John Laurie

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John Laurie
Laurie in Kidnapped
John Paton Laurie

(1897-03-25)25 March 1897
Died23 June 1980(1980-06-23) (aged 83)
EducationCentral School Of Speech and Drama
Years active1921–1979
Florence May Saunders
(m. 1925; died 1926)
Oonah Veronica Todd-Naylor
(m. 1928)
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
UnitHonourable Artillery Company
Battles/warsWorld War I

John Paton Laurie (25 March 1897 – 23 June 1980) was a Scottish actor. In the course of his career, Laurie performed on the stage and in films as well as television. He is perhaps best remembered for his role in the sitcom Dad's Army (1968–1977) as Private Frazer, a member of the Home Guard.[2]

Laurie appeared in scores of feature films with directors including Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Powell and Laurence Olivier, generally playing memorable small or supporting roles rather than leading ones. As a stage actor, he was cast in Shakespearean roles and was a speaker of verse, especially of Robert Burns.[3]

Early life[edit]

John Paton Laurie was born on 25 March 1897 in Dumfries, Dumfriesshire,[4] to William Laurie (1856–1903), a clerk in a tweed mill and later a hatter and hosier, and Jessie Ann Laurie (née Brown; 1858–1935). Laurie attended Dumfries Academy (a grammar school at the time), before abandoning a career in architecture to serve in the First World War as a member of the Honourable Artillery Company. Upon his demobilisation, he trained to become an actor under Elsie Fogerty at the Central School of Speech and Drama, then based at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and first acted on stage in 1921.[5][6]


Theatre and radio[edit]

A prolific Shakespearean actor, Laurie made his first appearance on the London stage in 1922 at the Old Vic where he played many leading roles.[7] Soon after joining the Old Vic Laurie became involved with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon where he played such roles as Richard III, Othello and Macbeth. In only his second season at Stratford, Laurie got the chance to play Hamlet, which was almost unheard of for someone with such little experience. Laurie later said that he believed that his performance of the role was the definitive version, saying "That's the way to play Hamlet, don't wait too long, like some of the boys are doing today."[8]

On radio, he created the role of John the Baptist in Dorothy L Sayers' cycle of plays The Man Born to Be King, and reprised the role in two further versions of the cycle. Laurie also played the part of MacDuff in a radio adaptation of Macbeth, with Ralph Richardson playing the title role.[9]

TV and film[edit]

I’ve played every part in Shakespeare. I was considered to be the finest Hamlet of the twenties and I had retired, and now I'm famous for doing this crap.

John Laurie comment on Dad's Army recalled by Ian Lavender[10]

Laurie's first film was the 1930 film Juno and the Paycock, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock did not forget Laurie and cast him in the role of John the Crofter in what would become the actor's breakthrough third film, The 39 Steps in 1935. Laurie had first met Laurence Olivier at the Old Vic and went on to make their first film appearance together in the 1936 adaptation of As You Like It. Laurie went on to appear in Olivier's three Shakespearean films, Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1955).[11] During the Second World War, Laurie served in the Home Guard, experience that would be useful for later projects.[12] Other roles included Peter Manson in Michael Powell's The Edge of the World (1937), Clive Candy's batman in Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), a gardener in Medal for the General (1944), the farmer recruit in The Way Ahead (1944), and the brothel proprietor in Fanny by Gaslight (1944). In the film I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), another Powell and Pressburger production, Laurie had a small speaking part in a céilidh sequence for which he was also credited as an adviser. In the next decade, he played the psychiatrist Dr. James Garsten in Mine Own Executioner (1947), the repugnant Pew in Disney's Treasure Island (1950), Angus in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), and Dr. MacFarlane in Hobson's Choice (1954).[13]

In 1954, Laurie joined the Edinburgh Gateway Company to play the leading role in Robert Kemp's The Laird o' Grippy, a translation into Scots of Molière's L'avare.[14]

Laurie's role as Private Frazer, the gaunt-faced, intense, pessimistic undertaker, and British Home Guard soldier in the sitcom Dad's Army (1968–1977) remains his best known TV role.[15] Dad's Army co-star Frank Williams noted in his autobiography that Laurie had ‘a sort of love-hate relationship with the show’, as despite earning him a lot a money he felt that a sitcom was beneath him.[16] Laurie had also gained a reputation on set for being somewhat of a pessimist; Graham McCann said in his book Dad's Army: The Story of a Very British Comedy, said: "John Laurie was cantankerous, he was rather mischievous, he was someone who enjoyed playing a kind of a professional pessimist."[17] He featured in many British series of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s including Tales of Mystery, Doctor Finlay's Casebook, and The Avengers.[18]

