THEY’RE among the most recognisable characters in British sitcom history.

Steptoe and Son, the classic comedy about a father and son struggling to make a living as rag and bone men, has stood the test of time.

The last ever episode – a Christmas special – was first broadcast nearly 45 years ago, but frequent reruns have meant that the show is still well-known to modern audiences.

And now, a stage play based in part on that final episode is heading to the region while on a national tour.

Christmas With Steptoe and Son, which will be performed at Darlington’s Majestic Theatre later this month, is based on original scripts written by acclaimed writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

Lincolnshire-based Hambledon Productions, which specialises in reviving classic comedy, first got Galton and Simpson’s approval to produce a ‘best of’ Steptoe and Son play based on the original series.

That show, which toured in 2017/18, included some much-loved set pieces from the series and went down so well that the company decided to explore the possibility of a second production.

The idea was to bring together the two Christmas specials, plus a “lost” sketch written for a BBC festive show called Christmas Night With The Stars. That footage has been wiped from the BBC archive but, crucially, the script survives.

John Hewer, who adapted the play from the scripts, says: “It’s a labour of love. We’ve joined together the ‘73 and ‘74 specials and added in some lines, but it’s pretty much all Galton and Simpson.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it – my job as the adaptor was to link it all together as a cohesive script.”

Both writers were still alive for the ‘best of’ adaptation and Galton lavished praise on the stage show saying: “The affection for the original shines through.

“I’m delighted that the scripts and the characters continue to be cherished after all this time. The performances are marvellous.”

The writers also gave their approval for the Christmas stage show to go ahead, but Alan Simpson died in the interim. Ray Galton passed away just a month before the Christmas version opened, but not before he had seen some DVD footage of the show and given it his blessing – something which John says means so much to the production team.

Grimsby-born John plays Harold Steptoe in the Christmas stage version, alongside Jeremy Smith’s ‘dirty old man’ Albert.

“We love working together,” he says.

“We have this mutual love and respect for those original words, those characters and those performances.”

And that respect certainly extends to the show’s creators, whose background as gag writers for the likes of Frankie Howerd allowed them make even the bleakest situations in Steptoe and Son become laugh-out-loud funny.

John says: “It’s like they wrote the comedy rulebook for sitcom in 1954 when they got Tony Hancock on board. Then they re-wrote the rulebook with Steptoe and Son.

“It’s really quite gritty, kitchen sink kind of stuff but they were always happy to put the gags in. If you want a laugh, you watch a sitcom - and Steptoe and Son has laughs in bucket-loads.

“It’s a bit like a one-trick-pony, but if the characters are so believable, likeable and vulnerable, you feel for them.”

And it’s the decaying relationship between father and son which was central to the TV series and this latest play.

“If you look at Albert Steptoe, he’s lived through two world wars, he’s got a business, a house and a family – he thinks he’s done very well. He just wants to retire and to be looked after in his old age,” says John

“For Harold, he’s lived through the Second World War. He’s come out of it and he’s still quite young and he thinks ‘what did I bother fighting for because I’m still in this rat-hole and looking after this horrible, dirty old man’.

“That’s the heart of it. It’s like a rubber band being stretched and you never know if it’s going to break.

“At the end of the day, it’s two people locked in one room, trying their best to get on and failing every time. It’s just funny, it’s guaranteed to make you laugh.”

John thinks it’s this relationship which makes Steptoe and Son so relatable to younger audiences who will have seen reruns of the TV show.

“I also do a Tommy Cooper show and the audiences for that are generally older,” he says. “With Steptoe and Son, it’s a bit more open book.”

John himself wasn’t even born when original Steptoe and Son stars Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell passed away, but he is very familiar with the series.

“I inherited a lot of my comedy leanings from my dad and I remember those Sunday afternoons and evenings in the 90s when the BBC would show repeats of things like Porridge, Fawlty Towers and Steptoe and Son,” he says.

“They’re evergreen, they’re always funny.”

* Christmas With Steptoe and Son is on at The Majestic Theatre in Bondgate, Darlington, on Tuesday, November 19, at 7.30pm. Tickets priced between £11 and £13. Telephone 01325-633296 or 633255, or visit for more details.

The show is also on at The Exchange, North Shields, on Saturday, December 28. Telephone 0191-258-4111.