Jimmy Gilbert, BBC producer who presided over a golden age of sunshine leisure – obituary


Jimmy Gilbert, who has died aged 93, was the BBC producer who commissioned lots of the Company’s most enduring comedies, together with Sure Minister; The Two Ronnies; Fawlty Towers; The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin; The Good Life; No matter Occurred to the Seemingly Lads? and Final of the Summer time Wine.

The fountainhead for a lot of of those was The Frost Report (1966-67), the thought for which was hatched by Gilbert and David Frost, who had already established his identify as host of the topical satirical present That Was The Week That Was (1962-3). Intent on creating a brand new kind of social comedy, they set off on a Europe-wide tour of festivals, golf equipment and revue bars in search of expertise, however got here again empty-handed.

Again in Britain, Gilbert really useful Ronnie Barker, a radio and stage performer who had appeared on display with Benny Hill and Jimmy Edwards. Frost recommended Ronnie Corbett, whom he had seen performing in late-night cabaret with Danny La Rue. Gilbert was uncertain, however Frost noticed potential and persuaded Corbett to hitch up. Different recruits included John Cleese, with Julie Felix, Tom Lehrer, Sheila Steafel and Nicky Henson finishing the unique solid.

The workforce of writers included Antony (later Sir Antony) Jay (co-creator of Sure Minister), Invoice Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor – who turned two thirds of The Goodies – Graham Chapman, Marty Feldman, Barry Cryer, Keith Waterhouse, Willis Corridor, Peter Tinniswood, Frank Muir and Denis Norden, and David Nobbs (creator of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin).

A go to by Frost and Gilbert to a revue on the Rehearsal Membership above the Royal Court docket Theatre led them, as well as, to rent a writing duo known as Michael Palin and Terry Jones, who additionally appeared as extras in Frost Report sketches. Then Brooke-Taylor requested his good friend Eric Idle to hitch the writing workforce. Cleese, Chapman, Palin, Jones and Idle would, in the end, go on to create Monty Python’s Flying Circus collectively – and quite a few different exhibits on their very own.

The Frost Report, produced by Gilbert, solely ran for 2 seasons in 1966 and 1967 and a particular one-off version, Frost Over England, received the Golden Rose of Montreux in 1967. However as Sir Antony Jay later recalled, “the shrapnel enriched British comedy for years to return.”

Frost and Gilbert recognised the chemistry between Barker and Corbett and began to jot down for them as a duo. Sketches similar to Cleese, Barker and Corbett’s “I look as much as him” satire on the British class system, written by Marty Feldman and John Regulation, turned oft-repeated classics.

When Frost moved to ITV, Barker and Corbett moved with him. However in 1971 Gilbert lured them again to the BBC as stars of their very own present, The Two Ronnies, which might run till 1986 with a median viewers of round 15 million viewers. Gilbert, who produced the primary sequence, and the director Terry Hughes, have been largely chargeable for establishing the sample of the present with its quick-fire verbal gags, double entendres and cavalcade of naive caricatures of British life: bumbling colonels, half-witted yokels and bosomy barmaids.

Cecil James Gilbert was born in Edinburgh on Could 5 1923. He was educated at Edinburgh College and Rada, spent 4 years within the RAF, and reduce his enamel as an actor/author on the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow, the place he turned pals with the comic Stanley Baxter. Having moved to London within the late Fifties to take a job as a BBC producer, Gilbert known as Baxter, whose profession was at a low ebb, and supplied him his personal satirical sketch present, On The Vivid Aspect, which he co-hosted with Betty Marsden from 1959 to 1960, and which launched the comic on a profitable profession south of the border. In 1961 Gilbert additionally directed the pair in On the Brighter Aspect, a revue primarily based on the present, on the Phoenix Theatre.

In his early years as a BBC producer, Gilbert, who all the time believed in experimenting and permitting for failures, labored on Comedy Playhouse, the anthology sequence of one-off sitcoms that aired for 120 episodes from 1961 to 1975. Many episodes later graduated to their very own sequence, together with Steptoe and Son; Meet the Spouse; Until Dying Us Do Half; All Gasoline and Gaiters; Up Pompeii!; Not in Entrance of the Youngsters; Me Mammy; That’s Your Funeral; The Liver Birds; Are You Being Served? and, not least, Final of the Summer time Wine.

The comedy, in regards to the youthful antics of a trio of previous males, premiered as an episode of Comedy Playhouse in January 1973, and the response was constructive sufficient to influence Gilbert to fee a full sequence. The present’s creator, Roy Clarke, credited Gilbert with setting the tone and magnificence of the sequence, although it was Barry Took, who had been engaged on a sequence of documentaries for the BBC about working males’s golf equipment, who recommended the West Yorkshire city of Holmfirth as an appropriate location for the outside photographs. Gilbert and Clarke travelled to Holmfirth, noticed it and favored it. The half-hour present, later filmed fully in Holmfirth, went on to grow to be the longest working tv comedy sequence on the earth.

As head of BBC comedy from 1973 to 1977, Gilbert commissioned quite a few different traditional exhibits, although one of the profitable, Fawlty Towers, virtually didn’t make it off the beginning blocks. When Cleese and his co-writer (after which spouse), Connie Sales space, despatched a replica of the pilot episode to Gilbert, the script editor Ian Primary opined: “This is filled with clichéd conditions, stereotypical characters and I can’t see it being something aside from a catastrophe”, whereas Gilbert himself mentioned: “You’ll be able to’t do the entire thing within the lodge.” Fawlty Towers made its first look on BBC2 in September 1975, and the irascible lodge supervisor Basil Fawlty turned an on the spot hit with the viewing public.

In 1974 Gilbert received a Bafta for greatest state of affairs comedy for No matter Occurred to the Seemingly Lads? and he was additionally nominated in the identical class for Final of the Summer time Wine.

In 1977 Gilbert was appointed head of BBC gentle leisure, succeeding Invoice Cotton. He retired from the BBC in 1982 however continued to work as a contract producer. His different credit embody The Beat Room (1964); The Walrus and the Carpenter (1965); Barney Is My Darling (1965-66) Not Solely… However Additionally, with Peter Cook dinner and Dudley Moore (1970); Tales from the Lazy Acre (1972); and seven of 1, starring Ronnie Barker (1973).

He additionally co-wrote, with Julian Extra, Seize Me a Gondola, a musical (for which he additionally wrote the music), which loved a profitable run on the Lyric Theatre in 1956- 57. In 1964 he was chargeable for the manufacturing of the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate, which launched BBC2. In 1971 one other Gilbert-Extra musical, Good Time Johnny, was carried out on the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, with Ronnie Barker and Joan Sims.

In his memoirs, I Didn’t Get The place I Am As we speak (2001), David Nobbs recalled Gilbert as having a “quietly humorous, dignified” air. “Jimmy”, he went on, “had a fame for indecisiveness, however one should take as one finds and my Jimmy Gilbert was decisiveness personified.” When Nobbs went to see him within the mid Nineteen Seventies with the thought for The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, he recalled, “he’d commissioned a pilot script earlier than I’d settled within the chair”.

“Do you could have anybody in thoughts for the a part of Reggie?” requested Gilbert.

“Sure,” mentioned Nobbs. “Ronnie Barker.”

“Wonderful,” replied Gilbert. “Leonard Rossiter it’s.”

In 1951 Jimmy Gilbert married the actress Fiona Clyne, who survives him with their daughter, the actress Susan Gilmore, and son, Colin Gilbert, who adopted his father into tv manufacturing and is a former senior artistic director of the Comedy Unit.

Jimmy Gilbert, born Could 5 1923, died July 7 2016


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