How Dad’s Army star, the late Ian Lavender kept his Chichester promise

The death of The Dad's Army actor Ian Lavender will be felt acutely by the many millions of us who grew up absolutely besotted with the wonderful series across its nine series – a series in which Lavender’s Pike grew in stature rising to true greatness.
Ian Lavender (BBC image)Ian Lavender (BBC image)
Ian Lavender (BBC image)

Who can forget the lovely episode in which he allows his farewell party to go ahead even though he isn’t going anywhere. He lets it happen simply because no one has ever thrown a party for him before.

Who can forget his coyness when Hodges’ rather forward niece virtually abducts him in a stolen staff car. He feels mysterious stirrings as he sits next to her drinking his fizzy pop – but he’s soon out of his depth and sucking his thumb.

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And who can forget that wonderful naivety which he maintained across 80 episodes – that complete inability to join the dots and work out how “Uncle” Arthur manages to be in the house last thing at night and then first thing in the morning – “and I never hear you leave and I never hear you come back.” There is something so precious about that innocence, something so beautiful about the way Ian Lavender played it.

But above all, perhaps, I will never forget the way Ian kept his Chichester promise. He was due to appear at the Festival of Chichester a few years ago, but something came up and he couldn’t. But he immediately promised he would be back as soon as he could, and he was as good as his word. He returned for an autumn in-conversation afternoon with his friend, the distinguished theatre director Roger Redfarn who lives just outside Chichester and who, back in the 1970s, directed the Dad’s Army cast on their UK theatre tour.

Over the years I interviewed Ian Lavender probably four or five times, the first when he was touring in The Ghost Train some years ago, the superb creepy thriller which was written by his Dad’s Army co-star Arnold Ridley during his pre-war years of success as a playwright.

When you interview someone who is overwhelmingly known for one thing, you sometimes find yourself skirting around the subject for fear of unwittingly suggesting it’s the only thing they are known for – and I probably did that each time I spoke to Ian. But once we broached the Dad’s Army subject, he spoke about it with all the love and generosity you could possibly hope for.

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There has never ever been a better TV comedy series. Every time you watch it, you get so much more out of it. In adult life we returned to it when our children were aged seven and nine. They adored it. We watched all nine series again when our children were aged 13 and 15. They loved it even more. Since November we have been rewatching it all once again, just the two of us, our children having long since flown the nest. It is phenomenal.

I always loved Wilson the most. This time round it’s Mainwaring – so heroic, so genuine, so self-sacrificing. Pompous, yes. But heroic in so many ways – pretending to deal himself the short straw in series five, ready to face danger, always ready to protect his men.

But always in the mix is Pike, always getting a drenching, so often on the wrong end of the physical comedy. And always exquisitely played.

One of the last times I spoke to Ian was shortly after Clive Dunn’s death. He was aghast at all the press contacting him wanting a comment from him. And absolutely that was his right. And just possibly some people weren’t doing it in the most respectful way.

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But the strength of interest was surely simply a reflection of the strength of the love we all feel for the series.

Only yesterday I was mega chuffed to find in a second-hand book shop a copy of Bill Pertwee’s Dad’s Army’s memoirs. And just last night we started on the ninth and final series of Dad’s Army again. How very very sad those final few episodes are going to seem now.