Obituary: Jimmy Perry
Actor turned comedy writer who with partner David Croft created some of the UK's best-loved TV shows
Published 30/10/2016 | 02:30
Jimmy Perry, who died last Sunday aged 93, created and co-wrote, with David Croft, the BBC situation comedy Dad's Army, which he based on his wartime experiences in the Home Guard, and which became one of the most popular and best-loved shows on television.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he also collaborated with Croft on other popular sitcoms, including It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi! and You Rang, M'Lord?
Perry, the extrovert of the pair, invariably drew on personal experience: after serving in the Home Guard he joined the wartime regular army, was posted to Burma with the Royal Artillery and joined his unit's concert party, which inspired It Ain't Half Hot Mum.
Demobbed, he trained as an actor and spent his holidays working as a Butlin's Redcoat, stints that later yielded material for Hi-de-Hi! (1980-1988) which, after a slow start, caught on, to the dismay of Butlin's which had spent 20 years trying to bury its end-of-the-pier image.
Perry and Croft dominated the BBC's prime-time comedy schedules for 20 years, a feat unmatched by any other scriptwriting team.
Perry had the idea for Dad's Army while travelling on a suburban London train, wrote a one-off script, and in 1966, while appearing in an episode of Beggar My Neighbour as an actor, showed it to the producer, David Croft, who pitched it to BBC management.
Reaction at Television Centre was initially hostile, with grave reservations being expressed about satirising Britain's Finest Hour, and at least one department head calling it "absolutely mad", but eventually Perry and Croft won the argument. Casting the series in 1967, Perry struggled to persuade the BBC's Head of Comedy, Michael Mills, to give the part of Captain Mainwaring to Arthur Lowe, then a regular in ITV's Coronation Street. Eventually Mills agreed, and also came up with the series title Dad's Army - which Perry had to confess was a huge improvement on his original The Fighting Tigers.
Perry and Croft wrote the scripts together, one with a pencil writing it down, the other pacing the room. Halfway through a scene, the pencil was passed from one to the other. Rehearsals were fraught; the actor John Le Mesurier (playing the languid Sergeant Wilson) declared that the new show was a shambles. "It's absolutely appalling, it can't possibly work," he told Barry Took. "No, no, my dear boy, it's an absolute disaster."
But when the programme made its debut in July 1968, seven million viewers tuned in, and the critics loved it. By late 1972, more than 16 million people were watching. The show ran to 64 episodes and became a mainstay of the BBC schedules for nine years; thanks to countless repeats, it has long since become a classic.
Perry's famous "Don't tell him, Pike!" scene was repeatedly voted the funniest in television history, and in several polls the series ranked as Britain's favourite comedy.
James Perry was born on September 20, 1923, at Barnes, south-west London, into a prosperous middle-class family. His happy childhood teemed with characters and catchphrases he would later incorporate into his scripts: his father, for one, balefully noting his son's early passion for the entertainment world, would chide him with "you stupid boy", a phrase that became Captain Mainwaring's admonition to Private Pike in Dad's Army. Perry based Pike's character on himself as a teenage mummy's boy, noting that although his own mother never made him actually wear a scarf, "she came pretty near".
Perry's autobiography, A Stupid Boy, appeared in 2002. In 1990 he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, but given the all clear after surgery. David Croft died in September 2011, aged 89.
In 1953 Jimmy Perry married actress Gilda Neeltje. He is survived by his partner, costume designer Mary Husband.