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Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment ltd

Main image of Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)
Anglia Television for ITV, tx. 24/3/1979-13/5/1988
112 x 30 minute episodes, colour
ProducersJohn Rosenberg
 Graham Williams
 John Woolf
CreatorRoald Dahl
MusicRon Grainer

Host: Roald Dahl; Cast: John Alderton, Harry Andrews, Jane Asher, Colin Blakely, Brenda Blethyn, Alfred Burke, Leslie Caron, Joan Collins, Pauline Collins, Harry H. Corbett, Bernard Cribbins, Peter Davison, Denholm Elliott, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Derek Jacobi, Richard Johnson, John Mills, George Peppard, Rod Taylor, Anthony Valentine, Timothy West

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Ironic stories of menace and the macabre with a sting in the tail.

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Before his success as a bestselling children's novelist, Roald Dahl was renowned for his ingenious and blackly comic short stories, many of which had featured in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents (US, 1955-62) series. Two dozen of Dahl's stories (including those previously used in Alfred Hitchcock Presents) would be adapted for Tales of the Unexpected, with Dahl providing a fireside introduction to each episode for the first two years (and a few thereafter). Subsequently the producers turned to such writers as John Collier, Stanley Ellin, Robert Bloch and Henry Sleasar, many of whose stories had also featured in the Hitchcock shows.

The stories range from fantasies such as Dahl's 'The Sound Machine' (tx. 17/5/1981), about a man who can hear the voices of plants, to lighter capers such as Sleasar's 'Operation Safecrack' (tx. 9/5/1982), with John Mills as a thief who outwits a PR company. Many stories (perhaps too many) are variations on the theme of marital disharmony - the best include 'Lamb to the Slaughter' (tx. 14/4/1979), in which the police unwittingly consume the murder weapon they seek (a leg of lamb); 'The Last of the Midnight Gardners' (tx. 16/6/1984), in which a philandering publisher is undone by his search for the method for the (fictional) perfect crime; and the ingenious 'A Harmless Vanity' (tx. 20/6/1982), with Sheila Gish dramatically meeting her errant husband's young mistress. One of the best-remembered episodes is the uncharacteristically dark 'The Flypaper' (tx. 9/8/1980), in which a sinister Alfred Burke hounds a young schoolgirl.

Only a few scripts were written specially for the series, notably 'Blue Marigold' (tx. 25/4/1982), the winning entry in a TV Times competition, and 'Stranger in Town' (tx. 23/5/1982), a revenge story by Sidney Carroll convincingly rendered as a charming fairytale thanks to a bravura central performance by Derek Jacobi and assured direction by Wendy Toye.

Episodes could veer weekly from comedy to tragedy, but one constant element was the memorable title sequence, which featured a woman in silhouette dancing over images of guns, tarot cards and roulette wheels to the strains of Ron Grainer's distinctive fairground waltz theme. Hollywood actors were imported for many early episodes but eventually some 20 stories were actually shot in America with such stars as George Peppard, Don Johnson and Warren Oates. Bringing the show full circle, many of these were overseen by Norman Lloyd, the original producer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Opening credits and Roald Dahl introduction (1:06)
2. A shocking discovery (3:46)
3. 'She's called Barbara' (4:36)
4. Evening meal (2:30)
Complete episode: 'Lamb to the Slaughter' (24:23)
Hammer House of Horror (1980)
Blessed, Brian (1936-)
Grainer, Ron (1924-1981)
Anglia Television