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Happy family memories of Dad's Army star Bill Pertwee

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: June 08, 2013

HONOUR: Jonathan Pertwee with his dad Bill in 2007 after the actor, who played Warden Hodges in Dad's Army, was appointed an MBE. Bill died last week, aged 86.

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WHEN Bill Pertwee was offered the role of Warden Hodges in the pilot episode of Dad's Army, he grabbed it with both hands, and was sure it would prove to be a huge success – but it seemed he was the only one who had faith in the fledgling comedy.

His son Jonathan, a former actor himself, explained: "At the time, he wasn't a seasoned actor like Arthur Lowe, John Laurie and the rest of the cast; he came to Dad's Army from a variety background.

"Some of the other actors didn't think much of it, some thought it was rubbish and wouldn't last one episode.

"It was just another job to them, but not Dad. As soon as he read the script he knew it would prove popular, and that was something the writers, Jimmy Perry and David Croft, always appreciated with Dad – he was the one who had a lot of faith in Dad's Army right from the beginning."

It proved to be one of the most popular sitcoms, with 80 episodes made between 1968 and 1977, and regularly gained audiences of 18 million viewers and is still repeated worldwide.

Before he died last week aged 86, Bill Pertwee was president of the Dad's Army Appreciation Society, a role he very much enjoyed.

Of the original cast, only Frank Williams, who played the vicar, and Ian Lavender, who played Pike, are still with us.

Bill Pertwee's showbusiness career started when he met his wife-to-be, Marion, a singer and dancer in the mid-1950s.

His son said: " At first, Mum thought Dad was awful, and despaired of him.

"She was not sure he would amount to much, because had two left feet and couldn't dance, although he could sing.

"But they formed a duo calling themselves Comedy Cocktail in 1956, and one of their first engagements was a summer season in Newquay, and that was the start of Dad's fondness for Cornwall.

"Mum and Dad stayed in a caravan that season, and used to enjoy going to a pub called the King Mark, where they sold wonderful Cornish pasties. They really enjoyed their time there."

Jonathan Pertwee followed his parents into show business, and appeared in a number of films. But he gave up acting to live a less stressful life in Wadebridge with his partner Louise and two step-children, moving to the town in 2002. He now works at Trago Mills.

He said his father was a frequent visitor when the family settled in Wadebridge.

"He'd either stay with us or at the Molesworth Arms, where he got to know the landlord Nigel Cassidy very well, although he was never much of a drinker; a half of bitter would do Dad.

"When Nigel died a few years ago, Dad came down from Surrey to his funeral.

"Dad also liked going to the Earl of St Vincent pub, and got to know just about all the shopkeepers in Wadebridge. There was absolutely no side to Dad, like some actors. He was happy to pass the time of day with anybody."

When Bill Pertwee's health began to fail 12 months ago he was living in Topsham in Devon.

"I asked Dad if he would like to stay in Topsham or come and live near the family, and he wanted to be in Wadebridge; he moved into Highpoint Lodge Residential Home, which he thought was great."

Throughout his life, Bill Pertwee had supported charitable causes, and during his time in Cornwall, he took a keen interest in Children's Hospice South West's Little Harbour in St Austell.

Jonathan said: "Dad really championed children's hospices, and raised money for them over the years, and liked to raise their profile in whatever way he could.

"He had planned to visit Little Harbour again this summer, but that was not to be."

Bill Pertwee's funeral will be in Brighton on June 10.

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