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FEATURE: Don’t Panic - Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford opens for new season

FEATURE - Dad's Army Museum feature

Pictured: Mick Whitman as Captain Mainwaring and Stuart Wright (Chairman of the museum ANL-140327-160616001

FEATURE - Dad's Army Museum feature Pictured: Mick Whitman as Captain Mainwaring and Stuart Wright (Chairman of the museum ANL-140327-160616001

Don’t panic! Don’t Panic! the Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford is reopening for its spring season today.

The museum, at the Old Fire Station, in Cage Lane, has grown and grown since it was officially opened in 2007 by the sitcom’s creator David Croft.

Plans for a museum based on the much-loved BBC TV series formed when chairman, and Thetford mayor Stuart Wright started running walking tours around Thetford, where many of the iconic scenes were filmed in the 1960s and 70s.

Stuart said: “In 2004 we decided we were going to do a Dad’s Army walking tour around the town showing people all the places the series was filmed.

“In the first year we did 12 coach parties, then 18 the next year and it just kept expanding.

“Then we went to the council and they offered us this large room and a smaller room to the side to use as an exhibition space.”

Stuart said after being granted premises for the museum, the next step was to source enough artefacts to fill it.

“We quickly realised it’s a bit bigger than we expected so cobbled together a 1940s display while we launched the Captain Mainwaring statue appeal.”

The appeal, which was launched in 2007, sought to create a statue in the town of the bumbling captain, played by screen legend Arthur Lowe.

And after years of fund-raising and an appeal for local artists to get involved, the statue was finally unveiled in 2012.

Since then, the museum has seen thousands through its doors.

Stuart said: “We had 10,000 visitors last year on Saturdays from March to November and Tuesdays on school holidays.

“It has just grown and grown and put Thetford back on the map.

“We now have a wartime tearoom called Marigolds, named after the tea rooms in Walmington-on Sea, at the museum serving some authentic wartime treats.

“All the cakes and biscuits –parsnip cake, cocoa and beetroot cake and vinegar cake – are genuine war time recipes.

“It makes a lovely meeting place on Saturdays.

“We have a number of ladies who cook the cakes and a few more who come in to serve the teas.”

The museum is full to the rafters with photos taken during filming, objects from the BBC’s props department, autographs from the stars and an exhibition dedicated to the town’s real home guard.

It has seen fans of the show from all over the world travel thousands of miles to visit.

A quick peek at the visitors book sees travellers as far as Austria, the USA and Korea.

The museum even has its own real life Mr Mainwaring, Mick Whitman, who offered his services to the museum after years of being told he looked like the home guard’s fearless leader.

He said: said: “I have been playing Captain Mainwaring since the museum opened.

“What started me off was people saying I looked like him for years before.

“When they opened the museum I approached them, got the uniform and the rest is history.

“Since I have been doing it I have met so many interesting people and got to do some amazing things.

“I even got to turn on the Christmas lights one year – normally I would never be been able to do that.

“The museum is such a lovely old building, we are so lucky to have it.

“It is also the basement of the town hall which was used for filming a few times.”

In 2013 the museum acquired its most famous and treasured exhibit – Lance Corporal Jones’ butcher’s van.

After the 1935 Ford Box van came up at auction last year the museum paid £63,100 with help from two local benefactors.

“It came up for auction and we just thought we would go for it,” said Stuart.

“Two local families kindly helped bankroll us for it and we are almost in the position now of slowly repaying that funding.

“It is an object that puts a big smile on anyone who sees it.”

The museum keeps itself afloat mainly through donations and sales of its Dad’s Army Museum branded goods.

“We pay a small amount of rent for the building, then we have to pay for our own insurance, maintainance for Jones’ van and all the other costs,” said Stuart.

“It is all funded by donations, memberships and from money from the cafe.

“We don’t charge entry because we saw it as a barrier.

“We looked into other museums and found that if you let people in for free, they have a look around and usually make a donation.

“Our volunteers are also crucial to keeping the place going – we have a bank of around 30 volunteers that come and help us.

“We also get extra money from the shop we have here which is also doing really well.

“Our Pike’s scarves are one of our best sellers.”

The Dad’s Army Museum will be open on Saturdays from 10am to 3pm until November 29 and every Tuesday during school holidays.

For more information, visit www.dadsarmythetford.org.uk

 

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