John Howard Davies, British Comedy Producer, Former Child Star, Dies at 72
so long and thanks for all the fish
John Howard Davies, who made his mark as a child star in title role of 1948’s Oliver Twist and then went on to become an accomplished director and producer of several British comedy shows, passed away this past Monday of cancer at 72. He acted for a few more years after that, then went to school like a normal kid, making a brief return to acting before switching gears as a production assistant at the BBC. But if you’re wondering exactly who John Howard Davies is, he is the reason Monty Python’s Flying Circus made it to the air and stayed there for four years.
Not long after he decided to give up acting — because he thought he was “insufficiently gifted to be a character actor, and insufficiently good-looking to be a star,” according to the Guardian — he displayed a different talent for just having an eye for something great. Just two years after joining the BBC in 1966, he was promoted to producer and worked on several programs including All Gas and Gaiters, Misleading Cases, and Spike Milligan‘s The World of Beachcomber. But come 1969, he had made friends with the then-unknown cast of Monty Python (though not so much with Graham Chapman, who called him a “schoolmaster”) and convinced the Beeb to put their new sketch show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus on BBC2. Davies produced and directed the first four episodes and was the show’s biggest defender when no one else wanted the show in their schedule, where it lasted for five years.
But it was Davies’ relationship with John Cleese that brought Fawlty Towers to the air. And he’d probably like you to know that not only was he directly responsible for finding the building they used, but also for casting Prunella Scales as Sybil Fawlty and for the dessert spoon violence inflicted on the character Manuel (Andrew Sachs).
After producing Fawlty Towers, he was promoted to the head of comedy at the BBC and later served as the head of light entertainment. He continued to produce several comedies for the rest of his years. When asked about what makes a comedy successful, he said “All the best sitcom characters are relentlessly horrible.”
Thanks, John Howard Davies, for being the best example of a British child star-turned-groundbreaking comedy producer we’ve ever known.
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