TV Cream

TV: T is for...

Tales of the Unexpected

"A drop of something loaded with macabre significance, m'lady?" Joan prepares to *unexpectedly* put her head through a piece of modern art

THE ONLY thing unexpected about them being, of course, the identity of the uber-celebrity playing the part of the doomed protagonist this week. And then it was usually JOAN COLLINS. ROALD DAHL personally introduced the early series of these self-penned sting-in-tale half hours, but that was after you’d had to sit through the dodgy silhouetted woman dancing in flames, the tarot cards, the spinning revolver, the roulette wheel, some skulls and anything vaguely sinister-looking. Highlights from a decade’s worth of expected deception:

– Royal Jelly where TIMOTHY WEST fed the stuff to his son until he started to turn into a bee.

– That one where a bloke’s widow keeps his brain and one eye alive in a tank so he can watch her shagging another bloke.

– That one where a practical joker dies suffocating in a room.

– The Sound Machine: A bloke invents an ultrasonic hearing device, and discovers the screams of plants whenever they’re pruned, leading the ubiquitous pained outburst: “The plants…they’re intelligent and defenceless…every time we uproot one, they scream in agony and we are oblivious to their misery…oh god…in farms across the world, whenever a combine harvester cuts the wheat – thousands of voices – screaming! Screaming for their lives! (buries hands in face) Oh my god!!”

– First one ever: A professional gambler bets with people that he could light his lighter ten times in a row, starting with the old man’s Jaguar as prize but moving to the loser’s fingers. Blah blah blah and then, come the end scene, the prof. gambler’s wife holds her hand out with the car keys in it and half her little finger is missing. Ripped off by Tarantino for his part of the rubbish and now thankfully forgotten Four Rooms film.

– Georgy Porgy: A vicar who wakes up one morning to find he’s irresistable to women. The coffee morning takes on an air of erotic menace as hitherto indifferent women rub up against him. He’s even seduced on a river bank by, of course, JOAN COLLINS.

– Lamb To The Slaughter: The one where this woman (SUSAN GEORGE) murders her husband by clubbing him with a frozen leg of lamb. When the cops turn up (under the aegis of ex-Z Carser BRIAN BLESSED) she makes them a nice roast dinner with the evidence

– Skin: The one about this tramp with a tattooed back who gets looked after by this bloke (DEREK “I, CLAVDIVS” JACOBI) who then tops him for the artwork.

– The Krait: Some bloke living in India, gets hold of a deadly Krait snake, but loses it. Final shot is him going for the sherry decanter, and getting slow painful death in the wrist courtesy of the Krait…

– The one where this surgeon places a key underneath the mattress of an X-Ray machine when this bloke he obviously doesn’t like goes for a scan. Outline of key pops up on scan result, bloke gets cut up to remove key, no key there, goes for scan again, surgeon puts key under mattress again, bloke gets cut up again…etc etc. Comes to a sticky end for surgeon who shits himself when police come around and swallows the key.

– JOAN COLLINS as rich-bitch wife, pissing all and sundry off at a garden party, only to get her head stuck in massive modern art sculpture construction, in front of all the guests. Browbeaten butler takes great delight in being told by his master to fetch an axe to cut his wife out of said expensive bit of art (without damaging the sculpture), and subsequently decapitates Joan with great relish.

– A pair of poncey wine connoisseurs and spouses meet up to drink an ancient bottle of wine that is priceless – the holy grail of wines by all accounts. But what’s this? Wine Connoisseur #1 knows that Wine Connoisseur #2 is a) having an affair with his wife and b) affected by a heart condition. Connoisseur #1 bigs up the bottle of wine and how good it is going to taste before promptly changing his mind, as it’s “probably gone a bit off” and proceeds to pour it on the carpet in front of horrified wine loving onlookers. Connoisseur 2 drops dead on the spot from a fatal coronary, after a prolonged bout of red faced blustering disbelief.

– JOAN COLLINS (yet again) is the pretty sister, PAULINE “LIVER BIRDS” COLLINS is the dumpy one. Joan is cheating on her husband, JOHN ALDERTON (of course), whom Pauline is also in love with. Joan gets caught. Joan and Pauline then cook up a scheme that has Joan dressing in a white dress, taking pills, Pauline finding her in time and her husband taking her back in sympathy. When Joan takes pills, however, Pauline posts the suicide letter and lets Joan die, marrying the bloke herself.

