Steptoe and Son

Steptoe and Son

infobox television
show_name = Steptoe and Son

caption = Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell as the leading characters. © BBC
format = Sitcom
runtime = 30– 45 minutes
creator = Alan Simpson
Ray Galton
starring = Harry H. Corbett
Wilfrid Brambell
country = United Kingdom
network = BBC1
first_aired = 1962 - 1965
1970 - 1974
num_movies = 2
num_episodes = 57
num_series = 8
related = "The Curse of Steptoe"
list_episodes= List of Steptoe and Son episodes|

"Steptoe and Son" is a British sitcom written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson about two rag and bone men living in Oil Drum Lane, a fictional street in Shepherd's Bush, London. Four series were broadcast on the BBC from 1962 to 1965, followed by a second run from 1970 to 1974. Its theme tune, "Old Ned", was composed by Ron Grainer. In a 2004 BBC poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom" of all time, "Steptoe and Son" was voted 15th. ["Best comedy series" Retrieved 24/09/07]


The show had its roots in a 1962 episode of "Galton & Simpson's Comedy Playhouse". Galton and Simpson had split from Tony Hancock, for whom they had written "Hancock's Half Hour", and had agreed to write a series of six comedy shows for the BBC. The fourth in the series, "The Offer", was born both out of writer's block and budgetary constraints. Earlier shows in the series had cost more than expected, and so Galton and Simpson decided to write a two-hander set in one room.

Although Galton and Simpson had initially expected a different pilot from the series to have been commissioned ("Clicquot Et Fils" starring Eric Sykes as a French undertaker), they were reportedly overwhelmed by the reaction to "The Offer", and later that year, the first of eight series was commissioned, the first four of which were made in black and white. Each series comprised five to eight half-hour episodes, and the last was transmitted in 1974. At the peak of the series' popularity, it commanded viewing figures of some 28 million per episode. In addition, the early 1970s saw two feature films, two 45-minute Christmas specials and a number of radio shows based on the TV scripts. In 2005, the play "Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane", written by Ray Galton and John Antrobus, brought the storyline to a close.

The series was one of the first UK situation comedy programmes to employ actors rather than comedians in the principal roles. Galton and Simpson had decided themselves that they wanted to try to write for performers who "didn't count their laughs".

The series' title music is "Old Ned" by Ron Grainer, played over a sequence of the men out with their horse, Hercules. "Steptoe and Son" is the Steptoes' trading name, but as established in the first episode, the "Son" is not Harold but Albert: the name dates from when he and "his" father — Mister Steptoe — worked the rounds.


The father, Albert Steptoe (portrayed by Wilfrid Brambell), is lazy, stubborn, narrow-minded, foul-mouthed, and has revolting personal habits. Albert is content with his place in the world, utterly unpretentious and downright cynical. He can be extremely vindictive and does everything he can to prevent Harold, his son, improving himself — especially if it means him leaving home.

Harold (played by Harry H. Corbett) is also obstinate, though prone to moments of enthusiasm about an idea. He wants to move up in the world — most of all to escape from the family home and his stifling relationship with his father. [ [ The tragedy of Harold's inability to escape the clutches of his father] . Retrieved 25/09/07] Harold has aspirations. He likes to see his business as being in antiques rather than junk. He is a dreamer and idealist. Politically, Harold is a Labour supporter who is appalled at his father's reactionary views. He aims to improve his mind and his social circle but always fails, often thanks to Albert's deliberate put-downs or sabotage. Harold's exasperation and disgust at his father's behaviour often results in his repeating the catchphrase "You dirty old man." [ [ Famous catchphrase, "You dirty old man"] . Retrieved 25/09/07]


The episodes often revolve around (sometimes violent) disagreements between the two men, Harold's attempts to bed women and momentary interest over things found on his round. As with many of the best examples of British comedy, much of the humour derives from the pathos of the protagonists' situation, especially Harold's continually-thwarted (usually by the elder Steptoe) attempts to "better himself" and the unresolvable love/hate relationship that exists between the pair.

