Captain Mainwaring

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Captain Mainwaring
Dad's Army character
Arthur Lowe.jpg
First appearance The Man and the Hour
Last appearance Never Too Old
Portrayed by Arthur Lowe
Toby Jones
Occupation Bank Manager
Family Edmund Mainwaring (father)
Barry Mainwaring (brother)
Elizabeth Mainwaring (wife)
Affiliated with Home Guard

Captain George Mainwaring (/ˈmænərɪŋ/ MAN-ər-ing) is the bank manager and Home Guard company commander portrayed by Arthur Lowe on the BBC television sitcom Dad's Army, set in the fictional seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea during the Second World War.[1] He has become widely accepted and regarded as a classic British comic character owing to both the popularity of Dad's Army and Lowe's portrayal of him in this show.

The role of Captain Mainwaring was originally meant to be for Jon Pertwee, famous later on as being the Third Doctor, but he turned it down so that he could do a play on Broadway.[citation needed]


George Mainwaring was born in 1885, and is a pompous, blustering figure with overdeveloped sense of his importance, fuelled by his social status in Walmington-on-Sea as the bank manager, and his status as Captain and commander of the local Home Guard volunteer unit.[2] He does have many redeeming qualities—he is essentially brave, loyal, and industrious, is generally kind-hearted beneath the bluster, and is unerringly patriotic. Nevertheless, it is Mainwaring's numerous flaws that fuel much of the comedy in Dad's Army.

Mainwaring believes in following rules and orders, sometimes to a ludicrous degree. He is class conscious and a snob, considering himself middle class and looking down on anyone he considers beneath him, which may be because he struggled to rise above his lower-middle class background. He claims to be the son of a successful tailor in Eastbourne, but Jones reveals that Mainwaring's father was actually a poor draper who sold badly-made workman's trousers. "If I had a title I'd be on the board of directors at the bank!" he shouts at Sergeant Arthur Wilson when the latter gains a title in the episode The Honourable Man. Despite his arrogance being encouraged by his status as the bank manager, Mainwaring reveals in the same episode that he considers it a mere "tinpot branch", and his career is at a seemingly permanent standstill, as revealed in A. Wilson (Manager)?, whenever he applies for promotions he is always turned down due to his unimpressive background. Mainwaring's pomposity and snobbery work against him, as he is frequently dependent on those in the Home Guard that he considers beneath him, such as Sergeant Wilson, his chief clerk at the bank with whom he shares an antagonistic friendship, and Private Joe Walker, a black-marketeer who interrupts during Mainwaring's lectures with a quip or a sly revelation that Mainwaring is benefiting from underhand deals. Mainwaring is particularly jealous of Wilson, who is more relaxed and charming and possesses combat experience that Mainwaring does not, and takes every opportunity to remind his sergeant who is the senior.[2]

As a bank manager, he is efficient if ruthless and stingy; as a military commander he can at first glance be seen as barely competent, confused by the 24-hour clock, his plans often resulting in chaos. Mainwaring nonetheless managed to pull a group of local shopkeepers "up by their bootstraps" to become some kind of fighting unit. Mainwaring has no combat experience, which causes tension with the other members of the Home Guard, particularly Wilson, who was a decorated Captain in the R.A. (Mons, Gallipoli) during the First World War. Mainwaring did, however, serve in the Army of Occupation in France, "during the whole of 1919 — somebody had to clear up the mess.".[3] He volunteered to enlist in 1914 but was rejected with poor eyesight. (During the Second World War, John Le Mesurier, who played Wilson, had been a captain while Arthur Lowe was a sergeant major. Lowe tried to enlist in the Merchant Navy prior to the Second World War but was also rejected with poor eyesight.)

