Series / Steptoe and Son

A classic Brit Com of the 1960s and '70s, written by famed British comedy writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, focusing on the perennial conflicts between a pair of rag-and-bone men, Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett) and his elderly father Albert (Wilfrid Brambell). Airy, pretentious snob Harold has finer aspirations than riding the horse-and-cart for the rest of his life and is determined to improve himself, whilst wily, sneaky Albert is equally determined to sabotage his every effort and keep him in the family home for a good while yet.

The show was noted for being a lot more gritty and down-to-earth than most other sitcoms of the age, focusing on two obviously poor, working class and downtrodden men, with most of the humour coming from the interactions between the characters rather than farce and slapstick, and their situation providing a great deal of pathos for the two characters. Picked up from a pilot episode in the Anthology Series Comedy Playhouse, it had two runs on The BBC (1962-1965 and 1970-1974note ), and was adapted to radio as well as two feature films. More recently, there was a stage play called Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane, in which Harold returns to the junkyard in 2005, and is confronted by the ghost of Albert.

Came fifteenth in Britain's Best Sitcom.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The father/son equivalent; for all the bitterness and bickering, it was sometimes hinted that Harold and Albert really did care about each other. It's worth noting that Corbett and Brambell did not get along at all in real life, particularly later in their lives; much like their characters, the actors found themselves stuck with each other and having to make the best of things.
    • Averted rather thoroughly in the stage play. The clue is in the title.
  • Catch Phrase: "You dirty old man!"
    • Parodied with Brambell's appearance as Paul McCartney's grandfather in A Hard Day's Night, where people keep saying he's a clean old man.
  • Christmas Episode: "The Party" and "A Perfect Christmas". The latter was the show's final episode.
    • The characters also appeared in short sketches in the 1962 and 1967 editions of the BBC's annual Christmas anthology special, Christmas Night with the Stars.
  • Classically Trained Extra: or in this case leading characters. The loss of Corbett to this typecasting has been described as one of the greatest losses to British theatre.
    • The episode in which Harold tries his hand at stage acting (unsuccessfully, of course) could be seen as lampshading this.
  • Economy Cast: Many of the episodes, both radio and television, solely have Harold and Albert, without any supporting characters.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: An in-universe example occurs in an episode where Albert is recruited at the last minute to act in a play which Harold has already been cast. Despite his disastrous initial rehearsal, Albert manages to pull off a brilliant performance and gets rave reviews from the local critic. Harold, on the other hand, gets Distracted by the Sexy in his scene, and ends up being jeered by the audience at the end.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Harold's attempts at upward mobility.
  • Hollywood Dateless Despite his weird mannerisms and his social persona making very little sense, Harold doesn't seem to have much difficulty finding dates, and some of these relationships get fairly serious. Of course they all fall apart somehow or other once the woman in question meets Albert, but still.
  • I Was Young and Needed the Money: In the episode "Porn Yesterday", Harold is excited about finding an old What the Butler Saw machine, until he recognises Albert as one of the nude actors in the film. Albert explains that he made the film because times were hard.
  • Kitchen Sink Drama: Well, kitchen sink comedy, anyway, but the general point stands.
  • Missing Mom: Albert is a widower, and it's established that his wife died when Harold was young.
  • The Movie: Steptoe and Son (1972), Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973).
  • Perpetual Poverty: One of the first British sitcoms to show characters living in this state.
    • Quite famously, British Prime Minster Harold Wilson got a re-run scheduled for the day of the 1966 General Election moved until after the polls had closed, either to ensure that Labour voters voted rather than stayed in to watch the show, or because it might put people off voting Labour. Either way, it worked — Labour won a landslide victory.
  • Pilot: "The Offer", which originally aired as an episode of the anthology show Comedy Playhouse.
  • Sir Swears Alot: At the rate of 10p per swear, the contents of the swear—box, amounting to the sum of ₤80·³⁰ᵖ, the vast majority of which were contributed by Albert. More than 8× what they have in they have in their bank & building society accounts combined!
  • Slobs vs. Snobs
  • Sound to Screen Adaptation: In reverse; a radio series was adapted from the TV show.
  • Tragedy: Both the TV and radio series fall into the tragicomedy category - comedic moments in what would otherwise be much more sombre.
  • Tragic Dream: Harold's repeated, failed attempts to better himself, combined with the acting ability of both Corbett and Brambell, provide some of the most tear-jerking moments in comedy.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Sanford and Son is based on this show. It's also a rare crossover show that was both as successful and highly regarded in its new version as the original show it was inspired from. However the character of Fred Sanford, though hardly a saint, is considerably less cruel to his son, Lamont, than Albert is towards Harold. Also, Lamont is both smarter and less pretentious than the character he's based on.