Geoffrey Perkins: Comedy producer and writer

Not many people watching the final series of One Foot In The Grave eight years ago would have been aware that the man playing the gay brother of Victor Meldrew's waspish neighbour Patrick was a giant of television comedy. But he was, no less than the many household names whose careers he enhanced, and in some cases made. Although he was an occasional performer, and a fine writer, it is as a singularly perceptive producer and energetic head of comedy at BBC Television for which Geoffrey Perkins will be remembered by an industry not easily shocked, yet still reeling at the news of his death, aged 55. It is thought that he fainted before falling into the path of the traffic in a London street.

Perkins was a gentle, modest man, but with a sharp wit and, more significantly, with finely tuned antennae for what would work as comedy on radio and television, and what wouldn't. On the written page the distinction is notoriously difficult to discern, but he managed it far more often than not, not least in the case of that blissfully daft parody of a panel game, Mornington Crescent, in the Radio 4 show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. It is said that Perkins, then a bright young Oxford graduate newly recruited by BBC Radio's light entertainment department, came up with the idea himself to bamboozle the unpopular series producer.

For that alone he is entitled to a footnote in broadcasting history, but there was so much more; the list of shows he either devised or produced adds up to a truly remarkable legacy. They included The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Spitting Image, most of Harry Enfield's output, The Fast Show, Father Ted, Have I Got News For You and The Catherine Tate Show. He did not live to see transmission of his latest project, the renewed collaboration between Enfield and Paul Whitehouse for the independent production company Tiger Aspect. Harry and Paul begins on BBC1 tomorrow evening.

As Perkins was the first to admit, however, his comedy antennae were not infallible. When Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash approached the BBC with their idea for a comedy about a northern working-class family doing little more than watching the telly, he expressed serious misgivings. But Aherne would not budge, and she was powerful enough to get her own way. When The Royle Family duly became one of the most garlanded comedies of the 1990s, Perkins was only too pleased to admit that he had been wrong.

It was a rare, and forgivable, error of judgement. Far more frequent were the occasions when writers or performers, insistent on going in one direction, were gently persuaded by Perkins to take an alternative route, and swiftly recognised that he knew what they were doing better than they did. One example was Father Ted, originally written by Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan as a pseudo-documentary. Perkins urged them to turn it into a sitcom, and also dissuaded them from using silly theme music. Silly comedy, he argued, does not need self-mockery.

His eye and ear for comedy were honed at Harrow County Grammar School, no relation to the nearby public school, yet with, at least among Perkins' contemporaries, similarly distinguished alumni. His schoolfriends included Clive Anderson, Michael Portillo and Nigel Sheinwald (now Sir Nigel, and Britain's ambassador to Washington). From Harrow County, Perkins won an exhibition to read English at Lincoln College, Oxford, after which, on the advice of an evidently myopic university careers adviser, he and Portillo joined a commercial shipping company in Liverpool. Their shipping careers soon ran aground, and in 1976 Perkins joined the BBC.

In 1978, having shown such promise on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, Perkins was invited to produce The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, his principal task being to coax scripts out of Douglas Adams, a legendary slowcoach. This he did, with characteristically gentle persuasion, although he had personal as well as professional reasons to look back with satisfaction on Hitch-Hiker's Guide; Lisa Braun, a studio manager on the project, later became his wife.

In 1998, after collaborating successfully as both writer and performer with Angus Deayton on Radio Active and its screen incarnation, KYTV, Perkins left the BBC to become a director of Hat Trick Productions. But in 1995 he returned to the BBC as head of comedy, retaining a substantial stake in Hat Trick but laughing off suggestions that there would be any conflict of interests.

The convulsions of the John Birt regime he found harder to laugh off; Perkins loathed what Birt did to the BBC, and felt that the sitcom – a word, he once observed, that is too often articulated "with a curl of the lips" – was victimised by Birt's budget police. In 2001 he joined Tiger Aspect, where he helped propel Catherine Tate to TV stardom after seeing her doing stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe. He could spot talent as brilliantly and percipiently as he nurtured it.

Brian Viner

It is not a figure of speech to say that Geoffrey Perkins was "much loved" throughout the comedy business, writes Andrew Marshall. A thoughtful, apparently implacable exterior neatly curtained off a sensitive, warm character, with an invigorating delight of the ridiculous and a solid sense of judgement beautifully combining pragmatic logic and a matchless comic instinct.

Companionable and entertaining, he famously attended run-throughs, his face buried in his script, ticking lines that particularly made him laugh, and he often had to have his attention drawn to some visual gag he was in danger of missing, in his concentration.

At the end of a recent lunch, he surprised me by giving me a bear hug as he departed, as if we would never meet again. We never did. I, in company I suspect, with a large number of people, already miss him enormously, but I thinly console myself by thinking that, wherever he ends up, he like as not finds his manner of getting there one of the extraordinary absurdities of life at which we can, in the end, only shrug our shoulders and laugh.

Geoffrey Perkins, producer, writer and actor: born Bushey, Hertfordshire, 22 February 1953; Head of Comedy, BBC 1995-2001; married 1986 Lisa Braun (one son, one daughter); died London 29 August 2008.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup