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Arthur Lowe - on leave from Dad's Army in a new comedy thriller serial - talks to Deirdre MacDonald about the parts he played on the way up
'AH! But you're working with a star. This is all about a day in the life of a superstar!' Many a star might mean that. Not Arthur Lowe, who parades no airs and graces. He was joking placating Lyn de Winne, the pretty make-up girl who was agitated by the prospect of our photographer recording her work.
He can crack that joke about himself, because success is almost a burden to brusquely workman like Arthur Lowe. And publicity is a chore, which on this occasion he'd decided to tackle cheerfully.
Short, stocky Lowe was in a belted tweed jacket, a dog-tooth-checked deerstalker in his hand. Mr. Drake, the latest in the long line of Arthur Lowe characters was taking form.
During the process, Lowe was talking through clenched teeth about Mr. Drake.
A blonde girl came into the make-up room. "Ah. Hello. You're the body then, the corpse, are you?" Lowe's gruff voice asked. She was. Gilly Young smiled. For Lowe, It's Murder but is it Art? - a six-part comedy thriller serial - is a change. The characters he plays have a habit of dying hard.
It began with Leonard Swindley, Coronation Street's draper, back in 1961. Until then, Lowe had had a comfortable stage career - 'an adequately paid supporting player,' he contentedly called himself at the time.
'Leonard Swindley turned out a far more complex character than was ever intended,' says Lowe. If he is tempted to feel sentimentally grateful to Swindley for the success that followed, Arthur Lowe conceals the fact.
He is quite testy about the way the public identified him and the part: ' Playing Swindley hasn't done me any harm. But now he's dead. It's taken years for the public to find out my name is Arthur Lowe.'
Wandering among the patches of light and shade in Television Centre's Studio 1, Lowe, as Mr. Drake was in pyjamas by now. He wasn't yet due on the set. No ditherer, Arthur Lowe he used the time to read another script, in his dressing room, to watch his colleagues at work and talk to us.
Lowe found himself playing to drawing room audiences once more when the part of Captain Mainwaring in BBCtv's award-winning Dad's Army was specially written for him, by David Croft and Jimmy Perry.
Arthur Lowe likes Captain Mainwaring, the stalwart Home Guard commander and (in office hours) stout-hearted bank manager, who is of course alive and well and thriving in Walmington-on-Sea, and still far from any threat of demob.
Captain Mainwaring will soldier on. That does not prevent Lowe from doing other things between series. In 1968 he played the part of AB Raham in Maugham's Home and Beauty at the National.
He played Sir Davey Dunce in Soldier's Fortune in 1966. 'A Cuckold. He was a very funny character, but there was a lot of sadness and bitterness in him.' Arthur Lowe's recent television work outside the barracks of Dad's Army has been varied. He starred in a television series of Ben Travers farces. 'Farce is the higher mathematics of acting - precise and demanding.'
He played Charles Dickens' father (immortalised in the form of Mr. Micawber in the BBC2 tribute to Dickens. He played Bodkin the butler in the ITV comedy series, The Last of the Baskets.
By the time we were ready to leave, Lowe, as Mr. Drake, robust in an ample white pullover and red shorts (his bell-ringing uniform), was on the set a mortuary - but far from dead.
Lowe has always been irritated by press attempts to compare him with the characters he plays.