Magazine article The Spectator

The Man Who Hated Being Typecast - and Was

Magazine article The Spectator

The Man Who Hated Being Typecast - and Was

Article excerpt

ARTHUR LOWE by Graham Lord Orion, L16.99, pp. 258, ISBN 075284184X

Whenever, searching through the television channels for something worth watching, I come across a Dad's Army repeat I invariably stay with it. The series has not dated, partly perhaps because it was dated when it started. Few of us who were young in the 1960s had clear memories of the Home Guard and many of the plots could have come straight from an old Will Hay film. Yet the interplay between the characters has remained unsurpassed. And the lynchpin is the great Arthur Lowe.

Captain Mainwaring remains a superb comic creation. A pompous, narrow-minded petty tyrant, he is not an obviously attractive character. But his cock-eyed sense of decency, his total unawareness of his own shortcomings and his acute vulnerability when faced with regular army officers or a formidable unseen wife or the gentle, upper-class subversion of his subordinate, Sergeant Wilson, make him endearing as well as hilarious. We can all identify with failure, but can only enjoy it vicariously. It is not surprising that Arthur Lowe's recording of The Diary of a Nobody is by far the best.

So real is Mainwaring that without the superb visual byplay, such as the stumble which invariably dislodges his glasses, the character could have fitted perfectly into a Home Guard documentary. Lowe was a serious actor, admired by men like Lindsay Anderson, John Osborne and Edward Bond, and he hated being typecast.

Do we need a new biography of Lowe when we can continually watch his work? I think not, though we could possibly do with a celebration of his art in the manner of Charles Lamb's `Some of the Old Actors', Max Beerbohm's `Dan Leno' or Ken Tynan's pen-portraits. The actor's private life has already been well covered in his son Stephen's highly personal memoir. That book is a sad one - a tortured quest for the workaholic father he loved but never really knew and the alcoholic mother Joan whom he knew better but respected less.

Lowe's new biographer, Graham Lord, makes much use of the earlier book, with due acknowledgment, but adds little to it. The blurb's claim that Lord's book `shows that Arthur Lowe was undoubtedly a comic genius' is unfulfilled. One could guess that a writer who finds Britain's wittiest film comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets 'dreary' and Launder and Gilliat's The Green Man featuring Alistair Sim in top form `decidedly unfunny' would have little insight into the nature of comic artistry.

His book begins competently enough with a description of the poverty of northcountry England in 1916, though Lowe never suffered its worst hardships. …

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