|Born||7th January 1896|
|Died||12th March 1984 (aged 88)|
|First appearance||The Man and the Hour|
|Last appearance||Never Too Old|
|Series||1 - 9|
William Arnold Ridley, OBE (7th January 1896 – 12th March 1984) was an English playwright and actor. He was best known for portraying Private Charles Godfrey in the popular British sitcom Dad's Army from 1968 until 1977, and also as the author of the play The Ghost Train.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Early life, army career and playwriting[edit | edit source]
Ridley was born in Walcot in Bath, England, where his father was a gymnastics instructor and also ran a boot and shoe shop. Ridley attended the Clarendon School and the Bath City Secondary School, where he was a keen sportsman. A graduate of the University of Bristol, one of his earliest acting roles came when he played Hamlet in a student production. Ridley undertook teaching practice at an Elementary School in Bristol.
Ridley became a student teacher, and had made his theatrical debut in Prunella at the Theatre Royal, Bristol when he volunteered for British Army service in August 1914. He was rejected due to a toe injury, but in 1915 was able to enlist as a private in the Somerset Light Infantry. He saw active service in the First World War, sustaining several serious injuries: his left hand was left virtually useless by injuries sustained at the Battle of the Somme; his legs were riddled with shrapnel; he was bayonetted in the groin, and the legacy of a blow to the head by a German soldier's rifle butt left him prone to blackouts. He was medically discharged from the army with the rank of Lance Corporal.
After his medical discharge in 1916, Ridley went into acting. In 1918, he joined Birmingham Repertory Theatre, staying for two years and playing 40 parts, before moving on to Plymouth, where he eventually took a break from the stage when his war injuries began to trouble him.
After being stranded for an evening at Mangotsfield railway station, near Bristol, Ridley was inspired to write his most famous play The Ghost Train in 1923. It was a tale of passengers stranded at a haunted railway station in Cornwall, with one of the characters being a detective trying to catch smugglers. The show became a huge success, enjoying 665 performances in London's West End and two revivals. The Ghost Train was first adapted for film in 1931 and again in 1941, when it starred Arthur Askey. Unfortunately, when he was hard up, Ridley sold the amateur rights to The Ghost Train, which could have made him a fortune had they been retained.
Ridley also wrote over 30 other plays including The Wrecker (1924), Keepers of Youth (1929), The Flying Fool (1929) and Recipe for Murder (1936).
Having unsuccessfully attempted to establish a film company between the wars, Ridley rejoined the army in 1939 with the rank of Major. He again saw active service with the British Expeditionary Force in France during the Second World War, but was discharged on health grounds, subsequently joining the Home Guard.
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 and adapted for the Ealing Comedy film Meet Mr. Lucifer in 1953.
Acting career and Dad's Army[edit | edit source]
Ridley worked regularly as an actor, including an appearance in the British comedy Crooks in Cloisters in 1964. He also played Doughy Hood, the village baker, in the popular radio soap The Archers in the 1960s. However, he only became a household name after he was cast in his most famous role - as Private Charles Godfrey, the gentle platoon medic, in the BBC comedy-sitcom, Dad's Army from 1968 to 1977. He continued to appear on television into his eighties, and when 86 was appointed an OBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours List of 1982, for services to the theatre.
Death[edit | edit source]
Arnold Ridley died in hospital in Northwood in 1984, aged 88, after falling at his residence in Denville Hall (a home for retired actors). He was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium and his urn buried at his parents' grave in Bath Abbey cemetery.
Following his death, Ridley's collection of theatrical memorabilia was left to the University of Bristol and has since been made available online.
Personal life[edit | edit source]
Ridley was married three times; firstly from January 1926 to 1939, then for a short period beginning in 1939, before his final marriage to actress Althea Parker, which took place on 3rd October 1945. The couple had one son, Nicolas (born in 1947). They remained together until Ridley's death in 1984.
In both his acting career and as a playwright, he was credited by his middle name Arnold, not his first name William.