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One Foot in the Grave
One Foot in the Grave title card.jpg
Series title card
Format Sitcom
Created by David Renwick
Starring Richard Wilson
Annette Crosbie
Doreen Mantle
Angus Deayton
Janine Duvitski
Owen Brenman
Theme music composer Eric Idle
Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of series 6
No. of episodes 42 + 2 shorts (List of episodes)
Production
Running time 35x 30 minutes
1x 40 minutes
1x 45 minutes
1x 50 minutes
2x 60 minutes
1x 70 minutes
1x 90 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel BBC One
Original run 4 January 1990 – 20 November 2000
Status Ended

One Foot in the Grave is a BBC television situation comedy series written by David Renwick. The show ran for six series, with several specials over a ten year period, from 1990 to 2000. The series features the exploits of Victor Meldrew, played by Richard Wilson, and his long-suffering wife, Margaret, played by Annette Crosbie, in their battle against the trials of modern life. After being forced to take involuntary early retirement, the series followed the protagonist's various efforts to keep himself busy, whilst encountering various misfortunes and misunderstandings. The series was set in a typical suburban household in a suburb of London based on Luton (although was largely filmed on location in Dorset).[1] However, despite its traditional production, the series subverts its domestic sitcom setting with elements of black humour and surrealism.

The series was occasionally the subject of controversy for some of its darker story elements, but was nevertheless the recipient of a number of awards, including the 1992 BAFTA for Best Comedy. In 2004, the series came tenth in a 2004 BBC poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom". The programme also came 80th in the British Film Institute's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.[2]

The series, originally shown on BBC1, is now available on DVD and is regularly repeated in the United Kingdom. Four episodes were remade for BBC Radio 2[3] and the series also inspired a novel.

The popularity of the series resulted in that Swedish commercial television channel TV4 produced a version of the show, entitled "En fot i graven", starring Gösta Ekman as the confused Victor Meldrew and Lena Söderblom as his long-suffering wife. A total of 12 episode were broadcasted.

Contents

Plot

The series features the exploits of irascible pensioner Victor Meldrew, who after being forced to retire from his job as a security guard, finds himself at war with the world and everything in it. Meldrew, cursed with misfortune and always complaining, is married to long-suffering wife Margaret, who is often left exasperated by his many misfortunes.[3]

Amongst other witnesses to Victor's wrath, is tactless family friend Jean Warboys, and next door couple Patrick (Victor's nemesis) and Pippa Trench. Patrick often discovers Victor in inexplicably bizarre or compromising situations, leading him to believe that he is insane. Meanwhile the overly cheery charity worker Nick Swainey adds to Victor's frustration.

Although set in a traditional suburban setting, the show subverts this genre with a strong overtone of black comedy. Episode three, series one is an episode which caused controversy, when Victor finds a frozen cat in his freezer. Writer David Renwick also combined farce with elements of tragedy.[4] For example in the final episode, Victor is killed by a hit-and-run driver, and although there is no explicit reference that Victor and Margaret had children, the episode "Timeless Time" contained an ambiguous reference to someone called Stuart; the suggestion was that they once had a son who had died as a child.[3][5][6]

A number of episodes were also experimental in that they took place entirely in one setting. Such episodes include: Victor, Margaret, and Mrs Warboys stuck in a traffic jam;[7] Victor and Margaret in bed suffering insomnia;[8] and Victor left alone in the house waiting to see if he has to take part in jury service.

Characters

Main characters

Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) – Victor is the main protagonist of the sitcom and finds himself constantly battling against all that life throws at him as he becomes entangled, like the pawn he is, in machiavellian plots. Renwick once pointed out in an interview that the name "Victor" was ironic, since he almost always ends up a loser.[9] From being buried alive, to being legally prosecuted for attacking a feisty pit bull terrier with a collection of coconut meringues, Victor tries to adjust to life after his infamous replacement by a "box" at his place of employment, but to no avail.

