Writer Powell dies

Creator of Bless This House and Love Thy Neighbour

Prolific sitcom writer Vince Powell, whose credits include Bless This House, Mind Your Language and Never The Twain, has died at the age of 80.

He passed away at Royal Surrey Hospital, Guildford, yesterday after a short illness, leaving his third wife Geraldine and three children.

Apex Publishing's Chris Cowlin, who published Powell’s autobiography From Rags To Gags last October said: ‘I last saw Vince in September. He entertained me for hours with his stories from the past and about the people he knew.

‘Vince Powell has made many millions of people laugh throughout his career, and that is what he enjoyed best; this is a sad time for British television and he will be missed by family, friends, show business colleagues and many, many fans.’

Born Vincent Smith on August 6, 1928 in the Manchester factory district of Miles Platting, Powell followed his father into the tailoring business.

But he also had a keen interest in comedy and as a young man teamed up with long-time comedy partner, Harry Driver, to perform on Manchester’s amateur circuit at night. However, their performing partnership came to an end in 1955, when Harry contracted polio, leaving him unable to move his arms or legs.

While in hospital, Driver spent a year in an iron lung, where he began to dictate stories, later using a typewriter with a knitting needle clenched between his teeth.

The pair's break arrived when the BBC commissioned them to write for the then relatively unknown Harry Worth, and the subsequent 1960 show, Here's Harry, made him a star and Powell and Driver professional writers.

The pair created 11 ITV sitcoms in the eight years starting 1965, starting with Pardon The Expression, a comedy spin-off from Coronation Street starring Arthur Lowe.

Their series included George And The Dragon (1966) and Bless This House (1971) for Sid James and Peggy Mount; For the Love of Ada (1970) with Irene Handl and Wilfred Pickles and Nearest and Dearest (1968) featuring Jimmy Jewel and Hilda Baker.

Now considered one of the most racist shows of all time, one of their biggest hits was Love Thy Neighbour, about a bigoted white working class man who found himself living next door to a black couple. Despite the prevalence of racist language, the writers always insisted they were mocking prejudices, and indeed the urbane neighbour Bill, played by Rudolph Walker, always got the upper hand. The show was a huge hit, running for eight seasons over five years from 1972.

Driver died, aged 42, in 1973, and Powell continued writing Love Thy Neighbour alone.

As a solo writer, Powell struggled to replicate the success of his partnership, writing another ethnic-clash comedy The Wackers about a half-Catholic, half-Protestant Liverpool family that starred a young Keith Chegwin; Rule Britannia!, which was essentially Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman jokes in sitcom form; and the Robin Askwith milkman comedy Bottle Boys, of which the Radio Times Guide To TV Comedy said: ‘ITV sitcoms had often plumbed the depths, but this was the limit.’

But he also wrote almost half the episodes of the long-running Never the Twain, featuring Windsor Davies and Donald Sinden as rival antiques dealers, after Johnnie Mortimer created it.

The series, that ended in 1991, was his last sitcom writing job, and he became a speaker on the after-dinner circuit, where his repertoire included anecdotes about ‘sharing cocktails with Noel Coward, Dom Perignon with Cilla Black, and fish and chips with Morecambe and Wise’.

Click here to buy his autobiography, while here is some of his work:

Love Thy Neighbour

Nearest And Dearest:

Bottle Boys

Published: 14 Jul 2009

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