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Series / Tales of the Unexpected

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Tales of the Unexpected was aired between 1979 and 1988 by ITV. It was produced by Anglia Television, and it proved a big success for them.

The series began as an adaptation of Roald Dahl's series of short stories by the same name. They ran out of adaptable stories (there were a few more they could have done but they did not lend themselves to a TV adaptation) after about one and a half seasons and started using other works. Dahl did an introduction for every story for the first two seasons, but severed ties with the project before series 3. They then ran up until series 9.


The tone varied from story to story but on the whole it has been described as like The Twilight Zone (1959), but with a darkly humorous slant, especially in the Roald Dahl stories. The show had a low budget but the writing lead to an amazing list of Guest Stars including: Anna Neagle, BRIAN BLESSED, Timothy West, John Gielgud, Richard Johnson, Elaine Stritch, Peter Cushing, John Mills, Julie Harris, Wendy Hiller, Joseph Cotten, Derek Jacobi, Janet Leigh and Siobhan McKenna.

Examples of the more famous Dahl stories are William and Mary, in which Mary learns that her husband has cheated death via a brain transplant; The Landlady, in which a seemingly charming old lady is really murdering and stuffing her tenants; The Way Up to Heaven, in which an abusive husband is trapped in a lift, and his long-suffering wife deliberately leaves him there to die, and Lamb to the Slaughter, in which a wronged wife batters her husband to death with a frozen leg of lamb and then gets away with it by getting the detectives (including BRIAN BLESSED) to Eat the Evidence.


Several episodes are remakes of stories that had already been adapted for other series, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Lamb to the Slaughter", "The Man from the South") and Way Out ("William and Mary").

Not to be confused with the much less successful 1977 series Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected. This series was also aired on ITV in the UK, but under the name Twist In The Tale.


