John Laurie

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For the Canadian mountain, see Mount John Laurie. For the soldier and political figure in Nova Scotia and England, see John Wimburn Laurie.
John Laurie
John Laurie Dads Army.jpg
John Laurie as Private Frazer in Dad's Army
Born John Paton Laurie
(1897-03-25)25 March 1897
Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died 23 June 1980(1980-06-23) (aged 83)
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom [1]
Cause of death Emphysema
Resting place Cremains ashes scattered at sea
Occupation Actor
Years active 1921–79
Spouse(s) Florence Saunders (1924–26) (her death)
Oonah Todd-Naylor (1928–1980)
(his death)
Children 1

John Paton Laurie (25 March 1897 – 23 June 1980) was a Scottish actor from Dumfries, Dumfriesshire.[2] Throughout a long career, Laurie performed a wide range of theatre and film work. He is perhaps best remembered to modern audiences for his role as the dour but kindhearted Private James Frazer in the sitcom Dad's Army (1968-1977). Laurie appeared in scores of feature films with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Powell, and Laurence Olivier. He was also a stage actor (particularly of Shakespearean roles) and speaker of verse, especially when written by Robert Burns.[3]

Early life[edit]

Laurie was the son of William Laurie (1856–1903), a clerk in a tweed mill and later a hatter and hosier, and Jessie Ann Laurie (née Brown; 1858–1935). He was a pupil at Dumfries Academy, then a grammar school, and abandoned a career in architecture to serve in the First World War. Laurie was left particularly haunted by his experiences. He once asked Jim Perry to stop showing a piece of film of the war, which Perry was filming about First World War veterans; saying "Turn it off, son, I cannae watch it".[4] After the war, in which he served with the Honourable Artillery Company, he trained to become an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and first acted on stage in 1921.[5]

Acting career[edit]

A prolific Shakespearean actor, Laurie spent much of the time between 1922 and 1939 playing Shakespearean parts, including in Hamlet, Richard III, and Macbeth at the Old Vic or Stratford-upon-Avon. He featured in his friend Laurence Olivier's three Shakespearean films, Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1955).[6] He and Olivier also appeared in As You Like It (1936). During the Second World War, Laurie served in the Home Guard.[7]

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 Dads Army recalled by Ian Lavender.[8]

His early work in films included Juno and the Paycock (1930), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. His breakthrough third film was Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) in which he played a crofter (with Peggy Ashcroft as his wife). 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 repugnant Pew in Disney's Treasure Island (1950), Angus in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), and Dr. MacFarlane in Hobson's Choice (1954).[9]

His role as Frazer, the gaunt-faced, intense, pessimistic undertaker, and Home Guard soldier in the BBC sitcom Dad's Army (1968–77) remains his most known television role,[10] although he featured in many British series of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s including Tales of Mystery, Doctor Finlay's Casebook, and The Avengers.[11]

He 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).[2] One of his last appearances, looking slightly frail, was in Return to the Edge of the World (1978), in which Michael Powell revisited his earlier film of forty years before.[12] Laurie's final work was in the BBC Radio 2 comedy series Tony's (1979) along with Victor Spinetti and Deborah Watling.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Laurie was married twice; his first wife, Florence Saunders, whom he had met at the Old Vic, died in 1926. His second wife was Oonah V. Todd-Naylor, with whom he had a daughter. He died aged 83 from emphysema in the Chalfont and Gerrards Cross Hospital, Chalfont St Peter.[14] His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.[15]



Year Title Role Notes
1930 Juno and the Paycock Johnny Boyle
1934 Red Ensign Forsyth
1935 The 39 Steps John the crofter
1936 As You Like It Oliver
1936 Tudor Rose John Knox
1936 Her Last Affaire Robb
1936 Born That Way Mc Tavish
1936 East Meets West Dr Fergusson
1937 The Edge of the World Peter Manson
1937 Farewell Again Private McAllister
1938 A Royal Divorce Joseph Bonaparte
1938 The Ware Case Henson, the gamekeeper
1939 The Four Feathers The Khalifa
1940 Laugh It Off Jock
1940 Convoy Gates
1941 Dangerous Moonlight Wing commander
1941 The Ghost of St. Michael's Jamie
1943 The Gentle Sex Alexander Balfour, Scots corporal
1943 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp Murdoch
1943 The Demi-Paradise British sailor
1943 The Lamp Still Burns Mr Hervey
1944 The Way Ahead Luke
1944 Fanny by Gaslight William Hopwood
1944 Henry V Jamy
1945 The Agitator Tom Tetley
1945 The World Owes Me a Living Matthews
1945 Great Day Scottish sergeant
1945 I Know Where I'm Going!
1946 School for Secrets Dr Jock McVitie
1946 Gaiety George MacTavish
1947 The Brothers Dugald McLeod/Alistair MacDonald
1947 Jassy Tom Woodroofe
1947 Uncle Silas Giles
1947 Mine Own Executioner Dr James Garsten
1948 Hamlet Francisco
1948 Bonnie Prince Charlie Blind Jamie
1949 Floodtide Joe Drummond
1950 Treasure Island Blind Pew
1951 Happy Go Lovely Jonskill
1951 Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Angus
1951 Laughter in Paradise Gordon Webb
1952 Saturday Island Grimshaw
1953 The Fake Henry Mason
1953 Love in Pawn McCutcheon
1953 The Great Game Mac Wells
1954 Devil Girl from Mars 'Jamie' Jamieson
1954 The Black Knight James, the servant
1954 Hobson's Choice Dr McFarlane
1955 Richard III Lovel
1957 Campbell's Kingdom Mac
1960 Kidnapped Ebenezer Balfour
1961 Don't Bother to Knock Taxi driver
1963 Ladies Who Do Dr MacGregor
1963 Steptoe and Son
1963 Siege of the Saxons Merlin
1966 The Reptile Mad Peter
1967 Mister Ten Per Cent The Scotsman
1971 The Abominable Dr. Phibes Darrow
1971 Dad's Army Private Frazer
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing Jock
1979 The Prisoner of Zenda Archbishop


  1. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1980 19 1081 CHILTERN/B - John Paton Laurie, DoB = 25 Mar 1897
  2. ^ a b "John Laurie". BFI. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  3. ^ "iTunes - Music - John Laurie". Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  4. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2014-10-10). "You stupid boys! Attempt to recapture the magic of Dad's Army with a cast of celebs? Life-long fan Christopher Stevens asks 'who do they think they are kidding?'". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 2014-10-10. 
  5. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Laurie, John (1897-1980) Biography". Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  6. ^ Hal Erickson. "John Laurie - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  7. ^ Matt Goddard (14 November 2012). "Dad's Army uncovered: 35 things you need to know about the BBC comedy classic". mirror. 
  8. ^ Ian Lavender Birmingham Press Interview Retrieved 10 March 2013
  9. ^ "John Laurie - Movies and Filmography - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  10. ^ "BBC - Archive - Dad's Army at 40 - Letter from John Laurie". Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  11. ^ "John Laurie". CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  12. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Return to the Edge of the World (1978)". Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  13. ^ "Tony's". RadioTimes. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  14. ^ The Times, death notice, 25 June 1980
  15. ^ "John Laurie (1897 - 1980) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2016-01-11. 

External links[edit]