To Speak, Sir?
Saga magazine, February 1992.
best known for his portrayal as a doddery Home Guard Soldier in
the eternally funny TV series Dad's Army, veteran comedian Clive
Dunn appeals to all ages
panic, Mr. Mainwaring! Britain's best known and funniest old soldier,
Lance Corporal Jack Jones, the (they don't like it up 'em) butcher
of Walmington-on-Sea, is now guarding Portugal's Algarve coast.
bespectacled and doddery Home Guard veteran of the comedy classic,
Dad's Army, may never have frightened the Germans or the Fuzzy
Wuzzies, but when he dons his shorts during the hot summer months,
he swears his knees frighten the ladies. The invading army of
tourists invariably recognises him, although some mistake him
for Mr. Pastry - the late Richard Hearne - and ask where the platoon
is or can they have "permission to speak"? Clive Dunn, of course,
is the comedy actor who created the Old Sweat, and after more
than 50 years of show business, television and touring has decided
on semi-retirement in the cool country hills above Vilamoura.
has he chosen to settle in the Algarve? "The weather is a
major attraction, " he says, filling our glasses with delicious
£1-a-bottle white wine."It is the best climate in Europe.
The Portuguese people are invariably pleasant and tolerant,
the cost of living is about the same as England, and the wine
is so cheap it could become an alcoholic's paradise. Fish, meat,
petrol, and electricity are expensive and I would say a car
is essential, but given care it is possible to live cheaply.
"We're told that a lot of British residents have returned home
due to rising prices, but there are still many of them here.
It is a wonderful place for sporty people with all the golf;
tennis, swimming and boating you could want. I play golf and
tennis once a week, tomorrow I'm horse riding, occasionally
I go fishing in my glass fibre boat."
if any, are the disadvantages to the lotus life? Clive and his
charming ex-actress wife, Priscilla Morgan, answer almost in unison…"The
obvious one is that you are away from your Mother country and
your friends. But friends will come and visit you. It can also
be difficult if you have left a family behind. We're lucky because
our two grown daughters, Polly and Jessica, decided to follow
us here. So the whole family is in this area." Cilla explains:
"We've taken holidays in Portugal for 26 years and we've owned
this old farm cottage for 11 years. Had the girls not come over
I might have felt I had to go back." Clive takes up the story.
"We keep a flat in Shepherds Bush for the odd visit or for
when I have to return briefly to work. I really thought I'd retired
completely when I came here, except that TV and stage offers still
arrive from time to time. I'm 71 now and decided that after a
lifetime of entertaining that I'd done all the funny things one
man can do. Enough was enough. Why give up this lifestyle in order
to tour round Britain in a play? What I will not do is accept
something that takes me away from the family for months. But a
good script and a short stay still interests me."
Dunn is third generation show business, the son of two comedy
artistes, and he remains a modest, unassuming man despite hundreds
of television shows and the talent to be a clown, actor, dancer,
trick cyclist, and singer. Nobody was more surprised than him
to find himself at the top of the Hit Parade and appearing on
Top Of The Pops with his record Grandad. It couldn't have happened
to a better chap because Clive Dunn as a Trooper in the Queen's
own 4th Hussars was captured on the Greek mainland in 1941 and
spent four years in a prisoner in a German labour camp. He'll
talk about that later but for the present, it is time to go to
the restaurant owned and run by daughter Polly, who is also the
cook. Called the café royale, the 200-year-old building is found
at the top end of Rua Vasco Da Gama in the heart of old Quarteira.
Also there when we arrive is Clive's other daughter, Jessica who
is a painter with an expanding reputation which may well make
her internationally known. With justification, Dad is proud of
both girls, even if they have cold shouldered show business careers.
is a brilliant French chef," he says."The café Royale
seats 45, with room in the open during summer for 30 more. All
the vegetables used are organically grown by Cilla in our large
garden. She grows some 20 or more varieties and she jokes that
she's the one who has brought the parsnip to Portugal. We both
come to the restaurant two nights a week and we mix and chat
with the customers. "The walls are lined with paintings, many
nude studies among them, mostly by Jessica, but some are my
own work. She paints in differing styles and sells them. They
have been shown in various parts of the Algarve and, frankly,
with her talent she could achieve anything. While my own paintings
are displayed here and at home I do it as a labour of love rather
than for money. I've practically stopped selling but sometimes
donate one to a local music society." He points to an impressionist-style
painting. "That's my copy of a Renoir, I've had an offer for
it. I wanted to test my own ability - it took me five days to
complete. My friends from showbusiness have dined here and seen
the paintings. People like Ronnie Corbett, Anita Harris, and
we drive back to the Dunn's home, Clive laughed and said he should
be in the Guinness book of records - he's had 16 agents during
his career and he thinks that is more than anyone else. He cites
Sir John Mills' comment that changing agents is like changing
deck chairs on the Titanic. "Now lets have a look at the place,"
he suggests. "We're away from tourism, with peace and quiet,
and this cottage is everything we want. Cilla has done a lot of
the redesigning and' as I said, works hard growing the veggies.
