In the mid-1960s, I worked for a TV production firm in London that occasionally bought the British syndication rights to American TV programmes. Consequently, our staff's underpaid dogsbody (me) had to deal with kinescopes and tapes from Yank TV producers who hoped to get their programmes shown in Britain. In this capacity, I had the dubious privilege of watching three episodes of 'No Time for Sergeants'.
The sample episodes came with a promo reel, in which George Burns (of Burns and Allen) meets a self-effacing young man and says to him "I know you! You're Sammy Jackson, star of 'No Time for Sergeants'!" Jackson modestly admits as much, and then they start talking about what a wonderful show 'No Time for Sergeants' is. I was a bit naff in those days, so I assumed that Sammy Jackson must be somebody important if a showbiz veteran like George Burns recognised him. I didn't realise that Burns was just reading scripted lines to collect a payday. (Years later, I learnt that this sitcom was produced by Burns's production company.) Too bad that George Burns never guested on 'No Time for Sergeants'.
'No Time for Sergeants' was originally an unfunny and episodic novel by some guy named Mac Hyman, that somehow got turned into a hit Broadway play by Ira Levin: yes, the Ira Levin of 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Stepford Wives'. The play became a hit movie, then the movie provoked this dumb TV sitcom (with none of the actors who had made the play and movie a success).
'No Time for Sergeants' premiered on America's ABC-TV network in September 1964, running for 34 episodes and lasting just under a year. All 34 episodes eventually landed on Britain's ITV network, transmitting from February '65 through November '69. Why did the same number of episodes last so much longer on Britain's airwaves? Because ITV never scheduled this series for a regular time slot; instead, it was used as filler to plug gaps in the schedule when no intelligent programming was on offer.
Sammy Jackson (with a thick cornpone accent) played Will Stockdale, a Georgia yokel who gets conscripted into the Air Force. He's very eager and hard-working, but he's too trusting and gormless with it. No matter how hard he tries to do right, he always incurs the wrath of Sergeant King. Will's fellow squaddie Ben (slightly more intelligent) tries to keep him out of trouble but seldom succeeds. As we all know, servicemen have plenty of free time all day (at least in bad TV sitcoms), so Will has plenty of time to visit with his hillbilly dad and with his girlfriend Millie.
One very big drawback to 'N.T.f.S.' is that it's nearly identical to another Yank sitcom that premiered the same month in 1964, on a rival network: 'Gomer Pyle USMC'. They're set in different branches of the US military, but both programmes have the same relationship between a gormless squaddie and an irascible sergeant ... with the minor difference that 'Gomer Pyle' is much funnier and better written, with better production values. Mind you, I'm no huge fan of 'Gomer Pyle' nor of Jim Nabors, but ... well, let's just say that 'No Time for Sergeants' lacks the subtle underplaying and deft social commentary of 'Gomer Pyle USMC'. Also, in the dramatics department, Sammy Jackson makes Jim Nabors seem like Sir John Gielgud.
A bigger problem is that 'No Time for Sergeants' AND 'Gomer Pyle' BOTH ripped off their premise from 'The Good Soldier Schweik', a novel that is very famous in Europe but which appears to be utterly unknown to everyone in America (except the guy who ripped it off for these two TV shows). Schweik is a moronic klutz of an army private who just wants to be 'a good soldier', but his efforts to please his sergeant only reap disaster.
The TV version of 'No Time for Sergeants' had a decent supporting cast, most notably the Scottish-born silent-film comedian Andy Clyde as Millie's grandfather. The American TV producer who tried to sell this series to my bosses in London kept hyping Andy Clyde's nationality, without realising that Andy Clyde spent his whole film career in Hollywood and he was unknown in his native Britain. Harry Hickox, a character actor who deserved better roles (and who was brilliant as the villain in 'The Music Man'), does a splendid slow-burn here as Will Stockdale's exasperated sergeant. Hayden Rorke, in a colonel's uniform, gives the same dull one-note performance here that he would repeat a year later (in a different uniform) on 'I Dream of Jeannie'.
Some great old sitcoms are languishing in TV Limbo, but 'No Time for Sergeants' is unworthy of resurrection. About turn, forward march!
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