The Arthur Lowe you might not know: from Coronation Street to Hanky Panky

Take a look at some of the erstwhile Captain Mainwaring's less famous comic turns

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People say that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life. They are, of course, wrong, having omitted a third inevitability: that as long as Saturday has an evening, there’ll be a repeat of Dad’s Army on the box.

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And thank goodness for that. After all, the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard’s endlessly rescreened adventures are full to bursting with wit, charm and soul.

Dad’s Army isn’t only fun to watch, it’s almost a window into a different world. From the sitcom’s jaunty faux-wartime theme tune to its green and pleasant setting, the programme harks back to another England, the utopian England of biscuit tin scenery and nut brown ale.

Its cast of characters are simply sublime, too, comprising a body of true British archetypes, all expertly played and enormously comical, with the funniest of the lot being Captain George Mainwaring, he of “don’t tell him, Pike!” fame.

The perennially pompous little man was played to perfection by Arthur Lowe, a comic actor with talent equalling that of, say, a Tony Hancock or a Kenneth Williams. Blessed with a knack for perfect comic timing and a sonorous voice offsetting his portly figure and bald pate, Lowe was one of life’s natural comedians. His professional acting career spanned nearly four decades, and he was quite simply one of the funniest performers ever to grace the small screen.

As comfortable in the recording studio as he was in front of movie cameras, Lowe’s output was prodigious – indeed, thanks to his precarious finances he was seldom off the air – and multifaceted, with every producer, director and broadcaster of the day wanting their piece of this incredibly funny man. 

In the eyes of the public, Lowe will for ever be remembered as Mainwaring, the pompous bank manager-turned-platoon captain, whom he played for nine consecutive years on TV, but that’s not even half the story. After all, there are few actors who charmed viewers both young and old with such ease, and fewer still who could be trusted with the task of bringing classic literary characters like Charles Pooter and AJ Wentworth to life.

And so, in tribute to this fantastic performer (and because our magazine made tonight’s Dad’s Army episode a Choice), I thought it’d be fun to take a look at some of Arthur Lowe’s other, perhaps less well-remembered, performances:

Mr Men:

A childhood treat for a whole generation of British youngsters that saw Lowe applying his dulcet tones to the adventures of the charmingly abstract Mr Men, lending the TV adaptation of Roger Hargreaves’s stories an air of grandfatherly warmth.

Coronation Street:

Shaun Williamson aside, the world of soap has showcased surprisingly few comedic talents, but Arthur’s turn on the soap as Mr Swindley proved so successful that he was given two spin-off series after he quit the cobbles of Weatherfield.

Bless Me, Father:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hADAFp053I

Proving that he could play Irish archetypes just as adroitly as English ones, Lowe’s portrayal of Catholic priest Father Duddleswell in this post-Dad’s Army sitcom pre-empted Father Ted in getting big laughs from the clergy.

Potter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwTGOBcJNAM

Back at his irascible best as the retired head of a firm of mint manufacturers (“Potter Mints, the hotter mints”), Arthur Lowe turned his pompous Mainwaring persona up to eleven for this latter-career highlight.

Advertising:

When Arthur Lowe deigned to endorse a product, he did it with the same gusto as Tony Hancock gave egg commercials. This ad for some saucily-named confectionery made sublime use of Lowe’s comic timing and fulsome voice.

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Alas, there isn’t the space or bandwidth to showcase any more of Lowe’s career, like his brilliant reading of The Diary of a Nobody, his score of film appearances or his stage acting, but hopefully you’ll agree that Arthur Lowe was quite the performer and feel inspired to seek out some more of his work.

While it’s a shame much of his non-Dad’s Army career has faded from the public’s memory, it’s heartening to know that thanks to BBC2’s never-ending stream of repeats, he’ll carry on entertaining audiences for years to come…