John Gilbert Esmonde (21 March 1937 – 10 August 2008) and Bob Larbey (born 1934) were a successful British television comedy scriptwriting duo from the 1960s to the 1990s, creating popular situation comedies such as Please Sir! and The Good Life.
Larbey was born in Clapham, South London in 1934 and made his writing debut for BBC radio, before contributing a film adaptation — Mrs Silly, starring Maggie Smith. Larbey met his future writing partner when they were pupils at the Henry Thornton grammar school.
Esmonde, born in Battersea, South West London in 1937, served a couple of years in the Royal Air Force in Air Ambulance before realising that his budding writing partnership with Larbey might prove more fruitful. They began to have sketches accepted on shows such as I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again and The Dick Emery Show. Esmonde was married to Georgina Barton from 1960 until his death 48 years later in Spain, aged 71.
Their first sitcom as a writing team came in 1966 with Room At The Bottom for the BBC. This followed the exploits of a group of maintenance men working for Saracens Manufacturing Company. Starting out as a pilot in the BBC's Comedy Playhouse programme, it lasted for one series the next year, starring Kenneth Connor, Deryck Guyler and Francis Matthews.
In 1968 Esmonde and Larbey created one of their most popular comedies with Please Sir!, which starred John Alderton as a naive teacher thrown in at the deep end in a tough south London school. Part of the inspiration for this series was Bob and John's education in London schools. Although not acknowledged, the 1975 American sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter drew plenty of inspiration from this.
Due to the success of the antics of Form 5C in Please, Sir, Esmonde and Larbey wrote a spin-off — The Fenn Street Gang — which followed the students as they tried to make their way in the harsh world outside school. This starred David Barry, Peter Cleall and Carol Hawkins. Making his debut in series 1, George Baker made such an impression as a wide-boy villain that the prequel Bowler was launched in 1973. This lasted for one series and co-starred Fred Beauman, Renny Lister and Gretchen Franklin.
In the early to mid 1970s, Esmonde and Larbey produced several lesser-known comedies, sometimes lasting no longer than a pilot. These include ITV's Cosmo And Thingy, set in prehistoric times featuring a cast of cavemen and cavewomen, and Football Crazy (also for ITV) which was a children's sitcom about the football team Wormwood Rovers.
In 1975 Esmonde and Larbey created their best-known situation comedy: The Good Life, starring Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith. Set in Surbiton, Surrey it concerns itself with the attempt by Tom and Barbara Good (Briers and Kendal) to be self-sufficient after they decide to leave the rat race. Behind the middle-of-the-road and genteel middle class surroundings lies a sharp social commentary and well-crafted characters. It ran on the BBC until 1978, although it is often still repeated.
Esmonde and Larbey teamed up with Michael Gambon and Briers again for BBC's 1977 comedy The Other One, a sitcom about a man who is a liar who attempts to hide his insecurities through charade; it was successful enough for a second series in 1979. That same year they returned to football with ITV's Feet First starring Jonathan Barlow as Terry Prince, a local footballer given the chance to hit the big time.
After the short-lived Now And Then (1983, ITV) they returned to form with Ever Decreasing Circles, which reunited the writers with Briers. Briers starred as Martin Bryce, an irritating know-it-all with an obsessive personality who likes to interfere in the lives of all those around him. The series also featured Penelope Wilton and Peter Egan.
Another hit for Esmonde and Larbey was 1986's Brush Strokes, featuring Karl Howman and Gary Waldhorn as a house decorator and his boss. The BBC sitcom Double First only lasted one series in 1988, but marked a different approach. It starred Michael Williams.
The pair wrote Hope It Rains for ITV in 1991. It starred Tom Bell as the dour owner of a run-down seaside waxworks museum. Holly Aird and Eamonn Boland also featured. There were thirteen episodes transmitted.
Their last significant sitcom as a pair was 1992's Mulberry starring Karl Howman again as an apprentice Grim Reaper who has to guide Geraldine McEwan to the next world as easily as possible. However, Larbey has since written the long-running BBC series As Time Goes By, starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer, which was last shown domestically in 2005 and is currently running on BBC Prime.