January 2, 2017


John Laurie (1897-1980) b. Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

John Laurie

The son of a mill worker, Scots character actor John Laurie abandoned a career in architecture when WWI intervened. After the war he trained to become an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and first stepped on stage in 1921. Between 1922 and 1939, Laurie spent much of his time playing Shakespearian parts including Hamlet, Richard III and Macbeth at the Old Vic or Stratford-upon-Avon. He made his film debut in Hitchcock’s Juno and the Paycock (1930).

Laurie spent most of the next five decades playing surly, snappish types: the scheming crofter in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935), the farmer recruit in The Way Ahead (1944), the brothel proprietor in Fanny by Gaslight (1944) and the repugnant Pew in Disney’s Treasure Island (1950).

A friend of Laurence Olivier, Laurie showed up in all three of Olivier’s major Shakespearean film adaptations. He played Captain Jamie in Henry V (1944), Francisco in Hamlet (1948) and Lord Lovel in Richard III (1955). One of Laurie’s few starring roles was in the romantic melodrama Edge of the World (1937), set on the remote Shetland isle of Foula; 40 years later Laurie was one of the surviving participants in director Michael Powell‘s reunion documentary Return to the Edge of the World (1978).

On TV, Laurie enjoyed worldwide popularity in the role of cantankerous undertaker Private Fraser in the long-running BBC sitcom Dad’s Army (1968-1977), including a feature length version in 1971.

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