Sir Antony Jay

Tony Jay, my collaborator on Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister died recently. This produced a flood of praise for our work together, like this article in the FT. I'm only sorry he's not here to read it.

I wrote a tribute to him which was shared on Facebook by many thousands of people, and on twitter too. I received a huge response. Here it is. An edited version was published in The Times (London).

Sir Antony Jay

A tribute by Jonathan Lynn

Tony Jay, my writing partner on Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, died yesterday. By chance, my wife Rita and I went to visit him on Saturday and saw him before he was taken to the hospital for what turned out to be the last time. He was in pain but when he saw me he smiled and immediately offered me a drink - as he always did. Rita told him that we loved him and he smiled, and then he lapsed into unconsciousness. I am profoundly sad.

Tony was a genuinely original thinker, and a very funny writer. His father, Ernest Jay was a character actor, best known for playing Dennis the Dachshund on Larry The Lamb In Toytown on the BBC’s Home Service and Tony’s first job as a teenager was as an ASM with his father on a Shakespearean theatrical tour during the war. A classicist, he took First at Cambridge, remained fluent in Latin and Greek his whole life, and joined the BBC. As a TV producer, first on Tonight with Cliff Michelmore, and later as Head of BBC Talks and Features Department, his influence was enormous: That Was The Week That Was was produced in his department and later he created the format for David Frost's next show The Frost Report - he planned the first 13 episodes, in which John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett were teamed and all became TV stars as a result.

Almost uniquely, he had a foot in two different worlds: TV news and serious political activity - and show business! He worked on budget speeches and party conference speeches for Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson and Margaret Thatcher, not to add jokes but to help shape and communicate their message, and he received a knighthood after turning around Thatcher’s third and last election campaign with a significant party political broadcast. He produced the Milton Friedman series Free To Choose, and became converted to neo-liberal economics.

I didn’t share his political views and I also feared that these activities would become known while we wrote Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, which might have given the public the impression that it was a conservative programme. It wasn’t, and fortunately this didn’t happen. Yes, Minister was about government, not politics. Certainly not about party politics. Interestingly, it seemed to reinforce the views of whoever was watching: Tories thought it was a Tory show, Labour voters thought it was Labour. In fact, it was neither - it was, as Rupert Murdoch falsely claimed later about Fox News, fair and balanced.

Tony was a fascinating paradox: though part of the establishment, he remained an iconoclast who was willing to make a joke about almost anything.

On leaving the BBC he wrote two influential books on management, Management and Machiavelli (a big best-seller) and Corporation Man. On The Frost Programme (ITV) he guided David Frost on how to conduct important and difficult interviews, such as the famous one with George Brown, the Foreign Secretary. He edited the first full-length documentary about the Queen and the Royal Family and was intensely proud of the CVO that he was given afterwards. He was a member of the Annan Committee on Broadcasting and drafted the final report which profoundly criticized the BBC.

Then, going into business, he showed himself to be a true entrepreneur. He started the management training film company Video Arts with several partners, including John Cleese. Spotting a gap in the market - he realised that training films, traditionally rather boring, would be much more fun to watch if they showed the audience how not to do a job - he put up the money for the first film himself. The company grew rapidly under his chairmanship and was sold 17 years later for many millions of pounds.

I met him when he started Video Arts: I had known Cleese at Cambridge and he asked me to act in the film for a deferred payment. Never expecting to be paid, I did it for fun and was astonished a few months later to receive the deferment and an offer to act in two more such films. After that, when Cleese withdrew somewhat, to work on Fawlty Towers, Tony asked me write training films, sometimes with him, sometimes just briefed by him. In all, I think I wrote or contributed to about 20 of them.

It was around then that he had the idea for a comedy show about the Civil Service and asked me if I'd like to write it. I wasn't keen at first because I was busy as the Artistic Director of the Cambridge Theatre Company and I needed the income from the training films to support my theatre work. But three years later I was looking for something new to write and we started researching the idea.

We worked together on and off, from the early 1970s until four years ago when illness overtook him. In all that time we never had an angry word. It was, in my opinion, a perfect partnership and it changed my life. He regarded himself as the keeper of Sir Humphrey’s soul, and me as the keeper of Jim Hacker’s. Certain jobs were always left to me: first draft scripts were invariably too long and he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) cut them; smiling, he quoted Pontius Pilate: “I have written what I have written.”

Later, when approached about becoming Chairman of the BBC, he opted instead for retirement to a converted barn in Somerset where his adored wife Jill could have an organic farm.

He gave his polite attention to everyone he met including our sheepdog, named Humphrey because we thought he was sound. He was a loyal, affectionate and very British friend. I have hugged many men over the years but I tried it only once with Tony and he was startled and uncomfortable. Manly handshakes were the right way to express warmth. But he hugged Rita a lot.

I learned more from him than I could ever explain. He was erudite, witty, full of funny thoughts and new ideas, and utterly easy to work with. His death is, for me, the end of an era. For me and Rita it is also the loss of a very dear and loyal friend. We will miss him a lot, and we send our condolences to Jill and their splendid and talented children and grandchildren.

The Patriotic Traitor: Casting Update

Laurence Fox and Tom Conti will star in the world premiere production of Jonathan Lynn’s play The Patriotic Traitor when it opens at London’s Park Theatre next February.

Lewis star Fox will play Charles De Gaulle in the play about two friends who end up on the opposite sides of World War II, with Olivier Award winner and Oscar nominee Tom Conti as Philippe Pétain.

While Pétain rose through the ranks to save France at the Battle of Verdun in 1916, when he became a Nazi collaborator it was De Gaulle who led France to freedom. When De Gaulle had his friend tried for treason in 1945, was it all as simple as it seemed?