A common theme is that Albert almost always comes out on top. Despite his lack of effort Albert routinely and easily proves himself superior to his son whenever they come into competition, such as in their frequent game-playing, e.g., the Scrabble and badminton games from the 1972 series. Harold takes them desperately seriously and sees them as symbols of his desire to improve himself, but they come to nothing every time. His father's success is partly down to superior talent but aided by cynical gamesmanship and undermining of his son's confidence. In addition, Albert habitually has better judgement than his son, who blunders into all sorts of con-tricks and blind alleys as a result of his unrealistic, straw-clutching ideas. Occasionally the tables are turned, but overall the old man is the winner, albeit in a graceless fashion.

Harold is infuriated by these persistent frustrations and defeats, even going to the extent in "Divided We Stand" (1972) of partitioning the house in two so he doesn't have to share with his selfish, uncultured and negative father. Predictably, his plan ends in failure and ultimately he can see no way out. However, for all the bitterness there is an essential bond between the pair. Deep down, Albert seems to love his son and his behaviour is perhaps a selfish but misguided way of holding on to him so he doesn't have to face life alone. When the crunch comes, Harold sticks by his father. This protective bond is much in evidence in "The Seven Steptoerai" (1974) when they are menaced by a local gangster running a protection racket. Typically though, it is Albert who gets them ingeniously out of a very hazardous predicament.


A 2002 Channel 4 television documentary, "When Steptoe Met Son", told the story of how Brambell and Corbett were like chalk and cheese — similar to their on-screen characters. Corbett felt he had a promising career as a serious actor, but was trapped by his role as Harold and forced to keep returning to the series after typecasting limited his choice of work. Brambell was in reality homosexual, something that in the 1960s was still frowned upon and partly illegal, and thus driven underground. The documentary went on to describe an ill-fated final tour of Australia, during which the already strained relationship between Corbett and Brambell finally broke down for good. It therefore revealed that there were in fact a great many parallels between the lives of the two actors and those of the characters that they portrayed. [ [,11710,776815,00.html "The Guardian"] : feature on the Channel 4 documentary] However, both of the main actors used voices considerably different from their own. Wilfrid Brambell — despite being Irish — spoke with a prestige Received Pronunciation English accent. Wilfrid Brambell was aged only 49 when he accepted the role of Albert; he was only 13 years older than Corbett. For his portrayal, he acquired a second set of 'rotten' dentures to accentuate his character's poor attitude to hygiene.


During the time of its production in the 1960s and 1970s, "Steptoe and Son" marked itself out as radical compared to the great majority of sitcoms. This was an age when the predominant sources of laughter were farce, coincidence, slapstick and innuendo. However "Steptoe and Son" brought greater social realism. Its characters were not only working class but demonstrably poor. The earthy language and slang used were in marked contrast to the refined voices heard on most television of the time. Social issues and debates were routinely portrayed, woven into the humour. The programme did not abandon the more traditional sources of comedy but used them in small doses. The characters, and their intense and difficult relationship, highlighted deeper qualities of writing and performance than comedy fans were used to.


"Steptoe and Son" is rare among 1960s BBC television programmes in that every episode survives for posterity, despite the mass wiping of BBC archive holdings between 1972 and 1978. However, all the instalments from the first 1970 series and all but two from the second that were originally made in colour have only survived in the form of black and white recordings made off-air by Galton and Simpson themselves, using a half-inch reel-to-reel video recorder — a forerunner of the video cassette recorder.

The BBC has released ten DVDs of the series to date — the first two being compilations of the "best" colour episodes, and the other eight containing the complete eight series, respectively. Two Christmas specials are also available on DVD, as are two feature films: "Steptoe and Son", and "Steptoe and Son Ride Again". A boxed set of Series 1–8 and the Christmas specials was released on Region 2 DVD by 2entertain on 29 October 2007.


The show was remade in the United States as "Sanford and Son", which was a top-rated series that ran for five years (1972–1977) on the NBC network. [ [,,1816814,00.html British comedy remakes that aim to bring a smile to the US |] ]

A Swedish remake with Sten-Åke Cederhök and Tomas von Brömssen was called "Albert and Herbert", the pair living at Skolgatan 15, an address in a working-class neighbourhood of Haga, Gothenburg.Fact|date=June 2008

In the Netherlands there were also seventeen episodes of a Dutch version called "Stiefbeen en Zoon".Fact|date=June 2008

In Portugal there was a remake called Camilo & Filho Lda., starring famous Portuguese comedian Camilo de Oliveira, with Nuno Melo as his son.Fact|date=June 2008

In South Africa a radio play version was titled Snethersthwaite and Son and was additionally a spin off of the radio play The Men from the Ministry.Fact|date=June 2008

"Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane"

In October 2005, Ray Galton and John Antrobus premiered their play, "Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane", at the Theatre Royal, York. It then went on tour across the country. It was set in the present day and related the events that led to Harold killing his father, and their eventual meeting thirty years later, with Albert appearing as a ghost. By the end, it is clearly established that this is very much a conclusion to the Steptoe saga. It was not the first time this idea had been considered. When Wilfrid Brambell left the UK after the third series to pursue an eventually unsuccessful Broadway musical career, Galton and Simpson toyed with the concept of killing Albert off. This was in order to continue the show without having to wait for the actor to return. The character would have been replaced with Harold's illegitimate son, Arthur (thought to be played by child actor David Hemmings). This idea was detested by Corbett, who thought it ridiculous, though the 2008 drama "The Curse of Steptoe" suggests that he was delighted with the concept, since assuming the role of father would allow the character of Harold some development and growth, which he felt was long overdue. [ [,,1716000,00.html The Guardian, "Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane"] accessed 29/03/08]

"The Curse of Steptoe"

The single, hour-long drama "The Curse of Steptoe" was broadcast on BBC Four on 19 March 2008; it examines the fractured relationship between Corbett and Brambell and the difficulties they had with being typecast. Jason Isaacs plays Harry H. Corbett and Phil Davis portrays Wilfrid Brambell. The film was part of a series looking at British TV comedians and personalities, including Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Hughie Green, and followed the success of BBC Four's award winning 2006 play "", starring Michael Sheen as the eponymous star Kenneth Williams. [ [ BBC Press Office: BBC Four Winter/Spring 2008] ] The writer, Brian Fillis, had also written "Fear of Fanny", starring Julia Davis as television chef Fanny Cradock.

DVD releases

*The first series with all six episodes was released in 2004 followed by the second series in 2005 and the third, fourth and fifth in 2006. Series 6, 7 and 8 were released in 2007 alongside the Christmas specials.
*The two Steptoe movies were released in 2006.
*The complete boxed set containing all eight series and two Christmas specials was released in October 2007.

In Australia, Season 1 was released in 2004, Season 2 and Season 3 in 2006, Season 4 and Season 5 in 2007, Season 6 in 2008. Season 7 is expected to be released in 2008.

In popular culture

*When the Sex Pistols and their entourage, the Bromley Contingent, made their infamous last-minute appearance on Thames Television's "Today" programme on 1 December 1976, Pistols guitarist Steve Jones responded to the host, Bill Grundy (particularly, Grundy's attempt to pick up Siouxsie Sioux), with the comic line "You dirty old man!"
*Wilfrid Brambell appeared in The Beatles' 1964 film, "A Hard Day's Night", playing the role of Paul McCartney's scalliwag grandfather. The Beatles apparently lobbied to get Brambell since they were fans of "Steptoe and Son". As counterpoint to the younger Steptoe's catchphrase ("You dirty old man") the repeated phrase used to describe Paul's grandfather in the film was "He's very clean".
*In the film "Carry On Screaming" (in which Harry H. Corbett plays the main character) the "Steptoe and Son" theme is played as Corbett's character pulls up to a store in a horse and cart.
*In the English translation of the Asterix book "Asterix and the Great Crossing", Herendthelesson's second in command for his trip to America was called Steptohanson.
*The theme tune was used as the intro song to Babyshambles' 2007 Tour.
*When original Pink Floyd frontman, Syd Barrett, came up with the riff to "Interstellar Overdrive", the group's bassist, Roger Waters, told him it reminded him of the theme to "Steptoe and Son".
*Elton John took his middle name, Hercules, from the Steptoes' horse.


External links

*|id=comedy/guide/articles/s/steptoeandson_7776035.shtml|title="Steptoe and Son" Comedy Guide
* [ "Steptoe and Son" at British Film Institute Screen Online]
* [ "Steptoe and Son" at The British Sitcom Guide]
* [ "The Original Steptoe & Son Website"]
* [ "Steptoe and Son" - Television series at IMDb]
* [ "Steptoe and Son" - Feature film at IMDb]
* [ "Steptoe and Son" at]
* [ Steptoe & Son Appreciation Society Website]
* [ "Steptoe and Son" fansite]
* [ Steptoe and Son page]
* [ Steptoe Fansite]


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