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One Foot in the Grave

One Foot in the Grave was a BBC television situation comedy series written by David Renwick. The show ran for six series, with several specials, over a ten year period, from 1990 to 2000. The series featured the exploits of Victor Meldrew, played by Richard Wilson, and his wife, Margaret, played by Annette Crosbie, in their battle against the trials of modern life.

Four episodes were remade for BBC Radio 2 and the series also inspired a novel. One Foot in the Grave came tenth in a 2004 BBC poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom". The programme also came 80th in the British Film Institute's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.

It was filmed in Christchurch, Dorset, although it is set in a suburb of London, where the writer, David Renwick, grew up.

Plot

The series featured the exploits of Victor Meldrew, an irascible pensioner with attitude. In the first episode, Victor, played by Scottish-born actor Richard Wilson, was prematurely retired from his job as a security guard, replaced by an automated machine. From then on the series followed his struggle to keep himself occupied, often with little success. In particular, Victor fell victim to surreal misfortunes, bad luck and coincidences, which led to his oft-imitated catchphrase "I don't believe it!" His long-suffering wife Margaret, played by Annette Crosbie, was often left exasperated by her husband's many misfortunes, although it was always made clear that the couple had a strong relationship. Although there is no explicit reference that Victor and Margaret had children, the episode "Timeless Time" contained a melancholy, ambiguous reference to someone called Stuart; the suggestion was that they once had a son who had died as a child.

The other most consistent supporting character was a family friend, Jean Warboys, played by Doreen Mantle. Other regular characters were next-door neighbour Patrick Trench, played by Angus Deayton, who invariably discovered Victor in inexplicably bizarre or compromising situations, his wife Pippa played by Janine Duvitski, and the overly cheery charity worker Nick Swainey, played by Owen Brenman.

The setting of the show is as a traditional cosy suburban sitcom, but it subverts this genre with a strong overtone of black comedy. The series featured highly innovative writing and outrageous comedy situations. If anything could go wrong, it not only went wrong but pulled half of the universe down with it (at least in a metaphorical sense).

A number of episodes were highly experimental and successful in that they took place entirely in one setting and with a small cast, conveying the same claustrophobic atmosphere present in classic sitcoms like Steptoe and Son and Porridge. Episodes included Victor, Margaret and Mrs Warboys stuck in a traffic jam; Victor and Margaret in bed; Victor and Margaret in a lawyer's waiting area; Victor and Margaret stuck in their house during a power cut on a hot evening; and Victor being left alone in the house waiting to see if he has to take part in jury service, a framing situation not seen since some of the final episodes of Hancock's Half Hour.

Renwick's scripts effectively combined farce with elements of tragedy. In the final episode, Victor is killed by a hit-and-run driver. Margaret discovers the culprit, but her reaction is ambiguous.

Main characters

Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) - Victor was the main protagonist of the sitcom and finds himself constantly battling against all that life throws at him, as he becomes entangled, like the pawn he is, in the machiavellian plots. Renwick once pointed out in an interview that the name "Victor" was ironic, since he almost always ends up as a loser. From being buried alive, to being legally prosecuted for attacking a feisty pit bull terrier with a collection of coconut meringues, Victor tries to adjust to life after his infamous replacement by a "box" at his place of employment, alas to no avail.

Victor is a tragic comedy character however, and sympathy is directed towards him as he becomes embroiled in complex misunderstandings, bureaucratic vanity and, at times, sheer bad luck. The audience sees a philosophical ebb to his character, however, along with a degree of optimism on his behalf, yet after a while his polite façade collapses when events get the better of him, and a full verbal onslaught is delivered.

Margaret Meldrew (Annette Crosbie) - The long-suffering wife of Victor and kind-hearted individual, she tries to maintain a degree of calmness and to rise above her husband's frustrations. However, she too often engulfed into the same folly and often vents her anger, usually at Victor who bears the brunt of it all. In early episodes, her character acts more as a comic foil to Victor's misfortunes, for example asking if a cat found frozen in their freezer is definitely dead and mentioning a friend who died because of a terminal illness who actually, as Victor says, fell off a cliff, retorting to him that she only did so because "she went to the seaside to convalesce".

In later episodes, she develops into a more complex character. She is shown to be fiercely protective of her marriage to Victor, becoming easily suspicious and jealous, for example of a Dutch marionette that Victor becomes occupied with repairing in the episode "Hole in the Sky", eventually leading her to destroy it. In "The Affair of the Hollow Lady", a greengrocer develops a liking for Victor and wrongly attempts to convince Margaret he has been unfaithful to her. In revenge, Margaret assaults the woman with a pair of boxing gloves. However, Margaret herself is shown to have contemplated infidelity with a man she met on holiday in the episode "Warm Champagne", eventually deciding against it.

