EXCLUSIVE: An Interview With Stuart Fell

Image from The Bournemouth Echo

Image from The Bournemouth Echo

Recently, Summer Winos had the opportunity to sit down and interview Stuart Fell, one of the great unsung heroes of Last of the Summer Wine. If a skateboard needed mounting, a ladder needed climbing, or a dry-stone wall needed falling off, Stuart was the man the BBC turned to. Chatty, active and cheerful, he was kind enough to guide us through his long career as a stunt-man.

What did you aspire to be as a child?

Well, I was born Morecambe in Lancashire, which isn’t a million miles away from Holmfirth… but my Father was in the RAF during the war and we travelled around a lot. My father was posted to Scotland. We spent a few years there before being posted to places all over the country, as well as abroad. My brother and I were always exploring the countryside and doing quite dangerous things, and one or two of my schools had some very good gymnastic coaches, which was quite rare in those days.

But I started life in electronics. I was an electronic tester, but I didn’t like working indoors… so I joined the army. The regiment I joined was a parachute regiment, which I got on well with. They earmarked me as a Physical Training instructor because I was able to stand on my hands and do a backflip… that type of thing. And I was in Borneo and gained quite a lot of experience with more modern weapons than a lot of the established stuntmen had previously been used to. They’d been on things like 303s and old-fashioned mortars, but the army had brought in newer weapons. So I was trained in those, and I went on lots and lots of courses. I enjoyed learning things in the army – climbing, underwater swimming… anything I could get onto, really.

So I imagine that, at this point, becoming a stuntman wasn’t at the back of your mind?

Well, as a child on the RAF camps, there was a cinema for all the airmen and we pretty much got free access to it. They’d change the film every night, and they were always action films. So my brother and I would re-enact the films that they showed there. We were film buffs. It was always in the back of my mind that I’d love to get into films, but it was almost impossible. I wrote several letters to try and get into different productions, but I never got a reply so I took a job as an electronic tester. But, when I came out of the army, I had become a gymnastic coach as well as a training instructor so I went to a stunt agency and said, “Look, I’m a gymnast and I’d like to become a stuntman.” To which they replied, “Oh, bugger off.” (Laughs) And they were right. You had to have a lot of experience. You had to know how to move and how to act… and it’s not just the ability to do these things; you’ve got to know where the studios are for a start, so that you can get there! Lots of little things that you should know.

But I got into a conversation with another agency and this chap said, “Look, I wouldn’t go around stunt agencies asking to get in because it’s very, very close knit. But because you’re a gymnast, why don’t you go around saying you’re a tumbler?” And there were agencies, and there probably still are, that were jobbing agencies. If you wanted a midget, they had midgets. If you wanted a bearded lady, they had bearded ladies… many of those people were variety folk. So I went to an agency that took on these small parts. Although I didn’t realise it, the fellow was actually going bankrupt… but he took me on and I was surprised to get quite a lot of work from him.

So I got onto things like Hark At Barker that had lots of comedy slapstick sketches. Ronnie Barker kept asking for me, and he started writing scripts to include me. That was the start. Anyway, the agent went bankrupt and I lost quite a bit of money out of that, but in the meantime I had been going to a gymnasium in Tottenham Court Road where the established stuntmen went to train. One fellow, Derek Ware, ran an agency called HAVOC. They were all at the gym every Saturday morning and they accepted me because I’d been getting some stunt work off my own bat anyway, through this agency.

They gave me some work on Doctor Who, and after that I never looked back. Doctor Who used to work nine months of the year, and I didn’t mind playing monsters. A lot of actors didn’t like playing them, because their faces were covered! And some didn’t like taking television work in case it interfered with a film that was coming up that might offer, say, three months continuous work. I wasn’t likely to get on a film, so I was just taking all of this television. And the people who made Doctor Who did lots of other drama for television, too. So when they went onto things like Poldark, if they needed stuntmen then they’d choose the people they’d worked with. So without realising it, working on the different Doctor Who productions was establishing me for other drama series. I found myself getting a lot of work through ITV and BBC by simply being available to work with different directors that I’d already been introduced to, and worked for.

I also started getting quite a lot of comedy work. Ronnie Barker, as I said, did Hark at Barker and then – shortly after – started doing The Two Ronnies. He used to write a great deal of the scripts and he would sometimes say, “Get Stuart in, and he’ll arrange this because he did something similar on Hark at Barker.” Knowing somebody like that… that was great. He would often write the scripts with me in mind.

Time is essential in television. You can’t hold them up. With films, they’d tell you what they wanted and give you a couple of days to rig it. You might do a test shoot and the director would say, “Yes that’s what I want,” and you’d do it. But in television it’s not like that at all! They’d say, “Look, Stuart, we’ve got about fifteen minutes before we lose the light. Can you do something very quick for us?” So you often did that… and I’ve got a reputation for being accommodating, I suppose.

Stuart in costume, for the 1978 'Doctor Who' serial 'The Invasion of Time' (Image Courtesy of BBC )

Stuart (Far Right) in costume, for the 1978 ‘Doctor Who’ serial ‘The Invasion of Time’
(Image Courtesy of BBC )

Were you surprised when Last of the Summer Wine came into your life? I can imagine how stunt work would be a big part of something like Doctor Who, a show with a lot of action in it, but Last of the Summer Wine had been running for a couple of years before you first took part, and it had a reputation as quite a sedate, script-driven sitcom.

I can’t actually remember if I’d worked with him (director Sydney Lotterby) directly before, but somehow Sydney knew of me… or someone in his office knew of me. There was a sequence, I think in the second series, with a carrot and I was asked to give some advice on it! The special effects department asked me if I could come and have a look at this carrot and see if I could do something with it, but I wasn’t available to do anything.

But I believe that, for the second series, the figures had dropped and they weren’t going to do any more, but they’d got a Christmas special, and they’d given Compo a skateboard. It was the very last scene and it was a runaway skateboard with Compo on it, and a superb brass band in a lovely lane near Holmfirth, with steps and dustbins everywhere, and all sorts of obstacles down the lane. They said, “This is virtually the last scene. The brass band is coming up the hill playing Christmas carols and Compo is on his way down, because he’s been playing with these kids and their skateboard. See what you can do for us.” So we did it, and it turned out quite well, and I remember Roy Clarke saying to me that this was the missing ingredient. He said that, up to then, they’d never got up to any falling about or falling down. But the Christmas special was successful, and they’d given the series another go, so he was going to try and write in scenes for the lads to do. Not very ambitious, because they were old men!

As a result, Sydney Lotterby used to ask me to go on the location recces. We would talk about the stunts and find some dry walls to fall off! In my enthusiasm I would try to build the stunts up and whenever there was a stunt it seemed to fit quite nicely with the balance of the series. I mean, obviously, they were old men weren’t they? They weren’t supposed to kill themselves! They were just supposed to be funny… pratfalls, falling on their bums, and in ditches. Anyway, they used to spend their money getting me up there and shooting it. I would tell them what I might need and it worked! Viewing figures started to go up, and I seemed to get asked to do it every year for the next 21 years.

After a while, Alan Bell came in as director and the pressure was on him. They didn’t give him an awful lot of money to make these things, I must say. I used to improvise greatly and try to save them some money. His problem was that the cast were three old men, and they couldn’t do their own standing-in very well. In films, you have a lighting stand-in when you’re setting up, but in television they don’t do that. They just get the actors to stand there for a few minutes and get the lighting sorted out. But Yorkshire is notorious for lighting, and it would take longer than normal! We had a huge, silver reflector that would reflect the light, wherever it was, onto the three of them. So they needed somebody to stand there instead of the cast, then they’d call the actors to do their lines before they went back to their caravan. That cost them extra money, getting three stand-ins. It also meant they would have to call me up, and sometimes it chucked down with rain so they had to ask you to stay an extra day… which cost them more money! It was very inconvenient really, having these three extra people to stand in for the cast, and then the stunt wasn’t able to be used because it was chucking down with rain or they were losing the light and it was wasting away their money. So they cut down on things like advanced recces.

Anyway, we had quite a good relationship working on that, but it was a bit annoying because if I had been able to recce it and ask for the right budget and equipment, we might have been able to get it done better. But anyway… that lasted 21 years. If I was available I used to go up there and do the stunts, and it was great fun. I hope it helped with the success of the programme.

And then along came an accountant, who looked into ways that they might be losing money, and she put her finger on it and said, “Look, the stuntman has to come all the way from London! Can’t you get a stuntman who lives up here?” Anyway, by chance there was a chap that had been a stuntman in London, and he’d bought a pub near Holmfirth so he was very local. So they found it a bit cheaper to get him in, and he did quite a lot of the work.

Bill Owen had a very distinctive way of moving. Did you try and imitate that when you were standing in for him?

He did have a very distinctive way of moving, but you learn how to watch those characteristics and mimic them. Yes, it was easy to copy, to be honest. There were lots of shots with frogman suits and flippers and climbing up walls, and I was able to mimic him with no trouble at all because he had very characteristic movements. We were also the same height! By coincidence, years ago when I first started doing stunts, Bill Owen’s son had very early success in a children’s series and – by chance – I doubled for him as well. He had a series that involved him riding a scooter at high speed around country lanes with an American girl on the back, and I doubled him in that. Toffering Towers, it was called.

They were happy days, those.

When you think back over all of the different stunts you were asked to do for Summer Wine, were there any that even you were a bit wary of?

No… with that terrain, a lot of the stunt work was done on bicycles. Sometimes we were given one old bicycle, and the three of us would be on it. We’d find a suitable hill in the morning, but by the afternoon it would have been chucking it down and become very slippery, with mud on it… or it would have had a tractor going up and down it all day! But for one reason or another, there’d be a danger, a change in the situation. But sometimes it would be very inconvenient to get the whole crew to go to another location, so some of it was a lot more difficult than it looked.

And I suppose some of it was a lot easier than it looked, too! They often used to get behind time, and I remember there was a shot on a scooter, flying over a dry stone wall. I had to find a quarry so that I was in the air for a long time, and then I landed on boxes that the viewer didn’t see… but we substituted compost for them, and Bill landed in the compost heap. And they were so far behind that they sent me, with a second cameraman, off to shoot that on our own! That’s very rare for the BBC because it was a bit risky, as we didn’t have monitors to see what the effect looked like. They would have to return to London and keep their fingers crossed that the cameraman hadn’t made a complete mess of it! It was good fun to be able to do that, because a lot of directors wouldn’t have trusted you.

Have you done stunts in your career where you thought afterward, “Oh blimey, that was a bit close”?

Yes, you do get that sort of thing, but I’ve only had a couple of injuries in my career. The trouble with working for television is that you do the best you can for them, but they don’t have the time to take you along to all the recces and things, and they just guess whether the location will be suitable. And when you get there, sometimes it’s totally unsuitable and they’re going to injure either you, or an actor that’s involved in a taped scene. Sometimes, it’s braver to say “Look, we can’t really do this here”.

Of course, there are a few things that you try to talk yourself into doing, but really you are looking at the wider picture and making sure that no actors get injured. With television you never know quite what you’re letting yourself in for. But again, with television directors, they tend not to be very demanding. They’re not selling these programmes on their spectacular stunts are they? With Summer Wine, it was the scripts, and the countryside. It was shot in the middle of summer, and they used to show it in January and February when it was snowing. Everybody wondered why the programmes were so wonderful to watch! It was something to look forward to, “Look, spring!” I mean, it was wonderful countryside, wasn’t it?

I was going to say, most of your work on the series would have been done on location rather than in a studio, wouldn’t it?

Yes, it had a lot of location filming for its time. Of course, that cost a lot of money as well. The BBC used to knock these programmes out quite cheaply by rehearsing them all week and shooting them in about an hour and a half, one evening after rehearsals… but with Summer Wine, more and more depended on the lovely countryside, so they had quite a lot of filming inserts. Which is quite rare, because it’s so cheap to record everything in the studio on video. They used to shoot the studio scenes in order, and then stop the tape and put in a bit of the pre-recorded outside film. It sounds a bit primitive but they were very clever at getting some good programmes out of video tape.

How does a smaller budget production like Summer Wine compare to when you worked on something like The Empire Strikes Back or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

(Laughs) It absolutely doesn’t compare at all! On those, they’d say to me on one sequence, “Look Stuart, you’re going to have a pretty tiring day tomorrow, so if you want to bring one or two other stuntmen to stand in for you, do it.” I used to say to them, “How long have we got to do (this scene)?” And they’d say, “As long as it takes!” It’s completely different. Everything is absolutely drawn up with storyboards, whereas on Summer Wine they didn’t do any storyboarding.

Which approach did you prefer?

I used to prefer television, to be honest! With films, you can be involved for about three months, and then when you watch them you’re on for a second, and that’s it! It’s all ended up on the studio floor. With television, they ask for your advice, and quite often they take it. When I started in television, people that watched these programmes didn’t expect to see any action, so it pleased them to see a hanglider being chucked off the top of a roof! They just weren’t expecting it in those sorts of things.

When you watch things back on TV, can you spot the cuts from the actor to yourself?

Yes, I can always spot myself… as could my mother, and certainly my wife! We didn’t have any recorders at home though, so if you were away filming something else or working in the evening on a live show, you’d missed your only chance to see it until they repeated it again. I didn’t get the chance to watch a lot of the things I’d done until they brought out cassettes and DVDs. So now I’ve been collecting the sort of things that I missed, and I watch them for what they are… and they’re quite good.

Films used to use different techniques. They did a lot more undercranking on films. If you did a fight on a film, it was always undercranked. If you rode a horse on a film and it was a gallop, they used to speed that up too… whereas television didn’t have that facility because it was mostly on video tape, so the horses – and fights – appeared to go quite slowly. But it was only because people were used to watching horses going so quick. Cowboys would go ridiculously fast!

There were a few of us that preferred doing television, and there were some of us that could act as well, so we would occasionally get parts. Not that we benefitted from them, but it was just a bit more fun!

Is stuntwork quite competitive?

We always want to do the biggest and the best that the director will let us do, but a sensible director will say, “But the script doesn’t call for that!” Ronnie Barker did actually say to me once, “Why don’t you just do what’s in the script? Don’t do any more!” And he was right, really. You should just put in what the scriptwriter wrote, and do the best you can for them. But there was a great competitiveness amongst the stuntmen! It’s changed a lot now. There isn’t nearly the sort of work that there used to be for stuntmen. Health and Safety has made a big difference. Once, we were responsible for our own safety, and if we injured ourselves we just went away and licked our wounds for a few months, then returned quietly without any fuss. But Health and Safety came in, and you had to fill in an accident book, and somebody would look at that and make a big fuss about it. And of course, if you injured somebody else that was curtains… you never worked again!

