One Foot in the Grave

Monday, November 20, 2000 by

Pre-publicity for the final series of One Foot In The Grave had made no bones about the fact that Victor Meldrew was going to die at the end of this run. In fact we even knew how he was going to be dispatched: the intrigue was how it could happen within the strictures of a sitcom.

Sensibly, then, this edition opened with the quick confirmation that Victor was already dead. It would be hard to imagine a sitcom episode which could credibly trot out the usual misunderstandings and gags simply to position the main character just so, to meet his maker. Instead, this extended episode of One Foot In The Grave was posited more as a post mortem, gently unraveling just how Victor came to die, and more importantly, how Margaret was going to carry on alone.

In the midst of all this was the usual top quality writing from David Renwick. I remember reading once that in writing his over-complicated comic-book “Watchmen”, Alan Moore had to draw out a chart in order to follow the separate plot strands and characters he was working with. It strikes me that Renwick must do something similar for each episode of One Foot. Throughout tonight’s episode, references (that were very funny in themselves) were made to incidents which were picked up on later on (particularly in the superb final montage which saw Victor in a sequence of misfortunes, all of which we had heard about second-hand in the preceding 40 minutes). Questions were posed in the plot which we often didn’t appreciate as such at the time, and all were answered by the episode’s end.

In many ways One Foot is all about its structure. However its often superbly complicated farce (much like Jonathan Creek) is by no means the be-all of the programme – although it is easily the best story-lined sitcom since Only Fools and Horses (at its peak). Renwick’s tight plotting always remains subservient to the character, and that’s how it should be. One Foot affords Victor and Margaret real moments of humanity, even if it’s just the excruciatingly mundane frustration of Victor struggling to open a vacuum-wrapped pack of video tapes. Neither Victor nor Margaret are especially witty, and – most importantly – neither are laughable. For all the puff about Meldrew being the quintessential grumpy old man, he is always the character the audience can most readily identify with.

So to his death, then. In some quarters there has been speculation that it was insufficiently explicit as to allow the possibility that it may not have happened. This, of course, is nonsense. The shot of his cap floating to the gutter after he’d been struck by the car, followed moments later by his flailing arm encroaching into the frame was absolutely, definitely final. To have actually seen, in some detail, the body would be to undo the whole character. Enough information was given for us to know he was dead, but to not have to accept it. Otherwise the succeeding, very funny flashbacks of Victor would have been like watching a walking cadaver.

In the final analysis, this obviously wasn’t the best episode of One Foot In The Grave ever – nor even of this series. But how can we really be well disposed towards the episode that ends it all anyway? With a macabre final twist (cf Jonathan Creek again) and a very affecting pastoral shot over the end credits, this was still superior stuff. You can’t really imagine My Family – between all the wise-cracking – pulling it off quite like this, can you?

Meanwhile, over on ITV a vague relation of Camilla Paker-Bowles won the lot on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I don’t believe it!


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