Philip Jones

Light-entertainment supremo at ABC and Thames Television
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The Independent Online

The talents of Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper and other comedians were given their greatest showcase by Philip Jones, who enjoyed a powerful role within ITV as head of light entertainment first at ABC, then at Thames Television - both now distant memories in small-screen history, but major players in the formative years of the commercial network.

Philip Stuart Jones, television producer and executive: born Cheltenham, Gloucestershire 7 December 1927; OBE 1977; married 1953 Florence Green (one son, and one son deceased); died Teddington, Middlesex 7 May 2004.

The talents of Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper and other comedians were given their greatest showcase by Philip Jones, who enjoyed a powerful role within ITV as head of light entertainment first at ABC, then at Thames Television - both now distant memories in small-screen history, but major players in the formative years of the commercial network.

Hill's saucy-postcard humour was a staple of the channel for 20 years after Jones lured the former variety star away from the BBC and made The Benny Hill Show (1969-89), which became Thames Television's most successful export. Ironically, the repackaging of the programmes for foreign markets, with a concentration on the visual gags to overcome language barriers, led to the show's being axed. By then, Jones had stepped out of the fray and into retirement.

Jones nurtured the comedian Tommy Cooper at ABC, the ITV weekend contractor for the North and Midlands until 1968, and Cooper moved with him over to the network's new London weekday franchise holder, Thames Television. Alongside a roll-call of stand-up comic talent, Jones was responsible for many popular sitcoms on ITV, including Father, Dear Father (1968-73, 1978-79), Bless This House (1971-76), Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76), Man About the House (1973-76) and Shelley (1979-89), all much loved by viewers, if sometimes frowned upon by the critics.

Born in Cheltenham in 1927, the son of a teacher, Jones did National Service in the RAF before starting his career in 1948 as a producer at Radio Luxembourg, the station that beamed commercial pop music across Europe. He left after seven years to join Granada Television while it was preparing to take to the air as the third ITV company and subsequently gave the benefit of his background in music broadcasting to Tyne Tees (1959-60).

After being headhunted by ABC in 1960, Jones launched Thank Your Lucky Stars (1961-66), a series allowing teenagers to give their verdicts on the latest releases and making a personality of Janice Nicholls, a panellist whose catchphrase was "Oi'll give it foive". When the Beatles' music publisher, Dick James, played the acetate of "Please Please Me" over the phone to Jones, the producer instantly signed the emerging Liverpool group for their first national television performance, in a January 1963 edition of Thank Your Lucky Stars. Six months later, the Rolling Stones made their British screen début in the show.

Then, in 1965, ABC promoted Jones to head of light entertainment and he demonstrated his ability to nurture talent. After spotting the comedy duo Mike and Bernie Winters, he had made them hosts of the variety shows Big Night Out (1963) and Blackpool Night Out (1964-65). Then he gave them their own programme, Mike and Bernie's Show (1966-72), starting on ABC and, in 1968, switching to Thames, which was quick to recruit Jones in his old job. The popular sitcom Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width (1967-71), about two tailors running a business in the East End of London, similarly moved from ABC to Thames.

Working for one of the commercial channel's two biggest companies, with bigger budgets, Jones oversaw some of British television's most popular programmes over the next 20 years. As well as attracting Benny Hill and the conjuror David Nixon from the BBC, in 1969 he revived one of the Corporation's earlier successes, This is Your Life. Alongside mainstream comedians and sitcoms, he occasionally commissioned innovative entertainment. In The Kenny Everett Video Show (1978-80), complete with characters such as Sid Snot and Captain Kremmen and the raunchy dance troupe Hot Gossip, he reignited the controversial radio disc-jockey Kenny Everett's television career.

The launch of Michael Barrymore (1983) as the comedian's first solo series showed that Jones had not lost his talent-spotting skills, although prising the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise and the impersonator Mike Yarwood away from the BBC in the 1980s proved less of an achievement: The Morecambe and Wise Show (1980-83) never matched their previous work and Yarwood was beset by personal problems and competition from a new breed of mimics.

Jones retired from Thames Television in 1988. Shortly afterwards, he was executive producer of the sitcom As Time Goes By (1992-2002), made for BBC1 by an independent company and featuring Geoffrey Palmer and Judi Dench as a divorcé and widow who rekindle the flames of an earlier romance.

Anthony Hayward



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