BBC Radio 4, 7 May 2012
Constructed in the form of a letter written by an ageing John le Mesurier
(Anton Lesser) to Arthur Lowe (Robert Daws), Dear Arthur, Love John focused on the unlikely friendship between
the two men, and how it was forged during the nine-year run of Dad's Army.
On the face of it, the two actors were chalk and cheese: in Daws' performance
Lowe came across as a right-wing Tory, perpetually resenting the trappings of fame (for example, being recognized
in the street), while Lesser's Le Mesurier was far more phlegmatic, a Liberal-Tory (his own description) who rather enjoyed
being catapulted to stardom at the age of fifty-six, after a lifetime of playing minor parts in film and television.
As the drama unfolded, however, it became clear that the two men shared
some common experiences. While both had seen active service during World War II, they had not done very much: Lowe
spent his time in Egypt, unable to fight on the front line due to failing eyesight, while Le Mesurier had been in India. Playing
Mainwaring and Wilson gave them the chance to fulfill their dreams; to feel that they could contribute towards the collective
memory of a turbulent time in Britain's history. It was this quality that rendered Dad's Army such a popular show;
at one point in the early 1970s it drew twenty-one million viewers, a figure unheard of in contemporary television terms.
Sometimes dramatist Smiles was too concerned to provide information
about the show and the actors involved in it - as a resut, his dialogue seemed stilted. On the other hand he managed
to create complex portraits of the two protagonists: beneath the bluff exterior Lowe was a terribly shy person, unable
to express his true feelings. While appearing to be detached from the rest of the Dad's Army cast, he was actually
very fond of them - especially James Beck (James Lance), aka Private Walker, who passed away at the tragically early age of
forty-four. Le Mesurier liked everyone to believe that he was a phlegmatic, rather vague person, who rarely
lost his sang-froid; in truth he had a capacity for doing crazy things, such as leaving his car in the middle of
a traffic jam in Hammersmith Broadway and walking to work instead.
Dear Arthur, Love John was an affectionate portrait of two great
comedy actors, who helped to creae an immortal sitcom. While most of the cast - save for Ian Lavender - are gone now,
their performances live on, to be enjoyed (hopefully) by successive generations of viewers.