Bryan Izzard

Sitcom producer and director
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The Independent Online

Bryan Frank Armstrong Izzard, television producer and director: born Dorking, Surrey 4 July 1936; died 27 April 2006.

Bryan Izzard's was a distinctive and familiar name on screen at the end of 1970s television sitcoms. These were often of the rumbustious kind and, during his time as a producer and director at the ITV company LWT, included later episodes (1972-73) of the long-running On the Buses, starring the former variety performer Reg Varney as the chirpy bus driver Stan Butler. The critics panned the programme as vulgar, but audiences grew to 16 million and three film spin-offs were shown in cinemas, the last, Holiday on the Buses (1973), directed by Izzard.

He produced and directed all three series of Not on Your Nellie (1974-75), which featured another former variety artist, Hylda Baker, complete with her famous malapropisms. She played the brusque Nellie Pickersgill, who did not approve of drinking or her father's betting and womanising but left her native Bolton for London to help him to run the Brown Cow pub in Fulham.

Izzard was also responsible for the revival of The Rag Trade (1977-78), with Miriam Karlin and Peter Jones reprising their roles as the battling shop steward and hapless boss at the Fenner's Fashions dressmaking workshop. Although it ran to two series and was scripted by its original writers, Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, the sitcom never had the spark or originality of the 1960s programmes.

Then, during his time as head of entertainment at Scottish Television (1978-81), Izzard stepped slightly outside his remit to revive another character, in the drama Charles Endell Esquire (1979-80). A spin-off from the popular Budgie, which starred Adam Faith as a Cockney spiv, it featured Iain Cuthbertson as the Soho "Mr Big" returning to his native Glasgow after seven years in prison.

Born in Dorking, Surrey in 1936, Izzard was educated at Wilmorton Junior School in Derby and Derby grammar school. He studied English at New College, Oxford, where he acted with the university's dramatic society. After taking a teaching diploma, he decided on a career in broadcasting and was taken on by the BBC as a trainee producer, eventually switching from radio to television and gaining experience in current affairs and light entertainment programmes.

On moving to LWT, he started by producing and directing two larger-than-life radio disc jockeys who, at the time, had limited success on television. There was chat in The Simon Dee Show (1970) and music and mayhem in Kenny Everett's sketch shows Making Whoopee (1970) and Ev (1970-71).

But sitcom became Izzard's staple at the ITV company. Alongside series such as On the Buses, he directed episodes of The Fenn Street Gang (1971-73), The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs (1974), a spy-spoof sitcom starring David Jason, and Doctor on the Go (1975, 1977), the fourth sequel in the series based on Richard Gordon's popular "Doctor" books.

After his stint at Scottish Television, Izzard moved to Southern Television, where he produced the sitcoms That Beryl Marston . . . ! (1981), starring Julia McKenzie and Gareth Hunt as a couple successful in business but unable to make their marriage work, and Take a Letter Mr Jones (1981), with Rula Lenska and John Inman as the boss and secretary in roles contrary to the stereotype of the time.

Turning freelance after Southern lost its ITV franchise, Izzard produced the Granada sitcom Rep (1982), featuring Iain Cuthbertson as the bullying manager of a shabby 1940s seaside repertory company, and directed the same company's drama The Starlight Ballroom (1983), with the rock star Alvin Stardust as a 1940s danceband singer.

After the launch of Channel Four, he became an independent producer with his own Bright Thoughts Company. The result was two sides of the comedy coin: The Green Tie on the Little Yellow Dog (1983), starring Arthur Askey, Cilla Black, Maureen Lipman and others reciting monologues made famous by music-hall legends such as Chesney Allen, Stanley Holloway and Joyce Grenfell, followed byBook 'Em An' Risk It (1983) and Interference (1983), both featuring alternative comedians.

Izzard found his own style of comedy out of favour in the 1980s but returned as producer-director of the sitcom An Actor's Life for Me (1991), with John Gordon-Sinclair playing a struggling thespian convinced that success is just around the corner.

Although that signalled the end of Izzard's television career as a comedy producer, he directed episodes of The South Bank Show, including an Alan Ayckbourn masterclass on writing plays (1996) and a biography of the dancer Michael Flatley (1997).

He also directed the feature film Julie and the Cadillacs (1999), starring Tina Russell and Toyah Willcox in the story of a struggling 1960s pop group, most notable for the 30-second appearance of Thora Hird in her final film role, playing the grandmother of the title character.

Anthony Hayward

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