We left matters in the 1960’s with the series being a runaway success, we pick up the story in 1965.
BCC: Did you feel Steptoe had come to a natural end in 1965 after four series
G & S: Yes we did, we thought we had exploited it as far as we could and we wanted to go into cinema and we did “The Spy With A Cold Nose” with Laurence Harvey. Then in 1967 we went to Hollywood a couple of times, once to work on a film script and secondly to work on an American version of Steptoe which became Sanford and Son.
BCC: What made you bring it back in 1970?
G&S: In 1969 after the advent of colour television, we were asked by Tom Sloan if we had thought of bringing Steptoe back. The idea appealed to us because having had a four year break we had plenty of fresh ideas. The only thing we were worried about was the colour side of it because we thought it would make it look too pretty. How wrong can you be, the fact that it was in colour made everything look even tattier so it was almost like doing a new series and some of the most memorable episodes were in that second block of series.
BCC: Perhaps another Galton and Simpson first, the final episode was broadcast on 26th December 1974, forty years ago today. It was the second Christmas Special, why did it take so long to write a specific Christmas episode?
G&S: It must have been around this time that the BBC started to commission these longer episodes and particularly if the series ran through the Christmas period. We did one in 1973 and one in 1974.
BCC: We’ve read differing accounts of how many scripts were adapted for radio. Did it feel strange after all these years in television to be asked to write for radio again and did you adapt all the television episodes for radio?
G&S: We adapted most of the TV scripts for radio, it didn’t feel strange as we were working on familiar material.
BCC: When you came to write the two big screen versions of Steptoe, were you worried the higher budgets might spoil the effect of the TV version?
G&S: No the biggest problem with doing films is the length, you have to construct a plot which lasts for an hour and a half and you must make sure it is not spread too thinly.
BCC: Were you ever tempted to write about Harold reaching old age and finding he had a son?
G&S: Funny, you should ask, because at the end of series two, Wilfrid Brambell secured the lead in a Broadway musical, so he was off to America for two years. We had this idea that Harold has finally laid the Old Man to rest and returns to Oil Drum Lane on his own. A twenty year old lad turns up and tells Harry that his Mother had told him all about him, how he might be his Father and if anything happened to her he should look him up.
Wilfrid’s Broadway career didn’t take off, “Kelly” closed after one night, so we never really took the idea any further. We were going to offer the part of Harold’s son to 21 year old David Hemmings, but to the day he died he did not know about it.
BCC: Finally on Steptoe, what made Ray want to bring back Steptoe for one last time in 2005, with co-writer John Antrobus.
RG: I’d been doing some writing with John and he asked if we could do something with Steptoe and Son, if Alan was in agreement.
AS: Ray approached me with the idea and said it would have to bring the story to a close, I agreed and said I didn’t mind he and John writing it. The two actors were brilliant, as it happened if you follow the story of the play it’s an adaptation of the idea Ray and I had when Wilfrid went off to Broadway, as we were discussing a couple of moments ago.
BCC: Thank You, both for your time and fascinating stories, one last question, is there a Television show or a sitcom you didn’t write but wish you had?
G&S: We’ve written over 600 shows and sketches for many people including Les Dawson and Frankie Howerd, so probably we’ve written about everything we would want to,
AS: I always love John Mortimer’s work and Rumpole Of The Bailey – I would have quite liked to have written that one so there you go (laughs).
Our thanks go to Ray Galton and Alan Simpson for their time and Tessa Le Bars, their manager and agent, who kindly made all this possible.
A Perfect Christmas follows.
A Perfect Christmas, 1974
As we have been discussing with the writers this was the final episode of Steptoe and Son and this time Harold really does win the day. Since Steptoe bowed out at Christmas many other great sitcoms have followed suit i.e. Only Fools and Horses, The Office and of course this year Miranda.
Harold wants to go on holiday for Christmas, Switzerland seems ideal to him. The only problem is the Old Man, Albert, as usual, prefers Bognor, though he is persuaded to go provided they sail, rather than fly. Albert causes more problems when he reveals he has no passport.
Harold sorts the problem but when they arrive at customs it’s Harold that causes the problem, as whilst Albert’s new passport is accepted, Harold’s is a year out of date, so Albert happily goes on the holiday alone, unaware that Harold has actually cooked a scheme allowing him to spend Christmas with his girl-friend – in Bognor.
Harry H. Corbett
Written By: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson
Produced and Directed By: Douglas Argent
Original Transmission Date: 26th December 1974