The Story Of Steptoe And Son
Taking the original post and adding some great new material, we hope Steptoe fans will enjoy this.
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. Eight series were produced by the BBC in two blocks from 1962 to 1965, followed by a second run from 1970 to 1974, for this run it was broadcast in colour, somthing the writers were not sure aboutas it deflected from the bleakness and greys that fitted so well into the background.
Steptoe was so different to any sitcoms that had gone before or at the time, even today it stands away from the normal set up of a traditionsl sitcom. Where as other comedies revolved around interfering mothers-in-law and the sudden failure of the hero’s braces the moment his boss appeared, Steptoe and Son was different in that it focussed on the relationship between a Father and Son who not only have to live together, but work together.
The comedy came from the the fact that the characters were complete opposites of each other Harold is the 40 year old son with aspirations of better things in life, without his Father, despite this he sees himself as working class and is a staunch supporter of the Labour Party. At the other end of the scale we have Albert, the Father, set in his ways, not particular over hygene (an element that presents great comic effect in many episodes). Albert sees himself as the Steptoe of Steptoe and Son (in actual fact The Steptoe and Son refers to his Father and him) and as such sees himself as management and as such he feels that he should lend his political support to the Conservative Party, again in complete contrast to Harold. To rub salt into Harold’s wounds everything he tries the old man either pulls him back or is better at it than he is nowhere is this more evdident than the episode Loathe story. First Albert beats Harold at badminton in the yard, then later in the story manages to thwarte his chances with an upmarket girlfriend, to whom he has become engaged and whose Mother is insistent on meeting Harold’s family.
During the early series the characters look very rougth to highlight their occupation, but by later series they have been tidied up.
As Harold puts it in Divided We Stand any ideas he has “ideas for the business, ideas for the ‘ouse, you’re against it” and so through 8 series and 57 episodes they argue sparking laughter off each other like flint off lead.
So How Did It Come About ?
Writers Ray Galton and Simpson had had great success writing for Tony Hancock, however in 1961 Hancock parted company from both the BBC and his writers. Keen to keep the two writers, then head of BBC Comedy, Tom Sloan comissioned a series of six one off comedies under the banner “Galton and Simpson’s Comedy playhouse”. After writing the first five and the realisation that they had cost more to produce than expected, the two writers found themselves with writer’s block. The idea came to them to write a two hander set in one room, they considerd the idea of the two charaters being brothers, but decided that the idea of Father and Son worked best. So was born the finished product “The Offer”. Having just finished a successful seven year run with Hancock neither of the two writers were loking to write another series.
Tom Sloan had other ideas, he told the two writers 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 later that year, the first of eight series was commissioned.
In a break with tradition the lead parts were played by two highly talented Shakesperian actors, in fact Harry H. Corbett was perceived as the English Marlon Brando in his early career. Wilfrid Brambell was an Irish actor who despite his age had gained a reputation for playing old men, so successful was he that he hardly ever stopped working throughout his career.
Audience Reaction, Spin Offs And The Famous Curse ?
Steptoe and Son was a huge hit, at it’s peak it reguarly drew audiences of over 20 million. It produced a Radio series and two feature films. The series was sold to USA where it was renamed Sanford And Son with American actors playing the parts, this ran 1972 to 1977.
It is often reported that Steptoe bled the two actors careers dry, with them not being able to find work other than similar characters, it is also claimed that the two men never got along. Both claims are without foundation, family members and Galton and Simpson have all said that there was no friction between the two men and if you look at their body of work there doesn’t seem to have been any problem finding other work.
After Steptoe And Son, Steptoe Down Under
The TV series ended in 1974, returning only once more later that year for the final Christmas special, the radio series ended 2 years later in 1976, but the two actors would be persuaded to reprise their roles once more.
Harry H Corbett’s tour promoter Kevin O’Neill reminded him about the great time he had whilst touring the Australia in 1972. Harry contacted Wilfrid Brambell to see if he was agreeable to the idea of a ‘Steptoe and Son’ stage show,he agreed. They eventually convinced Galton and Simpson to write it for them and the 1977 Theatre Production ‘Steptoe and Son Down Under’ became a reality.
The show opened in Australia in September 1977 and was directed by Harry H. Corbett.
Not unlike The Dad’s Army stage show it takes the form of a cabaret show which included jokes, sketches and songs as well as familiar lines from the show. There is of course a back story Harold has emigrated to Australia to finally escape the clutches of his manipulative father, only to discover Albert has followed him there and nothing has changed! Whilst in Australia they made 2 commercials for Ajax
There would be 3 tours of the show the first in Australia, then to New Zealand and then back home for just a handful of performances.
Steptoe and Son had given both actors financial security and allowed them to return to any kind of work that interested them. They would however make a small number of appearences in character for various events. The first was a short sketch “Scotch On The Rocks” as part of a a Radio 2 show “Good Luck Scotland”, celebrating Scotland’s entry into the World Cup. Their final appearence together was in a Kenco Coffee commercial in 1981, a year later Harry H Corbett would die from a heart attack.
Bringing The Story To A Close
In 2005 Ray Galton teamed up with John Antrobus (Alan Simpson had retired) to bring Steptoe to an end. The play Steptoe And Son Murder At Oil Drum Lane toured the country and told the story of how Harold finally came to murder his Father and himself ends up having a heart attack.
With both the original leasdactors now dead theirroles were played by Jake Nightingale as Harold and Harry Dickman as Albert
You can re-vist the TV series, Radio Series, Two Feature Films and Murder At Oil Drum Lane in our archives.