Laurie starred as Mad Peter in the Hammer film The Reptile (1966), and later appeared in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), the Disney film One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975), and The Prisoner of Zenda (1979).[4] One of his last appearances was in Return to the Edge of the World (1978), in which Michael Powell revisited his film of forty years before.[19] Laurie's final work was in the BBC Radio 2 comedy series Tony's (1979) along with Victor Spinetti and Deborah Watling.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Laurie was married twice; his first wife, Florence May Saunders, whom he had met at the Old Vic, died from meningitis in 1926. His second wife was Oonah Veronica Todd-Naylor, who survived him. Together they had a daughter, Veronica (1939–2022).


Laurie died in 1980, aged 83, from emphysema in the Chalfont and Gerrards Cross Hospital, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire.[21] . His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea. His widow Oonah (1901–1990) died ten years later.


Year Title Role Notes
1930 Juno and the Paycock Johnny Boyle
1934 Red Ensign Forsyth Uncredited
1935 The 39 Steps John the crofter
Her Last Affaire Robb
Tudor Rose John Knox Uncredited
1936 Born That Way Mc Tavish
East Meets West Dr. Fergusson
As You Like It Oliver
1937 The Windmill Mons. Coutard
Farewell Again Private McAllister
Jericho Hassan Also known as Dark Sands
The Edge of the World Peter Manson
There Was a Young Man Stranger
1938 The Duchess of Malfi Ferdinand of Aragon TV
The Claydon Treasure Mystery Wilson – the Valet Uncredited
White Secret MacDonald TV
A Royal Divorce Joseph Bonaparte
The Last Voyage of Captain Grant Captain Grant TV
The Ware Case Henson, the gamekeeper
1939 Mary Rose Cameron TV
Bees on the Boat-Deck Gaster TV
Q Planes Newspaper Editor Uncredited
The Four Feathers The Khalifa
1940 Laugh It Off Jock
Convoy Gates
Sailors Three McNab
1941 The Ghost of St. Michael's Jamie
Old Mother Riley's Ghosts McAdam
Dangerous Moonlight Wing Commander
1942 Ships with Wings Lt. Comdr. Reid
1943 The Gentle Sex Alexander Balfour, Scots corporal
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp Murdoch
The Demi-Paradise British Sailor
The Lamp Still Burns Mr. Hervey
The New Lot Harry Fyfe Short, uncredited
1944 Fanny by Gaslight William Hopwood
The Way Ahead Pvt. Luke
Medal for the General McNab
Henry V Jamy
Men of Rochdale Mr. Ferguson Short
1945 The World Owes Me a Living Matthews
Great Day Scottish sergeant
The Agitator Tom Tetley
I Know Where I'm Going! John Campbell
Caesar and Cleopatra 1st. Auxiliary Sentinel
Read All About It John Short, uncredited
1946 Gaiety George MacTavish
Jeannie Father TV
Two Gentlemen of Soho Sneak TV
School for Secrets Dr. Jock McVitie
1947 The Brothers Dugald McLeod / Alistair MacDonald
Jassy Tom Woodroofe
Uncle Silas Giles
Mine Own Executioner Dr. James Garsten
1948 Hamlet Francisco
Bonnie Prince Charlie Blind Jamie
1949 Floodtide Joe Drummond
1950 Madeleine Scots Divine Uncredited
Treasure Island Blind Pew
Trio Mr. Campbell (segment "Sanatorium")
No Trace Inspector MacDougall
1951 Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Angus
Happy Go Lovely Jonskill
Laughter in Paradise Gordon Webb
Encore Andrews, Engineer (segment "Winter Cruise")
1952 Saturday Island Grimshaw
Tread Softly Angus McDonald
Too Many Detectives Edward Potter Short
Potter of the Yard Short
1953 The Great Game Mac Wells
Captain Brassbound's Conversion Rankin TV
Henry V Pistol TV
The Fake Henry Mason
Johnny on the Run Policeman
Strange Stories Mr. Bartleby
Mr. Beamish Goes South Edward Potter Short
Love in Pawn McCutcheon
1954 Hobson's Choice Dr. McFarlane
Calling Scotland Yard: The Sable Scarf Short
Devil Girl from Mars "Jamie" Jamieson
The Black Knight James, the servant
Destination Milan Walter McHarry
1955 Richard III Lovel
1956 Festival Fever Annie's father TV
A Day of Grace Uncle Henry Short
1957 Murder Reported Mac North – Editor
Campbell's Kingdom Mac
1958 Next to No Time Abercrombie, Scottish Director
Rockets Galore! Capt. MacKechnie Uncredited
1960 Kidnapped Ebenezer Balfour
1961 Don't Bother to Knock Taxi Driver
One Way Pendulum Judge TV
1963 Siege of the Saxons Merlin
Ladies Who Do Dr. MacGregor
1964 Eagle Rock Mr. McTavish Voice
1966 The Reptile Mad Peter
1967 Mister Ten Per Cent The Scotsman
1970 Step Laughing Into the Grave TV
1971 Dad's Army Private Frazer
The Abominable Dr. Phibes Darrow
1974 Charles Dickens' World of Christmas TV
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing Jock
1976 Crime Casebook George Winterman / Sellens Short
1979 The Prisoner of Zenda Archbishop (final film role)

