Steptoe And Son (BBC1, 1962-1965, 1967, 1970-1974)
This is one of the few sitcoms that I am familiar with that launched over six decades ago, and this still seems to be shown on TV regularly. Steptoe And Son was created and written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who were already regarded as some of the best British sitcom writers, and this success went on to enhance their reputation even further.
This was all about the father Albert, and his son Harold, trying to make a living in London, which was rather difficult sometimes, and you could say that he was the original rag ‘n’ bone man. Back in the days when it was possible to be innovative and do things that viewers really hadn’t seen before, Steptoe And Son managed to succeed in doing something rather new in two areas.
Firstly, the lead characters were played by actors who were more used to straight roles, so they didn’t bring an exaggerated comedy style as most might’ve, and there was also the opportunity to explore more darker areas than usual, such as Harold’s wish to move away and hope for something better in his life, even though he realises he is short of time and can’t put up with dirty Albert and his onions any more.
This led to a lot of memorable ideas and scenes, and the first run, which was in black and white, did well. Some of the early episodes were then recovered, and there was a lot of interest when they were going to be repeated on TV for the first time in years. The picture quality was rather terrible, but the comedy quality more than made up for this, and we should be grateful this still exists at all.
And then, after a gap of almost five years, there was a second wave of episodes, this time in colour, and these were arguably better received than the original run. Steptoe And Son managed to stand out in another way too. There was a film version made, which was considered to be rather good. And then there was a sequel, which was up to standard as well which was an achievement.
The films are repeated rather frequently, and somehow, despite however many times you’ve already seen them, you end up watching to the end yet again. In the 70s, there was also an American version called Sanford And Son, which ran for five years, but has never been shown in this country, which is a surprise. All I know about this is from the references in shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy.
There were eight series, and all of the episodes have been released on DVD. There were even stage tours, adverts, and a radio series, which pushed the idea as far as it could go. Long after the end, viewers have continued to be interested in the repeats, and the friendship between the two main actors, which has been explored in various documentaries as well.