Obituary: Tony Marriott, theatre and television writer

Born: 17 January, 1931, in London. Died: 17 April, 2014, in Northwood, Middlesex, aged 83.

Tony Marriott: Writer behind the long-running West End farce No Sex Please, Were British
Tony Marriott: Writer behind the long-running West End farce No Sex Please, Were British

Tony Marriott feared his career was over when he saw the reviews for his latest West End farce back in 1971. He had written scripts for Fireball XL5 and The Avengers and had had one big West End hit already. But these so vicious he thought he was ruined.

The show was branded as “the most witless play in London” and dismissed as “porn”. One review suggested the producers should be ashamed to charge people to see such rubbish.

The critics hated it, but the public loved it, and, buoyed by positive word of mouth, No Sex Please, We’re British went on to become the most successful comedy in the London West End and the second longest-running non-musical, after The Mousetrap.

It ran from June 1971 to January 1987, totting up more than 6,500 performances, and it helped make stars of Michael Crawford and David Jason, who succeeded Crawford in one of the leading roles.

The play revolves around a misunderstanding, when a bank official sends off for Scandinavian glassware and receives Scandinavian pornography by mistake. A simple explanation might have sufficed, but all sorts of artifice are employed to keep the offensive material from other characters, including a visiting bank inspector.

Michael Crawford played the bank clerk Brian Runnicles, whose job it is to conceal the material. Crawford was attracted by the mix of pathos and slapstick. The role required a high degree of physical comedy and led directly to his casting as Frank Spencer in the sitcom Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em.

Productions were staged around the world, from Scotland to Hong Kong, though it lasted only a few weeks on Broadway.

Despite the risqué title and accusations that it was “porn”, No Sex Please, We’re British belonged to a long tradition of theatre farces, with an element of forbidden sex. A 1973 film version starring Ronnie Corbett carried nothing more restrictive than an A certificate – the equivalent of PG today.

The title itself became something of a cliché and the phrase was adapted for other uses. A BBC documentary last year, about falling birth-rates, was entitled No Sex Please, We’re Japanese.

Anthony John Crosbie Marriott was born in London in 1931. His father was an army officer, his parents lived abroad much of the time, and Marriott went to boarding school in Essex and spent his holidays with grandparents.

He trained as an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and acted in repertory theatre, but he had always been interested in writing too and found himself getting more and more work as a writer, in radio and television.

Gerry Anderson’s sci-fi puppet show Fireball XL5 was one of the first TV series for which he wrote.

He also worked on the BBC Scotland drama series This Man Craig, which starred John Cairney as a teacher, he was one of the writers on the film The Deadly Bees and he collaborated with Nicholas Parsons on Radio 4’s award-winning satirical show Listen to this Space.

One of the most striking features of Marriott’s resumé is the diversity of his work and one of his biggest successes prior to No Sex Please, We’re British was as co-creator of the downbeat drama series Public Eye.

Public Eye, which he created with Roger Marshall, focused on the character of the seedy private detective Frank Marker, played by Alfred Burke. Marker was more likely to be dealing with a divorce than a murder and the series was not for those who prefer their detective dramas to come with a liberal helping of gunplay and car chases.

The show ran for more than 80 episodes from 1965 to 1975 and Marriott wrote a Public Eye novel entitled Marker Calls the Tune.

He linked up with Alistair Foot, who also wrote for Listen to this Space, and they co-wrote the farce Uproar in the House, which ran for two and a half years in the London West End.

A second collaboration, Sign Here Please, was less successful. Marriott and Foot worked together again on No Sex Please, We’re British, though Foot died of a heart attack before it opened and so never knew of its phenomenal success.

Marriott subsequently worked with several other writers in theatre and television, including Bob Grant, who played the conductor in On the Buses. They wrote Milk-O, a pilot for a sitcom in which Grant would have been a milkman, and Anna Karen (Olive in On the Buses) was to be his wife, but it never went to series. They also wrote several stage comedies.

Marriott and his wife Heulwen were involved in pet rescue and visitors to their home in West London were frequently greeted by a small menagerie of animals. Heulwen died in 1999.

Latterly Marriott lived in Denville Hall, a care home for showbusiness professionals in Middlesex. He is survived by their three children and six grandchildren.