– Pretty girl and artist get miserable old fat French woman drunk and pretend that they painted her nude. Blackmail her. Get money and take off, but they were having her on all along. Much histrionics from miserable old fat French woman in big car driving around Paris, or some such continental overseas filmed extravaganza.

– Bloke ditches wife JENNIE LINDEN for second wife SUZANNE DANIELLE, but she’s a gold digger, shoots her, disposes of evidence, but leaves proof of guilt in easily found suitcase. First wife changes her mind on the remarriage.

– The one where a con artist cum antique dealer turns up at a farm and persuades the yokels there that the Queen Anne desk (or similar item) that they’ve got in their kitchen, covered with old sacks and chicken shit, is of no value in itself but the legs are quite nice and he’ll give them a (pathetically low) “good price” for the desk to take it off their hands. When he comes back with the van, the yokels, glad to be of help, have sawn the legs off the desk and present them to him.

– Young man looks for digs, finds an apparently perfect place, run by a sweet little old lady who has her pets stuffed once they’ve shuffled off their mortal coils. Turns out that her previous lodgers have never left, and are upstairs in their rooms, sitting up in bed, also in a state of taxidermic perfection.



  1. Matt Patton

    November 14, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Several of these stories were done for the old ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS series as well–to keep the censors happy, he had to add a coda to LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER where he announces that the next time the lady tried the same trick, she got caught because she used a thawed leg of lamb . . .

    MAN FROM THE SOUTH (which you list as “first one ever”) was one of the best episodes of the show. AHP’s version featured Peter Lorre and Steve McQueen (as well as McQueen’s then-wife Neilie). Lorre was creepy and funny, McQueen was cool and intense, and the gambler’s wife reveals that she lost several fingers in the last shot of the show.

  2. Angryhead

    November 14, 2009 at 7:26 am

    The theme tune still scares me a bit.
    I used to watch bits of it during the original airings and somehow conclude that I wasn’t enjoying it but at the same time sort of realising that it was actually good. It’s just that I was too young to appreciate it. There was something good going on there (does that make sense?). I’ve watched a few repeats recently, and they’re pretty good (bordering on the REALLY good at times).
    Anyone remember the episode called ‘Genesis and Catastrophe’? It told the story of an Austrian couple in the late 1800s (or 1900s?)? The wife was pregnant and on the verge of giving birth. Her previous children had all been stillborn and she was worried it was going to happen again. Her husband was an alcoholic soldier who spent the whole episode drinking heavily and being a major arse-hole to his wife. The episode’s central plot was tied together by the wife’s fear of her losing yet another child.
    To the couple’s delight, a live and healthy baby is born at the end of the episode. When the doctor asks the drunken father, Alois what he wants to name his newborn he replies, “Adolphus… Adolphus Hitler”.
    I’m pretty good at guessing the endings of programmes… but I never saw THAT one coming !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Lola

    August 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Does any one know who the dancing lady in the flames was???

  4. Mike Brailsford

    September 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    There was one where a young girl is bothered by a old man on a bus. A kindly lady shoos him away and warns her about stranger danger. She takes her back to her cottage and her husband returns. It is the old man on the bus.

    The other one I recall is about a woman who appears to be missing alerts the attention of the police who come to dig up her estranged husband’s cellar. They find nothing. She comes back and her kills her and re-cements the cellar floor over her body.

  5. Mark Tindal

    August 18, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    10 points if you know what number the ball lands on the roulette wheel in the credits!

  6. Gary

    June 8, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    A superb series and of a kind that we don’t see much of on the television nowadays.

  7. Richard16378

    June 10, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    In some ways like the Twilight Zone, certainly the theme is almost as hummable if something strange is happening.

    I remember the one with the gadget to hear the voices of plants, especially the roar when a tree is hit with an axe.

  8. Droogie

    June 14, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I remember another one with Derek Jacobi who gets off a train in a modern British town as an eccentrically dressed Pied Piper type character who proceeds to charm the locals for a week with magic tricks and jokes. His colourful behaviour and costume are a disguise so he can revenge murder a crooked local business man who got him imprisoned years ago for a crime he didn’t commit. After he murders the business man, he takes off his colourful clothes to reveal an anonymous looking grey little man who leaves town on the same train back completely undetected.

