Ian Lavender, the last surviving cast member of hit comedy Dad’s Army and a recipient of a Broad Street Walk of Stars award, has died.
The 77-year-old former Bournville Boys Technical School pupil went into acting via the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
He will always be remembered as Private Pike in the BBC series, an innocent abroad often referred to as a “stupid boy” alongside some of the country’s greatest character actors including Arthur Lowe, Clive Dunn, Bill Pertwee and John Le Mesurier .
Ian was always a genial star and he was awarded his Star in 2015. He also returned to Broad Street in 2016 to promote the all-new Dad’s Army film, in which he was recast for three days of filming as Brigadier Pritchard.
The premiere was held at Cineworld Broad Street, where he took part in an audience Q&A hosted by Heart FM presenter Ed James. I then met Ian at the Hyatt Regency Hotel to look back on his career from a new perspective.
He was cast in 1968 at the age of just 22 as the youngest star of what was to become one of TV’s best-loved sitcoms. But he told me how he later became a survivor of a heart attack in his 40s and two cancer battles, his latest with with bowel cancer in 1993.
From 2001 to 2005 and from 2016-17 he starred in EastEnders as Derek Harkinson, a friend of Pauline Fowler.
Ian told me: “When I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, the word ‘cancer’ was not used, not even by my surgeon. People were frightened of the word. [But] you don’t die with cancer, you live with it.
“I didn’t have goals, thinking things like: ‘I want to see my granddaughter’. I just wanted to see the next day. I know I’m not Peter Pan. I do know that I am going to die one day.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer I do remember wondering whether it would be fatal or not. Second time around, there were so many more things they could do and they tried different treatments for 18 months to two years.”
Ian, the father of two sons by first wife Suzanne Kerchiss, reflected on how he had thought his dad was ‘old’ when he had reached the age of 65.
“When I was young, if someone had lived to be 70 then they’d had a good innings,” said Ian, who married second wife Miki in 1993.
“When I was a youth, people were expected to be the age they were. It was like: ‘You’re 22 now, why aren’t you married?’ Now I think: ‘What does age matter?’.
“But I am aware I have got relatively little time left to life compared with what I’ve had before, so I don’t want to spend large proportion of that time doing something I don’t want to do.”
In his later life, Ian was based near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, but he maintained strong links with his home city.
“I still love coming up and seeing Villa Park [he gave Pike a Villa scarf as part of his wardrobe] and Aston Hall – that is a magnificent building. I really like the Bullring and the area around St Martin’s.
“Symphony Hall is magnificent and the canals [also in Westside] are beautiful. But I am not a great lover of the new Library of Birmingham (2013). The first time I drove past it I nearly crashed the car… at 6am in the morning!”
Mike Olley, general manager of Westside BID, added his tribute: “Ian was just a lovely, fun-packed and decent human being. He was really great when he came up to the city to accept his Star.
“He and his wife Miki were a great couple and we had a memorable dinner with him to celebrate. We’re so proud of our Stars here on Westside, and they don’t come much better than Ian.”
Main picture by Graham Young.