Striking a vividly hilarious blow for the cast-aside and unwillingly disenfranchised elder section of British society for the first time on television screens in 1990, writer and creator David Renwick's BBC1 situation comedy, One Foot In The Grave, and especially it's outrageously intolerant central character of Victor Meldrew, quickly and effortlessly ranted and raved its way into the position of a genuine latter-day comedy classic.
Memorably portrayed by the highly regarded Scottish character actor Richard Wilson, Victor Meldrew's at times almost insanely surreal battle against enforced retirement and the untold tiny daily inequalities of life for the members of the older generation, gave rise to a plethora of perfectly observed episodes of comedic quality, which nevertheless still managed to hit home a number of wryly observed perceptive points about everything from life, love, sex and death, played out against a middle class suburban backdrop which was instantly recognisable to the entire viewing nation.
As important as the carefully crafted, polished professionalism of Renwick's scripts undoubtedly were, the series greatest strength was drawn from the perfectly pitched depth and believability of the central core relationship between the ever enraged Victor and his gentle, long suffering wife Margaret, as personified by Wilson and as his more than equally well matched foil, the ever reliable, talented and personable Annette Crosbie. Unceremoniously retired from his job as a security guard (he was replaced by an electronic black box), amateur ventriloquist Meldrew was faced with little prospect of finding another job, and therefore forced into early retirement. In 1992 the Meldrew's moved to a new housing estate in Bournemouth, where Victor wasted no time in alienating himself with next door neighbour Patrick (Angus Deayton), and his wife Pippa (Janine Duvitski). On the other side lived the cheerful, but terminally boring Nick Swainey (Owen Brenman) and his invalid mother. Another frequent visitor to the Meldrew household was Margaret's friend Jean Warboys (Doreen Mantle).
Over the course of the serie's decade long run, viewers were treated to an almost unending barrage of quick fire, perfectly executed sight gags, running jokes and sometimes almost painfully emotional moments, which elevated the series into the rarefied upper echelons of high class comedy.
The character of Victor and his never-ending, but ultimately futile fight against being cast on to the barren scrap heap of retirement, made Richard Wilson a national comedy icon, who's place in the British consciousness will endure for generations to come. While his embattled, incredulous catch-phrase of "I don't believe it!!!" now holds a much-loved place in the everyday vocabulary of untold numbers of people across the nation.
On the evening of Monday November 20th, 2000, writer Renwick finally called time on the on-going frustration which was his most enduring creation's everyday life, and invited the Grim Reaper to ease Victor's burden by relieving him of his life via a hit-and-run motor accident. Related entirely in flashback, the perfectly played and expertly written finale was an emotionally charged, sadness and regret filled comedy of blackness with a wonderfully dark and morally ambiguous ending. Although the series has reached the end of its original life span, the comedic memory of Victor Meldrew's acerbic hilarity will, thankfully, continue to be a shining beacon of wonderfully crafted comedy genius for as long as viewers continue to appreciate truly creative situation comedy.
The theme song for the series was co-written and sung by former 'Python,' Eric Idle.
The format was sold to the USA and remade with Bill Cosby in the lead.
The last episode in the UK coincided with the first ever British millionaire winner on the quiz show 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?' which was broadcast at exactly the same time. The story of the winner had been printed in the national press that same morning, prompting the BBC to accuse "Millionaire" makers, Celador, of 'dirty tricks' amongst other things. "Millionaire" had 13 million viewers whilst "One Foot" had 10 million.
The day after the last episode was screened, fans of the series began laying flowers outside Shawford Railway Station in Hampshire, where the scene of Victor being run over was filmed.
Published on January 15th, 2019. Written by SRH (2000) for Television Heaven.