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Driver, Harry (1931-1973) and Powell, Vince (1928-2009)


Main image of Driver, Harry (1931-1973) and Powell, Vince (1928-2009)

Prior to becoming one of Britain's most successful comedy writing teams of the 1960s and early 1970s, Harry Driver (born in Blackley, Manchester on 13 May 1931) and Vince Powell (born in Miles Platting, Manchester on 6 August 1929) worked the clubs of their native Manchester in an amateur capacity as the comedy double act 'Hammond and Powell'.

However, in December 1955 Driver was struck down with polio. He would spend the next 18 months in hospital (12 of them in an iron lung), and, unable to move his arms and legs, the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Despite, or indeed because of, his illness, Driver began to write stories and scripts, initially when in the iron lung (via dictation) and then on a typewriter, apparently with a knitting needle clenched between his teeth. Submitting scripts to Manchester-based Granada Television, he eventually had one accepted, receiving his first television credit not for a comedy, but for the 24 March 1960 episode of Skyport (ITV, 1959-60), an airport-set drama series.

Powell, meanwhile, had also turned his hand to writing and had begun to collaborate with Driver during the evenings (he was a tailor by trade during the day). The pair's first break arrived when they were contracted by BBC Manchester to write material for comedian Harry Worth (not then a national figure). The success of the resulting series, Here's Harry (BBC, 1960-65), largely co-written with Frank Roscoe, not only made the comedian a national star, but turned Powell and Driver into professional writers.

For Granada Television, they began to provide both scripts and storylines (either together or separately) for Coronation Street (ITV, 1960- ), beginning with their joint script for the episode of 10 February 1961. Although Powell stopped contributing to the soap in 1964, Driver continued to work on the series (sometimes in the role of executive producer) up to the time of his death.

Remaining in a relatively serious vein, Driver provided two stories, and the pair together wrote one script, for the Granada anthology crime series The Villains (ITV, 1964-65). For the BBC they also wrote five episodes of the fantasy adventure series Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-67).

It is with sitcoms, however, that their names are chiefly associated. Following their success with Harry Worth, the pair created a further eleven comedy series between 1965 and 1973 (all for ITV), beginning with Pardon the Expression (1965-66), a comedic spin-off from Coronation Street, with Arthur Lowe reprising his former Street character, Leonard Swindley. Driver himself produced many of the episodes.

Other popular series created and written by the pair include George and the Dragon (1966-68), featuring Sidney James and Peggy Mount as chauffeur and housekeeper in the service of a retired army officer (John Le Mesurier); Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width (1967-71), set in an East End of London tailoring firm run by the ethnic ill-pairing of Jew Manny Cohen (John Bluthal) and Irish-Catholic Patrick Kelly (Joe Lynch); For the Love of Ada (ITV, 1970-71), with Irene Handl and Wilfred Pickles playing romantically linked pensioners; the pre-political correctness race relations comedy Love Thy Neighbour (ITV, 1972-76), now denigrated as the racist nadir of British sitcom but hugely popular in its day; and Spring and Autumn (ITV, 1972-76), starring Jimmy Jewel as a recently-bereaved widower moving in with his daughter and son-in-law.

Largely left in the hands of others to write, but created by Powell and Driver, were Nearest and Dearest (1968-72), featuring another mis-matched pair, this time in the form of Jimmy Jewel and Hilda Baker as brother and sister joint owners of a pickle factory, and Bless This House (ITV, 1971-76), a domestic sitcom vehicle for Sidney James.

Following the early death of Harry Driver at the age of 42 on 25 November 1973, Powell carried on writing alone, initially with further episodes of both Love Thy Neighbour and Spring and Autumn, before he created nine new sitcoms of his own, beginning with The Wackers (ITV, 1975), a domestic comedy based around the religious differences within a Liverpool family, and concluding with the execrable Bottle Boys (ITV, 1984-85), a feeble dairy-set sitcom featuring Robin Askwith.

Powell also contributed to the writing of a number of sitcoms created by others, including Johnnie Mortimer's long-running Never the Twain (ITV, 1981-91), featuring Windsor Davies and Donald Sinden as rival antiques dealers. Powell wrote all of the episodes from 1989 to the end of the series.

John Oliver

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Selected credits

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Hugely popular sitcom vehicle for Carry On star Sid James

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Thumbnail image of Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76)Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76)

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