Steptoe and Son
Steptoe and Son is a British sitcom written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson about a father-and-son rag-and-bone business. They live at Oil Drum Lane, a fictional street in Shepherd's Bush, London. Four series were broadcast by the BBC from 1962–65, followed by a second run from 1970-74. The theme tune, "Old Ned", was composed by Ron Grainer. The series was voted 15th in a 2004 poll by the BBC to find Britain's Best Sitcom. It was remade in the United States as Sanford and Son, in Sweden as Albert & Herbert, in the Netherlands as Stiefbeen en zoon, in Portugal as Camilo & Filho, and in South Africa as Snetherswaite and Son. In 1972, a film adaptation of the series, Steptoe and Son, was released in cinemas, followed by a sequel Steptoe and Son Ride Again in 1973.
|Steptoe and Son|
|Created by||Ray Galton and Alan Simpson|
|Starring||Harry H. Corbett|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||8|
|No. of episodes||57 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||30–45 minutes|
|Distributor||BBC Worldwide |
ABC (Australia, home video)
|Original network||BBC 1|
|Picture format||405-line Black-and-white (1962–65) |
625-line Black-and-white (1970)
625-line PAL (1970–74)
1080i HDTV (2016)
Surround sound 5.1(2016)
|Original release||Original run:|
4 January 1962 –
26 December 1974
15 September 2016
|Related shows||Steptoe and Son (1972)|
Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973)
When Steptoe Met Son (2002)
The Curse of Steptoe (2008)
The series focused on the inter-generational conflict of father and son. Albert Steptoe, a "dirty old man", is an elderly rag-and-bone man, set in his grimy and grasping ways. By contrast, his 37-year-old son Harold is filled with social aspirations, not to say pretensions. The show contained elements of drama and tragedy, as Harold was continually prevented from achieving his ambitions. To this end, the show was unusual at the time for casting actors rather than comedians in its lead roles, although both actors were drawn into more comedic roles as a consequence.
In 2000, the show was ranked #44 on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute. In a 2001 Channel 4 poll Albert was ranked 39th on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.
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 in 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.
Albert almost always comes out on top, and routinely and effortlessly proves himself easily superior to his son whenever they compete, e.g. in their frequent game-playing, such as snooker played into the night and pouring rain in 1970 and the Scrabble and badminton games in the 1972 series. Harold takes them desperately seriously and sees them as symbols of his desire to improve himself, but his efforts come to nothing every time. His father's success is partly down to superior talent but is 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 that he does not 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 does not 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.
The 1974 Christmas special ended the run and seems Harold once again is on the bad end of poor planning, when he books a Christmas holiday abroad, but then finds his passport is out of date. His father must go alone, and Harold, tearfully it seems, waves him off to enjoy a potential good time without him. Harold trudges away, only to jump in a car with a woman to drive off on his own holiday, revealing that he had engineered the whole situation from the beginning. A victory, but only a temporary one, the viewers know that once their holidays end they will return to the familiar status quo once more.
The two main characters in the show are Albert Steptoe (Wilfrid Brambell) and Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett). They have a large extended family who appear occasionally including many of Albert's brothers and sisters: Auntie May (Rose Hill), Uncle Herbert (James Bulloch), Auntie Ada (Rita Webb), Auntie Freda Bonclark (also played by Rita Webb), and Auntie Minnie (Mollie Sugden).
The show had its roots in a 1962 episode of Galton & Simpson's Comedy Playhouse. Galton and Simpson's association with comedian Tony Hancock, for whom they had written Hancock's Half Hour, had ended and they had agreed to a proposal from the BBC to write a series of 10 comedy shows. 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, so the writers decided to write a two-hander set in one room. The idea of two brothers was considered but father and son worked best. Ronald Fraser was second choice for Harold, which would have produced a totally different character.
Galton and Simpson were not aiming to make a pilot for a series, having worked for seven years with Hancock. However, Tom Sloan, the BBC's head of comedy, told them during rehearsals that "The Offer" was a definite series pilot: he saw that the Steptoe idea had potential, as did the audience of that edition of Comedy Playhouse. Galton and Simpson were reportedly overwhelmed by this reaction, and the first of what became eight series was commissioned, the first four of which were transmitted between 1962 and 1965. The last four series were broadcast between 1970 and 1974, in colour. At the peak of the series' popularity, it received viewing figures of some 28,000,000 viewers per episode. In addition, the early 1970s saw two feature films, two 46-minute Christmas specials. 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 that they wanted to try to write for performers who "didn't count their laughs".
Both of the main actors used voices considerably different from their own. Brambell, despite being Irish, spoke with a received pronunciation English accent, as did Corbett. Brambell was aged 49 when he accepted the role of Albert, 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.
The series' title music, "Old Ned", won its composer Ron Grainer his second successive Ivor Novello award. The series had no standard set of opening titles but the opening sequences would often feature the Steptoe's horse, Hercules. "Steptoe and Son" is the Steptoes' trading name, but as established in the first episode, the "Son" is not Harold as initially believed, but Albert. The name dates from when he and his mother—Mrs. Steptoe—worked the rounds. The first series has the pair as very rough looking and often dirty and wearing ragged clothes, but they quickly "tidied up" for later series.
