I’ve previously mentioned that my favourite author as a child was, no doubt in common with many people my age, the one and only Roald Dahl. I first came to his works through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which was actually written in the Sixties!) and soon was avidly reading any of his books I could get my hands on.
Imagine my excitement then when flicking through the TV Times (as I was wont to do back then) I stumbled across Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. I simply had to watch it, although I could’t quite figure out why it was on at 10pm on a Sunday evening. Why would a kids show be on then?
Of course, I never realised that children’s books were only one part of Roald Dahl’s works, so it felt really unfair to me when Mum and Dad said I wasn’t allowed to watch it.
Fast forward a couple of years and for some reason I had been allowed to stay up late on a Sunday night (it obviously must have been during school holidays or something) and on came Tales of the Unexpected. Yippee! I finally get to see it, I thought, but that feeling of joy soon changed to one of trepidation as I watched the opening credits.
Scary images of cards with skeletons on (Tarot cards of course, though I didn’t know that at the time) and guns appeared on screens, overlaid with the silhouette of a woman dancing all provocatively, all whilst THAT theme tune played along. Combined, music and imagery were enough to make me start feeling uneasy, and I think at that point I may have made some excuse and gone off to bed!
Forward a little more and I happened to catch the show again. Whilst the titles still seemed creepy I thought I would be brave and watch it through, and I was glad I did. I must have watched over episodes since but this particular episode sticks in my mind. It was about a man who had invented a device which let you hear the screams of plants as people picked them from the garden. I seem to recall the guy ended up either dying or going mad when he heard the scream of a big old oak tree being cut down.
The stories of Tales of the Unexpected were much like this, short, one-off tales which took an interesting germ of an idea and fleshed it out into a 25 minute episode. Most of the stories had a very dark streak to them, although they were often quite funny too, and pretty much all of them ended with some kind of twist which completely changed how you expected the story to end.
The show ran from 1979 until 1988, initially composed solely of stories by Dahl himself. He even introduced the stories sat in a big high backed chair with his trademark writing tray perched across his lap. Later series saw stories being written by various different authors and eventually Road Dahl stopped introducing the stories as well.
Tales of the Unexpected is one of those programmes that a lot of people will fondly remember for years to come, though possibly not so much for the stories as the creepy intro and music, which incidentally was composed by Ron Grainer, who was also responsible for two of my other favourite TV show themes, namely Doctor Who and The Prisoner.