Patrick Trench (Angus Deayton) - Patrick, along with his wife Pippa, dwelt next door to Victor; he would almost certainly catch Victor engrossing himself in seemingly preposterous situations, all of which in their context seemed perfectly acceptable. The couple's relationship with their neighbours begins badly after Victor mistakenly believes Patrick and Pippa are distant relations rather than the next-door neighbours who had been leaving for a lengthy holiday the day that Victor and Margaret moved in. This and later incidents cause Patrick to suspect that Victor is quite insane, possibly bordering on malicious, and he often responds to Victor in similarly vindictive ways as a means of "getting even" with Victor, for example by complaining via post-it notes.

Patrick is an interesting character however, for it is his rift with Victor that morphs him into a rather cynic-ridden character, much like Victor. This aspect of the character came to a head in one episode where his face transformed into an apparition of Victor's as he gazed into a mirror. In another episode, his wife Pippa loses their baby in similar circumstances to Victor and Margaret.

Pippa Trench (Janine Duvitski) - The wife of Patrick sought friendly relations with the Meldrews and after a while, became good friends with Margaret. The two women usually attempt to get the two men to make peace with each other at least once per series. Eventually Patrick proposes that the Trenches move house, but they soon realise that the Meldrew curse has followed them: Victor sent workmen to their home, next door, thinking they were removal men when who had come to the wrong house. They were in fact from a house clearance firm Margaret had employed to clear her late cousin Ursula's country mansion. It turned out that the workmen had cleared Patrick and Pippa's house of their entire furniture and sold it for 475 pounds.

Jean Warboys (Doreen Mantle) - Mrs Warboys was a friend of Margaret (and a rather annoying one in Victor's eyes) who attached herself to the Meldrews, accompanying them on many of their exploits. In the early series she was married to Chris, but eventually he left her for the private detective whom she had hired when she suspected him of having an affair, and they divorced.

She would often bear the brunt of Victor's temper due to muddled misunderstandings and partly due to her aloof nature. One such occasion saw her goading Victor into taking a dog, as its owner had just died. She had not told him that it was stuffed, much to the annoyance of Victor who had spent time constructing an expensive kennel for it. On another occasion she had a waxwork made of herself which had to be delivered to their house as she had been involved in a road accident. As it turned out, she hated it as much as Victor and Margaret did, and that particular episode finished with the waxwork standing in the dustbin. She would often bore the Meldrews by showing them her complete collection of holiday pictures at the most unwelcome times. Doreen Mantle described her character as "wanting to do the right thing but always finding out that it was the wrong thing".

Nick Swainey (Owen Brenman) - The excessively cheerful and often oblivious individual who resided on the other side of the Meldrews from the Trenches. He remains continuously optimistic with regards to anything; even his being told to 'piss off' by Victor is laughed off. However, since this little run-in he later befriended Victor. A kind-natured individual, Mr Swainey cared, for many years, for his bedridden senile mother, whom the audience never actually saw. This is not to say that he doesn't drop his guard - for on one occasion we do observe his apparent depression. Following his mother's death, he moved house near the end of the series, but only went as far as the other side of Victor's house, into the Trenches' old house.

Other recurring characters

Ronnie and Mildred (Gordon Peters and Barbara Ashcroft) - Ronnie and Mildred were a constantly cheerful couple who provided yet another annoyance to the Meldrews, who dreaded any upcoming visits to them. They are referenced a number of times in the series for giving the Meldrews bizarre and always unwanted presents, usually involving a garish photograph. In the final series, however it was clear that their cheerfulness was a façade and, in a particularly dark scene, Mildred hanged herself "during a game of Happy Families".

Cousin Wilfred (John Rutland) - Mrs. Warboys' cousin, Wilfred, appeared a number of times in the series. He was a fairly boring middle-aged man, although by his appearance in the final series a stroke had left him mute. He therefore had to speak with an electronic voice generator and owing to his poor typing this led to several misunderstandings, such as asking Victor for a "bra of soup" (bar of soap).

Book and radio adaptations

Renwick integrated some of the plots and dialogue from the series into a novel, which was first published by BBC Books in 1992. Renwick also adapted four episodes for BBC Radio 2, which first aired between 21 January 1995 and 11 February 1995. The episodes are "Alive and Buried", "In Luton Airport, No One Can Hear You Scream", "Timeless Time" and "The Beast in the Cage". They are regularly repeated on the digital speech station BBC 7 and are available on audio CD.

Music

The theme song was written and sung by Eric Idle. A longer version was produced for the special "One Foot in the Algarve", with a remixed version released as a single in November 1994. Idle included a live version of the song on his album Sings Monty Python. It is preluded by a similar adaptation of "Bread of Heaven" to that used in the episode "The Beast in the Cage" by disgruntled car mechanics.

