Captain George Mainwaring
Captain, Bank Manager, Rotarian, pillar of the community. George Mainwaring was all of these. Born in Eastbourne in 1885, his father, Edmund, was a member of the Master Tailors Guild. He was educated at the local grammar school, and upon leaving found work at the local branch of Swallow Bank, and slowly working his way up to become Manager in 1935. During the First War he was denied active service due to poor eyesight, but was accepted into the Pioneer Corps serving in France during 1918. Little was known of his private life. We know he had a brother, Barry, and was married to Elizabeth, the daughter of the sufragen bishop of Clagthorpe, to whom he introduced the wonders of tomato sauce. The imminent advance of Nazi hordes is nothing to the fear that Elizabeth can instil! Although we never actually see her, she is never far from the telephone. His life was one of repetitive monotony until 1940 when he appointed himself commander of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard. Much of the time he tries to match his sergeant who was better educated than he, and is much further up the social ladder. Had he the advantage of his upbringing, he would now be something in the city, not a manager of a small seaside branch. However, his claim to fame, and something future inhabitants of Walmington will thank him for is that he managed to pull a group of local shopkeepers "up by their bootstraps" to become an efficient fighting unit. The rest is history...
Arthur Lowe (1915 - 1982)
Arthur started his early working life with the Fairey Aviation Company before joining the Army shortly before World War II. It was in the Army that he first had theatrical connections by helping to organise troop shows abroad. After the war, he made the decision to leave Fairy Aviation and try his luck in the theatre. Through a friend of his fathers, Arthur started the uphill struggle at the Hulme Hippodrome, Manchester, his first part being Dickson in 'Bedtime Story'. Many years of repertory followed. His first break came in 1952 with a part in the American musical 'Call Me Madam', followed by 'Pal Joey' and 'The Pyjama Game'. Whilst working in the theatre by night, he was also busy by day working on commercials, school radio broadcasts and creating character roles in Ealing Comedies, his first appearance being as a young reporter at the end of 'Kind Hearts and Coronets'. In 1961 an experimental TV soap opera was started by Granada television, and in it Arthur was to play Leonard Swindley. He soon found himself being recognised on the street. He played the character until 1966 when he decided to put him to rest. He still kept up with his theatre and film work, and was seldom 'resting'. 1968 was a major turning point in his career when he was approached by writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft for a part in a new television comedy programme initially called 'The Fighting Tigers', about Britain's Home Guard. The programme was renamed 'Dad's Army' and enjoyed a run of over eighty episodes, a radio series, stage musical and a feature film. Arthur appeared in every one. During his time with Dad's Army, he literally maintained a full diary of working commitments. When Dad's Army ceased in 1977, TV work came in the shape of 'Potter', a comedy series based on the antics of a retired sweet factory owner, 'Bless me Father', a comedy series based on the clergy, and his last, 'A.J. Wentworth B.A., about a school master. None of these have been repeated. His last film appearance was in Lindsay Anderson's 'Britannia Hospital' in 1981. The following year whilst playing 'Home at Seven' at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Arthur Lowe fell asleep reading a book in his dressing room. He never regained consciousness
Sergeant Arthur Wilson
It is a bone of contention with Captain Mainwaring that Arthur Wilson had the benefit of a private education, in his case taken at Meadowbridge Public School. Inspite of pressure from one of his many uncles, Arthur started his working life at a merchant bank in the city, whilst maintaining what he could of the good life. When service beckoned during the First War, it was this background that secured a commission in the army, to the rank of Captain, and served with distinction in many battles. After the war, and a marriage that did not work, he secured a job at Swallow Bank as assistant Clerk at their Weston-Super-Mare branch. Whilst living in Weston-Super-Mare he met a young widow, and when promotion to Chief Clerk required him to move to Walmington-on-Sea, Mrs Pike followed him there. His effect on women was almost magnetic, he treated them with utmost courtesy and gave them his full attention, much to Mainwaring's annoyance. Wilson became a peer of the realm during WWII when one of his uncles died. The Honourable Arthur Wilson felt uncomfortable with his title (as did Mr Mainwaring) and never used it to his advantage. Wilson's approach to discipline was different. He offered his men to "kindly fall in", and when they did it was "thank you so much."