Outside filming of the Steptoe's yard took place at a car breakers' yard in Norland Gardens, London W11, then changing to Stable Way, Latimer Road, for the later series. Both sites have subsequently been redeveloped with no evidence now remaining of the iconic entrance gates through which the horse and cart were frequently driven.
The pilot episode and the first four series which aired from 1962–1965 were recorded in the BBC Lime Grove Studios in London. When the show returned in 1970 after a four-year hiatus, the programme was made in the BBC Television Centre studios in west London, as from 1970 the show was recorded in colour.
During its production in the 1960s and 1970s, Steptoe and Son marked itself out as radical compared to most UK sitcoms. This was an age when the predominant sources of laughter in British comedy 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: e.g., in "Back in Fashion", Harold warns Albert that when the models arrive, "if you feels like a D'Oyly Carte (rhyming slang for 'fart'), you goes outside." 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, displayed 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 has survived, 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 only survive in the form of black and white domestic videotape recordings. Copies were made from the master tapes for the writers by an engineer at the BBC using a Shibaden SV-700 half-inch reel-to-reel b/w video recorder—a forerunner of the video cassette recorder. In 2008, the first reel of a b/w telerecording of the Series 5 episode "A Winter's Tale" (lasting approximately 15 minutes) was returned to the BBC; this is the only telerecording of a colour Steptoe and Son episode known to still exist.
The original 2" Quad videotapes of all the episodes of the original 1962–65 series were wiped in the late-1960s. However, these episodes mostly survive on film transfers of the original videotapes as 16mm black and white telerecordings. The exception being "My Old Man's a Tory" which only exists as an optical transfer made from a domestic 405 line reel to reel videotape obtained from Galton and Simpson.
The BBC has released 10 DVDs of the series—each of the eight series, and two compilations entitled "The Very Best of Steptoe and Son" volumes 1 and 2. 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 two Christmas specials was released on Region 2 DVD by 2entertain on 29 October 2007.
- In 1962, Brambell and Corbett appeared as Steptoe and Son in a short sketch written by Galton and Simpson on the BBC's annual Christmas Night with the Stars programme, broadcast on 25 December 1962. There are no known recordings.
- In 1963, they appeared on the ITV Royal Variety Performance in a sketch written by Galton and Simpson featuring Steptoe and Son totting outside Buckingham Palace, the telerecording of the live show, broadcast on 10 November 1963, still exists. The audio of the sketch was also released on a 7-inch single.
- On 31 December 1963 the BBC broadcast an edition of It's a Square World which featured a cameo by Wilfrid Brambell as Albert Steptoe witnessing the launch of BBC TV Centre into space. The sketch was included as an extra on the special edition DVD release of Doctor Who: The Aztecs
- In 1966, they appeared on the BBC series The Ken Dodd Show in another live on stage sketch written by Galton and Simpson featuring Steptoe and Son on Blackpool beach, with Ken Dodd in the last two minutes as a strange golf professional. A telerecording of the show, broadcast on 24 July 1966, survives.
- In 1967, they appeared in character in a short filmed sequence for the BBC's annual Christmas Night with the Stars programme. The black and white film sequence featuring Steptoe and Son, broadcast on 25 December 1967, still exists.
- In 1978, they recorded a Radio 2 sketch, referred to by fans as "Scotch on the Rocks", produced especially for a show titled Good Luck Scotland. This was again written by Galton and Simpson and had a basic premise of Albert wishing to go to Argentina to watch the Scottish football team play in the 1978 World Cup as the "Good Luck Scotland" title of the programme referred to Scotland's chances of winning the World Cup that year.
In 1977, Brambell and Corbett appeared in character for two television ads for Ajax cleaning products, recorded during their tour of Australia. In 1981, their final ever appearance together was in a UK advert for Kenco Coffee.
In other mediaEdit
A number of LPs and EPs featuring TV soundtracks have been released.
- Steptoe and Son. Hodder & Stoughton. 1964.
- Steptoe and Son at the Palace. Hodder & Stoughton. 1966.
In 2002 BBC Books published Steptoe and Son by Galton, Simpson and Rosswhich comprehensively covered the television series, the radio series, films, Royal Variety Shows, commercials and the Sanford & Son spin-off.
- United States: In 1965 Joseph E. Levine produced a pilot based on The Offer for the American market with Galton and Simpson. Starring Lee Tracy as Albert and Aldo Ray as Harold, it was unscreened, and did not lead to a series. The pilot was released on DVD in the UK in 2018. The concept was later re-worked as Sanford and Son, a top-rated series that ran for five years (1972–77) on the NBC network.
- Sweden; Sten-Åke Cederhök and Tomas von Brömssen starred in Albert & Herbert. The pair lived at Skolgatan 15, an address in a working-class neighbourhood of Haga, Gothenburg.
- The Netherlands; Stiefbeen en Zoon (re-translation; Stepbone and Son) ran for thirty three episodes. It was awarded the 1964 Golden Televizier Ring.
