Situation Comedy has been a staple of British Light Entertainment for over sixty years. Throughout the seventies and eighties, the genre went through a golden era with a whole host of stock characters and memorable moments. Sitcom legend David Croft had already had two successful comedies based on war in the shape of Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, but now together with long time writing associate Jeremy Lloyd, he focused on the farcical world of the French resistance. Allo Allo was first broadcasted on the 30th December 1982 and reigned over the television schedules for the next ten years making stars out of its cast members including Gordon Kaye, Carmen Silvera and Vicki Michelle.
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Comedy actress Sue Hodge joined the show for the fourth series in 1987 as the pint sized blondeshell waitress Mimi Labonq who was yet another sexually charged female to have her sights firmly set on the unlikely sex symbol Renè François Artois played by the late great Gordon Kaye. But of course, Renè was “happily” married to the strong willed failed singer Madam Edith played by Carmen Silvera who would regularly be on the warpath suspicious of her husband’s potential sexual exploits with an array of waitresses. By the time Mimi Labonq entered Renè’s cafe, the ensembled cast members were already established and the series was a big hit. So it seemed a big task for Sue to join a hugely popular show. Yet as soon as Mimi made her debut on the third episode of the fourth series, the public took her to their hearts and it wasn’t long before she became a permanent fixture.
Sue’s portrayal of Mimi Labonq was able to flourish right up until the final series in 1992 and her on screen relationship with Gordon Kaye grew ever stronger. For some unknown reason, the watching nation became invested into the fallacy that this middle aged, overweight and intolerant Frenchman could be the subject of so many women’s sexual desires…he was no Brad Pitt! However, here was a man who could make even the strongest of women go weak at the knees and he often used this to his advantage. This was a great gift for the supporting cast as on occasions they didn’t even have to say anything to get a big laugh and Gordon Kaye would often play on it to hilarious consequences.
Apart from the obvious sexual undertones, Allo Allo was the first sitcom to play around with language and the comedy which stems from misunderstandings. Having so many nationalities in one episode gave Lloyd and Croft scope to explore the national stereotypes of each wartime country. The French were randy, the Germans were kinky and the English were stupid. Officer Crabtree, played by Arthur Bostrom, perfectly epitomised the stupidity of the English when in a foreign country and attempts to get to grips with the language. This gave birth to one of the show’s best loved catchphrases “Good Moaning” which was always certain to get a laugh whenever Crabtree entered a scene. The other infamous catchphrase came from Michelle Dubious of the Resistance (played by Kirsten Cook) as she would appear in the most unlikely place uttering the line “listen very carefully, I shall say this only once”.
Allo Allo was one of the most popular shows on television up until and beyond its final series in 1992 when the cast were forced to go their separate ways. Yet such a tight knit group wasn’t going to cease with the show. They regularly met up at comedy conventions and television exhibitions which celebrated the show’s huge success and became like a long term family. By this time, Sue Hodge had returned to her first love; the stage working with friends including Su Pollard. In 2002 Sue married Grantham rock musician Keith Maxon, better known by his stage name Keith Paddington-Richards. Now in their fourteenth year as man and wife, Sue and Keith’s love for each other is evident for everyone to see and today they are partners both on and off stage.
In 2007 the cast of Allo Allo returned for a feature length anniversary edition of the show to celebrate twenty five years. For Sue, stepping back onto the set of the French cafe felt like coming home and when the characters were reunited on the studio floor, it was like they’d never been away. The success of the reunion forced Sue to realise that there still might be public appetite for the character of Mimi Labonq. With the help of Keith, Sue began to write a comedy stage play based on Mimi’s tenure in that famous cafe. In 2018 Sue and Keith plan to take Allo Allo Again on the road, playing to packed out theatres. So it appears that we haven’t said au revoir to Mimi Labonq just yet.
It was a great pleasure to meet Sue Hodge and wish her all the best with the remainder of her glittering career in comedy.