Starting in March 1979, and running for almost ten years, Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected holds a very special place in the hearts of those who saw it the first time round.
We’ve picked out eight of our favourite episodes.
It won’t surprise you (or maybe it will) that some of yours may not turn up on our list, so feel free to champion your favourites in the comments section below…
‘The Man From The South’
The first episode to be aired sets the tone for the following decade, and is a perfect example of what most us remember from the show: a neat central hook, international guest stars frolicking in a rich person’s playground, and a mischievous sense of the sinister.
Jose Ferrer bets with a young American student that his cigarette lighter isn’t nearly as fail-proof as he thinks, and the story that unfolds has all the horrifying allure of rubber-necking at a car crash to see if things will turn out as – well, expected.
This particular story has been adapted a number of times, including by Quentin Tarantino in his segment of the 1994 film Four Rooms. The story’s fingerprints can also been seen all over Stephen King’s ‘Quitters, Inc’.
The last regular episode to be introduced by Roald Dahl (although he makes a one-off return for ‘On The Cards’ in the final season).
John Gielgud features as a crooked antiques dealer who spots an extraordinarily rare piece of furniture. He has a tried and tested way of putting people of the scent, including dressing up as a man of the cloth and even driving around in a poky little car so that no-one can suspect him of having access to a decent amount of cash.
But sometimes, it’s not the people who can out-smart you that you need to look out for…
Tales has a reputation for the twist in the tale, but that’s a legacy that’s not always helpful or even accurate. ‘The Verger’ (adapted from a story by William S Maugham) is a slight, sweet story about a verger, played by Richard Briers who is sacked from his menial job because he can’t read, even though that doesn’t affect his ability to do the job at all.
What follows is not precisely unexpected, but simply restates a truth that we already knew, and needed to be reminded of. It’s one of those episodes that – in an entirely positive way – leaves you wondering ‘Was that it?’ before breaking out into a delighted smile.
A simple idea, well told. Like many of Dahl’s best, this is something of a shaggy dog story, the sort of “a funny thing happened to me the other day” that someone might regale their friends with during a night propping up the bar.
A twist tacked onto the end of the adaptation isn’t present in the original story, and changes the nature of one of the characters, but otherwise this is an involving, highly believable story that for the most part is essentially a two-hander.
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