At this time of year Edinburgh is filled with celebrities, presenting me with daily opportunities to embarrass myself or be too shy to say anything. Hopefully the former if they are a guest my daily Edinburgh Fringe Podcast (available from the British Comedy Guide and iTunes or come and see it live at Stand 1).
My favourite interviewee thus far is Ian Lavender, currently performing in a much-heralded stage version of The Shawshank Redemption, but best remembered for playing an enduring character in one of the greatest sit-coms ever. That’s right, he was Gary Sparrow’s son in Goodnight Sweetheart. He might have been in something else before that. Not sure.
Of course, he played Private Pike in Dad’s Army. As a result he’s had to endure over four decades of people calling him a “stupid boy” (even though he’s now white haired and bearded) or shouting “Don’t tell him, Pike!” as if they are the first person to have thought of doing that. Most catchphrases explode into the public consciousness and then die as quickly, but Lavender is lucky/unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of two that have endured for almost half a century. And he didn’t even say them in the first place!
About once a year somebody will shout “Moon on a stick!” at me. They are not making a comment about my leg/stomach weight differential. It’s a catchphrase from a largely forgotten TV show I did in the 1990s. Even an annual reminder can be slightly irksome. If that happened for 15, 000 consecutive days then the 15,001 person might see me pluck the moon from the sky, put it on a stick and then stick it where the sun don’t shine.
I wondered if this daily barrage had ever caused Lavender to the snap and tell some well-meaning stranger to go Pike themselves. But Ian seemed remarkably calm about the whole thing. Perhaps the lifetime of repeat fees has helped sugar the pill.
It must be ultimately flattering to have played such an iconic character. Some of my earliest memories involve watching Dad’s Army with my family and all of us laughing as one. For a five-year-old child Pike was a particularly engaging and resonant character. There he was, surrounded by all these old men, just like a powerless child in the world of grown-ups. And he was dumb enough that I could still feel superior to him, whilst enjoying his antics.
Lavender has been a comedy hero of mine for as long as I can remember and he didn’t let me down. He was self-effacing, funny and gracious when I asked him a question and then immediately said, “Don’t tell him Pike!” Though it would have been apt if that had been the moment that his mind broke and he beat me to a pulp.
The next day I passed Clare Grogan in the street. She was the front woman of Altered Images and one of the stars of Gregory’s Girl. Like Pike she has a special place in my heart from my childhood, though thankfully for very different reasons. I met her in the mid-90s and clumsily tried to chat her up. Fortunately she found the whole thing amusing rather than tragic. I have never been so charmingly rejected. I was unaware that she was recently married. But I don’t think that was the clincher in the failure of my seduction.
But she still remembers me and smiled and said hello as we passed. Clare Grogan said hello to me! Somewhere the 16-year-old-me just exploded. And not in the good way.