Arthur Lowe (22 September 1915 – 15 April 1982) was an English actor. His career spanned over thirty years, including starring roles in numerous theatre and television productions. He is best known for playing Captain Mainwaring in the British sitcom Dad's Army from 1968 until 1977. He was nominated for seven BAFTAs and became one of the most recognised faces on television.
Lowe began his working life shortly before the Second World War (1939–1945) and he featured in many theatrical performances. It was not until he landed the part of Leonard Swindley in the British television soap Coronation Street that he became a household name. He played the character until 1966, while continuing film work. In 1968 he took up his most famous role, in Dad's Army, written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft. His success as this character led to considerable television and theatrical work, which put pressure on his health. Lowe's final years were dominated by alcoholism and illness and he died from a stroke on 15 April 1982, aged 66.
Lowe was born in Hayfield, Derbyshire, the only child of Arthur Lowe Sr. (1888–1971) and his wife Mary Annie Ford (1885–1981). His father worked for a railway company and was in charge of moving theatrical touring companies around Northern England and the Midlands, using special trains. Arthur Jr. went to Chapel Street Junior School in Chapel Street, Levenshulme, Manchester.
His original intention was to join the Merchant Navy but this was thwarted by his poor eyesight. Working at an aircraft factory, he joined the British Army on the eve of the Second World War but not before experiencing his first brush with acting, by working as a stage hand at the Manchester Palace of Varieties. Lowe served in the Middle East with the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry and took part in shows put on for the troops. At the war's end, he was discharged from the army, having served as a radar technician.
Lowe made his debut at the Manchester Repertory Theatre in 1945, where he was paid £5 per week for twice-nightly performances. He worked with various repertory companies around the country and became known for his character roles, which included parts in the West End musicals Call Me Madam, Pal Joey and The Pajama Game. An early brief film role was as a reporter for Tit-Bits magazine, near the end of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). Lowe married Joan Cooper (1922–1989) on 10 January 1948. They had met in 1945 when she was his leading lady at the Manchester Repertory Theatre and they remained together until his death. Their son, Stephen Lowe, was born on 23 January 1953.
By the 1960s, Lowe had made the transition to television and landed a regular role as draper/lay preacher Leonard Swindley in the northern drama series Coronation Street (1960–65). His character became sufficiently popular with viewers for him to appear in the spin-off series, Pardon the Expression (1966) and its sequel Turn Out the Lights (1967). Leonard Swindley was not a role Lowe relished and he longed to move on. During the months he was not playing Swindley, he was busy on stage or making one-off guest appearances in other TV series such as Z-Cars (1962) and The Avengers (1967).
In 1968, Lowe was cast in his best remembered role, as Captain Mainwaring in the BBC sitcom Dad's Army (1968–1977). His colleagues on the show later remarked that the role resembled Lowe, pompous and bumbling; Lowe had a clause written into his contract, specifying that he would never have to lose his trousers. He also played Mainwaring's drunken brother Barry Mainwaring, in the 1975 Christmas episode "My Brother and I". Lowe and his character also surfaced in a radio version of Dad's Army, a stage play and a feature-length film released in 1971. While Dad's Army was not in production, Lowe appeared in plays at the National Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre. In 1968 Lowe was invited by Laurence Olivier to act at the National Theatre at the Old Vic and appeared in Somerset Maugham's Home and Beauty in 1968 and later The Tempest in 1974 with John Gielgud.
He also had prominent parts in several films directed by Lindsay Anderson, including if.... (1968) and O Lucky Man! (1973). His other film roles during this period included Spike Milligan's surreal The Bed Sitting Room (1969), in which he mutates into a parrot, a drunken butler in The Ruling Class (1972) with Peter O'Toole and Theatre of Blood (1973), a horror film starring Vincent Price, with Lowe as a critic murdered by the deranged actor played by Price.
On television he appeared as a guest performer on The Morecambe and Wise Show (1977), alongside Richard Briers in a series of Ben Travers farces for the BBC, as the pompous Dr Maxwell in the ITV comedy Doctor at Large (1971) and as Redvers Bodkin, a snooty, old-fashioned butler, in the short-lived sitcom The Last of the Baskets (1971–72). Between 1971 and 1973 Lowe joined Dad's Army colleague Ian Lavender, on the BBC radio comedy Parsley Sidings and played Mr Micawber in a BBC television serial of David Copperfield (1974). He employed a multitude of voices on the BBC animated television series Mr. Men (1974), in which he was the narrator in addition to voicing all the characters.
