Arthur Lucan

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Arthur Lucan

Arthur Lucan (16 September 1885, Sibsey, Lincolnshire – 17 May 1954, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire) was an English actor who performed the drag act Old Mother Riley on stage, radio and screen, with a series of comedy films from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.


Lucan was born Arthur Towle, the third of seven children born to Tom Towle, a groom, and his wife Lucy Ann Mawer. When he was five years old, the family moved to nearby Boston, Lincolnshire, later making his first acting appearance at the town's Shodfriars Hall. After leaving school, he left home to pursue a career in music hall. He gained a job with a family troupe called the Musical Cliftons, and later as sidekick to a comedian called Will Pepper.

'Old Mother Riley'[edit]

Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane as Old Mother Riley and her daughter 'Kitty'.

Lucan was appearing in Dublin where he met and married the 16-year-old Kitty McShane in 1913. The couple had one son, Donald Daniel Towle (b. 2 October 1915, Dublin –d. 1970), and became a successful double act. They achieved some success with a sketch called "Bridget's Night Out". For this he first wore drag, and began to develop the character of Old Mother Riley. Whilst in Dublin, he changed his name to Lucan, and they continued to perform as 'Lucan and McShane'. The act was featured in the 1934 Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium, the most prestigious engagement of its time.

After the Royal Command Performance, there followed a film career, a radio series and even a strip cartoon in the Radio Times and Film Fun. In all, Arthur Lucan made 17 films, 16 as Old Mother Riley; and in 1943, the Motion Picture Herald voted him the sixth biggest "money-making star" in British films.[1] However, his marriage proved to be a volatile union, and Lucan and McShane separated in 1951.

Lucan, as 'Old Mother Riley' was last seen on stage at the Theatre Royal, Barnsley on 14 May 1954. The following Monday he was to appear in revue at the Tivoli, Hull. Ellis Aston was the first on stage to compere the forthcoming show. But Lucan had collapsed behind the scenes and died shortly after in his dressing room. He was 68 years old. The site now houses a bakery and cafe, where there is a memorial bust of Arthur Lucan, together with various memorabilia from his career. He is buried in Hull's Eastern Cemetery.[2] Lucan was a member of the Savage Club. In recent years, the club has held Old Mother Riley evenings, as a tribute to Lucan's talent. Following his death Lucan's understudy Roy Rolland took on the role of Old Mother Riley.

In 1982, Alan Plater wrote a play, On Your Way, Riley, about the life of Arthur Lucan, with songs by Alex Glasgow.[3] This was also broadcast on ITV in 1985 with Brian Murphy and Maureen Lipman in the leading roles.[4]

A Greater London Council blue plaque, unveiled in 1978, commemorates Lucan at his home, 11 Forty Lane in Wembley.[5]


Actor (and writer where stated)


  1. ^ Matthew Coniam (13 September 2009). "The 1944-45 Motion Picture Almanac". Movietone News. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Arthur Lucan at Find a Grave
  3. ^ "On Your Way, Riley" (playbill and details). The Queen's Theatre. 1983. Retrieved 27 September 2007. 
  4. ^ On Your Way, Riley at the IMDb
  5. ^ "LUCAN, ARTHUR (1887-1954)". English Heritage. Retrieved 20 June 2015. 

External links[edit]