Is there one stunt from your career that really sticks in your mind?

There were one or two little stunts from Summer Wine that were nice to do. I’ve been run over by hovercraft… and in the film Willow I was crushed by a horse, and that put me out of action for a few months. We were galloping towards a castle with a dragon inside… we did this shot about six times and they said, “Would you do it one more time before we break for lunch and give the horses a rest?” But my horse was absolutely knackered and didn’t make it to the castle… he fell on top of me and rolled over and dislocated my hip.

The Kenny Everett Show used to have lots of little funny stunts in them. Again, the scriptwriters used to know us, or know me, and I used to be a dead ringer for Kenny Everett!

How was Kenny to work with?

He was absolutely fine. Very, very easy going… a really nice bloke. Most of them are. I could tell you the ones that aren’t, but… (laughs). It was actually a lot of pressure on these stars if they had a series. Dick Emery was another one I worked for… you just do the best you can, and hope they ask you back. I did about 25 years of continuous stuntwork for TV and then it dropped off a bit when they started tightening up on the Health and Safety… and they said that, when you have an injury, it’s not down to you any more, it’s down to the producer. So they stopped using a lot of stuntwork and a lot of special effects for quite some time after that. But we still had to work, so – because I had been a gymnast – I worked out an act to do at medieval banquets and jousting tournaments, so I got a bit sidetracked with that! I occasionally did a few stunts, but they were fewer and farther between, and there were more and more people coming on the stunt register. So I’m completely retired now.

The last stunt that I can see credited on your IMDB page is for the sitcom Duck Patrol. Was there anything about that job that made you think it was time to draw the line?

It’s funny you should say that actually… on Duck Patrol I was a fisherman fishing in the water, and I believe it was the River Police boat that caught my line and dragged me into the Thames. It’s very, very difficult to be dragged through the water by a motor boat if you haven’t got something like a surfboard to lie on, because your body is being pulled through the water, and there’s a huge bow wave that comes over your head and stops you breathing. And you don’t have a radio with you because you’re in the water! So I was being pulled along by that, and of course I was able to release myself… that was the one safety thing I would allow myself. And they said, “Stuart, we want to do another one, but could you hang on a bit longer?” So this boat catches the line again and drags me through the water, and of course I was drowning in the damn river… and it was freezing cold, in the middle of the winter, and I thought, “This is bloody hard work!” There wasn’t a safety boat or anything. So it does get quite hard, and of course you wake up the next morning and wonder why you’ve got stiff arms and joint pains. To be honest, it is something that you should start thinking about giving up when you’re about fifty! But it’s a wonderful job and I can think of a lot of worse things to do.

So how does a stunt man spend his retirement?

Well, I had quite a good end to my retirement. The medieval banquets I worked on were for tourists at stately homes and castles… places like the Tower of London and Hampton Court. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years… juggling and magic and performing for rich American tourists! I used to do a fire-eating act and walk on stilts and do jousting tournaments, too. So that’s how I ended it. And my friend Derek Ware started to teach stage fighting at drama school, so that’s another way of ending it. He had a very good time teaching students how to stage fight. A lot of them just can’t give it up because they can’t find anything else to do!

Stuart_Fell-2

Now that you are fully retired is there ever an occasion where you’re walking down a road, see a wall and think ‘It would be quite nice to throw myself over that’?

I do a lot of sailing and surfing and windsurfing these days, so I do keep myself reasonably fit. You’ve got to live near the sea to do these things, and I never did when I was looking for stunt work! So I just try to do the things I didn’t get the time to do when I was a full-time stuntman.

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6.6 Serenade for Tight Jeans and Metal Detector

In which Compo has a change of scenery…

BOB: As you know, there’s very little in life makes me happier than a good non-sequitur, so the opening lines to this episode put a huge smile all over my beardy, middle-aged chops.

Foggy: I understand the Co-Op has some big reductions in winceyette pyjamas.

Compo: Nigel Hinchcliffe’s nose has turned septic.

Clegg: Two thirds of the human nose could be below the surface.

Alright, let me witlessly dissect these little moments of genius. Foggy’s line is magnificent. He doesn’t start with ‘I’ve heard…’ or ‘Did you know…’, he says ‘I understand’. ‘I UNDERSTAND’!!! Implying that his knowledge of winceyette pyjama reductions has been imparted via a series of clandestine espionage raids conducted by special forces at dawn. In the flaming Co-Op. Two words that speak volumes about his delusions of military grandeur.

And ‘winceyette’! Does anyone ever say ‘winceyette’ any more? Foggy is so precise about every aspect of his mundane existence that he even has to specify the pyjama material in question, lest anyone assume he was sullying his insider nightwear knowledge with references to clearly inferior nylon products. Although such pyjamas were definitely called ‘flannelette’ when I were a lad. Still, the principle of raised-nap cotton fabric is the same. 

ANDREW: I must admit that I had to take to Google in order to find out what ‘winceyette’ actually means. It’s not just raised-nap, it’s a cotton flannelette with a nap on both sides, apparently. You know, it’s been ages since I’ve had a nice pair of pyjamas. Do you think one of our readers might send some in if I put the call out?

BOB: Only if you put Nigel Hinchcliffe in the names database. Owner of a septic nose. Which was nearly the title of a Top 40 hit for Yes in November 1983. 

ANDREW: When Foggy asks, ‘Is that a view or is that a view?’ I thought to myself, ‘Yes, Foggy, it is.’ Bell, really knows how to make the most of the natural beauty of his locations, even during his earliest episodes.

BOB: Yes, there’s definitely been a deliberate decision to show off the locations a lot more.

ANDREW: Outside Dougie’s Second Hand Shop, Foggy and Clegg shake Compo down for some cash. Literally. Nothing tumbles from our scruffy hero’s pockets as he is hoisted upside-down, though. Where else would he keep his betting money but in his wellies?

COMPO: That don’t half make your eyeballs heavy. Suppose they dropped out?

FOGGY: It wasn’t them dropping out that we were worried about.

Is that our first ball-gag since ‘Forked Lightning’? Also, how many extra site visitors will be sent our way via Google thanks to our use of the phrase ball-gag?

BOB: I think we’ll double our usual traffic. So possibly as many as seven.

ANDREW: Foggy arrives at the café some time before Compo and Clegg who we are told are lagging behind. We don’t often get to observe Foggy on his own, do we? Nothing particularly significant happens during this scene, but it’s odd to see him have a one-on-one with Sid.

Foggy reveals he has installed a new set of trousers on Compo, and Sid is shocked enough to send the items he is holding clattering to the floor. This prompts Ivy to emerge and, when told that Sid has received some startling news, presumes that her husband has been ‘seen with’ Mrs. Jessop! What do we think then? Is Ivy paranoid or does Sid play away from time to time?

BOB: I reckon he has – years ago – and Ivy has never let it go. She’s deeply insecure, and desperate to hang onto him by any means necessary. ‘I’ve been expecting something like this ever since you started reading Harold Robbins’ she sniffs, the second Summer Wine reference I can remember to the grandaddy of the bonkbuster novel. Was Mrs Clarke a fan, do we think? The Carpetbaggers was the Fifty Shades of Grey of its time.

