Old Harry's Game is a British radio comedy written and directed by Andy Hamilton. The main character is Satan (yes, that Satan), who acts like a world-weary, cynical prison warder, presiding over an increasingly run-down and over-crowded Hell.
Many of the plots of the first four series involve Satan having lengthy philosophical discussions with the Professor (James Grout), a Wide-Eyed Idealist and Flat-Earth Atheist. Satan would often try to persuade the Professor that Humans Are Bastards, while the Professor would take the opposite view. Satan's chief minion was originally Gary (Steve O'Donnell), replaced by cringing lackey Scumspawn (Robert Duncan). Other characters included Thomas Crimp (Jimmy Mulville), a man with no redeeming qualities (and the driver of the car that killed both himself and the Professor), and numerous historical figures who had somehow ended up in Hell (including foul-mouthed Jane Austen, hypocritical Thomas Jefferson and meretricious Will Shakespeare).
In season five, Satan left Hell, inverting his usual role by visiting world leaders and trying to persuade them to get people to live more virtuous lives in order to ease the over-crowding in Hell. At the end of each episode he would return to Hell in order to sort out the messes his subordinates had made in his absence.
Season six introduced Edith (Annette Crosbie), an academic who agreed to write a biography of Satan in return for him looking into the mysterious events surrounding her death. (She's also Thomas's mother-in-law, and loathes him as much as ... well, anyone who's met him. Naturally, Satan makes them roommates.) In season seven, a dog and a baby arrive in Hell, due to a cock-up in Heaven's new computer systems; Satan ends up trying to locate the baby's new parents, while Thomas, surprisingly, finds himself literally Petting The Dog.
The show is lighter and funnier than it sounds, and usually manages to avoid being Anvilicious in its handling of weighty philosophical issues.
The title is a reference to Old Harry (a nickname for the Devil) and Harry's Game (a 1980s British TV drama).
A clay-motion television pilot was produced in 2012, but did not ultimately lead to a series.
Old Harry's Game includes examples of:
- Acceptable Targets: In-universe. At the very start of the series, when Thomas is in a coma in hospital, the doctors decide it would be unethical to switch off his life support - until one of them mentions that he's the chairman of a privatised water company.
- Affably Evil: Satan may delight in finding excruciating and ironic punishments for the damned souls of his domain, but that doesn't mean he can't be polite and gracious about it.
- The Ageless: Everyone in Hell remains the same age they were when they died, forever. Satan mentions in passing that the upshot of this is that many of the damned are aged, senile and don't really understand where they are.
- Alternative Character Interpretation: In-universe. Most notably Jane Austen, who's a violent, cockney-accented thug and Will Shakespeare, portrayed as a dopey Brummie who only wrote the jokes in his plays, the real author being his mate Trevor.
- And Starring: "And Andy Hamilton as Satan". He may well have written the show just to hear that credit.
- Anti-Hero: Satan.
- Armor-Piercing Question: In the first series, the Professor notes that even if he did accept Satan's belief that humans are rotten by nature, that would open up one interesting question: if humans are inherently, unavoidably evil, what is the point of Hell?Satan: ...Well, how should I know?! I just work here!
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
- Satan's list of the types of sinners who are continually arriving includes murderers, rapists, blackmailers, robbers, arsonists, and people who support Manchester United Football Club who aren't from Manchester (which is all of them).
- "Murderers" has the character of Mordecai, author of The Book of Leviticus, The Book of Deuteronomy, and The Book of Happy Gardening Tips.
- Arc Words: "Hope". It's the Professor's last name, the name of Satan's lost love interest, and is the topic of several episodes. Essentially, it's the one way to deal with being in Hell, and the one thing Satan can never have.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The Professor was finally granted permission to ascend to Heaven between the 2002-03 Christmas specials and Series 5.
- Ax-Crazy: Jane Austen has to be restrained from starting fistfights. Satan attributes this to a life of Regency repression.
- Baleful Polymorph: One of Satan's most-used punishments is to turn the victim into something demeaning. While he mostly reserves this for Thomas, at one point he turns the Professor into a bluebottle to cut him off mid-argument."Yes, I know that's a pretty cheap way to win an argument..."
