Andrew Nickolds obituary

Comedy writer who worked on Maureen Lipman’s Agony, The Lenny Henry Show, Ed Reardon’s Week and Dave Podmore

Andrew Nickolds, who has died aged 73, was one of the most gifted and prolific, if largely unsung, TV and radio comedy writers of his generation. And he sustained a career in that precarious world for nearly half a century.

He had his first big success in 1980, in collaboration with Stan Hey, when they scripted the second and third series of the popular sitcom Agony, starring Maureen Lipman as an agony aunt who could not solve her own problems. They later took over writing The Lenny Henry Show when the star was beginning to cement his place in the British pantheon.

Eventually Andrew switched to radio and found his most durable success after joining forces with Christopher Douglas, a longstanding friend. In Ed Reardon’s Week, perhaps the most successful radio sitcom born this century, Douglas played the lead, sustaining the indigent, indignant failed-writer antihero through 14 series, and counting, on Radio 4.

Douglas co-wrote it all with Andrew, and though the former won the plaudits, he was the first to acknowledge the debt. British comedy writers have usually hunted in pairs since the heyday of Frank Muir and Denis Norden, if only to fend off the Reardonesque working-from-home paranoia. In a loose and interchangeable way, one of them has to be the organiser, working the keyboard, chivvying, making sure they don’t (literally) lose the plot. Andrew did all that but he also contributed a large share of the gags.

He was a very funny man, his humour conditioned by British and American comedies of the 1950s and 60s but steeped in the dry, mordant, sports-oriented banter of the east Midlands.

Agony, with Maureen Lipman, co-written by Andrew Nickolds and Stan Hey

Andrew was born in Nottingham, the elder son of Arthur, a civil servant, and Beryl (nee Moore). The family had few pretensions but he sailed into the city’s independent boys’ school, Nottingham High, on a council scholarship before winning a place to read English at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. At the start of his third year he was instructed to help a Liverpudlian freshman grasp the requirements of the curriculum. Thus he met Hey: they ignored the curriculum and talked instead about Tony Hancock and Sergeant Bilko.

Andrew’s St Cat’s career ended spectacularly. Elected editor of the university paper, Varsity, for the summer term (succeeding Jeremy Paxman), he put together a wild Private Eye-ish final issue, in which the spoof ads were hard to distinguish from the real ones. He decided that project was more important than boring old finals and left without a degree in 1972.

In career terms, that was no disaster. He struggled at first: shortly afterwards he was a founder of the pioneering football fanzine Foul (which made him no money) and worked for Property Gazette (which made him some). But he also began writing with Hey, and they cut their teeth on Crown Court, an ITV daytime staple of the 70s that unearthed dozens of acting and writing talents. For some years they worked together in a cheery if dingy Soho office in London, shared with the cartoonists David Austin and Kipper Williams.

In the mid-80s they co-wrote a likable BBC One series, Hold the Back Page, starring David Warner as a posh paper sports writer forced to go downmarket to pay his alimony. And in a rare solo effort Andrew wrote Our Geoff, a BBC play with Patrick Malahide portraying a thinly disguised Geoffrey Boycott amid the conflicting, almost Trumpian, emotions he aroused in Yorkshire cricket. Some critics found it too crickety; some of us found it uncannily true.

Along with Douglas and Nick Newman, Andrew found a less obviously identifiable cricketer: Dave Podmore, the perennially useless county player who finally found his niche as sledging coach to the Australian dressing room. It was a success on the radio, in a couple of books and as a Guardian column. Indeed, it was a Guardian executive who then suggested the Reardon character, and the rest is radio history.

Andrew was a large man, usually rumpled, with unruly hair. He was an exuberant conversationalist with a mighty laugh, much deployed. In 1992 he married a Canadian-born publisher, Catherine Hurley, in his old college chapel and they settled in Cambridge. Some of his friends saw this as a kind of contrition for his unconventional exit. He found much delight in his children, Rose and Freddie, and acquired considerable skill as a cook, which was not in anyone’s script.

He had been suffering from heart trouble for two years but remained cheerful (“I’m like Notts County, on the up”) and his death was unexpected. On the day he died, Andrew had just sent off a load of script notes for the 15th season of Ed Reardon.

He is survived by Catherine and his children.

• Andrew Nickolds, writer, born 5 September 1949; died 28 November 2022


Matthew Engel

The GuardianTramp

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