Who would have thought that a show about a group of French villagers living in World War II Nazi occupied France would end up becoming one of the most popular television sitcoms from the 1980’s. It doesn’t sound like a premise for being funny really, does it? But ‘Allo ‘Allo somehow managed to take the situation and make much merriment from it thanks to a strong cast of characters and a barrowload of catchphrases.
The show aired from 1982 to 1992 and was written by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, the writing team behind other popular British sitcoms such as Are You Being Served? and Hi-De-Hi. Most of the storylines were set inside the Cafe Rene, a small restaurant and bar owned by Rene Artois, played by Gorden Kaye. Poor Rene usually found himself caught up in the middle of sticky situations when all he really wanted was a quiet life running his bar. Rene was picked on in some way or another by everyone, whether it be his tone deaf wife Edith, the French Resistance or members of the occupying German forces.
One of the cleverest things about the show was the way characters could speak in different languages just by speaking English in a different accent. This was most notable when Michelle of the Resistance turned up to speak to the two British Airmen who were being kept safe in Rene’s cafe. Michelle would first speak to Rene in a French accent (“listen very carefully, I shall say zis only once“), then would speak to the Airmen in a very posh sounding English accent which Rene apparently couldn’t understand. Speaking of the two Airmen, every week they would be hidden in a different part of the Cafe, and would normally appear by popping their heads out from somewhere unexpected (e.g. the kitchen stove, a chest of drawers etc.) accompanied with a cheery “Hello”.
The use of accents to represent different languages was also used to great comic effect by Officer Crabtree, a British spy disguised as a French Policeman. He had been selected for the role because he claimed he could speak French, but in reality his French was pretty awful. In the programme whenever Officer Crabtree said something in French he would usually mispronounce the words, so “Good Morning” became “Good Moaning“. One particularly good example is the classic line “I was pissing my the door when I heard two shats“.
The German forces were represented by a number of characters, initially the inept Colonel Von Strohm and his right hand man Captain Hans Geering, who’s catchphrase was to not say the entire “Heil Hitler!” salute, insteading uttering something that sounded like “clop” after everyone else. Apparently this was meant to just be the last syllable (i.e “tler!”) of the phrase, but it didn’t sound like it. A friend of mine at school claimed he was saying “Ditto” in German, which I don’t think is true, but I wish it was as that would have been even funnier.
Then there was Lieutenant Gruber, the camp German officer who drove around in “his little tank” and joined the waitresses of the Cafe Rene in being attracted to Rene. Then there was Helga, who was secretary to Colonel Von Strohm, who announced the entry of another German officer by shouting their name at the top of her voice. She also wore a particularly kinky line in underwear, normally adorned with Nazi symbology of some kind, as she was also the lover of Herr Flick, the Gestapo agent in the area.
Herr Flick always wore the typical uniform of the Gestapo, a black hat and long black leather coat, and walked with a limp. Initially Herr Flick was played fairly straight, being the force against which all the other characters were pitted against, but eventually he too became more of a comedy character, forever claiming that instead of having a pen or a hat it was a “Gestapo pen” or a “Gestapo hat”.
There was a general running plotline that went through the entire run of the series regarding the painting known as “The Fallen Madonna With The Big Boobies“.Â This was considered a priceless piece of artwork and was desired as a spoil of war by both Colonel Von Strohm and Herr Flick, and also Hitler himself.Â The painting was hidden in the Cafe Rene, which got even more complicated when it was forged three times and hidden inside knockwurst sausages.
Surprisingly the show has been a hit not just in the UK but also in Australia and has even been shown in Germany!Â In 2007 a one off special wasÂ filmed entitled The Return of ‘Allo ‘Allo, and there have also been several stage versions of the show, including one featuring Gorden Kaye in 2007 in Brisbane, Australia.Â Guy Siner, who played Lieutenant Gruber, and Sue Hodge, who played waitress Mimi also reprised their roles for the stage version.