Despite his shortcomings as a leader, Mainwaring considers himself an excellent military tactician. His height and background are frequently mocked as indicating a Napoleon Complex, and often referred to by his nemesis, ARP Warden Bert Hodges. In one episode, "A Soldier's Farewell", Mainwaring dreams he is Napoleon Bonaparte, and is thwarted at the Battle of Waterloo by a Duke of Wellington resembling Wilson.[4] His pomposity and conviction of his prowess mean Mainwaring yearns to be in control of any situation, and he behaves in an arrogant manner; for instance in the first episode he organised the Home Guard unit and appointed himself commanding officer despite lack of experience and qualifications (and had to wait until the episode "Room at the Bottom" before he received his commission).[5]

Mainwaring's patriotism can lead to xenophobia (he is not keen on the French, because they are emotional and smell of garlic, the Russians, because of their former alliance with Germany and their communism, the Americans because they are late for every war, the Italians because of their support of Germany and for their fighting the English in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America and being the enemy and the Germans for obvious reasons). Mainwaring often refers to Hitler and the Germans as if he is leading his own personal war, insisting that "In fact I do wish he'd have a go - I'm spoiling for a fight" in Asleep in the Deep, regarding his desire in an air raid to get out of a bunker and face the attacking Germans (who are in planes and beyond his reach). Mainwaring's patriotism and eagerness to see combat blind him to follies or any British failings; whenever Wilson points out a rational if somewhat defeatist outcome to a scenario, Mainwaring's response is "I don't want to hear any of that sort of talk, Wilson." Mainwaring sees all regular British servicemen ("Our Boys") as exceptionally brave and resourceful, the Germans as inept and cowardly.

Mainwaring's character flaws, however, are presented in a comical rather than a spiteful manner, and there is often a sympathetic subtext to his own personal neuroses; it is apparent several times that he devotes his energies to his Home Guard unit for a sense of comradeship and purpose lacking in other parts of his life, such as his career and marriage. On one occasion when his men spurned a parade to play darts against the ARP he expressed bewilderment, saying coming to the platoon is "the highlight of my day."[3] It is frequently implied that he is trapped in a loveless and unhappy marriage to Elizabeth, his unseen wife, who is domineering, neurotic, and withholding of affection. For example, in the 5th series episode If the Cap Fits... Mainwaring reveals he learned to play the bagpipes on his honeymoon in Scotland because "there was nothing else to do".[3] Captain Mainwaring's home address was 23 Lime Crescent, Walmington-on-Sea and he lived there with his wife. It is revealed in Absent Friends that Captain Mainwaring and his wife have a pet cat called Empress. In The King was in his Counting House, It is revealed that Captain Mainwaring and his wife have three goldfish. In The Royal Train, Mainwaring reveals he has wanted to drive a train ever since he was a child, and that dream comes true.

Mainwaring has several redeeming qualities, notably a deep concern for the welfare of the men under his command. His bravery and courage cannot be denied: he is willing to endanger himself for his country and platoon, and to take the risks that he orders his men to undertake. In one episode, "The Battle of Godfrey's Cottage", the platoon thought the Germans had invaded and Mainwaring, with his men, fought what they thought was the German army but turned out to be other members of the platoon. He also cleared bricks from a bombed-out corridor which could have fallen at any moment. Mainwaring insisted he work in the most dangerous position even though in drawing lots he had picked the safest (Asleep in the Deep).

He also places the safety of his country above his own interests. In Command Decision, Mainwaring was prepared to relinquish control so that the platoon could gain rifles, arguing that the defence of the country was more important than his ego.[6] In addition he was prepared to "march in the ranks as Private Mainwaring" when he was briefly de-commissioned as he had never actually been made an officer, implying that he was merely overzealous rather than a control freak.

He hates conscientious objectors; he sees them as abnormal as they do not want to fight for their country, as shown when he discovers Godfrey is a conchie. However, when he learns Godfrey served at the Battle of the Somme and risked his own life (and received injuries) crawling into No Man's Land to save several men, earning him the Military Medal, he changes his opinion of Godfrey. Mainwaring says he can't understand why Godfrey doesn't wear the medal.

Mainwaring is also capable of acting decisively and independently, although not always with the best of results. In "A Man of Action", Walmington is cut off when a bomb damages the railway and waterworks. Mainwaring imposes martial law and takes power from the Mayor. Under his law people need permits to take a bath, and looters will be shot. He changed position when this power was taken from him by an official from GHQ, describing such an act and the imposition of martial law as "monstrous".[7]

Mainwaring often claims to know something, only to be proven wrong almost immediately. Men under him, however, are mostly devoted to him. At heart, he is a kind-hearted man with a deep-rooted sense of duty.

