One Foot in the Grave
|One Foot in the Grave|
Series title card (1990–2000)
|Created by||David Renwick|
|Written by||David Renwick|
|Directed by||Sydney Lotterby (1990)
Susan Belbin (1990–96)
Christine Gernon (1997–2000)
|Composer(s)||Ed Welch (1990)
Eric Idle (1990–2000)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||6|
|No. of episodes||42+2 shorts (List of episodes)|
|Producer(s)||Susan Belbin (1990–96)
Esta Charkham (1997)
Jonathan P. Llewellyn (2000)
|Location(s)||Walkford, near New Milton, Hampshire, England|
|Original channel||BBC One|
|Picture format||576i (4:3 SDTV)
576i (16:9 SDTV)
|Original run||4 January 1990– 20 November 2000|
|Related shows||Jonathan Creek (since 1997) Cosby (US TV Show)|
One Foot in the Grave is a BBC television sitcom series written by David Renwick. The show ran for six series, including seven Christmas specials, two Comic Relief specials, over an eleven-year period, from early 1990 to late 2000. The latter Comic Relief special was shown after the series officially ended in spring 2001.
The series features the exploits of Victor Meldrew, played by Richard Wilson, and his long-suffering wife, Margaret, played by Annette Crosbie, in their battle against the trials of modern life. Living in a typical household in an unnamed English suburb, Victor takes involuntary early retirement. His various efforts to keep himself busy, while encountering various misfortunes and misunderstandings are the themes of the sitcom. The series was largely filmed on location in Walkford, near New Milton in Hampshire, although several clues show that the series may have been set in Hampshire – possibly Winchester. Despite its traditional production, the series supplants its domestic sitcom setting with elements of black humour and surrealism.
The series was occasionally the subject of controversy for some of its darker story elements, but was nevertheless the recipient of a number of awards, including the 1992 BAFTA for Best Comedy. In 2004, the series came tenth in a 2004 BBC poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom". The programme also came 80th in the British Film Institute's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. The series, originally shown on BBC One, is now available on DVD and is regularly repeated in the United Kingdom on Gold. Seven episodes were remade for BBC Radio 2 and the series also inspired a novel.
The series features the exploits of irascible pensioner Victor Meldrew, who after being forced to retire from his job as a security guard, finds himself at war with the world and everything in it. Meldrew, cursed with misfortune and always complaining, is married to long-suffering wife Margaret, who is often left exasperated by his many misfortunes.
Amongst other witnesses to Victor's wrath are tactless family friend Jean Warboys, and next-door couple Patrick (Victor's nemesis) and Pippa Trench. Patrick often discovers Victor in inexplicably bizarre or compromising situations, leading him to believe that he is insane. The Meldrews' neighbour on the other side, overly cheery charity worker Nick Swainey, also adds to Victor's frustration.
Although set in a traditional suburban setting somewhere in Essex past Basildon (mentioned in 'Starbound'), the show subverts this genre with a strong overtone of black comedy. Season One's "The Valley Of Fear" is an episode which caused controversy, when Victor finds a frozen cat in his freezer. Writer David Renwick also combined farce with elements of tragedy. For example in the final episode, Victor is killed by a hit-and-run driver, and although there is no explicit reference that Victor and Margaret had children, the episode "Timeless Time" contained a reference to someone named Stuart; the strong implication being that they once had a son who had died as a child.
A number of episodes were also experimental in that they took place entirely in one setting. Such episodes include: Victor, Margaret, and Mrs Warboys stuck in a traffic jam; Victor and Margaret in bed suffering insomnia; Victor left alone in the house waiting to see if he has to take part in jury service; Victor and Margaret having a long wait in their solicitor's waiting room; and Victor and Margaret trying to cope during a power cut on the hottest night of the year.
