Dad’s Army Museum: Go On A Classic Sitcom Pilgrimage On This Day Trip From London

“Now pay attention…” Thetford must be home to the largest concentrated amount of Captain Mainwarings in the world. Image: Londonist

A classic sitcom pilgrimage, with a day trip from London.

Who do you think you are kidding if you don’t think Dad’s Army is one of the great British sitcoms. First broadcast on BBC TV between 1968 and 1977 (nine seasons, 80 episodes), it follows the exploits of the enthusiastic, but often hapless, home guard of Walmington-on-Sea, as they stand as the last line of defence between England and the Nazis. The David Croft/Jimmy Perry-created comedy also branched out into radio, stage shows and feature length films. No wonder, then, that it has its own museum — and you can find it in the Norfolk town of Thetford, reachable from London in under two hours by train.

Don’t panic! The museum is right in the centre of Thetford. Image: Londonist
You don’t need to be a superfan to enjoy this museum. Image: Londonist

Why Thetford? While most interior scenes were shot in a studio with a live audience, the sleepy, flint-cottage-lined market town was picked for much of the exterior shooting, not least because it was surrounded by acres of military-owned ground, which made filming easier. In fact, while most sitcoms only used a smattering of exterior shots, this part of East Anglia was integral to Dad’s Army (despite it not being on the coast). More of which in a bit.

A replica of Mainwaring’s desk is a popular photo op. Image: Joanna Rutherford
Look around Thetford for plenty more Dad’s Army references. Image: Londonist

Run by enthusiastic volunteers, the Dad’s Army Museum is heartfelt, and brilliantly executed. The pompous Captain Mainwaring’s bank office has been recreated, as has his office (you can sit at his the vicar’s desk and pose for photos*), the church hall stage (which features in countless episodes, including the infamous “Don’t tell him, Pike!” one), and a mock-up of a scene from the episode ‘Something Nasty in the Vault’, in which Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson get trapped underneath an unexploded bomb. (That one’s not a photo op right now, although it’d make a good-un’.)

You stupid mannequin. Image: Londonist

Other items among this treasure trove include a uniform worn by James Beck (aka spiv Private Walker), models of Jones’s butchers van, and a display about Private Pike’s striped scarf (as well as being in the Aston Villa colours, it also happens to be those of Thetford Town FC). There is also an incredibly well-preserved wishing well prop, used in Private Godfrey’s garden in the episode ‘Is There Honey Still For Tea?’. Meanwhile, a slew of board games, books, stamps, cigarette cards and toys demonstrate just how much of a franchise Dad’s Army was — while the number of people visiting this museum on any given weekend show how popular it remains.

Dad’s Army was huge in its time, and is still often aired on primetime TV. Image: Londonist
An incredibly well-preserved prop from a particularly moving episode. Image: Londonist

But here’s the thing: you don’t need to know anything about Dad’s Army to enjoy yourself; displays walk you through the story of how the sitcom came to be (it was originally going to be called The Fighting Tigers, while the famous theme tune was one of the last things Bud Flanagan sang before passing away), and this is as much about the relationship between Thetford and the show as it is about the show itself. Oodles of production photos, notes and letters on display; one letter to residents from producer Harold Snoad comes with a polite request: “Once again, I am put in the embarrassing position of asking you whether you would be kind enough to put the brown sticky tape, which we will supply, on your windows once again.” A one pound note was sent out with each of these missives.

Many of the late cast members visited the museum and signed items in its earlier days. Image: Londonist
It’s a small museum, but there’s lots to keep your eyes peeled for. Image: Londonist

Once you’ve done exploring (and you could easily spend a couple of hours here, even though the museum’s smallish), call in at the adjoining Marigold Tearooms, where they sell authentic ration-era cakes to go with your coffee (including beetroot chocolate cake, and vinegar cake, which we can confirm tastes nothing like vinegar). The tearooms is also where you’ll find a huge map pinpointing where various scenes were shot in Thetford and the surrounding area (including the school which moonlighted at the church hall for exterior shots, and Frog Hill, where the iconic end credits were filmed). You’ll need a car to reach most of these, but there are a few filming sites dotted around the town itself, as well as the Bell hotel, where cast and crew stayed when in town. (The nearby Anchor, where the first ever Dad’s Army scene was filmed, was sadly demolished in 2012.)

A must-visit once you’ve done the museum. Image: Londonist
Vinegar cake, anyone? Image: Londonist

And if you are doing the trip by train, there’s plenty more to do in Thetford. A short walk from the museum gets you to Sean Hedges-Quinn’s uncannily accurate statue of Captain Mainwaring, who sits proudly on a bench, and is perfect for selfies. Close by is the Charles Burrell Museum (open Tues, Sat and Sun); among its collection of traction engines, you’ll find the original Jones’s butchers’ van. In the sitcom, Lance Corporal Jones (played by Clive Dunn) drives the platoon around in this ‘armoured’ butcher’s van, which has special holes for rifles cut out of the sides. The van has an interesting history; originally found by the BBC rusting away on a street in Streatham, it became a ‘gopher’, shuttling props and equipment around, until it realised its destiny, becoming one of the best-known vehicles in comedy history, up there with the likes of Del Boy’s Reliant Regal.

Seek out the nearby statue of Mainwaring (note the arrow on the floor, which references the sitcom’s iconic opening credits). Image: Londonist
You can see the real Jones’s butcher van in another museum, just a few minutes away. Image: Londonist

To hit a hat-trick of museums, the Ancient House Museum (open Tues-Sat) is in the centre of town, too, although as far as we know, there are zero Dad’s Army mannequins here.

Dad’s Army Museum, Thetford, open Saturdays — although check opening times before travelling, as they are liable to change and they have ‘off’ seasons. It’s free to visit, although donations are encouraged.

*Liz Truss is one of many famous people who’ve been photographed at Mainwaring’s replica desk — perhaps this is where she got the inspiration for her own shortlived comedy character of “prime minster”.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe Now and get 5% discount on your first Booking