Starring: Stephen Murray, Jon Pertwee, Leslie Phillips, Ronnie Barker

Written by Lawrie Wyman

Produced by Alastair Scott Johnson

Reviewed by Ceri Laing


The Navy Lark was a mainstay on BBC Radio for eighteen years, from 1959 to 1976, with a special final broadcast in 1977. A legacy of the forces comedy shows of the 1940s, The Navy Lark was created with three stars - Jon Pertwee as Chief Petty Officer Pertwee, Leslie Phillips as silly-ass Sub-Lieutenant Phillips, and Dennis Price as Commander Price. Price left after the first series and was replaced by Stephen Murray as Commander Murray, who stayed with the show until the end of its run. The supporting cast featured the vocal talents of Ronnie Barker, Michael Bates, Tenniel Evans, Richard Caldicot and Heather Chasen. The show was an immediate success, popular not just with the general listening public but the Navy as well. It’s distinctive nautical theme tune, characters and catchphrases such as “left-hand down a bit” all become well loved.

For the first couple of series the characters were based on an island just outside Portsmouth. In an effort to keep the show fresh, and to give new ideas to writer Lawrie Wyman, from the start of the third series the regulars became entirely based on a frigate, HMS Troutbridge, and for this series the cast was joined by Judy Cornwell.

This box features the first fourteen episodes of the twenty-six-episode fourth series, broadcast between September and December of 1961.

These are:

1 Returning From Leave
2 Captain Povey's Spy
3 The Secret of Nessie's Youth
4 The Northampton Hunt Ball
5 Hijacked!
6 Admiral Troutbridge
7 Relatives and Reservations
8 Humgrummits on the High Seas
9 Are Captain and Mrs Povey Married?
10 Cine Cameras at Sea
11 The Civilian Adjustment Course
12 A Hole Lieutenant
13 Spy Catching in Casablanca
14 Mount Pot Erupts


This is a seven-disc set with two episodes on each disc. The fourth episode, The Northampton Hunt Ball, has previously been released (on the very first Navy Lark double cassette). This episode was taken from a copy kept in the BBC archives. It appears that all the other episodes are sourced from off-air domestic recordings. As ever Ted Kendall is on restoration duties and makes the best of whatever material is available. On the whole there are no sound quality issues with episodes as presented, beyond a very slight muffling in some instances, but what has been achieved is very good considering the nature of the original recordings.

Archive television and radio expert Andrew Pixley yet again has supplied some excellent sleeve notes for the release, explaining the background to the fourth series. These cover such things as the recording schedule and reasons why the BBC Transcription Service decided not to take the series (explaining, in part, why so many of the recordings here are sourced from off-air recordings.)

The booklet also features scans of the Radio Times billings, which were published when the episodes were originally transmitted – a nice touch.

Unfortunately, unlike the previous The Navy Lark CD Collector’s Box Set releases, there aren’t any extras included in this release, but Mr Pixley’s sleeve notes and Mr Kendall’s superlative restoration work more than make up for that. Hopefully, when the second half of the series gets the CD Collector’s Box Set treatment, more archive goodies may be included…


It’s very pleasing to see BBC Audiobooks continuing with The Navy Lark CD Collector’s Box Set releases when other box set series in the range haven’t continued. As ever, the effort and commitment of Ted Kendall and Andrew Pixley shine through in their contributions to the release. The background notes continue to have a wealth of detailed information, The off-air recordings that have been sourced for this release have never sounded as good!

So... what about the episodes themselves?

By this fourth series Lawrie Wyman had written sixty-three Navy Lark episodes, so it’s not altogether surprising that some of the ideas and jokes were coming a bit strained and repetitive. This did cause a re-think for the next series, and Andrew Pixley covers this transitional period in his notes. Incidentally, Lawrie Wyman also makes one of his occasional un-credited appearances in one of the episodes in this collection, Are Captain and Mrs Povey Married.

Despite some signs of fatigue, this is still a very funny series! It didn’t last for eighteen years without good reason – the main characters are still strong and entertaining and Wyman does still find good situations to exploit. It’s impossible not to be impressed and entertained by the talent of Jon Pertwee, Leslie Phillips, Stephen Murray, and Ronnie Barker. If I were to single out one particular episode as a series highlight, it would be A Hole Lieutenant, which features Dennis Price making a return appearance.

If you a fan of the show, radio comedy in general or any of the show’s stars this box set is going to provide you with a lot of entertainment!

In the not-too-distant future BBC Audiobooks will be giving similar CD Collector’s Box Set treatment to The Goon Show, which is really good news, and it’s heartening that the range is expanding again. Hopefully the range will continue to expand and other classic shows, such as I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, may get the same restoration work and attention to detail …

With thanks to Andrew Pixley.

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