Eight young men undertake basic training at a windswept camp in Yorkshire, as the end of the era of deference meets the world of rock n' roll.
Privates Keenan, White-Bowne, Davies, Rothman, McIlvenny, Hoy and Wratten are unceremoniously unloaded from the back of a truck onto the wet parade ground of Bleakley Marsh, a windswept basic training depot in North Yorkshire. As Sergeant Butcher reminds them at some volume their two years of National Service has begun.
Together, these are the privates of ‘Two Section’, part of the last intake of military conscripts in 1960: as the era of deference gives way to the age of Rock and Roll.
These men, from different backgrounds and different parts of Britain have had their lives unexpectedly interrupted by conscription – and this is their story.
Lance Corporal Jimmy Hobbs proposes to his girlfriend Norah, who works in the army canteen (NAAFI). She excitedly accepts.
As soon as Private Keenan sees Hobbs, he flies into a murderous rage and runs after him. Hobbs, who clearly recognizes him, flees. As they chase around the camp, pursued by Corporal Barrowman and Sergeant Butcher, the C/O, Captain Gulliver, is accidentally punched by Hobbs. In horror at what he has done (“you can get two years for that”) Hobbs runs unthinkingly out of the gates and in doing so, goes AWOL.
Butcher visits Norah at home in the nearby seaside town of Ravensea and advises her to get Hobbs to turn himself in before the military police find him. Norah denies knowing where her fiancée is, but when Butcher has gone, Jimmy emerges from hiding and explains that he and Keenan had an argument over a game of cards.
Butcher sees a man by his motorbike on the pier, dressed in a homemade general’s uniform and speaking only in the dialogue of David Niven. It is the missing man from Two Section: not what he had expected of Private Lomax at all.
Barrowman, having taken a dislike to Wratten, initiates a search for a ‘stolen’ watch and pronounces Wratten the thief. As punishment the section are made to run around the Parade Ground in their socks.
Lomax rides into the camp giving a salute to the exhausted Privates. Butcher is keen to dismiss his behaviour as an attempt to evade National Service – to get “a looney ticket out”.
Keenan now confesses to Captain Gulliver that Jimmy Hobbs had stolen his girlfriend and he wanted to get back at him – a different story to that which Jimmy had told Norah.
Two Section now change from their civilian clothes into the scratchy uniform of the British Army. After lights out, people deal with dislocation in their own way. Keenan writes in his journal, Hoy cries and Lomax is nowhere to be seen…
Lomax, wearing only his underwear, crosses the parade ground and picks up a rock. He enters Butcher’s billet and looks like he’s about to bring the rock down on the sergeant’s head. Butcher wakes, calls Lomax’s bluff and tells him to go back to his barracks. Lomax lowers the rock and does as he is told.