One Foot in the Grave

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Television

One Foot In The Grave

Cover of tapes of the first series from 1990 with Victor and Margaret Meldrew.
Genre Sitcom
Running time Mainly 30 minutes; 1 40mins, 1 45mins, 1 50mins, 2 60mins, 1 70mins, 1 90mins
Creator(s) David Renwick
Starring Richard Wilson
Annette Crosbie
Doreen Mantle
Angus Deayton
Janine Duvitski
Owen Brenman
Country of origin UK
Original channel BBC One
Original run 4 January 1990– 20 November 2000
No. of episodes 42 + 2 Comic Relief Sketches

One Foot in the Grave was a popular BBC television situation comedy series written by David Renwick. The show ran for six series, with several specials, over a ten year period, from 1990 to 2000. In addition, four episodes were remade for BBC Radio 4 and the series also inspired a novel.

The series featured the exploits of Victor Meldrew, played by Richard Wilson, and his wife, Margaret, played by Annette Crosbie, in their battle against the trials of modern life.

One Foot in the Grave 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 featured the exploits of Victor Meldrew, an irascible pensioner with attitude. In the first episode, Victor, played by Scottish born actor Richard Wilson, was prematurely retired from his job as a security guard. From then on the series followed his struggle to keep himself occupied, often with little success. In particular, Victor fell victim to surreal misfortunes, bad luck and coincidences, which led to his oft-immitated catchphrase "I don't believe it!". His long-suffering wife Margaret, played by Annette Crosbie, was often left exasperated by her husband's many misfortunes, although it was always made clear that the couple had a strong relationship. Although there is no explicit reference that Victor and Margaret had children, the episode 'Timeless Time' contained a melancholy, ambiguous reference to someone called Stuart; the suggestion was that they once had a son who had died as a child.

The other most consistent supporting character was a family friend, Jean Warboys, played by Doreen Mantle. Other regular characters were next door neighbour Patrick Trench, played by Angus Deayton, who invariably discovered Victor in inexplicably bizarre or compromising situations, his wife Pippa played by Janine Duvitski and overly cheery charity worker Nick Swainey, played by Owen Brenman.

The setting of the show is as a traditional cosy suburban sitcom, but it subverts this genre with a strong overtone of black comedy. The series featured highly innovative writing and outrageous comedy situations. If anything could go wrong, it not only went wrong but pulled half of the universe down with it (at least in a metaphorical sense). In a manner reminiscent of Alan Bennett, Renwick's scripts effectively combined farce with elements of tragedy. Indeed, in the final episode, Victor is killed by a hit-and-run driver. Margaret discovers the culprit, but the ending is ambiguous as to what she does about it.

Main characters

Victor Meldrew ( Richard Wilson) - Victor was 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 the machiavellian plots. Renwick once pointed out in an interview that the name ‘Victor’ was ironic, since he almost always ends up as a loser. From being buried alive, to being legally prosecuted for attacking a fiesty 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, alas to no avail.

Victor is a tragic comedy character however, 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 on his behalf, yet after a while his polite façade is torn down when amounting shenanigans get the better of him, allowing for a full verbal onslaught to be delivered with the aptly famous "I don't believe it!"

Margaret Meldrew ( Annette Crosbie) - The long suffering wife of Victor tries to maintain a degree of calmness as she tries to rise above her husband's frustrations yet she too is engulfed into the same folly and often vents her anger, usually at Victor, who bears the brunt of it all.

Patrick Trench ( Angus Deayton) - Patrick, along with his wife Pippa, dwelt next door to Victor; he would almost certainly catch Victor engrossing himself in seemingly preposterous situations, all of which in their context, seemed perfectly acceptable. Patrick believed Victor to be quite insane, possibly bordering on malicious as bad luck got the better of our main protagonist.

Patrick is an interesting character however, for it is his rift with Victor that morphs him into a rather cynic ridden character, much like Victor - this was shown in one episode where his face transformed into an apparition of Victor's as he gazed into a mirror. In another episode, his wife Pippa loses their baby in similar circumstances to Victor and Margaret.

