Classic BBC sitcom Steptoe & Son, 50 years old today

Wednesday 6 June 2012, 13:51

Robert Seatter Robert Seatter

Harry H.Corbett (left) and Wilfrid Brambell playing the lead roles of Steptoe and Son.

Harry H.Corbett (left) and Wilfrid Brambell playing the lead roles of Steptoe and Son.

The dysfunctional family is a constant dramatic theme, from Greek classical theatre (where usually they end up dead) to Ayckbourn's comic assemblies in the family home and garden. TV took up the family drama with an idiosyncratic twist when it launched the father/son duo of Steptoe & Son half a century ago.

It began as a one off drama called 'The Offer', piloted in the launch pad for many great BBC comedies that was Comedy Playhouse. Written by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton, the duo was fresh from their triumph of Hancock's Half Hour. Never one to repeat themselves, they were sitting in a Shepherds Bush 'caff' eavesdropping on the conversation of local rag and bone men, and decided that there was the topic for their next comedy TV show. Apparently, they never quite expected the overwhelming hit they got.

Harry H. Corbett

Harry H. Corbett

The show is unusual in many ways. I remember watching it as a child of the 60s, and never being quite sure if I should laugh or cry. That uncertainty is part of its deliberate comic effect, I realise now.

Unusually, Steptoe & Son cast actors not comedians in its lead roles, eschewed gags and slapstick for gritty realism, and used real earthy language - almost to the limits of the BBC watershed - rather than comic hyperbole. 'You dirty old man' became the recognised catchphrase of the series, but it felt like real dirt not TV make up.

It's also of its time and eternal. Poor Harold's constant attempts to better himself -via literary erudition, classical music, amateur theatre - are always belittled by a sneer from father Albert who puts him right back in his 1950s working class. One episode, I remember, has father and son held hostage by a desperate prisoner on the run (Leonard Rossiter actually!). So desperate is Harold to escape his father that he begs the prisoner 'Take me with you'.

Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell on set filming Steptoe and Son.

Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell on set filming Steptoe and Son.

But no, they are bound together. That's the nature of their personal hell (other people, or in this case, family ties). Plus the show was so relentlessly popular - lasting on and off till 1974, spawning two feature films and a radio version, as well as various international versions (Albert & Herbert in Swedish) - that the two actors found it difficult to get back to the world of 'serious' drama they had come from.

Ironically, Wilfrid Brambell who played the old father actually outlived his on air son Harry H Corbett by three years, even though Brambell was 13 years older. Even at the end, there was no liberation for poor Harold.

Robert Seatter, Head of BBC History

Find about more BBC anniversaries on the History of the BBC website.


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Respected Friend

    Reconstruction of the inner man

    It is understandable that they hear from the pulpit polling agents of bad condition and appearance. And who could deny that it belongs there, but the question arises how it is done. One thing is certain: the word of God causes us to disclose the prophetic purpose and that variations are trying to break away from the communion of man with God. This disclosure has been entrusted to the Christian faithful. However, we must not ignore the word of Christ who shows us how it should do. Christ calls us to first move away, attending to the beam in your own eye so that we can notice the beam in the eye of the world. When you see us on a life filled with what what is preached, it is easy to recognize that the quality of life of the Christian proclamation brought into our lives. The above polling variety of factors, starting with the base of biblical readings, often focuses on the question of why people today are worse or less believe, calls the lukewarmness, secularization, relativism, etc. However, if we go a step further, we see that these phenomena do not take the word of God sharpness nor force breezes, which rests on feeble bones of our erroneous ways. It is necessary to recognize that the growing phenomenon - over the doomsayers who delight - expose the extent to many of our foundations, access and security merely an illusion, that they could and could survive only under the auspices of ignorance, authority and the rule of different sensibilities. In addition it is evident that the growing phenomenon leads to tremors and crumbling church community, that more resemble shipwrecked who caught some kind of rescue boards. What we, therefore, do? While it is important to tremble with a dedication prayer to God to get out into the open, to meet the man of today in order - true inspiration II. Vatican II - the joy and hope, grief and anguish of people today get echo in our lives. Maybe he should follow the lesson of fish in the summer heat has to go into depth. We must open the depths of God's word and kept her safety. Can you imagine Christianity without first chapter of Genesis? What would be the history of Europe that there was an awareness of literary genres in the Bible, especially when it comes to interpreting the Book of Genesis. Far we have come to explore the forces that are all descended from these first pages, and the question of their impact on world events. Looking at the biblical text, we remain fascinated by his accent: as soon as God spoke, it can be seen as the savior of man. Passion for the man, the quest that nothing can disturb, is woven deeply into the biblical principles of interpretation of man's situation in the world and God's saving enthusiasm toward sinful man. Therefore, it is important to note that the emphasis believers experience. The emphasis we outline the following: There is no such confusion and to not be penetrated by God's voice for human welfare. "Since Adam ate from the tree", the question arises: "Where are you?" This expresses God's care for man's position in the world of his own fault caused confusion. The first chapters of Genesis should not be read as a story or a dull report on past events. This is a necessary principle of literary acceptance and penetration Semitic opinions. Disorientation is recognized first by the loss of relationship with oneself. By moving away from God, destroying the image of God in himself, a man leaves his delusion that the creature can give what he has God-given - be the image of God. It begins as a drama of man violated God's image. The consequences are visible in a twisted relationship. The man had not opened his eyes, but he became blind to their position in the crown of creation of the world. Worth mentioning here that Paul - it is evident from Corinthians - By faith we understand ourselves in the inner man who is called to strengthen the image of God mentioned in it. In front of the biblical text, we should note that Jesus' words and works illuminate our lives and where we are directed. Pierces a response from them on our search? Moreover, it forces its way to our present moment. Without doubt we can say that the New Testament faith experience, deep knowledge that is inscribed precisely in Christ can taste God spoken by keeping the final conflict with the holding of Adam, or the behavior that is typical of people so often tempted man chooses evil. Jesus is keeping in the eyes of the environment was astounding. They say that out myself. His wish to restrain him. Obviously they were concerned about their position. On the other hand by scribes associated with Beelzebub. Astonishing is that the ones whose eyes are fixed on a daily basis in Scripture, the eyes of the heart do not recognize Jesus as the works of God's presence in their midst. Therefore we should not be surprising that this was one of the hardest set of Jesus statement, which is about blasphemes against the Holy Spirit where there is no forgiveness. This is certainly the emphasis on the dramatic consequences of rejecting God's love. Comes here and a striking emphasis on the exercise of God's will as the fundamental criterion on which to question the need to build and interpersonal relationships. The brother-sister relationships between people can be built if they inspire the will of God, and it is revealed in Christ's attitude toward people.


