Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ned Sherrin Passes On

Ned Sherrin,perhaps best known as the creator of the news satire series That Was the Week That Was, passed on October 1 at the age of 76. He had throat cancer.

Sherrin was born Low Ham, Somerset on February 18, 1931 into a farming family. He attended Sexey's School in Bruton, Somerset and law at Exeter College, Oxford. He could have been a barrister, but instead he took an interest in theatre while still at Oxford. With the introduction of commercial television to Britain in 1956, he found himself producing shows for ATV. By 1957 he found himself producing Tonight for the BBC. It was in 1962 that he created That Was the Week That Was. That Was the Week That Was was a live, satirical television series. Known for its irreverence, it sent up politics, religion, and the news of the day. The Profumo scandal (in which John Profumo, a Secretary of State for War, was found to have had an affair with a showgirl) became a popular target of the show. That Was the Week That Was was wildly popular, but it ran for only a little over a year. The BBC, under pressure from the Tories (then in power), cancelled the series because it was thought it would unduly influence the upcoming election. That Was the Week That Was can be considered a forerunner of such series as Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show.

While it went off the air in December 1963, That Was the Week That Was did not disappear entirely from TV screens. An American version debuted on NBC in January 1964. This version was also produced by Ned Sherrin. Like the British original, the American version of That Was the Week That Was lambasted political figures, former Vice President Richard Nixon and Republican Senator Barry Goldwater were favourite targets. Because of this, the cancellation of the American version, like its British forebear, was largely due to politics. Senator Goldwater, then running for President, repeatedly had That Was the Week That Was preemepted for his own political programmes from September into October. As a result, the show's ratings suffered and it left NBC in May 1965.

Sherrin went on to produce such series as Where Was Spring, BBC 3, and World in Ferment. Sherrin was also behind such television productions as A Last Word on the Election, My Father Knew Lloyd George, The Great Inimitable Mr. Dickens, The Alf Garnett Saga, The Cobblers of Umbridge, and The National Health. He also entered film production, producing such films as Up the Junction, The Virgin Soldiers, Every Home Should Have One, The National Health, and Up the Front. In addition to television and film, Sherrin also worked in radio. He was the host of two long running radio shows, Loose Ends and Counterpoint.

Sherrin also worked on stage, beginning with the musical Come Spy With Me in 1967. He would finally see success on stage with Side by Side by Sondheim, in collaboration with Stephen Sondheim. Sherrin not only directed the musical revue, but appeared in it as a performer as well. Eventually Side by Side moved from the West End to Broadway. There it earned him the 1977 Tony award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Sherrin would later have success with Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, which had a long run on the West End.

Sherrin also wrote several books, including many volumes of memoirs, books devoted to theatrical anecdotes, and I Wish I'd Said That (a collection of humorous quotes). He edited The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. He also wrote the novel Scratch an Actor and co-wrote the novel Rappel 1910 with Caryl Brahams.

While Ned Sherrin worked in film, radio, and the theatre, he will probably always be remembered best as creator of That Was the Week That Was. At the time sketch comedy was nothing new, on either side of The Pond, but That Was the Week That Was broke ground that even Your Show of Shows (here in the States) or The Goon Show dared not tread. Not only did it satirise powerful politicians and other public figures, but it did so with an utter tone of irreverence. What is more, it was funny while doing so. In this respect That Was the Week That Was was the forerunner of many modern day sketch comedy shows and other shows that poke fun at the news. Even if this had been the only thing Ned Sherrin had ever done, he would be worth remembering.

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