Classic TV

F Troop

 

F Troop, a satirical American television show, aired from 1965-1967 on ABC. The show ran for two full seasons and a total of 65 episodes. As a true illustration of what was going on in television at the time, the first season was aired in black and white, and the second in color.

F Troop was full of slapstick, shenanigans, and physical comedy, and focused primarily on commanding officer Captain Wilton Parmenter (played by Ken Berry) and his men, who were stationed at a fictional US Army Outpost called Fort Courage (named after the fictitious Sam Courage, played by Cliff Arquette). The fort was located next to a town of the same name, and also near a Native American village, which played a large role in the show’s plot. Schemes and hijinks between officers and the neighboring Hekawis tribe were particularly central to the show’s humor. Show titles such as “Don’t Look Now But One of Our Cannons is Missing” and “Our Hero, What’s His Name” illustrate the show’s carefree, mishap-filled attitude.

While Captain Wilton Parmenter was a good-natured leader, he was also prone to accidents and mishaps, and ultimately fell in his rank. A series of mishaps in battle leads to his being named “The Scourge of Appomattox” or “Scourge of the West.” This is when he was given control of Fort Courage, and the men who came along with it: men who were considered to be particularly useless in the Army. The Secretary of War even notes that the Army sends men to Fort Courage “hoping they’d all desert.” Throughout the show, it becomes apparent that many of the men have been at Fort Courage so long that they’ve even missed part of the Civil War. Even the bugler is inept, and can only play two songs competently: Yankee Doodle and Dixie. Naturally, the fort’s lookout is equally inept at his own position and is nearly blind.

Accidental hero Captain Parmenter, then, fits right in at Fort Courage. Despite Captain Parmenter’s own mishaps, accidents, and klutziness, he’s a well-meaning, kind, and generous leader, and though certain characters in the show often take advantage of his errors in judgment, he’s well-liked and often protected by the men of Fort Courage. He also cares deeply for regulations and rules and is careful to check his manuals and guidebooks in any situation where he is unsure what the best course of action may be.

As satire, the show often incorporated real historical events and persons, but in inaccurate, parodied, or creative ways. As the show was broadcast in the 60s, it often referenced 60s pop culture or tropes. For example, in the show, the real-life Playboy Club, became the Playbrave Club, which was also another reference to the Native American themes in the show, which would likely be considered questionable by today’s standards. Rock n’ roll music also plays a role and is played at unlikely times and from unlikely persons as well.

Slapstick and accidental heroism are key to the show’s humor. For example, classic moments in the show’s history relate to Parmenter’s inability to shoot and hit a target accurately. Luckily, he’s generally able to win a gunfight by making accidental trick shots and maintaining that they were made on purpose (which is corroborated by his men). Thus, Parmenter maintains a reputation as a sharpshooter. The fort’s lookout tower is involved in a repeating gag at the top of every show, in which each time the cannon is fired in salute, the lit fuse burns out. Naturally, the cannon is kicked by an officer, which causes it to fire off target, and ultimately hit and destroy the lookout tower. Occasionally, other mishaps (like Parmenter’s poor use of a lasso) also cause the tower to come down.

Parmenter’s mishaps are an ongoing, humorous theme throughout the show. For example, prior to being stationed at Fort Courage, Parmenter receives the Purple Heart award because he is pricked by the pin of another medal he’s received. He becomes “the only soldier in history to get a medal for getting a medal.”

Like any good hero, Parmenter has a love interest, and his romantic mishaps with her are also fuel for the show’s humor. Her name is Jane Angelica Thrift (played by Melody Patterson), known locally as “Wrangler Jane, ”and she’s the town’s shopkeeper and postmistress. Her eye is always on marrying Captain Parmenter. Parmenter is shy, however, and continually avoids her matrimonial plans. Thrift is feisty and tomboyish, and is a sharpshooter herself- in contrast to Parmenter’s own inability to shoot accurately. Interestingly, actress Melody Patterson lied about her age to get the role, and was only 15 through much of the filming, meaning that the romance between the two was pared back a bit more than it might otherwise have been.

Other humorous aspects of the show come from scheming between Fort Courage officers Sergeant Morgan O’Rourke (played by Forrest Tucker) and Corporal Randolph Agarn (played by Larry Storch). O’Rourke is a sneaky but competent soldier, and Agarn is his rather dim-witted, hypochondriac sidekick. These two team up with the local Native American tribe, the Hekawis, and their leader, Chief Wild Eagle (played by Frank de Kova). In addition to running the town’s illegal saloon, O’Rourke and Agarn are involved in somewhat shady business dealings, which are referred to throughout the show as O’Rourke Enterprises. The pair pad the number of scouts and officers at Fort Courage and rake in the extra money they receive for the fictitious personnel. Such dealings are easy to engage in with the bumbling but kind-hearted Captain Parmenter at the helm of Fort Courage. O’Rourke Enterprises also works with the Hekawis to sell Indian souvenirs to tourists. The Hekawis also make whiskey for O’Rourke’s illegal saloon.

F Troop’s comedy and satire allowed it to poke fun at new issues for the 1960s, and it incorporated 60s references and rock n’ roll in humorous, unlikely ways that resonated with viewers of the time. Viewers delighted in cameos from popular stars of the time, and the show knew how to make fun without taking itself too seriously. Though it only ran for two seasons and 65 episodes, F Troop holds a strong place in the history of television, and a fond place in many viewer’s memories.

The following is a video of one of the classic moments from F Troop.  “It is Balloon”

 

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