If you go walking up on Kinder Scout moor in Derbyshire you’ll probably drive into Little Hayfield and park on Kinder Road. As you drive up through the stone terraces the blue plaque is easy to miss. The actor Arthur Lowe who made a living from stage and television work for thirty years was born in one of the houses. His most famous role was Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army from 1968 until 1977.
For some reason I thought this famous face had been born and raised in London but he was born in this house (probably in the front bedroom – like I was.) His dad worked for a railway company that used special trains to transport theatrical touring companies around Northern England and the Midlands.
Arthur was going to join the Merchant Navy but his eyesight was poor. He got a job in an aircraft factory but joined the army as a radar technician and served in the Middle East. His first taste of acting was putting on shows for the troops. After the war he made his debut at the Manchester Repertory Theatre in 1945. He was 30 and paid £5 per week for twice-nightly performances. The bigger payment for meeting his wife Joan. They got married when he was 33, produced a son, and were together until his death. His did the usual apprenticeship working for various repertory companies that toured the country. Aged 34 he appeared in his first film Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).
He was a plodder and was nearly 50 by the time he got a regular role as draper/lay preacher in Coronation Street. He was in this for five years but didn’t really enjoy it and longed to move on. He made cameo appearances in other TV series such as Z-Cars (1962) and The Avengers (1967). Though he was a squat bald chap without distinguishing looks the camera and audiences liked him. His speciality was comic roles with perfect timing but privately he was solemn and serious.
The main role arrived when he was 53 when he was cast as Captain Mainwaring in the sitcom Dad's Army that ran from 1968 to 1977. Blimey only 53 - when I was a lad I thought he was about 80. I never watched Dad’s Army as “army” meant bombs, fights, Spitfire scraps, men dying on barbed wire. When I saw it was about lot of grandads messing things up I didn’t bother watching it.
When Arthur wasn’t filming Dad’s Army he appeared in plays at the National and Royal Court Theatres and he appeared in films. Though bad eye-sight thwarted his way into the Navy he was always mad about sailing and bought a Victorian steam boat to restore over many years. Though the family home was in Maida Vale Arthur used the boat as a home and kept it near various filming locations.
In later years he started to suffer from narcolepsy, a brain disorder which makes people fall asleep suddenly at inappropriate times. His wife banned him from driving his Daimler. He often fell asleep between filming takes.
In the latter years Arthur suffered from narcolepsy, a brain disorder which makes people suddenly fall asleep no matter what the occasion – even driving (Joan banned him from driving his Daimler.) He often fell asleep between filming takes. Still relatively young at sixty his health was fading quickly. He chain-smoked and was an alcoholic (as was his wife.) Sometimes he collapsed on stage from excessive drinking.
Aged 66 he was still acting and performing with Joan in a mystery play Home At Seven at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre. Before a performance he suffered a stroke in his dressing room and was taken to hospital. Joan thought he’d recover so she wasn’t there when he died early the next morning. He left £200,000 and a raft of tributes. Joan didn’t attend the sparsely-attended funeral at Sutton Coldfield Crematorium as she was appearing in Belfast. She was also an atheist and believed when someone died they’d gone forever. His ashes were sprinkled there – click on the last photograph to see my visit.
Five years after Arthur’s death Joan returned to this house to live. Arthur’s parents had died and it had been empty. She lived here until her own death two years later.
Looking down (the house is on the right out of view)…