After starting in Music Hall as a comedian, he met the thirteen-year-old Kitty McShane (1897 – 1964) while playing Granny in the pantomime, Little Red Riding Hood, in Dublin in 1910. He married her when she turned 16 in 1913, and became a Catholic to do so. They had one child in 1915.
He took the dame act that he had already done and developed it into a mother-and-daughter act: 'Old Mother Riley and her daughter Kitty'. At the same time he changed his professional name to Arthur Lucan.
Daphne Snowdrop Bluebell Riley, was an Irishwoman from Liverpool, willing to use her fists when necessary, who always wins out against the crooks and German spies she is pitted against.
Lucan always stayed in character and did not remove his wig at the end. Off-stage he was rarely recognized and it was Kitty in the limelight. After twenty years of playing the act they appeared in the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium in 1934, and performed the sketch 'Bridget's Night Out' which became a classic.
Between 1936 and 1952 they made more than a dozen films, the last one of which, Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, co-starred Bela Lugosi. All were cheaply made, and until 1949 none were played in the West End of London. By 1941 Arthur Lucan was named as second only to George Formby as Britain's top film star.
Kitty’s extravagance led to bankruptcy, and because of her affair with a younger actor, they separated in 1951 and toured in separate ‘Old Mother Riley’ productions. In Kitty's last film, Old Mother Riley's Jungle Treasure, her scenes were filmed on separate days.
Arthur collapsed and died in 1954 while waiting to go on stage at the Tivoli in Hull, and his understudy, Roy Rolland, had to step in. As he left taxes owing, Kitty continued the act with Rolland, until she herself died in 1964.
In 1983, Alan Plater wrote a play, On Your Way, Riley, about the life of Arthur Lucan, with songs by Alex Glasgow.
Stars on Parade (1936)
Kathleen Mavourneen (1937)
Old Mother Riley (1937)
Old Mother Riley in Paris (1938)
Old Mother Riley MP (1939)
Old Mother Riley Joins Up (1940)
Old Mother Riley in Society (1940)
Old Mother Riley in Business (1941)
Old Mother Riley's Circus (1941)
Old Mother Riley's Ghost (1941)
Old Mother Riley Overseas (1943)
Old Mother Riley Detective (1943)
Old Mother Riley at Home (1945)
Old Mother Riley's New Venture (1949)
Old Mother Riley Headmistress (1950)
Old Mother Riley's Jungle Treasure (1951)
Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952)
- Anthony Slide. Great pretenders: a history of female and male impersonation in the performing arts. Lombard, Ill.: Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 160 pp. 1986; chp 8.
- "Old Mother Riley”, "Arthur Lucan". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Mother_Riley. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Lucan
- The Arthur Lucan/Old Mother Riley Website. www.peterwilkinson.karoo.net/omr.htm.