Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Late, Great David Croft

David Croft, who with Jimmy Perry created Dad's Army and with Jeremy Lloyd created Are You Being Served?, passed today at the age of 89.

David Croft was born David John Sharland at Poole, Dorset on 7 September 1922. His father Reginald Sharland and his mother Anne Croft were both actors. His father went to Hollywood not long after young David was born and became a major radio star in the United States. His mother was a popular star of British theatre. Mr. Croft would not follow his parents into acting. At age 7 he would appear in his only film--an uncredited, bit part in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). He attended St John's Wood Preparatory School, then Rugby School in Warwickshire. He was forced to leave Rugby before his sixteenth birthday due to not having enough money. He helped out with his mother's acting company and was planning to move to Hollywood to be with his father when World War II broke out. He and his mother moved to Bournemouth, Dorset, where Mr. Croft served as an air warden. In 1942 he joined the Royal Artillery. He was forced to return to England to recover after contracting rheumatic fever. Afterwards he was sent to officer training and then assigned to the Essex Regiment in India. He became brigade entertainments officer. Later he served in Singapore where helped oversee the evacuation of Japanese prisoners of war. Mr. Croft was demobilised in 1947.

Following the war David Croft produced shows for the Butlin's chain of holiday camps. He later became part of the BBC Show Band Singers. He wrote songs and even pantomimes for everyone from Norman Wisdom and Harry Seacombe to Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard. In 1955 he joined Associated Rediffusion where he served as a script editor. In 1959 he moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where he served as a producer for Tyne Tees. There he produced his first sitcoms, Under New Management. He also wrote the musical sitcom called Sunshine Street. He later moved to BBC in London, where he produced This is Your Life (a British version of the American show), The Eggheads, and The Benny Hill Show. He then moved to ITV where he produced the popular sitcom Hugh and I and Beggar My Neighbour.

By the late Sixties, when he created Dad's Army with Jimmy Perry, David Croft was a staff producer at BBC. He would not hold the position as staff producer long, as he soon went freelance. Despite this fact, the rest of his work would all be done for BBC. While Dad's Army  would prove to be a hit, it was sometimes a source of contention between Mr. Croft and BBC One. BBC One controller Paul Fox initially objected to the very premise of the programme, worried it was making fun of "...Britain's finest hour." He also insisted on the show's original opening, which included footage of Nazis, be thrown out as being offensive. Eventually Mr. Fox would send a letter of congratulations to Mr. Croft on the success of Dad's Army following its third series. Dad's Army would last for nine series, becoming a hit not only in the United Kingdom but around the world.

David Croft's next series would be created with Jeremy Lloyd and it would also turn into a worldwide hit. While Dad's Army centred around the Home Guard during World War II, Are You Being Served? centred around the Grace Brothers department store.  Like Dad's Army, Are You Being Served? provoked some controversy for its ubiquitous double entendres and at times lascivious content. Like Dad's Army it also proved to be a hit not only in the United Kingdom, but around the world. It ran for ten series and has been repeated every since.

With the success of both Dad's Army and Are You Being Served? David Croft would go onto create more successful sitcoms with both Jimmy Perry and Jeremy Lloyd. With Mr. Perry he created It Ain't Half Hot Mum (rarely seen now due to being considered very politically incorrect), Hi-de-Hi! (set in a holiday camp), and You Rang, M'lord? (centred on an aristocratic family in the 1920's). With Jeremy Lloyd, Mr. Croft created Come Back Mrs. Noah, Oh Happy Band, 'Allo Allo, Grace and Favour (a sequel/spin off to Are You Being Served?), and Which Way to the War. With Richard Spendlove he created Oh, Doctor Beeching! Mr. Croft's last work was with Jeremy Lloyd, a pilot for a series starring Are You Being Served? veteran Wendy Richard entitled Here Comes the Queen. Sadly, Miss Richard's death prevented it from becoming a series.

David Croft wrote over 500 scripts in his career and co-created eleven different shows, most of which were hits. One would be hard pressed to find any other producer of sitcoms anywhere who had such a record of success. Of course, it is not simply a case of Mr. Croft's sitcoms having been successful, at least two of them would become a part of the fabric of Anglophonic pop culture. Both Dad's Army and Are You Being Served? would permeate pop culture to such a point that their catchphrases are still recognisable today.

Indeed, I must say that Mr. Croft probably created more of my favourite television comedies than any other single TV producer. He had a gift for creating very funny characters, who, no matter how outlandish their behaviour, had a basis in reality nonetheless. He also had a gift for creating wholly ludicrous scenarios, in which complications would build upon complications until an explosively funny finale. In many ways David Croft was a master of farce. Perhaps he may well be best remembered for his general gift with words. I rather suspect he created more catchphrases than any other television producer in history. There was "Are you sure that's wise? (from Dad's Army), "Are you free? (from Are You Being Served?), "Least said, soonest mended (from You Rang, M'lord?), and many others. In the entire English speaking world I doubt that there was any other sitcom creator as brilliant as David Croft. And I very seriously doubt there will be again.

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