Victor is a tragic comedy character and sympathy is directed towards him as he becomes embroiled in complex misunderstandings, bureaucratic vanity and, at times, sheer bad luck. The audience sees a philosophical ebb to his character, however, along with a degree of optimism, yet his polite façade collapses when events get the better of him, and a full verbal onslaught is forthcoming.

Margaret Meldrew (Annette Crosbie) – Victor's long-suffering and kind-hearted wife, Margaret tries to maintain a degree of calmness and to rise above her husband's frustrations. However, she is too often engulfed in the same folly and often vents her anger, usually at Victor who bears the brunt of it all. In early episodes, her character acts more as a comic foil to Victor's misfortunes, for example asking if a cat found frozen in their freezer is definitely dead and mentioning a friend who died of a terminal illness. When Victor reminds her that the woman actually fell from a cliff, Margaret retorts she only did so because "she went to the seaside to convalesce".

In later episodes, Margaret develops into a more complex character. She is shown to be fiercely protective of her marriage to Victor, becoming easily suspicious and jealous, for example, of a Dutch marionette that Victor becomes occupied with repairing in the episode "Hole in the Sky", eventually leading her to destroy it. In "The Affair of the Hollow Lady", a greengrocer develops a liking for Victor and wrongly attempts to convince Margaret that he has been unfaithful to her. In revenge, Margaret assaults the woman with a pair of boxing gloves. However, Margaret herself is shown to have contemplated infidelity with a man she met on holiday in the episode "Warm Champagne", eventually deciding against it.

Patrick Trench (Angus Deayton) – Patrick and his wife Pippa live next door to Victor, and often catches Victor engrossed in seemingly preposterous situations, all of which in context seemed perfectly acceptable. The couple's relationship with their neighbours begins badly after Victor mistakenly believes Patrick and Pippa are distant relations rather than the next-door neighbours who had been leaving for a lengthy holiday the day that Victor and Margaret moved in. This and later incidents cause Patrick to suspect that Victor is quite insane, possibly bordering on malicious, and he often responds to Victor in similarly vindictive ways as a means of "getting even", for example by complaining via post-it notes.

However, it is Patrick's rift with Victor which eventually transforms him into a rather cynical character, much like Victor. This aspect of the character came to a head in the episode "The Executioner's Song" where his face transforms into an apparition of Victor's as he gazes into a mirror. In another episode, his wife Pippa loses their baby in similar circumstances to Victor and Margaret.

Pippa Trench (Janine Duvitski) – Patrick's wife sought friendly relations with the Meldrews and, after a while, became good friends with Margaret. The two women usually attempt to get the men to make peace with each other at least once per series. Eventually Patrick proposes that the Trenches move house, but they soon realise that the Meldrew curse has followed them: Victor sent workmen to their home next door, thinking they were removal men who had come to the wrong house. They were in fact from a house clearance firm Margaret had employed to clear her late cousin Ursula's country mansion. It turned out that the workmen had cleared Patrick and Pippa's house of their entire furniture and sold it for £475.

New neighbours Derek and Betty McVitie replaced the Trenches for the 1997 special "Endgame", but series six saw the Trenches return as prominent characters, albeit living in a house some distance from the Meldrews.

Jean Warboys (Doreen Mantle) – Mrs Warboys is a friend of Margaret (and a rather annoying one in Victor's eyes) who attached herself to the Meldrews, accompanying them on many of their exploits. In the early series she was married to Chris, but eventually he left her for the private detective she had hired when she suspected him of having an affair, and they divorced.