Pippa Trench ( Janine Duvitski) - The wife of Patrick sought friendly relations with the Meldrews and after a while, became good friends with Margaret; eventually a move of sorts is considered, fronted by Patrick, and as they settle in to their new setting, they soon realise that the Meldrew curse still envelopes them.

Jean Warboys ( Doreen Mantle) - Mrs Warboys was a friend of Margaret (and a rather annoying one at that, 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 Chris, who left her for the private detective whom she had hired when she suspected him of having an affair. It was later revealed that they had divorced.

She would often bear the brunt of Victor's temper due to muddled misunderstandings and partly due to her aloof nature at times. One such occasion saw her goading Victor into making a place, in his heart, for a dog. She had not told him that it was stuffed, much to annoyance of Victor who had just splashed out on constructing an expensive shed for it. Doreen Mantle described her charecter as "Wanting to do the right thing but always finding out that it was the wrong thing". She would often bore the Meldrews with her cravings for showing them her complete collection of holiday pictures at the most unwelcome of times, along with her equally annoying cousin, Wilfred.

Nick Swainey ( Owen Brenman) - The frustratingly cheerful, and often bordering on insane, individual who resided on the other side of the Meldrews from the Trenches. He remains continuously cheery with regards to anything; even being told to 'piss off' by Victor makes him treat it in a somewhat laughable fashion. However, since this little run-in he later befriended Victor. A kind-natured individual, Mr Swainey cared, for many years, for his bed ridden senile mother, whom we never actually saw. This is not to say that he doesn't drop his guard - for on one occasion we do observe his apparent depression. Following his mother's death, he moved house near to the end of the series, but only went as far as the other side of Victor's house, into the Trenches' old house.

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. In the final series, it becomes clear that their cheerfulness was a façade and, in a particularly dark scene, Mildred has hanged herself "during a game of Happy Families".

Cousin Wilfred (John Rutland) - Mrs. Warboy's cousin, Wilfred, appeared a number of times in the series. He was a fairly boring middle aged man, although by his appearance in the final series a stroke had left him mute. He therefore had to speak with an electronic voice generator and owing to his poor typing this led to several misunderstandings, such as asking Victor for a "bra of soup" (bar of soap).



The theme song was written and sung by Eric Idle, who also appeared in one episode. A remixed version was later unsuccessfully released as a single in November 1994. 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.


The programme was a recipient of 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.

The series also won the Best Television Sitcom in 1992 from the Royal Television Society and the British Comedy Award for Best Sitcom in 1992, 1995 and 2001.

In 2004, One Foot in the Grave came tenth in a recent 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 one episode, a dead cat was found in the Meldrew's freezer, in another a tortoise was roasted in an incinerator. 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 censored, however, for a scene in the episode "Hearts of Darkness" where an elderly resident was abused in an old peoples' home, and following complaints, the scene was slighly cut when the episode was repeated.

Controversy also surrounded the final, "Things Aren't Simple Anymore", when it was originally broadcast on 20 November 2000 as it coincided with the broadcast of the first jackpot winner in the UK version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. ITV were accused of engineering this in order to damage the final episode's expected high ratings.

Cultural impact

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 and the 1996 Boxing Day special was only pipped in the ratings by the record-breaking finale of Only Fools And Horses.

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.

An American remake of the show, starring Bill Cosby, simply titled Cosby ran from 1996 - 2000. David Renwick was listed as an executive producer on the series. Renwick also wrote a novel based on some of the storylines, published in 1992 ( ISBN 0-563-36428-9).

In popular culture

  • In the Father Ted episode ‘The Mainland’ Ted and Dougal encounter Richard Wilson (out of character) and drive him mad by constantly repeating his One Foot in the Grave catchphrase - something about which Wilson has expressed frustration in real life.

DVD releases

Series one to six were released on Region 2 DVD by 16th October 2006. A 12 Disc boxset including the Christmas specials from 1996 and 1997 was also released on Region 2 DVD on 16th October 2006. The Comic Relief Shorts from 1993 and 2001 were not included in this set. The Christmas Specials from 1996 and 1997 were released on one separate DVD in November 2006.

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