  9. George White

    December 10, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Tales of the Unexpected – 5.13 – “What Have You Been Up To Lately?” by Denis Canaan, based on a story by George Baxt, directed by Herbert Wise – what on Earth is Benjamin Whitrow’s accent – 5.13? Scottish-Welsh-West Country-Northern Irish? Peter Barkworth in an interior-exterior garden. Finally we get something about Dublin. But then he murders his wife. Whitrow tries to kill Barkworth in an Oirish pub in London, then tries to flee to Dublin in Barkworth’s car, crashes, and finds Barkworth”s wife in the boot.

    Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat – I always conflate the two Julie Harris episodes. Later retreaded as the Eavesdropper.
    Would You Believe It? – Nigel Havers and Richard Johnson find a statue in the desert i.e. Camber Sands- which turns out to be salt. Christopher Blake as an Israeli. Pleasingly shot “exotic” suspenser. Works.
    Kindly Dig Your Grave – City of Death-esque Paris con trick. Nicely shot French scenes, all on film. Typical heart attack.
    The Last Bottle in the World – Italian-accented Greek tycoon Anthony Quayle (obviously, they got the wrong Anthony) tries to buy off wine dealer Nigel Hawthorne a bottle of romance to give to his his younger wife. Entertainingly OTT foreign glamour melodrama involving Carlos from Duty Free as the chef, spilling a bottle of wine and Quayle cheating with Hawthorne’s wife.
    Vicious Circle – Siobhan McKenna and badly-acted unconvincing punk in rubbish comedy episode.
    Fat Chance Actor John Castle gives fat wife Miriam Margolyes poisonous chocolates thanks to chemist Geoffrey Bayldon, she gives them to his mistress. Because she realises that losing weight is all a matter of willpower.
    The Umbrella Man – Cockney John Mills swaps and sells umbrellas, leading to the exposure of flat-capped John Carson and tache-tastic Michael Gambon’s dealings with the same man. Ends with Mills going to Manchester cos it always rains.
    Richard Johnson murders dyed-ginger wife Sian Phillips, and buries her in garden in Amicus style. Ripped off by the League of Gentlemen.
    The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby – bric–a-brac obsessed gold-digger Robert Lang marries Elizabeth Spriggs, who knows she’s going to be killed, and uses Cyril Luckham to watch out over him, but before she can answer his call, she accidentally trips up on a carpet. More Cyril Luckham.
    A Man With A Fortune – a big name must have dropped out – cos here we have Shane Rimmer top-billed for once – tracing his ancestry in England, his girlfriend discovers through vicar Donald Eccles that Rimmer’s entire family are psychopaths…
    Where’s Your Sense of Humour – Sheila Gish and Tom Chadbon are bothered by Philip Jackson’s trickster – who ends up suffocating when his joke goes wrong. A nice premise dully directed.
    Down Among the Sheltering Palms – Van Johnson and Geoffrey Bayldon in a Caribbean themed bar/holiday camp, Johnson looking for a lost love, sees a younger girl like her, turns out he’s married his old love and she’s a battleaxe. Quite a moving episode set in an interesting locale.
    Death in the Morning – Cherie Lunghi becomes haunted by witchcraft as she marries Moray Watson. Turns out it was Carol Drinkwater, herself married to old fogey Alan Rowe. Slowsuspenser.
    I’ll Be Seeing You – not as good as the similar Blue Marigold, but with more adultery from Anthony Valentine.
    The Skeleton Key – Tony Osoba and Peter Jeffrey hospitalise John Duttine via Veruca Salt and a watch and key. Jeffrey is good, but it’s a bit bollocks.
    Heir Presumptious – US-based caper. Darren McGavin finds that David Cassidy are twins -both did the murder!
    The Finger of Suspicion – Michael Brandon is in studiobound Arabia, gets away with a robbery by having a prosthetic arm. Nadim Sawalha and Stefan “nearly Captain Sisko” Kalipha as Arabs. Lucy Gutteridge in boot polish.

    Mr. Know-All – Topol in the unconvincingly recreated Virgin islands (i.e. Eamonn “Marigold” Walker), the twist is this Connemara relic-dealing sort had an affair. Yes.
    Depart in Peace – Joseph Cotten gets poisoned standing beside a sexy painting of ex-Doctor Who companion Maureen O’Brien. Also featuring a mutton-dressed-as-lamb Gloria Grahame.