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Main characters 
Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) – Victor is the main protagonist of the sitcom and finds himself constantly battling against all that life throws at him as he becomes entangled, like the pawn he is, in machiavellian plots. Renwick once pointed out in an interview that the name "Victor" was ironic, since he almost always ends up a loser. From being buried alive, to being prosecuted for attacking a feisty pit bull terrier with a collection of coconut meringues, Victor tries to adjust to life after his infamous replacement by a "box" at his place of employment, but to no avail. He believes that everything is going wrong for him all the time, and he has the right to be angry and upset because it's not his fault it's every one else's fault. Victor is a tragic comedy character and sympathy is directed towards him as he becomes embroiled in complex misunderstandings, bureaucratic vanity and, at times, sheer bad luck. The audience sees a philosophical ebb to his character, however, along with a degree of optimism, yet his polite façade collapses when events get the better of him, and a full verbal onslaught is forthcoming. "Victor-isms" include "I do not believe it!", "I don't believe it!", "Un-be-lievable!"
Margaret Meldrew (née Pellow) (Annette Crosbie) – Victor's long-suffering, tolerant and kind-hearted wife, Margaret tries to maintain a degree of calmness and to rise above her husband's frustrations. However, she is too often engulfed in the same folly and often vents her anger, usually at Victor who bears the brunt of it all. In early episodes, her character acts more as a comic foil to Victor's misfortunes, for example asking if a cat found frozen in their freezer is definitely dead and mentioning a friend who died of a terminal illness. When Victor reminds her that the woman actually fell from a cliff, Margaret retorts she only did so because "she went to the seaside to convalesce".
In later episodes, Margaret develops into a more complex character. She is shown to be fiercely protective of her marriage to Victor, becoming easily suspicious and jealous, for example, of a Dutch marionette that Victor becomes occupied with repairing in the episode "Hole in the Sky", eventually leading her to destroy it. In "The Affair of the Hollow Lady", a greengrocer develops a liking for Victor and wrongly attempts to convince Margaret that he has been unfaithful to her. In revenge, Margaret assaults the woman with a pair of boxing gloves. However, Margaret herself is shown to have contemplated infidelity with a man she met on holiday in the episode "Warm Champagne", eventually deciding against it. She sums up her relationship with Victor in this episode by telling Ben (her admirer) "Victor's the most sensitive person I know - and that's why I love him. And why I continually want to ram his head through a television screen".
Jean Warboys (Doreen Mantle) – Mrs Warboys is a friend of Margaret (and a rather annoying one in Victor's eyes) who attached herself to the Meldrews, accompanying them on many of their exploits. In the early series she was married to (never seen) Chris, but eventually he left her for the private detective she had hired when she suspected him of having an affair, and they divorced.
She often bears the brunt of Victor's temper due to muddled misunderstandings and in part due to her aloof nature. One such occasion saw her goading Victor into taking a dog whose owner had just died. She had not told him that it was stuffed, much to Victor's annoyance, as he had spent time constructing an expensive kennel for it. On another occasion she had a waxwork made of herself which had to be delivered to their house as she had been involved in a road accident. As it turned out, she hated it as much as Victor and Margaret did, and that particular episode finished with the waxwork standing in the dustbin. Despite being friends with Margaret, she has driven Margaret mad a few times, notably in "Only a Story", when she moved in with the Meldrews after her flat had been flooded and drove Margaret to the point of distraction with her complaining and laziness. She would often bore the Meldrews by showing them her complete collection of holiday pictures at the most unwelcome times. A running joke is her beating Victor at board-games, including Trivial Pursuit and chess. In "Hearts of Darkness" Mrs Warboys appears to know the answer to every question and in "Tales of Terror" she continually checks Victor while appearing to pay no attention to the game. Doreen Mantle described her character as "wanting to do the right thing but always finding out that it was the wrong thing".
