Today is the birthday (1920) of Clive Robert Benjamin Dunn, OBE, an English actor, probably best known for playing the doddering lance corporal Jones in the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. Dunn, like Ron Moody (Fagin in Oliver) and Joel Grey (MC in Cabaret) had his stage career dominated by that one character, but he was actually rather more versatile, even though you’d have to dig a bit to discover this side of him. I came across him first as the decrepit dogsbody, Old Johnson, in the Army Game spinoff, Bootsie and Snudge. This BBC sitcom mostly aired in the early 1960s and was occasionally shown on South Australian television, and reappeared briefly when I returned to England. I didn’t like the show in general, but was intrigued by the idea of Dunn, who was in his early 40s at the time, playing an aging Great War veteran (which Dunn was actually far too young to be). Indeed, I did not realize that he was as young as he was until my mother told me. Reprising the role of a doddering (but lovable) old fool in Dad’s Army seemed a bit of a cop out to me, but he was very popular. Meanwhile, I paid almost no attention, although my parents loved the show.
Dunn was born in Brixton in South London, the son of actor parents, and the cousin of actress Gretchen Franklin. He was educated at Sevenoaks School, and after leaving school, studied at the independent Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, in London. Dunn played small film roles from the 1930s onwards, appearing alongside Will Hay in the films Boys Will Be Boys (1935) while still attending school, and Good Morning, Boys (1937). In 1939, he was the stage manager for a touring production of The Unseen Menace, a detective story. This was not a success as the billed star of the show, Terence De Marney, did not appear on stage and his dialogue was supplied by a gramophone recording.
In 1940, after the start of the Second World War, Dunn joined the army and served with the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. The unit fought during the German invasion of Greece but surrendered after fighting a rearguard action near the Corinth canal. Dunn was amongst the 400 men taken prisoner, and was to be held as a prisoner of war in Austria for four years. He remained in the army after the war ended, and was finally demobilized in 1947.
Dunn resumed his acting career after leaving the army, mainly in Repertory theatre, and soon made his first television appearance. In 1956 and 1957, Dunn appeared in both series of The Tony Hancock Show and the army reunion party episode of Hancock’s Half Hour in 1960.
Here’s the complete episode. Chances are that you won’t recognize him if you know him only as an old man character.
From early on in his career, his trademark character was that of a doddering old man which first made an impression on Bootsie and Snudge. This is the first episode where he appeared:
In 1967, he made a guest appearance in an episode of The Avengers, playing the proprietor of a toy shop in “Something Nasty in the Nursery”.
Dunn was one of the younger members of the Dad’s Army cast when, at 48, he took on the role of the elderly butcher whose military service in earlier wars made him the most experienced member of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, as well as one of the most decrepit. His relative youth, compared with most of the cast, meant that he was handed much of the physical comedy in the show, which many of the other cast members were not capable of.
After Dad’s Army ended, Dunn capitalized on his skill in playing elderly character roles, and popularity, by playing the lead character Charlie Quick, in the slapstick children’s TV series Grandad, from 1979-1984 (he played the caretaker at a village hall, and sang the lyrics in the theme). He had previously had a number one hit single with the song “Grandad” on his 51st birthday in January 1971, accompanied by a children’s choir. The song was written by bassist Herbie Flowers. He performed the song four times on Top of the Pops. The B-side of “Grandad”, “I Play The Spoons”, also received considerable airplay. After the cancellation of Grandad in 1984, he disappeared from the screen, and retired to Portugal. Following the success of the “Grandad” record, Dunn released several other singles.
Dunn married fashion model Patricia Kenyon in London in 1951. The couple divorced in 1958. He married actress Priscilla Pughe-Morgan in June 1959. They had two daughters, Polly and Jessica. Dunne spent the last three decades of his life in the Algarve, Portugal. He occupied himself as an artist painting portraits, landscapes and seascapes until his sight failed.
Dunn died in Portugal on 6 November 2012 as a result of complications, following an operation which took place earlier that week. Frank Williams, who played the Vicar in Dad’s Army, said Dunn was always great fun to be around. “Of course he was so much younger than the part he played,” he told BBC Radio Four. “It’s very difficult to think of him as an old man really, but he was a wonderful person to work with – great sense of humour, always fun, a great joy really.” Ian Lavender, who played Private Pike in the show, said: “Out of all of us he had the most time for the fans. Everyone at one time or another would be tempted to duck into a doorway or bury their head in a paper; but not Clive, he always made time for fans.”
A wartime recipe seems suitable. I don’t actually recommend this one, but it is a curiosity. It’s called Lord Woolton pie, a thoroughly forgettable dish. It was created at the Savoy Hotel in London by its then Maître Chef de Cuisine, Francis Latry. It was one of a number of recipes commended to the British public by the Ministry of Food during the Second World War to enable a nutritious diet to be maintained despite shortages and rationing of many types of food, especially meat. It was named after Frederick Marquis, 1st Lord Woolton (1883–1964), who popularized the recipe after he became Minister of Food in 1940. Here’s the recipe as printed in newspapers.
Here’s a better expansion of the recipe.
Lord Woolton Pie
1 lb potato, peeled and diced
1 lb cauliflower, chopped
1 lb carrot, peeled and diced
1 lb parsnip, peeled and diced
3 spring onions, chopped
1 tsp vegetable extract
1 tbsp oatmeal
4 ounces cooked and mashed potatoes
½ tsp salt
8 oz plain flour
3 oz shortening
2 tbsp baking powder
For the filling: Place all ingredients except for parsley into a large pot. Add just enough water to cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the vegetables sticking to the pot. When the vegetables are cooked, turn of the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Sprinkle with parsley and season to taste.
For the crust: Combine the salt, flour and baking powder. Rub the shortening into the flour mixture. Gently mix in the potato. Add a little water if the mix is too dry. Knead the dough and then roll out on a floured board.
Place the pie filling in a deep pie dish or casserole dish. Cover with the potato pastry. Bake in a 400˚F oven for 25-30 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned.
Serve with gravy.
[I’m tempted to say, “Let cool and feed to the cat” but my cats would not have touched this.]