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Beryl Vertue: In Conversation * 27 February 2013

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Beryl Vertue and Paul Jackson onstage at the BFI, February 26 2013

As the culmination of a season of programming throughout the month, the BFI held a special in conversation session last night with Beryl Vertue OBE, executive producer of Sherlock and chairman of Hartswood Films. Interviewed by Paul Jackson and filled with brilliant anecdotes and dry humour, it offered a masterclass from one of the UK's greatest producers of television entertainment, in front of an audience including members of Sherlock's production crew like Mark Gatiss, Sue Vertue, Stephen Thompson, David Arnold, Arwel Wyn Jones, Elaine Cameron and indeed, much of the major staff of Hartswood Films. While the BFI recorded the entire session and will be uploading video highlights in the coming days, we can offer a summary of memorable moments from the event.

After an excellent and exhaustive video reel showcasing the myriad projects she had contributed to, Beryl initially recounted her unexpected entry into the television landscape, marked by her reluctance to apply for a job due to the distance she would have to travel on the trolley bus to and from work every day. Interviewed by British comedy legend Spike Milligan, she became agent to him and other stars such as Eric Sykes, Tony Hancock and Frankie Howerd.

Beryl rather impishly revealed her part in the copyright circumstances of iconic Doctor Who villains the Daleks, which saw the use of the aliens signed over to their creator Terry Nation instead of being retained by the BBC - she simply removed the line regarding ownership from the contract as it didn't appear important, and jokingly implied the headaches she had caused for her future son-in-law Steven Moffat without even realising.   

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Beryl Vertue

Her first signed contract though came when she joined the Robert Stigwood Organisation as the company's Deputy Chairman, and from there she travelled the world selling original format television to different networks around the globe - the most notable being the long running Sanford and Son and All in the Family in the USA, based off Stigwood's original British classics Steptoe and Son and 'Til Death Do Us Part respectively . While part of Stigwood she also produced numerous US TV Movies, as well as Tommy, where she was instrumental in securing the appearance of Tina Turner in the cast - memorably recounted by Beryl as an 'odd' visit to see the singer's abusive husband Ike, where she decided to remain 'very British' during the negotiation.

Beryl also recounted the creation of Hartswood Films, which she set up after Robert Stigwood decided to close down his company. Named for the Grade II listed building Hartswood Manor, where she grew up, and taking its logo from a tree found on the grounds, the company was relatively quiet for nearly five years before Beryl picked up a copy of the comedy novel Men Behaving Badly by Simon Nye, and after a false start with ITV and a resurrection on the BBC, Hartswood had its first major hit. From there the rest is well documented, taking in further successes like Is it Legal?; Carrie and Barry; and Coupling written by her new son-in-law Steven Moffat, before the creation of Sherlock.

Aptly ending with the final rooftop scene from S2E3: The Reichenbach Fall, Paul Jackson put it to Beryl that despite the apparent death of Sherlock that we had just witnessed on the huge screen of BFI NFT1, how was it possible for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to return for the imminent start of filming of Series Three in the next couple of weeks? Pointing to the Hartswood ranks in the audience, she simply said "If I told you, they'd probably all kill me."

This article will be updated with links to the BFI video of the event in the near future.  

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