Speaking about the project, playwright Lynn, who will also direct the show, said: “To keep the people safe is surely the most fundamental duty of every political leader. Few people are given the opportunity to save their country. This awful responsibility fell to two giants, Philippe Pétain and Charles De Gaulle – twice to Pétain. This is a story of love and betrayal, and their triumph and tragedy has fascinated me for many years. I hope it fascinates you. I am fortunate to have Tom Conti and Laurence Fox to bring these two great men and monstrous egotists to life.”

The Patriotic Traitor plays at the Park Theatre from 17 February to 19 March, following the UK premiere of Peter Quilter’s amnesia drama 4000 Days.

Playbill on The Player's Tribute to Jonathan Lynn and "CLUE"

Stage and screen actor Michael Urie, Tony nominee Brandon Uranowitz, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" actress Sara Chase and Lauren Adams, are among the stars headlining The Players' Dec. 13 tribute performance of the film "Clue."

Presented by the private arts social club The Players, the cult classic will be performed live for one night only as a tribute to Jonathan Lynn, director and screenwriter of "Clue."

Conceived and directed by Tim Drucker (Gigantic) and Jason Michael Snow (Book of Mormon), the performance will also feature Brynn O'Malley (Honeymoon in Vegas), Christopher John O’Neill (The Book of Mormon), Amy Jo Jackson (Dani Girl) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone. The event is hosted by Players Michael Barra, Michael Gerbino and Michael McCurdy.

Based on the popular board game and set in a gothic mansion, the 1985 whodunit starred Tim Curry, Michael McKean, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull and Lesley Ann Warren. Lynn went on to direct My Cousin Vinny, The Whole Nine Yards and The Distinguished Gentleman. He is also the co-writer of the award-winning BBC series "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister."

"Jonathan’s rich and varied career is grounded in a love of comedy, playfulness, and extraordinary writing and performance that epitomizes the spirit and history of The Players," said the club’s president Arthur Makar in a press statement. "We cannot think of a better way to celebrate his achievements than by gathering some of today’s brightest stars in our historic mansion to bring his classic comedy to life on the stage."

Founded in 1888 by actor Edwin Booth with 15 other incorporators including Mark Twain, The Players is a New York City-based social club for theatre, television, film, music, and publishing professionals, patrons of the arts and business and civic leaders.

Attendance to the "Clue" performance is limited to club members but ten members of the public will have have an opportunity to win two tickets via an online competition. For contest details visit The Players Facebook page.

- See more at: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/michael-urie-and-brandon-uranowitz-headline-celebrity-performance-of-clue-374451#sthash.hFowNPXh.dpuf

Michael Urie, Brandon Uranowitz & More to Lead CLUE Tribute Performance in NYC on December 13th

The Players, the historic private social club on Gramercy Park, will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the cult comedy classic "Clue" with an all-star tribute performance honoring Jonathan Lynn, the film's director and screenwriter, on Sunday, December 13th.

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Michael Urie (BUYER & CELLAR, "Ugly Betty"), Sara Chase and Lauren Adams ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"), Brandon Uranowitz (AN AMERICAN IN PARIS), and Max Jenkins ("The Mysteries of Laura") are among the stars of stage and screen slated to perform in the one-night-only tribute. Prior to the performance, Lynn will be feted for his career achievements with an honorary membership to The Players by the club's president Arthur Makar.

Based on the popular board game, set in a Gothic mansion, and featuring three alternate endings in keeping with the game's whodunit theme, Clue starred a who's who of comedy greats including Tim Curry, Michael McKean, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, and Leslie Ann Warren. Although it received mixed reviews and fared poorly at the box office at the time of its release in 1985, the fast-talking, high-concept film went on to become a cult classic (Buzzfeed hails it as "one of the most beloved films of the 1980s") and Lynn proceeded to direct such classic films as My Cousin Vinny, The Whole Nine Yards, and The Distinguished Gentleman. Lynn is also the co-writer of the phenomenally successful, award-winning BBC series "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister."

"Jonathan's rich and varied career is grounded in a love of comedy, playfulness, and extraordinary writing and performance that epitomizes the spirit and history of The Players," said Makar. "We cannot think of a better way to celebrate his achievements than by gathering some of today's brightest stars in our historic mansion to bring his classic comedy to life on the stage.

Founded in 1888 by actor Edwin Booth with 15 other incorporators including Mark Twain, The Players is New York City's premier social club for theatre, television, film, music, and publishing professionals, patrons of the arts, and business and civic leaders. Housed in the Booth mansion, a landmark Greek Revival townhouse on Gramercy Park, The Players celebrates the rich cultural life of New York City with exclusive membership events that include live performances, readings by leading authors and playwrights, film screenings, and special dining and cocktail experiences in its famous Grill Room. Presidents of The Players have included Jose Ferrer, Lynn Redgrave and Timothy Hutton.

While attendance is limited to members of The Players, ten members will of the public will have have an opportunity to win two tickets via an online competition. To enter, fans must post videos on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter of themselves lip synching (using Dubsmash) or reciting dialogue from the film with the hashtag #Clue30th and #ThePlayers. Deadline for submitting videos is December 7th and the winners will be selected at random and notified by December 8th. For contest details visit The Players Facebook page.

Conceived and directed by Tim Drucker (GIGANTIC) and Jason Michael Snow (BOOK OF MORMON), the performance will also feature Brynn O'Malley (HONEYMOON IN VEGAS), Christopher John O'Neill (THE BOOK OF MORMON), Amy Jo Jackson (DANI GIRL), and Nikka Graff Lanzarone. The event is hosted by Players Michael Barra, Michael Gerbino, and Michael McCurdy.