Geoffrey Perkins

Geoffrey Howard Perkins (22 February 1953 - 29 August 2008) was a comedy producer, writer and performer, and a central figure in British comedy broadcasting. Best known as the BBC head of comedy (1995 - 2001), he produced the first two radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and created the bizarre panel game Mornington Crescent for I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

Early life

Perkins attended the Harrow County Grammar School, alongside such future-names as Nigel Sheinwald (now, as Sir Nigel, British ambassador to Washington), Michael Portillo and Clive Anderson, with whom he ran the debating society." Taking an early interest in drama, he worked with Clive Anderson to write, in 1970, a charity revue called Happy Poison.

Perkins read English at Lincoln College, Oxford and while there wrote for and directed The Oxford Revues of 1974 and 1975, contributing to, among others, a comedy production called Radio Active. After his time at Oxford, Perkins joined the Ocean Transport and Trading Company "(in the same intake as his confrère Portillo), [where] Perkins was put to work studying waste timber in Liverpool." Perkins did not last long in the field of commercial shipping, however (nor did Portillo). In 1977, drawing on his work for the Oxford Revue, Perkins joined "BBC Radio's light entertainment department [alongside] Cambridge graduates such as John Lloyd and Griff Rhys-Jones.

Radio career

Tasked by department head David Hatch, Perkins helped to revitalise the comedy panel show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (launched five years earlier), introducing the incomprehensible Mornington Crescent game which would become an enduring success.

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In mid-1977, Perkins produced the first series of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for BBC Radio 4, taking over from pilot-producer Simon Brett. Perkins aided and assisted the notoriously slow writer in finishing the scripts, before John Lloyd "was drafted in to write large sections of the later episodes." Perkins also drew "on the resources of the Radiophonic Workshop" to help create the groundbreaking audio effects for the series.

"The intellectuals compared it to Swift," noted Perkins, "and the 14-year-olds enjoyed hearing depressed robots clanking around."

In 1986, Perkins married Lisa Braun, "a BBC studio manager on The Hitch-Hiker's Guide."

Radio Active

In 1980, Perkins co-wrote and featured in the radio sketch show Radio Active, revised and adapted from the early Oxford Revue shows, and initially based around the comedy parody group The Hee Bee Gee Bees, consisting of Philip Pope, Angus Deayton and Michael Fenton Stevens. Prior to its leap from the revue to the radio, the production toured and appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, after which it was picked up by BBC Radio 4 for a pilot called The Oxford Revue Presents Radio Active. Radio Active, "which poked fun at the amateurishness of some local radio broadcasting," went on to run for seven series, and won a Sony Award. Perkins featured as a character called Mike Flex, a young cocky disc jockey.

Perkins, with Deayton, wrote much of the series and later saw it transferred to television as the Grand Prix and Silver Rose of Montreux-winner KYTV.

Later radio work

Perkins, with Radio Active colleague and co-writer Deayton, later produced The Uncyclopaedia of Rock for Capital Radio, winning the Monaco Radio Award for the show, and penning a 1987 tie-in book with Deayton and Jeremy Pascall.

In 2005 he cameoed in the fourth radio series of Hitchhiker's (The Quandary Phase), as the producer of the radio show Arthur Dent worked on. Essentially playing a fictional version of himself from the first series with a fictional version of writer Douglas Adams.

Television career

Hat Trick

Perkins left the BBC in 1988, to become a director of Hat Trick Productions, an independent television and radio production company. Hat Trick's comedy programmes (produced for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4) included Have I Got News For You, Spitting Image, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Drop The Dead Donkey, Harry Enfield's Television Programme and Father Ted, many of which won awards including Baftas.

BBC Head of Comedy

In 1995, he resigned from Hat Trick and returned to the BBC as BBC Television's Head of Comedy, requesting his contract stipulated "his continued role as a programme producer," as well as overseeing the department. He stayed in this role until 2001, growing increasingly dissatisfied at "official BBC snootiness about comedy (one annual report dismissed it with the phrase "all the way from high-value costume drama right the way down to sitcom")."

Perkins meticulously read 30 new scripts every week, but "found himself culturally marginalised at the BBC," saying:

"Unfortunately, the term sitcom implies a great disdain. People say it with a curl of their lips."
Under Director General John Birt, Perkins also felt "hamstrung by the inevitable bureaucracy," which not only hindered programme-making, but saw Perkins spending "more time on budgets" than more creative pursuits.

Perkins felt that the changes in how the BBC was run

"set the people that produce programmes in direct opposition to the people responsible for actually paying for and broadcasting them. "There have been occasions when you say, 'Let's just make a deal', knowing everyone is unhappy; where no one gets the budget they want to make their programme. There are people who are inspired by that, but I'm not one of them."

During Perkins' time as Head of Comedy, the BBC produced such hits as Jonathan Creek, The Fast Show and The Royle Family. Perkins also personally "persuaded David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst to star in a fresh series of the 1980s classic Only Fools and Horses, the first of which was screened at Christmas 2001."

Tiger Aspect

Having left the BBC, Perkins became an executive producer for independent production company Tiger Aspect, (whose previous programmes include The Vicar of Dibley and The Thin Blue Line), in late 2001. In this role, he was able to pursue a more hands-on role in the "creative side of programme-making."

For Tiger Aspect, Perkins produced programmes including The Catherine Tate Show for the BBC, and Benidorm for ITV.

Television writing and acting credits

Perkins' writing credits for television include The World According to Smith and Jones, KYTV, Harry Enfield's Television Programme, Harry Enfield and Chums and Coogan's Run.

In addition to starring in KYTV, Perkins appeared in small cameo roles in several of the comedy programmes he produced, including Father Ted, Operation Good Guys, One Foot in the Grave and The Catherine Tate Show.

Final years

In 2008, Perkins' last production for the BBC and Tiger Aspect - the second series of Harry and Paul, starring Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, started on 5 September 2008. The first show was dedicated to his memory. In place of the usual closing credits, the show featured a short tribute to him and concluded with an out-take of Perkins forgetting his lines in an earlier Enfield sketch.

Perkins died from injuries after an accident involving a lorry in Marylebone High Street, London W1, on 29 August 2008.


External links

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