather. But Alfie Bass has left the Army and Dick Emery replaces him.

“Wait until I get my hands on that ‘shower’!” exclaimed Bill Hartnell, who takes over from Bill Fraser. Fraser, with Alfie Bass, begins a civvy street series. “They’ve been getting off too lightly. More discipline, that’s what they need. Things are going to change when I get back!” He was obviously pleased to be returning to the show. “But when it was suggested, my first reaction was that it wouldn’t be a good idea,” he admitted. “It just wouldn’t be the same unless I was teamed with Geoffrey Sumner again.

“But Peter Eton, the producer, told me that he was negotiating with Geoffrey Sumner, which sounded too good to be true. The only reason for Sumner leaving the cast was that he couldn’t cope with a weekly programme.

“So I didn’t really expect he would be able to do it this time. But he said he could fit it in as the programme was on Tuesdays. I was delighted, and that’s why I am back. There’d have been no sense in trying to do it with anyone else. Geoffrey and I originated the roles, built them up and understood one another.

“We can work together. Our timing fits. I can’t stand changes, anyway. I suppose it’s because I have an organised brain. I’m a disciplinarian to myself.”

Hartnell points at a blackboard while three soldiers look on confused

Geoffrey Sumner explained: “There will be no change in our characters, but we are not going to attempt to carry on exactly where we left off. We are allowing for the fact that there has been a gap of three years. The impression we hope to give is that Bullimore and I have been together somewhere else, and now we’ve come across a new ‘shower,’ heaven help ’em!

“The pigs? Of course. Upshot-Bagley wouldn’t go anywhere without his pigs.”

In fact, Geoffrey Sumner, who lives on a 15-acre farm in Surrey, is a pig-keeper and pig-lover. At various periods he has had herds of 150 or more, and there is never a time when his farm is without them.

“So it isn’t a gag in The Army Game,” he assured me. “I like pigs. People make fun of them, but they are the most intelligent of all farm animals. They are also the cleanest.

“But the trouble with pigs is that they regard themselves as your equal and won’t be bossed. That’s why you never see them in The Army Game.

A man with a bucket
Look out, you lot – the Major’s back

“We tried it at the beginning of the series when we had a real Rosie in the studios. It was disastrous. She took complete charge of the proceedings, refused to stand still, ignored the camera — except to try to eat the pedestal — and generally ran riot.

“Fortunately, we introduced Rosie when we were doing a ‘dry run,’ so, by the time we got to transmission. Rosie was heard but not seen ”

Alas, the pig on which Rosie was based — she was one of Geoffrey Sumner’s herd, of course — is dead. But one of her progeny won first prize last year in the National Farmers’ Union field contest.

Geoffrey Sumner was in the Army during the war years and reached the rank of colonel. Did he have a Sergeant-Major like Bullimore?

“Fortunately not,” he said with a chuckle, and introduced me to his personal assistant, a tall, brown-haired, green-eyed girl named Peggy Warrington. “She was my real Army admin sergeant,” he said.

“I chose her because I was fascinated by the way she wore her cap. It was perched right on the top of her head. Made her look positively Edwardian. An excellent admin sergeant she turned out to be, too.”

Soon after the war, when he was looking for a personal assistant, Geoffrey Sumner sought out Peggy Warrington. She has been with him since.

The most important newcomer to the cast, Dick Emery, is not exactly a stranger to the “shower ” He has been in previous Army Game productions, playing various parts.

Bill Hartnell summed up: “I think we’re going to be a happy family. We’ll certainly have a jolly good go at it.”

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