An award-winning topical office comedy produced by Hat Trick productions for UK Channel 4.
With its winning combination of strong characterisations, alongside sharply observed topical humour - topical humour so integral that many of the older repeats have a brief introduction to the news of the day at the time of broadcast - this series was a truly contemporary comedy and undoubtedly one of the great comedy series of the 1990s.
About the Title
The title 'Drop the Dead Donkey' has been the subject of many column inches. Various journalists have with great authority explained its providence as a well known industry expression. The truth, sadly, is that the writers made it up. It's just something stupid that they imagined might be shouted out in the tense few minutes before a news broadcast.
- Written in the Drop the Dead Donkey - The Writers' Choice video/DVD box after discussion with Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin
The working title was Dead Belgians Don't Count. Sorry Belgians.
Globe Link News
Based in high-rise offices on Sir Roysten Merchant Way, in central London, Globe Link News is an important and respected News organisation. Well, it was until Sir Roysten Merchant took it over.
Prior to the takeover, Globe Link was a serious independent news broadcaster, which just happened to employ a load of basket cases1. After the take over it tried to transform into a populist news channel run by, as Helen puts it at one point, 'a paranoid smarm ball, who talks total b******ks', which just happened to employ a load of basket cases.
Now, it was during this important transfer that the world looked in on the strange universe of Globe Link News.
George Dent (Jeff Rawle)
As the editor of Globe Link News, he is at the cutting edge of news broadcasting and current medical knowledge. He has a range of illnesses that cause his doctor to ask him to just fax today's symptoms through.
He is a family man with a daughter well on the way to becoming an urban terrorist and a wife intimately known to every other man in her life apart from George. He is unlucky, stressed, wears cardigans, and, still, mustn't grumble.
Jeff Rawle made an early TV appearance in Doctor Who: 'Frontios' in 1984.
Gus Hedges (Robert Duncan)
Now, as he likes to remind everyone: 'I'm not here'. Gus is the verbose managing director of Globe Link News who remarkably manages to use the English language in a way that completely avoids communication.
In his role as a hands-off over-viewer, part of Globe Link's mental matrix, he throws ideas around to see if they bounce and particularly bounce George in the right direction. Although he would never interfere with editorial policy as that would be quite wrong.
A great believer in self-improvement and the latest management techniques (ie, fashionable fad), he delivers his own unique style of management to the Globe Link team.
Alex Pates (Haydn Gwynne)
Being a serious professional news broadcaster she, not unnaturally, feels slightly out of place at Globe Link.
After years of working as Assistant Editor at Globe Link News, helping George, organising the office, trying to do professional journalism within Globe Link, and being humiliated by her mother's all too frequent calls to the office, Alex left for a job at the BBC in 1992. At the time the BBC had the same level of management incompetence under the then director general, but had the advantage of fewer basket cases.
Helen Cooper (Ingrid Lacey)
Replacing Alex as assistant editor in 1993, Helen set about maintaining a high level of professionalism, efficiency, accuracy and incisive questioning at Globe Link despite Damien's presence. And on top of this full-time job, she has to cope with all the emotional problems of the office, handle the guests, help George cope with his dizzy spells and ailments, and bring up a daughter on her own.
Dave Charnley (Neil Pearson)
As deputy sub-editor of Globe Link and general office dogsbody, Dave is given the impossible editing jobs, like finding pictures of Yeltsin looking sober or Jeffery Archer not looking smug.
He has more than his fair share of faults including drinking, gambling, and brief liaisons with married women and, to top it all off, he's also one of the nicest people in the office.
He runs several sidelines from copies of reports, Damien Day disaster compilations, bootleg films, the recording of the time Sally left her radio mic on while 'entertaining' a lighting engineer, or anything else he thinks will sell.
He also runs a betting book on any event ranging from major political events, to what the first letter of the first word George says after lunch, or the winner of the annual cockroach race during the Tory party conference.
Neil later went on to other TV and film projects, including the TV series Between the Lines, and the movie Bridget Jones's Diary.
Damien Day (Stephen Tompkinson)
As Gus describes him, he is Globe Link's 'Front Line News Warrior'; everyone else describes him as arrogant, borderline psychotic, and a person who would 'napalm his own granny if he thought he would get good pictures'. His reports are sensationalist, and he doesn't get restricted by silly little things like taste or what actually happened.
Camera crews generally view going out on reports with Damien as a form of Russian roulette, only more dangerous. So it is usually left to Gerry.
This series launched Stephen Tompkinson's TV and film career, and in fact he got a Best Comedy Actor Award in 1994 for playing Damien Day. His other work includes TV's Ballykissangel and the film Brassed Off.
