Suppose there's a war on, with a draft or conscription and you end up with folks who for some reason are either not suitable for infantry duty, or have specialized skills or abilities that make throwing them into the path of machine gun fire a waste of talent. But you cannot exactly leave them out of the war effort - and many of them wouldn't want to be. What then?

Also, keep in mind that armies need more than just folks grabbing guns and running screaming at the enemy bayonets drawn. Engineers build roads and field buildings, work out running water and sanitation.  And of course, to keep up morale, you need entertainment.

Quite a few mid-century to 1970s comedians spent time in the armed forces in Britain during World War II, as did folks in the US - either because they were too camp to go in the regular army, or they were skilled musicians. And when they didnt'... I mean, the way Spike Milligan met Harry Seacombe was when he chased off the side of a cliff to see what had happened when an unsecured field gun fired and rolled backwards, falling off the cliff into the camp below. Milligan rushed in expecting to see bodies and a court martial and asked Seacombe - "Have you seen my field gun?" and the latter replied calmly "No. What color was it?"

Many of them drew on their experiences later in life. Jon Pertwee, a naval man, piloted hovercrafts in Doctor Who. Kenneth Williams regaled people with tales of soldiers doing the song "The boys are back" and the brass countering with the request to change it to "the men are back". And the same writing pair who brought you the single entendre comedy Are You Being Served? put out a comedy that has not seen syndication or reruns for many years.

It follows the fortunes of a few rag-tag (technically) soldiers stationed in Deolali, India - a troupe of actors and showmen tasked with putting on performances to keep up the morale of the troops as part of the Pacific Side of the end of World War II. To their mutual dismay they are commanded by Battery Sgt. Major Williams, played by loud shouty Welshman Windsor Davies - a professional soldier of many years who was part of the boots on the ground that built the British Empire. Williams has to deal with not only watching the British Empire collapse under his watch, but also his career reduced to commanding a rag-tag bunch of men who in no way resemble even amateur soldiers. As a result he has a hair-trigger temper and ready use of his drill sergeant voice. There is nothing he would like more than to see the group's theatrical activities disbanded and them all thrown into the Burmese jungle to disembowel the Japanese in hand-to-hand combat.

This is the main source of conflict in the series. As an example, when drilling to present arms, they're an abject failure. Frequent target of his abuse Gunner Graham, a bald bespectacled Oxford grad who is the troupe's piano player, responds to the Sergeant's assertion that as a "h-yUniversity" graduate preforming a simple "present arms" shouldn't present that much of a challenge to him and the others, to which he responds "well, well, well, we're rather inclined to do it at different speeds, Sergeant Major." The deadpan look from Windsor Davies is worth the price of admission, as he tries to process just how to deal with a clearly clueless rank insubordination. Unfortunately, the set piece of "Graham says something like that, Davies imitates him, cut back to Graham looking pained" gets old quickly.

There's ample potential in this setup - the troupe have conflicting goals of being battle-ready soldiers (in theory) but also rehearsing musical numbers and various other acts (one has a "paper-tearing" act, for example) leading to the troupe needing to do dress rehearsals and the Sergeant Major wanting to have a bunch of "la-de-da poofs" running in the Burmese noonday sun to toughen them up. Especially "Gloria", a particularly effeminate man who does all the drag roles.

There's also the small matter of punkah-wallahs, chai-wallahs and other ambient Indians and Burmese about the camp with their own agendas, from the porter Rangi Ram, who believes himself a British man in an Indian body (as well as being a cunning and intelligent helper) to various others who set up stones saying "British Pigs out of India". The Sergeant Major believes he has the right to put his toe up the jacksie of any Indian who gets in his way, the Indians want their independence, and the acting cast want no part of being in the middle.

Unfortunately, most of the potential is wasted as it turns into "rag tag misfits want to get the better of an abusive drill sergeant", the aforementioned "you're a bunch of la-de-da poofs" and Gunner Graham joke set-pieces, and more. One joke about Graham's university educated brain being so large it's pushed all of his hair out is one thing. A constant barrage of it just gets irritating, even if it's true to how a Sergeant-Major would have acted. Davies, for the record, is on point and doing his usual brilliant job screaming out half-strangled Army commands and generally being a waxed-moustache force of nature, and it's no real fault of the cast that it doesn't work as well as it should.

The main reason why it never saw syndication, apart from the fact that most people who would have identified with the themes of the series being dead - is the casting decision to have Rangi Ram be played by a white man in brownface makeup. Though he does a very passable Indian accent (the actor grew up in India and his first language was Hindi) the notion of having white people play someone of a different ethnicity is simply not acceptable. At the time there were some complaints, and the team of Perry and Croft complained that there were no available leading men Indian actors up to the challenge of the kind of nuanced humor that the show used. In essence they didn't need an Indian, they needed someone who could play the impression and stereotype of a particular type of Indian. That alone should have told them they needed to reconsider the source material.

That being said, it's on YouTube and worth watching for a few moments. The Sergeant Major looking at Gunner Graham's choice of reading material and misreading Ulysses as Useless, for example. And a beautiful set piece in which a relatively useless soldier looks to have his crowning moment of awesome, playing the bugle as they lower the British flag. When he makes a complete mess of the performance (the actor is trying not to laugh so hard it makes the whole effort even worse) the Sergeant Major screams at him that he thought the man had come to them from a bugler company. "Yes, Sergeant Major", the actor barely gets out... "I was the drummer".

But these moments are too few and far between to be saleable, just watchable from a historical standpoint.