Ian’s no stupid boy’ in Rocky Horror
EMMA OUTTEN Dad's Army star Ian Lavender is at Norwich Theatre Royal next week as The Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show. Emma Outten spoke to him about how surgical stockings, rather than fishnets, are more appropriate at his age.
Despite more than three years in EastEnders, Ian Lavender will probably always be best known for his role as a “stupid boy” in a British sitcom about the Home Guard in the second world war.
Ian played Private Frank Pike in the hugely-successful comedy Dad's Army, and was a relative youngster in the regular cast, when it was broadcast on BBC television between 1968 and 1977.
“Private Pike was a very small part when I started,” recalled Ian.
However, writers David Croft and Jimmy Perry had other, bigger, ideas.
Ian did not mind playing - totally against type - everyone's favourite idiot, or the “stupid boy”, as Captain Mainwaring referred to him in many episodes.
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“I enjoyed playing Pike. I thought it was great fun,” said Ian.
After all, it involved him working with people he liked (he was working with veterans such as John Le Mesurier) for 10 weeks a year, for 10 years.
“Wasn't that a hardship?” he quipped.
Dad's Army was filmed mostly in and around Thetford, only about 20 miles from where Ian lives now in Suffolk.
He said of his move to the county, several years ago: “I haven't regretted it for one moment. You don't have to live in that awful place called London,” he said.
Conveniently for Ian, he is playing The Narrator for the forthcoming Ipswich and Norwich dates of The Rocky Horror Show.
“It saves me travelling,” said Ian, who was pleased to report that he lives only an hour's drive from Norwich.
There are different narrators for different dates of the show, starring Olivier Award-winning West End and Broadway star David Bedella as Frank N Furter.
Ian added: “It's fun. I like the process of 'dipping in', as it were.”
The idea of being on tour for six months doesn't appeal to Ian, who turned 61 last month. He would rather be at home, with wife Michele (his two sons, Daniel and Sam, are both in their 30s, although he still refers to them as “my little boys”).
Narration plays a big part in Ian's life these days, and is not without its advantages.
“It's a terrible admission but a great attraction of all narration is you don't have to learn it,” said Ian. This was a great plus point, he explained, “as the years advance”.
Ian is also rather pleased that he doesn't have to fish out the fishnets for his appearance in the scandalous show. Life is more about surgical stockings these days. “I haven't got the legs for it. I did once…”
For three years Ian played Pauline Fowler's gay friend Derek Harkinson in EastEnders. Asking Ian about his time in the soap, he soon mentioned the fact that he suffered a heart attack, in 2004.
“I don't know whether there's a connection!” he joked, before adding, in all seriousness, that the “groundwork” for the heart attack had probably been done before he began working on the set of EastEnders.
With four episodes broadcast each week, Ian also mentioned the production line quality to working on a soap. “It must be like a factory,” he reflected, although he added: “I'm not just talking about EastEnders here.”
He went on: “Nobody is given enough time. Everybody has to fall back on their resources.”
Ian added: “It's the nature of the beast, it's not a complaint.”
All in all though, it was an experience he says he would not have missed. Plus he managed to get home (“point the car towards Suffolk and turn on the radio”) most nights.
His time on EastEnders entailed working with “half a dozen old mates”, including Wendy Richard (who had appeared in Dad's Army as Walker's girlfriend, Shirley), Derek Martin (Charlie Slater), John Bardon (Jim Branning) and June Brown (Dot Branning).
Initially, Ian was only going to play the role of Derek for six weeks. Then the original idea of the character, a childhood friend of Pauline's, changed over time.
Ian lamented: “They could have done more with the Pauline-Derek relationship.”
Did he watch when Wendy's character was killed off on Christmas Day? “Oh yeah, out of loyalty,” he said. “Of course I recorded Wendy's stuff.”
And he added: “There is just a possibility we might be doing something together later this year.”
Since leaving EastEnders Ian has been busy, and 2006 was a “terrific year”, he said (most recently he appeared in the National Theatre's award-winning production of Caroline or Change).
And, funnily enough, when he gets home to Suffolk, after driving back from London, watching a recording of EastEnders isn't the first thing Ian thinks of doing these days.
Would he envisage appearing in another soap? “I think Corrie is great, I really do,” said Ian, of Coronation Street.
He added: “What more can I say… write a begging letter to Granada?”
t Ian Lavender will be appearing in The Rocky Horror Show at Norwich Theatre Royal from Monday March 12 to Saturday March 17 as The Narrator. For ticket information telephone the box office on 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk