6.1 In The Service of Humanity


In which Foggy becomes an emergency service…   


BOB: Can I chuck in a personal milestone at this point? This is, undoubtedly, the first series of Last of the Summer Wine that I actually watched as it went out. We’re into January 1982 here, Monday nights, and I was nine years old. And the show was already a talking point amongst me and my classmates. Juliette Kaplan (Namedrop! KLANNG!!!) told us that Summer Wine was always beloved of young kids, and in the case of me and my friends, she’s absolutely right. We’d quote it at school on Tuesday mornings, and act out some of the stunts in the playground at dinner break. It’s hard to imagine any modern nine-year-olds finding such common cultural ground in a mainstream sitcom in which the main characters are all over sixty, but – in January 1982 – we had three TV channels and barely a video recorder or a games console between us, so this was the stuff that bound us together.

ANDREW: My experience couldn’t be more different. By the time I tuned in, the show was a family experience, but never ever brought up amongst my peers. Secretly, my skateboard might be a runaway sofa hurtling down a hill in Yorkshire, but this was never a shared fantasy. My friends just weren’t watching. It’s certainly brought me together with people in later life, though.

BOB: Watching this, I’m also a bit taken aback at how much of the language entered my everyday life! “Bog off” became a regular insult around my house in 1982, me and my Dad in particular would regularly fling at back and forth at each other. And undoubtedly Compo is to blame!

ANDREW: Compo is on good form here. “My brain gets confused sometimes,” is a particularly delightful instance of the character getting to a nonsensical thought decades before Karl Pilkington would.  I also love the discussion of his mother, apparently the kind of woman who could have inspired the inventor of the bulldozer. If Foggy’s memory of her throwing the rent man at him isn’t incorporated into First of the Summer Wine, I’ll be sorely disappointed.

BOB: So our trio find a pile of abandoned clothes at the side of the river, and assume – rather grimly – that they’ve stumbled upon a suicide.

ANDREW: Has walking into water ever been a particularly popular method of suicide? You see it crop up in stuff like The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and even The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a TV staple.

BOB: It’s been a very famous method of fake suicide!

ANDREW: I love how Clegg questions there being a dead body in the water, suggesting instead that the man might not be quite dead yet. How morbid!

BOB: It’s interesting to see Foggy actually intimidating Compo into respectfully removing his hat – and Compo does it! Do we think, deep down, Compo is actually a tiny bit scared of Foggy? Or at least has a lot of respect for him? It might explain why, when it comes down to it, Compo never actually refuses to take part in any of Foggy’s harebrained schemes, no matter how dangerous they might look.

ANDREW: I didn’t pick up on that, but that may be because I’m distracted by what I think must be post-production dialogue looping. There’s a strange air of detachment to a lot of the delivery here and given how much the wind seems to be disturbing the reeds and bushes it surprises me that we don’t hear so much as a rustle. I bet it turns out I’m wrong.

BOB: It’s not a suicide, of course, it’s a canoeist out for a paddle… and… hang on, is that an uncredited Tom Owen?! Or am I going mad? I’m really not sure!

ANDREW: It does look like him! Wikipedia makes reference to a cameo appearance by a Tony Good, but I’ve no idea who this is. His character isn’t listed on IMDB and he doesn’t appear to have any other credits to his name. Answers on a postcard…

BOB: I really like the scene in Clegg’s house here… it has a very comforting domesticity, with Clegg ironing while Foggy and Compo chat amiably. It’s a lovely cosy scene, reiterating the fact that – for all their differences – these are three characters very comfortable in each others’ company. Foggy, inspired by the canoeing incident, wants to form a small-scale rescue service for “decent, little people”. It’s an idea they pursue in the café, where Compo suddenly appears to have started smoking again! How long is it since we last saw a cigarette in Summer Wine?

ANDREW: That did strike me as odd, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to go back and check every episode again!

This is a great, character-driven plotline and actually quite touching, really. Foggy’s desire to, “answer the call whenever it comes” is what drives him from one episode to the next. This week he’s a medic, the next he’ll walk dogs. The activity does’t matter, so long as he’s doing something for somebody. My heart broke when he reflected upon finding the clothes by the river and said, “I felt useful. Just for once we were doing something important. Helpful.”

This is all perfectly in-keeping with the theme of the series as a whole; our trio, albeit sometimes reluctantly, are on a quest to find a something useful to do with the rest of their time on earth. A purpose.

BOB: I like Clegg’s line here… “If it’s all the same to you, I had planned to fritter my life away harmlessly”. It’s a sentiment I’m happy to share. How many series have we got left to watch, Drew?

ANDREW: Enough, Bob, enough. In this case, however, I’m siding with Foggy. Despite their protestations, it’s nice to see Compo and Clegg indulge Foggy a little. We’re a far cry from the nastiness of Full Steam Behind.

BOB: Lovely bit of physical comedy here, as Foggy – in his new home-made Red Cross tabard – attempts to interfere with the aftermath of a minor car accident and gets a full-blooded punch on the nose for his troubles. It’s filmed in long shot, with a perfectly-timed “Oof!” from Brian Wilde, and it made me laugh out loud. I’m a simple soul at heart.

