Date of Birth: 22 July 1930, Danbury, Essex, UK
Birth Name: John Jeremy Lloyd
Nicknames: Jeremy Lloyd
Jeremy Lloyd was an actor who became one of Britain’s most successful comedy writers; his sitcoms were the essence of Britishness.
Are You Being Served? (1972-85) presented life in a department store as a hotbed of sexual intrigue, class tension and high camp. ’Allo ’Allo! (1982-92) was set in France during the Second World War, and reflected enduring British comic stereotypes about the rest of the world: the Germans were kinky, the French sex-obsessed, the Italians all talk and no trousers.
All of this would be regarded by some contemporary comedians as conservative and regressive. But Lloyd’s comedy was democratic in its populism. All the world was on display; every character from bitter old maids to merrily gay tailors had dignity and, often, the last laugh. Everybody watching at home could imitate the catchphrases and recycle the gags at work or in the playground the next day: “I’m free!” “Good moaning!”
In 2011, Lloyd wrote: “Friends often tell me how much their grandchildren enjoy Are You Being Served? It doesn’t matter that they were not even born when it was broadcast, or that they belong to a very different world. Laughter crosses boundaries of class and age… Humour is universal.” The fact that ’Allo ’Allo! was eventually broadcast in Germany would seem to prove him right.
As an actor, Jeremy Lloyd tended to be cast as an upper-class twit thanks to his posh accent, blonde hair and aristocratic charm. In fact, he was the son of an Army colonel and a Tiller girl who had danced with Fred Astaire.
John Jeremy Lloyd was born at Danbury in Essex on July 22 1930 and dispatched to live with an elderly grandmother in Manchester at the age of one and a half. Many years later he told an interviewer: “I occasionally saw my father but he used to introduce me to people as the son of bandleader Joe Loss. 'You’ve heard of Joe Loss? Well, this is my son dead loss,’ he’d say… And he put me into a home when I was about 13 and a half. A home for elderly people, which was a wonderful experience.”
Living in the home, surrounded by retired colonels and vicars, “improved” Lloyd’s accent: it went from Mancunian to southern middle-class. He remained estranged from his parents: two sisters came along but he was kept away from them. On his father’s death bed, the old man finally told his son that he was proud of what he had accomplished. Lloyd later claimed to be suspicious of his motives: “I think [he said it] because he wanted me to get him a pack of cigarettes.”
To support his grandmother, Lloyd did everything from digging roads to selling paint. One job that would later be turned into fiction was as a salesman at Simpsons department store in Piccadilly, where he observed post-war British society at its most disciplined and repressed. He was sacked for selling soft drinks from a fitting room during a heatwave.
Eventually he decided that he would like to have a go at writing comedy and turned up at the door of Pinewood Studios with a script in hand. He was told that the American studio chief, Earl St John, never met anyone. Not one to take “no” for an answer, Lloyd went to a telephone box around the corner, found the mogul’s number and called him directly. St John, amused at being so boldly approached, invited him round for tea. To the surprise of everyone on the studio staff, the script turned out to be perfect. The film, What a Whopper, was released as a vehicle for singer Adam Faith in 1961.
Lloyd’s rise through the world of showbusiness is a story of 1960s meritocracy at its most dizzying. At various times he wrote for Jon Pertwee, Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth and Lionel Blair. As an actor he turned up in numerous British comic films of the 1960s, usually as a tall gangly fool. He made his debut in Robert Hamer’s School for Scoundrels (1960) and also appeared in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965), Doctor in Clover (1965) with James Robertson Justice, and The Wrong Box (1966) with John Mills, Michael Caine and Peter Cook. As part of the group that hung around with the Beatles, he made an (uncredited) cameo appearance in A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and in Help! (1965) played a restaurant patron. In 1974 he was a British Army officer in Murder on the Orient Express.
