1 9 5 5 – 1 9 6 0 (USA)
142 x 30 minute episodes
1 x 60 minute episode
Set in the motor pool of Fort Baxter – a remote army post in Roseville, Kansas – Phil Silvers starred as fast-talking Master Sergeant Ernest Bilko – A man whose major aim was to make money, and plenty of it.
Bilko ran every money making scheme in the book; Poker games, Midnight cruises on Army Landing Craft, Tank Rides and a crooked deal with local service stations for spare parts and tyres for army jeeps.
Colonel Hall constantly tried (usually in vain) to keep his plans in check. But deep down he recognised that Bilko was really in charge.
Created by Nat Hiken (later responsible for Car 54, Where Are You?), the show featured Paul Ford as Colonel Hall, Maurice Gosfield as Doberman, Harvey Lembeck as Rocco Barbella, Joe E. Ross as Ritzik and Elizabeth Fraser as Sergeant Hogan.
Usually, US Army personnel are depicted on TV as smart, fit, tall, handsome, virile men, eager to fight for their country and ever at the ready.
Bilko’s motor pool privates were scruffy, lazy, unattractive slobs who liked to do as little work as possible, never paraded, and were almost fearful of weaponry.
Of all of Bilko’s platoon of hapless wonders, Private Duane Doberman stood out as the ultimate in slobbery – a short, appallingly-dressed fat man with an embarrassed, round, sweaty face and a high, squeaky voice.
Doberman failed to grasp the ways of the world (the ways of the barracks even) and became the ultimate patsy in Bilko’s schemes. Mostly he arrived in a scene a few seconds late or spoke his line a few seconds late because he was supposed to. At other times it was because Gosfield’s sense of timing was awry.
As the series progressed, more and more of the plotlines revolved around Doberman, and he eventually became a huge star. In an attempt to inject fresh impetus, the fourth season of The Phil Silvers Show was based not at Fort Baxter, but in a new location – Camp Fremont in Grove City, California.
The end came a few months later when CBS executives pulled the plug so that they could sell the series into syndication while it was still hot.
Despite a 1963-1964 series entitled The New Phil Silvers Show, Silvers was never able to repeat his success as Bilko and his career sadly declined until his death in 1985, aged 74.
The Phil Silvers Show remains the benchmark against which all great sitcoms must be measured.
Nat Hiken named Bilko after a minor league US baseball player, Steve Bilko, whom he admired, happy with the connotation that it also gave of being bilked, or cheated.
Bilko’s platoon members were also named after sportsmen – Paparelli was a baseball umpire, Barbella was the real name of the boxer Rocky Graziano, and other boxing names (as well as genuine boxers) populated the cast.
Master Sgt Ernest Bilko
Colonel John Hall
Pvt Duane Doberman
Cpl Rocco Barbella
Sgt Rupert Ritzik
Joe E. Ross
Cpl Sam Fender
Pvt Dino Paparelli
Sgt Joan Hogan
Sgt Francis Grover
Pvt Claude Dillingham
Sgt Stanley Sowici
Pvt Fielding Zimmerman
Pvt Stash Kadowski
Mrs Emma Ritzik
P. Jay Sidney