In which Sid’s gotta do what Sid’s gotta do…
BOB: A lovely opening to this episode with some nice direction… Compo, Clegg and Foggy are sitting in trees, and – although we hear their voices – we don’t actually see them. We only see their respective tree trunks! It’s really effective and funny.
ANDREW: And what’s more, this opening shot in which literally nothing happens lasts for 44 seconds. That would never be allowed now, but I love it. For the sake of a completely made up comparison, the average shot in an episode of Mrs. Brown’s Boys lasts 0.003 milliseconds.
Interestingly, IMDB lists Martin Shadlaw as “Studio Director” for this episode and Sydney Lotterby as “Director (Uncredited)”. If this really was the case, I suspect this filmed opening to be Lotterby’s doing.
BOB: Compo’s use of old Yorkshire fascinated me as a kid as well, and these opening scenes are full of his ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. From an early age I was intrigued by language, and the way that different people shaped it to their own ends. It’s incredible to think that Bill Owen was, in reality, a rather well-spoken Londoner. In a way it’s a shame that Compo is the role that SO defines his career in the public eye, as I think his work in perfecting the character is hugely underrated. People assume he was like that, but in fact it’s a consummate acting performance. One of the finest-ever on TV, I’d say.
ANDREW: I’m happy to agree, but I must confess that I’m almost as clueless as the average Joe when it comes to my experience of Owen’s career. If fact, the only over appearances of his I can recall seeing in full are those he made as part of the Carry On team. I think this shall be my required viewing for tonight, sorry it isn’t complete:
BOB: And so the scene is set for a fun episode when our trio spy Sid creeping in the woods with a roll of bedding, and – naturally – assume he’s out for a bit of extra-marital fun. ‘He’s never happy unless he’s getting his divvy,’ chortles Compo, after Clegg speculates that the Co-Op girl is the object of Sid’s affections.
And it’s 42p in the café for three cups of tea and three buns! Welcome to 1979, everyone. Ivy senses that our heroes know something about Sid’s absence, and gets incredibly emotional about it all. ‘He goes all to pieces if he can’t get good gravy…’ she sobs. Again, a nice glimpse of tenderness behind the classic sitcom Jack The Lad/Battleaxe façade of their marriage.
ANDREW: Once again, Jane Freeman endears herself to me with this fantastically layered character. Ivy’s aggression here is very much based upon fear rather than loathing and the way in which she treats our trio more like naughty children than the usual daft old men points towards a very motherly side that doesn’t get the chance to come out very often. “I tried to talk him out of it… I keep hitting him!” she howls without a hint of sarcasm. Sid has run away and she’s acting just as much like her little boy has gone missing as her husband is cheating. She’s phenomenal.
Our trio then seek to console Ivy by suggesting Sid is too much of a, “horrible looking menace” to attract anyone to have an affair with. Poor John Comer; he’s not that bad!
And what is Clegg’s shake of the head all about as he pays Ivy?
BOB: At 10 minutes 30 seconds into the episode, you can catch a fleeting glimpse of an overhanging boom mic! In an age of super-slick TV with Hollywood production values, stuff like this warms the cockles of my ancient heart.
ANDREW: That’s the second time this series and completely disproves my theory that the soundmen were just bored during an earlier episode because this one is ace!
BOB: We see sensitive sides to both of the main Summer Wine women in this story. As our heroes retreat to the pub (for Compo, oddly, to declare the he’s in love with Ivy), they’re joined by Nora Batty who swiftly knocks back a brandy and a real ale. ‘But if you’re planning on getting me tipsy so as I don’t know what you’re doing, forget it’, she warns.
ANDREW: In case they ever make another episode of Summer Wine, I think we should start campaigning now to be two of the extras milling around in the back of the pub. It’s an art form.
BOB: And, again, what a knack for Northern dialogue Roy Clarke has. Lesser writers would have written the line ‘so I don’t know what I’m doing’, but no… it’s crucial to have the extra ‘as’ in there! ‘So as I don’t know what I’m doing…’ is pure Yorkshire dialect, and perfect for a woman of Nora’s age and background. It’s the little touches like that that make me appreciate what an immaculate little world Clarke has created here.
ANDREW: I fall back on quoting dialogue far too often, but the following is one of my all time favorite exchanges thus far. Here’s Compo and Clegg discussing Foggy’s lack of amour.
COMPO: He’s hasn’t got any romance in his body at all
CLEGG: Ah, But he’s got a knife with attachments for opening cans.
That’s Foggy’s entire character summed up in just twenty-one words. Talk about economy!
BOB: And why is Nora upset? Because Wally too has vanished. With a bedding roll underneath his arm. It’s a lovely running theme in Summer Wine that both Nora and Ivy spend their lives belittling and dominating their husbands… until there’s a possibility of losing them, at which point the veneer of the impassable Northern woman cracks, and we see the love and insecurity beneath. They spend their lives chasing their spouses out of their houses, but depend whole-heartedly on them coming home every night.
And it’s great to see Compo, when actually left alone with Nora in the pub, feeling genuinely terrified!
ANDREW: He has no idea what to do with her.
BOB: It’s the old Billy Liar syndrome… he lives within his fantasies, and shares the ribald talk and imaginings with his male friends, but runs scared at any hint of them actually coming true. The idealized romance that he pictures inside his head is clearly a safer retreat than the reality of it all.
And so, the conclusion… Sid and Wally aren’t having affairs after all, they’re part of a Wild West group, sneaking into the woods to wear chaps and cowboy hats, practicing their quick-draws around crackling campfires. This scene is massive in Lancashire and West Yorkshire, isn’t it? I used to live in Lancaster in the early 1990s, and you’d see loads of middle-aged men wandering around pretending to be Gary Cooper. Whistling Hank Williams songs in the queue for the bus outside the Infirmary.
ANDREW: Are cowboys an obsession peculiar to our parents and grandparents generation? They grew up in an era where Westerns were part of a staple Film and Television diet in the way that police procedurals are today. Barely anybody makes Westerns now. Unless that Doctor Who from a few weeks back counts.
Saying that, the obsession did recur a bit in the late 1990s as well. Remember when line dancing was the done thing?
I should point out how well structured this episode has been, as well. We began with the disembodied voices of an off-screen trio and we reach our climax with the disembodied voices of Sid and Wally, who are reluctant to reveal their cowpoke attire. Very neat. And is it just me, or does Sid look remarkably like Lou Costello in this costume?!
BOB: Great episode, anyway – fun and warm-hearted.