Picture John Le Mesurier and you’re likely to conjure up the image of him in the uniform of the Home Guard in his guise of the vague but terribly well-mannered Sergeant Arthur Wilson.
In reality his Dad’s Army role was the hefty footnote to a long and varied curriculum vitae. During a career spanning nearly 40 years he regularly appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour, won a Best TV Actor BAFTA and appeared in over 120 films.
Away from acting he was thrice married – with mixed success – had a fondness for alcohol that some might describe as valiant and, when he was forced to forgo drinking on doctor’s orders, made do with the recreational smoking of “strong” cigarettes.
Julian Dutton, the star of this one-man show, makes a very moreish Le Mesurier. He has the cracked velvet notes of the voice and all the butterfly gestures, tics and chuckles of the original. In the show he is waiting in his dressing room for an interview with “the Man from the Daily Express”.
He passes the time drinking cheap blended Scotch and anecdotalising about the ups and downs of his life and career. The depths more than rival the highs. Dutton’s Mesurier-esque bonhommie is frequently punctured by the drag of his losses; not least the infidelity of his beloved second wife Hattie Jacques and the suicide of his best friend, Tony Hancock.
But whenever the show threatens to dip into tragedy Dutton’s Mesurier rallies and falls back on his naturally sunny disposition as he reflects, modestly, on the Indian Summer of his Dad’s Army fame and his happy-spent declining years with his third wife Joan.
As the show draws to and end Dutton unsteadily tips his tumbler of whisky in a toast to the audience notes that “It’s all been rather lovely.” Those were reported John Le Mesurier’s last words as he laid in his deathbed, reflecting on his life. Watching this show, despite all the heartache he suffered, you can believe that he believed that.