"You dirty old man!"
'Steptoe and Son' began life as a one-off play entitled 'The Offer' from the BBC's highly regarded 'Comedy Playhouse.' The central characters were the repulsive mitten wearing 'dirty old man' Albert Steptoe, (a wonderfully faultless performance by Dublin born actor Wilfred Brambell), and his 38 year old son Harold, (equally well played by Harry H. Corbett), two rag-and-bone men who lived in Shepherds Bush.
In common with most of the truly great character driven comedies the simple premise of the series, as developed in Galton and Simpson's masterful scripts, brilliantly tightrope walked the narrow line separating laughter from tragedy. The core of this success lay in the delicately delineated dynamics of the central characters complexly antagonistic relationship. It was in the presentation of Harold's pretentiously overblown -ultimately doomed- dreams of escaping his resolutely low brow father to better himself, only to find both himself and his ambitions constantly undone by the senior Steptoe's devious and cold-blooded manipulation of the younger man's innate decency, which helped ensure that the series frequently attained the heights of genuine tragi-comedy.
The most obvious basic truth of the series, apparent to the viewers if not the Steptoe's themselves, was their sadly obvious co-dependence. The older Albert and the younger Harold were two sides of the same coin, neither whole without the other, no matter how much they affected an air of mutual dislike. It was this essential truth, coupled with consistently excellent scripts and performances from two actors who quite obviously understood the subtle subtext of the concept, which ensured a continuity of comedic quality rarely surpassed in television to this day. The series ran from 1962 to 1974 and there were two feature films, 'Steptoe and Son' (1972), and 'Steptoe and Son Ride Again' (1973).
The Writing team of Galton and Simspson had been responsible for the classic 'Hancock's Half Hour' scripts which included 'The Blood Donor' and 'The Radio Ham', and in 1999 the were awarded in the Queen's New Years Honours List. Wilfred Brambell appeared in The Beatles first feature film 'A Hard Day's Night,' in which he played the role of Paul McCartney's grandfather, and in purposeful contrast to his TV character was referred to throughout as 'very clean.'
Corbett's untimely and premature death excluded the chance of further series, however most of the originals (including the early black and white recordings), continue to be shown on television and are available on DVD. The series was re-made in the USA as 'Sanford and Son'. 'Steptoe and Son' might well have been rag and bone men, but the comedic legacy they palmed off on us, the viewers, was priceless beyond their wildest imaginings.
Albert Steptoe Wilfred Brambell | Harold Steptoe Harry H. Corbett
Written and Created By:Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Producers Included: Duncan Wood, David Croft. Theme (Old Ned):Ron Grainer
46 episodes of 30 minute duration (26 from 1962 - 65, 7 from 1970, 7 from 1972 and 6 from 1974), plus two 40 minute Christmas specials. BBC TV B&W and colour 1962 - 74.
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