Nice scene in the café too, with a classic Clarke trope – the quickfire repeating of an unusual word of phrase by several characters, to almost surreal comic effect. Here, Nora accuses Sid of startling her by ‘rearing up’… the springboard for a delightful mini-sketch in which the phrase ‘rearing up’ is used over and over with increasingly exaggerated delivery. Clarke does this a lot – I have fond memories of an episode of Open All Hours in which Granville’s ‘dangler’ (calm down at the back there, it’s a medallion) gets similar treatment. The word becomes funny in itself, simply by dint of the repetition – but it’s important not to overstay your welcome with these things. It’s artfully done here, though. 

ANDREW: Then in walks a post ‘trouser transplant’ Compo. Now, have I missed something or is there absolutely no explanation as to why Foggy chooses to do this now? Whatever the reason, Compo looks distinctly uncomfortable in his new skinny jeans. As a man who has been forced into a pair by his far more stylish partner, I have all the sympathy in the world for him. I believe they were first developed by the Spanish Inquisition.

BOB: You what??! No-one over the age of 19 should be wearing skinny-fit ANYTHING. Hey, a reference to ‘Bickerdyke’s dog’! That’s from Series 4 Episode 6, ‘Greenfingers’. Summer Wine is finally eating itself!

ANDREW: We also get to learn a little more about Dougie from the Second Hand Shop, who has somehow managed to talk Clegg into purchasing a metal detector. Knowing what is to come down the line, it’s very easy to see the unseen second hand shop proprieter as a proto-Auntie Wainwright, another character who, in Sid’s words, ‘can sell owt’.

BOB: Foggy is mocked by his colleagues for getting excited about ‘buried treasure’, but metal detecting was a big hobby for men of a certain age in the 1970s! Seismic events like the discovery of the Mildenhall Treasure would have made a big impression on men of Foggy’s age…

mildenhall_1_treasure

It was an era when all kinds of oddities could be found with only the bare minimum of digging. Even in built-up towns, much of the ground remained undeveloped, and many deeply-buried treasures had been unsettled by wartime bombing and lay undiscovered on sites that had stayed largely untouched for decades. As a kid, I remember discovering centuries-old coins and the fractured remains of Victorian pottery while scrabbling around in our own back garden.

ANDREW: I once found a copy of Readers’ Wives strewn along a hedgerow.

BOB: Great Radiophonic noise when Foggy finally gets the metal detector working, too! I can imagine Malcolm Clarke slaving away for hours on that. Inbetween putting the finishing touches to the Earthshock soundtrack.

ANDREW: Back on the hillside, Foggy thinks he’s stumbled across something Roman. It isn’t, of course. Instead, he’s found a beer can – Julius Tetley – and it’s off to the pub.

BOB: My dad would doubtless have called that an ‘ancient Roman beercan’! A nice, warm episode, anyway.

ANDREW: I had some fun with this episode, particularly the scenes with the whole gang in the café, but it pales in comparison to the last two. You’re spoiling us, Mr. Clarke.

6.5 One of the Last Few Places Unexplored By Man

In which Compo gets trapped in the closet…

ANDREW: Another whimsical hillside opening for this episode. There are some great lines here, including Foggy responding to Compo’s ferret story with ‘You’ve led a really useful life, haven’t you?’ I promise to say that at your funeral, Bob.

BOB: You’ll never outlive me, not with your insane, adrenaline-fuelled high-octane lifestyle. Do you know what? If someone clipped together four or five of these opening philosophical segments of the show to make a full episode, it’d probably be one of my favourites of the whole run. 

Clegg: The concept of a hole in space confuses me enormously. But so did the instructions on the electric blanket, and that works. So I suppose God knows what he’s doing.

Compo: Electric blanket? You great Jessie. Why don’t you put a warm brick in it like everybody else…

You youngsters may laugh, but when I was growing up in the 1970s, it wasn’t uncommon to find older neighbours and relatives who still kept a ‘warming pan’ by the fire… essentially a large brass pan to be filled with hot coals from the fire before being slipped between the sheets an hour or so before you went to bed. Taking extra care not to set your bedspread on fire. Brace yourself, but like many houses in the UK we didn’t have central heating in our house until the late 1970s. My first memories of getting ready for school are of putting my clothes on in front of a flickering coal fire while looking at the ice on the inside of the front room windows. Winter 1977. Read it and weep, you children of the Combi Boiler.

ANDREW: And I thought we had it rough not having cable television until I was ten.

I still haven’t gotten used to the new-look Café yet, even though it’s now the version I grew up with! I love this extended sequence, however. First up, we get some choice Sid and Ivy conversation, with lots of bickering about relatives and Sid’s lack of get-up-and-go. ‘Another hectic day in the struggle for existence?’ she asks as he innocently reads his paper. As if this wasn’t enough, in walks Wally Batty! This scene actually reminds me of a stage play; it’s long, confined to a small set and characters drift in and out throughout its runtime. Lovely blocking.

BOB: That exchange is great. There’s something about Northern dialogue that really lends itself to bathos. It’s a tactic that never fails to make me laugh, and Roy Clarke uses it as the basis for many a great Sid and Ivy exchange. You missed off the killer second line, though!


Ivy: Another hectic day in the struggle for existence.

Sid: If you’re on about the dustbins, I’ve already seen to ‘em.


I’m baffled by Compo’s clear depiction of Nora Batty’s bedroom as mysterious, uncharted territory, though. Wasn’t he in her bedroom in the first episode of this very series, rescuing Nora from being trapped beneath the bed? Oh, well. It’s a good job we’re not like those weird Doctor Who fans, Drew, otherwise we could drive ourselves mad worrying about pointless continuity like this. Ahem hem.

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ANDREW: Just wait until we reach First of the Summer Wine

Another name for the database – Chunky Wrigglesworth. A boy who used to very carelessly grab great handfuls of Foggy’s trousers, and who was famous for sitting on people at playtime. We even learn that he had to get married and is now a dentist is Macclesfield. I think he might be the most fleshed out unseen character thus far!

BOB: A bit of a milestone here as well, I think… Sid actually joins in with the schooldays nostalgia! Is this the first time he’s done this? Anyone? I’d actually assumed until now that Sid was an outsider from another town, as I can’t recall him ever previously joining in with any of the reminiscing that our main trio frequently indulge in. I thought it was only his marriage to Ivy that had brought him to Holmfirth! Is he a local lad after all?

And I love how Foggy insists on calling Ivy ‘madam’, despite the fact that they’ve known each other for decades! Does he do the same to Nora, too? I think he does… it’s a lovely character touch, symptomatic of Foggy’s deep-seated fear of women, and his desire to keep them at a formal arms length. A veneer of gentlemanly respect masking a morbid terror of the female world. Although, oddly, Foggy is the one member of the trio that we’ve actually seen indulging in romantic liasons during our adventures.

ANDREW: Compo has tarted himself up to have a photo taken, but he doesn’t want it taken in his ‘disgraceful’ abode. Instead he intends to pose next door inside Nora Batty’s house.  He is, of course, turned away. Although he’s been shooed off before, there’s something particular about the way in which this scene is written, shot and played that will set up a long recurring gag for many episodes to come; Compo turns up at Nora’s door only to be chased down her steps by the end of her broom. I must have seen a hundred variations upon this as a kid and never got tired of it.

BOB: No wonder Compo is embarrassed by his house, it’s in a worse state than ever! In the early series it was just a bit scruffy and untidy, now it looks… well, it looks like Mr Trebus’ house. There’s stuff piled up everywhere. Up yer chuff!

Trebus
And then ‘By ‘eck, she’s like Margaret Lockwood…’ he gurns, kindling his sordid Nora Batty fantasies once again. Erm, she’s really not…

I really admire Roy Clarke’s unapologetic use of cultural references entirely in keeping with his characters’ backgrounds. I’m not sure Margaret Lockwood would have meant a great deal to huge swathes of Summer Wine’s family audience in 1982, but Compo would have worshipped Lockwood during her cinema heyday in the 1940s, and his dropping of her name here as the epitome of female perfection is absolutely consistent with his character. I see a lot of current TV comedy where elderly characters are given lines that are completely inappropriate for their age… and sure, it gets a laugh, but I always end up thinking ‘No! 70-year-old men DON’T talk like that’. I suspect a lot of comedy writers think of funny lines first, before assigning them to their characters without worrying too much about the consistency of the whole thing. Clarke lets the lines flow naturally from his very well-defined characters, and it lends the dialogue a much more satisfying air of authenticity.

My laugh-out-loud moment of the episode…

Compo: Are you telling me she doesn’t set your pulses racing?

Clegg: Only for cover.

ANDREW: At Compo’s house, it is explained that the randy little Herbert doesn’t just want his photo taken in Nora’s house, but in Nora’s bedroom; the titular place unexplored by man. Compo really is a little boy in his attitudes to carnal pursuits. Describing being chased off by Nora as ‘sexual foreplay’, he goes on to flap his arms and quack his way around the room in some bizarre mating dance.

Foggy is just as childish, unable to accept responsibility for any mistake he makes during the episode. Earlier, he accidentally hit a woman in the bottom with his walking stick. Instead of apologising he blames wasps and as a result is labelled a ‘sex maniac’. Now, he refuses to accept responsibility for dropping Compo’s camera, making up an earth tremor to excuse his butterfingers.

BOB: Wilde is magnificent in this series. I can’t praise him highly enough. Foggy is a ridiculous character, but Wilde makes him totally believable and – amazingly – sympathetic. He’s one of the truly great sitcom characters, and doesn’t get recognized as such nearly often enough for my liking. 

ANDREW: Again our slapstick climax comes about as a natural extension of the plot; which is nice. Returning from an auction, Wally needs a hand carrying his new purchase – a wardrobe for Nora’s bedroom. Seizing the opportunity with glee, Compo concocts a Trojan Horse-inspired plan to secure entry to the room of his dreams. I particularly like the fact that we get another glimpse of Foggy’s maniacal streak during these scenes. He takes great joy in locking Compo up in a dark, confined space and is quick to abandon his friend and nip off to the pub. This is his revenge for getting involved with a scheme that he hasn’t concocted himself!

BOB: Yes, Foggy’s on great vindictive form here. ‘Just lie there and make a noise like a coathanger’, he says, gleefully shutting Compo into the wardrobe. And again, bringing back memories of my dad’s absurdist sense of humour. Long before this episode aired, I had a rather vicious pet rabbit, and I distinctly remember my dad solemnly telling me ‘whatever you do, don’t make a noise like a carrot’. Was ‘don’t make a noise like a… (insert entirely silent object)’ a running joke for men of their generation? It wouldn’t surprise me if this stemmed from wartime (or, at least, forces) banter somewhere along the line.

‘There’s something very satisfying about locking him in a dark, confined space’ made me laugh as well. Brian Wilde’s impeccable delivery goes a long way – a perfect combination of haughty disdain with just a hint of affection.


Clegg: Do you think he can breathe?

Foggy: I don’t doubt it for a minute, he’ll do anything to spite me.


Oh, I could listen to this all day.

ANDREW: I like to think that Stuart Fell was locked inside that wardrobe for the sake of realism.

BOB: A great episode I think, with some of the strongest, funniest dialogue we’ve had for a while. My only disappointment is the clear suggestion that Nora and Wally don’t actually share a marital bed! I want them sitting up in bed together, like Joe and Petunia from the Public Information Films. They’re the prototype Wally and Nora, you know. Oh yes they are. Oh yes indeed. Oh yes.

ANDREW: Yeah, another cracking episode. It isn’t difficult to see why the series was going over gangbusters during this period.

BOB: Eh? Oh, you young people and your funny new words. You’re WEIRD. You hear me? WEIRD (fetches brush)

Last of the Summer Wine: On Stage

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In 1984, Last of the Summer Wine took to the stage in Bournemouth for a production simply titled Last of the Summer Wine or, more informally, the “summer season”. Peter Sallis, Bill Owen and Jane Freeman reprised their television roles of Clegg, Compo and Ivy in a storyline that saw the introduction of timid Howard, his overbearing wife Pearl, and his potential mistress Marina.

Proving successful, the show went on to enjoy a two week tour of Britain in 1985, followed by a return for another summer season in Bournemouth. By this point, the roles of Howard, Pearl and Marina were played by Robert Fyfe, Juliette Kaplan and Jean Fergusson, respectively. This run proved successful enough to warrant the transitioning of these characters to television, where they would remain with the show for the duration of its run.

The Last of the Summer Wine stage show is highly significant in that, through the introduction of new characters, it provided a template for years of television episodes to follow. It is unfortunate, then, that neither Bob and I have seen it! This, my friends, is where I hope you will be able to help.

We’re looking for memories from anybody who saw the Last of the Summer Wine stage show during its 1984 and 1985 runs, or even in its modified Compo Plays Cupid form, which toured Britain in 1987. What were your impressions? Where and when did you see it? What scenes stick in your mind? Was the television series able to make the difficult transition to stage? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment or get in touch at drewsmith@hotmail.co.uk

Eventually, we hope to compile your thoughts, as well as the recollections of a couple of the actors, into a separate article. No pressure.

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6.4 A Bicycle Made For Three


In which our trio ‘get it continental style’…

ANDREW: Have we reached another milestone? Does this qualify as our first truly iconic episode of Last of the Summer Wine? I think that clip from the climax of this episode, in which our trio tumbles headfirst over the handlebars of their bicycles, is probably one of the most often used to represent the series in documentaries or highlights packages.

BOB: Yes, that clip has come to embody the “three silly old sods plummeting downhill” public perception of the series, hasn’t it? Whenever I mention our ongoing quest to non-Summer Wine fans, they always make reference to this kind of escapade. Which is a shame, as the absolute bedrock of the series for me is the dialogue and characterisation. All the rest is largely window dressing. Here you go, from the opening sequence…

COMPO: I tried for a reserved occupation.

FOGGY: There was no-one more reserved about taking an occupation than you.

A laugh-out loud joke with a wealth of information about both characters attitudes, backgrounds and personalities, all within the space of two lines. Perfect. 

ANDREW: There’s a lot of location work in this episode and it’s all beautifully shot, but doesn’t the transfer look manky? Doctor Who fans have been spoilt rotten with the amount of care and attention that’s been exercised in restoring that series’ many episodes, and the thought that the original film elements of many of these Summer Wine episodes could just be lying in a vault gathering dust is almost too much to take.

BOB: This probably makes me some sort of heathen, but I rather like a bit of grit and grain on vintage 16mm film sequences. Gives them a bit of character and period charm. I can spend hours watching a trapped hair fizzing away in the corner of the screen.

