Arnold Ridley

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Arnold Ridley
Arnold Ridley B&W.jpg
Born William Arnold Ridley
(1896-01-07)7 January 1896
Walcot, Bath, Somerset, England[1]
Died 12 March 1984(1984-03-12) (aged 88)
Hillingdon, London, England[2]
Nationality British United Kingdom
Ethnicity English England
Alma mater University of Bristol
Occupation Actor, playwright
Years active 1923–84
Spouse(s) Althea Parker (m. 1945–84) (his death)
Children Nicolas (b. 1947)
Military career
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service
  • 1915-1916
  • 1939-1940
Rank Captain

William Arnold Ridley, OBE (7 January 1896 – 12 March 1984) was an English playwright and actor, first notable as the author of the play The Ghost Train and later in life for portraying the elderly Private Charles Godfrey in the British sitcom Dad's Army (1968–77).

Early life[edit]

Ridley was born in Walcot, Bath, Somerset, England where his father was a gymnastics instructor and ran a boot and shoe shop. He attended the Clarendon School and the Bath City Secondary School where he was a keen sportsman. A graduate of the University of Bristol, he studied at the Education Department, and played Hamlet in a student production. Ridley undertook teaching practice at an Elementary School in Bristol.[3]

Military service[edit]

Ridley was a student teacher and had made his theatrical debut in Prunella at the Theatre Royal, Bristol when he volunteered for British Army service in August 1914. He was rejected due to a toe injury, but in 1915 was able to enlist as a private in the Somerset Light Infantry. He saw active service in the First World War, sustaining several serious injuries: his left hand was left virtually useless by injuries sustained on the Somme;[4][5] his legs were riddled with shrapnel; he was bayonetted in the groin; and the legacy of a blow to the head by a German soldier's rifle butt left him prone to blackouts.[6] He was medically discharged from the army with the rank of Lance Corporal.[3]

Having unsuccessfully attempted to establish a film company between the wars, Ridley rejoined the army in 1939, following the outbreak of the Second World War.[6] He was commissioned into the General List on 7 October 1939 as a second lieutenant and was given the service number 103663.[7] He served with the British Expeditionary Force in France during the "Phoney War", employed as a "Conducting Officer" tasked with supervising journalists who were visiting the front line. In May 1940, Ridley returned to England on the grossly overcrowded destroyer HMS Vimera, which was the last British ship to escape from the harbour during the Battle of Boulogne.[8] Shortly afterwards, he was discharged on health grounds.[6] He relinquished his commission as a captain on 1 June 1940.[9] He subsequently joined the Home Guard[6] in his home town of Caterham, and ENSA with whom he toured the country.[8]

Acting career[edit]

After his medical discharge in 1916 he went into acting. In 1918, he joined Birmingham Repertory Theatre, staying for two years and playing 40 parts, before moving on to Plymouth, where he eventually had a break from the stage when his war injuries began to trouble him.

After being stranded for an evening at Mangotsfield railway station, near Bristol, Ridley was inspired to write the play, The Ghost Train (1923).[6] It was a tale of passengers stranded at a haunted railway station in Cornwall, with one of the characters being a detective trying to catch smugglers. The show became a huge success, enjoying 665 performances in London's West End and two revivals. The Ghost Train was first filmed in 1931 and again filmed in 1941 when it starred Arthur Askey. Ridley also wrote more than 30 other plays including The Wrecker (1924), Keepers of Youth (1929), The Flying Fool (1929) and Recipe for Murder (1932).[10][11]

During his time in military service in the Second World War he adapted the Agatha Christie novel Peril at End House into a West End play that premiered in 1940. Ridley's post-war play, Beggar My Neighbour, was first performed in 1951 [12] and adapted for the Ealing Comedy film Meet Mr. Lucifer (1953).

Ridley worked regularly as an actor, including an appearance in the British comedy Crooks in Cloisters (1964). He also played Doughy Hood, the village baker, in the radio soap opera The Archers and the Rev. Guy Atkins in the ITV soap Crossroads from the programme's inception in 1964 until 1968, returning for one episode in 1971. However, he became a household name only after he was cast as Private Charles Godfrey, the gentle platoon medic in the British sitcom, Dad's Army (1968–77). He continued to appear into his eighties, and was appointed an OBE in the 1982 Queen's New Year Honours List, for services to the theatre.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1976 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at London’s Marylebone Station.

Personal life[edit]

He was married three times. Firstly from January 1926 to 1939, then a short marriage beginning in 1939[13] before his final marriage to actress Althea Parker (1911–2001) on 3 October 1945;[14] they had one son Nicolas (b 1947).[15] Arnold Ridley died in hospital in Northwood in 1984 at the age of 88 after falling at his residence in Denville Hall, a home for retired actors.[16] He was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium and his urn buried at his parents' grave in Bath Abbey cemetery.[6]

His collection of theatrical memorabilia was left to the University of Bristol and has been made available online.[17][18]

He was a Freemason, and belonged to the Savage Club Lodge in London.[19][20][21]


Television Roles[edit]

Year Title Role
1964-1968 Crossroads Rev. Guy Atkins
1968–1977 Dad's Army Private Godfrey


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: MAR 1896 5c 543 BATH – William Arnold Ridley
  2. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1984 13 934 HILLINGDON, MIDDLESEX – William Arnold Ridley, DoB = 7 Jan 1896 aged 88
  3. ^ a b Ridley, Nicholas (2009). Godfrey's Ghost From Father to Son. Mogzilla Life. ISBN 978-1-906132-98-9. 
  4. ^ "Godfrey's secret war horror" p13 of Sunday Telegraph (Issue 2,459- dated 27 July 2008)
  5. ^ Dad's Army's Godfrey 'tried to strangle his son' when he had a flashback to the horrors of the Somme, Daily Mail, 2008-09-20.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Excusing Private Godfrey, BBC Radio 4, 2012-07-06.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34732. p. 7633. 10 November 1939. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  8. ^ a b Homewood, Dave (2008). "Arnold Ridley’s REAL WARS". Wings Over New Zealand. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  9. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34861. p. 3268. 28 May 1940. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  10. ^ Obituary, The Times, 14 March 1984
  11. ^ Amnon Kabatchnik Blood on the Stage, 1975-2000: Milestone Plays of Crime 2012 -. - Page 554 "A dastardly blackmailer is shot and poisoned simultaneously in Arnold Ridley's Recipe for Murder (1932)."
  12. ^ "Plays by Arnold Ridley", Doollee website
  13. ^ Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 pp.191-93
  14. ^ Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 p.194
  15. ^ Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 p.1
  16. ^ The Times, death announcement, 13 March 1984
  17. ^ BBC News 6 January 2008
  18. ^ University of Bristol Theatre Collection Arnold Ridley Archive
  19. ^ See reference on the Lodge's official website.
  20. ^ Report of actor's son, Nicolas Ridley, discussing his father.
  21. ^ Report in UGLE magazine MQ.

External links[edit]