Monday, 9 July 2012

Private Godrey

Was Arnold Ridley - best known as Private Godfrey in Dads Army like the character he portrayed?

Godfrey's Ghost is written by his son, Nicholas and is an affectionate portrait of a father.   More of a memoir than a biography, it is usual is style.

Arnold Ridley was formerly known as a playwright - his most successful and well known being "The Ghost Train."  When he was through no fault of his own, in financial difficulties - he sold the amateur right to the play for £200.  With hindsight that was a very bad move, as the play went on to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds, but Ridley was never bitter or resentful and accepted that neither he nor other could have foreseen the play being so successful. The book in fact sets out how even being a hit in the first place was down to chance, luck and some sharp promotion.

The book recounts how the idea for the ghost train came to him after seeing a particularly bad play ! and how  he had spent hours on a  deserted station in the middle of nowhere at 3.30 -5.30 in the morning waiting for the connecting train to take him to his girl friend.

As his son asked - why didn't he write books, they seem so much more reliable than plays.

Other snippets - Ridley was called up for WW1 and had a dreadful time in battles like the Somme. He and a group of soldiers were recommended for a military medal but his commander recommended him for an even higher award.  In the end the others all got medal and he didn't get one.  That kind of luck seem to typify his life.   He suffered from nightmares for years after WW1 and then was called up for WWII. 

Ridely wrote his autobiography, but his son says it was not good and was repeatedly rejected by publishers.  Partly because his recollection of events (apart from his early life) was hazy and partly because despite spending so many years in dads Army he covered that in just 3 pages !

The book dwells a lot on the relationship between father and son and being the son of a pretty famous dad.   Nicholas seems clear that his dad wasn't to him "Private Godfrey" but that is the way he was often treated by the public.

Arnold Ridley won the football pools - only £1200, but enormously welcome to him at the time.

The world of repertory companies is now gone, but the often precarious nature of the actors profession remains - while some gain great wealth, for every Tom Cruise, there are those that never get beyond the bit parts and chorus, in between, are what John Le Mesuier called the jobbing actor - mostly in work, mostly not highly paid, but making a living.

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