Tragedy of Dad’s Army star laid bare in stage show

PUBLISHED: 09:55 29 January 2019

Julian Dutton tells the story of Dad's Army star John Le Mesurier. Photo: Robert Nesbitt

Julian Dutton tells the story of Dad's Army star John Le Mesurier. Photo: Robert Nesbitt

The life and times of Dad’s Army star John Le Mesurier is anything but a laugh and it will all be laid bare in a startling one-man show at Gravesend next month.

Writer and actor Julian Dutton is behind the warts-and-all performance, and he pulls no punches.

Far from the sedate, quiet, ladies’ man Sgt Arthur Wilson in the hit television series, Le Mesurier was unhappy in his own private life in Ramsgate and Margate.

His love life was more tangled than most. His first wife became an alcoholic while he served in the army and they divorced in 1949.

He married Carry On star Hattie Jacques the same year. But by 1962, Jacques moved her car salesman lover into the family home while Le Mesurier was still there.

He then met Joan at a London club and after they were married, she conducted an on-off affair with comedy icon Tony Hancock before finally moving back in permanently with Le Mesurier when Hancock died.

The abuse of alcohol played a major part in all their lives, and Dutton’s stage show reflects this.

He said: “John Le Mesurier’s private life was so tragic. He did have a lot of ups and down in his life over three marriages.

“My take is that he was very much an English gentleman who came from the upper middle class and so was very stoic and very forgiving of people.

“The reason he stayed in the same house as Hattie and her lover was that he didn’t want to cast her in a bad light. He was protecting her from the publicity.

“In those days, a woman could not be blamed for the break-up of a marriage – it had to be the man. So he took the blame when they divorced.

“Then Joan had an affair with Tony Hancock. These are all passionate people, but John did feel betrayed. But John still stayed friends with Tony, visiting him in hospital and drying-out clinics. Once again, he had this core of forgiveness in him.”

He added: “I do tell the whole story of Le Mesurier, his film career, Dad’s Army, as a celebration of his life but I don’t shy away from his private life and I show him confronting his demons.

“It is also a fun show. He was never a stand-up comedian but he was a very good story-teller. Sgt Wilson was him.

“The audiences are all ages, including quite young which I suppose is not too surprising, as he is still on television now and they seem to love him still.”

Le Mesurier appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, including I’m All Right Jack, Hancock’s Half Hour, The Wrong Arm of the Law, The Italian Job, Hi-De-Hi and Traitor where his performance as Adrian Harris saw him receive a BAFTA for best actor.

Julian said: “He was an extraordinary, extraordinary man. In addition to being a wonderful actor he had this amazing resilience. The show is a celebration of his career and his life, but of course if you do a one-man show about anyone, especially people involved in comedy there are always downsides and shades to light. He did have some troublesome times in his life.

“He was exactly like Sergeant Wilson. When he got cast in the part he did have a chat with David Croft and Jimmy Perry. He said ‘How do you think I should play it?’ They both said ‘Well you just have a think and just you work something out John’ and he went away and he thought well let’s just be myself.”

The British Comedy Guide said of the emotional rollercoaster show: “You would think that John Le Mesurier was actually stood before you.”

His February 24 Woodville show is aptly called Do You Think That’s Wise?: The Life and Times of John Le Mesurier, reflecting his subtle Dad’s Army catchphrase.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Gravesend Reporter. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Gravesend Reporter