Ray Butt, the director and producer of some of Britain’s best-loved sitcoms, has died at the age of 78.
Butt was born in the East End of London in 1935, and as a teenager worked for the future comedian Tommy Cooper, selling ice creams in the Roman Road market. National Service provided Butt with an education in the RAF as an electrician, an opportunity which was to prove instrumental in his future success in television. After answering an advertisement in the BBC for electricians, his successful application saw him work his way up through the ranks to cameraman and then director, his first major series being The Liver Birds.
From there, Butt would go on to lend his skills to some of this country’s most beloved comedies, including Are You Being Served? (1972); Last Of The Summer Wine (1973); It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (1974) and Citizen Smith (1977).
However, it was Butt’s role in the genesis of Only Fools and Horses, regularly voted the nation’s favourite sitcom, which will surely go down as his crowning glory. The show’s premise came about from conversations between Butt and writer John Sullivan about their working class roots; when Sullivan presented a script based on their shared backgrounds, the BBC saw its potential immediately and commissioned a six-part series on the spot. Butt’s contribution was not to end there, however: it was his idea to cast David Jason in the role of Del Boy, and he would go on to direct more than 20 episodes of the multi-BAFTA winning series.
Later BBC shows include Just Friends and Dear John, both also written by Sullivan, followed by a less successful stint at ITV with Sob Sisters and Young, Gifted and Broke. He is survived by his partner, Jo Blyth, and a daughter from a previous marriage.