One Foot in the Grave: Hearts of Darkness
“Wakey, wakey, everyone! It’s quite nice out here now. I’ve just been watching two frogs having sex!” – Mr Swainey
14th February 1993, BBC1, and the first showing of the One Foot in the Grave episode “Hearts of Darkness’. The episode, dealing with abuse in an old people’s home, caused a certain amount of controversy for its scenes of violence – to the point where the episode was edited for all future broadcasts.
Here’s a quote from David Renwick on the DVD commentary for the episode:
“The version we’re seeing now has been edited, I mean was edited for repeat transmission by the BBC – not in accordance with my wishes, I have to say – and some of the kicking that Arabella Weir does in one of the scenes that’s coming up has been removed, because people complained.”
Which indicates that not only was the episode was edited for repeats, but indeed the DVD set itself contains the edited version.
Before we get into the nitty gritty about this, it’s worth pausing for a moment and talking about why this matters. True, edits to programmes have been an ongoing feature of this site. But this particular edit brings up two especially interesting points.
Firstly: the programme’s writer – as quoted above – has very specifically come out and said he is not in favour of the edit. This is rare, if only because once a programme has been delivered and broadcast, writers usually aren’t even thinking about what happens to repeats, aside from making sure they get paid for it. Bless Renwick for being on the ball. If one of the people working on the show cares enough to speak out against an edit to one of their programmes, it’s well worth hearing what they have to say.
Secondly, this particular edit brings up all kinds of interesting questions as to the nature of comedy. Again, Renwick himself says it best in the commentary:
“It’s a curious thing, really, what audiences are prepared to tolerate. I suppose the whole generic division between what constitutes comedy, what constitutes drama – are you allowed to splice the two together in this way? “Oh no”, not in many people’s opinion – if it’s a comedy, it should stick to that rigidly throughout… It was always very important to me that what was going on in that home was quite sadistic, really, was quite unabashedly brutal – because that is what one hopes delivers the sense of exhilaration and triumph at the end when Victor turns the tables on the staff.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that I’m almost certainly going to be on Renwick’s side on this one. Regardless of that, the point is: this article is not merely geeky minutiae about things that don’t really matter. The stakes are real, and there are important discussions to be had. But in order to properly judge the situation, it’s important to ascertain exactly what edits have been made to the programme. Let’s not dick around with generalities. What has been cut, and how does it affect the show?
The only way to do this is to compare the original version broadcast in 1993 with any repeat showings – and, of course, the supposedly cut DVD version. Sadly, I’ve never been able to find a copy of the original broadcast version, despite being a pain and asking around on Twitter every few months. Which is irritating in the extreme.
However, what I have managed to find is a copy of a repeat broadcast on BBC One from the 8th January 2008. And what I found there may shine a rather different light onto the whole affair.
First of all, let’s take a look at the main troublesome scene itself: the one where one of the residents is knocked to the floor and then repeatedly kicked. Here is the version as seen on the DVD release:
And here is the version of that scene from the 2008 repeat – a full fifteen seconds has been cut out, with the scene ending abruptly before we even see him fall to the floor:
As you can see, the DVD version actually contains a longer scene of abuse than in a repeat from 2008. Which means one of two things: either the version on the DVD is the full, original version, despite what Renwick says on the commentary… or the DVD is still an edited version, and the 2008 repeat was edited still further.
Perhaps you may think the latter is more likely. It’s certainly not impossible. However, I would like to offer some circumstantial evidence that the DVD version is, in fact, the original broadcast version of the episode. Because the above isn’t the only difference between the two versions – the end credits are also slightly different between the DVD and the 2008 repeat.
Firstly, a spacing issue has been corrected in the repeat version’s credits – look just to the left of “Seymour”:
2008 Repeat Version
More importantly, Tip Tipping has been added to the credits. (And “Steve” is now “Stephen”.)
Now, the improved spacing could mean anything: sometimes credits are remade and the chance is taken to improve them, but sometimes they’re simply remade in a slightly slapdash way, and the later version is actually worse. It’s difficult to draw much conclusion from that.
However, the addition of Tip Tipping’s name is, I think, telling: a common reason to remake credits is if somebody who should have been credited has been accidentally missed off. These corrections happen fairly early on in a programme’s life: usually in time for its first repeat showing. Which suggests to me that the DVD version, with Tip Tipping’s name missing, is one of the earliest versions of the programme available, rather than a later re-edit of the programme.
There is one final difference between the two versions. When Victor is caught nude in the shower by the head of the nursing home, the DVD version has an extra couple of seconds of Victor’s embarrassment right at the end of the scene, whereas the 2008 repeat cuts away more quickly. I’m at a loss to explain this edit – the shot doesn’t even include Richard Wilson’s bum at that point, so it’s unlikely to be actor embarrassment – but again, it’s another hint that the slightly longer version on DVD is older than may be suggested by Renwick’s commentary. It makes far more sense to tighten up this particular scene whilst you’re doing a re-edit than to extend it.
But all this, as I say, is merely circumstantial evidence. My gut feeling is that the version on DVD is actually the original broadcast version of the episode. But there’s only one way to know for sure. Now, does anyone reading this have an original off-air of the episode from 1993, so we can find out for definite? And, indeed, does anyone have any repeats of the episode recorded from before 2008?
Not you, Richard, put it away.
UPDATE (19/10/15): Mystery solved!