A SHINING LIGHT IN THE DAD’S ARMY FAMILY
Historian DONALD STANLEY takes a look at the life of Bill Pertwee, the Dad’s Army actor who was born in Amersham
BILL Pertwee, the irascible Warden Hodges tormentor of Arthur Lowe’s pompous Captain Mainwaring in television’s Dad’s Army, was born in Amersham in 1926 of a Brazilian mother and English father of French Huguenot ancestry.
He was a travelling salesman who died when Bill was twelve. His brother was killed whilst serving as aircrew in the Second World War whilst Bill, being unfit for military service, worked for a company making aircraft armaments.
Neither of his parents had theatrical connections although other members of the family included Michael Pertwee who wrote episodes of the TV series The Saint and Danger Man, and Jon Pertwee known for his roles as Dr Who and Worzel Gummidge. Bill’s son, James, also became an actor.
Bill worked in the London Stock Exchange and for Burberry before making his professional debut on the stage in a summer show on the Norfolk Coast at the Gorleston Pavilion in 1955 where he met and married Marion McLeod whose own parents had met and married whilst appearing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Marion danced and sang in summer season seaside reviews and pantomimes throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Together with her brothers she formed The Maple leaf Four who had their own Western and Country TV show.
Bill appeared in the radio comedy series Beyond Our Ken, on television in Hi-de-Hi and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and on the big screen in two of the Carry On series.
He became best known through the sitcom Dad’s Army which ran for nine series and 80 episodes from 1968 to 1977 attracting audiences of 18 million viewers.
Bill wrote a book on the series and became President of the Dad’s Army Appreciation Society.
Each summer the cast and crew of the series would stay in Thetford to film external footage in the town and surrounding Norfolk countryside.
Fittingly it became the home of the Dad’s Army Museum of which Bill was Patron and where there is a portrait of him painted by a local artist.
He was godfather to the son of Ian Lavender, who played ‘stupid boy’ Private Pike in Dad’s Army.
Bill was awarded the MBE for his services to charity. He served on the executive committee of the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund which, being best known for the Royal Variety Performance, is now named the Royal Variety Charity.
Irascible: Bill Pertwee who was born in Amersham in 1926
Glory days: The Dad’s Army cast in 1976. Below, help Betty Harkett to save her 100 year cottage from demolition in Horsley Surrey
Starring role: Bill with his Dad’s Army character. Above, filming for the video to accompany an England World Cup song “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Jurgen Klinsmann,” in 2006