Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Renwick, David (1951-)


Main image of Renwick, David (1951-)

David Renwick (born in Luton in 1951) began to write comedy material from an early age, and was precocious enough to submit examples to BBC Radio while still at school. Receiving sufficiently encouraging responses (although no cheques for jokes used), he continued to submit material while working as a junior reporter on his local newspaper.

He demonstrated admirable perseverance, and some of his material eventually began to be accepted by the BBC, initially on radio with the two satirical series Week Ending (1970-98) and The News Huddlines (1975- ), and then on television. According to Renwick himself, his first joke for television was featured in a Cliff Richard show, probably in an episode of either It's Cliff Richard (BBC, 1974) or It's Cliff - and Friends (BBC, 1975)

Turning professional in 1975, he continued to write for Week Ending, on which show he met fellow writer Andrew Marshall. As writing partners, the pair soon graduated to their own radio shows, The Half Open University (1975) and The Burkiss Way (1976-80), the latter of which gathered a strong cult following.

Meanwhile, Renwick also began to make a name for himself on television with his writing of comic sketch material, beginning in 1976 with The Two Ronnies (BBC, 1971-87). Among the many other shows to which he was to contribute material were Bernie (ITV, 1978-80), starring Bernie Winters, Little and Large (BBC, 1978-91) and The Les Dawson Show (BBC, 1978-89).

Renwick's television work in partnership with Marshall began with the contribution of material to the ill-fated variety show Bruce Forsyth's Big Night (ITV, 1978). Their subsequent sketch work varied from the cutting edge humour of Not the Nine O'Clock News (BBC, 1979-82), Spike Milligan's There's a Lot of it About (BBC, 1982) and Alexei Sayle's Stuff (BBC, 1988-91) to the relatively run-of-the-mill Russ Abbot's Madhouse (ITV, 1980-85).

Bearing a strong Burkiss Way influence, End of Part One (ITV, 1979-80), the first television series created and written by Renwick and Marshall themselves, was only sporadically successful with its bizarre mix of sitcom and sketch.

The pair's predilection for black humour was announced with their next series, the bleak political satire Whoops Apocalypse (ITV, 1982). With the world sinking into apocalyptic oblivion by the final episode, the subject matter was certainly brave (the BBC had rejected it), setting it apart from the conventional sitcom. But the series chimed with the emerging 'alternative comedy' scene (Rik Mayall and Alexei Sayle supported the more established John Barron and John Cleese) helping to win it a small but devoted following. A feature film spin-off (d. Tom Bussmann, 1986), featuring a different cast, was a disappointment, despite the participation of Renwick and Marshall in the adaptation.

Renwick and Marshall's subsequent sitcoms (at least to date) are The Steam Video Company (ITV, 1984), an anthology series that parodied a different horror theme in each episode; the excellent, yet sadly underrated and relatively neglected satire on the tabloid press, Hot Metal (ITV, 1986-88); and If You See God, Tell Him (BBC, 1993), featuring sitcom stalwart Richard Briers as a man with an attention span of only thirty seconds.

Renwick's most lauded work without Marshall (and the only sitcom he has so far written alone) has been his often dark One Foot in the Grave (BBC, 1990-2000), in which Richard Wilson, as the perpetually outraged Victor Meldrew, made 'I don't believe it' a catchphrase for all those exasperated with contemporary British society and life's myriad misfortunes. The series won a BAFTA award for best comedy programme in 1992, with Renwick receiving The Writers' Guild Award for Best Comedy Writer in that same year.

Renwick temporarily abandoned the world of comedy in 1990 and 1991 to indulge his love of detective stories and dramatise four episodes (one being co-written) for the series Agatha Christie's Poirot (ITV, 1989-2002), featuring David Suchet as the Belgian sleuth.

In a similar vein, albeit with a transfusion of (inevitably dark) humour, he created his own detective character, Jonathan Creek (BBC, 1997- ), a conjuror turned amateur detective, played by Alan Davies, who solved those crimes that left the police baffled - to be fair to the police, the modus operandi of many of the featured crimes did verge on the implausible. It was nevertheless a well-crafted variation on the detective genre, winning a BAFTA for best drama series in 1998.

In 1999 Renwick received BAFTA's Dennis Potter Award, established to recognise outstanding writing for television.

John Oliver

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989-)Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989-)

The casebook of Belgium's finest detective

Thumbnail image of Alexei Sayle's Stuff (1988-91)Alexei Sayle's Stuff (1988-91)

Aggressively satirical sketch show from the fat Liverpudlian Marxist

Thumbnail image of End of Part One (1979-80)End of Part One (1979-80)

Surreal sketch show mining the world of television

Thumbnail image of Jonathan Creek (1997-2004)Jonathan Creek (1997-2004)

Magic expert Creek solves unsolvable crimes

Thumbnail image of One Foot In The Grave (1990-2000)One Foot In The Grave (1990-2000)

Victor Meldrew settles down to enjoy his retirement

Thumbnail image of Q5, Q6 etc. / There's a Lot of It About (1969-82)Q5, Q6 etc. / There's a Lot of It About (1969-82)

Surreal, unhinged sketch comedy from ex-Goon Spike Milligan

Thumbnail image of Two Ronnies, The (1971-86)Two Ronnies, The (1971-86)

Hugely popular sketch series uniting Ronnies Barker and Corbett

Related collections

Related people and organisations