1 9 9 0 – 1 9 9 8 (UK)
66 x episodes
Drop The Dead Donkey was a situation comedy with a difference. Set in the newsroom of cable TV network GlobeLink, the show had to be ultra-topical to succeed.
In order to ensure the news stories on the show were bang up to date, each episode was recorded the night before transmission and edited on the actual broadcast day, with voice-overs added to the closing credits for up to the minute comment on breaking news.
Because the script was written so close to transmission the cast often didn’t have time to memorise their lines before shooting and had much of their dialogue written on the pieces of paper and clipboards that they were forever looking at during each episode.
GlobeLink News was owned by the unseen media mogul Sir Roysten Merchant but run by his responsibility-shirking, yuppie yes-man, Gus Hedges (Robert Duncan).
Editor of the news team was George Dent (Jeff Rawle), a hypochondriac divorcé and father of a rebellious teenager. His assistant in the first two seasons was wily Alex Pates (Haydn Gwynne), whose Mum was seldom off the phone.
The rest of the team consisted of cynical production secretary Joy Merryweather (Susannah Doyle), toupee-wearing alcoholic news anchor, Henry Davenport (David Swift), his sanctimonious on-air colleague, Sally Smedley (Victoria Wicks), and reporters Dave Charnley (Neil Pearson) – a compulsive gambler and office Romeo – and unscrupulous conscience-free Damien Day (Stephen Tompkinson), who was not above fabricating tragedy to enliven a story.
Helen Cooper (Ingrid Lacey), a lesbian single mother, later joined the news team as Alex’s replacement.
The show was an instant hit and quickly picked up a cult following, with the result that celebrities and politicians queued up for cameo roles. As the characterisations became more defined, however, reliance on real-life news for humour decreased, and the programme focused more on its protagonists using topical stories as mere filler.
There were no episodes in 1995 or 1997, but Drop The Dead Donkey returned for a final fling at the end of 1998. In a world grappling with the arrival of digital TV, the future for GlobeLink and its news team seemed bleak, and the final series showed the characters scrabbling for new careers as the station headed for closure.
A haul of international awards was testament to the show’s innovation and quality, and the razor-sharp writing of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkins.