Actor Frank Williams, who has died aged 90, was best known as Rev Timothy Farthing in Dad’s Army, one of the BBC’s most popular television series. Although this mild-mannered vicar was a bit of a jokester and dither, Williams himself was a deeply religious man, a practicing Anglican.
Indeed, in his later years he served three terms (1985-2000) as a representative of the Diocese of London at the General Synod, where he voiced his opposition to the ordination of women – he quit the vote, which opposed him in 1992, in tears – but never left the church and often spoke out for better treatment of gay people.
He joined Dad’s Army, which ran from 1968 to 1977 (and has rarely disappeared from the screen since), at the start of the third series, in 1969, when the Vicar’s Parish Hall in Walmington-on-Sea been requisitioned by the elderly platoon. for exercise and strategic planning. This was not an arrangement welcomed by Farthing.
Besides Ian Lavender as “dumb boy” Pike, Williams was the youngest cast member and recorded the show’s friendships and camaraderie, as well as accounts of filming in Thetford, Norfolk (where the cast used the Bell Hotel as a home from home) in his memoir, Vicar to Dad’s Army (2002).
It amused him that after donning the dog collar, he progressed to further on-screen outings in the clerical ranks: as archdeacon (“finally!”) in the show’s final episode BBC’s Vanity Fair in 1987, then as a bishop in You rang, Monsignor? a comedy series set in the 1920s that ran for three years (in 25 episodes of 50 minutes each) from 1990, written by the Dad’s Army team of Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
Born in Edgware, North London, Frank has lived there all his life, buying a house a mile and a half from his parents’ house (he was an only child) in 1956. His grandfather owned a large drapery business in Wales. His father, William Williams, a Welsh Maverick, married to Alice (née Myles), who taught Bible studies, started other small businesses and, inheriting the money, retired before the birth of Frank.
During the war years, Frank attended a school temporarily housed at St Andrew’s Church, Edgware, before attending two private and boarding schools for two years at Ardingly College, West Sussex, in his early teens before returning to Hendon County School where, in his senior year, he played the lead role in Arnold Ridley’s The Ghost Train, an eventual friend and colleague as Charles Godfrey in Dad’s Army.
His life from then on was either in the church – he worshiped at St Margaret’s, Edgware, later moving to John Keble at Mill Hill – or on the amateur stage. He made his film debut, as a soldier in the trenches, in The Shield of Faith (1956) for the Religious Department of the Rank Organization, followed by a commercial debut as a cameraman in The Extra Day (1956), a film about making a film, starring Sid James and George Baker.
As a young man, he was a regular member of the public at Watford Palace. Having befriended Jimmy and Gilda Perry, who ran the Palace as a repertory theater in the 1950s (a friendship that eventually led to his time in dad’s army) before he became a civic theater under Giles Havergal, he both performed with the company and wrote plays. for them.
Although his several thrillers—they all featured the word “Murder” in the title—were popular with amateur companies, they never made his name. This happened on television, when he appeared first as a dying patient in Emergency Department 10, then, most importantly, as Captain Pocket in The Army Game (1957-60), a Grenada television comedy series starring Bernard Bresslaw (“All I Did Was Ask”), Bill Fraser and Alfie Bass, written by Sid Colin (with contributions from Barry Took and Marty Feldman) and set in a depot in army surplus and a staging camp at Nether Hopping, somewhere in Warwickshire.
During this period he also played minion characters in several Norman Wisdom films, including The Square Peg (1958) and The Bulldog Breed (1960), before moving on to more “respectable” films such as The VIPs by Anthony Asquith (1963), Robbery by Peter Yates. (1967) and Otto Preminger’s The Human Factor (1979), the latter with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard based on Graham Greene’s novel.
His sporadic stage appearances included a 1965 season at the Royal Court in NF Simpson’s The Cresta Run and with the English Theater Vienna, the oldest such organization in continental Europe, in two plays by Simon Gray in the 1970s. A stage version of Dad’s Army, directed by Roger Redfarn, surfaced at the Shaftesbury Theater in 1975, with interpolated music hall sequences featuring ARP manager Bill Pertwee as Max Miller and Arthur Lowe, Captain Mainwaring, as Robb Wilton, then on tour.
In what turned out to be his farewell performance in 1996, he was inspired by Jonathan Miller as old Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Almeida Theater in Islington in 1996, apologizing to Snug with an “Oops, sorry my love”, when he overlooked it in the prologue to Pyramus and Thisbe’s play and anxiously uttered everyone else’s lines backstage.
At the time of the film version of Dad’s Army in 2016, Williams was the only actor to reprise his original role. Lavender was also in the cast, but now as a brigadier.
The most important people in his life were his parents and a fellow practitioner, Betty Camkin, who died in 1992. So he always enjoyed “family life” with his colleagues, especially those in Dad’s Army. Later, he was a prominent member of the Council of Equity, the actors’ union, and also sat on the Olivier Awards panel.