During the course of his fifty-plus years in entertainment, Clive Dunn brightened up the lives of millions of people. Whether he was bellowing “don’t panic! don’t panic!” in Dad’s Army or singing from a rocking chair on Top of the Pops, Dunn was a unique performer who will be sadly missed by British comedy fans.
After getting his start with un-credited parts in some of Will Hay’s films, Dunn served in the army during the Second World War and started acting on TV after the conflict. He played various parts in The Tony Hancock Show in 1956-7, and met up with Hancock again in 1960 when he appeared as Ginger Johnson in a riotous episode of Hancock’s Half Hour.
Around this time Dunn began demonstrating a knack for playing dotty old men and, as a result, landed his most famous role in 1968. As Lance Corporal Jack Jones in Dad’s Army, Dunn had the nation in stitches with his catchphrases and slapstick skills. He remained with Dad’s Army for nine series and a feature film, before the show came to an end in 1977.
Dad’s Army was an instant success, which made household names of its cast, and the show brought Dunn to the attention of musician Herbie Flowers. Captivated by Dunn’s performance, Flowers wrote a novelty single ideally suited for Dunn’s talents called Grandad. This was released in November 1970 and, while it didn’t make Christmas number one, the track did top the UK singles chart for three weeks in January 1971.
While Dad’s Army was still airing, Dunn played a similar character to Corporal Jones in the ITV sitcom My Old Man. Here, he was cast as a retired train driver from Yorkshire who goes to live with his daughter after his council house is demolished. Critics at the time grumbled about the similarities between Dunn’s performance here and in Dad’s Army, but the show was popular enough with the public to last for two series.
Following the finales of both Dad’s Army and My Old Man, Dunn played another Jones-like character in the BBC children’s show Grandad, which ran for five years. In the series he played Charlie Quick, the caretaker of a community hall who owns a large (and unseen) dog called Nero.
After Grandad came to an end in 1984, Dunn retired to Portugal with his family where he lived very comfortably.
In an interview given to Saga in 1992, Dunn said: “It is the best climate in Europe. The Portuguese people are invariably pleasant and tolerant, the cost of living is about the same as England, and the wine is so cheap it could become an alcoholic’s paradise.
“It is a wonderful place for sporty people with all the golf; tennis, swimming and boating you could want. I play golf and tennis once a week, tomorrow I’m horse riding, occasionally I go fishing in my glass fibre boat.
“I’m 71 now and decided that after a lifetime of entertaining that I’d done all the funny things one man can do. Enough was enough. Why give up this lifestyle in order to tour round Britain in a play?”