Bank Holidays in this country can be rather miserable- at least weather wise – but on this Bank Holiday Monday (7th) it was brightened up with a wonderfully funny and poignant Radio 4 comedy recounting the off stage relationship between ‘Dad’s Army’ stalwarts John Le Mesurier and Arthur Lowe-Dear Arthur, love John
Now, I am in no doubt that ‘Dad’s Army’ is among the finest pieces of TV Gold that this country has produced ever- the TV series that ran for 9 years, 9 series and 80 episodes still has a large place in the heart of audiences some 40 years after it was made. Often regarded as being a rather gentle comedy, it nether the less reflected in a very real way the true national character of our country – then and now.
‘Dear Arthur, love John’ is based on letters that John Le Mesurier (‘Sgt Wilson’) wrote to Arthur Lowe ('Capt Mainwaring') after the series ended and his memories of the off screen relationships of the main cast allows the audience to eavesdrop on the actors as they reflected on their lives and the making of the series.
It starts with the first read through above a Chiswick pub in 1968 as the amiable Le Mesurier ( an affecting Anton Lesser) is keen to work through his personal agonies (his wife had gone off with his best pal and comedy genius Tony Hancock) and gets to meet his new acting colleagues. He is met by some stuffy sourness from the likes of Arthur Lowe (a suitably pompous Robert Daws) and John Laurie (Kenny Ireland – no less good) who think the writing is not up to their standard. Over a period of time, Le Mesurier becomes best chums with James Beck (Spiv 'Walker') and the play explores in the main the ‘chalk and cheese’ chemistry between Lowe and Le Mesurier.
Roy Smiles incisive play makes all the right points that the ‘Dads’ Army’ writing team of Jimmy Perry and David Croft developed its characters on the actors themselves, without them knowing it bar Le Mesurier. So Mainwaring is the pompous Arthur Lowe thinking the country is going to the dogs, Wilson is the laconic, laid back Le Mesurier who just wants an easy life and Frazer is the John Laurie moaning about everything ("It will be a disaster mark my words Captain!") and very much the dour coffin maker.
Smiles also plays up the growing fondness between the two lead characters which despite their radically different views and personalities compliment each other. In the end, Le Mesurier in his letters clearly talks for the cast when he says that the time together on the series was his( theirs and ours) most happiest, and that part of the great fondness and attraction of ‘Dad’s Army’ is that it showed Britain at its very, very best fighting an enemy it understood it had to beat and the country will probably never repeat that togetherness.
My only mild criticism is when Smiles overdoes his hand by trying to recreate the last lines from the last episode rather than allow the play to end on the final correspondence between Le Mesurier and Lowe. But this is a minor irritation of a marvellously funny and poignant comedy drama that long stays in the memory. Bravo!