It is with great sadness that we announce that Hartswood founder Beryl Vertue passed away peacefully on Saturday 12th surrounded by her family.
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. 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 an extraordinary and ground-breaking career in radio, TV and film Beryl Vertue went from being a secretary to an agent and subsequently a multi-award winning TV and film producer – throughout a period of significant change to the entertainment industry.
Her entertainment career began when she was asked by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (the legendary comedy writing team behind the hugely successful TV sit-com Steptoe & Son and Hancock’s Half Hour for TV & Radio), if she could come and type their scripts up. When Galton and Simpson set up Associated London Scripts with Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes, Beryl became an integral part of the company finding work for the members of the co-operative including Johnny Speight and Frankie Howerd and negotiating their fees, almost accidentally becoming an agent.
Beryl had the thought that if scripts work well in one country, why couldn’t they be adapted to work in another one? This brand new idea meant she went on to pioneer the first changed format sales for a TV series when she took the scripts for Till Death us do Part to Norman Lear in the US and it became the phenomenal success ‘All In the Family’. She then did the same with Steptoe and Son which was sold to NBC, achieving great success as Sanford and Son. The changed format model, created by Beryl, is now practised throughout the industry internationally.
She also represented the writer Terry Nation who had written a script for the BBC’s new science fiction series, Doctor Who. When she read Nation’s scripts, she quickly identified the new monsters he’d created as a potential hit so when his contract arrived, she crossed out the part which meant handing over the rights to the monsters to the BBC. This ultimately gave Nation the controlling rights to the Daleks in perpetuity and the consequent merchandising rights.
At ALS she became Executive Producer on a number of hit TV series including The Plank starring Eric Sykes and Tommy Cooper and the movie spin-offs of ‘Til Death Us Do Part, Steptoe & Son and Up Pompeii.
When Robert Stigwood bought out a majority stake in ALS, Beryl became the Managing Director of Stigwood’s new company RSO and produced films including The Entertainer, starring Jack Lemmon and The Who’s rock musical Tommy, starring Elton John, Eric Clapton and Tina Turner.
When Stigwood closed the company in the ‘80s Beryl set up her own independent production company Hartswood Films – one of the first indies in the UK set up as a result of a change in government policy.
At Hartswood she optioned a book called Men Behaving Badly written by the then unknown Simon Nye (she optioned it because she liked the title!) . After one series on ITV the series was cancelled, so Beryl took the series to the BBC (the first time a programme had moved channels in this way) and it went onto to become one of the biggest comedy hits of the 1990’s starring Martin Clunes, Neil Morrissey, Leslie Ash, Caroline Quentin.
At this time Beryl was joined at Hartswood by her daughters Debbie Vertue who moved from a role in film production, and Sue Vertue who was a producer at Tiger Aspect for shows including Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.
Hartwood continued to produce hit series including two series of My Good Friend starring George Cole, three series of Is it Legal? for ITV and Channel 4 starring Imelda Stanton and Patrick Barlow, and four series of Coupling for BBC One, written by Steven Moffat and produced by Sue.
The company continued to flourish, with Steven Moffat writing the Golden Globe nominated Jekyll, starring James Nesbitt. Beryl continued to Executive Produce hit series including The Guilty, starring Tamsin Greig and Lady Chatterly’s Lover starring Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger.
In 2010 Hartswood produced the first of four series of the global phenomenon Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Written and created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the series was produced by Sue Vertue and Executive Produced by Beryl Vertue. Hartswood went on to make another 3 series of this award winning show.
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.
Beryl 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 BAFTA’s Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Creative Contribution to Television.
On 20 March 2012, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Royal Television Society Programme Awards, and on 30 March 2012 – she was presented with the Harvey Lee Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting at the BPG TV and Radio Awards.
In 2016 Benedict Cumberbatch presented her with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Women In Film and TV Awards.
Beryl was developing and producing TV projects until only recently and leaves behind a legacy that will never be matched.