Mrs Pike in the Thatch – An Irishman’s Diary about Brexit

Janet Davies as Mrs Pike  in ‘Dad’s Army’

Janet Davies as Mrs Pike in ‘Dad’s Army’

 

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m working on the plot of a satirical sitcom inspired by Brexit. It will be set during the second World War, and follow the adventures of a group of ageing “Home Guard” volunteers, defending Britain against the Germans, and continental types in general.  

To set the scene, I envisage a musical voice-over at the start of each episode with a Bud Flanagan soundalike singing something along the lines of: “Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Juncker?”

Yes, I know there may have been something vaguely similar to this on BBC a few decades back.

But what makes my series different is that it will have a strong Irish element – all the sitcom rage currently, thanks to the success of Derry Girls and The Young Offenders.  

The larger-than-life characters will include Sgt (Sammy) Wilson, for example, and one based loosely on Ian Paisley jnr, whose utterances will invariably be greeted with the catchphrase: “Stupid Boy!”

This line will always be delivered by the platoon’s de facto leader, from whom the show takes its working title: “Dodds’ Army”.

It was only as a result of my researches I discovered the existence of an early Dad’s Army episode that did have Ireland – and the 1940s-era IRA – as a sub-plot

It may all come to nothing, of course. My agent is worried that it sounds too much like a series called Dad’s Army, which some people may remember from the late 1960s and 70s, although that had almost no Irish involvement, so I fail to see the parallel.

In fact, it was only as a result of my researches I discovered the existence of an early Dad’s Army episode that did have Ireland – and the 1940s-era IRA – as a sub-plot. It was harmless, knockabout stuff.  

Even so, after the modern-day Troubles erupted in earnest, it had to be quietly suppressed.

Subtitled “Absent Friends”, the episode begins with Capt Mainwaring turning up unexpectedly at platoon HQ after a cancelled trip, to find that his weak-willed deputy, Sgt Wilson, has allowed the men to go to the pub for a darts match against the hated ARP.  

So he dispatches Wilson to get them back. But any chance the mild-mannered sergeant will summon sufficient authority to do this disappears when, in the pub, he finds his love interest – Mrs Pike – engaged in romantic manoeuvres with the boorish ARP warden Hodges.

Publicly humiliated, Wilson retreats. He earns redemption, however, when an on-the-run IRA unit turns up in Walmington-on-sea. This, interestingly, is one of the few occasions in the long-running series when the Home Guard faces an actual enemy.  

Mainwaring arrests the unit “in the name of the King”, to which its leader responds: “Stuff the King!”. Then the IRA men beat up the platoon, until Wilson comes to the unlikely rescue, thereby winning back the girl (or in this case the middle-aged widow).

The episode was first aired in 1970. After that, events in Northern Ireland meant it had to be omitted from the many re-runs of the series. It wasn’t until 2012, 42 years later, that it could be shown again. There might be a moral there somewhere for the hilarious cast of Brexiteers now talking down the Belfast Agreement. 

***

Not quite changing the subject, long-time reader Imelda Murphy has emailed to ask if I’ve ever noticed the address of the Irish Passport Office in London. It’s on Cromwell Road, apparently: a fact that caused her American husband (by which I don’t mean to imply that she also has non-American husbands) to laugh out loud when he saw it on an RTÉ programme recently.

The London road is named for Richard, the son, rather than Oliver, the father. Still, the surname alone will always have dire resonance in this country.

Imelda mentions a tradition in Fethard where, to this day, funeral processions avoid the street by which Cromwell entered (although there was no massacre there, the locals having been persuaded to surrender).

No, British applicants for Irish passports are not all planning physical migration

The joke about the passport office, of course, is that it has been besieged of late by a huge increase in applications from worried Britons.

In the UK as a whole, there were 162,000 applicants last year, up 70,000 from the typical pre-Brexit figure. That increase was more than the number of 17th-century Irish forcibly relocated by Cromwell across the Shannon.

No, British applicants for Irish passports are not all planning physical migration.  

But many must be at least considering it. Maybe some of the now underpopulated stretches of Mayo, Leitrim, or Roscommon should be set aside as potential resettlement zones for Brexit refugees: a new twist on the old slogan “To hell or to Connacht”. 

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