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Arthur Goes Marching On


Arthur's son, Stephen, is a willing hand for messing about on the river.

By Bill Wells

Source: Weekend Magazine

Date: 16-22 September 1970
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For Years Arthur Lowe was bugged by memories of Coronation Street's Len Swindley - until Captain Mainwaring's coup de grace
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WHEN Arthur Lowe first strutted down Coronation Street as Leonard Swindley in 1960, he was supposed to be a foil to Ena Sharples. But within weeks Swindley was nationally famous and Arthur suddenly became a star. At first he did not care whether his fame was his or Swindley's - though most people who stopped him called him Len.

But Arthur prefers to keep his private life private and more than four years of Coronation Street notoriety was enough. The snag was. Swindley was not so easy to kill off.

Arthur's own series followed naturally. He ran a department store in Pardon the Expression and went ghost-hunting in Turn out the Lights.

Arthur said: "For eight years it was like living with a Siamese twin. There seemed to be no escape from Swindley. Sometimes I loathed him."

POMPOUS

It is an understandable attitude because 54-year-old Arthur has little in common with Swindley who he once described as a "pompous busy-bodying windbag." Arthur is modest and quietly firm. He looks as if he would be more at home on the bridge of an ocean going freighter than in the TV studio. And he probably would, because he was training to be a merchant navy officer when he failed his eye test.

With World War II looming up he joined the army instead. It was a good thing for Swindley that he did.

Sergeant Major Lowe eventually found himself stationed miles from anywhere on the edge of the Sinai desert. He built a theatre and produced a series of plays to keep up his men's morale. He had never really thought about acting until then, but the bug soon caught him.

When Arthur left the Army he set about learning the business thoroughly. He joined a twice-nightly repertory company in Manchester where he met his wife, stunning redhead Joan Cooper. Within a few years he was appearing regularly as a supporting actor in London theatres.

He said: "You could say I started as a private in the acting profession with a planned promotion scale in mind. "I had reached the brigadier stage and was very comfortable playing supporting roles when the Swindley part came up. "He was supposed to be an incidental character which would not interfere with my other work. But suddenly I found myself in the general class, and it came as quite a surprise as Swindley suddenly took over my life."

UNSTUCK


Arthur and Joan alongside their floating investment.

At first he regarded Len as a dear friend.

"He was everyone's little man, always taking on too much and coming unstuck," Arthur explained. "But he had the courage of all little people and always got through - even if he was left with a little egg on his face."

Swindley repaid Arthur's dedication by giving him security and national acclaim.

Despite that, Arthur did not let Coronation Street swamp him. He insisted on working for the street only six months each year so that he would be free to do other things. He continued to appear in West End plays, including John Osbourne's Inadmissible Evidence, but he could not escape from the Swindley image.

He said "I like to be myself when I am not acting and I try to avoid being recognised, but it was not so easy. "After eight years of it, I began to loathe being called Mr. Swindley, and was desperate to bury him for good."

BUMBLING

So he jumped at the chance of playing Captain Mainwaring, the bumbling C.O. of the Home Guard squad in Dad's Army. The part was specially written for him.

Relaxing during a break in rehearsals for the current series, he said: "After two years in Dad's Army, I think I can safely say that Swindley is dead. May he rest in peace. "Mainwaring is not the same sort of character at all. "People do not find it so easy to identify themselves with him. "Perhaps he is not as real as old Swindley."

NO LEAVE FOR THE CAPTAIN

BUSY


All Present and correct at a tactical talk are Ian Lavender, Clive Dunn, James Beck and Arthur Lowe.

Len Swindley and Capt. Mainwaring have kept Arthur fully occupied for five years.

He has not had a proper holiday since 1964, and is not likely to get one before 1972. Whilst making the latest series on TV, the Dad's Army squad have also being making a film. Now that the film has been completed, shooting has resumed on the squad's remaining episodes for TV.

So far this year, Arthur has already found time to squeeze in seven TV farces and an appearance on TV as Mr. Micawber.

LONG-TERM

And the future looks going on the same way, which is why his holiday arrangements are mostly long-term. At present he is busy restoring an old Victorian yacht he found rotting on the Thames.

He said: "I will have spent a lot of money before it is back to its former glory and ready for sea, but I regard it as a practical investment. "Most people look forward to retiring to a house in the country. I prefer a boat. It is possible to spend a fortune on a dream house and then suddenly all its value is lost. "But a historic ship like mine can only increase in value.

"Besides I do not intend retiring full-time for many years. "I plan to cut down the amount of work I do and get away from it all more often. "All I will have to do is up anchor and head for the open sea."

Even Len Swindley couldn't tut-tut at an idea like that.

Transcribed by Andy Howells from the original interview, August, 2002.

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