Obituary: Johnnie Mortimer

John Mortimer, writer, born Clare Suffolk 2 July 1931, died 2 September 1992.

JOHNNIE MORTIMER's name was not widely known but he was the author of many of television's best known and most fondly remembered comedies. Television critics seldom gave him the credit his talents deserved but his success was unique. With his partner and longtime friend Brian Cooke he wrote series after series which invariably made the Top 10 in the programme-rating charts.

Like many other comedy writers and comedians, Mortimer began as a cartoonist, a hard, demanding occupation where rejection was the rule rather than the exception. But it was this experience and flair as a cartoonist which taught him the lessons of brevity and pace in comedy. The joke had to be made in a single frame.

Radio comedy and partnership with Cooke followed in the early Sixties. They wrote for Round the Horne with great success, leaving them with a lasting affection and admiration for Kenneth Horne. It was in the mid-Sixties that Mortimer turned to television under contract to ABC - the company which later merged with Rediffusion to become Thames. To his eternal credit he wrote for Tommy Cooper - a considerable feat because Cooper's one-liners were so specialised and unique. My favourite sequence had Cooper describing how he had been to a junk shop that day and had been lucky enough to secure a Stradivarius and a Rembrandt. 'The trouble is,' said Cooper, crashing the violin through the canvas, 'Stradivarius was a rotten painter and Rembrandt couldn't make violins.'

In sketch comedy - perhaps the hardest area of television comedy because of the number of ideas it consumes in a single programme - Mortimer and Cooke wrote two series for Bernard Cribbins. Then followed a quite extraordinary run of situation comedies. Father Dear Father, first broadcast in 1968, starring Patrick Cargill, and Man About the House (1973) with Richard O'Sullivan, Paula Wilcox and Sally Thomsett. The latter series produced two notable spin-offs. The landlord and landlady from Man About the House, played by Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce, were such a popular creation that they were given their own series George and Mildred (1976). And Robin Tripp, alias Richard O'Sullivan, was launched in his own series with Tessa Wyatt Robin's Nest (1977). Never the Twain (1981), created by Mortimer and starring Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies, remains one of Thames Television's longest-running series.

In addition to his own writing, for eight years Mortimer was comedy adviser to Thames, guiding and helping other writers and contributing ideas to the Light Entertainment Department.

And his success was not confined to Britain alone. Man About the House has the distinction of becoming one of the biggest situation comedy successes in the United States with a cast headed by John Ritter and under the title Three's Company. The US series ran for eight years, starting in 1976, and totalled 174 episodes. George and Mildred and Robin's Nest were also exported to the States but neither could equal the phenomenal success of Three's Company.

Throughout all his years of success as a comedy writer, Mortimer remained totally professional and organised. Deadlines and delivery dates were always met and his office at Teddington Studios featured a wall-chart showing exactly when scripts were to be available. Final drafts would be preceded by a detailed outline of 10 or a dozen pages, often including sample dialogue, and each scene would have a note of the expected duration. The final script would seldom stray from the outline.

Johnnie Mortimer was a great professional and people across the world will be laughing at his programmes for many years to come. I am grateful to have worked with him for a quarter of a century and, even more important, he was the nicest gentleman you could ever wish to meet.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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 People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album