Throughout the seventies and eighties, the British situation comedy went through a golden age with a whole host of memorable characters, unforgettable situations and hilarious moments which have since formed part of Britain’s cultural identity. Such a blossoming period for the genre remains synonymous with just one person who was instrumental to the development of the British sitcom. The legendary David Croft became responsible for many of the offerings which contributed to this era being a special period for Light Entertainment. Yet for aspiring producers and directors, the thrill of Bill Cotton’s Light Entertainment department seemed a million miles away.
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RADA has long since enjoyed an unrivalled reputation for nurturing and creating acting talent who have gone on to become giants of drama. Yet what is possibly lesser known is this renowned Arts establishment also boasts a formidable production department where future media auteurs can learn their craft. Writer, producer and director Roy Gould arrived at RADA in 1972 where he trained as a stage manager. Creating and designing the sets for the drama course made the young Roy eager for the glamour of the stage. Mixing and negotiating with actors such as Jonathan Pryce offered him the perfect grounding for the rest of his career and in the era of so much theatrical talent, Roy was in the perfect environment for creativity. But on graduating, he was just about to be thrust into a world of glitz, glamour and opportunity.
Finding himself in the centre of London’s thriving West End during the mid 1970’s, Roy became assistant stage manager and then stage manager on some of the biggest theatrical productions of the time including Billy, Jesus Christ Superstar and Chicago. Working with the likes of Michael Crawford, offered him the buzz of entertainment for the very first time and reminded him of standing at the wings of theatres as a young boy at The Windham Theatre where the ASM would allow him to stand in the wings and watch the action unfold. To think that he was now contributing to the world which he always dreamed about was amazing. Yet Roy’s career was just about to flourish.
In 1979 Roy joined the BBC as a Third Assistant Director working on a host of popular shows from Top of The Pops to Blue Peter via a splattering of TV studio based drama. Receiving his BBC pass for the first time was a momentous experience as he realised that this was the key to accessing all the locations which the corporation had to offer. Working on a plethora of studio based shows offered Roy a broad experience of entertainment from Nationwide to Play School and Top Of The Pops where he met the iconic Pans People. Yet when controller of BBC One Bill Cotton seconded him to the comedy department, Roy was about to enter the absolute pinnacle of his career. Despite leaving his post as Head of Light Entertainment two years previously, Bill Cotton remained at the epicentre of comedy and entertainment and together with the unrivalled experience of David Croft, Roy learned from two of the giants of the genre and quickly became invested in such an elite comedy repertory company.
To work at BBC Television Centre during the seventies and eighties was a tremendous experience for the young man who had grown up with theatre. Meeting David Croft on the set of Allo Allo on what was his 60th birthday was a surreal experience for the Third Assistant Director. Unbeknown to either party, this was the start of a long association which would become one of the most enduring production partnerships in British comedy. Allo Allo united the writing talents of David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd for a satirical glance at the French resistance. Like most of Croft’s work, the subject of sex was never too far away and Roy believes that this was part of his genius as he had a natural nose for what was funny. This, coupled with the universal lampooning between two nations offered the sitcom a unique angle which appealed to a broad audience.
His association with the legendary David Croft opened up an endless world of opportunity and in 1982 he became assistant floor manager on the hit sitcom Hi-De-Hi. It was here that Roy met a cast and crew which would go on to dominate his career. Again, the overarching theme of sex was apparent throughout and this was cemented by the array of glamorous women who doubled up as yellowcoats. Essentially they were objects of male lust disguised as comedy devices and supporting characters but Croft was devoid of political and social agenda and Roy believes that this was a significant key to his success as he was only worried about whether it was funny instead of adhering to a fixed criteria. He insists that Hi-De-Hi was of its time and the sexualisation of the glamorous young women was nothing more than a physical nod to the saucy seaside postcard sense of humour which Britain has been built upon.
Just as the nation said a fond farewell to Hi-De-Hi in 1988, Jimmy Perry and David Croft had already penned the next instalment to their comedy repertoire. The 1920’s class system had spawned countless period drama but had yet to become satirised in the name of situation comedy. This gave Roy his first directing credit which was something that he took immense pride in as he attempted to take the sitcom format from a thirty minute time slot to fifty. Something which had never been attempted on British television seemed extremely daunting but with a highly experienced cast and crew You Rang M’Lord was equipped with all the elements for sitcom success: a stellar cast which brought together cast members of each Croft and Perry show, a definite situation which was a natural breeding ground for comedy and an elongated time slot which made the series breathe. To have this as Roy’s maiden directing job was exhilarating and over thirty years later, he remains incredibly proud to have worked on such a hit show.
The third and final instalment in the David Croft sitcom trilogy was a satirical glimpse at the 1960’s railway service in Oh Doctor Beeching reuniting the talents of Paul Shane,Su Pollard and Jeffrey Holland for what was the final time. Over two series we saw how the new pompous station master Cecil Parkin adjusts to a quieter lifestyle in the small town of Hatley. With splatterings of Croft magic and a stellar supporting cast including Stephen Lewis, Julia Deakin and Perry Benson, Oh Doctor Beeching inhabited all the major elements of a David Croft classic. Yet scheduling issues and an unexpected hiatus from the broadcast of episodes led to the show’s premature demise. Nevertheless Roy maintains that Oh Doctor Beeching fell victim to the BBC’s impatience for an overnight hit and believes that with another series, it would have captured public interest. Unfortunately this was the last of David Croft’s repertoire but the legacy of his work remains unrivalled within the comedy fraternity.
Leaving the BBC after Oh Doctor Beeching, Roy produced the critically acclaimed comedy drama Booze Cruise for ITV which starred Martin Clunes, Neil Pearson and Brian Murphy. Following an offer from David Reynolds from Yorkshire Television to write a sitcom, in conversation with friends Brian Levison and Paul Lennett he heard about a group of people who went on a booze cruise. Hearing the story, he relayed it back to Reynolds with the idea of transforming it into a feature length comedy drama. With a brilliant script, Roy saw potential for this movie and despite taking three years to commission, Booze Cruise became one of ITV’s highest rated dramas of 2003 which was a great thrill for Roy.
Beyond TV Comedy, Roy has penned two comedy novels with more to come. In 2021 Roy released his debut book The Secrets Of a Small Village with his second one due to be released later this year. It’s clear that comedy has dominated his career and revels in the knowledge that his BBC tenure spanned the whole of the golden years of British comedy. Over a quarter of a century since he left the corporation, the repertoire of sitcoms which Roy worked on remain as popular as ever, meaning that David Croft’s legacy will last forever. It was an absolute pleasure to interview the great Roy Gould and with one of the most creative and influential minds in comedy, it’s exciting to see his next move.