Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

SIX OF THE BEST #15 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES (1979 – 1988)

SIX OF THE BEST #15 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES

Created by:     Roald Dahl

No. of series: 9 – No. of episodes: 112

Producer(s)    Anglia Television / ITV

Original release: 24 March 1979 – 13 May 1988

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

With its eerie opening theme tune and iconic dancing silhouette title sequence, Tales of the Unexpected, holds much nostalgia for me. In fact, it was one of my favourite shows I watched as a kid. Every Sunday evening I couldn’t wait for these short, sharp and sometimes shocking tales of: murder, revenge, adultery, gambling, addiction, blackmail, liars, con-artists; and generally twisted visions of humanity. Of course, the amusing consideration remains that the twist in the tales were generally always expected, making them paradoxically, not unexpected at all. However, trying to guess the twist was also part of the fun in watching.

The series was inspired by similar anthology narrative shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Way Out; with initial stories adapted from the work of genius writer, Roald Dahl. The early seasons were also introduced by Dahl and while produced mainly in the UK, latter seasons had U.S. produced episodes too.

Other writers’ work would be adapted and the series became a staple haven for many famous actors too. These included: Susan George, Sian Philips, Jose Ferrer, Joseph Cotten, Peter Cushing, Janet Leigh, John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Joan Collins, Denholm Elliott, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Anna Neagle, Joan Greenwood, Harry H. Corbett, Timothy West and many more.

Over most of 2018, I re-watched pretty much every episode on SKY ARTS and so for this article I would like to choose six of my favourite ones. I’d say the latter seasons were probably not as strong as the earlier classics. Yet, I still loved most of them; even some of the more comedic and goofy ones. Finally, picking a favourite six was an impossible job, and I have limited the Dahl classics to just one. Here they are!

LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER (1979) – SEASON 1

A murdered husband, baffled police, distraught wife and a leg of lamb are the ingredients of one of the finest short stories I have ever experienced. Originally adapted for Hitchcock Presents, Susan George is excellent as the pregnant wife cooking up a special meal and murderous alibi twist.

THE FLYPAPER (1980) – SEASON 3

I was always told as a kid don’t talk to strangers for fear of abduction or harm and this episode deals with that theme expertly. The chilling tale from the pen of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one), finds an young girl drawn into danger from a seemingly unlikely source. The slow build-up of suspense, creepy performances and frightening end make it genuinely unforgettable piece of television drama.

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1981) – SEASON 4

Michael Kitchen is brilliant in this sharp, twisted drama as put-upon clerk, Arthur. His lowly beta male seeks the love of the boss’ daughter but is too broke to get her attention. Enter society-playboy Charlie Prince and Arthur finds confidence from his tutelage and connections. As the plot turns one way then another morality and fate catch out Arthur’s lofty aspirations and his dreams soon turn to dust.

HIJACK (1981) – SEASON 4

This brilliant story deals with a genre staple of an airline hijack. Very economical and full of suspense, it’s mostly shot in the interior of the cockpit as Simon Cadell’s Captain and crew are subject to a fear-inducing robbery. Cleverly plotted, this one even had me fooled with an audacious twist which really flies high at the end.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO LATELY (1982) – SEASON 5

I loved this episode because of the performance from Benjamin Whitrow. He is a bitter, unlikable, alchol-driven, misanthropic actor who verbally abuses his wife. When he bumps into an old acting friend the two share past memories and it’s soon revealed both are unhappy with their lives. Whitrow imbues, in a short time, a life of disappointment and human weakness, and his startling comeuppance is certainly deserving by the end.

SCRIMSHAW (1985) – SEASON 8

The U.S. produced episodes did not stand the test of the time very well, mainly due to the aged and fading 16mm film. Anyway, many of them could be classed as average but there was the odd gem. Scrimshaw was one such diamond in the rough, containing a haunting performance from Joan Hackett as an alcoholic barfly. One day she thinks her luck has changed when meeting an old wealthy artist friend, but that is far from the case.

Hackett’s performance stayed with me, especially the incredible shot at the end. When I researched Hackett’s name online wondering what she was up to now, I discovered she died in 1983 from cancer, aged only forty-nine. Released in 1985, Scrimshaw finds the audience literally watching a ghost, something I found completely unexpected.

