DVD release – Steptoe & Son (1965)

A fascinating oddity – Steptoe and Son US (1965)


Galton and Simpson’s classic miserable sit-com Steptoe and Son was eventually retooled as a softer US version, Sanford and Son (1972) – in which the lead characters were black, offering longtime niche standup comic Redd Foxx a shot at late in life stardom.  Earlier, a pilot was shot  for a much more literal relocation of the premise, directed by Theodore J. Flicker (The President’s Analyst), with Lee Tracy (of The Front Page and Dr X, still smiling smugly in old age) and Aldo Ray (poised between second-string tough guy and exploitation regular) as Albert and Harold.  Ray even takes a stab at Harry H. Corbett’s catchphrase ‘you dirty old man’, adding a gesture of covering his face with his hands while he utters it – though Tracy’s dapper, twinkling old con man isn’t as literally dirty as Wilfred Brambell’s unshaven gurner.  The plot is a nothing confection about Albert retiring and finally turning the business over to his son as part of a scam to keep the grown-up lad from leaving him to fend for himself, but there’s no sense of the desperation that binds the characters together in the UK version.  A long chunk of the show features Tracy jamming with beatnik types at the café next to the junkyard, featuring music from Hugo Montenegro (later a UK chart-topper with his cover of the Good the Bad and the Ugly theme).  Guest star Jonathan Harris is a prissy efficiency expert who suggests putting Albert in a retirement home.  It’s obviously a miss (stuck in a can and not aired – in an era when even My Mother the Car got a season out), but a strange relic of a time when US TV was looking to the great work being done abroad and yet stuck with conventions and censorship restrictions that meant it couldn’t be reproduced – US TV laboured under the misapprehension that sit-com characters have to be likeable rather than relatable and their locus should be an ideal home which has problem-of-the-week hiccoughs rather than an existential nightmare where the humour arises from the unending traps that the characters are stuck in.


It’s out from Simply Media


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