- Berserk Button: God does not like non-believers or being called by his real name - ( Nigel - Jehovah is his middle name)
- Beware the Nice Ones:
- The Professor is very forgiving and tolerant, but when Thomas inadvertently drives his assistant to suicide and then blames her for being too passive, the Prof. lectures him on the link between action and consequence.The Professor: See, this (punches Thomas in the face) is an action, and your nosebleed is a consequence. (punches him again) Action, consequence. See?
- He also admits to having fantasized about killing Dicky Freestone, a former colleague who stole the credit for his research.
- Even Buddha acknowledges the joy of torturing Richard Nixon.
- The Professor is very forgiving and tolerant, but when Thomas inadvertently drives his assistant to suicide and then blames her for being too passive, the Prof. lectures him on the link between action and consequence.
- Black Humour: A thick vein runs through the whole series, given that it's a comedy in which Satan is the protagonist and a large amount of the early jokes revolved around the ironic punishments meted out to sinners, but Series 2 Episode 2 stands out in particular as it centres on what happens to a dead suicide bomber. Word of Satan says this is still one of his favourite episodes.Wazim Al-Habib: Did I not lay down my life for the one true religion? Did I not pack a lorry full of gelignite and drive it at high speed into the infidel's top-security military base? I did! I remember the explosion!
Satan: Oh yeah, there was an explosion, but it wasn't exactly a top-security military base. It was more of a... well, it was a hairdresser's.— "Series Two, Episode 2"
- British Brevity: Each series lasts for only 6 half-hour episodes, except series 5 which only got four episodes.
- The show started in 1995 and has had seven seasons, two Christmas specials and a 2012 Olympics special. This counts up to fifty-four episodes over fifteen-years.
- Butt-Monkey: Thomas. At one point, literally, when he's transformed by Satan into a piece of amoebic dysentery in Robert Maxwell's alimentary canal.
- Catch-Phrase: Thomas's 'What? Why are you looking at me like that?' everytime he says something particularly diabolical offhand.
- Celestial Bureaucracy: Hell appears to be marginally better-organized than Heaven. Particularly when Heaven tries to install new software.
- Children Are Innocent: And therefore cannot be sent to Hell. Much of series 7 revolves around this point.
- Christmas Episode: Three of them - in the 2010 one Satan tries to cancel Christmas.
- The Coconut Effect: When demons walk into a scene, the stock "horse hooves galloping" sound is used.
- Conservation of Competence: Satan appears to be the only demon in hell who can tell his arse from his elbow.
- Continuity Nod: In Season Seven, Thomas recalls the spoon prank that Gary played on him in Season One
- Contract on the Hitman: Among the many sins Thomas committed while he was alive, he once hired a hitman to kill a union leader, and then, rather than paying him, sent a second hitman to kill him. And then a third one after the second one.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: passim (it is, after all, a sitcom set in Hell).
- Corrupt Church: Frequently. Satan observes that he's "got every dead Pope in there since 1472" in reference to the Pope Enclosure in the first episode, and then there's the Rev. Elmer Butt who appears in Season 2, an American televangelist who bribes IRS officials (73 times) and had sex with a 14-year old girl.
- Deadpan Snarker: Satan. He's written and played by Andy Hamilton, so it comes with the territory.
- Deal with the Devil: Satan briefly alludes to having signed Tony Blair up to such a deal.
- Demonic Possession: Satan has no problems with taking on the guise of humans, but he draws the line at actually entering them.Satan: I would never, ever, enter the body of a human being, because I know what they do with them. And the thought's making me quite ill, actually.
- Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?:
- Thomas is initially fearful and reverent in God's presence... until he finds out that God's real name is Nigel, at which point he begins laughing in God's face.
- The Professor periodically attempts to assess Satan's psychology. Most of what he comes up with is not very flattering.
- Doomsday Device: When Satan arranges for the Grand Unified Theory of physics to be published in the living world, the British government (and presumbly others) immediately start pumping money into research with the hope of using it to build a bomb capable of destroying the universe.