- Norway; The 1975 Norwegian film, Skraphandlerne, starred Leif Juster and Tom Tellefsen. The names of the characters were Albert and Herbert, the names of the characters in the Swedish remake.
- Portugal; Camilo & Filho Lda., starring famous Portuguese comedian Camilo de Oliveira, with Nuno Melo as his son.
- South Africa: Broadcast on the South African Broadcasting Corporation's commercial radio station Springbok Radio (now closed down) as "Snetherswaite and Son" in 1980. The run of 56 episodes was produced in Durban by veteran radio comedy producer Tom Meehan. It starred Tommy Read as Albert and Brian Squires as Harold. The name Steptoe was changed to Snetherswaite for the South African series, a recurring character Tommy Read played in the SABC version of "The Men from the Ministry" called Humbert Snetherswaite.
Steptoe and SonEdit
In 1972 a film version was released of the show proving highly popular. This first film, also called Steptoe and Son focuses on Harold getting married but still not being able to get away from his father.
Steptoe and Son Ride AgainEdit
Due to popular demand another film, Steptoe and Son Ride Again, was released in 1973.
When Steptoe Met SonEdit
The programme reveals how Brambell and Corbett were highly dissimilar 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, meanwhile, was a homosexual, something that in the 1960s was still frowned upon and, until the Sexual Offences Act 1967, illegal and was 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.
The Curse of SteptoeEdit
The Curse of Steptoe is a television play which was first broadcast on 19 March 2008 on BBC Four as part of a season of dramas about television personalities. It stars Jason Isaacs as Harry H. Corbett and Phil Davis as Wilfrid Brambell. The drama is based upon the actors' on-and-off-screen relationship during the making of the BBC sitcom Steptoe and Son, and is based on interviews with colleagues, friends and family of the actors, and the Steptoe writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.
The screenplay was written by Brian Fillis, also responsible for the similarly themed 2006 drama Fear of Fanny, which is about television personality Fanny Cradock off-screen. The 66-minute film is directed by Michael Samuels and produced by Ben Bickerton.
Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum LaneEdit
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 leading to Harold killing his father and their eventual meeting 30 years later, Albert then 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 off' Albert in order to continue the show without having to await Brambell's return. The character would have been replaced with Harold's illegitimate son, Arthur (a part thought to be intended for actor David Hemmings). This idea was detested by Corbett, who thought it ridiculous, although the 2008 drama The Curse of Steptoe depicts Corbett as being delighted with the concept, since assuming the role of father would allow Harold's character some development and growth, which he felt was long overdue.
Steptoe and SonEdit
In March 2011 the Engine Shed Theatre Company performed three episodes of the iconic series live on stage at the Capitol Theatre, Horsham. Jack Lane played Albert Steptoe and Michael Simmonds played Harold. The three episodes performed by the company were: Men Of Letters, Robbery With Violence and Seance in a Wet Rag and Bone Yard. Engine Shed went on to adapt and perform the two Christmas Specials later that year.
Many of the original TV episodes of Steptoe and Son have now been officially adapted to the stage by the original writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, with David Pibworth and are available for production on www.classiccomedyscripts.co.uk
Steptoe and Son by KneehighEdit
Performed in 2012 and 2013 by Kneehigh Theatre, Steptoe and Son was adapted from four of the show's original scripts. The production was designed to highlight the Beckettian nature of Albert and Harold's situation, focusing on themes of over-reliance and being trapped within social class. The production toured the UK and received positive reviews from the Financial Times and three stars from The Guardian's Lynn Gardner.
- 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 films were released in 2006.
- The complete boxed set containing all eight series and two Christmas specials was released in October 2007. In October 2011 the boxset was re released with new packaging.
In Australia, Season 1 was released in 2004, Season 2 and Season 3 in 2006, Season 4 and Season 5 in 2007, Season 6 and Season 7 in 2008 and Season 8 in 2009.
|DVD Title||Disc No.||Year||Ep. No.||DVD release||Notes|
|Region 2||Region 4|
|Complete Series 1||1||1962||6||13 September 2004||10 November 2004||Includes the pilot|
|Complete Series 2||1||1963||7||8 August 2005||2 March 2006||—|
|Complete Series 3||1||1964||7||13 February 2006||6 July 2006||—|
|Complete Series 4||2||1965||7||15 May 2006||7 March 2007||—|
|Complete Series 5||2||1970||7||24 July 2006||1 August 2007||—|
|Complete Series 6||2||1970||8||8 January 2007||5 March 2008||—|
|Complete Series 7||2||1972||7||26 March 2007||7 August 2008||—|
|Complete Series 8||1||1974||6||14 May 2007||3 March 2009||—|
|The Christmas Specials||1||1973–74||2||29 October 2007||6 November 2008||Includes the 1973 and 1974 specials|
|Complete Series 1–8||13||1962–74||57||29 October 2007||1 October 2009||Includes the pilot and the 1973 and 1974 specials|
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- "Official Site". kneehigh.co.uk. 30 July 2014. Retrieved 30 July 2014.