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Dad’s Army and Only Fools and Horses: Jimmy Perry’s comedic legacy

ByEmily Hall

Nov 1, 2016

Jimmy Perry, an iconic television writer, passed away in his home in London on Sunday the 23rd October, after a short illness.

He was best known for shows including Hi-de-Hi, Only Fools and Horses and Dad’s Army, drawing on his experience as a Redcoat, an entertainer on a Butlin’s holiday camp. This inspirational job was only a way to subsidise his acting career, his first foray into the entertainment industry which he pursued after entertaining troops in Burma during World War Two.

Perry began writing in the 1960s when he developed an idea about the Home Guard which was later pitched to the BBC and eventually accepted after some reservations. From the beginning, the show faced the challenge of walking a fine line between making fun and making light of the Home Guard.

When the show was produced under the name Dad’s Army, Perry himself played one of the key roles and was said to draw on his experiences with the Army to inform his character development. The show was a success, running from 1968-1977, winning several awards and being replayed for years after. In particular, the song written by Perry entitled ‘Who Do you Think You are Kidding Mr. Hitler’  won the 1971 Ivor Novello Award for Best Signature TV Tune.

Jimmy Perry will be remembered most for the way he challenged the borders and stereotypes of comedy. One of his less successful but more unique shows, You Rang M’Lord also drew on personal experience, in this instance, his grandfather’s time serving as the butler of a large household. The episodes were 50 minutes in length and allowed for the development of more subtle comedy, an increasingly present feature of his work.

Many of those who worked with Perry have expressed appreciation for their time working with him and to laud his legacy. Luckily, appreciation of his work is not just beginning after his lifetime but rather a continuation of years of recognition of the important role that he played, alongside his cowriter David Croft, in the development of British comedy.

All four of the television series that the two worked on together have been features of cultural and television study, aided by the rich series of interviews and commentaries that they provided, adding insight to the thought processes behind their innovative comedy. Their works, focusing on times of social change and often using humour as a way to draw attention to broader cultural changes, helped to develop more than just the discussion of more serious topics in comedy but also are an important capsule of British culture at the time, often cited as a reflection of many common cultural attitudes and anxieties.

In fact, it was their imitation of life and recurrent use of their own personal experiences that shaped their works. Not only did Perry draw on settings and institutions such as the army, but he paid close attention to the people around him to better understand and portray human nature.

Inspiring many modern comedians including Miranda Hart, Jack Dee and Richard Osman, Perry’s style of comedy is not confined to our parents’ generation. In an interview  with the Radio Times in 2014, Perry discussed his favourite comedies of today – Mrs Brown’s Boys, Vicious and Count Arthur Strong all have achieved great success and all use Perry’s style.

For those who grew up in the U.K., Dad’s Army or Only Fools and Horses were household names. However, for international students wanting to learn more about British culture, watch out for these titles which are still played regularly on BBC Two –  and available to watch online with a TV license.

Image: HU 50154 from the Collections of the Imperial War Museums Collection

By Emily Hall

As a writer, Emily contributes to news, features, comment, science & technology, lifestyle, tv & radio, culture and sport. This native Seattlite is a cake pop enthusiast who can regularly be found trying to make eye-contact with stranger’s dogs on the streets of Edinburgh.

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