Henry Davenport (David Swift)
A veteran broadcaster and famous field reporter, Henry is now restricted to studio work as the anchor for Globe Link news.
He never restrains his opinions or anything else for that matter. His main interests include drink, women, gambling and baiting Sally Smedly (a hobby the whole office takes part in) and so he is best friends with Dave.
Sally Smedley (Victoria Wicks)
After a career spanning children's radio, a month on the sofas of breakfast television, and investigative journalism on John Craven's Newsround2, she joined Globe Link News at the start of the '90s as Henry's co-anchor.
A shameless self-publicist she fronts fitness videos, opens supermarkets, and attends parties in order to link herself to as many other celebrities as possible and maintain the high profile of her prim, proper and squeaky clean image. An image that would be blown apart by a ten-minute conversation with Henry or by reading any of the graffiti in the Globe Link building.
However, the reality of Sally Smedly is a shallow person who is callous, bitchy, pretentious, snide and lacking in any understanding of politics, geography, or anything relating to news.
Joy Merryweather (Susannah Doyle)
Joy is the most efficient PA ever to work at Globe Link, which is a shame seeing as how much Gus would like to sack her.
Joy is a strong personality within the office, deeply sarcastic, tending to look at people in a way that Dave described as saying, 'I don't respect you. You're crap'. Many of the people in the office if asked to choose words to describe Joy would choose scary, intimidating, angry, and vindictive.
She seems to take great pleasure in mocking and humiliating Gus, Sally, and occasionally Damien, though anyone is fair game for her sarcastic sideswipes.
She stands up for people who deserve it, but maintains vendettas and meets out retribution in a way that would impress the Mafia.
Sir Roysten Merchant
The ruthless head of an international business empire and from 1990 the owner of Globe Link News.
A controversial figure within the business community, never good at receiving criticism. Gus noted in 'A New Dawn': 'you know I saw him head butt a speak-your-weight machine once'. He's a person who takes a keen interest in who to fire.
He is feared by the staff and idolised by Gus.
Gerry the Cameraman
NHS patient of the year throughout the 1990s, he is the poor fool who usually goes out on reports with Damien before returning after extended sick leave.
In the high powered world of modern media, and news in particular, good communication is essential. So as a guide to good communication there follows some prime examples from Globe Link's chief executive Gus Hedges.
I'm not here.
George, can we pool our brain spaces into a centre of excellence?
What's filling today's scoop sandwich chief?
Good morning newsbusters, are we cooking with napalm today? You bet!
Henry, television is no longer corner store it's a hyper-mega-market. And if we want Connie Consumer to slip her hand into the freezer cabinet and pull us out, we have to be the frozen peas with the nice picture on the front and the 10% off coupon.
Helen we need a rapid interface in the chin-wag department.
However, the fickle hand of Mr Fate has spun the coin of destiny.
All right Team are we achieving megathrust? Ace!
Jill, could you come for a brief scuba in my think tank?
I think we have a slight togetherness shortfall here.
Look, Henry, if it's any help, I do have a sleep area over capacity situation.
I'm in major cellular rejuvenation mode, fast tracking my way to eternal biological viability.
Common Episode Aspects
As Drop the Dead Donkey is mostly an office based comedy, there are aspects common to many episodes, and here are some of them:
The Morning Meeting
Where the editorial team of Globe Link debate the major issues of the day (like where Fergie's toe sucking should go in the running order or which Tory sleaze story to lead with today) with Sally giving them the benefit of her ignorance.
Conversations in George's Office
When people need to talk away from the gossip factory that is Globe Link, they retreat into the only office that isn't Gus's.
Meetings in Gus's Office
When Gus needs to have a rapid interface in the chin-wag department with someone, he invites them into the working war room that is at the helm of SS Globe Link.
The Notice Board
It holds occasional messages and the winner of 'The Slimey Git of the Week Competition'3.
The Ending Conversation
All the episodes were filmed the day before broadcast and in front of a live studio audience apart from the 'Ending Conversation'. As the titles run two members of Globe Link comment on the news on the day of broadcast.
The Production Team
Episode Writers and Creators
Episode Writers and Additional Material Contributors
Although most of the in-office plot was scripted well before recording, there were the worrying gaps left for the topical aspects to be written just before broadcast. In many cases this led to frantic re-writes as last minute news stories came in. The worst rush was actually triggered when Robert Maxwell rather inconveniently fell off his boat prompting frantic rewrites and the issuing of the emergency copy of The Bumper Book of Dead Corrupt Capitalist Jokes.
