Bill Pertwee: Actor best known for his role as the curmudgeonly Warden Hodges in Dad's Army
Tuesday 28 May 2013
The actor Bill Pertwee played more than a satellite character in Dad's Army, the perennially popular BBC sitcom about a hapless Second World War Home Guard platoon on England's south coast.
As ARP Warden Hodges, he was the antagonist who mocked and ridiculed the bumbling unit in the fictional town of Walmington-on-Sea. He also challenged the authority of its commanding officer, Captain Mainwaring (played by Arthur Lowe), the pompous, grammar school-educated bank manager who appointed himself to the role over his second-in-command, the laconic, public school-educated Sergeant Wilson (John Le Mesurier).
"Put that light out!" Pertwee would shout as he burst into the church hall where Mainwaring – whom he called "Napoleon" – was drilling his platoon. It was one of a number of catchphrases for which the sitcom's characters became famous.
A greengrocer by trade, the chief air-raid warden could be as pompous as his adversary, but was more coarse – and, when confronted with real danger, showed a cowardly streak by handing back authority to Mainwaring.
The ensemble comedy began in 1968, ran until 1977 with audiences of up to 20 million, and is still repeated today. There was even a 1971 feature film, a radio adaptation (1974-76) and a stage show (Shaftesbury Theatre and national tour, 1975-76), all including Pertwee.
The irony of his being cast as the grumpy warden was that David Croft – who created the sitcom with Jimmy Perry – wanted him on set, knowing that his background in stand-up comedy would always bring humour to it.
"I had worked for David the previous year," recalled Pertwee. "It was just a small part in an episode of Hugh and I, with Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd. I only had a couple of lines, but I had to shout at Terry Scott and push him about a bit in a cinema queue. That must have stuck in David's mind."
Pertwee was born in Buckinghamshire, nephew of the actor-writer Roland Pertwee and cousin of the actor Jon Pertwee (who was considered for the role of Mainwaring in Dad's Army) and the playwright Michael Pertwee. He moved from place to place as a child because his sales rep father took different jobs around the country. When he was 12, his father died and his Brazilian mother was left to bring up Pertwee and his two older brothers alone. The eldest, James, was killed in an RAF bombing mission over Germany in 1941.
After leaving Southend College, Pertwee landed work as a factory machinist with the Southend Motor and Aero Club, whose wartime role was to make parts for Spitfire cannon.
A postwar job with the City stockbrokers Oxley Knox was short-lived after he answered a telephone call with the voice of the broadcaster Raymond Glendenning. It was a talent that would later serve him well – but, at the time, it earned him the sack. He then worked in the sports department of a London store, Burberry, before spending five years as a window cleaner.
However, his ambition was to enter show business and, in 1954, he offered comedy material to Beryl Reid as she was about to open in a London revue. He was invited to join the company and soon gave up his window-cleaning job. Later, he performed at London's famous Windmill Theatre – between the strip acts – and in variety with his wife-to-be, Marion Macleod (real name Marion Rose).
Pertwee's break came in the heyday of radio comedy, when, in 1959, he was invited to join the cast for the second series of Beyond Our Ken, starring Kenneth Horne. He played many characters in the sketch-based programme until it ended in 1964, when the writer, Eric Merriman, fell out with the BBC.
A year later, with scripts by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, it was relaunched as Round the Horne and Pertwee was in the first three series (1965-67). One of his most memorable characters was Seamus Android, a parody of the This Is Your Life presenter Eamonn Andrews.
He had already played the ARP warden in Dad's Army when he appeared as the village policeman in the sitcom Two in Clover (1969-70), starring Sid James and Victor Spinetti as insurance company invoice clerks leaving their jobs to take over a working farm.
Many one-off roles followed in series such as Bless This House (1971), Love Thy Neighbour (1972), Man About the House (1974), It Ain't Half Hot Mum (1981) and Hi-de-Hi! (1986).
When Jimmy Perry and David Croft launched the upstairs-downstairs period sitcom You Rang, M'Lord? (pilot 1988, series 1990-93), Pertwee was cast as PC Wilson.
He also appeared in two Carry On films: as a barman in ...Loving (1970) and as a fire brigade chief who debags the mayor in ...Girls (1973).
On stage, Pertwee acted in West End productions of There Goes the Bride (Piccadilly Theatre, 1974), Worzel Gummidge (Cambridge Theatre, 1981-82), Run for Your Wife (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1983) and See How They Run (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1984-85).
Pertwee was a founder member of the Dad's Army Appreciation Society, of which he was president, and wrote the book Dad's Army: The Making of a Television Legend (1989).
He was also author of Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots: One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment (1979), By Royal Command (1981), The Station Now Standing: Britain's Colourful Railway Stations (1991), Stars in Battledress: A Light-hearted Look at Service Entertainment in the Second World War (1992), A Funny Way to Make a Living (his autobiography, 1996) and Beside the Seaside: A Celebration of 100 Years of Seaside Entertainment (1999).
Pertwee's wife died in 2005. Their son, Jonathan James, followed the couple into acting as James Pertwee.
William Desmond Pertwee, actor and writer: born Amersham, Buckinghamshire 21 July 1926; MBE 2007; married 1960 Marion Rose (died 2005; one son); died Cornwall 27 May 2013.
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