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Great British Comedy Writers – George Layton
If there is one thing we cannot recognize in this country it is our proud heritage. I understand the utility and even the advantages of having a castle at every turn, a dysfunctional Royal Family, a string of losing sports teams, and a prolific ability to sideline some of the greatest entertainers to ever grace our screens, on the other side. of the planet However, there is a certain type of English that entertains us every week and goes quietly unnoticed. Every week in many circumstances: they make us laugh, cry, think about ourselves and even get emotional when we witness their craft.
It occurred to me that there is something seriously wrong with the things we cherish. Although I have been anxious to keep abreast of the ins and outs of comedy for the last forty years in some of my hobbies, with a social interest, I have discovered that there are some greats in show business who are, or have, passed us by without so much as a mere thanks from us, let alone a gentleman. I immediately think of Eric Sykes, who in the late fifties shared a cramped office somewhere in a corner of Shepherds Bush with the manic and rather unknown Spike Milligan. An image forms in my head of these two yet-to-be-found young geniuses with their sleeves rolled up, frantically scribbling away at tiny desks, doing silly skits to make a few quid. This romantic notion has stayed with me and haunts me forever to the point where I feel these heroes will continue to die without what I consider to be a decent enough tribute. Dare I say it, we’ll lose the last of that particular partnership without a touch of the Queen’s sword on their shoulders if we’re not very careful.
So what makes it so thoughtless as a country to recognize the hard-working, sweaty, aching writers who have given us such classic comedy over the years, yet we’re quick to celebrate their achievements, but not the source of where proceeds did they come We like to comment on some wonderful lollipop lady who regularly saves the lives of thousands of crushed hedgehogs across Derbyshire, or the little boy who miraculously put out the burning inferno that would have perished in his school if he hadn’t been the only one. quick thinking All these beings show courage in the face of something along the lines of adversity, but not even a note of recognition twice a year goes to the last remaining of a generation that is now disappearing. The people who make us laugh. I apologize for not recognizing Midge Ure for another award in the fight against poverty in the developing world, but enough is enough. Sir Geldof only had one hit record…
Ahead I travel and delve into the wells of comedy to find out who was really behind the bowed sides, chest coughs and stomping feet., (well, that’s what I do when I laugh) and score a little tribute. .
The sitcom writer weaves a tangled plot of laughter, tears and observation beyond our own everyday problems. We may not even like what we see, or even avoid it or see something else, but that’s the chance they take. The writer can worry about not using his mind with the same care as the director or producer, since the screenwriter’s job is to cast the magic and let us into a family or a situation that sometimes feels like home. We make friends with their characters that we either love or dislike. We sympathize with them, we agree or disagree with them; either way, we can revel in their company, confident that if anything, they’ll just make us smile. I’ll guarantee that at some point in our lives we’ve all tuned into a little half-hour show every week to be eagerly entertained by a series of fictional characters in their funny situations. We can’t wait to indulge in one more dribble of your woes or your daily tasks peppered with unusual traps. However, what is the appeal of the average sitcom? One point that seems stronger than the rest is the realization that these programs reflect, very deeply, our own lives.
A certain young working actor entered the scene through RADA school, expecting a life of treading boards or tripping over camera cables. Back in the heady 1960s, actors found a niche in television where, if they could, they could keep their jobs going in and out of one series. The world of the BBC was full of series, whether straight or funny. A multitude of “family” based sit coms have been taking shape, thus keeping the vast majority of the general cast in food and warmth. Many were very happy in their minor roles, not wanting to go further into the gloom. Others have struck gold in what old-timers call the “great leap.” Here, we find actors who soon become stars, and possibly find it even more exciting to take the reins than to simply sit on the horse.
One such actor in particular was George Layton. Born in Yorkshire, he had a twinkling smile and a charming tone. With these attributes at his disposal, he quickly found himself in the first panty-wetting series full of all the best twinkling smiles on television: “Doctor In The House.” Layton fitted in well alongside fellow TV hopefuls Richard O’Sullivan, Barry Evans and Robin Nedwell. All enjoying the usual good comedies throughout the seventies. It seemed that this show, however, was somewhat cursed. Two of the actors mentioned above died in tragic circumstances while Mr O’Sullivan now spends his life in a nursing home. Sometimes the life of the comedy actor is the one with the fewest laughs.
Stepping away from the spotlight to an extent, Layton has been writing some of the show’s scripts. Dare to break the unwritten law of “decide which end of the camera you want son and stick to it”, Layton didn’t dare to choose. To avoid this, he started writing episodes for ‘Doctor In The House’ under a different name. With this, he found another string to his bow, and serials soon followed while performing or between parts. However, the sticking point was asking for a full-time commitment again. Jimmy Perry saw Layton as the producer of the Army Concert Party which he too, having once been the role of ‘Bombardier ‘Solly’ Solomons in ‘It Ain’t ‘Arf Hot Mum’, went to the perfectly seasoned George.
