Actor and screenwriter who was co-creator of popular TV comedies such as Are You Being Served? and ’Allo ’Allo
Tuesday 23 December 2014
Jeremy Lloyd, who has died aged 84, is best remembered for co-creating with his fellow comedy writer David Croft the television shows Are You Being Served? and ’Allo ’Allo. Both were innuendo-laden, populated with pantomime grotesques and were accused by sniffier critics of being sexist, racist, misogynist and homophobic. The former ran on the BBC from 1972 to 1985 and was set in the ladies’ and gents’ clothing departments of Grace Brothers department store, a kind of dilapidated retailing equivalent of British Leyland. It starred Mollie Sugden as a stereotypical battleaxe, Mrs Slocombe, John Inman as a gay (in both senses) assistant, Mr Humphries, and Wendy Richard as Miss Brahms, the focus of heterosexual male interest.
’Allo ’Allo was set in a wartime cafe in occupied France, run by a proprietor ostensibly trying to help the allied war effort but really more concerned with groping his waitresses in the broom cupboard. It starred Gorden Kaye as René Artois, Carmen Silvera as his long-suffering wife, Edith, and Vicki Michelle as Yvette Carte-Blanche, one of the objects of his weekly thwarted lust. ’Allo ’Allo was accused of trivialising war, but that did not mar its popularity nor prevent it running, again on the BBC, for a decade, from 1982 to 1992.
But Lloyd easily might not have lived long enough to co-write these enduring and politically incorrect British sitcoms. In the 1950s, while working as a paint salesman, he was sent to investigate a buoy bobbing in the Thames estuary at Dead Man’s Reach. He stepped off the boat and stood on the buoy to study its anti-rust coating at close quarters. The buoy started to roll very slowly under his feet, so he started to walk to keep pace with it. At that moment, the boat due to return him to Greenwich disappeared over the horizon. Gangly, 6ft 4in, dressed in bowler hat and suit, with an umbrella hooked over his arm, Lloyd doubtless looked as though he was walking on water – or like an especially natty pelican.
As Lloyd recalled in his memoir, Listen Very Carefully, I Shall Say This Only Once (1993), a German cargo vessel’s crew reported seeing a bowler-hatted English gent walking very slowly for his life. Lloyd called across the waves: “I say, hello there.” British comedy would have been the poorer if they had not rescued him.
After eluding a watery grave, the salesman resolved to take up writing. “As a result of my life on the road and the increasing number of rainy afternoons in cinemas, I began to get the idea that I might write a film,” he recalled. He started a film script about the Loch Ness monster called What a Whopper! Two weeks later, he drove up to the gate of Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, with the finished manuscript, demanded to see its executive producer, Earl St John, and convinced him to buy the script. The film was made, even though it was not that good and a team of writers was needed to turn it into a vehicle for Adam Faith in 1961. Lloyd parlayed its existence into a gag-writing career, first for Jon Pertwee and then for many other BBC light entertainment funnymen, such as Dickie Henderson and Morecambe and Wise.
He combined acting and writing for popular BBC light entertainment shows. “I knew I had arrived,” wrote Lloyd, “when taxi drivers would say, ‘You’re that twit on the Billy Cotton Show, aren’t you?’” That was an understatement: he was also that twit in School for Scoundrels (1960), Doctor in Clover (1966), and two Beatles films, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). What’s more, he was a transatlantic twit: he was lured to Hollywood to write for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.
His career could have been different had he listened to the director Joseph Losey. When Losey was looking for an aristocrat to play opposite Dirk Bogarde in the Harold Pinter-scripted movie The Servant (1963), he sought Lloyd, who was playing a twit opposite Kenneth More in a film called We Joined the Navy (1963). “Ever played a homosexual?” asked Losey. “You’d be good.” Lloyd declined and James Fox got the part.
Lloyd once suggested he might never have been fortunate enough to have become a writer had he not been lucky enough to be such a failure at everything else. He was born in Danbury, Essex, son of an army colonel, Eric Lloyd. and a dancing Tiller Girl, Margaret (nee Lees). “My first failure was to be born a child not wanted by his father or mother, as they parted shortly after I was born.” He was packed off to boarding school (“quite the unhappiest days of my life”) where, underweight and puny, wearing spectacles with one glass blacked out and with a nose so prominent he was nicknamed Beaky, he became bully fodder.
