John Paton Laurie
25 March 1897
|Died||23 June 1980 (aged 83)|
Florence May Saunders
(m. 1925; died 1926)
Oonah Veronica Todd-Naylor
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 as Private 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, generally playing bit-parts or supporting roles rather than leading roles. As a stage actor, he was cast in Shakespearean roles and was a speaker of verse, especially of Robert Burns.
John Paton Laurie was born on 25 March 1897 in Dumfries, Dumfriesshire 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.
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. Soon after joining the Old Vic Laurie became involved with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon where he played such roles as Richard III, Othello and Macbeth. In only his second season with the Royal Shakespeare Company 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.’
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.
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.
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 there first film appearance together in the 1936 adaptation of As You Like It. Laurie went on to appear in three of Olivier Shakespearean films including , Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1955). During the Second World War, Laurie served in the Home Guard, experience that would be useful for later projects. 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).
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. 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. Laurie had also gained a reputation on set for being some what of a pessimist, Jerry 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.” He featured in many British series of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s including Tales of Mystery, Doctor Finlay's Casebook, and The Avengers.
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). 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. Laurie's final work was in the BBC Radio 2 comedy series Tony's (1979) along with Victor Spinetti and Deborah Watling.
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 (1939–2016).
Laurie died aged 83 from emphysema in the Chalfont and Gerrards Cross Hospital, Chalfont St Peter. His widow Oonah (1901–1990) died ten years later. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.
|1930||Juno and the Paycock||Johnny Boyle|
|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|
|A Royal Divorce||Joseph Bonaparte|
|The Last Voyage of Captain Grant||Captain Grant||TV|
|The Ware Case||Henson, the gamekeeper|
|Bees on the Boat-Deck||Gaster||TV|
|Q Planes||Newspaper Editor||Uncredited|
|The Four Feathers||The Khalifa|
|1940||Laugh It Off||Jock|
|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|
|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|
|Two Gentlemen of Soho||Sneak||TV|
|School for Secrets||Dr. Jock McVitie|
|1947||The Brothers||Dugald McLeod / Alistair MacDonald|
|Mine Own Executioner||Dr. James Garsten|
|Bonnie Prince Charlie||Blind Jamie|
|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")|
|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|
|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|
|1956||Festival Fever||Annie's father||TV|
|A Day of Grace||Uncle Henry||Short|
|1957||Murder Reported||Mac North - Editor|
|1958||Next to No Time||Abercrombie, Scottish Director|
|Rockets Galore!||Capt. MacKechnie||Uncredited|
|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
|1938||The Duchess Of Malfi||Ferdinand of Aragon||Single drama|
|The Last Voyage of Captain Grant||Captain Grant||Single drama|
|Mary Rose||Cameron||Single drama|
|1939||Bees on the Boat-Deck||Gaster||Single drama|
|1952||The Three Hostages||Insp. MacGillivray||Four episodes|
|1961-1963||Tales of Mystery||Host / Algernon Blackwood||29 episodes|
|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, recurring 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'|
This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2010)
- GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1980 19 1081 CHILTERN/B - John Paton Laurie, DoB = 25 Mar 1897
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- V&A, Theatre and Performance Special Collections, Elsie Fogerty Archive, THM/324
- "BFI Screenonline: Laurie, John (1897-1980) Biography". screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
- "John Laurie | Scottish actor". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
- Interview with John Laurie. DAAS. 2005. p. 12.
- "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.
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- Williams, Frank (2002). Vicar To Dad’s Army the Frank Williams Story. Norwich: Canterbury Press. p. 127. ISBN 1-85311-494-4.
- Williams, Lauren (31 August 2021). "Dad's Army's John Laurie and Arnold Ridley historic rivalry exposed 'Different characters'". Express.co.uk. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
- "John Laurie". TV.com. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
- "BFI Screenonline: Return to the Edge of the World (1978)". screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
- "Tony's". RadioTimes. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
- The Times, death notice, 25 June 1980
- Radio Times (17 January 1938), The Duchess Of Malfi, 58, BBC Television, p. 17
- Radio Times (9 November 1938), The Last Voyage of Captain Grant, 61, BBC Television, p. 18
- Radio Times (30 December 1938), Mary Rose, 61, BBC Television, p. 16
- Radio Times (17 January 1939), Bees on the Boat-Deck, 61, BBC Television, p. 16