Wednesday, 22 June 2016
424 Tales of the Unexpected
First viewed : 29 March 1980
I was interested in this - originally titled Roald Dahl's Tales Of The Unexpected - from the start, having a long affection for Dahl's work, but it was on so late - 10 pm on a Saturday that I didn't see any of the first series ( missing out on Pamela Stephenson in a wet bikini in the first episode ) in 1979. I never understood that; there was never really anything in the content that justified such a late slot; many of them were just as suitable for mid-evening viewing as the likes of Armchair Thriller.
The series was originally based on the short stories of Roald Dahl , some of them tweaked to provide the sort of closure TV viewers did expect. Dahl did Alfred Hitchcock -style introductions at the beginning of each episode though these were rarely very illuminating. Dahl had never found the short story form very easy so once a second season was commissioned there was an immediate problem in the shortage of source material and Dahl had no input in four of the second season episodes.
I came in at episode 5 of the second season, a story called "Poison" in which a recovering alcoholic in India played by Andrew Ray wakes up to find a krait ( a deadly poisonous snake ) is having a kip on his stomach . His friend and an Indian doctor try to blow it off and succeed, if it was there at all. Curtly dismissing them , the guy decides one drink won't hurt but guess what's lurking in the drinks cabinet ?
I watched other episodes in that season but somehow it never became required viewing for me. Inevitably the ones I recall best are where there was some female talent on show like Susan Penhaligon in spray-on pants as a policewoman posing as an easy lay to trap a serial killer ( "Decoy" 1982 ) or the not - usually - very - sexy Elaine Paige revealing a great pair of legs ( "The Way To Do It" ,1981) . The last one that I'm reasonably sure I saw was "Have A Nice Death" with Simon Callow as a writer who rubbed feminists up the wrong way. That was in June 1984.
Dahl's introductions became very occasional from the third season onwards and his name was removed from the title. Anglia produced the series originally but as it became popular accepted money from the States so many of the episodes were filmed overseas. It attracted many big name stars over the years including Joan Collins, Janet Leigh, George Peppard, Denholm Elliott and Don Johnson. The 1982 episode "Stranger In Town " captured the screen debut of a nine-year old Jennifer Connelly. Many actors appeared in more than one episode; Andrew Ray was something of a regular in the British-made ones.
The series did suffer from a contradiction at its heart. If you make something called Tales of the Unexpected a regular series then the twist ending is what the audience is going to expect and they're going to become increasingly expert at guessing what it is. So it was that the series came in for a fair bit of mockery, wags renaming it "Tales of the Amazingly Predictable" and so on. As audiences waned the seasons slowly got shorter until the axe fell in 1988. I wonder if they saw it coming ?