- Draco in Leather Pants: In-Universe. Thomas considers Judas Iscariot to be The Hero of the Bible. He also views A Christmas Carol as a sad story about an entrepreneur going insane.
- Drunk with Power: Satan temporarily puts Nero in charge of Hell. In less than a day, he fills it with statues of himself and comes up with tortures that even horrify the demons.Satan: Clearly — clearly, Nero, the power's gone to your head.
Professor: Oh, that was REALLY hard to predict.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Thomas is such an awful creep that Judas Iscariot calls him "The Guv'nor".
- Saddam Hussein once refused to buy weapons off Thomas because he thought Thomas was too dodgy.
- Up to Eleven: Thomas is such a horrendous human being that his behaviour shocks Satan; his Establishing Character Moment is when he tries to offer up his young son to go to hell instead of him.Satan: Thomas, I'm shocked! And I'm the Devil — it takes a lot to shock me!
- In one instance, Satan temporarily puts Nero in charge of Hell, and he is so insane and depraved that even the demons are disgusted.
- In one episode, Satan claims that not directly killing people is one of his two morals. There used to be three, but he got cynical. He never explicitly says what the other is, but he does mention at another point that he never possesses people who aren't old enough to make moral choices.
- Another episode has Satan put Thomas in The Pit of Demons Who Are Too Violent Even For Hell.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Professor's name (Richard) is stated in the first episode and occasionally thereafter, but he is nearly always referred to simply as "the Professor".
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:
- One of Satan's defining character traits is his refusal to believe that humans can be good, and several episodes revolve around him trying to prove otherwise in some way.
- Thomas believes that anyone who uses a position of power to help others is only doing it for PR. He has claimed that Mahatma Gandhi arranged his own assassination so Richard Attenborough would make a movie about him and that Nelson Mandela's whole life work was just done in the hopes of meeting The Spice Girls. Both times, even Satan is a little stunned.
- Thomas also considers "Maybe you shouldn't kill your grandmother" to be a "strange thing" to tell someone. Played for Laughs.
- Evil Gloating: Satan loves to gloat. Especially when religious fundamentalists arrive. Several times, he's made bets with the Professor where the prize is strictly gloating rights.
- Evil Laugh: Satan does it to be impressive. Thomas occasionally does it because he's Thomas. Scumspawn tries, bless him.Thomas: Ooh! Do you mind if I join you in your evil laughter?
- Evil Twin: Inverted; Thomas has a less-evil twin, Clive.
- Fallen Angel:
- Satan, of course. Some of the other demons in Hell (including Gary and Scumspawn) are also fallen angels who supported his rebellion.
- And at the end of season 7, Gabriel.
- Family Relationship Switcheroo: In "Knowledge & Ignorance" from Series 4, Satan's final attempt to convince the Professor that knowledge isn't always preferable to ignorance involves taking him to see his favourite uncle, Trevor... who is forced to admit that he is the Professor's biological father. Though shocked at having been lied to about his paternity all his life, the Professor remains unswayed on the question of knowledge versus ignorance.
- Faustian Rebellion: Several Demons are persuaded to rebel against their overlord, egged on by Thomas. Satan seriously considers letting them win, but realises that he can't bear to lose to Gary.
- Forthe Evulz: Satan's MO.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": Referenced by Satan: "I always laugh at funerals."
- Gilligan Cut: A few.
- God Is Evil:
- Not quite... God is petty, easily-offended and vengeful. The reason Hell is so overcrowded is that God has set such impossibly high standards that almost nobody gets into Heaven. He has given up listening to the prayers of the faithful, but he will turn up if there's a chance of a nice pancake.
- And as of season seven, he has completely lost interest in humanity and gone on sabbatical. Apparently Sarah Palin was the last straw.
- Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: One episode has Satan and the Professor embarking on a Journey to the Center of the Mind to see why Thomas is the way he is. At one point, the Professor comes across a hidden-away memory which is marked with tons of warnings not to open it, which shows Thomas as a child being bullied by his classmates. The Professor assumes that this is a Freudian Excuse that Thomas locked away because it was painful for him to remember, but when he tries to offer Thomas consolation, Thomas accidentally reveals that the memory was actually of an unspecified crime (presumably involving killing the bullies) and he had hidden it away to avoid accidentally incriminating himself.
- The Grim Reaper: In one of the Christmas episodes Satan asks the Deaths to bring someone back to life. Chess with Death is averted.
- Hellish Pupils: Since Old Harry's Game is a radio show, we have to take their word for it.
- Hell Has New Management: Roland Kingworthy attempts this in season 5. He starts by bringing the demons onto his side with his effortless charm. Satan talks his army out of attacking, and Roland immediately claims he was attempting to expose the treacherous demons. Satan doesn't believe a word of it, and has an abyss he's been saving specially...Satan: I never trust anyone who puts that much effort into his effortless charm.
- Hell Hound: Satan's pet dog, Cerberus.
- A Hell of a Time
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: "Scumspawn, we are not a gay couple."
- Historical-Domain Character: Many of the damned souls Satan takes the Professor and Edith to meet.
- Hollywood Atheist,
- Downplayed; the Professor is doesn't believe in the existence of God but is undoubtedly the kindest and most idealistic character in the series.
- The Buddha is in Hell, because he didn't believe in God. Nietzsche is in Hell, too.
- Horny Devils:
- In Season One Thomas offers to take over the tedious task of ravishing Marilyn Monroe from Gary.
- Averted as all the devils have no genitalia so they can't. Satan, as well as being able to shape-shift, can change the form of his demons and the damned as their Cool and Unusual Punishment requires it.
- Humans Are Special: Averted, and how. The Professor asks God, right before He leaves Hell in Series 1, whether humans really are the most important of God's creations. God laughs right in his face.God: (laughing) You honestly think YOU'RE the best thing I could come up with?!
- Ignore the Disability: Satan becomes this toward the Professor when he discovers that the Professor's wife was in a coma.
- Ink-Suit Actor: In a pilot stop-motion adaptation, Satan has been modelled to resemble Andy Hamilton (plus wings and a tail).
- Insult Backfire: Satan, often.
- Ironic Echo: In the episode "The Beautiful Game", the Professor appoints Thomas as England captain for the Underworld Cup, in the belief that he'll rise to the challenge and prove himself, much to Satan's disbelief. The Professor says "I'd hate to be as cynical as you, you know. Always seeing the worst aspects of people." Then Satan appoints Scumspawn referee, and the Professor accuses him of deliberately trying to turn the tournament into a disaster. "I'd hate to be as cynical as you, Prof. Always seeing the worst in devils."
- Ironic Hell: Most of them.
- Damned jockeys are made to carry people around Hell on their backs.
- Mozart is tormented by having a demon in the form of a giant tapeworm play him his own music. On a Hammond Organ.Professor: How can a giant tapeworm play the Hammond organ?
Satan: Very badly, as I'm sure old Wolfgang would appreciate.
- I Shall Taunt You: Satan wants to get God's attention to discuss the overcrowding issue. Since the usual channels aren't working, he tries to first torture Thomas into calling God's name in vain by turning him into a pancake and frying him. When that doesn't work, he gives up and settles for shouting insults.Satan: Jesus had it coming! You only chose the Jews as your chosen people cos the Welsh didn't want you! Richard Dawkins is brilliant!
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- It is buried extremely deeply in his cold, unwelcoming shell but sometimes (okay, twice) Thomas does do some nice things. One of the season two episodes had the Once an Episode Professor vs Satan bet be whether or not Thomas had any good in him. He does.
- Satan showing this tendency also is a major plot point of several episodes (though Satan would argue that he was never more cruel than people deserved anyway.)
- Jesus Was Way Cool: Even though God's kind of a dick, Jesus is spoken of as good and holy; even Satan seems to respect him (in a Worthy Opponent kind of way). He's rather embarrassed about the time he punched him for being "holier-than-thou", and gets very defensive if it's brought up.Edith: Well, thank you for your concern, but if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not be taking advice about handling my emotions from someone who punched Jesus because he was pissed!