    Vengeance is Mine Inc – Bosco Hogan doing a crap American accent and Julian Fellowes play a prank, think they’ll be rich and promptly crash into a billboard. Confusing comedy antics. Features a contradictory post-credits sequence.
    A Harmless Vanity – Keith Barron dozies about a yacht. Sheila Gish dyes her hair. Mistress Phoebe Nicholls gets strangled by a frogman. Turns out Barron meant the frogman to kill Gish. More adulterous assassinations/shenanigans a la the dull Eavesdropper. Stylishly shot, though. All on film.

    Last of the Midnight Gardners –
    Patrick Mower, Jane Asher and Bishop Brennan in a greenhouse living room. Patrick Mower swaps places with Len, and Jane Asher lounges in a fake beach set.
    The Reconciliation – Roger Rees is a Dick Francis-reading man about town and hires Jim Norton again, now a Cockney private eye who turns out to be hired by his wife or something. A dud.

    The Gift of Beauty – one of the US ones, Carol Lynley does a Snow White tribute.
    A Girl Can’t Always Have Everything – Joan vs Pauline Collins. Dawson Casting-filled video effects-y nonsense. Joan Collins doesn’t look 32.
    Pattern of Guilt – Peter Egan shoots Suzanne Danielle.
    The Memory Man – Colin Blakely blows himself up trying to answer a telephone.
    Clerical Error – Hugh Fraser in boring inheritance story. Dead relative clearly a drawing of Peter Cushing.
    The Stinker – Denholm Elliott haunted by overage schoolboy flashbacks meets old bully Joss Ackland, in another spin of Galloping Foxley. They become mates, fawning over Denholm’s lady Patricia Quinn. Then, Ackland turns out to be married to Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves, then finds Pat’s got a lover in Tim Bentinck and kill him. Or something like that.

  10. George White

    December 14, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    Elizabeth Spriggs is murdered by nephew Andrew Ray to pay off gambling debts to Martin Benson.
    Suzanne Danielle, Simon Cadell and Denis Quilley fake a hijack.
    Operation Safecrack – a fun one. Edward Burnham and David Healy bet 25,000 live on TV to crack a new safe to save a children’s home his family run. Turns out he’s a pickpocket too. Maybe an old friend of Cyril Cusack’s “fingersmith”.
    Rachel Kempson fails to murder overbearing friend Joan Greenwood, instead becomes her carer via faulty staircase. .
    A few US ones.
    There’s One Born Every Minute – Heather Sears swaps husband Frank Finlay for Andrew Burt. Deryck Guyler plays Deryck Guyler.
    Death Can Add – Financial boredom with Ian Holm. See also the Mugger with Roy Marsden and some Star Wars toys.
    The Surgeon – unfunny comedy caper involving John Alderton and swallowed diamonds.
    Wink Three Times – Liza Goddard and Peter Davison in turgid hotel connery. Turns out they’re a married couple! Derek Wilton appears too.
    Skeleton in the Cupboard- Turns out Charles Dance is a wanted man. Boring and obvious.
    James Aubrey as a fake-American – Leslie Caron keeps her husband’s ashes in an hourglass. Her brother in law pretends to be her husband or some bollocks.
    Accidental Death – Turns out Cyril Cusack is a murderer- and the coroner.
    A Sad Loss – predictable “kill the relative, but she’s changed her will” stuff unconvincingly set in the Caribbean. Hayley Mills and Stuart Wilson bump off Lally Bowers, then London housekeeper Maud Grimes reveals there’s been a switch.
    The Luncheon – Bosco Hogan (fresh from RTE pantos) is a broke con artist who wastes his money on Gayle Hunnicutt. Jacqueline Hill plays an American. Tired.
    The Tribute – an amusing but dud playlet between Eleanor Bron, Sheila Burrell, Phyllis Calvert and Anna Neagle.

  11. George White

    December 15, 2017 at 11:56 am

    The later ones aren’t as good – Richard Briers does the old Somerset Maugham iliterate clergyman gambit. And the Susan Penhaligon murder catch one was another cop show caper.
    The Dead Don’t Steal – this time Glynis Barber is the body buried in the garden exposed (and her twin) and Nicholas Ball is the killer.
    More Maugham antics. The US ones are odd, despite a few tacked on shot-on-film Dahl intros, they don’t feel like Tales. They feel typical US cable filler, like Red Shoe Diaries 10 years early or the Hitchhiker or the less inventive Ray Bradburies.
    Michael Jayston’s chess player is in prison.

  12. Glenn Aylett

    June 9, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    Bizarre, but actually quite watchable and I always liked the theme music. Some stories reminded me of Thriller from the seventies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top