Search this site:
its 30th Anniversary, Dad's Army's youngest recruit recalls… 'I
was a stupid boy, but we just acted ourselves...'
Daily Mail, Friday, July 31, 1998
actor who made his name as gormless, adolescent Private Pike
in Dad's Army arrives half an hour late for our appointment,
sweating flustered, arms flailing and wittering about traffic,
weather and a vital envelope for his accountant that he has
somehow managed to leave on a train.
Lavender is now 52, grey haired and paunchy, but the temptation
to admonish him with a sharp 'stupid boy' in the way Captain
Mainwaring did so often is all but irresistible.
That's the problem with Dad's Army - the mother of all comedy
shows which was first broadcast 30 years ago today. We've seen
it repeated so many times and feel so well acquainted with the
characters that we find it hard to believe that any of them
could really have being actors at all. 'In a way we weren't
actors,' says Ian. 'I think one of the reasons why Dad's
Army made such an impression was that, in a way, we all played
'If you look at the very earliest scripts, you'll see that
they are very different to the ones that followed. The reason
was that the scriptwriters, Jimmy Perry and David Croft had
got to know all the actors and they started to write the scripts
around our personalities.'
Post Office is to mark the show's anniversary with a first day
cover and there is a reunion today at the imperial war museum
in London when Lavender will be joined by, among others, Clive
Dunn, 79, who played Corporal Jones and Bill Pertwee, 72, who
was ARP Warden Hodges. "There are so few of us left now,'
says Lavender, the youngest member of the cast at just 22
when the show was first broadcast on July 31, 1968,'that
we could probably have staged the reunion in a phone booth.'
has a mature, thoughtful outlook on life that contrasts starkly
with his alter ego. A failed marriage to actress Sue Kerchiss
and cancer of the bladder diagnosed in 1993, have both been
formative experiences. He married his second wife, the American-born
Miki Hardy, who is three years his senior, just six days after
his illness was discovered. 'We had being living together
for 16 years and it was something I should have done a long
time before, ' he says. 'These things change you, they
help you to see what is important in life.' The growth was
operated on successfully and, although Lavender has a check-up
next week, doctors seem confident the cancer will not return.
He considers himself a lucky man, conscious, perhaps, that James
Beck (Private Walker) died Aged just 44 during surgery
for a suspected stomach ulcer.
is naturally determined to make the most of the rest of his
life (he is to appear shortly in a production of Who's Afraid
of Virginia Woolf?), but he looks back on Dad's Army - and Pike
- with enormous affection. 'Obviously typecasting has been
a bit of a problem but I really can't complain,' he says.
'What actor could possibly complain about a series that has
given so many people so much happiness?' No fewer than 80
episodes of Dad's Army were made over ten years and what's so
extraordinary is the way they seem so funny, intelligent and
compulsive as the day they were first minted.
series is enjoying a huge success in its current run on BBC2
on Tuesday nights. But its finest hour unquestionably came in
1996 when, pitted against Baywatch on Saturday night prime time,
it attracted almost ten million viewers against its sexy rival's
7.1 million. What could a show about a group of geriatric old
men trying to guard a sleepy seaside town have on Pamela Anderson?
'In a Word, quality,' Lavender says. 'You always know
when you settle down to watch Dad's Army that you are going
to be entertained.
actors and the scriptwriters never let themselves down and
they seemed to have a never ending supply of great ideas so
there was never any need to resort to violence or bad language.
Perhaps there's a lesson in that for the Programme makers
show's legions of fans headed by the Queen and the Queen Mother
- will be intrigued by his assertion that the characters were
inspired by the actors who portrayed them. You wonder if Arthur
Lowe was really as pompous as Mainwaring and whether he felt
uneasy around John Le Mesurier (Sergeant Wilson) because
of the fact in real life as well as in the series gone to public
school? Was John Laurie (Fraser) mean and cantankerous
and Frank Williams (the Vicar) just ever so slightly
limp wristed? And was Pike really a dim mothers boy? Lavender
allows himself a few moments of introspection to consider, 'Well,
it's true that I was closer to my mother than my father and
there were occasions when she would come onto the set and I
always valued her opinion,' he says.
don't think Pike was dim, though, any more than I was. I would
say we were both naïve. Dad's Army was virtually my first
job out of drama school and I hardly knew one end of a TV
camera from another. I remember moving furniture around once
and someone telling me to stop it, as there'd be a strike
as it was against union rules.