Patrick Trench (Angus Deayton) – Patrick and his wife Pippa live next door to Victor, and often catches Victor engrossed in seemingly preposterous situations, all of which in context are revealed as perfectly innocuous. The couple's relationship with their neighbours begins badly after Victor mistakenly believes Patrick and Pippa are distant relations rather than the next-door neighbours who had been leaving for a lengthy holiday the day that Victor and Margaret moved in. This and later incidents cause Patrick to suspect that Victor is quite insane, possibly bordering on malicious, and he often responds to Victor in similarly vindictive ways as a means of "getting even", for example by complaining via post-it notes.
However, it is Patrick's rift with Victor which eventually transforms him into a rather cynical character, much like Victor. This aspect of the character came to a head in the episode "The Executioner's Song" where his face transforms into an apparition of Victor's as he gazes into a mirror.
Pippa Trench (née Croaker) (Janine Duvitski) – Patrick's wife sought friendly relations with the Meldrews and, after a while, became good friends with Margaret. The two women usually attempt to get the men to make peace with each other at least once per series. Eventually Patrick proposes that the Trenches move house, but they soon realise that the Meldrew curse has followed them: Victor sent workmen to their home next door, thinking they were removal men who had come to the wrong house. They were in fact from a house clearance firm Margaret had employed to clear her late cousin Ursula's country mansion. It turned out that the workmen had cleared Patrick and Pippa's house of their entire furniture and sold it for a mere four hundred and seventy five pounds. Pippa is slightly dim-witted, for example believing Victor had murdered an elderly blind man simply because the victim had been found clutching a double-one domino in his hand, and Victor had two pimples on his nose.
New neighbours Derek and Betty McVitie replaced the Trenches for the 1997 special "Endgame", however this turned out to be their only appearances in the series and they were said to have emigrated by the penultimate episode which caused Nick Swainey to leap straight in with the offer for their old house. Series six saw the Trenches return as prominent characters, albeit living in a house some distance from the Meldrews.
Nick Swainey (Owen Brenman) – The excessively cheerful and often oblivious character appeared in the first episode, encouraging Victor to join his OAPs' trip to Eastbourne. When the Meldrews move house, they discover he is their neighbour, living on the other side of the Meldrews from the Trenches. He remains continuously optimistic; even his being told to "p**s off" by Victor is laughed off. However, despite this little run-in he later befriends Victor. A kind-natured individual, Mr Swainey cared for many years for his bedridden senile mother, whom the audience never actually see. He does though occasionally drop his guard, on one occasion displaying his apparent depression. Following his mother's death, he moved house near the end of the series, but only went as far as the other side of Victor's house, into the Trenches'/McVitie's old house claiming he'd always wanted to live in an "end house, without leaving the area".
Other recurring characters 
Ronnie and Mildred (Gordon Peters and Barbara Ashcroft) – Ronnie and Mildred were a constantly cheerful couple who provided yet another annoyance to the Meldrews, who dreaded any upcoming visits to them. They are referenced a number of times in the series for giving the Meldrews bizarre and always unwanted presents, usually involving a garish photograph of themselves. In the final series, however it was clear that their cheerfulness was a façade and, in a particularly dark scene, Mildred hung herself "during a game of Happy Families". The shot of Mildred's feet dangling outside the window is usually cut from pre-watershed screenings.
Cousin Wilfred (John Rutland) – Mrs. Warboys' cousin, Wilfred, appeared twice in the series, and was considered to be a fairly boring middle-aged man. In the final series, the effects of a stroke rendered him mute, and forced him to "speak" with the aid of an electronic voice generator. His poor typing on the generator led to several misunderstandings, such as asking Victor for a "bra of soup" (as opposed to a "bar of soap").
Great Aunt Joyce and Uncle Dick - Unseen characters, they are often mentioned by Victor and Margaret, as an aging and grim couple and Victor and Margarent dread having anything to do with them. Great Aunt Joyce is mentioned as having a glass eye and has the habit of knitting bizarre items (such as six-fingered gloves) for Victor. Uncle Dick has a wooden arm; in the final Comic Relief (2001) episode, it transpires that a nurse had mistakenly placed a drip in the false arm for 18 hours after a trip to hospital after trying to remove a kidney stone with a wire coat hanger.
