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Dad's Army vicar Frank Williams reveals the secrets of long-running comedy
Wartime nostalgia features greatly in the career of Edgware actor Frank Williams and in real life the dangers of war led him far from home in his youth. He will share moments from his life and career in An Evening with Frank Williams at North Harrow Methodist Church this Friday.
“I had varied schooling during the war years,” says Frank. My junior school didn’t have its own building but was housed in St Andrews Church and then I went to private school at Broadfields and Parkside. I also spent two years away at boarding school at Ardingly College in Sussex.”
Frank was aged between 12 to 14 at the time and I ask if it was hard for him to leave his family.
“It was more difficult in anticipation than in fact. My heart used to sink going back but once I was there it was fine.”
He went on to finish his education at Hendon County School and got a job as an assistant stage manager at London’s Gateway Theatre, which kick-started his acting career. Frank made his first big screen appearance in 1956 playing Sid in The Extra Day, which starred George Baker and Sid James. From 1958-61 he played Captain Pocket in the ITV sitcom The Army Game clocking up 39 episodes a year but since these went out live, very few remain.
At the same time, Frank began working in repertory theatre with Jimmy and Gilda Perry at Watford Palace Theatre. Ten years later, Jimmy and co-writer David Croft cast him as Reverend Timothy Farthing in Dad’s Army.
What’s amazing is that Dad’s Army appeals across the generation gap - it doesn’t dateFrank Williams
Just a week shy of his 80th birthday, Frank will be talking to Chris Gidney, with whom he co-wrote his book Vicar to Dad’s Army – the Frank Williams Story in 2002. The night promises a behind the scenes glimpse of the legendary series, alongside Frank’s personal journey of faith.
I ask if Frank was aware from the start how popular Dad’s Army would be.
“I don’t think any of us dreamt it would still be so popular 30 to 40 years on. The interesting thing is that David and Jimmy were quite clever because they set it in the past. They did the same with It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, which was another wartime story, Hi De Hi which was set on a holiday camp in the ‘50s and You Rang M’Lord? which was set in the ‘20s.
“What’s amazing is that Dad’s Army appeals across the generation gap - it doesn’t date. When we have our day in Norfolk for the public we get great-grandparents coming in with their great-grandsons and all the generations between.”
On stage Frank enjoyed a West End run of Dad’s Army at the Shaftesbury Theatre from 1975-76 and on national tour.
“It was a lovely experience because we got on very well together and only having to do one show in the evening we had a marvellous time.
“I always wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, so when the chance comes to do straight roles I jumped at it. I played the father in The Winslow Boy and did Ibsen’s Ghosts with Birmingham Rep. I’ve performed at the English Theatre in Vienna several times where they don’t know about Dad’s Army.”
Frank attends John Keble Church in Mill Hill and says as an actor his faith has given him a solid foundation in an insecure livelihood. He has lived in Edgware all his life – his childhood and current home are just a mile and a half apart.
“I’ve stayed in Edgware because one makes a lot of friends locally and gets used to being part of the community, I guess in that way I’m not very adventurous.”
Frank comes to North Harrow Methodist Church, Pinner Road, North Harrow on Friday, June 24 at 7.30pm. Details: 020 8427 7758.
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