The Strangest TV Show Ever Made

London, The Arts

Where do you get your ideas from?
Writers are frequently asked about the origins of their imagination. I grew up in the sixties, when creativity was king and demographics had yet to take a grip on writing. There was a lot of experimental work in the arts, not all of it successful, and as the decade progressed some of the more non-naturalistic approaches to storytelling tipped into outright strangeness.

No TV programme was quite as strange as this, though. ‘The Worker’ concerned an unemployed (and unemployable) labourer and his relationship with his Labour Exchange officer. Rotund, tiny, ginger, squeaky-voiced Charlie Drake was the worker, and Henry McGee was the officer who, every week, ended up dragging him over his desk in exasperation.

The situations were surreal fables about big business and the little man, some brilliant, some merely bizarre. It was impossible to tell what might happen in a typical episode. The mangled dialogue played like a peculiar fringe satire. Drake was a very physical actor, and in an average half-hour might be blown up, thrown through walls, shot or dropped out of windows. In one episode he knocked himself unconscious and broke his back.

But here’s the astonishing thing; this extremely off-the-wall series was not a flop. It was hugely popular, and ran on and off for thirteen years. It can now be found on a set of five DVDs.

This clip is from the beginning of one episode that escalates into a full-blown gender crisis, complete with a slapstick tango and a surprising reveal at the end that sadly isn’t here in the excerpt. Drake went on to make a number of highly successful films, now all forgotten.

10 comments on “The Strangest TV Show Ever Made”

  1. Mike Cane says:

    OMG. I never heard of that before and the clip was amazing! And here I thought only “Shelley” dealt with unemployment in a sitcom!

  2. Andy says:

    The strangest thing I remember watching as a child was HR Puffnstuff. At least it meant that I never did drugs as I was growing up. What would be the point?

    Mind you Banana Spits and Crystal Tipps and Alistair weren’t too far off either. In fact most children’s TV in the late 60s and early 70s appears now to have been made on drugs. Double Deckers? Barbapappa? WTF!

    Then again if you look at todays stuff- Tellytubbies, In the Night Garden and the rather creepy Boohbah. Still not as scary as Candle Cove mind you…

  3. Brian says:

    He became famous in Australia in the ’60s (?) for his hit record, “My Boomerang Won’t come Back” but I don’t recall ever seeing him on TV.

  4. Sparro says:

    Charlie Drake was starring in a Harold Pinter play in a theatre where I once worked. We backstage folk thought these ‘turns’ could be rather precious about their own importance; Mr Drake trumped all others by insisting his fan-mail be brought up to his dressing-room, rather than him having to collect it himself from the appropriate pigeon-hole. The stage door-man dutifully bowed and scraped to such demands, until he realised that poor diminutive Charlie was physically unable to reach the ‘D’ pigeon hole, even on tip-toe!
    I suggested he changed his name to Charlie Zimmerman….

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    ‘Heeeelloo, my darlings!’

  6. Andy says:

    I think I recall a Charlie Drake comic strip in my youth, but I might be mistaken.

  7. admin says:

    You did indeed, in something like TV Fun…

  8. Sally says:

    Gosh yes I remember those programmes! Something distinctly British and post-war about them. and there was Harry Worth, too – he used to do strange things with plate glass windows, had a bowler hat and a squashed in face. There was just something about the establishment in pursuit of the Little Man at the time.

  9. Steve Beat says:

    There are a plethera of British variety performers who I remember from Saturday night telly watching with my parents who have now disappeared – just like Charlie Drake (who as a child I loved).

    Mike and Bernie Winters (the poor man’s Morcombe and Wise), Parrot Face Davis, Stanley Baxter, Hylda Baker, Jimmy Jewel, Reg Varney, etc, etc…(Harry Worth was hugly under-appreciated I think.)

    But if I remember correctly didn’t Charlie Drake disappear from TV because of some sort of big spat with TV Execs or something?

  10. admin says:

    He was supposedly very difficult (gambling, women, fighting) Who knew?

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