This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Is The Archers going to get 'darker and bigger'? No.

Wednesday 6 June 2012, 12:38

New trailer for a summer of events on BBC One

Wednesday 6 June 2012, 14:45

About this Blog

This blog explains what the BBC does and how it works. We link to some other blogs and online spaces inside and outside the corporation. The blog is edited by Jon Jacob.

Follow About the BBC on Twitter

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

External links about the BBC

Future Media roles to move to Salford (Ariel)

Wimbledon final watched by 10 million (Guardian)
"Novak Djokovic victory over Roger Federer takes 54% share on BBC1, but no match for Andy Murray’s win last year"

TV News celebrates its 60th birthday (Ariel)

Doctor Who: Frank Cottrell Boyce is a genius, says Steven Moffat (Digital Spy)
"BBC One has confirmed that Frank Cottrell Boyce will script an episode of Doctor Who."

Danger Mouse remake will see some male characters returning as females (Guardian)
"CBBC’s Cheryl Taylor promises show ‘truthful to the essence of Danger Mouse’ but with fresh ideas"

BBC appoints Matthew Postgate as chief technology officer (Guardian)
"Current controller of research and development was part of the management team that created iPlayer and built mobile services"

Radio 5 Live: Presenters Richard Bacon, Victoria Derbyshire and Shelagh Fogarty among names leaving BBC radio station (Mirror)

Doctor Who trailer: take a Deep Breath, Capaldi fans (Guardian)
"A teaser for the 'feature-length' first episode of the new Doctor Who series has materialised, complete with Peter Capaldi, the Tardis in flames and a hint of menace"

Teenagers take over Scottish Thought for the Day (Ariel)

BBC increases digital radio coverage with Northern transmitters (Prolific North)

BBC to show off Commonwealth Games in 4K UHD (TechRadar)
"first ever event to be produced entirely over IP/internet networks - which the BBC is calling a 'major broadcasting milestone'"

BBC3 wins big at 2014 Broadcast Digital Awards (Broadcast)

Glastonbury 2014: how to watch it on TV (Daily Telegraph)
"Missed out on Glastonbury Festival tickets this year? Follow all the action from home using our BBC TV and Radio guide."

BBC experiments with virtual reality (Ariel)

BBC stages first world war rap battle (Guardian)

UK media in one-minute silence protest over jailing of al-Jazeera journalists (Guardian)
"Hundreds of reporters across BBC and other media organisations speak out against Egyptian government’s verdict"

Licence fee should be charged to iPlayer users, says acting chair of BBC Trust (Guardian)
"Diane Coyle, acting chair of the BBC Trust, says the BBC is 'less independent than it needs to be'"

Acting BBC Trust chair to apply to become Lord Patten’s replacement (Guardian)

BBC announces new comedy pilots (Chortle)
"the Comedy Feeds show serious commitment to finding the next best writers, directors and faces of British comedy"

After 25 years at the helm Jeremy Paxman presents his final Newsnight (Telegraph) 
"During his tenure, the 63-year-old earned a reputation as one of the most fearless and feared interviewers"

Sherlock and Downton Abbey are as good as Breaking Bad and Mad Men, says BBC boss (Independent)

Does Mary Berry Cooks mark a breakthrough for older women on TV?Does Mary Berry Cooks mark a breakthrough for older women on TV? (Guardian)"What results is an unapologetically old-fashioned TV show with a presenter who makes no attempt to disguise when she was born"

Last updated Tuesday 8 July 2014

Blogs from across the BBC

Selected by the About the BBC Blog team.

The Events - Q&A with writer David Greig [Writersroom]
Cooking with Cat: banana yoghurt ice lollies and savoury pastry tart [CBeebies Grown Ups]
Five ways local media can help itself #localjournalism [Academy]
Responsive design in data and tables [Internet]
Preview Tactics [Kermode Uncut]

Connected Red Button: a first look at the new service on Smart TVs [Internet]