In which Compo plans to take to the air…
ANDREW: We should have been taking detailed notes each time we see the trio lurking around an abandoned barn or farm building. That’s the kind of place I’d like to track down (Not that we’d have much chance. You saw the mess we made of finding railway stations and those had their bloody names written on them). I’m pretty sure this kind of location vanished from the show by the turn of the 1990s.
BOB: All the barns have been converted into luxury apartments. I think we’re firmly into the second era of Summer Wine here, aren’t we? Obviously the show was dabbling with stuntwork and slapstick as far back as the Blamire era, but I think this is the first episode we’ve seen in which the whole episode is geared around – and works up to – a spectacular, climactic stunt. Yep… Compo is about to embark on his hang-gliding expedition. When I’ve mentioned this blog to my friends, they’ve all said that their overriding memories of Summer Wine are of Bill Owen falling off something, rolling down something, or flying over something, with the rest of the gang flailing helplessly behind. And here we are with an episode that’s the Platonic Ideal of that!
I guess it’s the show moving into another gear, really… it’s always been about older people operating outside society, and finding ways to kill the time and boredom that has suddenly descended upon them. Whereas in the earlier series, this took the form of rueful, frequently sardonic conversations in libraries or disused barns, our heroes have now become decidedly more pro-active. You can argue that this dispenses with the grim realism of the early years, but it’s undoubtedly the era that transformed the show from a respected sitcom into a national treasure.
ANDREW: I have a feeling that we’ll soon be longing for the moribund tone of those early years, but it’s undoubtedly true that the series couldn’t have survived without this shift in format. It’s a bit like Doctor Who in that sense; it’s very easy to pick and choose favourites from the different eras and just as easy to get into heated arguments over them.
BOB: Roy Clarke likes the word ‘dangler’, doesn’t he? Clegg uses it in the makeshift gym they’ve constructed in a barn for Compo (‘He was always one of the all-time great danglers’) but also recycles it in a fabulous 1982 episode of Open All Hours – in which Granville decides to ‘get cool’, with a shirt boldly slashed to the waist and a medallion that he repeatedly refers to as his ‘dangler’. I seem to recall he gets his dangler caught in the till! Quite right, too. It’s a great comedy word.
And there it is, Wally’s hang-glider itself! Essentially a giant racing pigeon outfit, complete with beak and feathers. And it clearly owes far more the BBC props department than to Wally Batty’s shed! Fair to say we’ve moved a long way from the Waiting for Godot realism of Series 1 here. Would five 60-year-old men really attempt to build a hang-glider from scratch, and force one of their number to jump from a barn roof? Am I just taking this too seriously, Drew? Am I? Really?
ANDREW: Yes, but so am I and somebody has to! Actually, I wouldn’t have so much of a problem if it was just a hang-glider. It’s just that, well, look at the bloody thing.
It is incredibly silly, but if one is looking for a glimmer of realism you have to ask after what else would one expect Wally to model a hang-glider on? As the man himself says, “That’s what ah knows best, is pigeons.”
BOB: A deliciously macabre scene in the middle of this episode, with an innocent bystander idling away the hours in his car, reading a book called ‘The Hanging Tree’. Looking up, he sees the silhouettes of our heroes on top of the moors, marching Compo to a suspiciously similar-looking tree with a coiled length of rope in his hand. It’s really funny – you can’t beat a ‘horrified stranger’ routine when it’s done well.
ANDREW: I know it doesn’t matter, but I really want to know more about that book. I cant make out an author on the cover and a Google search doesn’t turn up anything that looks the part. A closer inspection of the jacket appears to indicate that this is another example of the BBC props department at work. The tree depicted on the back is very reminiscent of the one featured on location. Then there’s this lovely detail on the back
Other Titles By This Author: Murder After Dark, The Black Revenge, Satan Meets Venus
It can’t be real. Can it? Answers on a postcard…
BOB: A funny scene with Ivy and Nora as well, now clearly becoming friends and pondering on the whereabouts of their missing husbands.
ANDREW: Ivy’s reference to Wally having slipped his leash is spot on. He’d be a whippet, of course.
BOB: We even get Nora alluding to Wally’s sexual exploits! ‘I’ve never found him excessively demanding,’ she states, with a certain degree of relief. One in the eye for those previously convinced that Wally Batty was a carnal titan with an insatiable sexual appetite.
ANDREW: I’m still not convinced.
BOB: And here we go… the classic stunt finish. Compo thirty feet up on a barn roof, Clegg on his wobbly bike, and Wally and Sid forming a rescue party in a tiny boat. The tone has very much shifted from a 9.30pm adult sitcom to a 7.30pm family show over the course of a couple of series, which – instinctively – I find a little sad. And yet… these are the shows that I fell in love with! I would have laughed uproariously at all of this when I was seven years old, and alongside the funny stuntwork there was still the crackling dialogue and downright Yorkshire oddness sinking into my psyche by osmosis. So I became a fan during this era, and the show essentially did its job.
I’ve struggled to find out, but I’d be fascinated to know – when did Summer Wine move from a late-night slot to primetime family scheduling? And did the change in tone happen afterwards, with Roy Clarke adjusting it accordingly?
ANDREW: Brace yourself for an info-dump. At the start of this series, which commenced on the 18th of September 1979, the show had been brought forward from 9.25pm to 8.30pm on Tuesdays. This was the first time the show had been screened in a slot where families could collectively view it and, incredibly significantly, this period also happened to coincide with the ITV strike. An industrial dispute had seen the ITV network shut down transmissions on the 10th of August and they wouldn’t resume until the 24th of October; great news for the BBC, who offered the only other viewing alternatives!
Therefore it totally makes sense that the show would continue to move in the direction that series five embodies; for better or worse, this was how the vast majority of the viewing public came to know Last of the Summer Wine.
Most of this info, by the way, was cribbed from Andrew Vine’s book, Last of the Summer Wine: The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series. I highly recommend it.
BOB:I can’t shake the feeling that Foggy actually wants to kill Compo during the final stages of this episode. He’s going to fall from a thirty-foot barn and be dragged to his death, man! Is that really what you want, Dewhurst? Is it? IS IT???
ANDREW: Well he knows he can get away with tormenting him, for once. Compo’s hardly gonna catch him while in that get-up. He absolutely delights in tormenting him, doesn’t he? I like to think this is his revenge for Full Steam Behind. It’ll be Clegg’s turn next. Actually, I’d watch a Friday the 13th style take on Last of the Summer Wine; Clarke missed a trick not writing a non-canon Halloween special.
Speaking of canon, Clegg’s previously established fear of driving is suspiciously absent. I’ll let Clarke off, though, as he does struggle to get the van going. Still, I’m not happy.
BOB: I need a long lie down, Drew. Good job this is the series finale.