Mimsy Berkovitz - Another unseen character, she is the local agony aunt, whom many of the characters turn to for advice. In the episode "The Secret of the Seven Sorcerers", Patrick is heard talking to her on the radio, seeking her advice on how to cope when Victor and Margaret invite him and Pippa around to dinner.
Most of the first five series of One Foot in the Grave were produced and directed by Susan Belbin, the exceptions being "Love and Death," which was partly directed by veteran sitcom director Sydney Lotterby, and "Starbound," for which Gareth Gwenlan (who in fact had originally commissioned the series in 1989) stepped in to direct some sequences after Belbin was taken ill. Belbin retired due to ill health afterwards, and the final series was produced by Jonathan P. Llewellyn and directed by Christine Gernon. Wilson and Renwick felt that Gernon's experience of working with Belbin on earlier series of One Foot as a production secretary and assistant, as well as other shows, meant that her style was similar to Belbin's, aiding the transition between directors.
One Foot used Bournemouth to film some exterior sequences because of its favourable climate, easy access to London, and economical benefits relative to filming in the capital. After the first series was filmed, the house—near Pokesdown, Bournemouth—which had been used for the Meldrews' house in location sequences, changed hands and the new owners demanded nearly treble the usage fees that the previous owners had asked for. Rather than agree to this, the production team decided to find a new house, and the first episode of the second series was rewritten to have the Meldrews' house destroyed in a fire. This also gave the opportunity for a new interior set to be designed, as Belbin had been unhappy with the original set designed for the series, which she felt was too restrictive to shoot in.
Since series two, the exterior scenes of the Meldrew's home were filmed at Tresillian Way, Walkford, near New Milton in Hampshire. These later series make extensive use of specific street and garden locations in most episodes, particularly for scenes involving the Meldrew's neighbours. Most outside locations were filmed in and around Bournemouth and Christchurch. These include Richmond Hill, Undercliff Drive and Boscombe Pier, Bournemouth Town Hall, Lansdowne College, Christchurch Hospital and the former Royal Victoria Hospital (Boscombe). Later episodes, such as "Hearts of Darkness", were filmed entirely on location. Victor's death by a hit and run driver in the final episode was filmed at Shawford railway station, Hampshire. Fans left floral tributes at the site.
The show was produced with an aspect ratio of 4:3 from 1990-1997. Three years later, the show returned to television for its final series, which was produced with an aspect ratio of 16:9. All episodes are of Standard Definition 576i.
The One Foot in the Grave theme song was written, composed and sung by Eric Idle. A longer version was produced for the special "One Foot in the Algarve", released as a single with five remixes and a karaoke version in November 1994. Idle included a live version of the song on his album Eric Idle Sings Monty Python. It is preluded by a similar adaptation of "Bread of Heaven" to that used in the episode "The Beast in the Cage" by disgruntled car mechanics. The music on the TV series is accompanied at the beginning and end of each episode by a Tortoise. The series also made extensive use of incidental music, composed by Ed Welch, which often hinted at a particular genre to fit the mood of the scenes, frequently incorporating well-known pieces of music such as "God rest you merry, gentlemen" or Intermezzo from Jean Sibelius' Karelia Suite. In the Christmas special "Endgame" during Margaret's alleged death scene, a compilation of clips from past episodes are accompanied by the song "River Runs Deep" performed by J. J. Cale. The final episode ended with a montage of some of the mishaps Victor encountered, which were mentioned in the episode – backed by "End of the Line" by the Travelling Wilburys.
The programme received a number of prestigious awards. In 1992, it won a BAFTA as Best Comedy (Programme or Series). During its ten-year run, the series was nominated a further six times. Richard Wilson also won Best Light Entertainment Performance in 1992 and 1994, and Annette Crosbie was nominated for the same award in 1994.