While touring at coastal theatres with his wife, Lowe used his distinctive 1885 former steam yacht Amazon as a floating base. He bought Amazon as a houseboat in 1968 but realised her potential and took her back to sea in 1971; this unique vessel is still operating in the Mediterranean. The ship had a bar with a semicircular notch cut halfway along, to enable both the portly figure of Lowe and his wife to serve behind the bar at the same time, acting as hosts during the parties they threw on board.
In an interview for a Dad's Army retrospective on BBC television in 2010, Lowe's co-star, Clive Dunn, described him sitting at the bar in the evenings when they were filming on location, consuming a drink which Lowe named 'Amazon' after his yacht. Dunn described the drink as comprising "gin and ginger ale, with a single slice of cucumber".
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When Dad's Army ended in 1977, Lowe remained much in demand, taking starring roles in television comedies such as Bless Me, Father with Daniel Abineri (1978–1981), as the mischievous Catholic priest Father Charles Clement Duddleswell and in Potter (1979–80) as the busybody Redvers Potter. By now he was making many television advertisement commercials, but his later stage career mainly involved touring the provinces, appearing in plays and pantomimes with his wife, Joan.
In 1981 he reprised his role as Captain Mainwaring for the pilot episode of It Sticks Out Half a Mile, a radio sequel to Dad's Army. At Christmas 1981 Lowe appeared in pantomime with his wife. His last film role was in Lindsay Anderson's Britannia Hospital. In January 1982 Richard Burton had his private aeroplane fly Lowe to film a cameo role in the television series Wagner, his last screen performance.
In his final years, Lowe's alcoholism worsened and he was reduced to acting in pantomimes and touring theatre productions. Graham Lord's biography recalls that by 1979, Lowe was suffering from major health problems but continued to drink increasing amounts of alcohol, sometimes passing out on stage or at dinner. He was also a heavy smoker and his weight ballooned. Lowe had long suffered from narcolepsy. On 14 April 1982, Lowe gave a live televised interview on Pebble Mill at One. Later the same day, he collapsed from the onset of a stroke in his dressing room at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, before a performance of Home at Seven, in which he appeared with wife Joan. He died in hospital early the following morning, aged 66.
He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at Sutton Coldfield Crematorium, following a sparsely attended funeral. Joan did not attend as she refused to miss a performance of Home at Seven and was appearing in Belfast at the time. A memorial service was held in May 1982 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, attended by his family, former colleagues and many friends. His last sitcom, A.J. Wentworth, B.A., with Lowe as a boys' preparatory school master, was shown during July and August 1982.
Tom Cole wrote in the Radio Times: "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 A.J. Wentworth to life." His national acclaim continued well after his death, with a statue of Lowe erected in the town of Thetford, where most of the location work for Dad's Army was filmed. He was honoured with two blue plaques; one outside his birthplace in Derbyshire and another in Maida Vale. Lowe was respected and admired among colleagues, including Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. His sudden death received a large number of tributes. Speaking in 2002 Paul Scofield described Lowe as "a rare talent" and a "seriously brilliant actor".
After his death Arthur Lowe received many tributes from British actors. John Inman described Lowe as "a great actor" and John Le Mesurier did the same. Similar tributes were made by Jimmy Perry, who described him as "a very kind man and would go out of his way to help actors less fortunate than himself. His rich comic genius will be sadly missed". Clive Dunn referred to Lowe as one of the greatest "comic actors" he had ever worked with. Graham Lord wrote, in his 2003 biography, that "almost every actor who worked with Arthur considered him to be outstanding".
The statue was unveiled on 19 June 2010, by the writers of the series, Jimmy Perry and David Croft. The star has also had two blue plaques unveiled, one at Maida Vale and one at his birthplace in Hayfield, Derbyshire.
