Tales of the Unexpected

Photo by John Michael Thomson on Unsplash

Trawling the kind of television stations, as I do, which have the average daytime viewing figures of three if you include the dog, I stumbled across a barely remembered ITV series from 1979 called ‘Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected’ – later, after Mr Dahl had, presumably run out of unforeseen expositions of his own, just ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ – and it struck me, what would be the point of a ‘Tale of the Expected’?  Surely, in order to tempt the viewer to persevere through the myriad funeral plan adverts and into ‘part two’, there would need to be the expectation of something happening that was at least to some degree not quite as anticipated?  Imagine the pitch: “I like the general concept, so, what happens in the end?”
“Oh you know, the expected.”
“Brilliant!  Here, take this million pounds.  It’s going to be a blockbuster!”

The work of all fiction is surely to take you away from the expected, but the problem with calling something ‘Unexpected’ is that you then know to expect it.  The only way that you would be able to engender shock with the ending of a Tale of the Unexpected would be to make it totally expected, thus, probably putting you on the receiving end of a multi-million pound lawsuit from a group of viewers or readers with nothing better to do.  It is like expecting someone to be shocked when a large brown bear appears in ‘The Tale of the Large Brown Bear’.

Anyway, by way of research, I managed to sit through one or two of the aforementioned tales and I have to report that the makers did pull off quite a clever trick: the ending in each of the episodes I watched could, in no way, be described as unexpected unless you have the imagination of a ball of Edam cheese, (Now don’t get me wrong here; I like Edam, but you have to admit, as far as cheeses go, it is pretty much without imagination isn’t it?  A super-mature Cheddar will tell a tale of derring-do so vivid that it will seep into your dreams for weeks; a liquefying stilton will lull you into a false sense of security before suddenly gripping your chest like a reverse Alien, creating the kind of heartburn that can only be alleviated by the consumption of shed-loads of port, and gout; a lovely crumbly Cheshire will have you falling in love with anyone who provides just the right fruity chutney; an Edam will have you wondering only whether you have cheese-scented soap or soap-textured cheese, although it will allow you to make a passable model rabbit out of the wax.) but more ‘Odd’.  ‘Tales of the Odd’ would have been a much better title and would have encompassed the feeling of ‘Well, I know exactly what he’s going to do, but why in God’s name would he?’ that accompanied every episode I saw.

Because I was expecting the unexpected, then the only way to actually make it unexpected was to allow it to be completely expected but lacking in any logical explanation.  When I was a boy, the ‘Amazing Tales’ and ‘Astounding Stories’ magazines I read delivered exactly what it said on the cover, but the endings were never unexpected.  You always knew that the family next door were actually aliens and that dreams were the actual reality and vice versa: not unexpected, but definitely astounding.  It would be difficult, wouldn’t it, to relate to a story in which the denouement was not, to some degree at least, expected.  Life’s not like that is it?

Well, I know what’s coming next, so that’s my excuse anyway…


12 thoughts on “Tales of the Unexpected

  1. Cheese will give you nightmares, as I recall. It only ever gave me indigestion, sadly. Most television gives me that too. I watched several episodes of I Claudius which I enjoyed tremendously when it came out. Halfway through I found I just didn’t care anymore. I mean we all know what happened to the Romans. We love being able to say “I knew it! I knew it would end this way!” Human beings are curious creatures. That’s about all I know. Roald Dahl liked animals, though, so he must’ve been OK>

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  2. I remember Dahl had a dark mind for a guy who wrote kids gories. One adult tale of Karma of his, about an insect has stuck in my brain uncomfortably for decades. Brrrr.

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  3. I once thought that I’d purchased a nice chunk of Wensleydale, only to find out later that I’d been palmed off with a crumbly concoction peppered through with cranberries… Now that was unexpected!

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