Why One Foot In The Grave Was One Of Britain’s Darkest Sitcoms

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A prime-time sitcom classic, ‘One Foot In The Grave’s is largely recalled with rose-tinted spectacles, Richard Wilson bellowing his catchphrase 'I don’t believe it!’ in his genteel Scottish brogue to peels of laughter after suffering yet another humiliating indignity. But you don’t have to dig too deep to find that behind the knockabout gags at the expense of Mrs Warboys, the show was at times incredibly and purposefully dark, a mire of existential angst…

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That time Margaret went missing after fantasises about murdering Victor…

In the bizarre 'Dreamland’ episode, Mrs Warboys tells the story of how Margaret goes missing, following a series of dreams she has about violently murdering 'a balding old man with white hair’. Victor, frantic with worry, calls in the police. Presumed dead after her coat is found by the canal, a search for her body is launched, but she turns up in bed two nights later. After an existential crisis, she’d just gone to Margate for a few days to get away, to teach Victor not to take her for granted. This episode is a bonanza of darkness. Victor goes to buy a pair of shoes advertised in the supermarket that are still attached to their dead owner, and dropped into conversation is also an anecdote revealing Victor was once sexually assaulted by a busker’s monkey in London. That bit is pretty funny, though.

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That time Victor uncovered abuse in a care home…

A trip to the country goes disastrously wrong, and the Meldrews, along with Mrs Warboys and Mr Swainey, find themselves lost and stranded. Trying to find help, Victor happens upon an old people’s home where the residents are being physically abused by a sadistic matron and her staff. He then decides to lead a revolt and liberate the inmates. There were complaints to the BBC about the violent scenes, after which the episode was edited.

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That time the yoga instructor dropped dead…

Margaret drags Victor to her fitness class to occupy his mind following the death of his cousin Geoffrey, who died suddenly aged 60, soon after taking early retirement. He takes an instant dislike to the perky young instructor. But then she drops dead without warning during a yoga demonstration. “Oh, brilliant!” bellows Victor. “Doesn’t anyone last more than five minutes anymore? At this rate the entire human race will be extinct by next Thursday.”

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That time when the Meldrews’ lives were destroyed by a fire…

What a way to start an series. The second, which aired in October 1990, began with Victor and Margaret returning home from their holidays ('two weeks of misery incarnate’ in Greece, followed by an aggressive cavity search for Victor by drugs police on their return to Luton Airport) to find that all their worldly belongings have been destroyed in a house fire. In case that wasn’t enough, their baggage is also lost, sent to the other side of the world, meaning they are left with just the clothes they are standing in. Hilarious!

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That time Mildred hanged herself…

Ronnie and Mildred were the relentlessly happy – but interminably boring – couple who the Meldrews dreaded having to socialise with. However, despite their amusing photographs (a holiday scene under their toilet seat being the most odd) and bizarre gifting choices, their happy demeanour is shown to be a grim facade in 'Tale of Terror’, the second episode of the final season. Victor and Margaret rush round to their house after a call from Ronnie to find that Mildred has hanged herself after playing a game of Happy Families. The shot of Mildred’s feet hanging outside the living room window is usually cut for pre-watershed repeats. Dark.

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That time Victor Was Killed… By His Wife’s New Best Friend

BLEAK! In the last ever episode of the series, 'Things Aren’t Simple Anymore’, what was a poignant, if shocking, death – Victor run over by a car which mounts the curb, his famous flat cap seen lying in the gutter – is given a much darker twist. Turns out the driver was Margaret’s new best friend Glynis, played by Hannah Gordon, who befriends Margaret to assuage her guilt, keeping her part in the accident a secret until Margaret accidentally discovers the truth. In the final scene, it’s even implied that Margaret might have dosed Glynis with tablets, after vowing 'If they ever find the bastard who was at the wheel of that car I swear I’ll kill him, with my bare hands if I have to’. Less 'One Foot In The Grave’, more 'Tales Of The Unexpected’.

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That time Victor was a ghost…

In a sketch for Comic Relief in 2001, a year after Victor’s on-screen death, he appears back in his full-blown complaining form, with Margaret as she visits her Uncle Dick in hospital, played by the legendary Eric Sykes. However, Margaret never acknowledges Victor directly at any point. She also complains about a cold air in the room. Chilling.

What did you think about ‘One Foot In The Grave’? Let us know in the comments below…

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