Although Jimmy Perry (born in London on 20 September 1923) and David Croft (born in Sandbanks, Dorset, on 7 September 1922) were to work within television comedy in collaboration with others and independently, it is their body of work together, largely based on their own youthful experiences, that remains their finest contribution to British television.
Following war service and a scholarship at RADA, Perry learnt his stagecraft in repertory theatre and through nine years of running his own theatre company. He made his first forays into television as an actor, including small roles in the comedy series Hugh and I (BBC, 1962-68) and Beggar My Neighbour (BBC, 1966-68).
By this period, Croft, in contrast to Perry, had already accrued extensive experience of working in television. Following his own early years as an actor, he had contributed to the writing of the puppet series It's a Small World (BBC, 1952) and had co-written some of the music and lyrics for variety series Re-turn It Up (BBC, 1953).
With the arrival of independent television in 1955, Croft joined Associated Rediffusion as head of the Light Entertainment Script Department. He then moved to Newcastle to work on the 1959 launch of Tyne Tees Television, where he remained for a short period as a producer, director and writer, before returning to the BBC as a producer of comedies. These included Hugh and I and Beggar My Neighbour, which brought him into contact with Perry for the first time.
It was Croft whom Perry approached with the outline for a potential comedy series centred on a Home Guard platoon during World War Two. Both Croft and Michael Mills, head of BBC Comedy, were impressed enough to take it forward, although Mills suggested that, as Perry had never written for television before, Croft should write the scripts with him. Thus was born one of British television's most successful writing partnerships and one of the most popular of all television sitcoms, Dad's Army (BBC, 1968-77).
The series won Perry and Croft Writers' Guild of Great Britain awards in 1969, 1970 and 1971, with Croft also winning a Society of Film and Television Arts award in 1971 for his production and direction of the series (he performed both tasks on the majority of the episodes). In the same year, Perry won the Ivor Novello Award for the series' theme song, sung by Bud Flanagan at the beginning of each episode.
The idea for the series was fired by Perry's own experiences in the Home Guard as a teenager prior to his call-up (Croft had been an ARP warden prior to his). Their remaining works together largely followed a similar pattern: historical settings, an autobiographical content, a barely concealed hint of nostalgia, and stories structured for an ensemble cast.
It Ain't Half Hot Mum (BBC, 1974-81), which they consider the funniest of their collaborations, was inspired by their experiences in army concert parties in India during and after the war. Similarly, Hi-de-Hi! (BBC, 1980-88) mined their experiences of working in Butlin's holiday camps in the 1950s, Perry as a redcoat and Croft as a summer show actor/producer. The latter won them a BAFTA award for best comedy series in 1984.
Their final work together, You Rang, M'Lord? (BBC, 1988-93), set in an upper class residence in the 1920s, had no direct autobiographical content (being more a pastiche of ITV's drama series Upstairs, Downstairs, 1970-75), although Perry's grandfather had been a butler in such a household. This distance from their own experiences may account for it being their least successful enterprise in both script quality and public reception. It was Perry's final work for television.
At the same time as he was working with Perry, Croft also enjoyed popular, if not critical, success in some of his six writing collaborations with Jeremy Lloyd, including Are You Being Served? (BBC, 1972-85), set in a department store, and 'Allo, 'Allo! (BBC, 1982-92), a wartime farce set in occupied France. Although the use of ensemble casts in these series obviously derived from his work with Perry, the characters and situations unfortunately lacked the same charm and warmth.
Croft's final television series, another nostalgia-based comedy, this time set in a rural railway station in the early 1960s, was Oh, Doctor Beeching! (BBC, 1995-97), which he produced and created with Richard Spendlove.
Working apart from Croft, Perry usually wrote alone. His most popular solo creation was Lollipop Loves Mr Mole (ITV, 1971-72; simply Lollipop in the latter year) with Peggy Mount and Hugh Lloyd. Later series included Room Service (ITV, 1979), set in a London hotel, and High Street Blues (ITV, 1989), a sub-Ealing comedy co-written with Robin Carr, depicting the struggle of a group of small shopkeepers against a new supermarket. Unfortunately for Perry both flopped, and remain contenders for the title of worst British sitcom. Perry was more successful when looking at old-time variety acts in his two nostalgia-imbued series, The Old Boy Network (BBC, 1978-84) and Turns (BBC, 1982-89).
Perry and Croft were both awarded the OBE in 1978. Croft was awarded the Desmond Davis Award by BAFTA in 1982.