Wednesday, February 7, 2024

“Don’t forget to wear your scarf and don’t talk to strangers”. Private Pike is gone

Ian Lavender as Private Frank Pike in Dad's Army, BBC 1,
1968 - 1977. Photo courtesy Chaucer Auctions 2022

by Tony Magee

Actor Ian Lavender who died February 2, was the last surviving cast member of Dad’s Army.

Announcing his death Monday, his agent Hilary Gagan said the actor had been ill for some time, and passed with his wife and sons by his side.

Cast as Private Frank Pike when aged just 22, he was celebrated for his portrayal of the endearingly naive and youngest member of Britain’s Home Guard.

He went on to appear in most of the 80 episodes. The series ran from 1968 to 1977.

Surrounded by senior acting royalty, including John Le Mesurier as Sergeant Wilson, Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring, John Laurie as Scotsman Private Frazer and Arnold Ridley as Private Godfrey, Lavender absorbed a massive amount of acting skills in a short space of time.

“I was a complete beginner and I suddenly joined what was probably Britain’s most experienced team of character actors. I was in a state of shock finding myself suddenly among so many great actors. When the moment came for me to speak, that funny voice of Pike just came out in a moment of panic.”, Lavender said.

Clive Dunn who played the doddering Corporal Jones was only 48 when the series began, but was made up to look well into his eighties.

Dad's Army cast from L-R: Clive Dunn, Ian Lavender, Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, John Laurie and Arnold Ridley. Photo courtesy Gold 24 Carat Comedy

Servicing a need for entertainment at the growing number of corporate events booked into Anzac Hall at the Australian War Memorial, I wrote a script and directed and produced a 30 minute Dad’s Army show in 2007, using a cast of Canberra’s best known actors.

Ian Croker played Captain Mainwaring, David Cannell and later Geoffrey Borny played Corporal Jones, Gordon Nicholson delivered a composite character of Frazer and Wilson and Rhys Holden was Private Pike.

The show later shifted to the Pavilion Hotel on Northbourne Avenue.

After Dad’s Army, Lavender appeared in a production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, played the role of The Narrator in a touring production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, starred as the naive Nick in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and appeared as Monsignor Howard in the West End theatre production of Sister Act The Musical.

In 2013 he starred as The Mikado in three concert performances in London, Birmingham and Manchester and made his Edinburgh Fringe debut in a stage version of The Shawshank Redemption.

Lavender cleared up a long standing mystery from Dad’s Army, when in a 2014 interview he revealed that the shows co-creator, David Croft, told him after the show’s final wrap in 1977, that Le Mesurier’s character Sergeant Wilson, whom Pike referred to as “Uncle Arthur” was in fact his father - the product of a furtive relationship with Mrs Pike. “I never knew until then. I just said the lines.” he said.

Ian Lavender in 2016. Getty Images

A favourite of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, five surviving members of the show appeared in the street parade marking her 100th birthday in 2000. Annoying ARP Warden Bill Pertwee, Jones’ love interest and eventual wife Pamela Cundell as Mrs Fox, Clive Dunn as Jones himself, Frank Williams playing the Vicar, and Lavender as Private Pike.

In the 1970s, Dad’s Army regularly attracted more than 18 million viewers, becoming one of the most-watched and beloved television programmes of its time. In 2018, British Royal Mail marked the show’s 50th anniversary with a collection of stamps featuring the main characters.

Lavender survived bladder cancer in 1993 and a heart attack in 2004. In 2017 he suffered Sepsis whilst filming episodes of East Enders.

BBC’s director of comedy, Jon Petrie said: “Ian was a much-loved actor and will be sorely missed by all those who knew him. In his role of Private Pike in Dad’s Army, he delivered some of the most iconic and loved moments in the history of British comedy.”

He is survived by his wife, choreographer and stage director Miki Hardy, and two sons, Sam and Daniel, from his first marriage to actress Suzanne Kerchiss.

Ian Lavender was 77.

First published in Canberra City News online edition in a shorter format, February 6, 2024