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"I don't believe it!"
Victor Meldrew, Catch Phrase

One Foot in the Grave was a British TV comedy show that followed the misadventures of cranky Reluctant Retiree Victor Meldrew. The story begins with Victor being forced into early retirement, because his job, where he greets people and signs them in at an office building, is replaced by a small electronic box.

Suddenly and unexpectedly finding himself "retired", he looks for other means to keep himself occupied. More often than not this means he lands himself in unbelievable and frustrating circumstances. It seems no facet of his life can leave him without complaints.

Despite the situation, it subverts the Dom Com genre. It is a significant Black Comedy, and there are dark moments where it's not meant to be funny, sometimes Tear Jerker material.

Written by David Renwick, whose other major work is Jonathan Creek: despite the difference in subject matter, one immediately notices the parallels of being both being very dark and having intricately clever plots.

  • Victor Meldrew, the star.
  • Margaret Meldrew, his suffering wife. Acts as a Straight Man to his silliness.
  • Mrs Warboys, a friend of Margaret.
  • Patrick and Pippa, their neighbors for several years. Victor and Patrick don't get on.
  • Mr Swainey, their other neighbor. He's a bit peculiar and nice-to-the-point-of-annoying.

Came tenth in Britains Best Sitcom.

Example tropes from this programme:


 Margaret: "He's the most sensitive person I've ever met... and that's why I love him, and why I constantly want to ram his head through a television screen.

  • Audio Adaptation -- Adapted for radio, but that had only four episodes.
  • Black Comedy -- Uncommonly dark, tackling such subjects as death, kidnapping, illness, child abduction, violence, abusive parents and the pain of growing old... and yet still managing to wring humour out of them.
  • Bottle Episode -- One of these per series became traditional.
    • "Timeless Time" (series 2), set entirely in Victor and Margaret's bedroom during a sleepless night
    • "The Beast in the Cage" (series 3), set entirely in a car in a traffic jam
    • "The Trial" (series 4), set entirely in Victor and Margaret's home while Victor waits for a jury duty call
    • "Rearranging the Dust" (series 5), set entirely in a solicitor's waiting room
    • "Threatening Weather" (series 6), set entirely in Victor and Margaret's home during bad weather
  • Brick Joke -- At the start of series 3, Victor and Margaret's television and VCR get stolen. Later, in the second-last episode of that series, the burglars actually call Victor and ask if he can help them get the VCR's timer function working properly.
  • Britain Is Only London -- Averted. The series never says explicitly where the Meldrews live, but it's implied that they live in a town on the outskirts of the Greater London area. In any case, the series also acknowledges the existence of other places in the UK, including the Midlands town of Kettering, which is where Margaret's mother lives.
  • Catch Phrase -- "I don't believe it!" said by Victor, with extra emphasis on the last syllable of "believe"
    • Richard Wilson, the actor who played Victor, has long been hounded to repeat this phrase. When he made a guest appearance on Father Ted, he only agreed to say the line on the condition that he got to beat the title character up (which he did, twice) after Ted shouted it at him. Supposedly he now repeats the line only at charity events.
      • Also, to a lesser extent, "What in the name of bloody hell?"
      • And "Oh, God!" with God drawled out, and pronounced more like gawwwd.
      • "What in the name of insanity" is another one that seems to crop up often too, espectially when something particularly mental happens, such as someone taking his word too literally and planting a small palm tree bonsai in his downstairs toilet.
  • Chekhov's Gun -- Early on in one episode, a struggling boxer is being talked down to by his father/manager for being too compassionate and easy-going. He then says that he is going to try and get him to lose his temper with just one person to bring out his "hidden aggression". Of course, anyone familiar with the show already knows exactly how this is going to end.
    • Actually, this series is a succession of Checkhov's Gunmen passing through Chekhov's Armoury. Quite often, even the most inconsequential details or objects, or scenes that just seem like throwaway gags, will return with a vengeance later in the episode. Victor catches fleas from the neighbour's cat? It's used at the end. Victor complains about the junk in his garden? Used at the end. Victor talks about someone losing their wig? Used at the end. HARD.
  • Chew Toy -- Victor's world seems to have it in for him. Virtually all of his bizarre experiences are the result of not-so-hilarious misunderstandings. E.g. the time he went for a foot massage and the masseur turned out to have been using her breasts, which had him branded as a master of vice by the news, who turned up at his house to film him from his first-floor window, with the TV presenter giving commentary in a cherry picker. Can you believe that?
  • Christmas Episode -- Several, and sometimes they were the only episode of the year: 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995-1997.
  • Clean Pretty Reliable -- Cruelly subverted. When Mrs. Warboys attempts CPR on a collapsed magician, she ends up crushing a pigeon he had hidden in his jacket. And the escapologist who'd actually had the heart attack was locked in his cabinet.
  • Cloudcuckoolander -- Mrs. Warboys, whose grasp of reality is tenuous at best.
    • Margaret sometimes lapses into this despite usually being the Straight Man (er, woman). Every now and then she will make some wild claim that makes very little sense, sometimes seeming a bit out of character. For example, when talking about friends who have died to her husband Victor, she mentions someone who apparently died of a terminal disease:

 Victor: What, measles?[1]

Margaret: Well she died, didn't she?

Victor: ... She fell off a cliff!

Margaret: Only because she went to the seaside to convalesce!

  • Contrast Montage -- Victor, working as a footman, finally snaps after being berated by a hotel guest for not helping him and his wife out of their taxi in a sufficiently obsequious manner... only when he sees a disabled person across the road struggling to get out of their car on their own.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef -- Subverted by Victor who, unlike most men in sitcoms, actually appears to be pretty good at cooking most of the time. His propensity for spicy food can sometimes catch people off-guard, though, and seafood most definitely isn't his forté.
  • Crapsack World -- Even if you ignore Victor's continual mishaps, his universe seems unnaturally full of shysters, thieves, muggers and burglars, and everyone who surrounds the Meldrews seems to either loathe them or be incredibly irritating. The series' overaching message, if it has one, seems to be "Life is cruel, utterly meaningless and basically horrible".
  • Creator Cameo -- David Renwick appears in the opening episode of the the final season. Eric Idle, who wrote and performed the theme tune, appears in a Christmas Episode as the titular Government environmental inspector.
  • Crying Wolf -- Averted in one episode, when one of the handyman twins repeatedly plays pranks on Margaret by pretending to be injured. Later on, she finds him lying motionless on the floor and ignores him entirely, believing it to be yet another joke. She remains indifferent for quite a while, and the viewer naturally begins to suspect that it's genuine this time, but she eventually caves in and calls an ambulance, whereupon he rises to his feet and laughs triumphantly.
  • Dead All Along -- Subverted in one episode, which begins with Margaret in a graveyard writing a letter to a relative, which alludes to 'horrible events'. It is heavily implied that Victor is dead, with the events of the letter being shown in a flashback. It even shows the name "Meldrew" on the gravestone that she is visiting. When she returns home, she picks up Victor's hat and a voice-over of Victor is heard saying his catchphrase. We assume that this is in Margaret's head...until she opens the door to the living room, whereupon it turns out that Victor was Alive All Along. Turns out that the grave she was visiting belonged to Victor's father, and the 'events' simply referred to the typical mishaps that they have to deal with in every episode.
    • Played straight in the 2001 Comic Relief episode.
  • Dead Pet Sketch -- Victor and Margaret end up taking care of a pet tortoise named Kylie. Naturally, it does not survive the experience. Also twists the "replacement pet" aspect; Margaret secretly decides to go out and buy a similar-looking tortoise so as not to upset the little girl who owns it. However, prior to her arrival, Victor calls the family to inform them that Kylie has expired. Since Margaret delivered the new tortoise in a closed box and never mentioned her scheme to anyone, they end up burying the live tortoise in a scene that perfectly straddles the line between Black Comedy and Tear Jerker.
    • When one of Victor's magician friends suffers a heart attack, Margaret and Mrs. Warboys try to bring him around (unaware that they're trying to revive the wrong man) and Mrs. Warboys feels a fluttering sensation in his chest. She tries to massage his heart... and then opens his shirt to reveal one of the magician's doves, who has been crushed to death by her attempt at CPR.
  • Deadpan Snarker -- Patrick quickly turns into one of these once the feud between him and Victor starts. Given that his twin brother, who never meets Victor, is shown to be exactly the same during in his sole appearance in the show, odds are this is something that runs in the Trench family, although Victor certainly brings out the worst in Patrick.
  • Disproportionate Retribution -- Victor usually goes a step or two beyond what most people would do when someone wrongs him. However, this absolutely pales in comparison to what other people do to Victor. One instance had him insulting the children of a sign-maker after they damaged one of his windows by playing cricket on his front lawn. Their father's response? Paint the image of Victor's face into a pub sign with "The Pain in the Arse" written where the pub's name would normally go, then erect the sign on a flagpole outside the Meldrews' house in the early hours of the morning.
  • Downer Ending -- Pretty much every recurring character in the series ends up in a worse situation than at the start of the show.
    • The end of the final episode; Margaret has lost her husband, apparently lost contact with every single one of her friends from earlier in the series (where is the inseparable Mrs Warboys?) and the one friend she does have turns out to be Victor's murderer. Depending on your opinion when it comes to revenge, the fact that it's implied Margaret may have murdered the woman in cold blood can also be a pretty accurate example of this trope.