Partial television credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1938 The Duchess Of Malfi[22] Ferdinand of Aragon Single drama
The Last Voyage of Captain Grant[23] Captain Grant Single drama
Mary Rose[24] Cameron Single drama
1939 Bees on the Boat-Deck[25] Gaster Single drama
1952 The Three Hostages Insp. MacGillivray Four episodes
1961–1963 Tales of Mystery Host / Algernon Blackwood 29 episodes
1962–1969 The Avengers
1963 Steptoe and Son The Vet Episode "Wallah, Wallah Catsmeat"
1965 Z Cars Dr Ferguson Episode "Partners"
Emergency-Ward 10 Professor Corliss Six episodes
1968–1977 Dad's Army Private Frazer 80 episodes, regular role
1970 From a Bird's Eye View Lord McBracken One episode alongside Dads Army co-star Clive Dunn
1971 Jackanory Storyteller Five episodes reading The Princess and the Goblin
1973 Jackanory Storyteller Five episodes reading The Princess and Curdie
1975 Jackanory Storyteller Five episodes reading stories 'The Light Princess' and 'The Golden Key'


  1. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1980 19 1081 CHILTERN/B – John Paton Laurie, DoB = 25 March 1897
  2. ^ "John Laurie". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  3. ^ "iTunes – Music – John Laurie". Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  4. ^ a b "John Laurie". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 July 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  5. ^ V&A, Theatre and Performance Special Collections, Elsie Fogerty Archive, THM/324
  6. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Laurie, John (1897–1980) Biography". Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  7. ^ "John Laurie | Scottish actor". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  8. ^ Interview with John Laurie. DAAS. 2005. p. 12.
  9. ^ "Macbeth: a broadcast version of Shakespeare's tragedy will be given on Sunday afternoon". Radio Times 50th Anniversary Souvenir 1923–1973 (The page in the souvenir is a reproduction from the original journal, which was published in March 1933). BBC: 32. 1973.
  10. ^ Ian Lavender Birmingham Press Interview Retrieved 10 March 2013
  11. ^ Erickson, Hal. "John Laurie – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos – AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  12. ^ Goddard, Matt (14 November 2012). "Dad's Army uncovered: 35 things you need to know about the BBC comedy classic". mirror.
  13. ^ "John Laurie – Movies and Filmography – AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  14. ^ Scottish Gateway Company (1965), The Twelve Seasons of the Edinburgh Gateway Company, 1953–1965, St. Giles Press, Edinburgh
  15. ^ "BBC – Archive – Dad's Army at 40 – Letter from John Laurie". Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  16. ^ Williams, Frank (2002). Vicar To Dad's Army the Frank Williams Story. Norwich: Canterbury Press. p. 127. ISBN 1-85311-494-4.
  17. ^ Williams, Lauren (31 August 2021). "Dad's Army's John Laurie and Arnold Ridley historic rivalry exposed 'Different characters'". Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  18. ^ "John Laurie". CBS Interactive. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  19. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Return to the Edge of the World (1978)". Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  20. ^ "Tony's". RadioTimes. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  21. ^ The Times, death notice, 25 June 1980
  22. ^ Radio Times (17 January 1938), The Duchess Of Malfi, vol. 58, BBC Television, p. 17
  23. ^ Radio Times (9 November 1938), The Last Voyage of Captain Grant, vol. 61, BBC Television, p. 18
  24. ^ Radio Times (30 December 1938), Mary Rose, vol. 61, BBC Television, p. 16
  25. ^ Radio Times (17 January 1939), Bees on the Boat-Deck, vol. 61, BBC Television, p. 16

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