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Dads Army cast faced tragedy when Joe Walker star fell seriously ill series in doubt

Dad's Army: Co-star on John Laurie and Arnold Ridley's 'rivalry'

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The one-off Channel Five special, Dad’s Army: Secret Lives and Scandal, looked at the lives of the stars of the series who found fame on the BBC sitcom, which aired from 1968 to 1977. But the cast members unveiled how James Beck’s death almost saw an early end to the show, as his character Joe Walker had to be written off. Ian Lavender described James’ last scene as a “sad and poignant” moment.

James Beck played black market criminal Private Walker in the series before he died suddenly in 1973.

Walker had been one of the seven central characters on the show, and he had to be suddenly written off.

The documentary explained that off-screen, father-of-three Beck lived life “to excess”.

He and co-star John Le Mesurier, who starred as the comedic Sergeant Arthur Wilson, used to drink excessively.

John’s third wife, Joan Le Mesurier, explained: “They used to come home from work every night and sit at the table and get absolutely p*****, and have a lovely evening.”

But soon, Beck’s lifestyle caught up with him, and he was diagnosed with pancreatitis.

His character had to be written off the series, in a storyline which Ian Lavender, who played Private Pike, described as “poignant”.

“It’s sad and poignant,” he said. “It was a sort of ‘oh’ moment.”

Just three weeks after he was taken ill, James passed away at the age of just 44.

He had been the second-youngest member of the cast.

Actor Michael Knowles commented: “I knew him quite well actually, it was very, very sad when he went.

“He was far too young.” His death also put “the future of the series in doubt”.

“There were sad times along the way, the saddest obviously was the death of Jimmy,” Ian explained.

He continued: “And we didn’t think we’d get over it.

“We were very unsure about doing the next series without him.”

Priscilla Dunn, who was married to Jack Jones star Clive Dunn, talked about the re-written scene, said: “They did a quick rewrite where he said he’s gone up to the smoke – to London.

“[That] he’d got some business to do up there.

“And I can remember seeing Clive’s face, just standing there like he suddenly wasn’t Corporal Jones at all. Everyone was absolutely so upset.”

But the show continued until 1977 and managed to keep its popularity going.

Dad’s Army: Secret Lives and Scandal is available to watch on My5.

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