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The iconic opening titles- with music by Ron Grainer of Dr Who fame. Anglia Television/Network

Top 6: Tales of the Unexpected (1979-1988)

Tales of the Unexpected was a series of short story dramatisations, each with an ‘unexpected’ twist in the end. Earlier episodes were introduced by the famous author Roald Dahl- some of which were penned by him.

Running for nine series over almost 10 years, the storylines range from sinister, comedic to downright bizarre. They star many well-known British TV and film actors, such as Joan Collins, John Mills, Peter Cushing and Derek Jacobi. Despite this, the quality varies a lot. Some of the episodes haven’t stood the test of time and others have terribly predictable twists.

There are some gems among the 112 Tales of the Unexpected episodes, however. Into the Retroscope has picked out six that will have you on the edge of your seats.

The Flypaper (1980)

‘A plot like this, though it looks so simple, is very hard to come by, and harder still to set down in precisely the right manner, giving nothing away until the very end.’

Roald Dahl in the introduction to The Flypaper.

Sylvia, a lonely schoolgirl, is followed by a strange man. Her grandmother is dismissive of her concerns. The setting, an idyllic rural English village, is rendered creepy and desolate by the spine-tinglingly chilling music. The twist at the end is indeed unexpected.

I’ll be seeing you (1980)

Roland’s girlfriend is losing her sight but may be able to undergo pioneering surgery to restore her vision. If only there was some way he could leave his rich and controlling wife… Anthony Valentine and Amanda Redman star in this well-paced thriller.

A Harmless Vanity (1982)

Liz discovers that her husband is having an affair. She transforms her image and sets up a meeting with his lover- with startlingly unexpected consequences. Sheila Gish’s portrayal of her character’s bitter discontent and determination, not to mention the shocking ending, make this one worth watching.

The Land Lady (1979)

A very creepy early episode written by Roald Dahl. A young man finds a room in a B&B run by an eccentric and kindly old lady, who is not what she seems.

People don’t do such things (1985)

A neat little thriller penned by renowned crime writer Ruth Rendell. An accountant and his wife make friends with a womanizing romance novelist- with disastrous consequences. This episode makes good use of all 25 of its minutes.

Wink Three Times (1988)

A later, comedic episode set in a hotel. Barbara is persuaded to hire a gigolo by her friend, leading to a series of amusing room number misunderstandings. This light-hearted episode is a interesting change from the more thriller-oriented stories. It features appearances from Peter Davidson and Liza Goddard.

Like British thrillers? Check out our list of chilling UK-made psychological horror films from the 60s!

Post Author: RetroRobin

Into The Retroscope's founder. RetroRobin enjoys pecking out the forgotten classics and little knowns of yesteryear- specialising in cult Japanese films, 1960s Bollywood cabaret songs, British thrillers and old school adventure games.

6 thoughts on “Top 6: Tales of the Unexpected (1979-1988)


    (January 6, 2019 - 2:38 pm)

    It was indeed a hit and miss series made by Anglia Television. Your review definitely chose six of the best – I would also add the episode entitled The Verger (1988). A charming tale based on a story by Somerset Maughan about a verger (played by Richard Briers) who gets dismissed from the Church because he can’t read or write.


    (June 2, 2019 - 7:09 pm)

    Man From The South is my fav


    (April 6, 2020 - 6:55 am)

    Top 4:
    1. The Man From The South
    2. Taste
    3. The Umbrella Man
    4. The Eavesdropper

    tom blakely

    (February 24, 2021 - 5:59 pm)

    Best episode is the one about the beekeeper chilling


      (February 25, 2021 - 8:47 am)

      Ah yes, with the baby! I agree- that was an unnerving episode.

    martin smith

    (September 2, 2023 - 9:01 am)

    I think Bee keeper closely followed by umbrella man.
    All are just awesome 👌

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