Scumspawn: Jesus was pissed?!
- King of All Cosmos: God is a bit like this. He created the Earth while he was drunk and created the first few single-celled organisms as part of a bet to see which would evolve into intelligent life first. He's rather upset that it's "all got out of hand", and refuses to take responsibility for any of it.
- Large Ham: In-universe, Garrick, Colossus Of The Shakespearean Stage.
- List of Transgressions:
- In episode one, when Thomas arrives in Hell, Satan can't find his list — only finding the various things he did for charity and when he's about to let Thomas go he finds the list. It's very long.
- It's also very likely that Satan was doing this deliberately to mess with Thomas.
- Minion with an F in Evil: Scumspawn.
- Morality Pet: Almost every good deed Thomas does in the series is to help Scumspawn.
- Mystery Writer Detective: Parodied when Satan summons the spirits of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie to solve Edith's murder, but they turn out to be completely useless. Dame Agatha suggests her own plots, regardless of their relevance, and Sir Arthur keeps going on about ghosts and fairies.Agatha: I'm sorry, but I'm doing my best here. Usually I know who the killer is before I start out.
- Noble Demon: Satan.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Very averted. Living celebrities, particularly those involved in some sort of scandal, are frequently mocked, and deceased ones inevitably end up in Hell, where they're harmed a lot as a matter of course.
- Noodle Incident and You Do NOT Want to Know: Whatever it is that humans do with cellophane that gets them sent to Hell.
- Not Growing Up Sucks: This is why Satan spends much of series 7 trying to return baby Patrick to the living world instead of to Heaven. As there is no aging in Heaven or Hell, it is the only way to stop Patrick from remaining a baby forever.
- Once an Episode: Some sort of debate between Satan and the Prof, the former always taking the pessimistic side and the latter always taking the optimistic.
- Papa Wolf: Apparently this is the real reason for the delay of the Second Coming, based on God's horrified response to Satan asking whether He intends to send Jesus back to Earth yet.
- Phrase-Catcher: Anyone who accompanies Satan to the land of the living will invariably ask "Are you sure they can't see us?". Even the Professor keeps asking long past the point where he should be used to it.
- Plot-Triggering Death: The series is set up by Thomas and the Professor dying in a car crash. On a smaller scale, many single-episode subplots are also triggered by the deaths of guest characters in what could be considered an inversion of Body of the Week. Soul of the Week, if you will.
- Prescience Is Predictable: God's mid-eternity crisis.
- Purity Personified: Hope in the first Christmas special.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Thomas gets two of these: in the first episode of Season 5, he blames God for the overcrowding in Hell, and in the final episode of Season 7, he stands up for Scumspawn, as mentioned above.
- In Season 1, the Professor's surname is Whittingham. It becomes Hope from Season 2 onwards.
- In Season 3, we meet the Angel Graham, the messenger who told Mary she was with child, who's annoyed his name was miswritten. In Season 7, we meet a completely different Angel Gabriel, who seems something of a Reasonable Authority Figure.
- The notion of there being no concept of time in Hell, which was heavily referenced in the first couple of series, was later dropped, presumably because it didn't make sense when Satan could move freely between Hell and Earth anyway.
- Role Reprisal: Impersonator Jan Ravens reprises her Dead Ringers role as Kirsty Wark.
- Running Gag:
Satan: You're the only demon I know who collects Furbies.
- 'Scumspawn, you're the only demon in Hell who...' (does something exceptionally un-demonic, for example, donating to a donkey sanctuary).
- Jane Austen being violent and crazy enough to frighten most of the demons in hell.
- Season Two's running gag was Scumspawn desperately trying to get the job as Gary's replacement and the various candidates Satan considered instead of him, including a villainous dolphin and a sentient computer.
- The Pope Enclosure, and Satan keeping all of the damned Pontiffs perpetually pregnant was referenced with regularity during the first two seasons, and about Once a Season thereafter.
- "Modernized" being a euphemism for "screwed up."