John Le Mesurier (1912 - 1983)
Sergeant Wilson It seems you cannot watch any Ealing Comedy of the (late) 50s and 60s without seeing the dour face of John Le Mesurier. In fact between the years 1952 and 1977 he managed to play in at least one film for every year, 1962 being the most prolific year with no less than 5 to his credit! Bury St Edmunds was home to the young Le Mesurier, where he developed a love of the countryside, horses, pubs, village cricket and village characters. His father was a successful lawyer in the town. John was fascinated by the theatre, but it was not until he was 21, with his parents full blessing that he decided to become an actor, knowing full well what hard and uncertain work it was. After attending the Fay Compton School of Dramatic Art, John's first engagement in repertory was at the Palladium Theatre, Edinburgh, which started his personal 'tour of duties' until war came along in 1939. At the start of the war John became an Air Raid Warden in Chelsea before being called up to the Army. As a commissioned officer he spent much of this time in India. It was after the war that John set his sights on the film industry, appearing in his first film 'Escape from Broadmoor' in 1948, it was the start of a successful career in this medium. John was surprised when he read the pilot episode of 'Dad's Army' that he was not cast as the officer, as he usually was. It came to pass that he was originally thought of to play the captain, and Arthur Lowe the sergeant, but an inspired change of roles gave the programme some of its funniest elements, as the gallant Captain played the game of oneupmanship with his socially superior sergeant. His character was not unlike his real self, and the writers began to write around the actor after a time anyway. During one of the intervals between series, John took up the role of Kim Philby the defector, in the television play 'Traitor'. It was a very demanding part, definitely not a comedy. It was this role which led to John being awarded a BAFTA for best actor in 1971. John very nearly missed the last series due to illness, but he was determined to be there. You will notice that his appearance during this last series was more drawn than ever. He enjoyed making the series even though it was a bit of a strain. Before his death he managed to tour South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur in various plays, as well as continuing in the West End. He had managed a credible fifty years as an actor.
Lance Corporal Jack Jones
An experienced soldier, with many years service (and medals) to his name, Jack Jones clearly defines an old campaigner. He served with General Gordon, Lord Kitchener and General Macully becoming very fond of the cold steel. He may have mentioned that "they don't like it up 'em". Loaded with stories of adventure and heroism, Pte Pike made the perfect audience for him. Jones runs the local butchers shop, which had been handed down to him from his father, and the platoon were fortunate enough to have the use of his butchers van as troop transport, once Walker and he had converted it. Mainwaring regarded Jones as a bit of a hazard, but as he said when he first made him Lance Corporal, "his experience will stand us in good steak er... stead". Apart from killing Nazis he has only one ambition in life - to marry Mrs Fox.
Clive Dunn (1920 - 2012)
Clive started his acting career by appearing as an extra in a Will Hay film 'Boys Will Be Boys', and after attending stage school, tried his luck firstly in seasonal theatre work, then commercial repertory, stage managing and playing small parts. This career was interrupted by the Second World War, which proved to be a traumatic time for him, as he was taken prisoner by the Germans whilst in Greece. After, he continued where he had left off, and began to specialise in character acting, particularly old men. a talent which would lend itself to the small screen which had begun to take off a few years after. Clive also had a hit single with the song 'Grandad', and on the strength of this recorded a whole album of songs. Clive was the only member of the Dad's Army cast that was required to look older, however this came in useful when he was required to perform one stunt or another! After Dad's Army had finished, Clive decided to move to Portugal and open a restaurant, where he remains to this day. Occasionally he returned to our screens as a cameo L/Cpl Jones, only with less make-up! Clive passed away on 6 November 2012 in Portugal (where he lived for many years) following a minor operation.