Leaving after the second series, he had already started work on another comedy show. Throughout her career she established a writer’s residency in the company of her fellow actor, writer and old member of the Cambridge Footlights, Jonathan Lynn. Continuing in parallel with the legendary Croft and Perry, the pair produced minor comedies, but not as exceptionally recognized as the collaborations between Croft and Perry. It should be noted that it was Lynn who went on to write and direct the extraordinary ‘Clue’, with Tim Curry and the humorous film comedy ‘Nun’s On The Run’, with Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane. Like his counterpart Layton, Lynn never dared to sit still and followed his own path from one talent to another.
The 1970s were a time when, once your face fit between the mix of vegetables and pastries in the BBC canteen, you were capable of sprawling across the writing round table. Many budding actors and writers have had a hand, credited or not, in other shows. Perhaps it could be said that the Pythons were the greatest aspirants to such scribble antics that people followed suit. Messer’s Idle and Cleese were among the professionals already trying their hand at radio and television.
In a game where everyone had worked once with everyone else, the doors were open to try a little here and a little there. Layton found himself rubbing comic shoulders with the best writers of the day, one of whom was rapidly rising. His credits included “On The Buses” and “Robin’s Nest”, naming the two most memorable. However, his real breakthrough came with the back of 39 episodes of the medical comedy, ‘Don’t Wait Up’. Recruiting film actor, Nigel Havers, and veteran comedy father figure, ‘Tony Britten’, the show as a warm relationship between father, son and viewers. Showing us a situation that might well be familiar to his audience, Layton touched on the ups and downs of a family that is united and, at the same time, separated, trying to get back together. The two Latimer doctors, father and son (one private, one NHS respectively) find themselves in a flat together after they are both divorced. The main theme of this wonderful series was the conflicting relationship between the two generations practicing what the others oppose. Full of pathos, emotion and traditional spoof British humor, it was an immediate hit that appealed to both classes. One admiring the likenesses of his peers, the other mocking the upper classes.
Towards the end of his run which found both doctors finding themselves in happier relationships, Layton was already working on his next project. In his usual style, he worked two at a time on lapping, in remarkable continuity, two completely different scripts at the same time. This time, what little he had left was transferred to the direction of ITV’s high-flying comedy Executive Stress, an enjoyable scenario about a successful couple who find themselves working together after years of supporting their own careers starring Penelope Keith and Geoffrey Palmer (series 1) and Peter Bowles (series 2 onwards). Keith and Bowles, had already shared great credibility from ‘To The Manor Born’.
If none of this had been enough to earn him credit as one of the most favored stage, film and television actors, and one of Britain’s best-known comedy writers, it was no surprise that George Layton managed to fit the bill. in theater directing across the country on his resume, as well as authoring two well-received novels about growing up in post-war northern Britain. Are these talents endless?
His theater credits included Fagin in ‘Oliver!’ at the London Palladium and Felix in ‘The Odd Couple’ at the Theater Royal in Windsor, two characters of extreme qualities who could not be further apart in terms of acting requirements. Just these roles in themselves, can evoke the image of an actor who is more than capable of realizing real current identities within himself. London’s West End, of course, wasn’t the only boards he trod. Australia and New York too, of course! Well, what did you expect? Lots of strings to the bow and not avoiding air travel would have to be part of the course if one wants to stick with their shoes. For any keen young screenwriter, it’s not just a squint that makes a dot in the sky, but a life that very few would consider trying to match…
So what’s next for the restless career of this man who is only 64 this year? He recently wrote another book (tentatively titled ‘The Promise and Other Stories’) and a TV comedy-drama series called ‘The Boys’. It looks like we’re yet to enjoy the work of George Layton, the man who can’t sit still.
Like all the best writers and performers they are irritatingly the least conceited and the most modest, and George Layton is no exception. Still considered a nice guy, although he works too much, he is comfortable and slightly satisfied with his work so far. All the best writers seem to follow this rule (sweat like a dog over the typewriter, just don’t tell everyone).
Recently, for the BBC 1 series ‘Comedy Connections’, with ‘Don’t Wait Up’, he was beaming when he said: ‘Nobody admires my work more than me!’ Yes, this statement flows with the milk of human conceit, but if anyone deserves it, it’s writers like George Layton. People who refuse to retire. (If only Des O’ Connor had done it….)
The list of his achievements to date is too long to print here. (George Layton that is, not Des O’Connor…)
Happy birthday Mr. Layton for March 2nd.
“Don’t Wait Up”, can be found on DVD from Amazon.com (Series I & II) for £10.97
Also on Sendit.com for £11.98 and HMV I, II and III for £11.99 delivered.
Doctor In The House series I and II together at Amazon.com for £29.98
HMV for £16.99 (I & II)
©Michelle Hatcher (sam1942 at dooyoo) 2007
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