James Beck

Stanley James Carroll Beck (21 February 1929 – 6 August 1973) was an English actor who played the role of Private Walker, a cockney spiv, in the BBC sitcom Dad's Army.

James Beck
Beck as Private 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
Died6 August 1973(1973-08-06) (aged 44)
Roehampton, Wandsworth, London, England [2]
OccupationActor
Years active1961–1973
Spouse(s)Kathleen 'Kay' W Bullus (1959–1973) (his death)

Early life

Stanley James Carroll 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 as a physical training instructor in the British Army, Beck became an actor. 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 cast as a policeman in a 1967 episode of Coronation Street involving a now well-known storyline concerning a train crash. He also appeared, uncredited, as a policeman in Gideon's Way (1965), and was often seen in TV drama, with one-off roles in series such as The Troubleshooters (1965, 1967, 1970) and the BBC's Sherlock Holmes 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 in the role, 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] which was to be based on scripts originally written for Hancock's Half Hour and in which Arthur Lowe was also to appear.

Death

By 1973 Beck had 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 while opening a school fête[3] in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind. He returned home and within an hour was taken to Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton[4] suffering from pancreatitis. He died there three weeks later, aged 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 that 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 the sixth series, during the episode "Things that Go Bump in the Night", Walker isy present only in the location scenes in the second half of the episode, as these were filmed weeks earlier than the studio scenes. In one of the videotaped sequences filmed after Beck's death, the platoon is aboard Corporal Jones's van when Captain Mainwaring tells Sergeant Wilson to "take Private Walker's name". Wilson writes the name "Walker" in the condensation on the window. 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 in subsequent shows. John Bardon played Walker in the stage production in 1976.

Filmography

Film

YearTitleRoleNotes
1968Star!Drunken SoldierUncredited
1970 Groupie GirlBrianReleased as I Am a Groupie in the United States
Carry On LovingMr RoxbyScenes deleted from final film
1971 Dad's ArmyPrivate Walker
A Couple of BeautiesSidneyShort
1973Love Thy NeighbourCyril

Television

YearTitleRoleEpisode
1961Dixon of Dock GreenVarious6 episodes
1962 Dr. Finlay's CasebookCharlie BellConduct Unbecoming
Z CarsConstableThe Five Whistles
1964Taxi!Len Gladwin5 episodes
1964-67Coronation StreetPolice Sergeant Bowden6 episodes
1966All Gas and GaitersPolicemanThe Bishop Rides Again (pilot)
1967The TroubleshootersDave CandySome Days You Just Can't Win
1968The Blue CarbuncleJames Ryder
1968Not in Front of the ChildrenEstate AgentHome Chat
1968–73Dad's ArmyPrivate Walker59 episodes (last appearance)
1969Two in CloverDr. Molineux
1970Doctor in the HouseMr WaleWhat Seems to Be the Trouble
1972 The Fenn Street GangAuctioneerHorse of the Year
ScoopCorker3 episodes
My Wife Next DoorMr FieldingUndesirable Residence
1972–73Romany JonesBert Jones14 episodes

Radio

YearTitleRoleEpisodeNotes
1968The Events at Black TorSergeant5 episodes
1970, 1971Brothers in LawFred Tanner, Newman2 episodesBeck played Fred Tanner in the first series (1970), and Newman in the second series (1971).
1971Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Bolshie ManTBA1 episodeA pilot episode recorded for Comedy Parade 1971.
1971, 1972The Motorway MenSteve8 episodes + pilotThis program's pilot episode featured alongside Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Bolshie Man on Comedy Parade 1971.
1973Dad's ArmyPrivate Walker20 episodes

References

  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. Clark, Neil (6 August 2013). "James Beck: the Dad's Army star cut off in his prime". The Daily Telegraph.
  4. The Times, death notice and obituary, 7 August 1973

Further reading

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