ANDREW: I’d have to check the novel again to see whether it originates there, but the gag with the trio careening down a hill upon one bicycle is used again, almost verbatim, in the Getting Sam Home Christmas special a few years later.

BOB: Spoilers!

ANDREW: And who would have thought that a thirty-year-old episode of Last of the Summer Wine would become so topical in hindsight. Not too long ago, a video in which former American sitcom star Kirk Cameron and Christian minister Ray Comfort displayed support for the “Banana Theory” went viral. The Banana Theory, in case you’re wondering, posits almost exactly what Clegg states in this episode, “If there’s no guiding hand behind the universe, how come bananas are just the right shape for your mouth.” Have a look!

I wonder if they were fans (Joke)? Within the context of Summer Wine, Clegg gets away with it, but as an argument for intelligent design it just doesn’t hold up at all.  Who would have thought that the battle of Darwinism and fundamental Christianity would intrude upon our little oasis of tranquillity?

BOB: Wait until we get round to Open All Hours. There’s a full episode in which Granville and Mrs Featherstone discuss the implications of Sartre’s theory of Bad Faith and the direct contradictions it posits to Freud’s theories of the unconscious.

ANDREW: Another couple of names for the database; Lily Matthews – With his scruffy khakis, Compo never had a chance with this RAF mad girl. Lily was ugly, but only from the front. Then we get Mildred, a loud welder, apparently.

BOB: And then we meet a new character – Junk-shop owner Percy Westerfield, or ‘Dirk’ as he now insists on being called. As soon as he appeared, I shouted ‘JOE MELIA!’ with unseemly abandon, making both dogs scatter in panic across the front room. A fine character actor, Joe Melia… beloved of us science fiction geeks for playing Mr Prosser in The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, but he’s also the delightfully amoral journalist Ron Rust in A Very Peculiar Practice, the viewing of which – like archery practice on a Sunday – should be on the statute books as a compulsory weekly activity for all adults.

Good to see Dirk wearing a classic comedy slogan T-Shirt as well… “I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple” is emblazoned unashamedly across his chest. The comedy T-shirt is a quintessentially 1980s phenomenon, and a couple of years before this episode aired you could barely move in Britain’s High Streets for “I Shot JR” T-shirts hanging from shop windows. And wobbling beer guts. The practice still exists in the minds of weird 50-year-old men who proudly strut around in public wearing hilarious “If Found, Please Return To The Pub” T-shirts, but the rest of the world – thankfully – seems to have moved on.

ANDREW: I actually quite like Dirk nee Percy as a character and wonder whether we’re going to see him again?

BOB: He’s certainly a great “deluded” character in the classic sitcom style. Despite being the owner of a rather run-down second-hand shop, he still considers himself to be a future millionaire, without ever stooping to being “your flash-in-the-pan overnight whizzkid”. Anyway, he allows Compo, Clegg and Foggy to rummage for spare bike parts in the shed, in order to construct a bicycle each to continue their two-wheeled adventures…

ANDREW: One thing that really strikes me about this episode, particularly the scenes where the trio are putting their bicycles together, is just how much fun they’re having. There’s little in the way of moaning or complaining, and just look at the glee Foggy and Compo exhibit when gently ribbing one another for their efforts. It’s a little bit special and reminds us why these characters continue to knock about, despite their many setbacks and fallings-out.

BOB: Roy Clarke’s very good at that. Amidst all the friction between Summer Wine’s main characters, there’s always something that reminds you that – beneath it all – they’re actually very fond of each other. It can be a single line, or even just a warm glance between the barbs, but it’s always there. Very important.

ANDREW: In a move that I expect will upset you, Sid’s Café has undergone some extensive renovations, doing away, as Clegg puts it, with “the homely air of neglect.” This doesn’t bother me at all, however, as the set now looks exactly as it did when I was growing up with the show. I think this was my first burst of nostalgia. I wonder if this move to brighten the place up is part of Alan J.W. Bell’s influence on the series.

BOB: Ha! I’ve written exactly that in my notes. “They’ve redecorated – I don’t like it”. I suspect that, if we watched one of the Blamire episodes again, we’d be surprised at how filthy and run-down all of the sets and locations look in comparison to this brave new era. There was a real grimy, soot-stained bleakness to life in 1973 that was beginning to fade from sight in the spruced-up, computerized 1980s.

I’m glad you’ve got a nostalgia blast, though! You’ll be going all fuzzy on me from here.

Anyway, nice to see Nora and especially Wally making much more regular appearances in this series. Some funny lines for Nora in particular in this scene, including her musings on men. “I blame television,” she grumbles. “They see all these funny ideas. People enjoying themselves…”

ANDREW: Wally in whites almost doesn’t look like Wally.

BOB: I’m sorry, but you could dress Wally Batty up as Carmen Miranda and he’d still look like Wally Batty. There’s no getting away from THAT FACE.

ANDREW: If Gladwin had stuck around for a few more years I’m sure Clarke would have had him dressed up as Carmen Miranda.

One thing this episode does– probably better than any episode so far – is to skilfully blend Clarke’s verbal humour with the slapstick elements of the series. I didn’t feel short-changed on either front and the episode’s comic climax, in which our trio tumble head first from Foggy’s new take on the tandem bicycle, is rooted within the series logic. Unlike Wally’s pigeon-shaped hang glider, I can totally believe that this is something Foggy would come up with and have the ability to construct.

BOB: Yes, Foggy joins three bikes together by the handlebars to make a treble-seated monster, and it’s absolutely believable. The scenes in which they road-toast the bike look lovely as well… freewheeling fun on a bright summers day.

ANDREW: I also really enjoyed the scene with our trio attempted to eat “continental style” outside the café. Ronnie Hazlehurst’s Parisian take on the series’ theme tune is beautiful and the action is taken straight out of a Laurel and Hardy or Chaplin short from the silent era.

BOB: Absolutely! “They’re going to get it continental style”, deadpans Jane Freeman, refusing to allow our scruffy trio to slurp their tea in her newly-refurbished café. It’s such a well-worn 70s double entendre that I heartily applaud Roy Clarke for having the audacity to use it! There’s a whole scene in Are You Being Served – The Movie in which Captain Peacock and Mrs Slocombe debate whether they’d prefer it “English or continental style”. Their breakfast, of course. What else?

And you say Chaplin, I’ve written Jacques Tati in my notes! Same difference. Yeah, a lovely little homage to silent cinema, with our heroes’ attempts to eat in the yard being disturbed by unruly schoolkids, careless car-washers and funeral processions alike, all with barely a word spoken. All, as you say, accompanied by Ronnie Hazlehurst’s beautifully Gallic-sounding accordion music. We should probably talk more about Ronnie Hazelhurst on this blog sometime… he’s the unsung hero of Summer Wine. Didn’t he compose completely unique scores for every episode? I can’t think of many other TV shows in which the incidental music is such an integral and recognisable part of the atmosphere. 

ANDREW: All in all, probably one of my favourites so far.

BOB: Me too. Series 6 has been a joy so far, and I can absolutely understand why this was the year in which the show really began to elevate to national treasure status.

6.3 The Odd Dog Men

In which things get a little hairy…

ANDREW: Right away we have another name for the database; Mabel Stoddard, whose father had a propensity for “just going out” and didn’t consider Compo suitable. During the war, Mabel married an American who had two pips on his shoulders.

