Sunday, 23 October 2016

RIP Jimmy Perry

And now for some more deeply sad news, comedy legend Jimmy Perry who, along with David Croft created and wrote the hit sitcoms  Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Hi-De-Hi! and You Rang, M'Lord?, has passed away following a short illness at the age of 93.

His contribution to the comedy landscape of this country is vast. Simply put, he helped set a template for sitcom that is still adhered to to this very day, and Dad's Army and Hi-De-Hi! remain perennial favourites on BBC2; with the former airing every Saturday to healthy viewing figures that other modern day sitcoms would kill for, whilst the latter is once again part of the channel's retro afternoons on weekdays.

Perry, first on the right, in the Palace Theatre production of Doctor in The House. Perry also ran the Watford based theatre at this time and is seen here with fellow cast members John Newbury, Valerie Newbold, John Clegg (later to star in It Ain't Half Hot Mum) and, seated, Jill Hyem. Phot appears on Hyem's website.

Perry came to write Dad's Army primarily in order to secure himself an acting role. Having trained at RADA after the war, Perry was originally a thespian appearing in theatre but securing only played minor roles on TV - his dream - up until that point. He had earmarked the part of the spiv, Joe Walker, for himself but he was persuaded to take a step back for actor James Beck instead. The sitcom was based on Perry's own experiences in the Home Guard during the early days of the Second World War, as the writer was too young to join the forces.

The character of Private Pike was based on Perry, whilst many of the others were based on old soldiers he had known. He also wrote the show's theme tune, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler? Sung by Crazy Gang's Bud Flanagan, this was a spot-on pastiche of the morale boosting ditties of the day that many did not believe it was written especially for the show. It earned Perry a prestigious Ivor Novello award in 1971.

After a run of 80 episodes, Dad's Army came to a close and Perry and Croft turned their eye to another next project also set in wartime. It Ain't Half Hot Mum was based once again on Perry's experiences during the conflict, this time as a member of the Royal Artillery concert party touring India. Another hit, Perry was awarded the OBE in 1978 alongside his writing partner and friend, David Croft.

After the war, the demobbed Perry trained at RADA and performed in rep as well as a stint as a redcoat at Butlins. Once again, Perry's life experience would help shape another hit sitcom and in the 1980s Hi-De-Hi! was born. It ran for eight years and won a BAFTA in 1984 for Best Comedy. Perry's final sitcom with Croft was You Rang M'Lord, which ran for 1988 until 1993. A period comedy that made much use of the rep company Croft and Perry had come to establish across their three previous shows, and one which seemed to spoof Upstairs, Downstairs, Perry had once again mined reality for inspiration - this time the life of his grandfather, who had served as a butler in that era.

Away from Croft, Perry wrote three sitcoms, The Gnomes of Dulwich in 1969 for the BBC, which was a curious satire on the Common Market, and two for ITV in the '70s and '80s, Room Service and High Street Blues, but none of these were well received. 

Earlier this year Perry was seen to give his blessing to the somewhat misguided big screen adaptation of Dad's Army by attending the film premiere, as well as criticising Boris Johnson and the Leave camp's campaign to become independent of the EU. Last Christmas Paul Ritter played Perry in the BBC's dramatisation of the making of Dad's Army, We're Doomed. Like the Dad's Army film, this was not something I personally enjoyed, but I guess its heart was in the right place.

I have laughed so many times watching something by Jimmy Perry, be it Dad's Army, Hi-De-Hi, It Ain't Half Hot Mum or You Rang, M'Lord?, everyone of them was a classic and we owe him a great deal of thanks for making the world a happier place, filled with laughter.


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