William Arnold Ridley
7 January 1896
|Died||12 March 1984 (aged 88)|
|Cause of death||Fall|
|Alma mater||University of Bristol|
|Hilda Kathleen Mary Cooke|
|Relatives||Daisy Ridley (grandniece)|
|Years of service|
|Unit||Somerset Light Infantry|
Caterham Home Guard
|Battles/wars||First World War|
William Arnold Ridley, OBE (7 January 1896 - 12 March 1984) was an English playwright and actor, earlier in his career known for writing the play The Ghost Train and later in life for portraying the elderly Private Godfrey in the British sitcom Dad's Army (1968-1977).
William Arnold Ridley was born in Walcot, Bath, Somerset, England, the son of Rosa Caroline Morrish (1870-1956) and William Robert Ridley (1871-1931). His father was a gymnastics instructor and ran a boot and shoe shop. He attended the Clarendon School and the Bath City Secondary School where he was a keen sportsman. A graduate of the University of Bristol, he studied at the Education Department, and played Hamlet in a student production. Ridley undertook teaching practice at an Elementary School in Bristol.
Ridley was a student teacher, and had made his theatrical debut in Prunella at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, when he volunteered for service with the British Army on the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, however he was initially medically rejected due to a hammer toe. In 1915 he enlisted as Private No.20481 with the Somerset Light Infantry Regiment. He saw active service in the war, sustaining several wounds in close-quarter battle in the trenches. His left hand was left virtually useless by wounds sustained on the Somme; his legs were riddled with shrapnel; he received a bayonet wound in the groin; and the legacy of a blow to the head from a German soldier's rifle butt left him prone to blackouts after the war. He was medically discharged with the rank of Lance Corporal in 1916.
Ridley rejoined the British Army in 1939 following the outbreak of the Second World War. He was commissioned into the General List on 7 October 1939 as a second lieutenant and was given the service number 103663. He served with the British Expeditionary Force in France during the "Phoney War", employed as a "Conducting Officer" tasked with supervising journalists who were visiting the front line. In May 1940, Ridley returned to Britain on the grossly overcrowded destroyer HMS Vimera, which was the last British ship to escape from the harbour during the Battle of Boulogne. Shortly afterwards, he was discharged on health grounds. He relinquished his commission as a captain on 1 June 1940. He subsequently joined the Home Guard in his home town of Caterham, and ENSA with which he toured the country. He described his wartime experiences in Desert Island Discs in 1973.
After his medical discharge from the army, Ridley commenced a career as a professional actor. In 1918 he joined the company of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, staying for two years and playing 40 parts before moving on to Plymouth, where he 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 the play The Ghost Train (1923), a tale of passengers stranded at a haunted railway station in Cornwall, with one of the characters being an incognito British Government agent trying to catch Bolshevik revolutionaries active in Great Britain. The play was produced on stage, and became a hit, with 665 performances being staged concurrently in London's West End, and two revivals. The Ghost Train was first filmed in 1931 and again in 1941 when it starred Arthur Askey. Ridley also wrote more than 30 other plays including The Wrecker (1924), Keepers of Youth (1929), The Flying Fool (1929) and Recipe for Murder (1932).
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 (1953).
Ridley worked regularly as an actor, including an appearance in the British comedy Crooks in Cloisters (1964). He also played Doughy Hood, the village baker, in the radio soap opera The Archers and the Rev. Guy Atkins in the ITV soap Crossroads from the programme's inception in 1964 until 1968. However, he became a household name only after he was cast as Private Godfrey, the gentle platoon medic in the popular British comedy Dad's Army (1968-1977). He continued to appear into his eighties, and was appointed an OBE in the 1982 Queen's New Year Honours List, for services to the theatre.
Ridley was married three times. His first marriage lasted from January 1926 to 1939, and was followed by a short marriage beginning in 1939 before his final marriage to actress Althea Parker (1911-2001) on 3 October 1945; they had one son, Nicolas (b 1947). He was a Freemason, and belonged to the Savage Club Lodge in London. The actress Daisy Ridley is his great niece.
Ridley died in hospital in Northwood in 1984 at the age of 88 after falling at his residence in Denville Hall, a home for retired actors. His body was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium and an urn holding its ashes was buried in his parents' grave at Bath Abbey Cemetery. His collection of theatrical memorabilia was left to the University of Bristol and has been made available online.
|1949||The Interrupted Journey||Mr Saunders||Uncredited|
|1951||Green Grow the Rushes||Tom Cuffley|
|1952||Stolen Face||Dr Russell|
|1963||Wings of Mystery||Mr Bell|
|1964||Crooks in Cloisters||Newsagent|
|1966||A Man for All Seasons||Innkeeper||Uncredited|
|1971||Dad's Army||Private Godfrey|
|1973||Carry On Girls||Alderman Pratt|
|1975||The Amorous Milkman||Cinema Attendant|
|1964-1968||Crossroads||Rev. Guy Atkins|
|1967||The Avengers||Elderly Gentleman||Episode: Never, Never Say Die|
|Z Cars||Gardener||Episode: I Never Meant to Drop Him: Part 1|
|Coronation Street||Herbert Whittle|
|1968-1977||Dad's Army||Private Godfrey||80 episodes, (final television appearance)|
|1972||The Persuaders!||Uncle Rodney||Episode: The Ozerov Inheritance|