In 2004, One Foot in the Grave came tenth in a BBC poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom" with 31,410 votes. The programme also came 80th in the British Film Institute's 100 Greatest British Television Programmes 
A number of complaints were made during the series' run for its depiction of animal deaths. For example, in the episode "The Valley of Fear", a dead cat is found in the Meldrews' freezer; in another, a tortoise is roasted in a brazier. However, this was later cited as a positive feature of the programme's daring scripts in Britain's Best Sitcom by its advocate Rowland Rivron. The programme was censured, however, for a scene in the episode "Hearts of Darkness" in which an elderly resident is abused in an old people's home, and following complaints, the scene was slightly cut when the episode was repeated. Another controversial scene in the episode "Tales of Terror" saw the Meldrews visit Ronnie and Mildred on the understanding that Mildred had gone upstairs during a game of Happy Families and not returned; Ronnie then shows her feet hanging outside of the window, revealing that she has committed suicide. The Broadcasting Standards Commission received complaints about this scene.
When the final episode, "Things Aren't Simple Any More" originally aired on 20 November 2000 at 21:00, it coincided with the broadcast of the first jackpot winner in the UK version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which had been filmed the Sunday before the broadcast. ITV was accused of engineering this in order to damage the final episode's expected high ratings, but was later cleared by the Independent Television Commission.
Cultural impact 
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Despite gaining initially low audience ratings, by the third series, One Foot in the Grave was making the Top 20 ratings, with some episodes seen by more than 16 million viewers. In particular, the Christmas 1993 edition topped 20 million viewers.
Due to the series' popularity, people who constantly complain and are irritated by minor things are often compared to Victor Meldrew by the British media. Renwick disputes this usage however, claiming that Victor's reactions are entirely in proportion to the things that happen to him.
Renwick integrated some of the plots and dialogue from the series into a novel, which was first published by BBC Books in 1992. Renwick also adapted four episodes for BBC Radio 2, which first aired between 21 January 1995 and 11 February 1995. The episodes are "Alive and Buried", "In Luton Airport, No One Can Hear You Scream", "Timeless Time" and "The Beast in the Cage". They are regularly repeated on the digital speech station BBC Radio 4 Extra and are available on audio CD.
A loose American remake of the show starred Bill Cosby and was simply titled Cosby; it ran from 1996 to 2000. David Renwick was listed as a consultant on the series. In 2001, Swedish commercial television channel TV4 produced a version of the show, entitled "En fot i graven", starring Gösta Ekman as Victor Meldrew and Lena Söderblom as his wife. A total of 12 episodes were broadcast.
Wilson dislikes saying his character's catchphrase ("I don't believe it!") and only performs the line for charity events for a small fee. This became a joke in the actor's guest appearance as himself in the Father Ted episode "The Mainland", where Ted and Dougal annoy him by constantly repeating his catchphrase. The situation was conceived when Father Ted writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews sat behind Wilson at a performance of Le Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall. They considered how "tasteless and wrong" it would be to lean forward to him every time that an acrobat did a stunt and yell the catchphrase, and then they realised that that's exactly what their fictional priests would do. This was also played upon when Wilson made a guest appearance on the comedy TV quiz show Shooting Stars, in which Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer purposefully misquoted his catchphrase by referring to him as "Richard 'I don't believe you' Wilson".
German version 
A German version was made of the series in 1996-1997, Mit einem Bein im Grab, directed by Thomas Nennstiel and Frank Strecker. It starred Heinz Schubert as "Viktor Bölkhoff", Brigitte Böttrich as "Margret Bölkhoff" and Irm Hermann as "Lisbeth Albermann".
