From 1955 – 1959 Vaudevillian Phil Silvers played the fast talking, quick thinking, forever scheming Master Sergeant Ernest Bilko - one of the greatest sitcom characters of all time, and arguably the template for every comedic wheeler dealer from Arthur Daley to DelBoy. Bilko ran the Motor Pool at Fort Baxter, Kansas with the sole intention of earning a buck. The master of money making scams, Ernie would bet on anything and everything and was always on the lookout for an opportunity to make cash, easy or otherwise.
What was good about him was that under that conniving exterior was a hearted man with a conscience.Hi platoon was a rogue’s gallery of malleable characters that Ernie would mercilessly fleece. Corporals Barbella and Henshaw where his right hand men and Bilko would be the bane of the life of the Colonel of the base John ‘melonhead’ Hall. His shenanigans around the Colonel where disguised around the Colonel’s wife by his use of exaggerated flattery; "Hello, Miss - oh I'm sorry, the Colonel didn't tell me his daughter was visiting...why! -it's Mrs. Hall!". Private Duane Doberman was another character who would be at the sharp end of Bilko’s schemes along with the likes of Mess Sgt Rupert Ritzik., however he met his match in Sgt. Joan Hogan who outwitted Bilko time and again and became his on off girlfriend.
Silvers wasn't just a master of line delivery he could ad-lib his way round any unforeseen situation or script deviation such as in the show (which is Phil Silver’s favourite episode) in which Bilko is defending Private Harry Speakup, who is facing a court martial. The joke is that Speakup is a monkey who Bilko has smuggled into Fort Baxter. During a courtroom scene the monkey wanders unrehearsed off to the back of the set. Silver's, without missing a beat, turns to the judge and says; "just a moment sir, I think he's calling for another lawyer" in the process not only creating a great line but holding the whole scene together.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYMALOtvKr4
Dick Van Dyke, Alan Alda and Bing Crosby. Were among some of the stars who appeared in the show and Neil Simon cut his teeth on writing duties.Although the show finished in 1959 it is in rotation on television channels around the world. It continues to entertain generation after generation in endless re-runs, proving that good comedy...really good comedy, allied to the perfect actor for one of the greatest (some say the greatest) sitcom characters of all time is ageless, enduring and all too rare