Private James Frazer
Every town has a purveyor of doom and gloom. Everything, according to him, will turn into a disaster. James Frazer could almost be right in thinking this way when he joined the Home Guard. As the local undertaker, it is inevitable that he would see the war through different eyes. A war would bring about an increase in business after all! It is a little known fact that he also ran the local philatelist shop on the sea front, which he opened during the summer months. During the quieter months he indulged in his other hobby of hand making coffins. It was not always this way. He spent his youth on the wild and lonely Isle of Barra off the west coast of Scotland. It was a hard life. Being so close to the sea, he would eventually serve in the Royal Navy, reaching the position of Chief Petty Officer. Like Jack Jones, James Frazer also has a wealth of stories to tell, albeit of a different nature. His were of adventure in exotic lands, strange and supernatural happenings. The whole platoon listened in awe when Frazer spun his yarn...
John Laurie (1897 - 1980)
John was not destined for a career in the theatre. He started his career in architecture, until World War One took him away. He never expected to come out of it alive, and it was only when he had been invalided out that he became a sergeant-of-arms at the Tower of London. It was 1919 when John decided to become an actor in the theatre as a result of his passion for Shakespeare. He managed to play all the great Shakespearean roles at the Old Vic in London, before eventually being lured into films. A very young John Laurie appears in the famous Hitchcock thriller 'The Thirty Nine Steps' with Robert Donat. His career had taken off, and John was to appear in many films before his eventual call up to join the Dad's Army team, at a time when he was thinking about retiring! Considering his age at the time, John showed considerable vigour through out the series, others seemed to age while John remained the same, waiting for the others to catch up. He almost invented his catchphrase "we're doomed!", after the writers had heard him complaining about some aspect of a show being doomed to failure.
Private Charles Godfrey
With experience in the Army and Navy, you'd think that Charles Godfrey was the ideal man to have about you during war time. When you discover that his experience was in the gentleman's outfitting department of the Army and Navy Stores you would be right in thinking the opposite. However, Godfrey is full of surprises. Probably the oldest member of the platoon, Godfrey is a quiet and unassuming gentleman. Living in the quiet environment of Cherry Tree Cottage with his two sisters Cissy and Dolly, he spends most of his time tending the garden or visiting the clinic for his many complaints, the most noticeable being that of his weak bladder. He once revealed that he was a conscientious objector during the First War, and asked to leave the platoon which outraged Captain Mainwaring who could not believe it. It was shortly after this admission that Godfrey rescued Mainwaring from a smoke filled hut without regard for his own life. It was at this time that it was revealed that he had won the Military Medal for bravery during the Battle of the Somme, rescuing several wounded soldiers as a member of the Medical Corps. As Wilson remarked at the time, you can't go by appearances.
Arnold Ridley (1896 - 1984)
In the same way that John Laurie could have been an architect, so Arnold Ridley could have become a school teacher. Only Arnold decided to join the theatre in 1914, for a short period before he was taken to fight for his country. Unfortunately, Arnold was invalided out in 1917, following an injury to the head sustained from a German soldier's rifle butt. In the early twenties, Arnold was not sure if he would act again, and put his efforts into writing. The result of which was the famous story 'The Ghost Train', which was, at the time, a daring piece for a stage play. So began Arnold's career as a writer. 1939, and as Arnold had enlisted to the Army he was sent abroad only to return in 1940 after being shell shocked during the evacuation of France. He decided, after being invalided out of the army, to join ENSA (Entertainment Nation Service Association), who at the time were sending companies all around Britain. It was not until after the war that Arnold was given the opportunity to direct one of his own plays. His most famous play is 'The Ghost Train' a firm favourite with theatres to this day. This led to Arnold deciding to concentrate on an acting career. During the Sixties and Seventies, Arnold featured in the popular radio series The Archers, and appeared several times in Coronation Street and Crossroads, before taking up with the Dad's Army team. In 1982, Arnold was awarded the OBE in the new years honours list, by which time he was suffering from appalling health which caused his death in 1984, he was 88 years old.
