|Drop the Dead Donkey|
|Created by||Andy Hamilton|
|Written by||Andy Hamilton|
Haydn Gwynne (Series 1–2)
Ingrid Lacey (Series 3–6)
Susannah Doyle (Series 2–6)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||6|
|No. of episodes||65 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||24 minutes|
|Production company||Hat Trick Productions|
|Original network||Channel 4|
|Picture format||4:3 (1990-1998) 16:9 (2005)|
|Audio format||Dolby Stereo (1990)
Dolby Surround (1991-1998)Dolby Digital (2005)
|Original release||9 August 1990 –|
9 December 1998
Drop the Dead Donkey is a British television sitcom that was first shown on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom between 1990 and 1998. It is set in the offices of "GlobeLink News", a fictional TV news company. Recorded close to transmission, it made use of contemporary news events to give the programme a greater sense of realism. It was created by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin. The series had an ensemble cast, making stars of Haydn Gwynne, Stephen Tompkinson and Neil Pearson.
The show was awarded the Best Comedy (Programme or Series) Award at the 1994 BAFTA Awards. At the British Comedy Awards the show won Best New TV Comedy in 1990, Best Channel 4 Comedy in 1991, and Best Channel 4 Sitcom in 1994.
In 2000, the show was ranked 94 on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, a list compiled by the British Film Institute.
According to Swedish comedian Kryddan Petersson, he and the group behind Helt Apropå had come up with an idea for a show like this, which they presented to British colleagues some time around 1989–90. Most of them were not impressed, but two of them took the idea seriously and wrote this show. Later on, the Swedish group bought the material rights to the show back to Sweden, and created the show Döda danskar räknas inte ("Dead Danes don't count"), which aired on SVT in 1994.
The series' story began with the acquisition of GlobeLink by media mogul Sir Roysten Merchant, an allusion to either Robert Maxwell or Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin note on their DVDs that it was fortunate for their libel lawyers that the two men shared the same initials. The series is mostly based on the ongoing battle between the staff of GlobeLink, led by editor George Dent, as they try to maintain the company as a serious news organisation, and Sir Roysten's right-hand man Gus Hedges, trying to make the show more sensationalist and suppress stories that might harm Sir Roysten's business empire.
One of the original working titles was Dead Belgians Don't Count. Dead Kuwaitis Don't Count was also considered for a short time but was ultimately replaced by Drop the Dead Donkey:
Finally, the title ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’ has been the subject of many column inches. Various journalists have with great authority explained its provenance 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.— Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin, Drop the Dead Donkey—The Writers’ Choice
Unusually for a sitcom, the show was topical, and was usually written and filmed in the week before broadcast. The writers commented that this made for a very natural style of acting. In most offices people normally converse while looking at monitors, clipboards or newspaper crosswords; the cast of the show reproduced this while actually cribbing their lines. Typically, the last scene was filmed either the day before or sometimes on the day of broadcast, and episodes concluded with audio-only dialogue or (in later series) an additional scene during the credits, which would usually involve topical references. The most frantic rewrite is said to have occurred when, on the day of filming, British media mogul Robert Maxwell drowned. (As the writers said in a later episode, "We don't want to go overboard with the story.") A number of politicians including Neil Kinnock and Ken Livingstone made guest appearances.
The humour, like that in a real newsroom, was often very black, as the writers did not shy away from sensitive subjects. A typical line (from Henry): "The ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. What a bloody stupid phrase. What do they think two thousand people have died from? Stress?" The view of relationships in the programme is also very bleak: all the main characters have very unstable romantic lives, with no-one being happily married.
The series ended with GlobeLink being closed down, with Series 6 being spent with the main characters trying to plan their futures elsewhere (largely unsuccessfully). The format for the final series differed slightly from the previous five. As well as being shorter (seven episodes), far less emphasis was placed on the news than before (both in terms of topical references and stories covered in the newsroom). Instead, much of the focus was on where the main characters would be once GlobeLink closed, after an announcement in the second episode of the series. Several minor characters appeared over the course of a few episodes in the final series, whereas most previously had only been in single episodes.
The ending contradicted the novel Drop The Dead Donkey 2000 by Hamilton and Alistair Beaton (1994) ISBN 0-316-91236-0, in which the company is almost destroyed in a bomb blast at the turn of the millennium.
Five compilation videos, each featuring three selected episodes of Drop The Dead Donkey, were released during the 1990s. There was also a sixth, called "The Writer's Choice", which featured six episodes plus 50 classic moments chosen by the writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin.
Volume 6 – "The Writer's Choice"
Between 2005 and 2007 VCI (UK, now part of 2 Entertain) released all six series on DVD, via their Cinema Club label. They were also collected into two box sets, featuring three series apiece. Extra features included the unaired pilot, and introductions and interviews with Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin and the cast. In 2015, all six series were re-released in a "Complete Series" box set by Spirit Entertainment.
Repeats of the programme often appeared on Comedy Central Extra. Before the show starts, there is often a short review of the major news events which happened during the week of each episode's filming. Episodes on DVD compilations are introduced in the same way (although not for Series 6 when topical references were very limited).
All series are now available via Channel 4's All 4 service and the UK streaming service BritBox.
All episodes are available in the US on the online streaming service Acorn TV starting in December 2014.