David Croft, the celebrated television comedy writer who died last night, had a truly extraordinary career. Far from a one-trick pony, his collaborations with comedy greats Jimmy Perry, Jeremy Lloyd and Richard Spendlove yielded such fondly remembered sitcoms as Dad’s Army, Are You Being Served, ‘Allo ‘Allo, Hi-de-Hi! and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
Before becoming a writer Croft worked as a BBC comedy producer and made his foray into scriptwriting after meeting Jimmy Perry while overseeing the Hugh Lloyd comedy vehicle Hugh and I. Perry’s idea for a sitcom based on his experiences serving in the Home Guard during the Second World War proved fruitful, and the duo emerged on the comedy scene in 1968 when the first episode of Dad’s Army was broadcast.
The programme produced a score of classic characters and catchphrases, with Captain Mainwaring’s groans of “you stupid boy” and Corporal Jones’s insistence that the enemy “don’t like it up ’em” still ringing in comedy fans’ ears. Indeed, a poll carried out by Classic Television magazine cited this scene from Dad’s Army as the funniest thing ever broadcast on TV.
While Dad’s Army quickly became a national institution, Croft didn’t rest on his laurels, throwing his lot in with writer Jeremy Lloyd to create Are You Being Served?, which introduced the nation to Mrs Slocombe’s pussy and Mr Humphries’ proto-Louie Spence manner in 1972.
Perry and Croft, both ex-soldiers, chose to revisit the military in 1974 with the sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Set in British-occupied India at the end of the Second World War, the show followed the adventures of a Royal Artillery Concert Party and harnessed the amazing bellowing prowess of Windsor Davies as the unforgettable Sergeant Major Williams.
As Dad’s Army came to a close in 1977, Croft reunited with Jeremy Lloyd for the sci-fi sitcom Come Back Mrs Noah, about a housewife being taken on a tour of a British spacecraft in the year 2050. Despite the novel premise, the show wasn’t a success.
But Croft bounced back in 1980, reuniting with Lloyd on the holiday camp sitcom Hi-de-Hi!, which ended up running for eight years.
In the same year, he and Lloyd created Oh Happy Band!, a sitcom about a marching band attempting to prevent the development of an airport in their small town, which proved to be the last screen role of comic Harry Worth.
Croft was to revisit the 1939-45 conflict once again in 1982, producing ‘Allo ‘Allo with Jeremy Lloyd, which was set in a German-occupied French village.
The Hi-di-Hi! cast was largely reassembled for Croft’s last collaboration with Jimmy Perry, You Rang, M’Lord?, which took place in an aristocratic household during the 1920s. The show also featured a few Dad’s Army regulars, like Bill Pertwee and Frank Williams, filling out the cast, and each episode ran for 50 minutes, rather than the usual sitcom half-hour.
The turn of the 1990s saw Croft and Lloyd pen a sequel to Are You Being Served?. Entitled Grace & Favour, the spin-off reunited the staff of Grace Brothers department store and transplanted them to a more genteel, country setting.
A pilot for another war-themed show followed in 1994. Again written with Jeremy Lloyd, Which Way to the War was set in the Western Desert and depicted the meeting of a group of British and Australian soldiers.
Croft’s last regular sitcom also saw him working with a new writing partner, Richard Spendlove. Oh, Doctor Beeching! was broadcast, after a pilot episode in 1995, between 1996 and 1997, and drew heavily on the Hi-di-Hi! cast once again to tell the story of a railway station facing Beeching’s Axe.
After three decades spent penning some of Britain’s best-loved sitcoms, Croft retired after Oh, Doctor Beeching!, reuniting with Lloyd just once more in 2008 to create a sitcom pilot entitled Here Comes the Queen.
Together with his co-writers, David Croft gave the world some of the funniest characters, best scenarios and wittiest lines ever to issue forth from a pen. The comedy world is for ever in his debt.