- Whenever Satan takes one of the other characters to see the living world, being asked "are you sure they can't see us?" and Satan pointing out what would happen if they could.
- Any character protesting that they don't have to do something just because Satan tells them to, prompting the response "You really haven't got the hang of this place, have you?"
- Whenever Satan wants to take on a role in the real world, such as chairman of the General Synod, or head of the BBC board of governors, the previous incumbent will "mysteriously" meet with an unusual accident, often involving misplaced wild animals.
- The old chestnut about Manchester United supporters living everywhere except Manchester.
- Adolf Hitler has a different excuse for the Holocaust each time he appears.
- Sapient Cetaceans: Dophins are the only non-humans who have enough awareness to be damned. The most evil dolphin who ever lived is called Chuckles.
- Satan is Good: Well, not quite; he comes off as a Punch-Clock Villain who feels he ought to be pure evil and is trying very hard to play the part.
- Schmuck Bait:Satan: Well, if it says "Danger, do not open", Prof, it's probably best if you don't actually—
[sound of hatch opening]
Satan: Why did I even waste my breath?
- Shoot the Dangerous Minion: Satan vaporizes Chuckles because he's too cunning to be a trustworthy right hand. He eventually appoints Scumspawn as his assistant because he's too loyal (and soppy) to ever be The Starscream.
- Shout-Out: When Satan summmons Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle to help solve Edith's murder, Dame Agatha suggests the plots of The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side and Murder on the Orient Express.:
- 6 Is 9: Satan receives a phone call intended for the emergency services because the caller had the phone upside down.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Thomas.
- Story Arc: Season 2 has Satan's search for a new assistant, Season 5 concerns Satan's attempts to reduce the amount of sin in the world, Season 6 has Edith's Who Dunnit To Me storyline, and Season 7 has a story arc about a dog and a baby being sent to Hell.
- Suckiness Is Painful: Writers in Hell are forced to listen to dialogue from Jeffrey Archer's books.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After the Professor's ascent into Heaven, the historian Edith takes his role.
- Take That!: A lot of insults are hurled at Robert Maxwell, Richard Nixon, Jeffrey Archer and Chris Evans (the radio presenter).
- Tempting Fate:Satan: Watch your mouth, Thomas, or—
Thomas: Or what? Don't tell me, you'll punish me. I don't care. You've covered me in boils, you've transformed me into various vegetables and household appliances, you've bred locusts and raced ferrets inside me... What more could you possibly do, eh? Turn me into a warthog's scrotum?
[He is immediately turned into a warthog's scrotum.]
Professor: Oh, really.
Satan: Well, he shouldn't put ideas into my head, should he?
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Inasmuch as he is "alive", Thomas frequently displays a complete lack of intelligence and foresight that gets him on the wrong end of some of Hell's worst punishments.Satan: Thomas? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you just called me, Satan... a whinger. Now, do you really think that was wise?
- How Gary the teenager, aka 'explodingidiot' (not to be confused with Gary the demon) died in series 6, episode 1: placing lighted sticks of gelignite between his legs as a YouTube stunt.
- Inasmuch as he is "alive", Thomas frequently displays a complete lack of intelligence and foresight that gets him on the wrong end of some of Hell's worst punishments.
- Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: Several of the mortals stuck in Hell. Series two, for instance, has a gag involving a group of country and western singers. Whenever the demons come up with a new torment for them, they just write a song about it.
- Understatement: "I'm in Hell, which is a setback."
- Villain Has a Point:
- When Satan and the Professor have an argument (which is what drives most episodes in the first four series), Satan's cynical view of human nature is borne out almost as often as not, though never so completely that the Professor will concede.
- In series 6, Edith's friend, rival historian and killer Rosemary, complains that Edith's habit of putting her awards in a box in the attic was an ostentatious way of rubbing her nose in it. When Satan brings up the subject of her awards in series 7, Edith all but admits that Rosemary was right.
- Who Dunnit To Me: Edith's storyline.
- Writers Suck: Satan claims that all writers are in Hell, as they not only live bad lives but spend all their time imagining and writing about imaginary bad lives.