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It Ain’t Half A Missing Pilot Title Sequence Mum

Posted 21st January 2019

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Today, I want to talk about It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Not the sad death of Windsor Davies, or whether the programme is racist1. This is Dirty Feed, and I have higher things in mind.

The show premiered in January 1974 on BBC1 with a first series of eight episodes.2 The first episode, however, was a true pilot, recorded a full year before air, and separately from the other seven episodes. David Croft’s autobiography, You Have Been Watching…, p. 196:

“The first pilot programme in January 1973 went very well with the studio audience and featured probably the smallest riot ever experienced by the British in India. There was no room in the studio for a proper full-scale riot mob, and we couldn’t afford one anyway. I made do with about ten shadowy figures in the foreground, but the result didn’t bear examination.3 I was present at the odd riot in India and they are extremely frightening affairs. Police and troops are usually heavily outnumbered and very scared, so ghastly mistakes can easily happen. The remainder of the show was a good pilot and served to introduce the characters and the general thrust of the plots, as any pilot should.”

Despite being shot at a different time to the rest of the series, there really are very few differences between that pilot episode Meet the Gang, and the rest of Series 1. But there is one major change: the closing titles. In the pilot, the gang song is all shot on VT in the studio. For the rest of Series 1, it was completely remounted on film.

Here’s a quick comparison of the two versions:

You have been watching, pilot
You have been watching, series
Michael Bates, pilot
Michael Bates, series
George Layton, pilot
George Layton, series
Windsor Davies, pilot
Windsor Davies, series
Writers credit, pilot
Writers credit, series

Pilot, Meet the Gang

Rest of Series 1

Which brings up an interesting question. If the closing titles are different, then what about the opening of that pilot episode?

Unusually for the series, the pilot episode starts with a prologue setting the scene for the show, with a map, and a montage of various military figures. We’re then straight into… the normal opening titles. That’s right: the normal opening titles, as used in the rest of the series, shot on film, in the same style as the closing titles which are only used from Episode 2 onwards.

Opening caption, pilot

Pilot, Meet the Gang

Opening titles, second episode

Episode 2, My Lovely Boy

What’s more, all the captions in the pilot use a different font to usual:

Opening caption, pilot

Pilot, Meet the Gang

Opening titles, pilot

Episode 2, My Lovely Boy

…apart from those pesky opening titles, which feature the font used in the rest of the series.

In other words: when that pilot was originally made in January 1973, it most certainly did not feature the opening title sequence it ended up with when it was finally broadcast in January 1974. Once the rest of the series was shot, the standard opening titles were clearly pasted into the episode.

Two possibilities occur to me. Firstly, maybe the original edit of the pilot never had a title sequence in the first place, and it went directly from the prologue straight into the first scene. The other (more intriguing) possibility: that the pilot once had a different title sequence entirely, and it was replaced before transmission.

Either way, neither explains why an effort was made to standardise the opening titles for the pilot episode, but they didn’t bother standardising the closing titles. You’d think if they bothered to do one, they’d also do the other as well. Clearly not.

Ah well, File this right next to The Young Ones pilot opening titles, which suffered exactly the same fate. Another thing to keep me up at night. In both senses of that phrase.

  1. That’s a 50,000 word article, which I am frankly disinclined to write. 

  2. Attention boring people: no, not six episodes, despite your claims that every UK sitcom series contains six shows. 

  3. Reading this, it is perhaps not surprising that when You Rang, M’Lord? allowed Croft to go to town on the battle sequence at the beginning, he really fucking did so

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