|Clive Dunn was Roy Plomley's castaway on|
Desert Island Discs in 1971
Here, Clive (like his other ‘Dad’s Army’ contemporaries) was interviewed by the show’s creator and original host Roy Plomley.
Its worth remembering that this interview took place between series 4 and 5 of ‘Dad’s Army’, In fact the fifth series hadn't even been commissioned so it was believed at the time that the series had ran its course and come to a natural end.
The feature film, however, was currently doing the rounds at cinema’s across the United Kingdom and Clive himself at this time was headlining the London Palladium in “To See Such Fun!” with Tommy Cooper, Anita Harris and 1950’s pop pianist Russ Conway. Clive managed to find time during his then hectic schedule to make an appearance on ‘Desert Island Discs’.
ROY PLOMLEY: Did you travel around with your parents? They were variety people weren’t they?
CD: Well, they were everything you know! My Grandfather was a music hall comedian, and I didn’t travel around with him, but my mother used to do summer shows. She was in the Fol-De-Rols in various seaside towns, and I was lucky enough as a child to spend nearly every summer in some new seaside place.
RP: Did you take it for granted that you’d follow the family tradition and go into the profession?
CD: Not really, I suppose if you go and see hundreds and hundreds of shows as I did as a child you vaguely think of yourself on that stage doing it, but when it came to the push and I left school I wasn’t going to be on the stage at all. I was going to be a film cameraman and start as a clapper boy with a new company – a Movietone news type company – and it was all arranged and a few weeks before I was due to start the job the company went bust, before it started so to speak and I automatically - I don’t think there was hardly any conversation about it at all - I went to Italia Conti stage school and that was it.
RP: What was your first appearance?
CD: Well, my first paid job as a professional was in the crowd in a Will Hay film and I think the film was called ‘Boys will be boys’.
RP: One of the Narcover films.
CD: That’s right.
RP: And after that?
CD: I still had another couple of years to do at ordinary school and I’d been at Italia Conti’s a few months and went into a show called “Where the rainbow ends” at the Hoburn Empire and played the part of a frog - a dancing frog - and then in another part of the show I was a flying dragon.
RP: Yes, that was a busy evening.
CD: And then I went on tour with ‘Peter Pan’ with Winona Wynn, she played Peter Pan, and Anna Neagle. Then I was in one or two films and then I left and I got a job as ASM at the Richmond Theatre, which was then a tryout theatre for West End productions. I played small parts and stage managed there, I used to go to work on a bicycle and hang on the back of a lorry. I used to go out at 9 o clock in the morning and come back at 11 o clock at night. 10/6 a week. It was good experience.
Clive’s acting career was interrupted by the Second World War; he joined the army and went out to Egypt via South Africa in the Fourth Hussars.
|Clive Dunn in promotional|
mode for his Grandad album
RP: And you spent practically the rest of the war in a Prisoner Of War camp?
RP: Where abouts?
CD: Mostly in a little town called Lietzen in Austria over a Hairdressers shop.
RP: Over a Hairdressers shop?
CD: Well it seemed a nice place to stay!
RP: It seems a curious place for a prisoner of war camp.
CD: It was two school rooms over a hairdressers shop in this old building right in the middle of the village and they used to take us out to work every morning and lock us in at night.
RP: How long were you in the bag all together?
CD: Near enough 4 years.
RP: When it was all over, when you were liberated what effect had it had on you? What sort of rehabilitation did you need?
CD: I don’t know. It was very slow really. Unfortunately, in my age group I was still in the army. I was stuck in the army for another 18 months or so and I was in a camp up near Newcastle a long time, wandering around this big camp picking up pieces of paper. In some ways that was worse than been a prisoner of war, because when I was in the prison, I was there, I was captured but this was a terrific waste of time. So I imagine that delayed in the rehabilitation a bit but then I got a job in a pantomime and started to live again. … I got a job as second tenor in a quartet called the Normandy singers. I did an audition at the palace theatre with about 60 other singers and I’m not a singer at all but I bought this piece of music and its “Summertime”, it’s a woman’s song really by a soprano I suppose, from ‘Porgy and Bess’ anyway I went and learnt it and I got the job and after I’d been in the pantomime a few weeks I asked the musical director why he’d chosen me as second tenor in the show with all those good singers and he said “I liked the song”, So that was a good lesson.
