Arthur Lowe − Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army

Find out more about Arthur Lowe and vote online for him to receive a blue plaque.

Arthur Lowe was born in Hayfield, Derbyshire on September 22nd 1915. He grew up in Manchester, the only child of Arthur Lowe (a booking clerk at a local railway station) and his wife Mary. After school he found work in small shops and factories. Arthur's original intention was to join the Merchant Navy but this idea was thwarted due to his poor eyesight. At the age of 23 he quit his job at an airplane factory to become a cavalry trooper in the Duke of Lancaster's own Yeomanry.

Having previously worked as a stagehand at the Manchester Palace of Varieties, Arthur was confident enough to take part in shows put on for the troops. This was a turning point in his life. Although he had enjoyed his previous experience at the Palace of Varieties he had never seriously considered an acting career. But now, almost 30 years of age, he knew what he wanted to do when he had completed his military duty. His parents were not thrilled with the idea but nevertheless his father, who as a booking clerk had arranged rail travel for a number of touring theatrical companies, used his contacts to get Arthur an introduction to Frank H. Fortescue at the Hulme Hippodrome in Manchester. The intention was for Arthur to get the acting bug out of his system before settling down to a 'proper job.' So on a cold January morning Arthur arrived at the theatre wearing riding breeches, a heavy greatcoat and shivering from the cold. The first play he did was 'Flare Path' and performances ran twice a night with a new production every week. Whilst at the Hippodrome Arthur met an actress named Joan Cooper, who reportedly took one look at Arthur and told one of her friends, "I think I'm going to marry him." She did so after divorce from her husband!

In 1946 the couple moved to the London area in order to further Arthur's career. Joan became pregnant and gave birth to their son Stephen and gave up her career.

By 1950 agents were beginning to take notice of Arthur and he was offered several small film parts and radio broadcasts, including a reporter in the Alec Guinness film 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' and a short stint on Mrs Dale's Diary. In 1951 he made his television debut.

In 1960 Arthur was offered three episodes of a new series for Granada Television. The part was Leonard Swindley in Coronation Street and Arthur would play the role for the next seven years. 

In 1966 Arthur decided he'd had enough of Swindley, and a hectic work schedule, an inability to deal with the trappings of celebrity, and a pressure-filled home life caused Arthur to sink into a severe depression. For therapy he and Joan bought an old steam yacht and, with the aid of original plans from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, they set about restoring it. Eventually they made the craft seaworthy.

Then in 1967 he got the part of Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army. His portly, no-nonsense appearance combined with his impeccable comedic timing and priceless looks were essential to make this role as memorable as it was.

Apart from the television role in Dad's Army, Arthur was gainfully employed in theatre, voice-overs, reading children's stories and a radio series. He even managed to fit in the occasional film role.

 In 1978 Arthur was offered a new series for BBC called Potter followed by Bless Me Father for London Weekend Television.

In April 1982 Arthur and Joan were in Birmingham appearing in a production of the play Home At Seven. He had already done a matinee and several radio and television interviews. Before the evening performance he collapsed. Since he had suffered from narcolepsy for years his wife was convinced that he'd just fallen asleep and would wake up. She was wrong. He had suffered a stroke and after being rushed to the hospital died early the next morning.

 Joan passed away in 1989 having spent the last years of her life in retirement in the village of Hayfield in the house where Arthur spent his childhood.

 In a little over twenty years Arthur Lowe appeared in over fifty films, was constantly in demand, and reached the top of his profession when he created one of the most enduring roles on television. In the process he coined a national catchphrase ('stupid boy') that is still uttered today with the adoption of Captain Mainwaring's pompous tone.

(Biography by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven)

Arthur Lowe - nominated by Hayfield Civic Trust

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