Foot in the Grave, like so many of the Britain's most enduring
and well-liked situation comedies, took three seasons to establish
itself before suddenly becoming the most popular programme on television,
with 18 million viewers. Five series of the program, and two Christmas
specials, have been presented between 1990 and 1995.
show was writer David Renwick's first situation comedy after having
spent a number of years writing sketches for the likes of The Two
Ronnies and Alexei Sayle. Renwick created the lead character, Victor
Meldrew, with Scots actor Richard Wilson in mind, but Wilson initially
turned down the role because he felt he was too young to play a
sixty-year-old man. Luckily, he thought again and a new hero for
the 1990s made his debut on 4 January 1990.
first episode, "Alive and Buried", introduced Victor Meldrew just
as he was about to be made redundant from his job as a security
guard--replaced by a computer chip. From then on Victor's life is
portrayed as a never ending battle against the rest of the world.
Everything conspires against him, from his neighbours to shop assistants
to God. The series showed that elderly people did not have one foot
in the grave, but wanted to lead lives which were the same as anybody
else's. However, Renwick very cleverly created situations which
would anger anyone but which, bizarrely, could only happen to Victor
Meldrew. In "Valley of Sleep," for example, Victor finds himself
in hospital with suspected appendicitis. It is only when the male
nurse who is shaving him begins discussing the price of property
on the moon that we, along with Victor, gradually become aware that
the nurse is, in fact, a mental patient. In "The Worst Horror of
All" Victor is convinced that the skip he has hired will, in the
morning, have an old mattress dumped in it. When he wakes, his familiar
cry of "I don't believe it" reveals that someone has in fact dumped
a Citroen 2CV. Renwick skillfully returns to his original joke,
however, for when Victor opens the car door, out falls the mattress
which he had so feared he would find.
The program's other constant character is Victor's long-suffering
wife Margaret, played by the often underrated Annette Crosbie. She
has to bear the brunt of most of Victor's tetchiness and although
he sometimes drives her to distraction, we are never left in any
doubt that she loves him dearly. It is to Renwick's credit that
he has occasionally been able to insert some moments of great pathos
in which we learn a little more about Margaret and come to understand
why she and Victor may be unable to live without each other. Although
they are childless, we do learn in "Timeless Time" that they had
a son who died as a baby, but we never learn how.
series has not been without controversy. Some viewers objected when
Margaret found a dead cat nestling amongst the fishfingers in her
freezer, and others when an old lady got trapped overnight in their
loft. The programme was censured, however, for content in the "Hearts
of Darkness" episode. In one scene, set in an old peoples' home,
a resident was abused and kicked, actions that offended a number
of elderly viewers. The scene was cut slightly when the episode
In addition to his two wonderful main characters, Renwick also created
an idiosyncratic supporting cast. Margaret's friend Mrs. Warbouys
(Doreen Mantle) to whom Victor can barely be civil; Nick Swainey,
the social worker who lives next door and constantly refers to his
(unseen) bedridden mother; Patrick and Pippa, next door neighbours
whose lives are made a misery from the moment they first meet the
has constantly tried to extend the boundaries of situation comedy,
not only with the situations his characters have to face, but also
within the confines of the 30-minute programme. In "Timeless Time"
the whole episode is devoted to a sleepless night, in which Victor
and Margaret toss and turn, still agonising over life, and during
which no other characters are involved and we never leave the bedroom.
The first ten minutes of "Heart of Darkness" contain virtually no
dialogue, the only sound a musical accompaniment. "The Beast in
the Cage" sees the Meldrews stuck in a traffic jam for the whole
episode. This daring culminated in "Trial", when Victor was given
an entire episode to himself as he waited at home to be called for
jury service. As many newspapers pointed out, this was the first
time any actor had been given this comedy accolade since the great
all, One Foot In The Grave has given us, in Victor Meldrew,
a comic hero for the 1990s who is just as much of his time as are
the likes of Harold and Albert Steptoe and Basil Fawlty.
One Foot in the Grave
Photo courtesy of BBC
Meldrew....................................... Richard Wilson
Margaret Meldrew ..................................Annette
Crosbie Mrs. Warbouys.......................................
Doreen Mantle Patrick .................................................Angus
4 January 1990-
Geraldine. "What's Gone Wrong?" The Independent (London),
28 February 1993.
but Serious." Sunday Telegraph (London), 24 December 1995.
James. "Interview: Can You Believe It?" The Independent (London),
27 April 1996.