Jimmy Perry was a dynamic showman and was probably born wearing either a Redcoat or a Garrick tie. He loved show business and revelled in every aspect of it. While still at school, Jimmy decided to be a stand-up comic but the Second World War soon put paid to that.
At the beginning Jimmy was too young to be called up, but he was drafted into the Home Guard instead. When Jimmy finally did serve, it was in Burma where he was part of the Royal Artillery Concert Party and entertained the troops. Upon demob, Jimmy went to RADA to study acting, paying his way by being a Redcoat at Butlins.
And so, in the fullness of time, Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Hi-de-Hi! were born.
Like many of his generation, Jimmy’s career only started after the peace. He played a series of small parts in BBC comedy shows, while working on his own ideas. Mike Sharland, writer, agent and former WGGB Chair, worked with Jimmy in 1967. Mike was writing the sitcom, Beggar My Neighbour, which was produced by David Croft, and recalls: “Jimmy played Reg Varney’s brother. That’s when he first met David and showed him drafts of Dad’s Army, which wasn’t called that then.”
The show was originally called The Fighting Tigers, but Croft renamed it and took it to the then Head of BBC Comedy, Michael Mills. The 25-year partnership of Croft and Perry began. Croft brought his producing and directing skills, as well as an unerring sense of comedy, while Jimmy brought his observational genius. Together they gave us 50 years of comedy and the immortal, “Don’t tell him, Pike!” Dad’s Army repeats still run on the BBC today and have ratings other series would envy.
As well as being a prolific writer, Jimmy was a staunch WGGB member and sat on both the Television Committee and the Executive Council. Jimmy was also responsible for reviving the Writers’ Guild Awards in 1991 after a long lull. Mike Sharland explains: “A tremendous thing that Jimmy did was guaranteeing the money – along with Clive Exton and Allan Scott – to make it possible to get the Awards going again.”
The Writers’ Guild Awards are still going strong today and in 2008 Perry and Croft won the Lifetime Achievement Award (Jimmy Perry is pictured above – right – with David Croft; and in the second photo, receiving the award from writer, actor, musician and presenter Rick Wakeman).
Jimmy was a one-man Battersea Power station who lit up a room every time he entered it. My condolences to his family and friends. And I’ll bet Jimmy’s wearing his Redcoat in heaven.