The Tales of the Unexpected is an Anglia Television anthology series. It first aired in the UK on March 24, 1979. The series ran for 112 episodes(each episode lasting approximately 25 minutes), the final episode airing on May 13, 1988. It has been sold to over seventy countries and was the most popular drama Anglia had produced when it was first shown.
The series is best remembered for its iconic title sequence and haunting theme tune composed by Ron Grainer. Everyone who watched television in the 1980s will remember the dancer who performed in the opening titles. Karen Standley, then 27, was the only person to appear in all 112 episodes. Despite the series running on a very low budget, it attracted many well-known actors throughout its lifespan.
The idea to produce a collection of twist-in-the-tail stories originated with a chance meeting between Roald Dahl and Sir John Woolf, Anglia’s drama producer, in 1976. Dahl asked Woolf if he would like to make a television series from his stories. In all, 25 of his stories were adapted for television from two of the writer’s collections.
It was originally intended to have Peter Ustinov introducing each story, but instead, the writer himself did the introduction sitting in front of a blazing fire in his drawing room, or more accurately a studio set at Anglia House. Dahl introduced all of his own stories, and he gave short monologues explaining how he was inspired to write each one. Parson’s pleasure, in series three, was the final episode in which Dahl gave an on-screen introduction.
The first of Roald Dahl’s stories to be filmed was A Dip in the Pool starring the American actor Jack Weston. Even though it was the first episode to be filmed, it was the eighth in the series to be aired. The Man from the South was the first episode to be aired and was shot on location in Jamaica. It starred Jose Ferrer, a major international actor.
The Man from the South set the standard for the series. It was a lavish, expensive production. Jose Ferrer plays a mysterious stranger who goads a sailor into taking a scary bet to win a Cadillac. The stake is the sailor’s little finger.
A lot of the earlier episodes and most of the ones produced in America were made on film, with most of the British produced episodes being shot on videotape due to cost constraints.
Sir John Woolf had his sights set on selling the show to the American market. This was the reason for using many well-known stars for the parts in the series. The first batch of episodes was sold to the U.S. networks for £1 million.
Many stars of the screen played parts in The Tales of the Unexpected. Joan Collins and John Gielgud teamed up in Neck. Susan George and Timothy West appeared in Royal Jelly. Another pairing saw Joseph Cotton team up with Dame Wendy Hiller in Edward the Conqueror.
Some stand out episodes from the series are as follows:
Lamb to the Slaughter – Where did the murder weapon go?
Back for Christmas – A perfect murder is not as perfect as it seems.
The Flypaper – A young girl being pestered by a man is helped by a woman, but the woman is not all she seems.
Decoy – A serial killer is on the loose.
Turn the Tide – A murder goes wrong when the murderer overlooks something.
The Mugger – A politician has an encounter that threatens to derail his entire career.
The series was cancelled after the ninth season when the critics opined that the episodes were declining in quality. The final episode was Mr Know-all and it aired on 13 May 1988. It features the notable guest star, Chaim Topol.