Writer David Renwick's creation of Victor Meldrew contributed greatly to the success of the series. A genuine TV comedy icon, Meldrew sits comfortably within the ranks of Alf Garnett, the Steptoes, Basil Fawlty and Edmund Blackadder. Richard Wilson, who until One Foot in the Grave had had a long and unspectacular career as a TV comedy actor and was at the time in his mid 50s, suddenly was elevated to superstardom.
Victor carries on that long-standing British tradition of being the downtrodden hero. Bad things just happen to him. It is not his fault that he is caught by his wife in bed with another woman: a stranger from a nursing home, dumped there owing to a clerical error. It is not his fault that, while awaiting an operation in hospital, his pubic hair is shaved by someone he assumes is a doctor but who turns out, mid-shave, to be a dangerous escaped lunatic. Not his fault at all. These things happen to the best of us.
A US adaptation of One Foot in the Grave, re-titled Cosby, was produced by Carsey-Werner and ran from 16 September 1996 to 28 April 2000. As the title indicates, it starred Bill Cosby as Hilton Lucas and Phylicia Rashad as his wife Ruth, who also played his wife in The Cosby Show. Although on air for four seasons, it failed to set the world alight.
The long goodbye
The final episode had the nation's favourite moaner go out in a drizzle of glory that typified the show's characteristic misery and dark humour. Victor was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. The deadly car's driver was played by Hannah Gordon, whose character later befriended Margaret, Meldrew's wife. Of course, she didn't reveal her guilty secret. It was a suitably downbeat end to an equally downbeat man.