Tuesday, 27 September 2011

RIP: David Croft (1922 – 2011)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Legendary British writer-producer-director David Croft O.B.E has died "peacefully in his sleep" at the age of 89. Croft co-wrote many classic sitcoms from the '60s onward, most famously with Jimmy Perry (Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi!, You Rang, M'Lord?) and Jeremy Lloyd (Are You Being Served?, 'Allo 'Allo!, Grace And Favour). His last notable TV work was co-writing 1995's Oh, Doctor Beeching! with Richard Spendlove.

It's fair to say Croft's shows are from a bygone era of British comedy, and not everything's stood the test of time. It Ain't Half Hot Mum is a particular problem in these politically correct times because it featured a white actor playing an Indian character in blackface (a casting decision that apparently occurred because of a lack of Indian actors at the time, but is nevertheless seen as a reason Mum is rarely repeated). But Dad's Army is an all-time classic that gets shown all the time, Are You Being Served? was a phenomenon in the '70s (also gaining a cult following in America via PBS), and many people have a special place in their heart for WWII comedy farce 'Allo, 'Allo!

A lot of Croft's work may now feel very old-fashioned, with titles that read like lines of dialogue (complete with punctuation), plentiful double entendres, a common use of stereotypes, and a surfeit of catchphrases, but most were from very innocent times. Holiday camp comedy Hi-de-Hi! forms one of my earliest TV memories, I was a massive fan of 'Allo, 'Allo! at the time, and even remember enjoying You Rang, M'Lord? (or maybe just the theme tune) as a young boy. I'm not the right age to have a particular affection for Dad's Army and the pre-'80s stuff, sorry to say, but I can appreciate their quality for the times they existed in.

It may not be a particularly hip and cool oeuvre when viewed from 2011, but Croft was writing inoffensive family sitcoms that regularly pulled in millions of viewers every week, and most remain popular in repeats. Are there any Brits over the age of 30 that can't rattle off a dozen or so catchphrases that Croft helped come up with? Captain Mainwaring's withering "you stupid boy", faux-French policeman Office Crabtree's greeting "good moaning", Gladys Pugh's cheerful "hello, campers", Private Jones' alarmed "don't panic!", or Mr Humphrey's trilling "I'm free!" Simple phrases given life by the actors, which became indelible traits of their shows, and managed to induce smiles of recognition whenever they were uttered.

Perhaps most famously, it was Croft's idea to end his shows with the caption "You Have Been Watching" before the cast credits would play over vignettes of each actor. That's become such an icon of sitcoms from the '60s, '70s and '80s, that retro-inspired sitcom Miranda even pays homage to it today.

A talented man and definite giant of British comedy for the past 50 years, David Croft will be missed. He's survived by his seven children.

To celebrate his lifetime of work, here are a few clips from some of the best sitcoms David Croft worked on: