Roald Dahl’s “Tales of the Unexpected”


Today is the birthday of Roald Dahl (1913-1990). I thought I’d observe the day not by talking about his popular children’s books, but about this amazing television show the Duchess and I stumbled across a few months ago.

We discovered this show in a bargain bin of cheap DVDs and got so into it we rented and watched every episode available through Netflix. The show is Tales of the Unexpected, which ran on Britain’s ITV from 1979 to 1988. Based on horror and mystery stories by Dahl, the show featured “A” list British and American movie stars, with Dahl himself introducing each episode. The episodes are often darkly comic or ironic, almost invariably concluding with one of Dahl’s patented twist endings. We saw episodes with great stars like José FerrerJoseph CottenJanet Leigh, John GielgudJohn Mills, Wendy Hiller, Denholm Elliott, Joan CollinsRod Taylor, Ian Holm, Julie Harris, Derek Jacobi, Elaine Stritch, etc etc.

One very interesting thing about this series is that it was made right in that pocket when there were no such shows in the United States. It came after Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, One Step Beyond and Night Gallery….but before Amazing Stories and the Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents reboots. Thus the show has a very different feel from the shows from both of those other phases, although it tells the same kinds of stories in much the same format. But much like those shows, the show’s creator and prime puppetmaster Dahl himself, is the host, delivering the introduction at the top of every show, seemingly off the cuff, sometimes fascinating, sometimes merely curious. Highly recommended binge viewing for the modern era!

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