She often bears the brunt of Victor's temper due to muddled misunderstandings and in part due to her aloof nature. One such occasion saw her goading Victor into taking a dog whose owner had just died. She had not told him that it was stuffed, much to Victor's annoyance, as he had spent time constructing an expensive kennel for it. On another occasion she had a waxwork made of herself which had to be delivered to their house as she had been involved in a road accident. As it turned out, she hated it as much as Victor and Margaret did, and that particular episode finished with the waxwork standing in the dustbin. She would often bore the Meldrews by showing them her complete collection of holiday pictures at the most unwelcome times. Doreen Mantle described her character as "wanting to do the right thing but always finding out that it was the wrong thing".[10]

Nick Swainey (Owen Brenman) – The excessively cheerful and often oblivious neighbour who lives on the other side of the Meldrews from the Trenches. He remains continuously optimistic; even his being told to "piss off" by Victor is laughed off. However, despite this little run-in he later befriends Victor. A kind-natured individual, Mr Swainey cared for many years for his bedridden senile mother, whom the audience never actually see. He does though occasionally drop his guard, on one occasion displaying his apparent depression. Following his mother's death, he moved house near the end of the series, but only went as far as the other side of Victor's house, into the Trenches' old house.

Other recurring characters

Ronnie and Mildred (Gordon Peters and Barbara Ashcroft) – Ronnie and Mildred were a constantly cheerful couple who provided yet another annoyance to the Meldrews, who dreaded any upcoming visits to them. They are referenced a number of times in the series for giving the Meldrews bizarre and always unwanted presents, usually involving a garish photograph. In the final series, however it was clear that their cheerfulness was a façade and, in a particularly dark scene, Mildred hanged herself "during a game of Happy Families".

Cousin Wilfred (John Rutland) – Mrs. Warboys' cousin, Wilfred, appeared a number of times in the series, and was considered to be a fairly boring middle-aged man. In the final series, the effects of a stroke rendered him mute, and forced him to "speak" with the aid of an electonic voice generator. His poor typing on the generator led to several misunderstandings, such as asking Victor for a "bra of soup" (as opposed to a "bar of soap").

Production

The production of the show was in a conventional sitcom format, with episodes taped live in front of a studio audience, interposed with pre-filmed location material.[4] Following a change of house, from series 2 onwards four main sets were used – the Meldrew's sitting room, kitchen, bedroom and hallway. Almost all of the exterior shots, were shot in and around Bournemouth, Dorset. The exterior shots of the Meldrews' house from the second series onwards were filmed in Tresillian Way, Walkford, Bournemouth.[11] These later series makes extensive use of specific street and garden locations in most episodes, particularly for scenes involving the Meldrew's neighbours.[12] Later episodes, such as "Hearts of Darkness", were filmed entirely on location. Victor's death by a hit and run driver in the final episode was filmed at Shawford railway station, Hampshire. Fans left floral tributes at the site.[13]

Music

The One Foot in the Grave theme song was written and sung by Eric Idle. A longer version was produced for the special "One Foot in the Algarve", with a remixed version released as a single in November 1994. Idle included a live version of the song on his album Sings Monty Python.[14] It is preluded by a similar adaptation of "Bread of Heaven" to that used in the episode "The Beast in the Cage" by disgruntled car mechanics.[7][15]

The series also made extensive use of incidental music, composed by Ed Welch, which often hinted at a particular genre to fit the mood of the scenes, frequently incorporating well-known pieces of music such as God rest you merry, gentlemen or Intermezzo from Jean Sibelius' Karelia Suite. The final episode ended with a montage of some of the mishaps Victor encountered, which were mentioned in the episode – backed by "End of the Line" by The Traveling Wilburys.

Awards

The programme received a number of prestigious awards. In 1992, it won a BAFTA as Best Comedy (Programme or Series). During its ten-year run, the series was nominated a further six times. Richard Wilson also won Best Light Entertainment Performance in 1992 and 1994, and Annette Crosbie was nominated for the same award in 1994.

The series also won the Best Television Sitcom in 1992 from the Royal Television Society and the British Comedy Award for Best Sitcom in 1992, 1995 and 2001.[16]

In 2004, One Foot in the Grave came tenth in a BBC poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom" with 31,410 votes.[17] The programme also came 80th in the British Film Institute's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes [2]

Controversy

A number of complaints were made during the series' run for its depiction of animal deaths. For example, in the episode "The Valley of Fear", a dead cat is found in the Meldrews' freezer; in another, a tortoise is roasted in a brazier. However, this was later cited as a positive feature of the programme's daring scripts in Britain's Best Sitcom by its advocate Rowland Rivron.[18] The programme was censured, however, for a scene in the episode "Hearts of Darkness" in which an elderly resident is abused in an old people's home, and following complaints, the scene was slightly cut when the episode was repeated.[19] Another controversial scene in the episode "Tales of Terror" saw the Meldrews visit Ronnie and Mildred on the understanding that Mildred had gone upstairs during a game of Happy Families and not returned; Ronnie then shows her feet hanging outside of the window, implying that she has committed suicide. The Broadcasting Standards Commission received complaints about this scene.[6]

When the final episode, "Things Aren't Simple Anymore" originally aired on 20 November 2000 at 21:00, it coincided with the broadcast of the first jackpot winner in the UK version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which had been filmed the Sunday before the broadcast. ITV was accused of engineering this in order to damage the final episode's expected high ratings, but was later cleared by the Independent Television Commission.[20]

Cultural impact

Despite gaining initially low audience ratings, by the third series, One Foot in the Grave was making the Top 20 ratings, with some episodes seen by more than 16 million viewers. In particular, the Christmas 1993 edition topped 20 million viewers.

Due to the series' popularity, people who constantly complain and are irritated by minor things are often compared to Victor Meldrew by the British media.[21][22] Renwick disputes this usage however, claiming that Victor's reactions are entirely in proportion to the things that happen to him.[23]

Renwick integrated some of the plots and dialogue from the series into a novel, which was first published by BBC Books in 1992. Renwick also adapted four episodes for BBC Radio 2, which first aired between 21 January 1995 and 11 February 1995.[3] The episodes are "Alive and Buried", "In Luton Airport, No One Can Hear You Scream", "Timeless Time" and "The Beast in the Cage". They are regularly repeated on the digital speech station BBC 7 and are available on audio CD.

An American remake of the show, starring Bill Cosby and simply titled Cosby, ran from 1996 to 2000. David Renwick was listed as an consultant on the series.

Wilson dislikes saying his character's catchphrase ("I don't believe it!") and only performs the line for charity events.[24] This became a joke in the actor's guest appearance as himself in the Father Ted episode "The Mainland", where Ted and Dougal annoy him by constantly repeating his catchphrase. The situation was conceived when Father Ted writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews sat behind Wilson at a performance of Le Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall. They considered how "tasteless and wrong" it would be to lean forward to him every time that an acrobat did a stunt and yell the catchphrase, and then they realised that that's exactly what their fictional priests would do.[25] This was also played upon when Wilson made a guest appearance on the comedy TV quiz show Shooting Stars, in which Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer purposely misquoted his catchphrase by referring to him as "Richard 'I don't believe you' Wilson".

Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0 Enterprise Edition contains a hidden Easter Egg, which is accessed using the words "Reggie" (a reference to The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) and "Victor" (a reference to One Foot In The Grave). The Easter Egg contains the names of the entire Visual Studio development team, as well as confirmation of the meaning of "Reggie" and "Victor".[26]

VHS and DVD releases

The early series were initially available on BBC Worldwide VHS video tapes. The Comic Relief Shorts from 1993 and 2001 have not been released on DVD. One Foot in the Grave Best-of was also released in Region 4, 8 July 2004.

