Happy 40th to Sanford & Son; Happy 50th to Steptoe & Son

Happy 40th, Sanford and Son

A quiet milestone anniversary passed on Saturday involving one of the greats in American sitcom history with roots in British situation comedy. Sanford and Son, which starred Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, premiered on NBC on January 14, 1972. Based on the brilliant British situation comedy, Steptoe and Son, the American version was set in the Watts neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles. In my book, there are only two American comedies that have roots in the UK that classify as genuine classics with All in the Family, which is based on ‘Till Death Us Do Part. Both were creations of the brilliant mind of Norman Lear.

As the story goes, Sanford and Son was NBC’s answer to Archie Bunker and All in the Family. It has long been considered the ground-breaking African-American comedy series that paved the way in the U.S. for later shows such as The Cosby Show.

Running for six seasons through 1977, the series topped the Nielsen ratings at #2 overall from 1972-1975 averaging a 28.2 rating during those three years. Not surprisingly, the Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin production of All in the Family was #1 during that time. While there is, obviously, a greater amount of competition on television today with cable and satellite offerings, considering the fact that networks today are thrilled with a 10 rating, Sanford and Son was a definite audience favorite during its run. In 2007, Time magazine included the series in its list of Top 100 Best TV Shows of All Time. Quite an achievement considering this was compiled in 2007 so it includes all the so-called greatness that cable and satellite was going to bring to the table. Needless to say, there would been no Sanford and Son without Steptoe and Son, which quietly celebrated its own milestone anniversary this month.

Happy 50th, Steptoe and Son

There are too many on both sides of the pond that have never experienced the greatness of this classic series, of which the pilot premiered 10 years earlier on the BBC. Written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the series was set in Shepherd’s Bush in London and followed the exploits of Albert Steptoe and his son, Harold, partners in the ‘rag and bone’ trade. The series ran for 8 seasons and was voted #15 in a 2004 BBC poll of Britain’s Best Sitcom. This classic 1962 episode, “The Piano” was one of 16 episodes that was remade as a Sanford and Son episode, “The Piano Movers”…..


Galton and Simpson had just finished writing for Hancock’s Half Hour, both on radio and television, and had agreed to create a BBC comedy anthology series, Comedy Playhouse. The pilot for Steptoe appeared on 4 January, 1962 and was immediately made into a series which premiered in June of the same year. Galton and Simpson wrote the first two seasons of what has historically been considered comedy greatness. Comedy Playhouse also gave birth to such series as Till Death Us Do Part, The Liver Birds, Last of the Summer Wine and Are You Being Served?. Nobody has, but not a bad track record, if you ask me.

So, a very happy 50th to Steptoe and Son and an equally as happy 40th to Sanford and Son.

In: Actors/Actresses,Comedy

  • jt

    Thanks for posting this, Bill. I watched it, and I thought it was very funny. I can see the similarities to Sanford and Son, but to be honest, I never thought Sanford and Son was funny at all. This is really funny. The actor playing Harold looks so familiar to me, too, but I cannot recall him from anything else. I must have seen him in something sometime, though, as he just seems so familiar.