VHS and DVD releases 
All six series and specials were initially available on BBC Worldwide VHS video tapes. The Comic Relief Shorts from 1993 and 2001 have not been released on DVD. One Foot in the Grave Best-of was also released in Region 4, 8 July 2004.
|DVD Name||Release date||Notes|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Complete Series 1||27 March 2007||2 August 2004||7 July 2005|
|Complete Series 2||27 March 2007||9 May 2005||4 May 2006||Includes the 1990 Christmas special|
|Complete Series 3||11 March 2008||8 August 2005||17 August 2006||Includes the 1991 Christmas special|
|Complete Series 4||11 March 2008||24 April 2006||7 March 2007||Includes the 1993 Christmas special|
|Complete Series 5||10 February 2009||21 August 2006||1 August 2007||Includes the 1994 & 1995 Christmas special|
|Complete Series 6||10 February 2009||16 October 2006||3 October 2007||Includes the 2000 documentary "I Don't Believe It: The Story of One Foot in the Grave"|
|Complete Series 1-6||8 September 2009||16 October 2006/slim version 4 October 2010||6 March 2008||A 12-disc box set that includes the Christmas specials|
|Christmas Specials||8 September 2009||13 November 2006||6 November 2008||The 1996 and 1997 Christmas specials|
- One Foot in the Grave Series 6 DVD Commentary
- BFI TV100, URL accessed 8 June 2006
- Lewisohn, Mark. "One Foot In The Grave". The former BBC Guide to Comedy. Archived from the original on 2005-04-17. Retrieved 2007-05-14.
- Wickham, Phil. "One Foot In The Grave (1990-2000)". BFI: ScreenOnline. Retrieved 2007-05-14.
- Smith, Rupert (2000-11-21). "The bitter end: Last night's TV". The Guardian.
- Series Producer Graham Mitchell; Director Julie Newing (2007-01-12). "One Foot in the Grave". Comedy Connections. BBC.
- "The Beast in the Cage", One Foot in the Grave, Series 3, episode 4, wr. D. Renwick
- "Timeless Time"
- I Don't Believe It! The 'One Foot in the Grave' Story, BBC documentary, 2000
- "I Don't Believe It!: The One Foot in the Grave story", documentary, BBC Worldwide 2005.
- Webber 2006, p. 177
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- Webber 2006, p. 85
- Did Victor put one foot in your garden? Bournemouth Echo, Wednesday 6 July 2005. Retrieved January 2009
- "Victor's fans say it with flowers". Northern Echo. 23 November 2000. Retrieved 28 January 2009.
- Webber 2006, p. 183
- Sings Monty Python: Live In Concert Soundtrack CD
- It is reprised in the fourth series episode "Warm Champagne"
- List of Awards at IMDb, URL accessed 8 June 2006
- Britain's Best Sitcom top ten, URL accessed 8 June 2006
- Rowland Rivron's case at BBC Britain's Best Sitcom, URL accessed 8 June 2006
- One Foot in the Grave at the Museum of Broadcast article by Pam Logan. Retrieved 8 June 2006
- "Millionaire? cleared of ratings 'fix'". BBC News. 15 January 2001. Retrieved 2007-01-28.
- "'Real-life Victor Meldrew' attacked neighbour with rake over honeysuckle row". The Daily Mail. 2008-01-15. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
- Aaronovitch, David (2002-08-28). "The real Victor Meldrew would have had no time for this new social group". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
- David Renwick (interviewed) (2004-01-10). Britain's Best Sitcom?. BBC Television. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
- En fot i graven at the Internet Movie Database, URL accessed 22 May 2010
- "BBC Drama Faces: Richard Wilson". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
- Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews. Father Ted: The Complete Scripts. London: Boxtree. p. 298. ISBN 0-7522-7235-7.
- "Mit einem Bein im Grab". Fernsehserien.de. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
- uk/comedy/guide/articles/o/onefootinthegrav_7774990.shtml One Foot in the Grave at the former BBC Guide to Comedy (archive)
- shtml One Foot in the Grave at BBC Online
- One Foot in the Grave at the MBC's Encyclopedia of Television
- DVD Review for Complete Series, and production history