John le Mesurier found fame as Sergeant Wilson in the long-running BBC comedy series, Dad’s Army.
Although he wasn’t born on Guernsey, he had links to the island – and a Guernsey surname, even though it wasn’t the name he was born to.
John Elton Le Mesurier Halliley was born in Bedford in 1912 to Amy Michelle Halliley. Amy had been born on Guernsey and was the descendant of the last hereditary governor of Alderney. Her maiden name had been Le Mesurier and her marriage might have spelled the end of the name in that particular branch of the family were it not for her husband’s apparent dislike of the acting profession.
A change of name
After leaving school and some time spent working in his father’s office, John le Mesurier enrolled in an acting school. He quickly found success under the name John Halliley, but in September 1937, after several seasons in the theatre, he adopted his mother’s maiden name, le Mesurier.
His biographer wrote that he hadn’t explained why he had done this, but The Rough Index to the Le Mesurier/Le Messurier Family by the Guernsey Society (PDF) states that his father “would not countenance a mere actor bearing his name. As a result John had to use Le Mesurier as a stage name.”
Thus, the le Mesurier name reappeared.
In a wonderfully self-deprecating interview given to Channel Television in 1978, he talked about his Alderney connections but explained that he had never lived in Guernsey, despite claims having been written to the contrary in the years since.
He died on 15 November 1983 of cirrhosis of the liver. He had been known to be a heavy drinker through much of his life.
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