The secret origins of 'Allo 'Allo!
David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd's much-loved sitcom spoofed war films and dramas, in particular Secret Army, the BBC classic about a WWII Belgian resistance movement that that ran for three series from 1977-1979. However, Secret Army as the main source of inspiration has been disputed in some quarters as Jeremy Lloyd, who had come up with the original idea for 'Allo 'Allo!, hadn't seen the show, having been working in America at the time of its broadcast. Rather, it was said the comedy was intended to make fun of the troupes and clichés of spy and war dramas in general.
Having said that, the similarities between the two shows are remarkable. Secret Army involved the activities of a Belgian "escape line" that returned allied pilots to Britain, working from a Brussels café. Both shows portray the café owner having an affair under the nose of his wife, a bed-ridden woman in a room above who knocks on the floor for attention, a pianist who is also a forger and valuable paintings that both the Germans and the Resistance wish to nab.
A sitcom with the accent on innuendo
As 'Allo 'Allo! gloried in farce, slapstick, broad humour and cultural clichés it would be something of a stretch to call the show innovative, but it did feature a couple of unusual elements for a BBC sitcom.
With four nationalities featured in 'Allo 'Allo!, the show cleverly played with the use of accents to represent different languages, with the French speaking English with a French accent, the Germans with a German accent, Italians with Italian and the English airmen sporting frightfully posh voices. A lot of comedy was derived from who would be able to understand who and characters having to take on a different accent to switch language.
Then, of course, there was the British spy posing as a French policeman, Officer "Good Moaning!" Crabtree, whose terrible French would come out as distorted English, usually steeped in innuendo... "I was pissing [passing] by the door, when I heard two shats [shots]."
The Neverending Story
The other notable anomaly in 'Allo 'Allo! are the labyrinthine plots. Whilst sitcoms usually have self-contained episodes, the long and convoluted storylines of 'Allo 'Allo! spanned the entirety of each series and often crossed over to the next, as the efforts of the Resistance to save the British airmen clashed with the German's schemes to purloin priceless paintings.
To fully understand what was going on, viewers would have to watch each episode in order, something not normally demanded of a comedy audience. To get around this, the writers had Rene summarise the plot to date at the start of each episode - a device that was often used in the dramas that 'Allo 'Allo! was parodying.
The German resistance
Whilst never a favourite with the critics, who no doubt found it all a bit too silly, the sitcom was a huge hit with UK audiences and, simply put, one of the most successful BBC comedies ever made. The show ran for 9 series and 85 episodes over ten years and spawned a long-running stage version featuring most of the TV cast. The show was also very popular abroad and sold to 56 countries.
It was first shown on French TV in 1989, but one country that initially resisted the charms of 'Allo 'Allo! - perhaps unsurprisingly - was Germany. German television executives had shown some interest whilst the show was running in the UK, but were reluctant to broadcast it due to the subject matter. As time passed, the show's enduring appeal eased any concerns and it was finally shown on German television in 2008, sixteen years after the doors of Rene's cafe had been closed for good.