ANDREW: Laugh out loud? I winced! There’s something about the sound effect which accompanies the whack that made it sound particularly painful and mean-spirited. He’s a truly tragic figure in this episode. Every time he tries to help, he gets trodden on. Poor Foggy!

Still, this abuse serves to bring out Ivy’s motherly side in the café. A particularly northern maternal instinct has kicked in, so she’s happy to fuss over his wounds but quick to remind him what a daft sod he is.

BOB: Foggy’s nose, Compo suggests, has gone from “early George Sanders” to “more like Colonel Sanders”. This seemed like a staggeringly early KFC reference to me, but apparently the UK’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway opened in Preston in 1965! I’m pretty sure that, by 1982, they were yet to reach Middlesbrough. I actually remember being confused by a Kenny Everett sketch about McDonalds around this time, because I had no idea what McDonalds actually was! Maybe I just had a sheltered upbringing. It was all fishcakes and arctic roll in our house.

ANDREW: And then we’re off to the football for a territorial skuffle with some St John’s Ambulance volunteers. Go on, then. Which ground is this?

BOB: Painted blue, so I’m assuming this must be Leeds Road, Huddersfield Town’s original ground? Filled with glorious slices of football history… Denis Law began his career at Leeds Road, England 1966 hero Ray Wilson spent twelve years here, and England manager Herbert Chapman was in charge in the 1920s. Seeing it here, I can just imagine those rosy-cheeked fans, wrapped in blue and white hats, rattling rattles, chanting chants, paying a handful of pennies to while away a freezing Saturday afternoon on a packed terrace. Lovely.

The ground was built in 1908, and demolished in 1994 to make way for a retail park with a big B&Q. Don’t get me started, Drew. Really. Don’t get me started.

ANDREW: It’s probably best you get it out of your system in a safe environment like this.

BOB: You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. I’m not convinced you like me when I’m not angry. And so we head towards the end with a very welcome glimpse of my hero, Wally Batty, in fine form in the local pub.

ANDREW: I’m at the stage now where the simple appearance of Wally is enough to elicit an audible cheer!

BOB: Should we add Compo’s Auntie Connie to the Names Database, Drew? Mentioned by Wally as a woman who owns a canary, and “gets the gas board out every time it falls asleep”. I laughed out loud at this as well. A good episode for belly laughs, this one!

ANDREW: It’s nice to see a glimpse of Wally’s evil streak. Nora is stuck under the bed at home (“Just luck I suppose” – Wally) and he uses her demands for help as an excuse for a pint. “It’s turning out to be a really magical Tuesday!” he proclaims.

BOB: Foggy’s rescue service is finally pressed into unlikely action!

ANDREW: Oddly, I seem to recall that the scene in which Nora is rescued from beneath her bed as being one of the scenes played in a constant loop when news of Kathy Staff’s death broke on News 24. I suppose it’s a testament to her vocal characterization that they’d choose a clip in which she spends the majority of the time bellowing out of sight!

Rescue accomplished, Foggy gets a second wind and re-embarks upon his plan to provide rescue equipment for the canalside.

BOB: The trio end up “appropriating” a long ladder to exercise a little drill at the water’s edge. Which ends, predictably enough, with Clegg and Foggy in the water and a stranded roof-repairer unable to get down. Good stuff though, and a really enjoyable start to the new series. 

ANDREW: It’s nice to see a slapstick climax that’s relatively grounded and integrated into the story (i.e. no giant pigeons in sight). In fact two slapstick climaxes for the price of one! It’s part of the story though, so I can forgive it’s gratuitousness.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Nice review.

    I think Foggy’s faintly tragic really. Clearly he went off to war but it looks like, for all his pomposity, he was probably stuck doing something menial and away from any ‘excitement’ (like looking after the pencils) while others did the Action Man stuff. You can sort of tell this when Clegg starts the eye-rolling (especially in later years) every time a Foggy wartime shaggy dog tale gets rolled out. I think Compo might envy him the chance to have got away from home (might he have been a Bevin boy or similar? What about Clegg?), but oddly feels a bit sorry at times for his lack of excitement. This is probably what gives Foggy the impulse to do something useful: the sense of deep lack of fulfilment that, during the time when he could have been useful, he was marginalised, in spite of what he might try and tell the others. There’s something rather poetic in all of that, I think; three friends bound together, possibly sometimes not wanting to be, but bound all the same.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jakob1978 on March 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      The war history of Clegg is rarely mentioned, but Compo’s changes throughout the series..in the first 25 years or so, it’s said a number of times that he never left Britain. There’s one episode which states specifically where he was based, but I can’t remember off hand.

      The millennium special comes around tho, and now the story is that he served in France.

      Reply

      • Of course, I forgot about the France special. It looks like he may not have gotten further afield, though Foggy might.

    • Posted by bobfischer on March 29, 2013 at 12:44 am

      Cheers for the kind words, Darren – nice to see you posting round here. I think you’re right, Foggy is a tragic figure, and you can certainly imagine how his feeling marginalised during wartime would not only lead to his desire to help his fellow man, but also fuel his superb ‘trained killer’ flights of fancy. And it’s a great testament to Clarke’s writing and Brian Wilde’s portrayal, that – for a Walter Mitty-esque nosy parker – Foggy is NEVER annoying. He’s a hugely sympathetic character.