Mainwaring has nearly had two affairs. One with a woman called Fiona Gray in Mum's Army who joins the Home Guard. The two start meeting in cafes all over the town. Gossip starts about them and thus Mrs Gray leaves by train. Another is with a bus conductress in A Soldier's Farewell whom Mainwaring mutually compliments and defends her when she is being flirted at. At the end of the episode, when Mainwaring dreams he is Napoleon, he dreams that the bus conductress is Marie Walewska (Napoleon's mistress). In War Dance, Mainwaring claims to have been very vexed at Mrs Mainwaring and gave her a "good dressing down" when she burnt some sausage rolls. He turns and it is revealed he has a black eye. Mainwaring claims he did it on the wardrobe door, but it was obviously done in a domestic dispute. Walker later jokes, asking if Mrs Mainwaring has a rolling pin.

Dad's Army ends with the Second World War still in progress, Mainwaring giving Mrs Fox away when she marries Corporal Jones, because her father is dead. As shown in the start of the first episode, set in 1968, Mainwaring, who was born in 1885 would have been eight-two years of age and sixty by the end of the Second World War.

In a radio sequel to Dad's Army, It Sticks Out Half a Mile, which is set in 1948 (three years after the Second World War ended), it is revealed that Mainwaring spent two years manufacturing cuckoo clocks in Switzerland, in Bern, Geneva, Cully and Zurich. In an alternative view the Peacetime Diaries of George Mainwaring[8] place him back in Walmington-on-Sea in 1948 after a postwar stint spent in India. However, the first episode of Dad's Army shines light on Mainwaring's future: briefly set in the then present-day 1968, it features Mainwaring as guest of honour at the launch of Walmington's 'I'm Backing Britain' campaign,[9] where he is referred to by Wilson as a magistrate, alderman, and chairman of the Rotary Clubs for both Walmington and Eastgate.

Relationship with Sgt Wilson[edit]

Captain Mainwaring's class pretensions stand in contrast to his sergeant, who is genuinely upper middle class.[2] Mainwaring is often bitter about Wilson's wealthy upbringing; being raised by a nanny, a father who held a career in "the city" and having attended public school, believing it made him "wet", while his own grammar school background is a positive attribute (Mainwaring went to Eastbourne Grammar School and Wilson went to Meadow Bridge Public School). Mainwaring is an inverted snob who believes that it is the class system that prevents his promotion to the higher echelons of the Bank. Contrastingly Wilson seems to have no social ambitions at all, is down to earth and easy going and seems amused by Mainwaring's hostility. Ironically, often when Mainwaring tries to ingratiate himself with local potentates and dignitaries they turn out to be far more interested in talking to Wilson—much to Mainwaring's chagrin. This feeds Mainwaring's sense of social inferiority. This comes to a head when in The Honourable Man Wilson inherits a courtesy title and becomes the Honourable Arthur Wilson. Whilst Wilson resented this, Mainwaring became infuriated and did everything in his power to demonstrate that he outranks Wilson, even going to the lengths of telling Wilson when he was allowed to smoke.

While believing Wilson to be involved in some kind of orchestrated social conspiracy against him, it transpires that Mainwaring's inverted snobbery goes as far as doing all he can to hold Wilson back from promotion by writing negative reports on him to Head Office - as we discover in A. Wilson (Manager). He often rants about how society will be different "after the war" but when Wilson suggests to him that he is a socialist Mainwaring objects to this description as deeply offensive. Mainwaring is generally ill at ease in social situations that require him to communicate with people on an equal social level and this is probably the main reason for his lack of promotion. Mainwaring is prudish and repressed, and can be judgemental about people who do not share his moral outlook.[10] Contrastingly Wilson is portrayed as flirtatious with women and has slightly more bohemian ideas about sexual morality (as he is in a secret relationship with Private Pike's mother.) We discover in "When You've Got to Go" that Mrs Mainwaring was the daughter of the suffragan Bishop of Clegthorpe (a fictional see) and her parents look down on Captain Mainwaring for "marrying beneath her"; which may go some way to explaining Mainwaring's extreme class consciousness and slight prudery. Mainwaring talks up his own social background by claiming that his father was a "Master Tailor" but in "My Brother and I" his brother reveals that he merely owned a draper's shop.

