The Dustbinmen

1969 | United Kingdom

Jack Rosenthal's sitcom about refuse collectors arrived in 1969 and immediately shot to number one in the JICTAR ratings where it stayed for all six episodes of it's first series-the first time this had ever happened on British television. 

Rosenthal had accompanied council refuse collectors on their rounds in 1968 as research for a an intended one-off television play for Granada Television, which went out as part of a seven-week series under the generic title, The System. His play -There's A Hole In Your Dustbin, Delilah-was set in the Lancashire town of Fylde (near Blackpool) and drew heavily on the characters he had encountered, and as a result was a typical Rosenthal earthy look at the human condition with all its flaws and idiosyncrasies. 

The Dustbinmen were led by their foreman, the foul-mouthed, beret-wearing Cheese and Egg (nicknamed because his initials were C.E.) and accompanying him on the Corporation Cleansing Department dust cart (affectionately dubbed Thunderbird 3) were an equally obnoxious crew of work-shy, housewife-lusting individuals. They were the bowler-hatted Heavy Breathing (nicknamed because he believed he was God's gift to women), Smellie (because he stank), Winston (the driver -an ardent Manchester City fan) and the dim witted Coronation Street * fan, Eric. The fact that none of the co-workers could stand the site of each other was eclipsed by their shared dislike for the corporation they worked for and in particular their new inspector who they nicknamed Bloody Delilah. They also turned their revulsion on the local residents whose garbage they collected often referring judgmentally to each of them by their address (hence Mrs 14b). 

The Dustbinmen

There were a number of cast changes from pilot to series, notably Cheese and Egg (Jack MacGowan to Bryan Pringle), Heavy Breathing (Harold Innocent to Trevor Bannister), Eric (Henry Livings to Tim Wylton) and Bloody Delilah (Frank Windsor to John Woodvine and then Brian Wilde for series 2 and 3). And Jack Rosenthal, having written the entire series one, began to become less involved so that by series three he had left the production entirely. The series courted much criticism at the time for its coarseness and vulgarity, although Cheese and Egg's favourite expletive 'pigging' seems tame by today's standards, but it was enough to provoke the wrath of Mary Whitehouse and her 'clean-up TV' campaign. As in many cases where she showed a disapproving voice, this did no harm at all to the show's ratings.

*There were a number of Coronation Street links, not least of all being the fact that Rosenthal had just finished with 'The Street' having written over 100 episodes, Graham Habberfield who played Winston Platt had similarly just finished a long stint on the show as Jerry Booth and Julie Goodyear -later to become Wetherfield's favourite barmaid, Bet Lynch- guest starred in two episodes.

Published on December 8th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.