DVD Name Release date Notes
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Complete Series 1 27 March 2007 2 August 2004 7 July 2005
Complete Series 2 27 March 2007 9 May 2005 4 May 2006 Includes the 1990 Christmas special
Complete Series 3 11 March 2008 8 August 2005 17 August 2006 Includes the 1991 Christmas special
Complete Series 4 11 March 2008 24 April 2006 7 March 2007 Includes the 1993 Christmas special
Complete Series 5 10 February 2009 21 August 2006 1 August 2007 Includes the 1994 & 1995 Christmas special
Complete Series 6 10 February 2009 16 October 2006 3 October 2007
Complete Series 1-6 8 September 2009 16 October 2006 6 March 2008 A 12-disc box set that includes the Christmas specials
Christmas Specials 8 September 2009 13 November 2006 6 November 2008 The 1996 and 1997 Christmas specials

References

  1. ^ One Foot in the Grave Series 6 DVD Commentary
  2. ^ a b BFI TV100, URL accessed June 8th, 2006
  3. ^ a b c d Lewisohn, Mark. "One Foot In The Grave". The former BBC Guide to Comedy. http://web.archive.org/web/20050417222957/www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/guide/articles/o/onefootinthegrav_7774990.shtml. Retrieved 2007-05-14. 
  4. ^ a b Wickham, Phil. "One Foot In The Grave (1990-2000)". BFI: ScreenOnline. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/579040/index.html. Retrieved 2007-05-14. 
  5. ^ Smith, Rupert (2000-11-21). "The bitter end: Last night's TV". The Guardian. 
  6. ^ a b "One Foot in the Grave". Series Producer Graham Mitchell; Director Julie Newing. Comedy Connections. BBC. 2007-01-12.
  7. ^ a b "The Beast in the Cage", One Foot in the Grave, Series 3, episode 4, wr. D. Renwick
  8. ^ "Timeless Time"
  9. ^ I Don't Believe It! The 'One Foot in the Grave' Story, BBC documentary, 2000
  10. ^ "I Don't Believe It!: The One Foot in the Grave story", documentary, BBC Worldwide 2005.
  11. ^ Location for series 2 to 6 50°45′00″N 01°41′38″W / 50.75°N 1.69389°W / 50.75; -1.69389
  12. ^ Did Victor put one foot in your garden? Bournemouth Echo, Wednesday 6th Jul 2005. accessed January 2009
  13. ^ "Victor's fans say it with flowers". Northern Echo. 23 November 2000.. http://archive.thenorthernecho.co.uk/2000/11/23/186162.html. Retrieved 28 January 2009. 
  14. ^ Sings Monty Python: Live In Concert Soundtrack CD
  15. ^ It is reprised in the fourth series episode "Warm Champagne"
  16. ^ List of Awards at IMDb, URL accessed June 8th, 2006
  17. ^ Britain's Best Sitcom top ten, URL accessed June 8th, 2006
  18. ^ Rowland Rivron's case at BBC Britain's Best Sitcom, URL accessed June 8th, 2006
  19. ^ One Foot in the Grave at the Museum of Broadcast article by Pam Logan, accessed June 8th, 2006
  20. ^ "Millionaire? cleared of ratings 'fix'". BBC News. 15 January 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1118212.stm. Retrieved 2007-01-28. 
  21. ^ "'Real-life Victor Meldrew' attacked neighbour with rake over honeysuckle row". The Daily Mail. 2008-01-15. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=508401&in_page_id=1770. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  22. ^ "The real Victor Meldrew would have had no time for this new social group". The Independent. 2002-08-28. http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/the-real-victor-meldrew-would-have-had-no-time-for-this-new-social-group-641160.html. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  23. ^ David Renwick (interviewed). (2004-01-10). Britain's Best Sitcom?. BBC Television. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0395381/. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  24. ^ "BBC Drama Faces: Richard Wilson". bbc.co.uk. http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/faces/richard_wilson.shtml. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  25. ^ Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews. Father Ted: The Complete Scripts. London: Boxtree. p. 298. ISBN 0752272357. 
  26. ^ "Visual Studio 6.0 Easter Egg". The Easter Egg Archive. 1999-07-25. http://www.eeggs.com/items/1047.html. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  • Webber, Richard The Complete One Foot In The Grave (2006) Orion publishers, ISBN 0752873571

External links








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