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Anthony Marriott, writer of “No Sex Please, We’re British,” dies at 83

Anthony Marriott, an English playwright who dismayed critics and delighted theater-goers with “No Sex Please, We’re British,” the only slightly salty farce in which pants were dropped and toilets flushed to the amusement of house after house — after house — of spectators, died April 17 near London. He was 83.

“No Sex Please,” England’s longest-running comedy, premiered in London’s West End on June 3, 1971, shortly after the death of Mr. Marriott’s co-author, Alistair Foot.

Originally billed as “The Secret Sex Life of a Sub-branch Bank Manager,” the show presented audiences with the misadventures of a buttoned-up newlywed couple — a young bank employee and his wife — and the stream of pornographic material mistakenly and infelicitously mailed to their home.

Among critics, the show flopped. One disappointed observer called it “as glumly witless as its title.” But popular audiences — including busloads of American tourists — lapped up its physical comedy and innuendo and turned out for 6,761 performances before the show finally closed on Sept. 5, 1987.

By the time “No Sex Please” ended its run, an American traveler once told a reporter, “leaving London without seeing it would be like missing Trafalgar Square or Buckingham Palace.” The show’s title became a catchphrase in England and beyond, and at least one publication marked the end of the production with the report “No Sex Please, We’re Finished.”

Anthony Marriott, a co-author of the long-running comedic play “No Sex Please, We’re British,” died at 83. (FAMILY PHOTO)

(The second-longest-running comedy on the British stage, Joseph Kesselring’s “Arsenic and Old Lace,” ran for a relatively paltry 1,337 performances, according to the Daily Telegraph.)

Mr. Marriott confessed that he didn’t know why his show lasted so long or why, specifically, it appealed so strongly to his country’s middle class. True to its title, the play featured no erotica. “It’s not even naughty,” Mr. Marriott told an interviewer. “It’s suitable for anyone aged 7 upwards.”

Audiences were left to imagine the smut that poured into the protagonists’ flat, which was located above the bank branch, and which was frequently visited by the young groom’s colleague. (The initial production featured in that role actor Michael Crawford, later of “Phantom of the Opera” fame.)

“It appeals to the conventionally minded while permitting them to think of themselves as just a little unconventional,” Benedict Nightingale, the British theater critic, once wrote in the New York Times. “Perhaps that’s a reason for its success with the great British public and, presumably, with the occasional American tourist too.”

The show reportedly appeared in more than 50 countries, including one noted tour in the United States in 1973. By that time, its popularity had forced critics to acknowledge, however begrudgingly, that it had something going for it.

“I would prefer to see ‘Medea,’ ” wrote Clive Barnes of the New York Times. “But I imagine quite a few theatergoers in New York would not.”

Anthony John Crosbie Marriott was born Jan. 17, 1931, in London. His parents lived in India, where his father was stationed by the military, and he was brought up by grandparents.

Mr. Marriott studied in London at what is now the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. He began his artistic career as an actor and for a time was associated with the BBC Drama Repertory Company.

In addition to his collaboration with Alistair Foot, Mr. Marriott also worked with Bob Grant on such plays as “Darling Mr. London” and “Home Is Where Your Clothes Are” and with John Chapman on plays including “Shut Your Eyes and Think of England.” He also wrote for television and film. “No Sex Please” was made into a 1973 film starring Ronnie Corbett.

Mr. Marriott’s wife of 43 years, the former Heulwen Roberts, died in 1999. Survivors include three children in England, Shan Butler of Hertfordshire, Sally Abbott of Camberley and Simon Marriott of London; a sister; and six grandchildren.

Shan Butler said in an interview that her father died at Denville Hall, a retirement community for former actors, and that he had pneumonia.

The reception of “No Sex Please” in England and in the United States illuminated, in some ways, the expectations of each country’s theatergoers. Referring to Americans, Nightingale observed that the play was a “reproach to those cross-Atlantic aficionados who persistently idealize the British theater and bad-mouth Broadway.”

“If London is the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court, it’s also ‘No Sex Please’ and ‘When Did You Last See Your . . . Trousers?’ ” he wrote, referring to another production of similar sophistication.

In England, theatergoers knew exactly what awaited them — and what did not await them, despite the titular reference in “No Sex Please” to the carnal act. At the end of the show’s run, the producer estimated that in 16 years and 6,761 performances, he received only about a dozen complaints from patrons who had purchased tickets expecting entertainment of another sort.

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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