  • Escalating War -- Between Victor and Patrick.
  • Expository Theme Tune -- The opening and closing themes sung by Eric Idle describe Victor quite well. ("It's true that my body has seen better days / But give me half a chance and I can still misbehave")
  • Flatline -- Subverted. Margaret is hooked up to life support as Victor stays with her, holding her hand. The heart monitor does the standard "beep.. beep.. beep.. beep.. beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep", and prompts a Really Dead Montage from Victor, and then a nurse wanders by, complains that the heart monitor had been faulty all week, bashes it, and apologises, as it starts beeping regularly again.
    • Note that at one stage, the episode in question was meant to be the series finale, and Margaret would have been Killed Off for Real, subverting the audience's expectation that Victor's misadventures would eventually take a fatal toll on his health. David Renwick thought this ending would be too unjust, though, and the BBC also changed their mind about ending the series at that point. However, Renwick decided to keep her "death" scene to fake out the audience.
  • The Ghost -- Mr. Swainey's mother. His first episode as a regular member of the cast implies that she doesn't actually exist and that Swainey is a Norman Bates type, but this is disproved near the end of the same episode, when Margaret is called around to his house to help put her to bed. Victor never actually sees her for himself however, and he has doubts about her existence for the rest of the series.
  • Grumpy Old Man -- Victor, naturally. Of course, given how much crap he gets put through, and given that many of the youths in the programme actually are obnoxious brats or outright criminals, his complaining is not unjustified.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation -- Victor is listening to a comedy tape as Mrs. Warboys is tearfully explaining that she thinks her husband is having an affair and that she's contemplating suicide. Victor, naturally, continually bursts out laughing.
  • Hey, It's That Guy! -- Angus Deayton as Patrick.
    • Paul Merton has a cameo as a barman in the final ever episode. He's also the dentist leaving a bizarre message on the answering machine in the comic relief special with Victor in the bath.
    • Guest stars in episodes include Peter Cook, Joan Sims, Barbara Windsor, Anthony Sher, Roy Hudd, Craig Ferguson (long before The Late Late Show), Ray Winstone (when he wasn't quite as well known), pre-The Office Dawn, Mike, Blakey, Phil Daniels and John Bird (of Bremner, Bird and Fortune)
  • Hey, It's That Voice! -- Eric Idle sings the theme tune (he also composed it). He also is one of the singers who leaves the mocking song in the tape in the car tape deck (and most likely composed that one too).
  • Humans Are Bastards -- A recurring theme Played for Drama and laughs; see also Crapsack World.
  • I Like My X Like I Like My Y -- "I like my toast like I like my women. Golden brown, and covered in marmalade."
  • Intoxication Ensues -- After Victor takes up a job as a gardener for Patrick's boss, Margaret notices him becoming increasingly chirpier. It turns out he's been inadvertently inhaling large amounts of cocaine after a drug dealer hid his stash in the fertiliser, and to top it all off it kills all the plants too.
  • Karma Houdini -- Patrick appears to achieve this status in one episode, where his pet dachshund swallows Victor's spare door key, and Patrick responds by getting Victor to sift through dog poop to find it. It turns out that the dog never actually swallowed the key in the first place, which Patrick full well knew. Patrick seems to get away with this, since Margaret still believes the situation is Victor's own fault... until Pippa unknowingly gives Victor a copy of Patrick's diary, in which he gloats about what he's been doing.
    • Several one-time characters or offscreen antagonists of Victor often get away with victimizing him or getting the last laugh, even if they were just as provocative as him. This can become even harsher in effect keeping in mind regardless of his eccentricities, they are still abusing an elderly citizen.
  • Locked in a Freezer -- Stuck in gridlocked traffic.
  • Meaningful Echo: The inept message on Margaret's mother's answering machine takes on a whole new meaning after she dies.
  • Mistaken for Cheating -- Happens when Victor starts doing odd jobs for a female artist. Rapidly exacerbated when Margaret finds an empty condom box in Victor's jacket, and by Victor's ambiguous statements about "putting his back out after being in that position for two hours." He was posing for a painting. The condom box was just litter that he picked up after someone tossed it in his garden.
    • Mrs. Warboys also does this with her husband, even going so far as to hire a private detective to tail him. He wasn't cheating at the time, but in a hilariously cruel twist, he ends up having an affair with the detective.
    • Victor also thinks that Pippa is cheating on Patrick, after he catches her in the house of a rich, handsome man. It subsequently turns out that he's actually her brother, and Patrick is there as well.
    • Victor and Margaret manage the rare feat of mistaking themselves for cheats in one episode where they're on holiday at a seaside guest house. They subsequently end up getting revenge on their supposed partners for "taking advantage" of them -- in reality they hadn't done this at all, but they were so generally obnoxious that it was hard to blame the Meldrews for taking the chance.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Victor mistakes Patrick for his gay brother (despite the fact they look nothing alike) due to Patrick carrying a pink umbrella and walking delicately down the road. Naturally, Victor then gives Patrick a video full of hardcore gay pornography.
  • Mood Whiplash -- This show can go from hilarious to melancholy and back again in the blink of an eye, often within the same episode, frequently within the space of a minute. One of the most prominent examples comes when Margaret returns home to find Victor buried up to his neck in the back garden, and has to cover his head with a flower pot to spare him from embarrassment when the neighbours visit. Afterwards, in the very same scene, she receives news that her mother has passed away.
  • No Indoor Voice -- Victor and Margaret's quiet dinner is repeatedly interrupted by a doctor at another table loudly discussing his experiences in the world of medical science. Victor eventually snaps and tells him to shut up, which leads to a literal Noodle Incident wherein he gets beaten up and has a helping of chow mein poured into his trousers.
  • Non-Identical Twins -- Patrick and his twin brother may behave exactly like one another, but they certainly don't look exactly like one another. Of course, that doesn't stop the comedic mix-ups from happening anyway. But mostly because the man whom Victor assumes to be Patrick's twin is actually Patrick himself.
  • Noodle Incident -- After Victor and Margaret move into their new house, their neighbour Mr. Swainey mentions that many people have been reluctant to buy the property after "what happened to old Mr. Gittings." All that's ever said of it is that it involved razor blades and the bathroom.
    • Victor has a recurring nightmare that falls under this trope, mostly because whenever Margaret confronts him about it, he claims not to know what she's talking about. All we know is that he has the nightmare roughly once per series, and it somehow involves pastry.
  • Not So Different -- Pippa points out to a grouchy, vengeful Patrick that he's beginning to turn into Victor, the man he despises. She's right, too. Patrick even starts using some of Victor's catchphrases.
    • Also, after being forced to stay together in an abandoned house for a while (and after a few glasses of whiskey) Victor and Patrick seem to put their differences aside and actually get along quite well. Of course, barely a minute later something goes wrong and they end up back at square one.
    • Margaret despite often acting as the more sensible and sociable of the couple can often prove to be just as bad tempered and oddball as Victor (and is far more likely to vent it out on her spouse than vice versa).
  • One Scene, Two Monologues -- Victor and Margaret frequently have "conversations" in this style.
  • Only Sane Man -- Victor sometimes grades into this, as does Margaret from the second series. Word of God has stated that all of Victor's actions are proportionate to events in the bizarre universe the Meldrews live in. Can you honestly say you wouldn't end up like Victor after sixty-odd years in his hellish universe?
  • Pet the Dog -- Despite being the Chew Toy of a cruel universe, Victor occasionally manages to bring one of his schemes to satisfying fruition, such as humiliating a rude Upperclass Twit or drugging and torturing a bunch of care workers who are abusing pensioners.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot -- The Meldrews had to move house in the first series 2 episode, due to the owners of the real-life house which had stood in for the Meldrews' house in the location scenes of series 1 wanting too much money to allow the BBC to keep on using it. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that the interior set for the second house is near-identical to the original one, only with the layout flipped around.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech -- Many of the characters get to deliver these over the course of the series. One of the shortest and most biting is Margaret's putdown of a well-off, cultured gentleman who was vying for her affections.

