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Drop the Dead Donkey (1990-98)

Courtesy of Fremantlemedia

Main image of Drop the Dead Donkey (1990-98)
Hat Trick Productions for Channel 4, tx. 9/8/1990-9/12/1998
65 x 30 min episodes in six series, colour
Created byAndy Hamilton
 Guy Jenkin
Executive ProducerDenise O'Donoghue
ProducersAndy Hamilton
 Guy Jenkin
 Sue Howells

Cast: Robert Duncan (Gus); Haydn Gwynne (Alex Pates); Neil Pearson (Dave); Jeff Rawle (George Dent); David Swift (Henry); Stephen Tompkinson (Damien); Victoria Wicks (Sally); Susannah Doyle (Joy); Hermione Norris (Octavia); Ingrid Lacey (Helen Cooper)

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Behind the scenes in the hectic newsroom of Globelink News TV, recently acquired by media tycoon Sir Roysten Merchant, who operates a determinedly 'hands-off' policy - he leaves manager Gus to do his interfering for him...

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Set in the fictional GlobeLink newsroom, Drop the Dead Donkey inventively combined conventional character-based sitcom with topical satire.

It was in part an office sitcom, exploring workplace tensions and disastrous relationships in a confined setting. Neatly-observed characters included Gus, prone to torturous management-speak (willing to 'stir-fry ideas' in his 'think-wok') and manipulation on behalf of unscrupulous owner Sir Royston Merchant, despite claiming a hands-off remit ("I'm not here"); hypochondriac editor George; talented, under-promoted deputy Alex; gambling, womanising researcher Dave; iconic elder newsreader Henry and the misnamed Joy, a demotivated, brutal PA. Convincing performances are drawn from a cast noted for drama as much as for sitcom.

Newsroom satire included the struggle to defend serious journalism from tabloid tendencies; the hiring of Sally Smedley, a breakfast-TV nonentity who displaces a committed older woman broadcaster; and ethically-challenged reporter Damien Day. Unedited feeds of Damien's location reports reveal re-takes, emotively-placed teddy bears, a lobbed grenade and other manipulation.

The setting allowed characters to indulge in topical, often dark, humour. Scripts left 'gag holes' for topical references to be added, with the show recorded the night before transmission (or, in a crisis, the same day). Barbed satire mingled with inspired abuse (anagrammatically, Virginia Bottomley becomes "I'm an evil Tory bigot"), though politicians gamely appeared, including Neil Kinnock and Ken Livingstone.

The format, previously titled Dead Belgians Don't Count, was created by lead writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, whose combined credits included Not the 9 O' Clock News (BBC, 1979-82), Spitting Image (ITV, 1984-96) and Who Dares Wins..? (Channel 4, 1983-88). The BBC's failure to appreciate that topicality (allegedly leaving sample scripts unread for months) led Hamilton and Jenkin to take the idea to Channel 4 via Hat Trick Productions.

Immediacy was heightened by director Liddy Oldroyd (whose distinctive visual style challenged studio-bound sitcom conventions) and the show's topicality, though that was ultimately a small part of the humour. Later series delved further into private lives, including Gus and Damien's respective demons, Dave's complex relationship with lesbian Helen, and George's difficult family life.

Hamilton and Jenkin ended the show after series six, in which GlobeLink's closure forced the staff to seek other work. The final episode resolved the lead characters' stories (not all happily), ending a comedy whose critical acclaim (including BAFTA, British Comedy Award and Emmy wins) and healthy ratings made it one of Channel 4's most successful home-grown series.

Dave Rolinson

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Video Clips
1. Macabre lottery (03:37)
2. Grumpy and Dopey (03:51)
3. Nobbled (04:34)
Complete episode: 'Clash of Interests' Part 1 (10:36)
Complete episode: Part 2 (14:32)
Channel 4 Comedy
Channel 4 at 25
TV Satire