Our dog, Bella, came from a dogs home." There's a ploughed
field, a small swimming pool, and a half-walled studio that Clive
built at his studio where he paints. "I also paint walls, lay
down paths, and work in the garden or the field. All summer we
can sleep out on a balcony under the stars. The one failure has
been that we tried to press wine. We had 60 vines but the ground
isn't suitable. A friend of ours has a total of three bottles;
one broke and the other two exploded, so that's a none starter.
see Portuguese TV, and some English shows on Sky. It's great
that adults know me as Jack Jones the wartime butcher, while
the children associate me with the Grandad TV series in which
I starred. That's a wide age range, and both Dad's Army and
Grandad have been seen recently in repeats. Not that we could
see them. But we do have some videos of them that we play now
and again. "I've just heard that ITV are doing a rerun during
'92 of the Bootsie and Snudge series I made as Old Johnson with
Alfie Bass and Bill Fraser. It was a small cast, I must be the
only one left alive." He chuckles…."Its handy that there
is a cemetery down the road." Perhaps because of his wartime
hardships and imprisonment he is not full of his own importance,
although he is naturally proud and grateful to have made his
was offered the OBE more than once but turned it down a few times,
so what made him change his mind and accept the award eventually?
"I thought my mother would love it," he explained. "I'd
begun as a concert party performer and anything which dignifies
actors, comedians and the like is helpful. I felt I didn't deserve
it and millions of others did. It doesn't mean much, OBE - officer
third class, I ask you! When the Queen presented it to me she
said 'This is a great pleasure for all the fun you've given us'."
Clive was in the army for seven years, four of which he spent
in Austrian labour camps. "The lowest point of my life came
when I was 21 and we were stuck in cattle trucks going across
Europe as prisoners. We were so packed you had to take it in turns
to lie down on the floor. We all got dysentery, that was awful.
You were treated like dirt, you were nothing. You couldn't get
lower than that. But you learn to get philosophical. It was a
hard life - up to my backside in snow in winter, but youth and
companionship made it bearable and raised the spirits. "I was
interested that when he was released. Terry Waite said the same
thing about the value of companionship. I really got worried when
the Germans reached the outskirts of Moscow. I had visions of
being a POW for 40 bloody years and had to throw that thought
out of my mind. We had 20 men to a room and were locked in from
Saturday midday until Monday morning. I devised some rude sketches,
others sang, and we tried to make a little entertainment. At another
camp I played the female lead in Novello's Glamorous Nights, wearing
strange gear and the socks for a bust! Nobody took the Mickey
out of a man playing a woman because they all wanted to believe
what they were saying."
all seems a long way removed from the foolery of Lance Corporal
Jones. He thinks for a moment, then says, "Dad's Army was
magic because it was true farce, World War Two was an enormous
canvas, also you had the menace and evil of Hitler and the Nazi's
about to invade. And you had a handful of guys in a small village
or town who were trying to prevent this monster rolling across
their land. They were all serious and not trying to be funny,
and that's where the humour came in. David Croft picked some
outstanding character actors, in particular Arthur Lowe as Mainwaring.
Jonesy is my favourite of all my roles, along with Frosch in
Die Fieldermaus with the English Opera North. "As for seemingly
to play a lot of old men, it was simply something I could do.
I'm slightly bandy anyway. It began with the old gardener in
the original Hancock shows and it provided a decent living."
and I met at the players theatre," explained Cilla. "We
married within three months. His work as Old Johnson in Bootsie
and Snudge kept us solvent - we were penniless and Polly was about
to be born when he got the part. We'd had to sell our car and
then came two years of security with that ITV contract. What a
blessing." They've been married for 32 years. Cilla's acting
career pettered out only three years ago. Clive refills our glasses
and reflects, contentedly: "I've got two shows to do at the Leeds
city of varieties Theatre in April and I know that I've been lucky.
Not too much to complain about.
reason I came to Portugal originally was through seeing Greta
Garbo in the film Queen Christina. In the script she was going
to the South West corner of Europe, full of sunshine, where
warm breezes blew. The final shot shows her on her way to Portugal
and I thought if it's good enough for Garbo it's good enough
by Andy Howells, with thanks to Iain S Wilson for supplying the
Interview - October 2000