Wednesday 21 February 2018

Beloved Jonesie who served with 'Dad's Army' hangs up his bayonet

Clive Dunn, the actor, who has died aged 92, was best known as Lance-Corporal Jones, the zealous old soldier in Dad's Army celebrated for the catchphrases "Don't panic!" and "They don't like it up 'em!"

Jones was a guileless, decrepit butcher who frequently reminisced about his service (against the "fuzzy-wuzzies") in the Boer War, or in the Great War trenches, and found favour with his commanding officer, Captain Mainwaring, by dispensing "under-the-counter" bacon and sausages.

He was supposed to be at least 70, but when in 1968 Dunn won the role, the actor was only 48. Despite the gap, it was a part for which he had effectively been preparing throughout his entire career.

Clive Robert Benjamin Dunn was born on January 9, 1920, in London. He was educated at Sevenoaks, where he flirted with fascism and joined the Black Shirts.

He soon gave up the teenage political infatuation, however, and left school at 16 to try to find work in film. After failing to land a job as clapperboard boy, he attended the Italia Conti stage school in London, where he trained for his first stage part.

Performing ran in his blood. His grandfather, Frank Lynne, had been a music hall comedian, and his mother, Connie Clive, was, as Dunn recalled, "the queen of the seaside concert party".

Meanwhile Dunn's father, Bobby Dunn, was a singer, comedian and theatrical agent. It was thanks to Bobby's influence that Clive made his first screen appearance -- as a schoolboy extra in the film Boys Will Be Boys (1936), for the fee of a guinea and a lunch box from Lyons' Caterers.

His first professional stage booking came in the same year, at the Holborn Empire, in Where the Rainbow Ends, -- a production in which he excelled as a dancing frog.

By 1937 he had graduated to touring with a production of Peter Pan which starred Anna Neagle as Peter and Dunn as Slightly.

He recalled a conversation between one of the cast members and the director, who described the show as: "Terrible. the Lost Boys have been smoking during the pirate scene, Wendy's having an affair with Captain Hook and on top of everything Nana's got the clap."

Dunn later accepted the job of stage manager in the 1939 tour of The Unseen Menace, a detective serial which played at the top of variety billings around the country.

Dunn then decided to volunteer for the army. On being told that he would be expected to serve for at least 10 to 12 years, he thought better of it and instead joined the Volunteer Ambulance Service, based at the Seven Stars Garage on the Goldhawk Road in London.

Called up in 1940, Dunn joined the 4th Hussars and was eventually posted to Greece. He spent months in the Greek countryside doing his best to avoid the enemy, but was eventually captured by a German patrol.

Dunn remembered two weeks as a prisoner near Corinth with "thousands of starving and dysentery-ridden British, Indians and Palestinians". He was then transported to Austria. "We were packed into cattle trucks like rotten sardines, smelly from diarrhoea and dysentery, with no food, one petrol can for water and one for use as a latrine."

After liberation, he remained in the army until 1947, when he resumed his acting career in summer shows such as Goody Two Shoes. He also made his first TV appearance, in the revue Funny Thing This Wireless.

In 1951 Dunn married Patricia Kenyon, a fashion model; they were divorced seven years later. After they were divorced, he married actress Priscilla Pughe-Morgan in June 1959 and they had two daughters, Polly and Jessica

As his career gathered pace during the 1950s, Dunn worked with stars such as Peter Ustinov, Peter Sellers and Tony Hancock. He also appeared in a number of shows including Treasure Island, in which he played Ben Gunn. But it was with the anarchic Michael Bentine that Dunn was most successful, and he played in many episodes of the madcap sketch show It's a Square World, which ran from 1960 to 1964.

In 1968, David Croft offered the actor the geriatric part to trump them all. Lance-Corporal Jones was a part for which Dunn was perfectly suited, giving him the chance to use the silly walks and "daft voices" that he had long been developing in cabaret.

Moreover Croft promised Dunn the majority of the "clowning" in the show, and "Jonesie" went on to dominate proceedings with cries of "Permission to speak, Sir!" and an unrelenting series of slapstick "gags", usually involving a bayonet.

Dunn was the subject of This is Your Life in 1971 and was "so flabbergasted" that he had a bottle of wine before appearing at the studio. When his mother and his two daughters appeared on screen Dunn asked: "They're awfully pleasant, who are they?"

Dunn was later invited to a party given by David Frost and sat next to Herbie Flowers, a musician with the group Blue Mink. Flowers, better known for writing the loping bass hook for Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side, showed an interest in writing a song for Dunn.

The result was Grandad, a ballad of such sickening sentimentality that it rocketed to number one.

Dunn went on to star in a Grandad revue which toured Britain, culminating in a variety spot, twice daily, at the Palladium in London. Dunn recalled that singing Grandad delighted the audience, but that "with our sketch the show ran two hours and 20 minutes, instead of two hours and ten, so it was cut".

Dunn was appointed OBE in 1975, the year in which the BBC decided that, after seven series, Dad's Army had exhausted its potential.

Towards the end of his career Dunn accepted fewer roles. But he did appear in Much Ado About Nothing and An Italian Straw Hat in the West End, and in 1988 he played a one-week booking at a variety theatre in Westcliff-on-Sea.

Clive Dunn is survived by his wife, Priscilla, and by their two daughters. Clive Dunn, born January 9, 1920, died November 7, 2012

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