Clive also discussed his long term association with the Players Theatre where he met his wife Priscilla Morgan. This part of his career coincided with his first television appearances including Children’s TV and Tony Hancock’s original TV series, “The Tony Hancock Show”. This saw the beginning of the first of many of Clive’s old man roles.
CD: Eric Sykes wrote that you know! A lot of old chaps were in it, written into it, and one of them was "Lady Chatterley’s Lover", a very, very ancient gardener and that was me and Hattie Jacques was Lady Chatterley!
RP: Then another old man, Old Johnson in ‘Bootsie & Snudge’. Now you were at that time in your 30’s, what lead you to specialise in the elderly part?
CD: Well, in repertory, there’s always character parts about. There’s always someone who’s got to play the old man, it’s usually someone who isn’t particularly a romantic actor and looks a bit quaint probably and so you get lumbered with these old men parts so, having been lumbered you try to do them very, very well. And apparently somebody thought I was doing it very well and said we want an active old man… You see, in light entertainment, if you have a very old man you can’t knock him about and push him around because it isn’t funny. somewhere along the line there’s got to be a cheat and people sense that this old chap can stand been pushed around a bit you know, he’s battling and got the energy so it sort of filled the bill in someway or another…
...to see such fun
RP: …That must have been fun to play?
CD: Oh yes, great fun, yes, he’s a proper old clown, really good, I enjoyed that!
RP: …And you’ve done a film version of course, of ‘Dad’s Army’.
CD: Yes, yes which is going around at the moment I think, and doing quite well I believe.
Clive’s record choices were varied and included acts as diverse as The Beatles, Peter Sellers, Joan Sutherland and his own recording of “Grandad” recently a number one chart hit.
RP: And Corporal Jones was number one in the hit parade quite recently.
CD: Well, ‘Grandad’ was. It wasn’t exactly Corporal Jones; I mean he would have sung in a slightly different way. But I mean, yes, it’s an old chap, and it’s a jolly little song. I like it.
RP: Were your own two young daughters in the backing group of ‘Grandad’?
CD: No they weren’t and their absolutely furious because of this, but they were at school when we did it.
Clive picked soap as his luxury on the Desert Island. As he revealed in his autobiography, some years later, soap was a rare commodity in the POW camps during World War Two, so he learned to appreciate its luxury value. Clive still had high hopes for his future even at such a peak in his popularity in 1971 as he revealed to Roy Plomley…
RP: And what’s for the future? What would you like to be offered tonight if the telephone rang?
CD: I’d like someone to say that film story that you’ve got Clive, we’ve decided to use it. Will you come to the office tomorrow morning and we’re going to give you a terrific lot of money and we’d like you to not actually to have to write the whole thing but be advising them and sitting there. (LAUGHS). You know, we’re going to give you a lot of money for this marvellous idea of course and we want you to play a small character part. We’re going to the South of France for five months next year and we’re going to pay you a lot of money…
RP: (LAUGHING) Yes, that’s the third time Clive you’ve mentioned ‘a lot of money’.
CD: …and we’re going to give you top billing…
Clive Dunn’s Desert Island Choices in Full:
1. The Beatles - Something (George Harrison)
2. Peter Sellers - Common Entrance
3. Doretta Morrow / Alfred Drake / Richard Kiley / Henry Calvin – And This is My Beloved (From “Kismet”) (Borodin/ Wright & Forrest (arr.))
4. Alfred Brendel/ South West Germany Radio Symphony/ Gielen – Schönberg, Piano Concerto (opus 42)
5. Clive Dunn – Grandad
6. Dionne Warwick – Little Green Apples
7. Joan Sutherland / Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra / Bonynge – Delibes “Bell Song” (from Lakmé).
8. New Philarmonia Orchestra /Giulin – Mozart, Symphony No.40 in G Minor (K.550)
Book: An encyclopedia
‘Desert Island Discs’ was presented by Roy Plomley and produced by Ronald Cook. This 1971 edition of Desert Island Discs is known to only exist as an abbreviated interview in the BBC archive, if you possess or know of a complete version of the show in existence, please contact me.
Thanks to Kevin Davies who enabled me to complete my research on this article.