The Navy Lark was a radio sitcom about life aboard a British Royal Navy frigate named HMS Troutbridge, (a play on HMS Troubridge, a Royal Navy destroyer) based in HMNB Portsmouth. In series 1 and 2, the ship and crew were stationed offshore at an unnamed location known simply as "The Island". In series 2 this island was revealed to be owned by Lt. Cdr. Stanton.
The programme was transmitted on the BBC Light Programme and subsequently BBC Radio 2. It was produced by Alastair Scott Johnston. Jon Pertwee is frequently quoted as having suggested the idea of a forces comedy based on the Royal Navy, but writer Laurie Wyman and Alastair Scott Johnston both contemplated an Air Force and an Army themed sit-com before going to the BBC with The Navy Lark. Laurie Wyman included ideas based on excuses for late return from leave and other misdemeanours from HMS Troubridge bulletins. He worked with George Evans (Pertwee's personal scriptwriter) from quite early on, but Alastair Scott Johnston did not want him named until the 12th series onwards. For most of its run, it starred Leslie Phillips, Jon Pertwee and Stephen Murray, whose names rotated in order of precedence every episode over the entire 15 season run.
Episodes were self-contained, although there was continuity within the series, and sometimes a reference to a previous episode might be made. A normal episode consisted of Sub Lt Phillips, scheming Chief Petty Officer Pertwee, and bemused Lt. Murray trying to get out of trouble they created for themselves without their direct superior, Commander (later Captain) "Thunderguts" Povey finding out. Scenes frequently featured a string of eccentric characters, often played by Ronnie Barker or Jon Pertwee. Over the course of the programme Lt Murray marries Admiral Ffont-Bittocks daughter Rita.
The Republic of Potarneyland, a country situated somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, is featured in several episodes. Over the course of the series, it is revealed that Potarneyland had recently been granted independence from Great Britain, and had joined NATObecause the Potanis considered it to be a "free gift scheme". During Series 3 of The Navy Lark, a Potarneyland frigate, the Poppadom, appears in several episodes manned by various Potani officers voiced by Michael Bates and Ronnie Barker.
The series used accents and characterised voices to supplement the humour, as well as a good deal of innuendo.
The show's theme tune was "Trade Wind Hornpipe" written and performed by Tommy Reilly on a Barry Music compilation of short interlude pieces published in 1958 on BMC118.
The programme was strong on creating identifiable characters, the listener was able to clearly differentiate each person Laurie Wyman created; many of whom acquired enduring catchphrases, most notably from Sub Lieutenant Phillips: "Corrrrr", "Ooh, nasty...", "Oh lumme!", and "Left hand down a bit". "Ev'rybody down!" was a phrase of CPO Pertwee's, necessitated by a string of incomprehensible navigation orders by Phillips, and followed by a sound effect of the ship crashing. Also, whenever Pertwee had a menial job to be done, Able Seaman Johnson was always first in line to do it, inevitably against his will: "You're rotten, you are!". The telephone response from Naval Intelligence (Ronnie Barker), was always an extremely gormless and dimwitted delivery of "'Ello, Intelligence 'ere" or "This is intelligence speakin'".
Other recurring verbal features were the invented words "humgrummit" and "floggle-toggle" which served to cover all manner of unspecified objects ranging from foodstuffs to naval equipment. Unspecified illnesses include "the twingeing screws", a illness to which Pertwee was a martyr, especially when hearing about being under sailing orders.
The programme made household names of Leslie Phillips, Jon Pertwee and Richard Caldicot. Ronnie Barker's versatile contributions were recognised and Laurie Wyman (later known as Lawrie Wyman) was asked by the producer to write more parts for Barker.
Dennis Price returned for a guest appearance in the fourth series episode A Hole Lieutenant. Other 'guest stars' included April Walker, Norma Ronald and June Whitfield.
There were several radio spin-offs, including The Embassy Lark and The Big Business Lark. The TV Lark was intended to be a replacement for The Navy Lark starting with what would have been the programme's fifth series. This situation came about due to the head of light entertainment believing that "forces"-based humour had become dated and television was the next "big thing", so Lawrie Wyman was ordered to create a show with the same cast in an independent TV station situation. Alastair Scott Johnston and Wyman tried to stop this but were overruled: hence, the arrival of The TV Lark.
The entire crew had been drummed out of the service and hired by Troutbridge TV Ltd. Janet Brown joined the cast due to the absence of Heather Chasen for this series. However, mainly due to public pressure, the production team of Alastair Scott Johnston and Laurie Wyman managed to revert the show to nautical capers. Storylines in The TV Lark nudged back to naval origins across the ten shows until they were finally reunited with Troutbridge.
In 1959 a film version was made, written by Laurie Wyman and Sid Colin and directed by Gordon Parry. It stars Cecil Parker, Ronald Shiner, Elvi Hale, Leslie Phillips and Nicholas Phipps.
Wyman co-wrote with three other writers a television sitcom HMS Paradise (Associated-Rediffusion, 1964–5) set in a naval shore establishment in which Caldicot played Captain Turvey, but only one series was made. The entire series is considered lost.
The show was condensed from 30 to 27 minutes by Transcription services, then the discs were exported around the world except for South Africa. Springbok Radio broadcast to English speaking listeners from their Durban studios, but because it was a commercial station, the BBC refused to allow the station to re-broadcast the recorded shows. However, the station acquired the scripts from Laurie and edited them to around twenty-five minutes each, to accommodate the commercial breaks. The revised show was recorded by local actors in front of a live audience. All the UK associations were kept for the South African audiences which must have been incomprehensible on occasions. The Pumamouse site once offered a chance to hear these shows but the site has undergone changes due to costs which now means the largest collection of these shows exist only at The Navy Lark Appreciation Society archive.
Check out the complete MP3 CD-R here.