James Beck

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James Beck
James Beck-1973.png
Beck as Private Joe Walker in the Dad's Army episode The Honourable Man in 1973 just over a week before his collapse
Born Stanley James Carroll Beck
(1929-02-21)21 February 1929
Islington, London, England [1]
Died 6 August 1973(1973-08-06) (aged 44)
Roehampton, Wandsworth, London, England [2]
Occupation Actor
Years active 1961–73
Spouse(s) Kay Beck (?–1973) (his death)

Stanley James Carroll Beck (21 February 1929 – 6 August 1973) was an English actor best remembered for his role as Private Joe Walker, the cockney spiv in the popular BBC sitcom Dad's Army.

Early life[edit]

James Beck was born in Islington, North London and attended Popham Road Primary School. His childhood was hard, with his father frequently unemployed and his mother making artificial flowers to provide a small income.

After attending art college and doing his national service in the army, Beck took up acting. His early roles included Charlie Bell in an episode of Dr. Finlay's Casebook (Conduct Unbecoming - 1962), and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in 1963, for which he gained positive reviews. Moving to London, he concentrated on television, and was as a policeman in an episode of Coronation Street involving a train crash. He also appeared in an uncredited policeman in Gideon's Way (1965), and was regularly seen in TV drama, with one-off roles in series such as The Troubleshooters (1965, 1967, 1970) and the BBC's Sherlock Holmes series with Peter Cushing in the lead ("The Blue Carbuncle", 1968).

In 1968 he was offered the role of Private Walker in Dad's Army, originally written by Jimmy Perry for himself. Perry approved of the casting of Beck: "He had the right mix of cheekiness and charm. He gave the role a bit of oomph."[3] While popular, Beck yearned for the challenge of other roles.

Always in demand, he continued to work on TV programmes including A Family at War (1970) and Romany Jones (1972-73), in which he played the lead character of Bert Jones. He also recorded a pilot for an uncommissioned series called Bunclarke With an E (1973),[3] to be based on scripts originally written for Hancock's Half Hour scripts, performing with Arthur Lowe.

Death[edit]

By 1973, Beck had already recorded five series of Dad's Army and was working on the sixth, besides working on the radio series of the show. Location filming for series six was completed when Beck suddenly fell ill whilst opening a school fete[3] in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind. He returned home and within an hour was rushed to Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton[4] suffering from pancreatitis. He died there three weeks later at age 44 and was cremated at Putney Vale Cemetery, where a tree was planted in his memory, with a marker bearing his name.

His death was a great shock to his fellow cast members, as well as to Jimmy Perry and David Croft. Perry has said heavy drinking was common in show business at the time, and that he paid little attention to Beck's habit until "I saw Jimmy’s legs and they were purple. It was the last episode he appeared in before he died.".[3]

In series six, during the episode "Things that Go Bump in the Night", Walker is only present in the location scenes in the second half of the episode, as these were filmed weeks earlier than the studio scenes. In the following episode, "The Recruit" (the series' finale) Mainwaring reads a note written by Walker apologising for his absence, as he has gone "up the Smoke" (to London) to conduct one of his deals. This was the last time the character was mentioned. In the radio adaptations of Dad's Army, Graham Stark stood in until Larry Martyn portrayed Walker for subsequent shows. In 1976 John Bardon played Walker in the stage production.

Television roles[edit]

Year Title Role
1968 The Blue Carbuncle James Ryder
1968–1973 Dad's Army Private Joe Walker
1969 Two in Clover Dr. Molineux
1972–1973 Romany Jones Bert Jones

Filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: MAR 1929 1b 407 ISLINGTON - Stanley J. C. Beck, mmn = Beck
  2. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: SEP 1973 5E 1087 WANDSWORTH - Stanley James C. Beck, DoB = 21 Feb 1929
  3. ^ a b c d Neil Clark "James Beck: the Dad’s Army star cut off in his prime", telegraph.co.uk, 6 August 2013
  4. ^ The Times, death notice and obituary, 7 August 1973

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]