The Top Ten Unseen TV Characters

Here are the best-known TV characters you've never seen, from 'er indoors in Minder to the (presumably) ghastly Father Bigley...

10. Joe Maplin (Hi-De Hi!)The series which gave us the unseen nemesis of chalet maids Miss Cathcart, also provided plain-speaking Joe Maplin the enigmatic big boss. Maplin was prone to some appalling written faux pas, especially notable when the educated Entertainment Manager Jeffrey Fairbrother attempted to read his letters to the staff. 9. Nick Swainey’s Mother (One Foot In The Grave)Victor Meldrew’s neighbour Nick Swainey seems to spend much of his time helping out the old folks. He also looked after his aged mother. At least that’s what he claimed. When prompted to “say hello to mother” Victor would often look in vain at the empty upstairs window where Mrs. Swainey was supposed to be. To him and the viewer alike, “mother” appeared to be a figment of Swainey’s imagination. 8. Sir Royston Merchant (Drop The Dead Donkey)The great unseen tycoon behind Globelink news. Clearly devised as a cross between the media barons Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell, Sir Royston Merchant made up for his absence by installing a puppet leader. Management speak-obsessed Gus Hedges was Sir Royston’s besuited henchman fond of remarking “…and remember I’m not here” to emphasise his “hands off” approach. Sir Royston’s son played by David Troughton did appear in the final episode in a marvellous scene where he doesn’t recognise the fawning Hedges, finding him as odious and unintelligible as everyone else does. 7. Norm’s wife (Cheers)Vera Peterson must have been quite a formidable wife if Norm would rather spend his days at Cheers. As the Boston bar’s number one beer monster, Norm either couldn’t face Vera or he’d become too drunk to remember he was married or indeed his way home. Vera is nearly seen in a brilliant Thanksgiving episode, only for her to be hit by a pie before her face is revealed on screen. 6. Father Bigley (Father Ted)Running with the idea that an unseen character can be as ridiculous as possible, the writers of Father Ted gave us Father Bigley. Once described as having “big puffy fishy lips” and blotches all over his face. He was apparently sectioned for starting a fire and he wears women’s perfume and looks dead. Oh and he may have sent arms to Iraq. 5. “Monkey” Harris (Only Fools and Horses)Delboy’s mate on the elaborate mock Edwardian-style phone. “Monkey” is mentioned in just about every episode, often sourcing Del’s hooky gear, yet he is never seen. He is described in discussions about wild nights down The Nags Head. On one occasion Delboy is beaten up on Rodney’s behalf. Rather than admit the truth of his injuries he claims to have fallen down the stairs at “Monkey” Harris’ house. It transpires Harris lives in a bungalow! Writer John Sullivan’s attention to detail (he claims he knew which desk Delboy sat at in School) is such it’s perhaps no surprise he gives even the unseen “Monkey” Harris character such a well-rounded back story. 4. Mrs Columbo (Columbo)The crumpled mac-wearing ‘tec Columbo was sometimes accompanied by his faithful (if ironically named)Bassett hound, Fang but often he would charm his suspect by telling them “Mrs Columbo is one of your biggest fans…” Stories of Columbo’s unseen wife would sometimes be used by the canny cop to wrong foot the suspect into a confession. If nothing else we can be sure Mrs Columbo has a wide range of interests with music, wine, literature and architecture being chief among them. 3. “‘Er Indoors” (Minder)Arthur Daley’s wife is much mentioned but never seen. She is even celebrated in the Christmas novelty hit “What are we gonna get ‘Er Indoors?” Sergeant Chisholm may well have scared Arthur just by walking into The Winchester but that was as nothing to the power of a forceful telephone conversation with his wife. Daley would incorporate his wife into his selling technique especially if it was perfume or ladies fashion. Sometimes he would state he was saving one of his dubious motors for “‘Er Indoors” as she wanted a nice little runabout… In one episode Daley’s home life reaches rock bottom and “‘Er Indoors” locks him out forcing him to spend the night at Terry’s flat much to his minder’s chagrin.

2. Elizabeth Mainwaring (Dad’s Army)Elizabeth Mainwaring is an incredible piece of non-writing on the part of Jimmy Perry and David Croft and a tribute to the acting skills of Arthur Lowe. With just a phone call Mainwaring’s uncharacteristically timid reactions and responses only begin to suggest what a bleak home life the good Captain endures. On occasion he’s unable to get a word in edgeways. On his honeymoon in Scotland he states he learnt to play the bagpipes as “…there wasn’t much else to do”. In the episode “The King Was In His Counting House” Captain Mainwaring invites the other members of the platoon to a party at his home. The viewer comes close to seeing his wife but the party is halted by an air raid and before she has descended the reclusive Elizabeth retreats back upstairs. On two other occasions Mainwaring’s highly-strung wife is represented by a bulge in the top bunk beneath which the Captain sleeps in the air raid shelter. 1. Maris Crane (Frasier)The writers of Frasier once insisted that no actress could ever be cast as Maris Crane because frankly no-one could live up to the viewers (probably wildly differing) expectations. The list of wide-ranging traits and attributes the character was supposed to embody became longer over the years. Niles Crane’s wife (and later ex-wife) Maris went from being pencil thin to excessively obese, had difficulty producing saliva and the complexion of an albino.

As the series progressed we came close to seeing the elusive Maris on several occasions but each time the writers pulled back and merely added more weird and wonderful character traits for the viewer to ponder. Hats off to people behind Frasier for creating the ultimate unseen TV character.