Beryl Vertue, who died aged 90, played an important role in the history of British television comedy. She started as an agent for writers such as Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes, as well as performers Tony Hancock and Frankie Howerd, before pioneering the sale of successful British television formats on American television.
When she turned to producing, her first major sitcom hit was Men Behaving Badly (1992-98), which ushered in an era of masculine humor. She read the 1989 novel by Simon Nye, who worked as a translator for Credit Suisse, saw its potential and launched it into a television career. Martin Clunes starred as Gary, sharing a flat with Dermot (Harry Enfield) – replaced by Neil Morrissey as Tony’s womanizer after series one – and Caroline Quentin played Gary’s girlfriend Dorothy, starring Leslie Ash as Deborah, Gary’s neighbor, who is attracted to Tony but discouraged by his immaturity.
Vertue had to use her powers of persuasion with ITV to keep the show going when Enfield left. Then, at the end of the second run, the channel dropped the program as Thames Television, which had commissioned it from Vertue’s independent production company, Hartswood Films, lost its broadcast franchise. She simply phoned the BBC, who aired her for four more series – at a later broadcast time, allowing for more rowdiness and locker room talk.
Coupling (2000-04), about the sexual adventures of a group of six friends, also appealed to Hartswood audiences. Jack Davenport, Sarah Alexander and Ben Miles were among the stars of a sitcom written by Steven Moffat and based on his own evolving relationship with his wife, Sue (Vertue’s daughter), who produced the program while his mother supervised him as an executive producer. . As with Men Behaving Badly, Vertue sold the format on American television.
The Moffat-Vertues partnership has seen further success with two drama series bringing Victorian literary figures to the present day. Jekyll (2007) starred James Nesbitt as Robert Louis Stevenson’s doctor with a split personality, while Sherlock (2010-17) was an irreverent version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective, co-created by Moffat and Mark Gatiss, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin. Freeman as Dr. Watson. Cumberbatch dubbed Vertue “Sherlock’s godmother”.
She was born in Croydon, Surrey, to Elsie (née Francis) and Frank Johnson. Fresh out of Mitcham County School, Beryl began her working life as a secretary at a haulage company. When, in 1954, she was in the hospital recovering from tuberculosis, a classmate, Alan Simpson, and her Hancock’s Half Hour writing partner, Ray Galton, visited her and told her that They wanted a secretary at Associated London Scripts, the cooperative with which they had just formed. Sykes and Milligan. She joined them the following year.
After typing scripts for The Goon Show (1951-60) and other radio and television sitcoms, Vertue became the company’s business manager—later general manager—and brokered deals with broadcasters. This made her an agent for some of the country’s most respected writers, which also included Barry Took, Dick Vosburgh, Marty Feldman, John Junkin and Johnny Speight.
Outside of comedy circles, Vertue made a deal for Terry Nation that gave him partial copyright to the Daleks when he introduced them in the second Doctor Who story shortly after the series began. science fiction in 1963.
She also led the way by persuading the BBC to venture into program-related merchandise, resulting in memorabilia from Daleks, a Hancock’s Half Hour board game and Steptoe and Son puzzles.
When impresario Robert Stigwood – manager of the bands Cream and the Bee Gees – bought out Sykes and Milligan’s majority stake in the writers’ agency in 1967, he formed a production arm, Associated London Films, and Vertue him added the “executive producer”. CV.
The first successful release was the wordless slapstick short The Plank (1967, later remade for television), starring Sykes, writing and directing. However, film versions of television sitcoms became the production company’s forte, from Till Death Us Do Part (1968) to Up Pompeii (1971) and Steptoe & Son (1972).
Alongside film production, Vertue negotiated the sale of remake rights to the British sitcom to American and European channels. In the United States, Till Death Us Do Part became All in the Family (1971-79) and Steptoe and Son was renamed Sanford and Son (1972-77).
Associated London Films closed after eight years, but she continued with the Robert Stigwood Organization as executive vice president and produced programs for American television. These included Beacon Hill (1975), a Boston version of Upstairs Downstairs, and The Entertainer (1975), starring Jack Lemmon as Archie Rice in John Osborne’s play.
She was also executive producer of Tommy (1975), the rock opera film Who’s, and – a year after becoming deputy co-president of Stigwood’s company – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1978), a series ITV based on Muriel Spark’s novel, a collaboration with Scottish Television for which she also handles overseas sales.
As Stigwood began winding down its television operations, Vertue established Hartswood Films in 1979 and spent much of the next decade searching for a winning formula. Codename: Kyril (1988), a four-part Cold War spy drama starring Edward Woodward and Ian Charleson, stood alone until the arrival of Men Behaving Badly.
Although Vertue directed other dramas, such as A Woman’s Guide to Adultery (1993), The English Wife (1995) and Wonderful You (1999), she continued to produce sitcoms, including My Good Friend (1995-96). ), written by Bob Larbey and starring George Cole, and Is it legal? (1995-98), the saga of Nye’s law firm.
In the new millennium, she took on an executive producing role nurturing new talent in Hartswood on comedies ranging from The Savages (2001) and Carrie & Barry (2004-05), both penned by Nye, to Supernova (2005-06) and Me and Mrs Jones (2012), as well as the comedy-drama series Border Cafe (2000) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2015).
Vertue was appointed OBE in 2000 and CBE in 2016, and received the Royal Television Society’s Achievement Award in 2012.
Her 1951 marriage to Clements Vertue ended in divorce. She is survived by Sue and another daughter, Debbie, Operations Manager at Hartswood Films.