SIX OF THE BEST #2 – MY MOST HATED CINEMA & TV CHARACTERS by PAUL LAIGHT

Following on from listing six of my favourite British sitcom episodes recently, I thought I’d have a bit of fun venting about some of the most irritating characters I have witnessed on film or TV screen. I mean did the writers intend for them to be annoying pricks or was it the actor or direction or performance or all of the above?  Anyway, whatever the weather, its great fun kicking the boot into these annoying arseholes!

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

ALL THE KIDS (EXCEPT CHARLIE) – WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)

I’ll ignore the Tim Burton version of this story and concentrate on the original adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic morality adventure. If you don’t know the story a reclusive sweet-maker lures kids to his factory on the promise of a “golden ticket” competition win. There’s Teutonic glutton Augustus Gloop; weirdo TV addict Mike Teevee; demanding, harpy-bitch Veruca Salt, upper-class, gum-maniac Violet Beauregarde and finally humble Charlie Bucket. Each kid, Charlie aside, is a spoilt bastard and each satisfactorily gets their just desserts, as Dahl’s fantasy punishes the rich and greedy ones to maximum audience delight.

FERGEE – JUDGE DREDD (1995)

I could basically include ANY character portrayed by Rob Schneider but I reserve special hatred for this monstrosity. I mean the film Judge Dredd was pretty bad, however, the action and design were bearable and Stallone – despite removing the protective mask – was kind of okay. YET the tone of the film was all over the shop! None more so than when acting cyst Rob Schneider pops up as an unofficial comedy sidekick for Dredd.  Yeah – like that was a staple of the cynical, dystopian and violent world the 2000AD comic was known for right!  No, I didn’t think so!  Morons!

JAR JAR BINKS – STAR WARS: PHANTOM MENACE etc. (1999)

Jar Jar, let’s face it, is an obvious choice but he is a complete cunt!  The worst crime is, as the comic relief, he is NOT funny!!  Moreover, his accent is unintelligible and he suffers from looking completely stupid. The Phantom Menace (1999), while having some fantastic actors (Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor), great action and superior baddie in Darth Maul, was let down by plodding plot, soggy politics and dreadful dialogue. Yet, Jar Jar Binks was the rancid cherry on top of a rotten cake. Not only that his character was also portrayed in an abominably stereotypical fashion seeming to echo the racist early-Hollywood representations of black characters that were seen as un-heroic, dumb and figures of scorn or fun.

JOFFREY BARATHEON – GAME OF THRONES (2011 – 2014)

The prostitute-murdering-Sean-Bean-killing-bullying-maniac-twat was clearly intended to be the pantomime villain we loved to hate from the start. But, like Malfoy from Harry Potter his character and the slimy performance from Jack Gleeson, he, for me eventually became a character I just hated without any enjoyment. I mean, I know he was sadistic in his treatment of Sansa Stark and mocking of Tyrion but he was also a bottle-job when it came to battle, perfectly encapsulating the worst kind of royal family traits. Moreover, Gleeson’s soulless face, clipped speech and acting on its’ own made me want to drag him out of the television and strangle him. Of course, Joffrey would eventually get poisoned at his own wedding and much joy was had from his demise from pretty much everyone who has ever watched the show.

RUBY RHOD – THE 5th ELEMENT

Luc Besson’s imaginative and colourful sci-fi-action epic had much to enjoy, notably: the performances of Milla Jovovich’s innocent alien, Bruce Willis’ cynical taxi driver and Gary Oldman’s terrific pantomime space villain. The action comes thick and fast and the production is a joy to watch. However, just over halfway through Chris Tucker’s performance of media whore Ruby Rhod takes a massive shit on the film; one it almost never recovers from. I mean, he’s loud, high-pitched, ridiculously dressed and THINKS HE’S FUNNY!  What was Besson thinking – who knows!? Even in an over-the-top-colour-clashed-sci-fi-action-romance-extravaganza Ruby Rhod was a stain and travesty of a character!

WHITNEY SOLLOWAY – THE AFFAIR (2014 –  )

Clearly this spoilt upper-middle-class New York teenager was intended by the writers to be a right royal pain in the arse. She throws sweet-sixteen tantrums of the highest order throughout and her nasally high-pitched voice grated me so much that I actually stopped watching the show during the second season. While the actress Julia Goldani Telles performance is excellent, the character was just too manipulative and psychotic to ever get my sympathy. Even amidst a whole host of privileged, narcissistic first-worlders Whitney Solloway took the biscuit and in the end I hated her so much I wished she’d been killed to death!