Arthur Lowe

A Biography of Arthur Lowe

The story of this well known actor begins in Hayfield in Derbyshire on September 22nd1915. As the only son of a man that transported touring companies for a living, Arthur was introduced to the theatrical world from an early age and was little surprise that his first job was in a theatre in Manchester. At this point in his life, Lowe was more interested in joining the armed services and enlisted in the Army during WWII after a failed attempt to join the navy and a job in an aircraft factory. After being discharged, however, the acting bug returned and he started on a career that would last until the day of his death.

His plaque at Hayfield -  Photo  by  Libraryem

His plaque at Hayfield – Photo by Libraryem

The beginning of Arthur Lowe’s acting career.
Although many people would say that Lowe’s long and distinguished acting career began in 1948, he had actually been acting for much longer having put on shows for the troops during his service in Egypt. For a while, Arthur enjoyed only minor roles and bit parts in plays and West End musicals as he began to make his name but his big break came in 1960 when he was given the role of Leonard Swindley in one of the country’s most popular soaps – ‘Coronation Street’. Arthur continued with this role until 1966 but confessed that he did not enjoy the work as much as he would like. Following this run, he went back to guest appearances – this time in much more well known shows such as ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Z Cars’ – but in 1968 he took on his more infamous role.

 Arthur Lowe

Arthur Lowe

‘Dad’s Army’ and Arthur Lowe’s new found fame.
In 1968, Lowe took on the role that it seemed he was born to play – Captain George Mainwaring in the hit BBC comedy series ‘Dad’s Army’. The show was a long running success, having lasted from 1968-77 with an additional stage show and feature film, and he received more media attention than ever before. This new found fame and respect not only gave Arthur a series of BAFTA nominations for his role but also a host of other roles and opportunities. He was invited by Laurence Olivier to perform at the National theatre, had a role in ‘The Tempest’, guested on ‘The Morecambe and Wise Show’ and received a supporting actor BAFTA for his performance in ‘O Lucky Man’. Children of the seventies and eighties who enjoyed the ‘Mr Men’ cartoons may not be aware that he provided the voices and narration but many people will remember him for his final television role in ‘Bless Me Father’ from 1972-81.

Arthur Lowe’s personal life and the influence of Joan Cooper.
Fame may have been thrust upon Arthur following his success on TV but it was not something he enjoyed; he would much rather shun the public and keep his personal and private lives separate. It may have been hard for some fans to distinguish the briefcase-carrying, pompous Lowe from his on-screen persona but once he was off the set he was keen to leave his work behind and concentrate on his family, so much so that he would refuse to take scripts home no matter how much it annoyed his co-stars. In 1968, Lowe bought an 1885 steam yacht by the name of Amazon and used it as a floating base during tours where he and his wife Joan could live in peace and entertain friends at their customised bar. The boat is still operational today and is under new ownership in the Mediterranean.

Joan Cooper and Arthur Lowe seemed to have a long and happy marriage with their son Stephen, who was born in 1953. Some reports paint a picture of a young romance between thirty year old Arthur and twenty-two year old Joan as they met at a production in Manchester in 1945, but not everyone tells the story of their affair, Arthur’s new step-son from Joan’s previous marriage and her overall influence on his career. After deliberately getting caught to initiate a divorce, the pair married in 1945. By the sixties, Arthur’s separation from his family during filming began to take its toll and he began to suffer from depression and the alcoholism that would plague his life. Soon his connection to his wife did return but, as his own son pointed out, they became a partnership to the point where she began to limit his roles as she searched for some of her own – she even landed a recurring role in ‘Dad’s Army’. This relationship continued right until their performance together in the play ‘Home At Seven’.

Arthur Lowe as Capt. Mainwaring

Arthur Lowe as Capt. Mainwaring

Arthur Lowe’s death and legacy within British comedy.
On April 14th1982, Arthur suffered a stroke in his dressing room at the theatre in Birmingham where he was due to perform ‘Home at Seven’. It was another episode in a long line of medical complaints that Lowe would suffer in later life, which included his continued alcoholism, exhaustion, obesity and narcolepsy. Joan did not join him by his bedside, expecting him to make a full recovery but the following morning Arthur died. It was sad that a man who had devoted himself to his family and tried to retain his privacy would die alone. Interestingly, Joan did not attend the cremation because of her commitment to the play and her performance in Belfast, apparently at Arthur’s insistence, and attended a separate memorial later. She may not have been seen to be grieving openly but seven years after his death, Joan died after her own battle with depression and alcohol.

When Lowe died, aged just 66, he left a fortune of just over £200,000 and received a number of tributes from co-stars and comic legends who praised his style and talent and, while he never received a honour from the Queen during his lifetime, many close to him suggest that had he lived he would have at least been given an OBE. In later year he was remembered with a statue outside the ‘Dad’s Army’ studio and blue plaques at both his birthplace and Maida Vale but there is one other tribute that is more significant. Over thirty years after his death, the BBC continue to repeat his performances and new generations of children and young adults are all familiar with his unforgettable role as Mainwaring.