My childhood is filled with memories of the invoking music of Tales of the Unexpected, but little else remained in my head… until recently
There were a few classic episodes that I remembered, but this was only because I had originally read in them in Dahl’s books.
I think the problem with a lot of them, and why they fell through the cracks, was that everyone always expected a huge twist, and that was not always the case. Many were subtle, noticeable or had no twist at all.
However, I have been lucky enough to catch re-runs on various platforms recently, and I have discovered a glut of absolute jewels. So without further ado, here are my top five episodes of Tales of the Unexpected.
5. Royal Jelly
This one has stayed with me from the first time I read it, and from the original viewing of the series in my childhood.
A couple are concerned about their baby, who does not appear to be gaining any weight. The beekeeper husband surmises that Royal Jelly could help, as the Queen bee gives it to her children to help them grow.
It reads like something that couldn’t possibly work as an episode, but the intense acting by Timothy West, and the decision not to show the effect Royal Jelly has had on the baby makes this one of the most remembered episodes.
Despite being called Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (although Dahl’s name was dropped from the title from the fourth series onwards), the story in this episode is based on comes from Elizabeth Taylor.
An odd man on the bus approaches a girl called Sylvia and, due to the fact there has been a spate of child murders, Sylvia is rightly terrified. But the goon follows her off the bus. Sylvia is saved by a kindly old lady who invites her back to her cottage for tea… but all is not as it seems.
This episode is a paranoid gem that gets under your skin, helped by the superb acting by Lorna Yabsley as Sylvia.
Like many anthology series, Tales of the Unexpected would attract an impressive cast. And this episode is no exception, boasting talent from Michael Aldridge, Joan Collins, Peter Bowles and Sir John Gielgud.
After the death of his father, Sir Basil inherits a media empire and the love of Natalia (Collins). Basil’s other passion is for art, and he has acquired quite a collection.
Basil invites a Major Haddock to visit him at the estate for a weekend. Natalia is quite taken by him, much to the annoyance of Thaunton’s loyal butler Jelks (Gielgud).
…but then she gets her head stuck in an expensive piece of art. There is a sharp nasty humour to this ending of this episode that makes this episode quite horrific.
2. The Hitch-Hiker
A universal trope is explored here – Don’t pick up the hitch-hiker.
Paul Duveen, a writer, offers a lift to an elderly hitchhiker who is going to Epsom for the Derby. Duveen, in his flash BMW pushes the vehicle to the limit where he is ultimately booked for speeding.
This tale is another of those “A funny thing happened to me” that barflies tells each other as their pints become shorts.
This episode is one of the Roald Dahl adaptations, but a twist has been added that wasn’t present in the original.
As a result of this change, it alters the nature of the character, even if he is somewhat of a “fingersmith”. This episode is an involving tale, mainly carried by the two actors.
1. The Landlady
This episode is one of the most horrific of Roald Dahl’s tales, simply because there’s something a little too mundane about it. Although admittedly, you would have to be very unlucky to find this particular landlady.
Billy Weaver is on his way to Bath to start a new job. A last minute decision to follow a friend’s recommendation finds Weaver at a B&B run by an unnaturally friendly but eccentric landlady. When he signs the guest book, Weaver can’t help but notice that he has been the only the guest here for quite some time.
Some of the names that are in the guest book seem vaguely familiar, but Weaver cannot recall why. This memory lapse ultimately leads to his discovery of the landlady’s hobbies, but unfortunately it’s too late for him.
This classic horror-themed episode is a classic that has a magical feel to it. It is so ordinary, but at the same time so twisted. A truly great story with a total juxtaposition of something so sweet being so dark.
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