John Laurie

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John Laurie
Born John Paton Laurie
(1897-03-25)25 March 1897
Dumfries, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died 23 June 1980(1980-06-23) (aged 83)
Chalfont St Peter, England, United Kingdom1
Occupation Actor
Years active 1930–79
Spouse(s) Florence Saunders (1924–26) (her death)
Oonah Todd-Naylor (1928–1980)
(his death)

John Paton Laurie (25 March 1897 – 23 June 1980) was a British actor from Dumfries, Scotland. Throughout a long career, Laurie performed a wide range of theatre and film work. He is perhaps best remembered to modern audiences for his role as the dour but kindhearted Private James Frazer in the sitcom Dad's Army (1968-1977). Laurie appeared in scores of feature films with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Powell, and Laurence Olivier. He was also a stage actor (particularly of Shakespearean roles) and speaker of verse, especially when written by Robert Burns.

Early life

Laurie was the son of William Laurie (1856–1903), a clerk in a tweed mill and later a hatter and hosier, and Jessie Ann Laurie (née Brown; 1858–1935). He was a pupil at Dumfries Academy, then a grammar school, and abandoned a career in architecture to serve in the First World War. Laurie was left particularly haunted by his experiences. He once asked Jim Perry to stop showing a piece of film of the war, which was part of a piece Perry was filming about First World War veterans; saying "Turn it off, son. I can't watch it".citation needed After the war, in which he served with the Honourable Artillery Company, he trained to become an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and first acted on stage in 1921.

Acting career

A prolific Shakespearean actor, Laurie spent much of the time between 1922 and 1939 playing Shakespearean parts, including in Hamlet, Richard III, and Macbeth at the Old Vic or Stratford-upon-Avon. He featured in his friend Laurence Olivier's three Shakespearean films, Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1955). He and Olivier also appeared in As You Like It (1936). During the Second World War, Laurie served in the Home Guard.

I’ve played every part in Shakespeare, I was considered to be the finest Hamlet of the twenties and I had retired, and now I’m famous for doing this crap.

John Laurie comment on Dads Army recalled by Ian Lavender.2

His early work in films included Juno and the Paycock (1930), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. His breakthrough third film was Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) in which he played a crofter (with Peggy Ashcroft as his wife). Other roles included Peter Manson in Michael Powell's The Edge of the World (1937), Clive Candy's batman in Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), a gardener in Medal for the General (1944), the farmer recruit in The Way Ahead (1944), and the brothel proprietor in Fanny by Gaslight (1944). In the film I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), another Powell and Pressburger production, Laurie had a small speaking part in a céilidh sequence for which he was also credited as an adviser. In the next decade he played the repugnant Pew in Disney's Treasure Island (1950), Angus in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), and Dr. MacFarlane in Hobson's Choice (1954).

His role as Frazer, the gaunt-faced, intense, pessimistic undertaker, and Home Guard soldier in the BBC sitcom Dad's Army (1968–77) remains his most known television role, although he featured in many British series of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s including Tales of Mystery, Doctor Finlay's Casebook, and The Avengers.

He also appeared in the Disney film One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1979). One of his last appearances, looking slightly frail, was in Return to the Edge of the World (1978), in which Michael Powell revisited his earlier film of forty years before. Laurie's final work was in the BBC Radio 2 comedy series Tony's (1979) along with Victor Spinetti and Deborah Watling.

Personal life

Laurie was married twice; his first wife, Florence Saunders, whom he had met at the Old Vic, died in 1926. His second wife was Oonah V. Todd-Naylor, with whom he had a daughter. He died aged 83 from emphysema in the Chalfont and Gerrards Cross Hospital, Chalfont St Peter.3 His ashes were scattered at sea.citation needed

Selected filmography

References

  1. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1980 19 1081 CHILTERN/B - John Paton Laurie, DoB = 25 Mar 1897
  2. ^ Ian Lavender Birmingham Press Interview Retrieved 10 March 2013
  3. ^ The Times, death notice, 25 June 1980

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