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
7 January 1896
|Died||12 March 1984 (aged 88)|
|Resting place||Bath Abbey Cemetery, Widcombe, Somerset, England|
|Alma mater||University of Bristol|
|Spouse(s)||Hilda Kathleen Mary Cooke|
|Relatives||John Harry Dunn Ridley (brother)|
Christopher Ridley (nephew)
Daisy Ridley (great-niece)
Poppy Sophia Ridley (great-niece)
Kika-Rose Ridley (great-niece)
|Years of service|
|Unit||Somerset Light Infantry|
Caterham Home Guard
|Battles/wars||First World War|
William Arnold Ridley was born in Walcot, Bath, Somerset, England, the son of Rosa Caroline (née 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. He was initially rejected because of a hammer toe. In 1915 he enlisted as a Private with the Somerset Light Infantry. He saw active service in the war, sustaining several wounds in close-quarter battle. 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 from the army with the rank of Lance Corporal in 1916.
Ridley rejoined the 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. 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 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 from the Armed Forces 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 on Desert Island Discs in 1973.
After his medical discharge from the army in 1916, 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 consecutively 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 ATV 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 television comedy series 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 to Isola Strong at Kensington in 1939, before his final marriage to actress Althea Parker (1911–2001) on 3 October 1945; they had one son, Nicolas (born 1947). He was a Freemason, and belonged to the Savage Club Lodge in London. The actress Daisy Ridley is his great niece.
A keen rugby player in his youth, he was President of Bath Rugby 1950–52.
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 his 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.
- The Ghost Train (1923)
- The Wrecker (with Bernard Merivale, 1924)
- Old Leeds (1928)
- The Flying Fool (with Bernard Merivale, 1929)
- Keepers of Youth (1929) (filmed in 1931)
- Third Time Lucky (1932)
- Half a Crown (1934)
- Recipe for Murder (1936)
- Peril at End House (1945, from Agatha Christie novel)
- Easy Money (1948)
- East of Ludgate Hill (1950)
- Murder Happens (1951)
- The Return (1953)
- Mrs Tredruthan's Son (1953)
- Beggar My Neighbour (1953)
- Geranium (1954)
- Tabitha (1956) (written with Mary Cathcart Borer)
- You, My Guests (1956)
- Bellamy (1960)
- Hercule Poirot Strikes (1967, from Agatha Christie novel)
- Ghost Train, directed by Géza von Bolváry (1927, based on the play The Ghost Train)
- The Wrecker, directed by Géza von Bolváry (1929, based on the play The Wrecker)
- The Flying Fool, directed by Walter Summers (1931, based on the play The Flying Fool)
- Third Time Lucky, directed by Walter Forde (1931, based on the play Third Time Lucky)
- The Ghost Train, directed by Walter Forde (1931, based on the play The Ghost Train)
- Keepers of Youth, directed by Thomas Bentley (1931, based on the play Keepers of Youth)
- Kísértetek vonata, directed by Lajos Lázár (Hungary, 1933, based on the play The Ghost Train)
- Trenul fantoma, directed by Jean Mihail (Romania, 1933, based on the play The Ghost Train)
- The Warren Case, directed by Walter Summers (1934, based on the play The Last Chance)
- Un train dans la nuit, directed by René Hervil (France, 1934, based on the play The Ghost Train)
- Blind Justice, directed by Bernard Vorhaus (1934, based on the play Recipe for Murder)
- Seven Sinners, directed by Albert de Courville (1936)
- East of Ludgate Hill, directed by Manning Haynes (1937, based on the play East of Ludgate Hill)
- De Spooktrein, directed by Karel Lamač (Netherlands, 1939, based on the play The Ghost Train)
- Shadowed Eyes, directed by Maclean Rogers (1940)
- The Ghost Train, directed by Walter Forde (1941, based on the play The Ghost Train)
- Easy Money, directed by Bernard Knowles (1948, based on the play Easy Money)
- Meet Mr. Lucifer, directed by Anthony Pelissier (1953, based on the play Beggar My Neighbour)
- Who Killed the Cat?, directed by Montgomery Tully (1966, based on the play Tabitha)
|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||Children's Film Foundation|
|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|
|1967||Beggar My Neighbour||Man||2 episodes|
|1968–1977||Dad's Army||Private Godfrey||80 episodes, (final appearance)|
|1968||The War of Darkie Pilbeam||Hospital patient|
|1968||The Very Merry Widows||Sir Frederick Snayle, QC|
|1969||Out of the Unknown||Munnings|
|1969||Special Branch||Mr. Turner|
|1970||As Good Cooks Go||Mr. Charmers|
|1970||W. Somerset Maugham||London Club Waiter|
|1971||The Flaxton Boys||Mr. Mooney|
|1972||The Persuaders!||Uncle Rodney||Episode: The Ozerov Inheritance|
|1973||Thriller||1st Old Man|
|1975||Hogg’s Back||Old Man|
- GRO Register of Births: MAR 1896 5c 543 BATH – William Arnold Ridley
- GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1984 13 934 HILLINGDON, MIDDLESEX – William Arnold Ridley, DoB = 7 January 1896 aged 88
- "Lance Corporal William Arnold Ridley". Lives of the First World War. Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
- reporter, Nancy Connolly, Senior news and features (13 June 2018). "Bath actor to appear on special edition Dad's Army stamps". somersetlive.co.uk.
- Ridley, Nicholas (2009). Godfrey's Ghost From Father to Son. Mogzilla Life. ISBN 978-1-906132-98-9.
- Dad's Army star's First World War heroics, The Daily Telegraph, 26 July 2008
- "Godfrey's secret war horror" p13 of Sunday Telegraph (Issue 2,459- dated 27 July 2008)
- Excusing Private Godfrey, BBC Radio 4, 2012-07-06.
- Ridley's WW1 medal index card at The National Archive, Kew Surrey. Document code: WO 372/17/728.
- "No. 34732". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 November 1939. p. 7633.
- The real-life wars of Dad's Army actor Arnold Ridley. Bethan Bell, BBC News, 5 February 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
- Homewood, Dave (2008). "Arnold Ridley's REAL WARS". www.cambridgeairforce.org.nz. Wings Over New Zealand. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
- "No. 34861". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 May 1940. p. 3268.
- Interview with Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs, 1973 "Desert Island Discs", BBC radio, 1973, retrieved 8 February 2016
- The real-life wars of Arnold Ridley, BBC News website, retrieved 8 February 2016
- Obituary, The Times, 14 March 1984
- Amnon Kabatchnik Blood on the Stage, 1975–2000: Milestone Plays of Crime 2012 -. – Page 554 "A dastardly blackmailer is shot and poisoned simultaneously in Arnold Ridley's Recipe for Murder (1932)."
- "Plays by Arnold Ridley", Doollee website
- Arnold Ridley, This Is Your Life, Thames Television, 1976
- Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 pp.191–93
- Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 p.194
- Nicolas Ridley Godfrey's Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 p.1
- See reference on the Lodge's official website.
- Report of actor's son, Nicolas Ridley, discussing his father.
- Report in UGLE magazine MQ.
- The Times, death announcement, 13 March 1984
- "Dad's Army star's archive online". BBC News. 11 September 2018.
- Bristol, University of. "Arnold Ridley Archive - Theatre Collection - University of Bristol". www.bris.ac.uk.
- Wearing, J. P. (16 September 2014). The London Stage 1950-1959: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780810893085 – via Google Books.
- from Worldcat