1960s British Sitcom 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.
Is noted for being a lot more gritty and down-to-earth than many 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. Had two runs on The BBC
(1962-1965 and 1970-1974). Two feature films were also made. More recently, there was a stage play 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, Corbett and Brambell found themselves stuck with each other.
- 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 Days Night, where people keep saying he's a clean old man.
- 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.
- Doing It for the Art: If the BBC Docu-drama about the show is to be believed, Corbett thought he could highlight the plight of the working class, which is why he took the role. A combination of Classically-Trained Extra and typecasting meant that he grew to hate the show - audiences were laughing at the pathetic lives of two losers, and Corbett hated the show and the audience because of it.
- 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 Episode: A notable aversion to the state of most BBC 60s TV Shows, every episode exists, but many of the early 70s episodes, although taped in colour, only survive in black and white copies. A couple were only preserved in the form of domestic off-air recordings made by Galton and Simpson themselves.
- Missing Mom: Albert is a widower, and it's established that his wife died when Harold was young.
- 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.
- Slobs Versus Snobs
- Sound to Screen Adaptation: In reverse; a radio series was adapted from the TV show.
- 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.
- Trans Atlantic 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.
- Type Casting: Both Corbett and Brambell suffered from this in their later careers.