Arnold Ridley

Arnold Ridley bigraphy, stories - Playwright, Actor

Arnold Ridley : biography

07 January 1896 – 12 March 1984

William Arnold Ridley, OBE (7 January 1896 – 12 March 1984) was an English playwright and actor, first notable as the author of the play The Ghost Train and later in life for portraying the elderly Private Charles Godfrey in the British sitcom Dad’s Army (1968–77).


  • The Interrupted Journey (1949)
  • Green Grow the Rushes (1951)
  • Stolen Face (1952)
  • Wings of Mystery (1963)
  • Crooks in Cloisters (1964)
  • A Man for All Seasons (1966)
  • Dad’s Army (1971)
  • Carry on Girls (1973)
  • The Amorous Milkman (1975)

Early life

Ridley was born in Walcot, Bath, England where 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.

Military service

Ridley was a student teacher and had made his theatrical debut in Prunella at the Theatre Royal, Bristol when he volunteered for British Army service in August 1914. He was rejected due to a toe injury, but in 1915 was able to enlist as a private in the Somerset Light Infantry. He saw active service in the First World War, sustaining several serious injuries: his left hand was left virtually useless by injuries sustained on the Somme;"Godfrey’s secret war horror" p13 of Sunday Telegraph (Issue 2,459- dated 27 July 2008), Daily Mail, 2008-09-20. his legs were riddled with shrapnel; he was bayonetted in the groin; and the legacy of a blow to the head by a German soldier’s rifle butt left him prone to blackouts., BBC Radio 4, 2012-07-06. He was medically discharged from the army with the rank of Lance Corporal.

Having unsuccessfully attempted to establish a film company between the wars, Ridley rejoined the army in 1939. He was commissioned into the General List on 7 October 1939 as a second lieutenant. He was given the service number 103663. He again saw active service with the British Expeditionary Force in France during the Second World War, but was discharged on health grounds. He relinquished his commission as a captain on 1 June 1940. He subsequently joined the Home Guard.

Television Roles

Year Title Role
1964-1968 Crossroads Rev. Guy Atkins
1968–1977 Dad’s Army Private Godfrey

Acting career

After his medical discharge in 1916 he went into acting. In 1918, he joined Birmingham Repertory Theatre, staying for two years and playing 40 parts, before moving on to Plymouth, where he eventually had 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). It was a tale of passengers stranded at a haunted railway station in Cornwall, with one of the characters being a detective trying to catch smugglers. The show became a huge success, enjoying 665 performances in London’s West End and two revivals. The Ghost Train was first filmed in 1931 and again filmed in 1941 when it starred Arthur Askey. Ridley also wrote over 30 other plays including The Wrecker (1924), Keepers of Youth (1929), The Flying Fool (1929) and Recipe for Murder (1936).Obituary, The Times, 14 March 1984

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 , Doollee website 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 The Archers and The Rev.Guy Atkins in the ITV soap Crossroads from 1964-1968. However, he only became a household name after he was cast as Private Charles Godfrey, the gentle platoon medic in the British sitcom, Dad’s Army (1968-77). He continued to appear into his eighties and when 86 was appointed an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List of 1982, for services to the theatre.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1976 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at London’s Marylebone Station.

Personal life

He was married three times. Firstly from January 1926 to 1939, then a short marriage beginning in 1939Nicolas Ridley Godfrey’s Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 pp.191-93 before his final marriage to actress Althea Parker (1911–2001) on 3 October 1945;Nicolas Ridley Godfrey’s Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 p.194 they had one son Nicolas (b 1947).Nicolas Ridley Godfrey’s Ghost, Mogzilla, 2009 p.1 Arnold 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.The Times, death announcement, 13 March 1984 He was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium and his urn buried at his parents’ grave in Bath Abbey cemetery.

His collection of theatrical memorabilia was left to the University of Bristol and has been made available online.

He was a Freemason, and belonged to the Savage Club Lodge in London.See reference on the Lodge’s .Report of actor’s son, Nicolas Ridley, his father.Report in UGLE magazine .