  • Adaptation Expansion: "Flypaper" is based on a very short story by Elizabeth Taylor (not THAT one). The short story never names a specific threat, going for all-around paranoia. The episode ends with the very strong implication that the lonely schoolgirl who the story revolves is about to be the next victim of a loving couple of pension-age murderous paedophiles.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Miller in "Would You Believe It?" morally protests Tanner's plan to steal the statue several times. Miller in "She Fell Among Thieves" is fine with the theft and specifically teamed up with Tanner to learn about smuggling.
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  • Adults Are Useless: The adults who aren't downright dangerous in "The Flypaper" are either ineffectual or uncaring.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Tanner in "Would You Believe It?" (of the morally dubious type).
  • Affably Evil: Gerry Williams from "Shatterproof", a wealthy, mild mannered and charismatic tycoon (played by Eli Wallach) who finds out that an assassin is sent by his cheating wife Ellen to kill him, only to blackmail the assassin into going over to kill Ellen.
    • The elderly, bookish blackmailing brothers in "Clerical Error."
  • An Aesop: The end of "Where's Your Sense of Humour?" is a clear warning about what can happen when Joking Goes Too Far.
  • And I Must Scream: "William and Mary"
  • Archaeologist Outfit: Tanner and Miller in "Would You Believe It?" (especially Tanner).
  • Asshole Victim: Many episodes, such as Patrick from "Lamb to the Slaughter" who is planning to leave his pregnant wife for another woman.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Many episodes including "The Way Up to Heaven," "Neck" and "Back for Christmas."
  • The Bet: "Man From the South," "Taste," and "A Dip in the Pool," all based on stories by Roald Dahl who admitted to being fascinated by wagers.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Paul Standing, the mild-mannered businessman in "Clerical Error" ruthlessly turns the tables on the blackmailing booksellers who targeted his widowed mother.
    • A nebbishy psychologist saves two women from an apparent serial killer in "Number Eight." It turns out he's actually the killer.
      • And then there's Mary from "Lamb to the Slaughter" a devoted wife who smashes in her husband's skull with a frozen leg of lamb when he tries to leave her.
  • Bibles from the Dead: The booksellers in "Clerical Error" send fake invoices for expensive pornography to the families of prominent, recently deceased men, hoping the families will pay to avoid a scandal.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The motherly woman in "The Flypaper" who saves Sylvia from the elderly stalker turns out to be his partner in crime (murder and probably rape).
  • Bittersweet Ending: George Peregrine in "The Colonel's Lady" is convinced that his middle-aged wife is having an affair when she writes a racy bestseller. When he demands that she reveal her lover's name she says the man is actually him, as he was years ago.
  • Black Comedy
  • Black Mail: "Clerical Error."
  • Black Sheep: Charlie Prince, the upper-class sponger in "The Best of Everything."
  • Brain in a Jar: "William and Mary"
  • Buses Are for Freaks: In "The Flypaper" the middle-aged kidnappers and murderers target Sylvia on a city bus when she is on her way home from a piano lesson.
  • Card Sharp: The Snapes in "My Lady, My Love, My Dove."
  • The Cassandra: Bookseller and con artist Michael Carey in "Clerical Error" repeatedly tells his brother that trying to extort money from the Standings is too risky.
  • Chekhov's Gun: It's an actual gun in "Clerical Error": When Paul Standing is on the phone with the booksellers, a rifle is shown displayed above a wall mirror.
    • Charlie Prince's airtight trunk in "The Best of Everything."
  • Children Are Special: David from "The Boy Who Could Talk to Animals" saves a stranded sea turtle from a bunch of callous adults who want to make soup out of it. He later disappears and in a dreamlike sequence is spotted at sea riding the turtle's back.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Standing in "Clerical Error" helps her son entrap the booksellers who falsely claim her late husband ordered some very pricy pornographic books from them.
    • Mrs. Grady from "Vicious Circle," though she may seem doddery at first.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: The motherly landlady who loves her young tenants to death in "The Landlady."
  • Cruel Twist Ending and Karmic Twist Ending
  • Cultural Translation: The opening narration was replaced in the American version.
  • A Deadly Affair: Several episodes such as "Back for Christmas" and "Pattern of Guilt."
  • Deadly Doctor: Dr. James Carpenter, renowned transplant surgeon, methodically dismembers his controlling wife in "Back for Christmas."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Actresses Pat Lewis and Suzy Starr in "A Girl Can't Always Have Anything." Much of their dialog consists of their trying to out-snark one another.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In "Depart At Peace" Lionel gets back at his girlfriend Janet for supposedly calling him boring by displaying a portrait of her in her underwear in front of all their friends.
    • Janet in her turn gives Lionel a jar of poisoned caviar.
  • Eat the Evidence: "Lamb to the Slaughter".
  • The End... Or Is It?: The Stranger from "Stranger in Town" assumes he has gotten away with murder, but the confetti that falls from his coat as he's leaving town makes the newsboy suspicious.
  • Enfant Terrible: Jane in "The Open Window."
  • Episode on a Plane: "Hijack".
  • Extreme Doormat: Sir Basil to his wife Natalia in "Neck" until the last few seconds anyway.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The creepy hitch-hiker and serial killer fan in "Number Eight" is disconcerted when told that one of the said killer's victims was a five-year-old boy.
    • Ronnie Carey from "Clerical Error," referring to a particularly sadistic pornographic book, says "Even I can't stomach that one."
  • Feathered Fiend: The strange black parrot in "Bird of Prey."
  • Fortune Teller: Myra in "In the Cards."
  • Gaslighting: What bratty imaginative Jane does to the unstable ex-schoolteacher Gregory in "The Open Window.
  • Genre Anthology