He was raised by his grandmother in Didsbury, Manchester. Now and again, granny would point out his elusive mother as she passed by on a Manchester bus – her image was used in bus advertisements for Craven A cigarettes. After the second world war, Lloyd Sr invited his 15-year-old son to live in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, where he was in the habit of introducing Jeremy to friends as “Dead Loss, the son of dance-band leader Joe Loss”.
He became a plumber’s mate, then a light-bulb inspector. He then made the historically significant decision to apply for the post of, as he put it, “junior slave in the Gents’ Natty Suiting department” at Simpsons in Piccadilly, London. It was there he first heard the future catchphrases “I’m free!” and “Are you being served?” His father visited and, even though Lloyd got him a discount on some trousers, told his son it was not a proper job. Which is why he became a paint salesman. During this time, he married a model, Dawn Bailey; the couple divorced in 1962.
Once embarked upon his writing career, velvet-suited and happy, Lloyd swung through the 60s. He was briefly engaged to the actor Charlotte Rampling. He drove a Rolls-Royce and a Lotus. He wrote a Dracula movie for David Niven (typical scene: Niven holds up a Playboy centrefold and says: “My word, what a splendid pair of jugulars!”). Lloyd was friendly with Terence Stamp, Roger Moore, Twiggy, Peter Sellers, Diana Rigg and other 60s stars. In Hollywood, he became friends with Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski. In his memoir, he recalls that Tate invited him for tea one Saturday, but he – fortunately – forgot to go. On that evening, 9 August 1969, she and four guests were murdered at her Los Angeles home by followers of Charles Manson.
In 1970 he married the actor Joanna Lumley (their marriage lasted from May to September). She suggested he write a sitcom based on his experiences at Simpsons. And he dropped a line to Croft – co-creator with Jimmy Perry of Dad’s Army, then running on the BBC – suggesting writing what turned out to be Are You Being Served?, the sitcom that ran for 69 episodes. It was so global in its bawdy reach that, legend has it, the opening of the Israel’s parliament once had to be delayed as it clashed with the show Knesset members loved.
Lloyd also wrote a detective series called Whodunnit? (1973-74), the sitcoms Oh Happy Band (1980) and Come Back Mrs Noah (1977-78), and a sequel to Are You Being Served? Grace and Favour (1992-93), as well as a Mittyesque novel, The Adventures of Captain Dangerfield (1973). Lloyd was, though, most proud of creating Captain Beaky and his band of animal adventurers (including Hissing Sid, Batty Bat and Timid Toad). He wrote poems and lyrics for the stage show and books, with illustrations by Keith Michell (the actor best known for his portrayal of Henry VIII) and music by Jim Parker. Thanks to being played incessantly on Radio 1 by Lloyd’s friend Noel Edmonds, the song Captain Beaky peaked at No 5 in the UK singles chart in 1980, and the stage show was a great popular, if not critical, success.
But it was another Croft-Lloyd collaboration, ’Allo ’Allo, that would prove even more successful than Are You Being Served? Some disliked its jaunty attitude to Hitlerian occupation and racial and sexual stereotyping; others enjoyed its unremittingly daffy characters, such as the tall gendarme who, for reasons that don’t bear an instant’s scrutiny, spoke to everybody in scarcely comprehensible Franglais, offering apercus such as: “It’s a gid loof, if you don’t wicken.”
Lloyd had such fun on the show that he became briefly engaged to Carole Ashby, who played the demented Louise of the Communist Resistance. Her catchphrase supplied the title of his memoir, which, strictly speaking, should have been spelled Leesten Vairy Carefully, I Shall Say Zees Arnly Wernce. ’Allo ’Allo was such a triumph that it ran to nearly 90 episodes. The BBC managed to sell the show to the Germans, who may have liked how its Nazis were depicted as harmlessly pervy and bumbling.
In 2011 Lloyd’s lineup for a Royal Albert Hall revival of Captain Beaky included Lumley and Roger Moore. The following year he was appointed OBE for services to comedy.
In 1992, Lloyd was married the actor Collette Northrop. Earlier this year he got married again, to the interior designer Lizzy Moberly, who survives him.
• Jeremy Lloyd, writer, born 22 July 1930; died 22 December 2014