The London of Steptoe And Son

The London of Steptoe And Son

The death of Ray Galton, who, along with his writing partner Alan Simpson, was considered the creator of British situation comedy, prompted to me to spend a bit of time on YouTube with their BBC television masterpiece Steptoe And Son. It was a comedy of father-son rivalry, whose chief protagonists, the restless, aspirational Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett) and his wily widower father Albert Steptoe (Wilfrid Brambell), were Shepherd’s Bush rag-and-bone merchants.

The episode below, entitled Without Prejudice, was first broadcast in 1970. It mines a core theme of the Steptoes’ relationship: Albert’s thwarting of Harold’s self-improvement ambitions, in this case his desire to move from their leaky old house in inner west London to a modern suburban semi. It also contains some choice social observations about their home neighbourhood at the time, such as the proximity of the BBC studios with their “poofy producers” as potential purchasers, aircraft noise from Heathrow (though it would be worse in Hounslow, Albert observes), and the new, window-rattling proximity of “the motorway”, presumably a topical reference to the Westway, which carried what was called the A40(M) when it opened in July 1970.

Needless to say, the prospect of the grubby Steptoes moving in, complete with horse and cart, does not delight their curtain-twitching, hedge trimming, prospective Highview Avenue neighbours. There’s also a primer in “working-class euphemism” by Harold for the benefit of the estate agent to savour and a mention of “the race relations board.” Not to mention property prices – that old London favourite. If you have a spare half hour, spend it with Galton, Simpson, Steptoe and Son.

A full series episode guide to Steptoe And Son is here. A lovely appreciation of Galton and Simpson’s work by Frank Cottrell Boyce is here.

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