Private Joe Walker
If you need anything from whiskey to knicker elastic, watches or even weapons, Joe Walker will get them for you. "Mind you, as its war-time it will cost you, 'cos you can't get 'em". Joe is a typical cockney spiv, making his way through life ducking and diving, trying to avoid the law. Moving down to the south coast from his native Plaistow in east London to avoid call up, he was registered as having a reserved occupation (a banana salesman, as he once said) until the authorities eventually caught up with him. Luckily for him, he was allergic to corned beef, which invalided him out of the army, only to return to serve the needs of the local community. Walker very rarely dealt with money, relying on the bartering system to do business, and occasionally using his skills to do a little work for charity. One of the cleverest in the platoon, others turned to him for inspiration in a tricky situations.
James Beck (1929 - 1973)
James, or Jimmy, left home at the age of seventeen and decided to go into the theatre. He had been interested in it since he was a small boy, keeping a scrap-book of stage and screen stars. One of his favourites was the comedian Sid Field, and certain similarities between the two have been drawn up. Jimmy's acting career then went on hold while he completed his national service as a PT instructor. Once completed, he then set about looking for work in the theatre. After working with several repertory companies, he eventually became the leading man at the York Theatre, where he had begun to be noticed. In a move to improve and stretch himself, Jimmy came to London where there were greater opportunities. It was Jimmy Perry who suggested James Beck for the part of Walker, he had the right twinkle of mischief in his eyes for the cockney spiv that would eventually win the public's affection. During the early stages of Dad's Army, Jimmy was still playing at theatres, and by 1972, he had begun to get offers for other television programmes on the strength of his performance as Walker. Some of the work he did at this time included starring in his own series for London Weekend Television called 'Romany Jones' and a couple of comedy hours with Ronnie Fraser. An exciting project was planned by the BBC involving the re-recording of several Tony Hancock scripts. Arthur Lowe was to play Hancock, and Jimmy the Sid James character. Ray Galton and Alan Simpson were updating the scripts to accommodate the two actors styles, but this was not to be. Jimmy died on the 6th August 1973 from a perforated ulcer, the day after he had been recording some BBC radio episodes of Dad's Army. His character did not appear again in the television series (although he was mentioned), but Graham Stark and Larry Martyn portrayed him for the benefit of the radio episodes.
Private Frank Pike
By far the youngest member of the newly formed platoon at 17, Frank was too young to enlist in the services, but jumped at the change of belonging to the Home Guard, much to his mother's displeasure. For some reason this displeasure spread to Arthur Wilson, or Uncle Arthur, as Frank would usually address him. Frank regarded the Home Guard as an extension of the scouting movement, of which he was a keen member, and at times acted as if war was a bit of a game. This outlook changed when he eventually received his call up papers, but after it was discovered that he had a rare blood group, he was unable to fulfil his ambition to be a Spitfire pilot and become one of the 'second of the few'. Frank Pike usually ended up wet, or covered in mud during the platoons escapades, he was usually volunteered because he was the youngest, despite his protests about suffering from vertigo, croup or hay fever.
Ian Lavender (1946)
The youngest member of the cast, Ian was to play what is now widely known as Jimmy Perry's part in the Home Guard, although this was not revealed to him until the series had been established. Ian went straight from school to the Bristol Old Vic Drama School, a well known establishment, having obtained a grant from the City of Birmingham. His acting ability was quickly noticed and once he had finished at Bristol, acting jobs were offered his way. His first television role was the lead in a play called 'Flowers at my Feet'. Shortly after this he was cast as Private Pike in Dad's Army. Ian would spend his formative years in the company of experienced and respected actors, whose talent, and knowledge must have rubbed off on him in some way. John Laurie and he got on particularly well, and it was a race to see who completed the Times crossword first at rehearsals! Since Dad's Army, Ian has spent most of his career in the theatre, one of the most noticeable parts being in 'The Merchant of Venice' alongside Dustin Hoffman. He could be seen popping up in the occasional sitcom, but up to this moment, it was Dad's Army that he was most famous for, although a few years ago he had a regular part in the popular BBC soap 'Eastenders' playing alongside Wendy Richard (Walker's girlfriend) and John Bardon (who played Walker in the Stage Show version of DA). Ian also had some West End success in the musical 'Sister Act'.