Beryl Vertue, the personality behind one of the first indies Hartswood Films, has died, aged 90.
Vertue was secretary to comedy ‘goons’ Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes before becoming a talent agent and going on to found Hartswood Films in 1979, one of the first – and most successful – independent production companies. The indie’s launch pre-dated Channel 4, which came into existence in 1982.
Her first hit was Men Behaving Badly, which initially aired in 1992 on ITV, before switching to the BBC for series 2. Vertue spotted the potential in the books by Simon Nye, putting the lad-humour comedy onto the small screen, with a cast including Harry Enfield, Neil Morrissey, Caroline Quentin and Martin Clunes.
Another Hartswood hit comedy series was Coupling, which launched in 2000. The show, about a group of young singles, was based on a script by Steven Moffat and was based on his relationship with his wife Sue Vertue, Beryl’s daughter, who produced the series.
Moffat and Sue Vertue’s professional partnership continued on Hartswood’s drama hit Sherlock, with Moffat co-creating the series with Mark Gatiss and Sue Vertue producing, while Beryl Vertue executive produced. During the 90s, both Vertue’s daughters, Debbie and Sue, joined Hartswood from roles in film and TV production elsewhere.
Beryl Vertue’s career in TV was a happy accident. In the early 50s, she fell ill with tuberculosis, and while in hospital her schoolfriend Alan Simpson asked her to join Associated London Scripts (ALS) as a secretary. She went on to represent comedy writers including Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Terry Nation (for whom she negotiated to keep partial rights to his monster creations for Doctor Who).
At ALS Vertue became executive producer and was responsible for selling British TV shows to the US. These successes included Steptoe and Son, which became Sanford and Son in the U.S and Till Death Us Do Part, which was turned into All in the Family. When Robert Stigwood bought out a majority stake in ALS, Beryl became managing director of his new company RSO. In 1975, she was a co-executive producer of the cinema version of The Who’s rock opera Tommy, directed by Ken Russell and starring Roger Daltrey.
Vertue was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2000 New Year Honours for services to television and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to television drama. In 2004, she received the British Academy Television Awards (BAFTA) Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Creative Contribution to Television.
Her daughters Debbie and Sue Vertue said: “It’s with the heaviest of hearts that we have to share the sad news that mum/Beryl passed away peacefully last night [Saturday 12th February]. It wasn’t Covid, it was just her nearly 91 year old body saying enough is enough. We were there so the passing was as good as one could hope for. Nothing wrong with her brain – even earlier this week she was grilling us both about work. . It’s really impossible to believe that she has gone though, because I know we’re not alone in thinking that somehow she’d go on forever. She meant so much to so many.
“She wasn’t just our mum, she was our best friend, our mentor, our advisor, our role model, our holiday companion, our giggle-maker and our boss! She adored her family and was so proud of us all. She also adored her career and spending time with everybody She loved a glass of wine at lunchtime, she loved asking the common sense question, she was often the last person at a party, she didn’t suffer fools, she was fair, she was kind, she was fun, she was stubborn, in fact she was the total package and we will miss her beyond words.
She was more than a mother to us – she was also a friend. To many in the industry she was more than a friend – she was often a mother.”
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