“Do not inform him, Pike!” The unforgettable moment in Dad’s Army created by Ian Lavender.
Many aspiring actors aspire to have the opportunity to portray a diverse range of compelling characters. However, they also have a fear of never being given the chance to do so. Alternatively, there is a possibility of gaining fame for a single role in a highly beloved television series. This can bring a unique combination of success and restriction, which many performers would gladly accept.
Ian Lavender, who has died aged 77, took this route with grace and patience as Private Frank Pike, the timid teenage rookie of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard in Dad’s Army. Lavender appeared in all 80 episodes from 1968 to 1977, and features in the single most shared moment, when a captured German U-boat officer responds to some schoolboy rudery by ordering the boy soldier to give his name, causing Arthur Lowe’s Captain Mainwaring to bark: “Don’t tell him, Pike!”
The series is held in such high esteem that even episodes from 46 years ago are still being aired on BBC Two and the rerun network Gold. This sitcom remains the only classic TV show that does not have to dedicate an episode as a tribute when a lead actor passes away – it is already scheduled to be shown. However, it is worth noting that Lavender is the last of the main actors to have passed away.
He was frequently requested for both TV and theater roles and eventually landed a recurring part on EastEnders as Derek Harkinson. In the soap, he played an amateur actor and longtime companion of Pauline Fowler (played by Wendy Richard). As one of the show’s earliest gay characters, he was involved in a plotline addressing homophobia.
However, Pike was the one who had the most success in his career, as he graciously endorsed the 2016 film adaptation of Dad’s Army. Lavender even had a cameo as a Brigadier while Blake Harrison paid tribute to him by imitating the character of the platoon junior.
Pike was a prime example of the meticulous characterisation and visual sense of Dad’s Army writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft. The Home Guard historically contained men too old to be called up for the main army, so the authors needed a plausible reason for young Pike not to be at the front. They found it in asthma and sinus conditions that led him to fail a military medical – a backstory inspiring the huge home-knit scarf that his worried mother insisted he wore on parade and became one of two signature TV scarves (the other being Tom Baker’s in Doctor Who).
At the beginning of the show, Pike is 19 years old while Lavender is two years his senior. Once he completed his studies at Bristol Old Vic drama school, he took on “juvenile lead” roles at the Marlowe theatre in Canterbury. It was there that he was selected by a television casting director to play a younger character in a 30-minute ITV production called Flowers At My Feet in 1968.
Croft noticed and was fond of the actor chosen for the role of Pike. The fact that Croft’s wife, Ann Callender, was Lavender’s agent caused both Pike and the BBC to have slight concerns about the casting. However, Callender reassured them that the character could be removed from the show if the actor did not perform well.
He quickly made a strong impression. Despite being the least famous member of the group, Lavender had the first lines in the first episode alongside Lowe and had a significant amount of screen time. This was partly due to the fact that Pike was weak and small while Lavender was much younger than his co-stars, some of whom were in poor health. Perry and Croft wisely utilized Lavender for scenes involving water, driving, falling, and physical activities, allowing him to have a larger role.
Pike’s extreme lack of worldliness compared to John Le Mesurier’s smoothness as Sgt Wilson also created a strong duo, as the young man is unaware that “Uncle Arthur” is actually his widowed mother’s romantic partner.
Lavender’s innocent portrayal in the role allowed Croft and Perry to subtly include some of the risqué humor they were known for in their previous show, Hi-De-Hi! In The Making of Private Pike, the young soldier borrows a car for a date and when it breaks down, he spends the night trying to fix it. However, it is implied that he spent the night engaging in a passionate affair. Despite this innuendo, Lavender and Le Mesurier’s performance maintains the wholesome tone of Dad’s Army as a family-friendly show. Lavender even cited this as his favorite scene, according to Dad’s Army historian Graham McCann.
In the movie The Deadly Attachment, released in 1973, the Germans mistakenly use the name Pike. It is uncommon for actors to be known for a phrase they never actually said, but in this case, the character’s name is the punchline. The fear of being executed by the Nazis if the Allies were to lose adds to the impact of the line, as shown by Lavender’s panicked reaction. This scene serves as a great example of how a reaction shot can enhance the impact of a line.
In 1976, the American television network ABC produced a pilot episode for a remake of Dad’s Army titled The Rear Guard. The chosen episode was The Deadly Attachment, but due to a name change for one of the characters, the punchline had to be altered to “Don’t tell him, Henderson!” The show was not picked up, and some comedy experts, such as writer and performer Barry Cryer, used this as evidence that shorter, harder syllables are inherently funnier. The writers, however, believed that the name change made the line less effective as it would take longer to say “Henderson” compared to “Pike” in the original version.
No matter the cause, it brought recognition to the name Pike and ensured positive feelings towards Ian Lavender for as long as the beloved show Dad’s Army continues to be cherished, which appears to be indefinitely.