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Arthur Lowe, cheerful on parade as
Mr. Drake the eccentric sleuth

SOURCE: Radio Times, 18-24 March 1972

It's Murder, But is it Art?
Thursday 8.0
BBC1 Colour

The original programme billing for episode one of It's Murder. But Is It Art? starring Arthur Lowe, from Radio Times 18-24 March 1972.

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.

'He is an eccentric amateur detective, equally as happy in his pony-trap as in his 160 mph Mercedes. His peculiar interests range from campanology to yoga on top of a chest of drawers. He's irascible, yes. And a bit of a poseur. But he's very brave to."

Left to right, Arthur Lowe's Mr. Drake takes form: Foundation cream is sponged on and convincing tufts of white beard are delicately fixed. Mr. Drake suave in tweeds and deerstalker.

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.

His first meeting with Mr. Swindley in script form was 'favourable.' He's not a man to wax lyrical. 'I didn't know what I was letting myself in for. I didn't realise how long it would last.' Mr. Swindley thrived for six years in all. Granada Television 'peeled him off' Coronation Street, promoted him to assistant manager of a Northern chain store as the central figure in Pardon The Expression.

'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.

In 1963 Lowe played Hudson the solicitors clerk in John Osborne's Inadmissible evidence at the Royal Court. 'That was certainly a modern and daring production to be in. Hudson was prissy, prudish easily shocked, but still a sympathetic character, though its not a play that I'd have gone to see.'

'Acting must be scaled down for the screen. A drawing room is a lot smaller than a theatre auditorium.'

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.

' We expected the show to have limited appeal, to the age group that lived through the war and the Home Guard. We didn't expect what has happened - that children from the age of five upwards would enjoy it too.'

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.

'It's a wonderful part,' he says with warmth. 'Mainwaring is a sort of military extension of Mr. Swindley. He's prudish and pompous. It's pricked pomposity again, and that's where the fun comes in. He's an extremely brave little man who would gladly go through hell and high water for Walmington-on-Sea's safety. He is also a very good bank manager. Good for the bank, that is.' He can't be bad for Arthur Lowe's bank account either.

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.

In that, he was a seedy solicitor. In 1969 he turned to stage musical in Ann Veronica at the Cambridge Theatre. He was Mr. Ramage. 'A very different sort of chap. An old lecher who tried to get off with Ann Veronica. He was an idiot to think he could make the girl in first place and, of course, he got his face slapped.'

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.

'Can you understand why a professional reporter should ask such a question of a professional actor?' We made no attempt. One treats Arthur Lowe with respect. He had said: ' An actor is an actor is an actor. The less personality an actor has off stage the better. A blank canvas on which to draw the characters he plays.

Getting ready for a change in costume in his dressing room. Glamorous in Mr.Drakes pyjamas, Lowe used the time to read a script. His bell ringing gear: white pullover and red shorts.


Photographs by Richard Farley
Transcribed by Andy Howells from the original interview, June, 2003


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