Arnold Ridley

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Arnold Ridley

Arnold Ridley B&W.jpg
William Arnold Ridley

(1896-01-07)7 January 1896
Bath, Somerset, England[1]
Died12 March 1984(1984-03-12) (aged 88)
Cause of deathFall
Alma materUniversity of Bristol
OccupationActor, playwright
Years active1923–84
Spouse(s)Hilda Kathleen Mary Cooke
(m. 1926–1939),
Isola Strong
(m. 1939)
Althea Parker
(m. 1945)
RelativesDaisy Ridley (grandniece)
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service
  • 1915–1917
  • 1939–1940
  • 1940–1944
UnitSomerset Light Infantry
Caterham Home Guard
Battles/warsFirst World War

Second World War

William Arnold Ridley, OBE (7 January 1896 – 12 March 1984) was an English playwright and actor, earlier in his career known for writing the play The Ghost Train and later in life for portraying the elderly Private Godfrey in the British sitcom Dad's Army (1968–1977).

Early life[edit]

William Arnold Ridley was born in Walcot, Bath, Somerset, England, the son of Rosa Caroline (née Morrish, 1870–1956) and William Robert Ridley (1871–1931).[3] 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,[4] he studied at the Education Department, and played Hamlet in a student production. Ridley undertook teaching practice at an Elementary School in Bristol.[5]

Military service[edit]

Ridley in 1921

Ridley was a student teacher, and had made his theatrical debut in Prunella at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, when he volunteered for service with the British Army on the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, however he was initially medically rejected due to a hammer toe. In 1915 he enlisted as Private No.20481 with the Somerset Light Infantry Regiment. He saw active service in the war, sustaining several wounds in close-quarter battle in the trenches. His left hand was left virtually useless by wounds sustained on the Somme;[6][7] his legs were riddled with shrapnel; he received a bayonet wound in the groin; and the legacy of a blow to the head from a German soldier's rifle butt left him prone to blackouts after the war.[8] He was medically discharged from the army with the rank of Lance Corporal in 1916.[9]

Ridley rejoined the British Army in 1939 following the outbreak of the Second World War.[8] He was commissioned into the General List on 7 October 1939 as a second lieutenant and was given the service number 103663.[10] 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,[11] Ridley returned to Britain on the grossly overcrowded destroyer HMS Vimera, which was the last British ship to escape from the harbour during the Battle of Boulogne.[12] Shortly afterwards, he was discharged from the British Armed Forces on health grounds.[8] He relinquished his commission as a captain on 1 June 1940.[13] He subsequently joined the Home Guard[8] in his home town of Caterham, and ENSA with which he toured the country.[12] He described his wartime experiences in Desert Island Discs in 1973.[14][15]

Acting career[edit]

After his medical discharge from the army, Ridley commenced a career as a professional actor. In 1918 he joined the company of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, staying for two years and playing 40 parts before moving on to Plymouth, where he took a break from the stage when his war injuries began to trouble him.[4]

After being stranded for an evening at Mangotsfield railway station, near Bristol, Ridley was inspired to write the play The Ghost Train (1923),[8] a tale of passengers stranded at a haunted railway station in Cornwall, with one of the characters being an incognito British Government agent trying to catch Bolshevik revolutionaries active in Great Britain. The play was produced on stage, and became a hit, with 665 performances being staged concurrently in London's West End, and two revivals. The Ghost Train was first filmed in 1931 and again 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).[16][17]

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[18] 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. However, he became a household name only after he was cast as Private Godfrey, the gentle platoon medic in the popular British comedy Dad's Army (1968–1977). 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.[4]

He was the subject of This Is Your Life[19] in 1976 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at London’s Marylebone Station.

