21 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet is a 1980s British TV comedy-drama about seven English construction workers who leave the UK in search of employment overseas.
In the first series, the gang end up in Germany, living in a run-down wooden hut together. As a result, each episode follows their relationships with women, encounters with the local Germany community, their attempts at killing time in a foreign country and the lengths they’ll go to in order to save a bit of money.
The original ‘Magnificent Seven’ included Barry, the electrician from the Black Country; Neville, Dennis and Oz the three Geordie bricklayers; womanising Cockney joiner Wayne; ‘Bomber’ the bricklayer from Bristol and Scouse plasterer Moxey.
The series was a hit with audiences in the 80s and beyond, with viewers praising its realism and humour, particularly in the earlier seasons.
In 2015, the 1980s series was voted ITV’s Favourite TV Programme of all Time in a Radio Times readers poll which was held to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the station.
With that in mind, below we bring you a list of 14 things you probably didn’t know about this classic British TV show…
1. Jimmy Nail Had Actually Worked In Germany Before
Jimmy Nail (whose real name is James Michael Aloysius Bradford) had actually done some manual work in Germany prior to auditioning for the role of Oz, an experience which no doubt came in handy when he started work on the series.
Audiences ended up loving his portrayal of Oz and the series shot him to stardom – a far cry from his humble roots as a construction worker.
Nail was also a lot like his on-screen character in other ways too. On the programme, Oz was known for his aggressive demeanour, whilst Jimmy Nail had had a tough time of things before his starring turn on the show – he was expelled from school before being sent to prison for fighting at a football match, a phase which started after the tragic death of his sister Shelagh.
He became known as Jimmy Nail during his time working at a glass factory.
Whilst he was sweeping the floor, he accidentally stood on a six-inch spike that went through his foot and lo and behold, a lasting nickname was born.
2. The Title Is Easily Explainable
In case you didn’t already realise, the title of the show refers to the workers saying goodbye to their wives and girlfriends, with ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ being German for ‘Goodbye’, and ‘Pet’ being a term of endearment in the North East of England. Later on, the title of the programme was at the heart of a bitter dispute between producers Franc Roddam and Allan McKeown.
Roddam wanted to revive the programme after seeing starring cast members Tim Healy, Kevin Whately and Nail performing sketches based on Auf Wiedersehen, Pet on stage for a charity concert in Newcastle. The sketches were written by Ian La Frenais, a good friend of McKeown. Unfortunately McKeown was vigorously opposed to the idea and wanted nothing to do with it.
If the new series did go ahead, McKeown (pictured above) did not want the programme to use the title Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
However, the reboot was eventually created with the original title and as a result, McKeown and La Frenais have not spoken since – even though La Frenais had been best man at McKeown’s wedding.
3. The Main Cast Did Some Method Acting To Prepare For The Series
Before filming of series one began, the cast were sent on an actual bricklaying course to make sure that their on-screen work looked as realistic as possible. It must have worked because audiences often praised the series and its true-to-life portrayal of working class labourers.
4. The Second Series Experienced A Serious Setback
Actor Gary Holton, who played Wayne Norris on the show, tragically died of a drug overdose in 1985 whilst filming the second series.
This meant that his appearances had to be completely watered-down and edited in the last few episodes.
They had managed to film all of the exterior scenes with Wayne in them but had not started any of the interior ones, meaning that one of the production team was dressed in a wig to look like Wayne for backshots and to keep a sense of continuity going for audiences at home.
After Holton’s untimely death, many of the indoor scenes he was supposed to appear in were written out entirely, and his presence was simply accounted for by other characters explaining that he was elsewhere at the time.
5. Many Scenes Were Actually Filmed In Nottingham
Although the series definitely had a North Eastern feel to it, many of the scenes from the second season were actually filmed in Nottingham. In fact, a number of scenes were supposed to be set in Newcastle, Wolverhampton, Derbyshire and even Spain, but Nottingham was the primary filming location.
In the first series, the scenes set in Germany were actually filmed in Hamburg and Düsseldorf. However, they were shot in record time, with the entirety of the German portion of the series being filmed in just under ten days!
That must have been quite an intense and gruelling period of time for the actors involved.
And finally, remember the spire-shaped tower that we saw on Thornley Manor in series two?
This wasn’t actually part of the original building, and was added in by the production crew to make the house look more Victorian.
The real house, Beesthorpe Hall, actually dates back to the 1500s.
6. Producers Fell Out With Jimmy Nail
Executive producers fell out with Jimmy Nail during filming of the second series because they felt that his ego was out of control, resulting in him often asking for his dialogue to be changed.
Nail said in his autobiography that he was pleased when filming on the second series ended, mainly because of Gary Holton’s death but also because he felt that the second series ‘lacked the gritty edge’ of the first.
In particular Nail and executive producer McKeown did not get on, with McKeown later stating that Nail was a ‘nightmare’ to work with, particularly during the second series.
Apparently Nail suddenly thought that he knew everything there is to know about TV and aside from demanding his lines be changed, would even tell the director how to film a scene.
McKeown went so far as to call Nail an “a**hole” due to his supposedly diva behaviour. There are always two sides to a story though, and this marks the second time that McKeown has been involved in a long-running feud with someone who worked on Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
The pair haven’t spoken to each other since 1985.
7. The Building Site Is Now Albert Square
The German building site was actually filmed in Elstree Studios and Eastenders fans will be fascinated to learn that it’s now turned into the Albert Square, thanks to the magic of set designers!
8. It’s Won A Host Of Different Awards
In 2000 the first series was ranked at number 46 on the ‘100 Greatest British Television Programmes’, a list compiled by the British Film Institute.
