Magazine article The Spectator

Mystery Man

Magazine article The Spectator

Mystery Man

Article excerpt

It's strange to think that John Le Mesurier has been dead for 22 years, a reminder that came in an affectionate profile of his life as a character actor, Conked Out - but Not Forgotten! , on Radio Four this week (Tuesday). I don't suppose it's just that his rather bewildered, lugubrious face was such a presence in film and television over the years but also the fact that occasionally one hears clips from his programmes being played. He'd been ill for years with liver disease, and when his family dealt with the media after his death they were told to tell them, 'I conked out', which indeed they did.

The presenter Ian Lavender, a friend and colleague, said that Le Mesurier (his mother's maiden name) wanted to be an actor from an early age and finally became one after six years as an articled solicitor's clerk. He had quite a range, even appearing in a cameo in Ben Hur, as well as in Dennis Potter's Traitor, based on the spy Kim Philby. I suppose most, though, will remember him for his last role as Sgt Wilson in Dad's Army, clashing with Arthur Lowe's pompous Captain Mainwaring, a very funny British portrayal of class tensions between the public school Wilson and the grammar school Mainwaring, an ingredient that can never fail in comedy in this country.

He was clearly such a laid-back man that he could cope with the marital crises forced upon him by others. His second wife Hattie Jacques, to whom he was devoted, ran off with another man only for him to see the experience repeated in his third marriage. Despite being devastated, he tolerated his wife Joan's two-year affair with his closest friend Tony Hancock, and he and Joan stayed together until he died.

His friend, the jazz singer Annie Ross, recalled that he would often think about the end of the world and sigh, 'What is to become of us all?' It's there somehow in his face.

Having written about Michael Dibdin and his Italian detective Aurelio Zen, I was interested to hear him as this month's guest on Bookclub on Radio Four (Sunday), answering questions about his now-famous character. I'd not heard him on the radio before discussing himself and Zen. When invited to appear, he was asked to select one of his nine novels (a tenth, Back to Bologna, is published this month) for a discussion with readers, and he chose Blood Rain, a violent Mafia story set in Sicily. …

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