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 ?    

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