Dick Sharples, founder member of WGGB and a lifelong supporter and activist, died on Monday 19 October 2015, aged 88, after a short illness.
Dick’s career as a TV writer went right back to the launch of ITV. When he submitted his first script, two months before the channel went on air in 1955, he was told he would receive no fee. After the production costs and the payments to actors, it was explained, there would be no money left. He asked why the actors were being paid and the reply was: “Because the bastards have a union.”
Next day Dick joined the Screenwriters’ Association and the work began of converting it into a genuine trade union, becoming the WGGB in 1959.
Dick started out as a cartoonist, and his nifty drawings and jokes were for many years a feature of WGGB’s bulletins and magazines. But the comedy gene ran deeper than that, and with the dawning of the TV age he created an almost unbelievable number of series and scripts. He wrote about 800 – you can view the full list on his own website.
His hits included Joan and Leslie (1955), The Love of Mike (1960), A Little Bit of Wisdom (with Norman Wisdom, 1974), In Loving Memory (with Thora Hird, 1979), Thicker Than Water (1981), Hallelujah! (1983), and Farrington of the FO (1986).
Dick was immortalised by the great English portraitist (and writer) John Bratby RA. Typically, Dick referred to this painting as ‘Dorian Gray’.
Much of his work was in collaboration with Gerald Kelsey, former Chair of WGGB, with whom Dick had a deep friendship lasting until Gerald’s death in 2006.
But it wasn’t just comedy and it wasn’t just TV. Dick wrote lots of straight drama, he wrote for radio, he wrote for film. Later in life he ventured – hugely successfully – into self-publishing, with A Year in Muswell Hill by Pierre La Poste – a brilliant parody of a now forgotten bestseller. His experience became the foundation of WGGB guidelines for self-publishing writers.
And Dick was a novelist, too (seven books), and a stage dramatist (four plays). He picked up two WGGB Awards, a Pye Comedy Writing Award and an International Radio Festival Award in New York.
In the WGGB he did not seek the highest office, but served for many years on the Executive Council and various other committees; also the ALCS Board. He was a member of the Writers’ Guild Welfare Fund Committee right to the end, still giving advice just a few weeks ago.
Anybody who spent a few minutes with Dick would be treated to a torrent of hilarious anecdotes about the TV business, and Dick features in a few anecdotes in his own right (see below). A pioneer and star of the Writers’ Guild.
WGGB chair Gail Renard writes: “Dick Sharples’s career was the history of British television. He contributed to series such as The Saint, Dixon of Dock Green, Z-Cars, and dozens of others. Dick went on to create his classic situation comedies Hallelujah! and In Loving Memory, both for his favourite actress and muse, Thora Hird.
“Earlier in his career, Dick wrote on A Little Bit Of Wisdom. Norman Wisdom was renowned for demanding to be in every scene. Dick told me he once wrote a third of a page in which Wisdom didn’t feature. Dick went to the loo and upon his return saw a note from his star scribbled in the margin of his script: ‘Where’s Norman?’
“Dick was on the WGGB Television Committee and a negotiator for many years. His company guaranteed good companionship and laughter. It was a privilege to know him.”
Dick Sharples: an appreciation by Wally K. Daly
Dear WGGB Member,
If you’ve got a chum in the writing business getting on a bit, and you are intent on giving them a call “one of these days” to see how they are, my advice is – do it now.
The other day I had a request that I thought could be answered by two writer chums of a certain age. I wrote their names and phone numbers on the pad beside me and called the first one (alphabetically, as it happened) Brad Ashton; and, as I’d guessed, he had the info I needed. No need to call the second name.
The following day I had a call from WGGB General Secretary Bernie Corbett that the second name on the list, Dick Sharples, who I had sat with on the Welfare Fund Committee for innumerable years, had died the day before. So, having thought on and off over the previous few weeks “I’ll call him for a chat soon, catch up with how his minor medical work is going”, it was too late.
Dick and I rubbed shoulders over 25 years or so on various Guild gatherings and joined committees from the Executive right down to the last one I mentioned, the Welfare Fund Committee, which is there, then and now, to issue money to writers in dire financial difficulty, including recently paying funeral expenses and very necessary money to a deceased member’s nearest family.
Dick, of course, was a comedy writer and author of some amazing work from In Loving Memory to a four-year stint as script editor on the UK version of General Hospital. No doubt a list of credits is on offer nearby but I shall more remember his shafts of wit, spontaneously appearing without, it appeared, a second of thought.
I arrived at a committee meeting once to grandly announce that my little play The Roman, in a Chalk Farm basement bookshop, had been described in the Evening Standard as “reminiscent of Dostoevsky”. Without looking up from his doodle, Dick immediately said: “It just means you’re boring!” A few years later when I’d been called “an icon” – he instantly retorted: “Well, at least they got three letters right!”
The moral of this short piece is – if you have a call to make to an older much-loved chum, do it now – don’t wait till the next time you remember. And, if it’s a writer I might know, give them my regards.
The funeral will take place at 11.30am on Thursday 5 November 2015 at Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London NW11 7NL, 020 8455 2374. The nearest Tube station is Golders Green (Northern Line) and there are local bus services. No flowers, please, but donations, if desired, to the Writers’ Guild Welfare Fund, sort code 60-83-01, account number 20158851, or phone 020 7833 0777.
There will follow a celebration of Dick’s life at 1pm at the Clissold Arms, 105 Fortis Green, East Finchley, N2 9HR.