Personal life[edit]

Ridley was married three times. His first marriage lasted from January 1926 to 1939, and was followed by a short marriage beginning in 1939[20] before his final marriage to actress Althea Parker (1911–2001) on 3 October 1945;[21] they had one son, Nicolas (b 1947).[22] He was a Freemason, and belonged to the Savage Club Lodge in London.[23][24][25] The actress Daisy Ridley is his great niece.[11]


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.[26] His body was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium and an urn holding his ashes was buried in his parents' grave at Bath Abbey Cemetery.[8] His collection of theatrical memorabilia was left to the University of Bristol and has been made available online.[27][28]



  • The Wrecker (1927)
  • The Ghost Train (1927)
  • Old Leeds (1928)
  • Keepers of Youth (1929) (filmed in 1931)
  • Third Time Lucky (1932)
  • Half a Crown (1934)
  • Recipe for Murder (1936)
  • Peril at End House (1945, from Agatha Christie novel)
  • Easy Money (1948)
  • East of Ludgate Hill (1950)
  • Murder Happens (1951)
  • The Return (1953)
  • Mrs Tredruthan's Son (1953)
  • Beggar My Neighbour (1953)
  • Geranium (1954)
  • Tabitha (1956)
  • You, My Guests (1956)
  • Bellamy (1960)
  • Hercule Poirot Strikes (1967, from Agatha Christie novel)[29]

Film adaptations (original author)[edit]




Year Title Role Notes
1949 The Interrupted Journey Mr Saunders Uncredited
1951 Green Grow the Rushes Tom Cuffley
1952 Stolen Face Dr Russell
1963 Wings of Mystery Mr Bell
1964 Crooks in Cloisters Newsagent
1966 A Man for All Seasons Innkeeper Uncredited
1971 Dad's Army Private Godfrey
1973 Carry On Girls Alderman Pratt
1975 The Amorous Milkman Cinema Attendant


Year Title Role Notes
1964–1968 Crossroads Rev. Guy Atkins
1967 The Avengers Elderly Gentleman Episode: Never, Never Say Die
Z Cars Gardener Episode: I Never Meant to Drop Him: Part 1
Coronation Street Herbert Whittle
1968–1977 Dad's Army Private Godfrey 80 episodes, (final television appearance)
1972 The Persuaders! Uncle Rodney Episode: The Ozerov Inheritance


  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. ^ "Lance Corporal William Arnold Ridley". Lives of the First World War. Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b c reporter, Nancy Connolly, Senior news and features (13 June 2018). "Bath actor to appear on special edition Dad's Army stamps".
  5. ^ Ridley, Nicholas (2009). Godfrey's Ghost From Father to Son. Mogzilla Life. ISBN 978-1-906132-98-9.
  6. ^ "Godfrey's secret war horror" p13 of Sunday Telegraph (Issue 2,459- dated 27 July 2008)
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Excusing Private Godfrey, BBC Radio 4, 2012-07-06.
  9. ^ Ridley's WW1 medal index card at The National Archive, Kew Surrey. Document code: WO 372/17/728.
  10. ^ "No. 34732". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 November 1939. p. 7633.
  11. ^ a b The real-life wars of Dad's Army actor Arnold Ridley. Bethan Bell, BBC News, 5 February 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  12. ^ a b Homewood, Dave (2008). "Arnold Ridley's REAL WARS". Wings Over New Zealand. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  13. ^ "No. 34861". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 May 1940. p. 3268.
  14. ^ Interview with Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs, 1973 "Desert Island Discs", BBC radio, 1973, retrieved 8 February 2016
  15. ^ The real-life wars of Arnold Ridley, BBC News website, retrieved 8 February 2016
  16. ^ Obituary, The Times, 14 March 1984
  17. ^ 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)."
  18. ^ "Plays by Arnold Ridley", Doollee website
  19. ^ [1], Arnold Ridley, This Is Your Life, Thames Television, 1976.
  20. ^ Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 pp.191–93
  21. ^ Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 p.194
  22. ^ Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 p.1
  23. ^ See reference on the Lodge's official website.
  24. ^ Report of actor's son, Nicolas Ridley, discussing his father.
  25. ^ Report in UGLE magazine MQ.
  26. ^ The Times, death announcement, 13 March 1984
  27. ^ "Dad's Army star's archive online". 11 September 2018 – via
  28. ^ Bristol, University of. "Arnold Ridley Archive - Theatre Collection - University of Bristol".
  29. ^ from Worldcat

External links[edit]