  • Gentleman Thief: The elderly con artist in "The Umbrella Man" who tells one of his marks that "no man is worth the tears of a beautiful woman."
  • The Ghost: Harry in "Shatterproof" is never seen.
  • Gold Digger: Suzy the struggling actress in "A Girl Can't Always Have Everything" blatantly refers to her rich fiancee as a "golden goose."
  • Gone Horribly Right: Albert Taylor in "Royal Jelly" feeds his undersized baby daughter royal jelly, hoping this will make her bigger. It certainly does.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: In "I'll Be Seeing You," put-upon Roland makes sweet love with his kind and understanding mistress Anna. (This may change when, thanks to an eye transplant, Anna ends up with the icy blue eyes of Roland's hateful wife.)
  • Greasy Spoon: Prominently featured in two episodes filmed in America, "Nothin' Short of Highway Robbery" and "Number Eight."
  • Hollywood New England: "The Open Window" is set at a hunting lodge in Connecticut during autumn.
  • Hoist by Her Own Petard: Several episodes such as "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" and "Clerical Error."
  • Horror Host: Tales from the first two series were introduced by the grandfatherly, perpetually cardigan clad Roald Dahl.
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: "Number Eight."
  • Impossible Thief: The title character of "The Hitchhiker".
  • It Must Be Mine!: How the shady archaeologist Tanner feels about the statue he and his partner are trying to smuggle out of Jordan in "Would You Believe It?" ("I'd rather die than give her up!")
  • Karma Houdini: In "Wet Saturday," Mr. Princey apparently gets away with framing an innocent neighbor for a murder commited by his daughter.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Louisa in "Edward the Conqueror."
    • Mrs. Grady in "Vicious Circle.
  • Lady Drunk: The refined, artistic Brenda in "Scrimshaw."
  • Masochism Tango: True of both the married couples in the rather kinky "My Lady, My Love, My Dove."
  • Meal Ticket: Kind, stodgy and very rich Herbert Millette to Suzy Starr in "A Girl Can't Always Have Everything."
  • Mood Whiplash: The final seconds of "Neck" go from farce to horror when it appears that Sir Basil is about to decapitate his wife.
    • The end of "Stranger in Town" when the lovable eccentric removes his disguise and reveals why he is really in town.
  • Murder by Inaction: In "The Way Up to Heaven," Mrs. Foster leaves to spend six weeks in New York, knowing her husband is trapped in the elevator.
  • My Beloved Smother: When Rev. George Duckworth from "Georgy Porgy" was a child, his overbearing mother forced him to watch a mother rabbit give birth. The rabbit immediately devoured her offspring.
  • Nazi Grandpa: Kindly Von Baden in "The Vorpal Blade."
  • Not in Front of the Parrot: The black parrot in "Bird of Prey" discloses the adulterous affair of its owner's wife and good friend.
  • Not So Different: Elderly Mrs Grady and the young punk who tries to rob her in "Vicious Circle" except Mrs. Grady is smarter.
  • Off with His Head!: The probable fate of Natalia in "Neck."
  • Oh, Crap!: Common in episodes with a Karmic Twist Ending such as "Back for Christmas" and "The Best of Everything."
  • Old Retainer: Jenks the butler in "Neck" who'll do anything to protect Sir Basil.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Sylvia from "The Flypaper" lives with a grandmother who barely tolerates her (which sadly turns out to be the least of her ordeals.)
  • Outlaw Couple: Newt and Marcie in "Nothin' Short of Highway Robbery."
  • Overtook the Series: It started out adapting Roald Dahl stories, but lasted for seven and a half seasons after it had used them all up...
  • Pregnant Badass: Mary from "Lamb to the Slaughter" bashes in her cheating husband's skull with a frozen leg of lamb and then coolly covers up her crime.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Played straight with Paul Standing from "Clerical Error": he has a posh accent, a black umbrella, an understated demeanor and a determination to protect the vulnerable.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • Once you know the twist, "Hijack" becomes this as a result of the airplane crew managing to fake a hijacking in order to make off with the cash.
    • The titular "Stranger in Town" arrives wearing Impossibly Tacky Clothes, complete with top hat, just to shed his disguise, kill the man who wronged him, and then leave with no one noticing in the slightest.
  • Reincarnation: The cat in "Edward the Conqueror" may be the reincarnation of Franz Liszt!
  • Sassy Black Woman: Grace, the dance instructor in "In the Cards." ("You mean to tell me you're going to marry that rhinoceros?")
  • Serial Killer: The nondescript psychologist of "Number Eight."
  • Smug Snake: Ronnie Carey, the brasher of the two blackmailing booksellers in "Clerical Error."
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The orange cat in "Edward the Conqueror."
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: How the motherly landlady keeps her lodgers with her forever in "The Landlady."
    • How Janet gets her revenge on her boyfriend for his cruel prank in "Depart at Peace."
  • Villainous Breakdown: Tanner in "Would You Believe It?" when he realizes the statue he stole is Lot's Wife—and she has dissolved in the rain.
  • Wham Line:
    • The German father at the end of "Genesis and Catastrophe," choosing a name for his newborn son, says "I hope they don't call him Adolf."
    • From "Stranger in Town": "Watch very carefully! Umbrella! Into... Knife."
  • Wicked Cultured: The blackmailing antique booksellers in "Clerical Error" listen to classical music while poring over the obituaries for the next widow to extort money from.
    • Eric, the nihilistic artist in "Scrimshaw."
  • With Friends Like These...: Beautiful and popular Suzy Starr in "A Girl Can't Always Have Everything" openly condescends to her best friend Pat Lewis. Pat in turn lets Suzy die when Suzy fakes a suicide attempt to win back her rich estranged husband, snagging the grieving widower for herself.
  • You Make Me Sick: In "Clerical Error," when sleazy Ronnie Carey insists Paul Standing's father bought expensive pornography from his shop, Paul Standing knowing this is impossible replies "You disgust me."
  • Your Cheating Heart: Many, many episodes, including "Lamb to the Slaughter" and "A Harmless Vanity."


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