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Sherlock producer and one of TV’s pioneering greats Beryl Vertue dies aged 90

Tributes have been paid to television industry legend and scripted formats pioneer Beryl Vertue, who died aged 90 at the weekend.

Beryl Vertue

Vertue had an extraordinary and ground-breaking career in radio, TV and film, starting out as a secretary before becoming an agent and then a multi-award-winning TV and film producer.

The Sherlock producer pioneered the business of selling formats internationally after taking the scripts for Till Death Us Do Part to Norman Lear in the US and turning it into the phenomenally successful sitcom All In the Family on CBS. She then did the same with Steptoe & Son, which was sold to NBC and became Sanford & Son.

In the 1980s, Vertue founded Hartswood Films, one of the UK’s first independent production companies, which is now run by her daughters Debbie and Sue, who said that until recently she was still developing and producing TV projects.

At Hartswood, she optioned the book Men Behaving Badly, written by the then unknown Simon Nye, which went on to become one of the biggest UK comedy hits of the 1990s, starring Martin Clunes, Neil Morrissey, Leslie Ash and Caroline Quentin.

Arguably her most successful show was Hartswood’s Sherlock, a re-imagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories by Steven Moffat, her son-in-law, and Mark Gatiss for the BBC. It proved a ratings winner and commercial hit for BBC Studios (then BBC Worldwide).

A former chairman of UK producers’ body Pact, Vertue also made an impact in the factual space, producing documentaries including The Welsh Great Escape for Channel 4 and Going to Chelsea for ITV.

Vertue received 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.

Debbie and Sue Vertue said in a joint statement on Sunday February 13: “It’s with the heaviest of hearts that we have to share the sad news that mum/Beryl passed away peacefully last night. 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.”

In 2015, Tim Davie, then CEO of BBC Worldwide and now director general of the BBC, told C21: “Beryl is simply one of the greatest pioneers of our industry. If you think of today’s agents, distributors or producers, she was blazing a trail before many of us were out of nappies. Her energy, generosity and sheer love of the work seem utterly indestructible. It makes me smile to think how lucky I am that we’re working with her.”


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