Upper-class innocent Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) has to interrupt his cloistered university education when he is called up in 1942 and sent to Gravestone Camp.
Stanley’s erratic and chaotic progress through the camp – and his singular lack of prowess at the military arts – almost drives his instructor (William Hartnell) to apoplexy.
He is assigned to an Officer Cadet Training Unit. but after incredible interviews with psychiatrists and others, Private Windrush is posted to a Holding Unit, under Major Hitchcock (Terry-Thomas), terrific as the pompous officer who despairs that his men are “an absolute shower”.
He falls in with a gang of spivs and loafers including George Blake (Victor Maddern), Dai Jones (Kenneth Griffith), Horrocks (Ian Bannen) and crafty Private Cox (Richard Attenborough), who tries to teach him how to skive and scrounge – how to make a five-minute job last all day, how to slope off to the cinema without being missed, how a large number of soldiers can travel on the railway with only two tickets and an ATS hat . . .
Stanley chooses a Japanese language course as the biggest and longest “loaf” available, but is contacted by his uncle, Brigadier Bertram Tracepurcel (Dennis Price) – a “chairborne War Office hero” – to join the secret “Operation Hatrack” which, in fact, turns out to be a scam to steal looted artworks from the Germans and sell them on to crooked art dealers.
Receiving no cooperation from the War Office (because the film was thought to be harmful to recruitment), the Boulting Brothers went ahead with hilarious results. It’s a devastating satire on the ways of the British Army.
Private Stanley Windrush
Private Percival Henry Cox
Brigadier Bertram Tracepurcel
Captain Henry Bootle
Private George Blake
Private Dai Jones
Derrick de Marney
Mr Windrush Sr
John Le Mesurier
Lance Corporal Parsons
General Von Lembeck