Lloyd was engaged to the actress Charlotte Rampling, flirted with the Avengers star Diana Rigg and claimed to have been invited to Sharon Tate’s house for tea on the night that she was murdered by followers of Charles Manson. Perhaps the pinnacle of his on-screen career was as a performer on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, the fast-paced sketch show that was one of the biggest American television comedy programmes of the late 1960s. It featured Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and even Richard Nixon. For Lloyd the pay was poor but the perks were great. He estimated that he received 5,000 letters from women each week. He invited many to attend the show: “One day the producer came up to me and he said, 'It’s all very well Jeremy, but you’ve brought 42 girls in today and they’re better looking than what our casting agents have sent.’ ” So Lloyd was given the job of casting the dance section, too.
It was when he returned to England, relatively poor and at a loose end, that he decided it was time to write a proper sitcom. The original outline of Are You Being Served?, based in part on his memories of working at Simpsons, was sent to ITV. By chance, Lloyd bumped into David Croft, co-writer of Dad’s Army, who had worked with him on the Billy Cotton Band Show, and told him the plot. Croft begged Lloyd to retrieve the script from ITV and rework it with him, and a brilliant comic pairing was born.
They sold the idea to the BBC, which made a pilot but was not over-impressed. So the show was put into storage. It was only aired in 1972 as a filler when the Munich massacre disrupted programming during the Summer Olympics. The series that followed ran for 13 years, attracting audiences of up to 22 million. Viewers thrilled to Mr Humphries’s cries of “I’m free” and Mrs Slocombe’s epic tails of life with a high maintenance pussy cat.
The actress playing Mrs Slocombe, Mollie Sugden, was given a spin-off part in Lloyd’s space comedy Come Back Mrs Noah. It was a critical failure and was killed off. By contrast, ’Allo ’Allo!, which launched in 1982 and ran for 10 years, was a hit with viewers. Essentially a parody of resistance movies like Casablanca and, principally, the television series Secret Army, it was an exercise in vulgar and puerile, if good-natured, absurdity.
Every character was painted as a stereotype: René Artois, the tubby, cowardly bar owner; Michelle Dubois, the heroic yet pedantic guerrilla (“I shall say zis only once”); Lieutenant Hubert Gruber, the gay German soldier inexplicably in love with René. The English were parodied as strongly as the Continental Europeans, and the sympathy shown towards the occupying Germans was often affecting. All Colonel Kurt Von Strohm and Captain Hans Geering wanted to do was survive the war as rich men, which was why they conspired with René to steal a famous painting by Van Klomp called The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies.
Outside television Lloyd scored a notable success with Captain Beaky & His Band (Not Forgetting Hissing Sid!!!), two albums (1977 and 1980) of poetry by Lloyd, set to music by Jim Parker and recited by various British celebrities. The title track, Captain Beaky, reached No 5 in the charts in 1980 and the LPs generated numerous spinoffs, among them two books of poetry, BBC television shows, a West End musical and a pantomime. The Captain Beaky poems were revived in an all-star tribute show at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011.
Latterly Jeremy Lloyd looked back on his career and acknowledged that he had been very lucky to be writing at a time when humour was saucy but not indecent, aimed at ordinary Britons of all ages, and written by people who knew a thing or two about real life. Towards the end of his own life, Lloyd reflected: “You don’t actually get to make a pilot like when they said to David and I, 'Whatever you want to do, just do it.’ Now, they sit round a table and listen to what you want to do and they tell you if they think it’s funny. The people who do this have probably been to Oxford or Cambridge and they don’t really know what’s funny because they’re not the general audience who are going to watch it.”
Lloyd was appointed OBE in 2012.
He was married, first, to the model Dawn Bailey from 1955 to 1962 and, secondly, to the actress Joanna Lumley in 1970; the marriage was dissolved the following year. “He was witty, tall and charming,” said Joanna Lumley. “We should have just had a raging affair.” After many years of warily avoiding a third marriage, he married Lizzie Moberley in October this year. Of his third wife he said: “She is beautiful, clever and sent from heaven on mission impossible.”