Eric Longworth: Actor best known for playing the town clerk in 'Dad's Army'
Thursday 16 October 2008
Throughout a long career on stage and screen, Eric Longworth took scores of character roles, but it was the part of the town clerk in the popular television sitcom Dad's Army for which his balding head, moustache and spectacles became recognised. Between 1972 and 1977 Longworth played the role of Claude Gordon in eight episodes of the comedy about the inept Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard in Second World War Britain.
In one episode, Walmington residents planned to hold a carnival to raise money to buy a Spitfire – and its centrepiece was to be Lady Godiva on a horse. This caused uproar at a committee meeting chaired by the po-faced Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe). "Everyone is horrified," explained Jimmy Perry, who with David Croft wrote the much-loved sitcom, "until Mr Gordon explains that the lady in question will not be in the altogether but wearing 'fleshings', which will cover her from head to toe... The way Eric pronounced the word gave a whole new meaning to it: prim but, at the same time, lascivious. He would roll back his front teeth from his gums and smack his tongue against the roof of his mouth, and out would come the word, with a fine spray of spittle, 'flesh... ings!' "
Dad's Army began in 1968 and had become well established by the time Longworth joined the cast. The actor even understudied Arthur Lowe in a Dad's Army stage show (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1975-76), in which he also took the newly created, minor role of Private Woods, but he did not take part in a subsequent tour because of other commitments.
Eric Longworth was born in Shaw, Lancashire, in 1918. His childhood ambition to act was thwarted when his father, who worked as a salesman for a cotton mill, died. Required to earn money for his family, Longworth joined a local printing company as a salesman, but acted as an amateur with the Crompton Stage Society.
In 1946, after Second World War service in the Army, he was finally able to realise his acting hopes when he became an assistant stage manager with the repertory company at Oldham Coliseum; his first role was as a soldier in a translation of the Yuan dynasty Chinese play The Circle of Chalk. Longworth later became manager of the theatre (1951-57), before running Guildford Theatre (1957-63), until it was razed by fire and he returned to acting full-time.
Many of his TV bit-parts were as clerks, businessmen, policemen, doctors and politicians, in series including No Hiding Place (1963), Z Cars (1963, 1965), The Saint (1967), The Forsyte Saga (1967) and Softly Softly (1971); but he had a leading role as the husband of a murder victim whose killer was never found in the drama-documentary Who Killed Julia Wallace? (1975).
Longworth also took two different roles in Coronation Street. In 1967, he played a policeman on the scene after a goods train makes a fatal plunge into the street. Nine years later, he returned briefly as Nat Lumley, whose wife teamed up with Albert Tatlock at bingo sessions. When he entered the Rovers Return, he might have been expected to give the pensioner a thumping. Instead, he asked Albert to continue taking his wife to bingo – to give him peace at home.
Eric Groves Longworth, actor: born Shaw, Lancashire 20 July 1918; married 1939 Dorothy Hirst (died 1995; four sons, and one son deceased); died Peterborough 20 August 2008.
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