On occasion Mainwaring has even thought of some of Wilson's ideas as being "Bolshie". Bolshie being an old British term for Bolshevism/Bolshevik or Socialism/Socialist, several times through the programme he has said something along the lines of Let's have none of your Bolshie ideas here! to Wilson.


"You stupid boy" - his most famous line, to Pike, on average a couple of times an episode.

"Is that you, Jones?" - usually uttered when Jones has donned some outlandish disguise.

"I think you're entering the realms of fantasy there, Jones" - Often his response to some of Corporal Jones' more fanciful plans or ideas

"Ah, just waiting to see who'd be the first one to spot that" - whenever a member of the platoon makes a good suggestion that he's missed, or spots an obvious flaw in one of his plans

"Oh, there's no time for that sort of thing" - Usually to Sergeant Wilson if his deputy is pointing out that permission ought to be obtained first.

"Hello...Elizabeth" - When answering the calls from his wife Elizabeth, in an almost sheepish and low voice.

"Don't be absurd" / "How dare you!" - Usually in response to a statement that contradicts Mainwaring's delicate British sensibilities.

"Come away, Wilson" - Always in response to one of Hodges' tantrums.

"Let's not have any of that sort of talk here" - Whenever a member of the platoon makes a comment even slightly criticising the British or a positive comment about the Germans.

"Good, good" - When told some bad or distressing news which he, at first, does not recognise or comprehend.

"This is war, you know!" - Usually spoken to a platoon member (usually Wilson or Godfrey) whenever an aspect about the war is trivialised.

"That's a typical shabby Nazi trick!"

"Oh no, my men wouldn't do a thing like that." - His pro forma denial of any accusation against his men.

"We're not savages, we're British!" - Mainwaring uses this remark when a member of the Platoon attempts some sort of vandalism or damage to achieve a goal. An example is in Menace from the Deep where the Platoon are trapped on a pier overnight with no food. Mainwaring makes the Platoon win the chocolate from a machine fairly when breaking the glass would allow them easy and convenient access to the only nutrition available to them.[11]

"Stop talking in the ranks!" - said when Mainwaring wants silence.


Statue of Captain George Mainwaring, erected in Thetford in June 2010

In June 2010, a statue of Captain George Mainwaring by sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn was erected in the Norfolk town of Thetford, where most of the TV series Dad's Army was filmed.[12] The statue shows Captain Mainwaring sitting upright on a simple bench in Home Guard uniform, with his swagger stick across his knees. The statue is mounted at the end of a winding brick pathway with a Union Flag patterned arrowhead to reflect the opening credits of the TV series, and the sculpture has been designed so that one can sit next to Captain Mainwaring and have one's photo taken.

A fictionalised account of George Mainwaring's post-war life is given in The Peacetime Diaries of George Mainwaring which touches on some similar themes to the pilot episode of Dad's Army sequel, It Sticks Out Half a Mile.


  1. ^ Webber, Richard; Perry, Jimmy; Croft, David (2000), The Complete A-Z of Dad’s Army, London: Orion Books, pp. 288, p.132–133, ISBN 0-7528-4637-X 
  2. ^ a b c Dad’s Army, BBC, retrieved 17 January 2010 
  3. ^ a b c Webber, Perry, Croft p. 132
  4. ^ Webber, Perry, Croft p. 198
  5. ^ Webber, Perry, Croft p. 182
  6. ^ Webber, Perry, Croft p. 48
  7. ^ Webber, Perry, Croft p. 136
  8. ^
  9. ^ Webber, Perry, Croft p. 134
  10. ^ Webber, Perry, Croft pp. 131–132
  11. ^ Webber, Perry, Croft p. 140
  12. ^ "Statue of Captain Mainwaring Unveiled". Retrieved 28 January 2012. 


  • Croft, David; Perry, Jimmy; Webber, Richard (2000). The Complete A-Z of Dad’s Army. Orion. pp. 75–76. ISBN 0-7528-4637-X.