"Stupid boy" tag was never in the script. I think Arthur once
said it to me in rehearsals and it stuck. The peculiar facial
tic they gave me in one episode came from something the scriptwriters
had being doing between takes. 'The long scarf I wore was
also mine - but I didn't wear it because my mother was worried
about my croup. I was doing a play at the time and needed
to disguise the long hair the part required.'
the relationship between Lowe and Le Mesurier, Lavender says:
'I wouldn't say they were bosom buddies. Arthur was a pompous
little man and John was a bit vague, but a bit of an old charmer
who had an eye for the ladies and liked a drink.
'Arthur was very conscious of his position. He saw himself
as the senior man on the set, as he was in the platoon, and
once rejected a script because it had a scene in which somebody
put their hand down his trousers. He wouldn't have anyone
do that to him. He felt it was beneath his dignity. 'John,
of course, didn't care. I remember him once doing a scene
in his underwear.'
says he saw no evidence of Le Mesurier's public school education
grating with Lowe, who had, in real life, left school at 16.
It might have had more to do with the fact Le Mesurier was initially
paid more than Lowe - £262 to his £210 per episode. Arthur Lowe
was nevertheless, kind and hospitable. He often invited members
of the cast aboard his beloved steam yacht, the Amazon, on its
stately trips up the Thames, when Lavender's most enduring memory
of Lowe was behind the bar, providing an endless supply of drinks.
John Laurie was not mean, but he was cantankerous. 'I remember
he once had to spend the entire day sitting on a rather frisky
horse on a river and was a bit rude to me when I asked him how
he was.' Lavender recalls. 'I thought on reflection that
it was hardly surprising. He was an old man who'd just had an
remember him saying once that he'd played just about every
major role in Shakespeare on the stage but he knew he would
be remembered only for Dad's Army. It sounded like he was
a bit contemptuous of it, but the fact is that he had as much
fun as the rest of us.'
for the other members of the cast, Lavender says Arnold Ridley
(Private Godfrey) did not suffer from incontinence, though
he remembers, embarrassingly, an assistant once going to some
lengths to give him a dressing room which was within easy reach
of a loo. 'We had to explain that he had to make a distinction
between what actors were like in front of a camera and what
they were like in real life.
had a lot of time for Arnold who was in continual discomfort,
not from needing to go to the loo but as a result of wounds
he had sustained during the First World War. 'He
and John Laurie were the oldest members of the cast and there
was a lot of good-humoured rivalry between them. John used
to tell him: "I'm not going to be the first one written out
of the show."
However, Clive Dunn, who played Corporal Jones, was a bit
of a panicker. 'He would worry about things and I would get
hold of his arm and say, "Stop it". 'I remember he hated saying
"They don't like it up 'em" because he thought it was a bit
James Beck was, Lavender says, a bit of a spiv. ' He was
something of a wideboy. He always wanted to be the life and
soul of the party and he never bought his own fags.' As
for Frank Williams, the Vicar, Lavender says 'He was a very
funny man. People used to say he gave people the worst possible
impression of vicars but in real life he was a lay preacher
and a member of the General Synod.
the days when Dad's Army was being made no-one thought of
people being gay, they just thought of people being a bit
fussy. We got away with an awful lot because we were able
to imply things.'
says that, for all the individual peculiarities of the cast,
they got on surprisingly well. 'I think it was the fact that
we were all really theatre people. Knowing your lines, being
on the set at the right time and doing the best you could were
all marks of pride. I don't remember anyone ever calling in
sick, which was quite an achievement for an elderly cast.'
most of the actors - Lowe, Le Mesurier, Ridley and Laurie -
are dead. The fact that Lavender has aged and matured in the
years since the platoon last fell in on Remembrance Day 1977
often comes as something of a shock to the fans who seem to
imagine him preserved in aspic.
fan mail still keeps coming in even now but they don't want
pictures of me as I look now, they want to see me as I looked
when I was in the series,' he says. ' I tried sending
out up-to-date pictures but they didn't seem to understand who
this grey-haired old man was.'
from the original article by Andy Howells.
copyright of this article belongs to the credited writer and
the original publication it was sourced from. The opinion's
be they positive or negative do not necessarily reflect the
opinion of www.dadsarmy.tv and any errors (typing or otherwise)
which appear are reproduced for authenticity. The
article is reproduced for reference purposes and the webmaster
of www.dadsarmy.tv accepts no ownership of the article whatsoever.