‘Allo ‘Allo: Pigeon Post
What an excellent time for BBC One to broadcast an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo. True, it was done in tribute to Gorden Kaye who died on Monday, but it feels like this was a good week to laugh at some Nazis.
However, you know me by now. Ignore the laughter, or moral truths, we all know why we’re really here. “Oh, I wonder whether there have been any edits made to the show…” And blow my chickens up, there has been. To clarify then, here’s the two versions of the episode Pigeon Post I’m comparing:
- The episode broadcast on BBC One on Wednesday 25th January at 7:30pm, with a duration of 28’56”.
- The version Playback released on DVD in Region 2 way back in August 2002, with a duration of 31’39”.
In other words, the version broadcast by BBC One on Wednesday is 2’43” shorter than the version on DVD.
Without either an off-air of the very original broadcast or paperwork to hand1, we’re left with a bit of guesswork – but I think we can work out what happened with reasonable certainty. The longer version on DVD is probably the original broadcast (aside from the episode title caption), and the episode broadcast on Wednesday is a cut-down version for repeat transmission to fit a standard slot – which I suspect is the version the BBC have been showing for years.2
Let’s see what’s missing, shall we? Cuts to the repeat broadcast are indicated like this.
(0:22) Different episode title caption between the DVD and broadcast:
As neither caption quite matches the rest of the graphics used in the show, I suspect the episode title was never on the very original broadcast of the programme, and so was added separately at two different times later on.
RENÉ: Now, listen carefully to what I have to say. Two German officers are coming to your room.
FANNY: Pigs! [spits] I will fight them to my dying breath.
The Colonel and the Captain appear in their underclothes.
MICHELLE: They have been captured by the Resistance.
RENÉ: Then why are we worried?
MICHELLE: They have not been captured by our Resistance.
RENÉ: What other Resistance is there?
MICHELLE: Well, the Communist Resistance.
RENÉ: What are you?
MICHELLE: De Gaulle.
YVETTE: De Gaulle?
RENÉ: He is the tall one.
EDITH: With the big hooter.
RENÉ: Well, can you not just ask them if we can have our uniforms back?
MICHELLE: We do not know where they are hiding them. What is more, we do not speak to them. When the war is over, whichever is the strongest group will control France. The communists are ruthless killers – we will have to eliminate them.
This is useful information in the ongoing power struggle that becomes a major theme of the show, so it’s a bit of a shame it was cut.
EDITH: You know what to do?
LECLERC: Yes, yes. Of course. I am to pretend I am a tailor… but who do I measure?
EDITH: German officers. They are in the room of my mother. In the wardrobe, in their underwear.
LECLERC: [bemused] Of course.
LeClerc marches into the room, brandishing a tape measure.
LECLERC: I have come for the measurements.
FANNY: René! Edith! Is it the undertaker?
These lines aren’t that funny in themselves, but snipping them hurts the great joke with Fanny they’re leading up to, as the setup is now entirely missing.
FANNY: After all these years… where have you been?
LECLERC: In the nick my love.
FANNY: And now fate has brought us together.
FANNY: Remember when we were young? You used to run your fingers through my lovely long hair.
LECLERC: Remember, you always used to bite my ear.
FANNY: I remember. Where did I put my teeth?
She reaches for her false teeth.
An obvious cut if you’re trimming for time, as the scene has told you all it needs to by that point, but I’m a sucker for a false teeth gag.
FAIRFAX: What’s she talking about, do you suppose?
CARSTAIRS: I’ve actually no idea. The trouble is, I do believe they think we’re Jerries.
BOTH: Not Jerries!
CARSTAIRS: In disguise!
FAIRFAX: On your side!
MAQUIS LEADER: Show them the magneto and the leads. Perhaps you recognise this method of loosening the tongue.
FAIRFAX: I think I’ve got it, Carstairs!
CARSTAIRS: What is it?
FAIRFAX: They’ve got a car that won’t start and they want us to help them!
CARSTAIRS: Unfortunately I know nothing about cars.
FAIRFAX: Neither do I.
CARSTAIRS: Sorry – can’t help.
The Maquis pull out their guns.
FAIRFAX: She seems damn keen to get it going.
MAQUIS LEADER: You have five minutes to talk. Otherwise I will shoot you! [raises gun to her head]
FAIRFAX: If we don’t get it going, she’s going to shoot herself.
CARSTAIRS: That’d be a damn shame. Such a pretty girl. We’d better agree to do what we can. [to her] We’ll do what we can!
MAQUIS LEADER: I thought so. They are prepared to talk. Cut them down.
Cut back to Michelle.
MICHELLE: Ready, take aim, fire!
MAQUIS LEADER: Quick! It’s the Germans! Out the back way!
FAIRFAX: We’d better take a powder, Carstairs.
CARSTAIRS: If that’s the Jerries, we could be shot as spies. We’d better get rid of these uniforms.
FAIRFAX: Shove them on the fire!
They burn their uniforms.
Michelle looks through a pair of binoculars, and sees Fairfax and Carstairs running away in their underwear.