 Margaret: Do you know what's actually worse than warm champagne?

Ben: ...no?

Margaret: No... I really don't think you do.

  • Reluctant Retiree -- Victor Meldrew, replaced unceremoniously by a box, is left feeling old and useless.
  • Scary Scarecrows -- In one of the darker moments of the programme, the series 4 episode "Hearts of Darkness" ends with Victor taking revenge on some abusive nursing home staff by encasing their feet in cement and disguising them as scarecrows in a field.
  • Show Within a Show -- One episode featured a play based entirely around Victor's life, as penned by his cleaner. It's almost exactly the same as the show itself.
  • Sickly Green Glow -- Parodied. Victor takes delivery of a large consignment of horse manure which is dumped at the end of his drive so in order to stop people walking into it, he places fairy lights on top. When the public finds out that the manure was taken from a farm near a nuclear power plant, they immediately panic and think it's dangerously radioactive.
  • Silly Walk
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: Zips from one extreme of the scale to another with remarkable agility; see Mood Whiplash.
  • The Snark Knight -- Victor. If you fall into the camp that believes that Patrick is merely a younger and less jaded version of Victor, it's safe to assume that he will turn into one too.
  • Spell My Name with an "S" -- After a relative dies, Margaret gets a list of his possessions, and asks to have a "cot" from the list, thinking she can give it to some other relatives. It later turns out that the "cot" in question is actually a cow, and a hint as to how the mix-up occurred is given with the accompanying delivery letter, which spells Margaret's name as "Nargaret Medlrew."
    • A literal example of this trope happens in "Warm Champagne" -- the street the Meldrews live on after the first series is called Riverbank, and when a nearby old people's estate called Riversbank opens it causes no end of confusion, eventually cumulating in one of the residents of Riversbank being mistakenly dropped off at Victor's house and put into the bed. Hilarity Ensues when Victor gets into bed with her, assuming her to be Margaret.
  • Take Our Word for It -- Used when Victor attempts to craft a teddy bear using parts cannibalised from other toys. The completed project is never shown, but it's supposedly so hideous that Margaret, a grown woman, needs a stiff drink to steady her nerves after seeing it. And that's to say nothing of what happens when a young boy happens across it...
  • Take That -- A Noel Edmonds sweater that Victor has second thoughts about wearing is discarded by the tramp who finds it next to a bin.
  • Take That, Critics! -- The series features a lot of potshots at TV critics, to varying degrees of subtlety. Probably the most blatant was in the series 6 premiere episode, where Victor sets up a successful window cleaning business, which dies literally overnight after an arts critic writes a scathing review of his work in a local newsletter, and Victor goes on a little speech about how critics shouldn't be so mean to people that are just trying to earn a living.
  • Throw It In -- Despite his disdain for saying Victor's most famous catchphrase, Richard Wilson let the Rule of Funny take precedence and added quite a few instances of "I don't believe it!" that weren't originally called for in the scripts.
  • Title Theme Tune -- "Clapped out, run down, too old to save / One foot in the grave."
  • Tomato Surprise -- In a special movie-length episode, a photographer ends up chasing Victor and co. all the way to Portugal in search of a very valuable roll of film that fell into Margaret's handbag, suffering no small amount of injuries and mishaps in his attempts to get it back without them noticing. It later turns out that he'd never lost the film in the first place; it had just slipped into the lining of his own jacket. Of course, given that he only realises this after losing said jacket in an earlier scene...
  • Trans Atlantic Equivalent -- Cosby (US)
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible -- In an in-universe example, Victor gets a hold of what he thinks is an abstract painting that was discarded by its artist. In actuality, it's just a piece of plywood covered in bird droppings. As the show continues, both he and Margaret gradually begin to appreciate the "composition". Patrick, however, immediately recognises it for what it is and points it out, much to Victor's chagrin.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist -- Victor. Though he does fall in the "at least pitiable" category sometimes; after all, he does end up in the oddest predicaments which does go some way explain his eternal grumpiness.
    • To be perfectly fair, Victor actually comes across as a fairly pleasant, cheerful guy during the rare and short-lived moments when he isn't being screwed over by the universe and everyone around him.
    • Also because the other characters usually only see Victor doing something utterly eccentric, while the viewers see the build-up, and know that there's a perfectly logical explanation as to why he should drive up to Patrick, introduce himself as if they've never met before, then give him a videotape of hard-core gay pornography.
  • The Voice -- Margaret's mother is heard speaking a few times, but is never actually seen in the flesh. She's actually voiced by Annette Crosbie (Margaret) herself, just with a much thicker Scottish accent.
  • Weirdness Magnet -- Victor is afflicted with a low-grade version of this. The writer, David Renwick, seemed to delight in putting him through bizarre situations at least once an episode (ranging from the next-door neighbour installing a door in his fence to facilitate a nice chat to having to deal with an old lady's suicide), so it's not surprising he was so disgruntled.
    • It is interesting to note how most of the more unusual residents around Victor seem to get along with him a lot more (or are at least oblivious to his occasion detesting of them). Granted they still occasionally manage to cause trouble for him completely by accident, but it is amusing how they are of the few that actually sympathise with him (in comparison to the supposedly more normal people around him that often gain a borderline obsessive hatred for his disgruntled behaviour).
  • World Gone Mad -- And how.

Notes

  1. Technically this is a case of Did Not Do the Research -- measles can quite easily kill you, especially if you haven't been vaccinated against it.
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