Actor best known for his old soldier role in the sitcom 'Dad's Army', who also had a Number 1 chart hit with 'Grandad'
Clive Dunn, the actor, who died on Wednesday 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 Sudan, 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". One of Clive's earliest memories was of waiting while his mother "dubbed" Mary Pickford in silent films, standing below the stage and shouting out the script in an attempt at synchronisation with the on-screen action.
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. The show was a vehicle for the then famous Terence de Marney, star of The Count of Monte Cristo. Unfortunately for the audience, only his voice was heard (on a gramophone record) and the star remained "unseen" throughout the tour. Unsurprisingly, audiences expressed their disapproval, and by the last week of the tour popularity and billing had both declined so far that, as Dunn said, "you needed a bloodhound to find Terence de Marney's name on the bill".
Dunn 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."
The journey took seven days. On arrival at the PoW camp the prisoners gave the guards a list of their civilian employment. Dunn remembered that after so long without food, 70 per cent of the 2,000 men claimed to have been butchers or cooks.
During his time as a PoW, Dunn became unofficial medical orderly, camp leader and cleaner. On one occasion, after spending hours persuading the camp commander to let him buy supplies from a village shop, and days compiling a list of necessities, Dunn returned with everything he had been allowed to purchase: three razor blades and a box of matches.
After liberation, he remained in the army until 1947, when he resumed his acting career in repertory summer shows such as Goody Two Shoes, which ran twice daily at the Palace Theatre Birmingham for 16 weeks. He also made his first television appearance, in the revue Funny Thing This Wireless compered by Frank Muir and starring Vera Lynn. Dunn preferred a live audience, however, and spent most of his time working at the Players' Theatre in London, where he perfected a routine based on his collection of "doddery old codgers".
In 1951 Dunn married Patricia Kenyon, a fashion model; they were divorced seven years later. During that time Dunn appeared in Buckets and Spades, the first children's variety show on television. He sang The Galloping Major while cavorting "fully padded and breeched" around the Lime Grove studio to musical accompaniment.
As his career gathered pace 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.
Dunn was beginning to acquire national recognition, not only for It's a Square World, but also for the part of Old Johnson in Granada Television's Bootsie and Snudge, which starred Alfie Bass. At that stage Johnson was the most famous of Dunn's repertoire of "old men".
Then, 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.
A film of the series appeared in 1969, but Dad's Army did not have the same appeal on the big screen. None the less, Dunn enjoyed the film, principally because he did his own stunts. He recalled one occasion when he was nearly drowned in 60 gallons of used sump oil, and another when he had to lie along the back of a bucking horse while it floated downstream on a raft. "They told us the horse wasn't frightened" he said, "but they didn't tell the horse."
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 instantly to No 1.
Clive Dunn went on to star in a Grandad revue which toured Britain, culminating in a variety spot, twice daily, at the Palladium in London. He recalled that singing Grandad delighted the audience, but that "with our sketch the show ran two hours and twenty minutes, instead of two hours and ten, so it was cut".
Dunn then starred in the short-lived Granada series My Old Man with his wife (he played her father). He also made four series of Grandad for the BBC which were shown on children's television.
Dunn was appointed OBE in 1975, the year in which the BBC decided that, after seven series, Dad's Army had exhausted its potential. Dunn duly left Britain for a cabaret tour of New Zealand which was marred, in Rotorua, North Island, he remembered, by the lack of a skilled piano accompanist. The musician provided "looked at the opening bars of Grandad for 10 minutes and then played one note. The wrong one."
After the tour Dunn returned to the circuit of pantomime, variety, and stage shows. While best known for popular roles such as Buttons in Cinderella, he also appeared as Frosch the drunken gaoler in Die Fledermaus for the English National Opera, receiving warm reviews.
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.
Clive Dunn is survived by his wife, Priscilla, and by their two daughters.