Dad’s Army actor Ian Lavender dies aged 77

<span>Ian Lavender in Dad’s Army.</span><span>Photograph: Michael Fresco/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Ian Lavender in Dad’s Army.Photograph: Michael Fresco/Rex/Shutterstock

The Dad’s Army and EastEnders actor Ian Lavender has died at the age of 77, his agent has said.

Lavender, who is best known for playing Private Pike in the classic BBC TV comedy, was also its last surviving regular cast member. He died on Friday morning.

His hapless Pike frequently had run-ins with Captain George Mainwaring, played by Arthur Lowe, and was looked after by Sergeant Arthur Wilson, played by John Le Mesurier.

Pike, the youngest member of the Home Guard troop and a bank clerk, would often refer to Wilson as Uncle Arthur because of his relationship with Pike’s overprotective mother, Mavis, played by Janet Davies.

Lavender also played Derek Harkinson in EastEnders – initially from 2001 to 2005, then returning in 2016. He left the BBC soap in 2017 after he became ill with sepsis, having previously had cancer and a heart attack.

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

Lavender once said it was the luckiest day of his life when he was cast as Pike. He was earning £9 a week during a six-month stint at Canterbury Rep when someone came up to him and said he looked stupid enough to do it.

He said: “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.

“Since then at the start of every new series it has been one hell of a job trying to conjure it up again. But Private Pike took me from obscurity into the TV big time. I could never have achieved that if I hadn’t learned to say: ‘Ooh Captain Mainwaring, my mum said even if the Germans come I mustn’t catch cold.’”

Speaking to the Guardian in 2014, Lavender said Pike had also cost him film roles. “I’m very proud of Dad’s Army. If you asked me: ‘Would you like to be in a sitcom that was watched by 18 million people, was on screen for 10 years, and will create lots of work for you and provide not just for you but for your children for the next 40-odd years?’ – which is what’s happened – I’d have been a fool to say ‘bugger off’. I’d be a fool to have regrets.”

Related: Ian Lavender: ‘Dad’s Army cost me a career in the movies’

But he added: “I was close to getting two very big movies in the 70s. But, in the end, they said: ‘We can’t get past Private Pike’ … Pike is why I was in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in rep at Worcester, rather than in the West End.”

During the same interview, Lavender cleared up a longstanding mystery from the show. When he had asked David Croft, one of the show’s creators, if Uncle Arthur was Pike’s father, Lavender was told: “Of course.” Speaking in 2014, he said: “I never knew until then. I just said the lines.”

Jon Petrie, the BBC’s director of comedy, 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. Our thoughts are with his family.”

He is survived by his wife, the choreographer and stage director Miki (Michele) Hardy, and two sons, Sam and Daniel, from his first marriage, to Suzanne Kerchiss, which ended in divorce.