John Le Mesurier





4/5/1912 , Bedford, Bedfordshire, England



Birth Name

John Charles Elton Le Mesurier De Somerys Hallilay




John Le Mesurier was born the 5th April, 1912, the only son and youngest child of John Hallilay, a well-known family solicitor, and Mary Le Mesurier. He was brought up in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and educated at Sherborne public school in Dorset.

After a short spell as an articled clerk in the Bury St Edmunds firm of Solicitors called Greene and Greene, he informed his family 'that the law was about to lose an umpromising recruit'. He took his mother's maiden name and began training to be an actor at the Fay Compton Studio of Dramatic Art in London - (Alec Guinness, one of his contemporaries at the school, would say that Le Mesurier - 'whose brilliant comic timing was evident even then' - was 'the most distinguished of my fellow students'.) A subsequent uneventful spell in repertory was rudely interrupted by the war (Le Mesurier startled his commanding officer at Tidworth barracks by arriving in a taxi, with a set of golf clubs among his personal baggage and the smell of champagne cocktails on his breath, but he ended his period of active service as a captain in the Royal Armoured Corps on the North-West Frontier of India). Upon being demobbed, he drifted into movies and never looked back - or indeed, forward. 'It might have been nice to have been a star for a while,' he once remarked. 'But I really don't mind. You know the way you get jobbing gardeners? Well, I'm a jobbing actor. I don't mind whether I spend a day on a film or two months. As long as they pay me, I couldn't care less whether my name is billed above or below the title.'

John Le Mesurier, who possessed film -star good looks and a beautiful speaking voice, appeared in many films, but is best known for his portrayal of Sergeant Arthur Wilson in the BBC production of 'Dad's Army'. In fact, his portrayal of Sergeant Wilson was very much the way Le Mesurier was in real-life. 'I thought, why not just be myself, use an extension of my own personality and behave rather as I had done in the Army? So, I always left a button or two undone, and had the sleeve of my battledress blouse slightly turned up. I spoke softly, issued commands as if they were invitations (the sort not likely to be accepted) and generally assumed a benign air of helplessness.' (John Le Mesurier, 'A Jobbing Actor', p.118).

John Le Mesurier married three times. His first marriage to actress June Melville did not last because their relationship, like so many others, was a casualty of the Second World War. He met his second wife, the actress and comedienne Hattie Jacques in 1949 and with her they had two sons, Robin and Kim. Unfortunately, John and Hattie's marriage ran into troubled waters, through no-one's fault in particular, and they parted. They were still fond of one another, however, and used to spend time together. Sunday lunch was almost a must if they were both free and everyone remained on the best of terms, even after John married his third wife, Joan Malin, who also came from a theatrical background.

In the years during and after 'Dad's Army' John Le Mesurier suffered some ill-health, but this did not stop him from appearing in countless radio, television and stage plays. He won a Best Television Actor Award at the BAFTA Awards of 1971 for the 'straight role' of the defector based on the spy Kim Philby in Denis Potter's play 'Traitor' (1971) in which he was thoroughly convincing as the defector, now living in a state of drunken reverie in a state flat in Moscow. Le Mesurier's other 'straight' TV plays included Harold Pinter's 'Tea Party' (1965) and the title role of a rebellious clergyman in David Mercer's 'Flint' (1978), while he later played a priest in Evelyn Waugh's 'Brideshead Revisited'. (1982).

John Le Mesurier died on the 15th November, 1983 at Ramsgate Hospital. His wife Joan was at his side. At the end he squeezed her hand, whispered 'Darling, I'm fed up of it now and I think I'd like to die', then squeezed again, mumbled 'It's all been rather lovely', and slipped into a coma.

After his death, his family honoured his wish by placing the following announcement in the obituary column of 'The Times': 'John Le Mesurier wishes it to be known that he "conked out" on November 15th. He sadly misses family and friends.'

They were all there, at St. Paul's in Covent Garden, for the memorial service for the sad-eyed, funny, gentle man who had always believed that the most important words in the English language were 'please' and 'thank you'.