Features

Classic TV Revisited: Steptoe and Son

Steptoe and Son was about an ambitious young man – well, 39 – anxious to better himself but repeatedly held back by conniving single parent. It could be a morality tale for today. Instead it was a comedy about father and son rag and bone men, Albert and Harold Steptoe, partners in grime.

When was it on?
From 1962-74, a total of 46 episodes plus two Christmas specials and two feature films, Steptoe and Son (1972) and Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973).

Who wrote it?
Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, creators of Hancock’s Half-Hour. It originated from a Comedy Playhouse production, The Offer.

Who were the star turns?
Shakespearean actor Harry H. Corbett played Harold with Wilfrid Brambell as Albert. Corbett added the H (which he said stood for ‘Hanything’) to his name to distinguish himself from Sooty’s handler. Even so, the two Harry Corbetts still sometimes got each other’s mail. As a result of one mix-up, Sooty kicked-off a charity football match! Nobody could see him from the stands.

Who made guest appearances?
The usual suspects – Joanna Lumley, June Whitfield, Leonard Rossiter. La Lumley played Bunty, Harold’s posh girlfriend.

But who was the real star?
Hercules, the Steptoes’ horse. A genuine rag and bone man’s horse owned by Shepherds Bush brothers Arthur and Chris Arnold, he was often recognised on his rounds and offered carrots and sweets by children. What David Beckham would give for such adulation – even the carrots. Hercules also had amazing powers of recovery. He died in the 1970 episode A Death in the Family but recovered for the 1972 feature film.

What was a typical scene?
Harold says he’s leaving to build a new career/go on holiday/marry some floozie but the old man uses emotional blackmail (usually his health) to keep him at home.

How did the Steptoes help the Labour Party?
The episode The Lead Man Cometh was due to be screened on General Election day 1964, 90 minutes before the polls closed. But Labour leader Harold Wilson was understandably worried that Labour voters would stay in and watch Steptoe rather than vote and so he persuaded BBC boss Hugh Greene to put transmission back to 9pm. ‘That might be worth a dozen seats to me,’ said Wilson gratefully. Labour won by just four seats. So the devaluation of the pound was down to Albert Steptoe. You read it here first.

Where did the title come from?
A little photographic shop, Steptoe and Figge, which Galton and Simpson spotted down a side street in Richmond, Surrey. Not for one moment did they consider calling the show Figge and Son.

Was Wilfrid Brambell anything like Albert?
Au contraire, he was a dapper little man who, after the memorable scene in which Albert ate pickled onions in the bath, complained for days that he stank of vinegar. He kept Albert’s blackened worn-down false teeth in a glass of his favourite drink – gin and tonic.

Who watched it?
The Beatles for a start. They admired Brambell so much they asked him to play Paul McCartney’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night.

Who didn’t watch it?
Lew Grade allegedly objected to the swearing and banned it from his home.





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