A family of itinerant petty crooks - "The Nesbitt's are Coming" is a cry calculated to strike fear and panic among the forces of law and order. Described as the 'least lovable family since the Borgias', the Nesbitt’s are a family of roving vagabonds and small-time crooks who travel from town to town across the Northeast of England in a flat-bed lorry, leaving mayhem wherever they go.
Dick Sharples, the creator and writer of this short-lived series invented the Nesbitt’s for two episodes of Z Cars back in 1967 (The Nesbitt's are Back). He said, "They worked so well that I kept them filed in my brain to use again. I decided to put them in a stage play, but when Yorkshire Television heard what I was doing, they persuaded me to write a television series."
Manchester born Sharples had submitted his first script to the newly formed ITV channel two months before it went on air. But while his script wasn't outrightly rejected he was informed that he would not get paid for it. By the time production and actors’ costs were paid there was no money left for him. When he asked why the actors were getting paid, he was told: “Because the bastards have a union.” The following day he joined the Screenwriters' Association. By 1959, greatly helped by his efforts, the association became the Writer's Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) - a proper trade union that would represent professional writers in TV, film and radio (among others), and also support emerging and aspiring writers.
A versatile writer himself, Sharples wrote his first novel, a Western called 'The Man Who Rode by Night' whilst still a teenager in 1955, and would go on to write around 800 TV scripts which included Joan and Leslie, The Love of Mike, episodes of soap opera Compact and The Saint, Dixon of Dock Green, Adam Adamant Lives!, and Dr. Finlay's Casebook. He also did a four-year stint as script editor on the UK version of General Hospital. In 1969 Sharples wrote a one-off comedy called In Loving Memory. Broadcast in November 1969, the story was based in a rural Yorkshire undertakers. It would become a much-loved sitcom - but not until 1979.
The Nesbitt's Are Coming starred Clive Swift (the much put-upon husband Richard in Keeping Up Appearances) as Ernie Nesbitt, the head of the family determined to make sure his kids grow up to be as crooked as he is. His wife (Maggie Jones - best remembered as Blanche Hunt in Coronation Street) was only marginally less thievish. The two Nesbitt sons, Len and Tom (John Price and Christian Follyfoot Rodska) were apprentice crooks, and daughter Marlene (Deidre Costello) was something of a man-eater, throwing herself at anything in trousers. Ken Jones ('orrible Ives in Porridge) was Detective Sergeant Arnold Nixon, the officer determined to put the Nesbitt's - one and all, behind bars, but ends up being hampered by the incompetent boys and girls in blue who assisted him (these included Patsty Rowlands as WPC Kitty Naylor and Arthur White (brother of David Jason) as PC Crowther).
The Nesbitt's are Coming was a departure from the type of sitcom that had been seen on British television before, because during the course of each episode the cast would break out in song. Both critics and viewers alike would either love it or hate it. And those who hated it did so with a vengeance. One reviewer, writing about the series in 2018 wrote: 'It was so bad that after 38 years, I'm so glad at FINALLY getting the opportunity to vent my spleen over this utter pile of crud!' whilst on the flip side, another wrote: 'In addition to being hilarious, The Nesbitts Are Coming also features some innovative use of background music.' Scriptwriter Dick Sharples supplied the lyrics for the songs that keep the plotline moving very effectively -well, depending on your point of view. As another critic put it: 'It was nice of ITV to do something different, but this was just misconceived.' The Nesbitt's were meant to be lovable rogues, but many viewers found them simply unlovable. It turned out to be a failed experiment for Yorkshire Television and after just one series the Nesbitt's drove off into the sunset never to be seen again.
Published on August 10th, 2021. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.