BOB: It’s another nice opening, alright! “You were never really the warrior class”, snorts Foggy to Compo. “You’ve got something deeply civilian about those legs”. I could handle a full episode of this, and – now I think about it – I’m surprised that Roy Clarke never actually attempted a pure three-handed episode. Or did he? Does Full Steam Behind come close? The dialogue between the three main characters is so funny and believable that I can barely think of a sitcom that lends itself more readily to this stripped-down format.

ANDREW: Mabel Stoddard has got me thinking. As Compo reveals more and more women whom he claims to have loved (or at least lusted after) and lost, I’m starting the get the impression he has spent his entire life being rejected! It’s not overt, but Clarke imbues every one of his characters with this sort of depth and I’m loving it.

BOB: I wonder! Even his wife left him for a Pole, didn’t she? Although his quest for romance might not have been helped by the fact that his idea of the “first move” seems to be grabbing whichever middle-age woman is closest to him and attempting to force a kiss on them…

ANDREW: Is it just me, or is the sight of a poodle in Summer Wine land almost Lynchian in its incongruity?

BOB: Congratulations on being the first person ever to equate Last of the Summer Wine with Twin Peaks! Can you imagine Ivy’s reaction if Sherilyn Fenn turned up in Sid’s Café and started tying cherry stalks in knots with her tongue? Her feet wouldn’t touch the ground. Compo’s reaction to the runaway poodle made me laugh out loud, too – “Ey up, someone’s made a right bog up of shearing that sheep!”. And I liked the exasperated dog-owner… “All I ever see it do is eat toffees, lick the wife and pee on my geraniums”. It’s an unwritten law in sitcom land that male dog-walkers must never actually like the hounds that they’re forced to drag around the streets.

Foggy, meanwhile, is inspired to launch a new business venture…

ANDREW: This episode offers somewhat of a return to normality as, in principle, Foggy’s plan to walk dogs for money makes perfect sense. It’s only further on, when he lets slip his fantasy of walking the royal corgis, that he reveals himself to be a total barmpot.  Does Foggy actually believe he could be hand-picked by the Queen, or does he need to believe this kind of thing in order to cope with his feelings of inadequacy?

BOB: I thought exactly the same – a dog-walking business is a great idea! And one that I think has actually taken off in the last few years? I’ve definitely seen businesses like that advertised around here, so Foggy was clearly miles ahead of his time. I hope he was planning to call the business “Foggy’s Doggies”, though. Anything less would be a crime. I like the following exchange in the café, too…

CLEGG: You’re not afraid of hard work.

COMPO: Sure?

CLEGG: Yes, you’re afraid of easy work.

As for Foggy’s delusions of grandeur, I think he just gets carried away. Do any of us launch a new venture assuming that it’s going to be a failure, or just a moderate success? We always think it’s going to end in quadrillions of pounds and limitless social prestige. That’s the only reason I’m doing this bloody blog. I want us to be Summer Winos by Appointment to Her Majesty.

ANDREW: Well, I know the Queen Mum was a fan…

The use of “stupid bitch” is one of two things that conspire to make this episode feel like a throwback to the Blamire years, the other being just how long it takes for the plot to get going.

BOB: Yes, it’s slower than we’re used to now, isn’t it? We get some very traditional sitcom stereotypes during their cold-calling escapades as well – doors answered by saucy housewives and irate husbands alike. There also seems to be a running joke of Foggy being almost knocked over by the same purple wagon, speeding through the streets of Holmfirth. Is this a little homage to something, or am I reading too much into it?

ANDREW: With their struggle to carry the “self assembly modular high impact and stain resistant unit” into the kitchen, Sid and Ivy prove once again that they should have had their own spin-off sitcom. I quite like the idea that in their show Foggy, Clegg and Compo are the guest stars who occasionally show up. In Sid and Ivy’s world an entire episode is devoted to trying to assemble that unit.

BOB: Another cracking one-liner as well…

          IVY: (angrily) You’ve got no idea!

          SID: You wouldn’t say that if you knew what I was thinking…

I agree, I could easily handle a full episode in which Sid and Ivy were the main characters. Shame that, in such a long-running series, it didn’t happen at least once.

ANDREW: I love, love, LOVE the scenes in Sid’s Café between the trio and Wally. I think we learn more about Wally in this episode than ever before; his boyhood nicknames were Inky Batty and Little Laughing Walter Batty. This presumably all changed when Nora got hold of him. Wally had to make himself more attractive before Nora would take him on (like a fool, he did) and when asked what she looks for in a man, Gladwin delivers the deliciously deadpan, “total submission”. My very favourite revelation, however, is that Wally finds Foggy sexier than Nora!

BOB: Wally Batty NEVER fails to light up this series, and Joe Gladwin’s performances are magnificent. He has truly tremendous comic timing, and I think Wally’s life story intrigues me more than any other character in Summer Wine. The others do indeed paint him as a happy-go-lucky young man whose entire persona was ground into submission by his marriage to Nora! By the time we meet him, he’s virtually in a state of permanent shellshock. I actually want to write Wally’s biography. Prospective titles include “Howdo”, “Pigeon-Toed”, and “If The Cap Fits”, but I’m open to other suggestions.

ANDREW: Surely it has to “You Have To Laugh” accompanied by the most miserable picture we can find.

BOB: Actually, genuinely, I’d like to read a biography of Joe Gladwin, as I find his performances fascinating… and yet the earliest acting credit I can find anywhere is from 1959, by which time he was already in his mid-fifties. Anyone any idea what he did before that?

ANDREW: Thanks to the scenes in Sid’s Café and with Wally, I enjoyed this episode. The dog walking plot, on the other hand, left me cold. The ending was particularly weak.

BOB: The dog-walking just kind of fizzles out, doesn’t it? Although the ending sees our heroes being chased around by a very unscary-looking Old English Sheepdog. For me, the one outstanding revelation in this episode is Foggy’s real first name – Walter! Is this the first time we’ve heard this? He looks like a Walter, and I can’t help but think that it’s Roy Clarke’s little nod to The Beano’s resident Softie, to whom Foggy bears a startling resemblance. 

6.2 Car and Garter

In which Compo feels the need for speed…

BOB: Can I admit to a little tingle of excitement every time we reach the debut episode of a regular character?

ANDREW: Please do! We’d best enjoy the experience before saying goodbye to people becomes a more common occurrence.

BOB: Oof, you morbid soul. But ladies and gentlemen, it’s Wesley Pegden! As soon as I saw smoke billowing from beneath a garage door, and the sound of a muffled explosion, I knew exactly who we were going to meet.

There’s a classic opening line to this episode as well: “How do you get marmalade off a ferret?” asks Compo. It’s one of life’s eternal mysteries, isn’t it? Also, an exchange that I remember heartily laughing at back in 1982, and my dad doing likewise…

           COMPO: When you straighten up, why doesn’t the blood rush straight to your feet?

           FOGGY: You don’t think anything’s going to be in a rush to get to your feet…

Brian Wilde’s delivery is a perfect mix of warmth, self-satisfaction and disdain. And I cannot help but feel hugely sentimental whenever I hear a line in anything that made my dad and I laugh together. I know them all when I hear them… in Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Porridge, you name it… as soon as I hear that line – even if it’s for the first time in thirty years – I’m transported back to the front room, and a little routine we would play out: if we both laughed simultaneously at the same thing, then immediately afterwards we’d exchange a fleeting look of mutual appreciation across the room. It was completely involuntary, and my mum found it fascinating. But I’ve always shared a sense of humour with my dad, and we absolutely bonded over TV comedy. And he had fabulously progressive tastes… I know plenty of my contemporaries who were banned from watching The Young Ones when they were kids, but I was introduced to it by my dad. He loved it, and we watched it together… along with all of the edgiest 80s TV comedy you could think of. One of the highlights of my early teenage years was staying up late on a Friday night and watching the likes of Who Dares Wins on Channel 4 with him. Thanks, Dad.

And I’ve just realized that the above paragraph makes it sound like my dad is dead! He’s not everyone, he’s fine. Cancel the flowers.

ANDREW: Good to hear, I’m always on the lookout for a guest reviewer…

BOB: I love Gordon Wharmby in Summer Wine, although has he been surrounded by a bit of urban mythologizing over the years? I’m sure I remember reading somewhere that he was a local amateur dramatics enthusiast without a previous professional acting credit, but that does him a bit of a disservice. True, he wasn’t a trained thespian and combined part-time acting with a day job as a painter and decorator, but he had been part of Oldham Repertory Theatre, and had also done small parts in Coronation Street, amongst others.

What I didn’t realise was that he’d actually auditioned to play the angry man on the roof at the end of the previous episode, In The Service Of Humanity! It’s a one-line part (“Hey, bring back that ladder!”), but he impressed Roy Clarke and Alan JW Bell so much that they asked him to read for Wesley in Car and Garter. Bell, apparently, found him “absolutely real”, and the part was his. However, Wesley was – I’ve read – previously earmarked as a guest role for a well-known TV actor! Anyone know who that might be? This could be Summer Wine’s April Walker moment!

ANDREW: I wonder if, as they were casting this part, Clarke and Bell were specifically looking for a Fred Dibnah type. The Bolton-born steeplejack first rose to fame in 1978 and, although it never struck me until now, Wesley’s likeness to the man is striking.

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A brief detour to the café sees Sid being harassed by Ivy. Has the phrase, “In the kitchen” ever been spoken with such menace? What really struck me about the scene, however, is the smattering of applause it receives at the end. This is unusual in Summer Wine land and, although I’m not trying to be critical, I don’t understand what the scene did to elicit such a reaction. It’s not a standout. Perhaps scenes routinely received this sort of reaction and, under newcomer Alan Bell, a tiny snippet accidentally made it through to the final edit.

BOB: There’s a staggering scene in Clegg’s house that actually made me rewind the DVD to double check that I’d heard it correctly. They’re talking about Sid, and Foggy – rather amazingly – delivers the opinion that (brace yourself) “Ivy seems him as something of a big dick”.

Whhhhhhhhat?!?!? It’s not even a one-off. “There are far too many boring, serious beggars about,” muses Clegg, immediately afterwards. “We need all the big daft dicks we can get”.

Am I being incredibly prudish here? It’s hilarious, but I always thought ‘dick’ was up there with ‘cock’ and ‘prick’ as an insult I wouldn’t have expected to hear in Summer Wine! Certainly not in this later era, anyway. The reaction from the studio audience suggests that they’re a bit taken aback as well!

ANDREW: Well, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the genital connotation in the word is attested in an 1891 dictionary of Farmer’s Slang. Then there is the idiom “Clever Dick”, which has been used as recently as a 2012 game show C4 hosted by Anne Widdicome entitled Cleverdicks. I realise that none of this answers your question, but it’s nice to make the effort sometimes.

BOB: I still think this is filth, and should be banned. Neverthless we get to the crux of the episode… Wesley is building what he sees as the ultimate high-performance car, and needs a test-driver, and our heroes volunteer Sid for the job, believing it will increase his standing in Ivy’s eyes. Interesting to see that, in these early stages, Wesley clearly isn’t taken with Compo’s sense of humour – there’s a real prickliness to their exchanges.

ANDREW: And then we encounter another odd audience response. Bell cuts to a close-up of Foggy and the audience roars with laughter. It isn’t until a few seconds later that we cut to a wide shot which reveals Sid in his ridiculous racing gear. Usually, during this kind of sitcom gag, the set and performers are shielded from the audience. They only see the action play out on monitors, just like viewers at home. I’m convinced these moments have something to do with a change in production techniques, maybe the studio floor layout had been modified.

BOB: I didn’t notice any of this! It’s all real to me, guv. What is this ‘studio floor’ of which you speak? Ivy, meanwhile, is having none of Sid’s daredevil exploits and forbids him to take part (as well as taking a little sideswipe at his implied proclivities – “Don’t be making a fool of yourself if that bus conductress comes in, and don’t have her poking my sandwiches with her bell finger!”) and so – predictably enough – Compo is roped in to drive Wesley’s cobbled-together sports car.

ANDREW: It’s a cliché, but women really are unpredictable sometimes. Just the other week, Emma was upset with me. By way of apology, I baked her a loaf of break in the shape of, erm… a big dick. While I was baking, this seemed like the greatest idea in the world, but it didn’t go down well… so to speak. What I’m trying to say is I sympathise with Sid!

BOB: Bake one for me. We’ll eat it together while we watch Getting Sam Home. I’ll look after you, my angel. 

ADDREW: As for the Bus Conductress, I like to think she’s the same feisty character we saw during series two’s ‘Forked Lightning’. I seem to recall you took a shine to her.

BOB: I can’t remember her! I’m such a fickle fool. There’s a bizarre twist here… Nora is actually impressed! And, not only that, she wears the garter that Compo gives her to keep her wrinkled stockings up. And proudly gives him a tantalizing glimpse of it! I’m not sure how I feel about this, actually… it’s very funny, but would Nora actually do that? Although I can also see the argument that we need to see a certain affection reciprocated between them, otherwise you’re just left wondering why she doesn’t just call the police on him every week.

ANDREW: Like I said, unpredictable.

BOB: I also wonder if this the episode that really kick-started the whole ‘wrinkled stockings’ phenomenon. I know they’d been mentioned in the series before now, but Compo’s hatred of them is major plot point of this episode. And it was around this time that wrinkled stockings became one of the major cultural identifiers of Last of the Summer Wine… you certainly wouldn’t read an article about the show (or about Kathy Staff herself) without them being mentioned, and I think that might have stemmed from this very episode.

ANDREW: Yep. This will become one of the series’ most celebrated running gags and eventually leads to this oddity…

I’d love to know who plays the onlookers in this episode. They’re a small crowd and they don’t look like actors. I wonder whether they were locals, crewmembers, relatives of crewmembers… anybody know?

BOB: What strikes me most about this episode is that Alan Bell was spot on with regards to Gordon Wharmby – he is indeed “absolutely real”. It’s a fine performance, and a great encapsulation of that breed of middle-aged Northern men who spend all of their spare time in overalls beneath a car and need a garage (or a shed, or just some private space to retreat to, unencumbered by female tutting and clucking) to retreat to. I see a lot of my Dad in Wesley.

ANDREW: Actually, what impressed me most about this one was the direction. I know I’ve harped on about a couple of production oddities, but the film sequences really sparkle in this episode. Bell’s signature landscape shots perfectly puncture the studio bound and character based stuff and one sequence, where Ivy returns to the café only to flee upon seeing Sid in his racing get-up is really dynamic. Just look at some of these shots.

Picture 12

Picture 14

All in all, good stuff.