Pardon the Expression
Turn Out the Lights
|Leonard Swindley||241 episodes|
|1968–1977||Dad's Army||Captain Mainwaring||88 episodes|
|1970||Rookery Nook||Harold Twine|
|1970||Turkey Time||Edwin Stoatt|
|1971||Doctor at Large||Dr Maxwell|
|1971–1972||The Last of the Baskets||Redvers Bodkin|
|1972||It's Murder, But Is It Art?||Phineas Drake|
|1974||Microbes and Men||Louis Pasteur|
|David Copperfield||Wilkins Micawber|
|1977||Car Across the Pass||Galton & Simpson Playhouse|
|1974–1976||Mr Men||Narrator and Character Voices||Animated Series based on picture books by Roger Hargreaves|
|1978–1981||Bless Me, Father||Father Charles Clement Duddleswell|
|1979||The Plank||Slapstick Comedy for TV|
|1979–1982(series three released 1983)||Potter||Redvers Potter|
|1982||A.J. Wentworth, B.A.||Arthur James Wentworth, B.A.||posthumous|
|1948||London Belongs to Me||Commuter on Train||Uncredited|
|Stop Press Girl||Archibald||Uncredited|
|Kind Hearts and Coronets||The Reporter|
|Poet's Pub||Coach Guide||Uncredited|
|The Spider and the Fly||Town Clerk|
|Cage of Gold||Short Man||Uncredited|
|Gilbert Harding Speaking of Murder||3rd Drama critic|
|1954||Final Appointment||Mr. Barrett|
|1955||Reluctant Bride||Mr. Fogarty|
|The Woman for Joe||George's Agent||Uncredited|
|One Way Out||Sam|
|Murder Anonymous||Fingerprint Expert||Uncredited|
|1956||Who Done It?||Bit Part||Uncredited|
|The Green Man||Radio Salesman|
|1957||Hour of Decision||Calligraphy Expert|
|Stranger in Town||Jeweller|
|1958||Blind Spot||Garage Mechanic||Uncredited|
|Stormy Crossing||Garage Owner|
|1959||The Boy and the Bridge||Bridge Mechanic|
|1960||The Day They Robbed the Bank of England||Bank Official||Uncredited|
|Follow That Horse!||Auctioneer||Uncredited|
|1962||Go to Blazes||Warder|
|1963||This Sporting Life||Charles Slomer|
|1965||You Must Be Joking!||Husband|
|1967||The White Bus||Mayor|
|1968||If....||Mr. Kemp: Staff|
|1969||It All Goes to Show||Councillor Henry Parker|
|The Bed Sitting Room||Father|
|1970||Spring and Port Wine||Mr. Aspinall|
|Some Will, Some Won't||Police Sergeant|
|The Great Inimitable Mr. Dickens||John Dickens|
|Fragment of Fear||Mr. Nugent|
|The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer||Ferret|
|1971||A Hole Lot of Trouble||Whitehouse|
|Dad's Army||Captain Mainwaring|
|1972||The Ruling Class||Daniel Tucker|
|Adolf Hitler – My Part in His Downfall||Major Drysdale|
|1973||Theatre of Blood||Horace Sprout|
|O Lucky Man!||Mr. Duff / Charlie Johnson / Dr. Munda|
|No Sex Please, We're British||Mr. Bromley|
|1974||Man About the House||Spiros|
|1976||The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones||Dr. Thwackum|
|1977||The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It||Dr. William Watson, M.D.|
|1979||The Lady Vanishes||Charters|
|1980||Sweet William||Captain Walton|
|1982||Britannia Hospital||Guest Patient|
|1969||BAFTA TV Awards||Best Actor||Dad's Army||Nominated|
|1970||BAFTA TV Awards||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Dad's Army||Nominated|
|1972||BAFTA TV Awards||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Dad's Army||Nominated|
|1973||BAFTA Film Awards||Best Supporting Actor||O Lucky Man!||Won|
|1974||BAFTA TV Awards||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Dad's Army||Nominated|
|1974||BAFTA TV Awards||Best Actor||Microbes and Men and David Copperfield||Nominated|
|1977||BAFTA TV Awards||Best Light Entertainment Performance||Dad's Army||Nominated|
Two biographies of Arthur Lowe have been published: Arthur Lowe – Dad's Memory by his son Stephen, which was issued in 1997; and more recently, Arthur Lowe by Graham Lord in 2002. In 2000, The Unforgettable Arthur Lowe was part of The Unforgettable series of TV biographies of famous comedy performers.