The series also made extensive use of incidental music, composed by Ed Welch, which often hinted at a particular genre to fit the mood of the scenes. The final episode ended with a montage of some of the mishaps Victor encountered, which were mentioned in the episode, backed by "End of the Line" by The Traveling Wilburys.

Awards

The programme was a recipient of a number of prestigious awards. In 1992, it won a BAFTA as Best Comedy (Programme or Series). During its ten year run, the series was nominated a further six times. Richard Wilson also won Best Light Entertainment Performance in 1992 and 1994, and Annette Crosbie was nominated for the same award in 1994.

The series also won the Best Television Sitcom in 1992 from the Royal Television Society and the British Comedy Award for Best Sitcom in 1992, 1995 and 2001.

In 2004, One Foot in the Grave came tenth in a BBC poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom" with 31,410 votes. The programme also came 80th in the British Film Institute's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes

Controversy

A number of complaints were made during the series' run for its depiction of animal deaths. For example, in one episode a dead cat was found in the Meldrews' freezer; in another, a tortoise was roasted in a brazier. However, this was later cited as a positive feature of the programme's daring scripts in Britain's Best Sitcom by its advocate Rowland Rivron. The programme was censured, however, for a scene in the episode "Hearts of Darkness" where an elderly resident was abused in an old people's home, and following complaints, the scene was slightly cut when the episode was repeated. Another controversial scene in the episode "Tales of Terror" saw the Meldrews visit Ronnie and Mildred on the understanding that Mildred had gone upstairs during a game of Happy Families and not returned; Ronnie then shows her feet hanging outside of the window, implying that she has committed suicide. The Broadcasting Standards Commission complained to the programme for this scene.

When the final episode, "Things Aren't Simple Anymore" originally aired on 20 November 2000 at 21:00, it coincided with the broadcast of the first jackpot winner in the UK version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which had been filmed the Sunday prior to the broadcast. ITV was accused of engineering this in order to damage the final episode's expected high ratings, but was later cleared by the Independent Television Commission.

Cultural impact

Despite gaining initially low audience ratings, by the third series, One Foot in the Grave was making the Top 20 ratings, with some episodes seen by more than 16 million viewers. In particular, the Christmas 1993 edition topped 20 million viewers.

Due to the series' popularity, people who constantly complain and are irritated by minor things are often compared to Victor Meldrew by the British media. Renwick disputes this usage however, claiming that Victor's reactions are entirely in proportion to the things that happen to him.

Renwick wrote a novel based on some of the storylines, published in 1992.

An American remake of the show, starring Bill Cosby and simply titled Cosby, ran from 1996 - 2000. David Renwick was listed as an executive producer on the series.

In the Father Ted episode "The Mainland" Ted and Dougal encounter Richard Wilson (out of character) and annoy him by constantly repeating his One Foot in the Grave catchphrase "I don't believe it!" - something about which Wilson has expressed frustration in real life, though he claims to hate the request to say it even more, and only performs the line for charity events.

Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0 Enterprise Edition contains a hidden Easter Egg, which is accessed using the words "Reggie" (a reference to The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) and "Victor" (a reference to One Foot In The Grave). The Easter Egg contains the names of the entire Visual Studio development team, as well as confirmation of the meaning of "Reggie" and "Victor".

VHS and DVD releases

The early series were initially available on BBC Worldwide VHS tapes. Series one to six were released on Region 2 DVD by 16th October 2006. A 12 Disc boxset including the Christmas specials from 1996 and 1997 was also released on Region 2 DVD on 16 October 2006. The Comic Relief Shorts from 1993 and 2001 were not included in this set. The Christmas Specials from 1996 and 1997 were released on one separate DVD in November 2006.

Series one and two were released on 27 March 2007 in the United States and Canada (Region 1). All six series (including the Christmas specials) have been released in Australia on Region 4.

DVD Name Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
One Foot In The Grave : The Complete Series 1 27 March 2007 2 August 2004 7 July 2005
One Foot In The Grave : The Complete Series 2 27 March 2007 9 May 2005 4 May 2006
One Foot In The Grave : The Complete Series 3 11 March 2008 8 August 2005 17 August 2006
One Foot In The Grave : The Complete Series 4 11 March 2008 24 April 2006 7 March 2007
One Foot In The Grave : The Complete Series 5 10 February 2009 21 August 2006 1 August 2007
One Foot In The Grave : The Complete Series 6 10 February 2009 16 October 2006 2 October 2007
One Foot In The Grave : The Complete Series Spring 2009 16 October 2006 5 March 2008
One Foot In The Grave : The Christmas Specials Spring 2009 13 November 2006 5 March 2008

References

External links

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