MICHELLE: They are running for it! They think we are Germans! Get to the bridge. We’ll cut them off there.
RESISTANCE MEMBER: I thought they were on our side.
What’s notable about these trims is that they’re completely invisible – whoever edited this down did an extremely good job. Sad to lose “She seems damn keen to get it going”, though.
(15:24) A short exchange when Herr Flick discovers the Colonel and Captain dressed as onion sellers:
HERR FLICK: You French peasants! I am the Gestapo. I want this table. Go away or you will be shot.
HELGA: We could take that table.
HERR FLICK: Helga. When I make up my mind I want something, I always get it.
HELGA: This I know, Herr Flick. It’s why I find you so exciting.
HERR FLICK: Naturally. You French peasants! I am speaking to you! Look at me!
The Colonel and Captain look up.
Nothing of particular use is lost here; the relationship between Herr Flick and Helga is well-served elsewhere, even in the same episode.
MICHELLE: You, René, will write a description of the uniforms we require. Here is the paper supplied with the cylinder.
RENÉ: What shall I say?
MICHELLE: “To London: please supply urgently by parachute drop at your earliest convenience – German uniforms as follows. One Colonel in research regiment, with…
RENÉ: Just a moment please. How am I supposed to get all that on this little bit of paper?
MICHELLE: With very small writing.
RENÉ: Do you know if you had found those British we could have got those uniforms back and we wouldn’t have to go through all this farrago.
The British airmen arrive at the window.
FAIRFAX: Sorry about the togs. We had to pinch them off a couple of scarecrows.
MICHELLE: Never mind that chaps, what about the uniforms?
CARSTAIRS: We burnt them! We didn’t want to be shot as spies!
FAIRFAX: The painting’s safe though!
He reveals he is wearing the painting.
RENÉ: What are they jabbering about?
MICHELLE: They still have the picture, but they have burnt their uniforms.
RENÉ: Oh ‘eck. Well, they cannot stay here. The Germans are everywhere.
MICHELLE: You will have to find somewhere.
RENÉ: Well, there is only the room of my wife’s mother.
MICHELLE: The German colonel and captain are hiding in there.
RENÉ: Oh no, they are now in the restaurant disguised as onion sellers.
MICHELLE: Then we don’t have to send the message by the pigeon. We can use the radio.
They go to leave.
MARIA: What shall I do with these? [points to the basket containing the pigeons]
RENÉ: Hide them. [Gestures to the airmen] Come, please…
Both the pigeons and the paper cylinder are important to the denouement of the episode, so it’s a bit of a shame to lose the additional detail – although the episode still contains everything you need to understand it.
RENÉ: Mama, I… what is the forger who is pretending to be a tailor doing in bed with your mother?
EDITH: He is an old lover. Isn’t it romantic?
RENE: Rheumatic, I would say. Now listen to me. For a very brief period, you must accommodate these two British airmen.
FAIRFAX: These togs have a frightful pong. Could you hang them on a line or something?
IT SHOULD BE ILLEGAL TO CUT A JOKE WHERE THE WORDS ROMANTIC AND RHEUMATIC ARE CONFUSED.
HERR FLICK: You may kiss me.
Helga gives him a passionate embrace. Herr Flick remains motionless.
HERR FLICK: That gave me great pleasure.
HELGA: This room has a very exciting atmosphere. Do you interrogate people here?
HERR FLICK: Well… just a little bit. I have to keep up appearances. Berlin expects this sort of thing. But as you know, I am a softie at heart. Sit in that chair.
HELGA: Yes Herr Flick.
Herr Flick saying the word “softie” is always good value.
As stated above, I believe the DVD version of this episode to be the version originally broadcast back in 1984. Presumably then, when the edited repeat was prepared, fake laughs over the (real) audience reaction were added. Quite why is difficult to fathom – it’s not like the episode had a bad studio audience reaction in the first place. Indeed, the most annoying example of this is during the best moment of the episode – where Herr Flick reveals he is wearing exactly the same underwear as Helga. This gets a huge audience reaction on the DVD version, and some applause – but the repeat broadcast smothers it with additional clapping. There’s something very obnoxious about putting fake applause all over something, but especially so when the original reaction was so joyous in the first place. It’s entirely unnecessary.
Aside from that, the trimmed version works pretty well. Cutting down ‘Allo ‘Allo of this vintage is always going to involve cutting into the bone to some extent – unlike some later episodes, but that’s a whole other story – but this does a good job of keeping the twists and turns of what is already becoming a convoluted plot, and the trims are extremely well done technically.
Man, that added laughter, though. It doesn’t make it easy for us trying to convince people there really is an audience there, you know…
At some point, I’ll go down to the BBC Written Archives and hopefully be able to clarify some of these articles. ↩
It’s on record that David Croft was meddling with Are You Being Served? in the 90s to tighten up the episodes for the repeats, so it wouldn’t surprise me if these edits to ‘Allo ‘Allo were done at roughly the same time. ↩