An Interview With Ian Lavender

Posted on: 13 November 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The popular actor talks to 50connect about Dad's Army and what he's up to now.

It's been 40 years since Dad's Army first appeared on our TV screens, but Ian Lavender is still best known for his role as Private Pike in the BBC comedy series. You might expect the 62 year old to be weary of his association with the show, but Ian Lavender doesn't mind at all.

"I'm very proud of it and I'm very proud that people still want to watch it," he says. "It's rather lovely."

Ian was barely out of his teens when he got the part of Private Pike on Dad's Army in 1968. For one of his first jobs, the success of the series was unimaginable, particularly the fact that millions of people still watch it today.

"They needed a young man and I was young! It was early in my career. Not everything you choose to do is going to be liked, but in those days you couldn't repeat things except within a year, let alone put them out on a little disc for people to watch whenever they wanted."

As the series took shape there were inevitable differences of opinion at the BBC - was it making fun of the Home Guard? Yet Ian just did his job, Dad's Army won over the nation and now catchphrases such as 'stupid boy' are part of British popular culture.

"We didn't know anything about it. We only found out about that later."

Being able to work with acting veterans such as Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Arnold Ridley and John Laurie was a formative experience.

"It was amazing to work with them. I like to think I learnt a lot. The beauty of an actor's job is working with people who are passing on their experience and eventually you pass on your experience. Sadly I don't think young people look at things like that nowadays. They don't look at what other people have been worth in their past who might just know a bit more."

Several of the Dad's Army actors had seen service during the Second World War. Ian feels that because they knew about war it probably affected their acting.

"Inevitably you draw upon whatever experience you have and what you've been through. Last year I did a play set in the 1960s with a cast of young people who weren't born until the seventies, so they couldn't bring the sixties to it, whereas I could bring something to the play because I lived through the sixties and knew about it."

Becoming older has never worried Ian.

"Whether 40, 50 or 60 came - it happens. I don't understand people who go, I don't want to talk about it, or, don't tell anybody I'm 50. You might as well say you're not looking forward to being 39. It doesn't make a jot of difference, as long as you wake up the next day. Quite honestly you might as well say, I don't want to wake up, if you're not going to experience tomorrow."

As a 55-year-old Ian became a household face again during a stint in the soap Eastenders.

"Some people hope to spend years in it while some people just want to do a few episodes. It's a job. You know it's not going to disappear after the first series and it is ongoing."

Over the years Ian has appeared in many TV and radio shows including The Glums, Yes Minister, Goodnight Sweetheart and Casualty, the film Carry On Behind, and numerous theatre productions including Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice alongside Dustin Hoffman and a tour with The Rocky Horror Show musical. He did not plan a career path, but simply made the most of opportunities that arose.

"There's no planning. There's not an awful lot of romance about acting - it's a hard business. We all want to earn a living to pay mortgages and feed families. Hopefully you do jobs that you enjoy as well."

Ian had to take unscheduled breaks when he overcame bladder cancer in the 1980s, and had a heart attack aged 57.

"I didn't know much about it when I was going through it - it's the other people who coped with it. What can you do? You're diagnosed with something so you get on with it. There's not much point in giving up because other people aren't giving up on you. Giving up seems churlish to all those people who are working so hard to get you better again. I didn't want to go so I clung on, but it was other people who got me back, not me, and I thank them daily."

Retirement is certainly not part of Ian's plans.

"Actors never retire - if an attractive job comes up."

One of Ian's latest roles is that of a new grandfather.

"I've got my little granddaughter and it's absolutely wonderful. It happened three days ago and I want as much time off as possible so we're going to spend the next three months at home."

He is also fitting in introducing the programme at five of 12 concerts around the UK on a tour by the Royal Air Force bands.

"I'm going along and enjoying it. I shan't tire of seeing it. They're a great band - I love the wonderful sound military bands make. They're not just soliders, they're musicians, so they can play across the board just like any other orchestra. I don't know what the difference is between a band and an orchestra, but their repertoire is just as broad as any other, if not broader."

As one of the comperes on the concert tour, joining Alan Dedicoat and William Roache, Ian's link with the armed forces continues today. The concerts benefit RAF veterans, new recruits and families.

"Inevitably I get asked to do quite a lot with the services. I find it a nice way of putting something back, a hackneyed phrase I'm afraid, but fighting is something I was never asked to do - I wasn't called up, that had finished by the time I was 18. I'm not suggesting I'm doing my bit but I'm happy to use whatever associations I have to help those who are doing a job I've never wanted to do myself. Of course I'm far too old to do it now."

From the fictional world of Dad's Army to the British servicepeople still in Iraq and Afghanistan, as 2008 sees the 90th anniversary of both the RAF and Armistice Day, the concerts provide a poignant reminder of all that people have done for us.

"This says thank you. It's remembering what people were prepared to do for people they didn't know, whether it was the Second World War, the First World War or a week ago. It's remembering what my parents did to bring their family through the war, what people did for those who weren't even born, and we've still got boys out there. 'They gave their lives so that you might have yours', you see on so many war memorials, and people did. We hope we won't have to do the same thing again."

Cherry Butler

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