      Reply

      • There’s something Andrew says in the discussion of Northern Flying Circus (ep 2.7), which strikes a chord with me:

        “Despite the fact that Blamire is the most travelled and best educated of the three, they all recognise him to have lived the least. That’s his tragedy”

        That may be equally true of Foggy, I think. And for much the same reason. Andrew talked there about initially thinking of Blamire as a proto-Foggy. I think it might be almost the other way round: Foggy is a surrogate Blamire. It’s possibly why RC wrote him that way. From a purely pragmatic point of view, I can imagine writing Foggy in the way he did would probably have made it easier to work on series 3 scripts that may have already been part-written with Blamire in there and deadlines to meet.

        But Foggy is, I think, just a little more emollient, and maybe a touch more romantic at heart than Blamire. And yes, it says much not just for Roy Clarke but for Brian Wilde, that he’s invested with a sense of likeability for all that. I find it interesting to compare Foggy with Barraclough in Porridge, because he brings a lot of he same diffidence and twitchiness to that character too.. I think of Blamire a more like Mackay: a bit more ready to let the mouth fly. If Foggy and Blamire had ever been together in LOTSW I think the dynamic could have been very similar to the two prison officers.

      • Posted by Andrew T. Smith on March 29, 2013 at 9:42 am

        The thought of the two sharing a scene is incredibly tantalizing and I think your Porridge analogy is spot on. Come back to us in a week with some fan fiction.

      • Posted by bobfischer on March 29, 2013 at 1:23 pm

        I think the crucial difference between Blamire and Foggy is the latter’s tendency towards flights of fancy. When Foggy drifts into his ‘trained killer’ reveries, it’s made very obvious that it’s all in his head, and – as you say – he’s actually spent his wartime looking after the pencils. When Blamire talks about his army life though, there’s no such suggestion, and I can’t recall it ever being mocked by Clegg and Compo. I think his military career is the real deal.

  2. Posted by Jakob1978 on March 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    This is an odd episode for me, it’s enjoyable but not that memorable. I do agree that Foggy comes across as more tragic than usual.

    My favourite scenes in this ep tho, are the Wally and Nora scene..I love Wallys streak of naughtiness, and Nora trapped under the bed always makes me laugh (her recognising Compo by his wellies makes me smile)

    Reply

    • Posted by Ellen on April 1, 2013 at 10:26 pm

      Hi Jakob, What I find odd in this episode is the river that appears atop hills they just climbed. I don’t visualize rivers ‘ up there ‘. But, I never passed geography in grammar school. The very best part in this is Wally’s appearance in the pub. He is free, unleashed ~~ able to say, “Is it National Swiss Week?” and ” It’s turning into a magical Tuesday!”

      Reply

  3. Posted by Ellen on April 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Hi all, in regards to Compo’s service ~ I always take it that in keeping with his personality Compo rarely if ever gets heavy hearted about the war. There is an episode where our trio are eating bananas in a barn and Clegg makes mention of a town in the south of England I believe, where Compo was stationed. “Dying a lot in _________, were they?” says Clegg. But I always felt Compo served proudly somewhere across the Channel, he just didn’t like to bring it up. Compo was about being happy. Now, Clegg I picture marching along ~ always in a big gang of guys ~ muddling through, firing his gun maybe three times. I don’t feel Blamire did much. In the episode where they look for Bloody Wainright at the old time dance, Compo says Cyril didn’t get to Normandy until 1960. lol. Foggy we know about. Has anyone ever seen FIRST of the Summer Wine?
    I am a HUGE fan. Keep all of this coming. Please.

    Reply

    • Hi Ellen, thanks for the kind words – it’s really nice to know people are reading and enjoying our waffle. I’m watching Series 7 at the moment, and it’s definitely stated in one episode that Compo never left England during the war, so I think Roy Clarke just changed his mind at some stage!

      I watched First of the Summer Wine back in 1988, but haven’t since it since. We’ll cover it as part of the blog, though.

      Reply

      • Posted by august181968 on April 2, 2013 at 3:05 pm

        Hi Bob, thank you for your reply. I am a Yank in NYC and I have fallen in love with this show. I play them continuously and put the ‘subtickles’ up, as some of the slang, etc. escapes me. My hubby is becoming a fan. I must say, some of the language is surprising, but delightful. Can I call upon you to explain some things sometimes?
        All the best, Ellen

  4. Posted by David on April 7, 2013 at 11:42 am

    On the pressing topic of KFC, There was a branch in Stockton by ’85 as it was around the time I left school/watched A View To A Kill that I had my first taste of it!

    Off topic, the ‘George Sanders’ exchange was a piece of dialogue that alway’s stuck in my mind!

    Reply

    • Posted by august181968 on April 7, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      lol, “Oh, yes, that’s real Kentucky Fried.” Yes, a good bit. Love this show, watch every day.

      Reply

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