Though it seems like a relatively new phenomenon, the practice of planting “Easter eggs” (small in-jokes or nods that only hardcore fans will notice) has actually been going since at least the 1920s.
Alfred Hitchcock was the first filmmaker to widely use them, making cameo appearances in 39 of his films.
Over the years Easter eggs have become more complex and are almost a trademark for some series such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the small screen they remain prolific in shows where the writers wish to give something back to their audience.
Whether it’s secret messages, inside jokes or obscure references, we’ve got a rundown of ten of the best Easter eggs from British TV.
1. Game of Thrones – Gandalf’s sword in the iron throne
In this blink and you’ll miss it appearance, some sharp-eyed viewers noted that one of the swords making up the iconic iron throne is none other than Glamdring, the sword wielded by the grey wizard in the Lord of the Rings series of films.
2. Sherlock – Sherlock’s parents
Benedict Cumberbatch hails from an acting dynasty, with both his parents having worked on many shows during the 1970s and 1980s. His mum Wanda Ventham appeared in UFO, Only Fools and Horses and The Saint, while his dad Timothy Carlton acted in The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Family at War and The Liver Birds. What some eagle-eyed fans may have spotted is that both Benedict’s prolific progenitors play the parents of Cumberbatch’s most famous character, Sherlock Holmes. If you missed it check out the first episode of series three, “The Empty Hearse”.
3. Doctor Who – Bad Wolf
When Doctor Who returned to screens in 2005, fans old and new rejoiced. Here was a series to hide behind the sofa from, to push boundaries and excite fan theories. Former show-runner Russell T Davies, himself a self-confessed Doctor Who nerd, enjoyed seeding clues and teasing fans of the show about what was to come.
Quite possibly the biggest example of this is the use of the phrase “Bad Wolf” and allusions to a wolf throughout the first four series of the reboot.
Though it would have taken a truly devoted fan to spot all the references the first time around (a full list of them can be found here in case you’re curious) it turned out to be a huge foreshadowing of the Doctor’s parting from Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) at Bad Wolf Bay in the series two episode “Doomsday”. We’re still crying over that farewell.
4. Black Mirror – Kirsten Dunst cameo
Jesse Plemons made a truly terrifying socially awkward/creepy programmer turned psychopathic spaceship commander in the Black Mirror episode “USS Callister”. He was joined by a host of other well-known faces, but one that might have passed viewers by, in a real blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, was the appearance of his fiancée, Hollywood royalty Kirsten Dunst.
5. Doctor Who – The Doctor is an Easter egg
Most remember the Bafta winning episode of series three “Blink” for the terrifying Weeping Angels, who send you back in time with a touch, essentially making you live to death in the past. Another striking element of this episode however is that it became a bit of a Whovian legend as it incorporated Easter eggs into the actual story. After becoming trapped by the Angels in 1969 the Doctor comes up with an ingenious way to make contact with the only person who can help, Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan), who is in the present.
The Doctor appears as an Easter egg on seventeen random DVDs, he is a hidden element that not even the publishers know about. He is conducting half a conversation and through a series of clues from other people who have been sent to the past, she realises she is the other half. Even better though is that there is an Easter egg to this Easter egg on the DVD extras for this episode. Did somebody say wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey because our heads hurt.
6. Game of Thrones – Ed Sheeran not the only musician to appear
Though his appearance was met with mixed reviews, it’s a littleknown fact that the ginger singer isn’t the only musician to have appeared in Game of Thrones. Coldplay’s Will Champion appeared at The Red Wedding, Icelandic band Sigur Rós made an appearance as minstrels at the wedding of Joffrey Baratheon and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody appeared as part of the Bolton army.
7. Doctor Who – Toby Whithouse and Mark Gatiss in the trenches
During the opening for the 2017 Christmas Special “Twice upon a Time” we find long time writer Mark Gatiss in a WWI trench pointing his gun at a German solider. Just who might that soldier be? None other than another Doctor Who writer Toby Whithouse. Of the experience Moffett commented to Radio Times, “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we got Toby?’ who is also a very fine actor. So we have the two principals of my writing room sitting with guns drawn on each other.”
8. Doctor Who – The TARDIS windows are the wrong size
A long-running joke within the Whoniverse, beginning with the original series, is to do with the Doctor’s time travel machine. The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space, for the uninitiated) has the ability to take the appearance of absolutely anything in the universe. Sounds great, right? The only problem is that it’s stuck looking like a blue telephone box from the 1960s. The only problem is something isn’t quite right with its form. Fans of the original series noted that the windows aren’t quite the right size and has become an in-joke for fans of the new series, with references in both “Blink” and “Twice Upon A Time”.
9. Game of Thrones – The showrunners are in the hall of faces
Game of Thrones is another show that likes to put its creators front and centre. Among the many gruesome façades in the creepy Hall of Faces are those of showrunners David Benioff And D.B. Weiss, or rather prosthetic versions moulded from their faces. Still, it’s worth looking out for who else may have been snuck in there…
10. Black Mirror – “Black Museum” links everything together
Quite possibly the Holy Grail of Easter eggs, Black Mirror is known for seeding elements from old and new episodes together. There are small things, from news tickers with details of characters to the White Bear symbol appearing in many different places. The best episode though, for any dedicated fan, is the finale of series four, “Black Museum”. During this episode, set in the near future at a macabre museum of criminal artefacts, a young girl is given a tour through some of the most disturbing technology from the past series.
Through a triptych of stories her host (Douglas Hodge) introduces her to some of the most disconcerting tech that series creator Charlie Brooker has come up with, such as having human consciousness transferred into a teddy bear. It’s worth going back to, if only to see how many of the Easter eggs you can find, and also for a nice nod to the fact that every episode of this dystopian nightmare is set in the same universe and that Brooker evidently has a plan for it all.
BONUS Game of Thrones – Opening credits [Spoiler alert!]
Some die-hard fans of the show spotted this little nugget eons ago but, for the uninitiated, since the show began the opening credits have foreshadowed events in the series. Far from simply being a pretty selection of images, fans have picked out key details which point to huge plot points. One such instance was in the series seven opening credits, as viewers waited with baited breath to find out if the White Walkers would make it past the Wall. Turns out the answer was there all along, the opening credits showed that the sea to the East of The Wall had frozen over, showing a clear path for the White Walkers and signaling that something bad was going to happen. A good lesson in the importance of observation.