Liddy Oldroyd directed all six series, in total 65 episodes, each recorded the day before broadcast in front of a live studio audience. A daunting task for any director, which she more than met judging by the high quality of the programmes produced.
Apart from her work on Drop the Dead Donkey, Liddy Oldroyd worked on many successful comedy series including Spitting Image, Desmond's, Gimme, Gimme, Gimmie and the second series of Paul Merton, the Series. Throughout her career she worked with many of the stars of contemporary comedy. As well as the awards for Drop the Dead Donkey, she won the Women in Film Kodak Award for Creativity in 1992 and a Montreux Award in 1992. However, sadly she was diagnosed with cancer and died on June 27, 2002, aged just 47.
The series started at Globe Link's takeover on the eve of the Gulf War amidst Tory sleaze that would become standard.
- 'A New Dawn' (9 August, 1990)
- 'Sally's Arrival' (16 August, 1990)
- 'A Clash of Interests' (23 August, 1990)
- 'A Blast from the Past' (30 August, 1990)
- 'Old Father Time' (6 September, 1990)
- 'Sex, Lies and Audiotape' (13 September, 1990)
- 'Stress Therapy' (20 September, 1990)
- 'The Root of All Evil' (27 September, 1990)
- 'Animal Rights' (4 October, 1990)
- 'The Big Interview' (11 October, 1990)
- 'The Gulf Report' (26 September, 1991)
- 'The Trevorman Cometh' (3 October, 1991)
- 'Henry and Dido' (10 October, 1991)
- 'Baseball' (17 October, 1991)
- 'The Drunken Cabinet Minister' (24 October, 1991)
- 'Alex and the Interpreter' (31 October, 1991)
- 'Hoax' (7 November, 1991)
- 'Don't Mention the Arabs' (14 November, 1991)
- 'Damian Down and Out' (21 November, 1991)
- 'The Evangelist' (28 November, 1991)
- 'George's Daughter' (5 December, 1991)
- 'Dave's Day' (12 December, 1991)
- 'The Christmas Party' (19 December, 1991)
This series saw the Drop The Dead Donkey really take off. Helen replaced Alex, and the series won its second Emmy and a BAFTA4.
- 'In Place of Alex' (7 January, 1993)
- 'Sally's Accountant' (14 January, 1993)
- 'Henry's Lost Love' (21 January, 1993)
- 'Helen'll Fix It' (28 January, 1993)
- 'Sally's Libel' (4 February, 1993)
- 'Lady Merchant' (11 February, 1993)
- 'The New Newsreader' (18 February, 1993)
- 'Joy' (25 February, 1993)
- 'Paintball' (4 March, 1993)
- 'George and His Daughter' (11 March, 1993)
- 'Awards' (18 March, 1993)
- 'Gus and The Grim Reaper' (29 September, 1994)
- 'Quality Time' (6 October, 1994)
- 'The Day of the Mum' (13 October, 1994)
- 'Births and Deaths' (20 October, 1994)
- 'Helen's Parents' (27 October, 1994)
- 'Sally in TV Times' (3 November, 1994)
- 'Crime Time' (10 November, 1994)
- 'No More Mr Nice Guy' (17 November, 1994)
- 'Henry's Autobiography' (24 November, 1994)
- 'The Strike' (1 December, 1994)
- 'The Wedding' (8 December ,1994)
- 'Damien and the Weather Girl' (15 December, 1994)
- 'Inside the Asylum' (1 October, 1996)
- 'The Godless Society' (8 October, 1996)
- 'The Bird of Doom' (15 October, 1996)
- 'What are Friends For?' (22 October, 1996)
- 'The Path of True Love' (29 October, 1996)
- 'Charnley in Love' (5 November, 1996)
- 'George's Car' (12 November, 1996)
- 'Henry's Diary' (19 November ,1996)
- 'Dave and Diana' (26 November, 1996)
- 'Luck' (3 December, 1996)
- 'The Graveyard Shift' (10 December, 1996)
- 'Sex 'n Death' (17 December, 1996)
Most of series six is untitled so unofficial titles have been allocated.
- 'The News Makers' (28 October, 1998)
- 'Arrival of the Weather Babe' (4 November, 1998)
- 'Eternal Youth' (11 November, 1998)
- 'When George met Sue' (18 November, 1998)
- 'Damien's Virus' (25 November, 1998)
- 'The Underworld and Youth TV' (2 December, 1998)
- 'The Final Chapter' (9 December, 1998)
Drop the Dead Donkey is regularly repeated in the UK on the Paramount Comedy Channel.