Not only that, but in 2015 it was also voted ITV’s ‘Favourite TV Programme of all Time’ in a Radio Times poll.
The series was nominated for five different BAFTA awards in the 1980s (including Best Drama Series twice, once in 1984 and again in 1985), but unfortunately it never managed to pick up one of the coveted gongs.
However, its later reboots in the 2000s were more successful. The series picked up a British Comedy Award in 2002 for Best Comedy Drama, and also won a National Television Award in the same year for Most Popular Drama.
This critical success revived the show for another season and even a two-part special.
9. Jimmy Nail’s Sister Is In The Show
Did you know that Val McClane, who played Norma, otherwise known as Dennis’ sister, is actually Jimmy Nail’s sister in real life? As well as that familial connection, there are a number of other relatives of the main cast who appear in the show.
Tim Healy’s then-wife Denise Welch, who will now be familiar to audiences as one of the presenters on Loose Women, appeared in the show as Jean, the new resident of Oz’s flat.
Kevin Whately (Neville) starred with his daughter Catherine Whately, who played his on-screen daughter Debbie in the second series, and then again with his wife Madelaine Newton, who played Dennis’ girlfriend Christine Chadwick.
As well as Nail’s sister making an appearance on the series, his son Thomas Bradford-Jones also has a small part as Sir James and Celestia Palmer’s son Henry in series two.
10. The Show Was Revived In 2002…
In 2002 the show was revived as a 6 part series with the original writers and all of the surviving cast returning. The revival was a big hit, winning the National Television Award for Best Drama, and a British Comedy Award for Best Comedy Drama.
In a The South Bank Show documentary in the late ’80s, Jimmy Nail said that he wouldn’t play Oz again as he thought it was a character that no one nowadays would find funny.
He was proved wrong when the series returned in 2002 and Oz continued to be the most popular of the seven main cast members.
11…And Again In 2004
A fourth series of 6 episodes, followed by ‘Au Revoir’, a final 2 part special, aired in 2004. This saw the characters working as building subcontractors for the British Embassy after a job in Moscow goes wrong.
12. Only Four Actors Appear In Every Episode
The only characters to appear in all 40 episodes of the show are Dennis (played by Tim Healy), Neville (played by Kevin Whately), Barry (played by Timothy Small) and Oz (played by Jimmy Nail).
At least twenty five actors and actresses have sadly passed away since the first series was made in 1983.
Notable names include Gary Holton (Wayne), Pat Roach (Bomber), Caroline Hutchinson (Vera), Michael Elphick (McGowan), Lex Van Delden (Helmut Fischer) and Michael Sheard (Herr Grunwald).
In terms of recurring female characters, Neville’s wife Brenda (played by actress Julia Tobin) is the only female character to have appeared in every series.
13. The Show’s Title Was Only Said Once
The words ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ were only ever said once, as the final words in the last ever episode.
14. You Can Still Catch The Show On TV Or DVD
The show is available on DVD in the UK, and has been repeated on a number of digital channels including ‘Drama’ and ‘Yesterday’, the latter as recently as 2017.
15. Noel Clarke had to pass his driving test before appearing on the series
Actor Noel Clarke, who played the role of Wyman in series three, had to pass his driving test before he was allowed to appear on the show!
16. There’s a reference to the series on the Berlin Wall
There must have been at least one Auf Wiedersehen, Pet fan at the fall of the Berlin Wall, because one British journalist present at the historic event found some very interesting graffiti on the wall.
It read “Built by Germans, demolished by Oz”.
17. Newcastle United fans got a new chant out of the series
Not long after the series began airing, Newcastle United were playing at home to Liverpool when the home fans decided to introduce a new chant into the mix. They began to sing “Oz is harder than Yosser!”, a reference that related to their new TV icon being tougher than the Scouse character Yosser Hughes from Alan Bleasdale’s gritty TV series Boys from the Blackstuff (1982).
Yosser had become a popular character in 80s culture and many working class people identified with his struggle.
He was driven to the edge of his sanity after losing his job, his wife and suffering the authorities’ continued attempts to take his children away from him.
18. The German authorities weren’t fans of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
For some reason, German authorities felt that the show was actually glamourising the hard work that German construction workers were doing. After complaints from the authorities on the continent, Channel 4 redressed the balance by producing a documentary entitled The Real Auf Wiedersehen, Pet which depicted life on a real construction site.
19. Oz was supposed to win the Spanish lottery
In early drafts of the script, the second series was supposed to end with Oz winning the Spanish lottery in a surprise twist.
However, ITV wanted the ending changed to one that was much more dramatic, like the hut burning down in series one.
Fred Taylor wrote a novelisation of the second series which did include the original ending about Oz winning the Spanish lottery. It contained no details about Barry’s wedding and the impending customs chase, because it was based on the earlier version of the script.
In fact, some of the book contains scenes that Gary Holton would have filmed if he had still been alive during part of the second series.
20. First names were rarely used on the programme
Oz’s real first name is “Leonard”, which is only revealed at his “funeral”. It is barely used at all in the show.
Bomber’s real first name is “Brian”, a fact which emerges when the boys are trying to come up with a name for a company. This is the only time it is used in the show. Lastly, Moxey’s real first name is “Albert”.
This is revealed when a policeman tries to arrest him in Spain in series 2.
It is also mentioned briefly in series 3, although Mickey Startup says that his name is “Moxey, just like Moby.”
21. Dennis is actually younger than Neville in real life
Although in the series, Dennis regularly acts as a father figure to Neville and takes him under his wing, the actor Tim Healy who plays Dennis is actually younger than his surrogate son, played by Kevin Whately, in real life!