Summer Winos (1.3+1.4)

1.2 Pâté and Chips

In which our trio visit a Stately Home with Compo’s nephew and family.

ANDREW: A very rare trip out of Holmfirth in this episode. Actually, from what I’ve read of your childhood, this is how I imagine your family outings. Just with fewer kids. Any truth to that?

BOB: Yes. I find all of these early episodes staggeringly evocative of my early childhood. The black, soot-stained buildings, the chugging, unreliable cars, and the security of family life, for better and for worse. We get to meet unspecified relatives of Compo in this episode – the charming Chip and Connie and their kids – and they reminded me so much of the young-ish relatives that surrounded my childhood in the mid 1970s. The uncles, aunts and cousins who – by the time they hit 25 – were securely married with a small army of kids and a job that they’d reasonably expect to hold for the next forty years of their lives.

It’s gone now. Look at me, for crying out loud… I’m 37, single, childless and spend my working life effectively messing about. And most of my friends have similar lifestyles. And yet a significant chunk of me pines for Chip and Connie’s life. There’s a great moment in the pub towards the end of the episode where they exchange a loving look and a very tender peck on the lips. I’ve no idea if it was scripted, but it’s a lovely, lovely touch.

ANDREW: There’s a lovely little moment of melancholy in this episode that I didn’t actually spot the first time I watched it. Just before they are about to set off for the country home, Ivy is holding Connie and Chip’s baby.

IVY: We’ve got none you know. All I can do is mother him.


Chip cracks a joke about letting her have one of theirs and says how he thinks everyone should be sterilised, but as Ivy is waving good-bye to Compo’s extended family there’s a very poignant music cue that seems to suggest there is something to the fact that she and Sid never had kids? It’s quite a beautiful little moment combining fine writing, acting and composing that adds depth to the supporting characters. Taking this into consideration really sheds new light on their relationship.

BOB: Oh, I didn’t spot that at all! Eagle-eyes Smith strikes again. I do love the way we’re slowly discovering more about these characters, but at a charmingly slow pace. I think this is the first episode to suggest that Compo carries a torch for Nora Batty, isn’t it? He’s stolen her washing line to hold up his trousers, and says ‘I thought I’d wear it close to me skin’.

And Ioved the scene in the café, where Compo and Chip both eat bread and dripping. Again, just gloriously evocative of its time… I don’t suppose anyone under the age of 30 has any idea about ‘dripping’ any more (do you, Mr S? Come on, be honest) but I vividly remember it being a staple part of the North-Eastern diet at least up until the late 1970s. It was edible, so it got eaten. Waste not, want not.

Another sign of the times… the ripple of excitement amongst the stately home tour party when it seems as though His Lordship is about to make an appearance! Hushed deference, and Clegg even frantically combs his hair. I remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, when every street around my house was bedecked in red, white and blue bunting, and the high street became a carnival, complete with a float procession and a fairground. Unthinkable in 2010, the world is just that tad too cynical.

ANDREW: Taking of charming moments, during one scene where the trio are walking towards the café, Michael Bates checks and adjusts his watch when the church bell goes off. Now that’s either good dubbing or fine improvising and I can’t imagine that the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop went anywhere near Last of the Summer Wine.

BOB: Sensational! I missed that as well. Such a fine actor. It’s lovely little touches like that that show you how quickly they began to inhabit these characters.

ANDREW: Classic line “I should fetch a shovel old lad, he’s crapped all over t’capet.”

BOB: Indeed! Swiftly followed by a lovely poignant exchange in the pub, as they drunkenly recall their wartime romantic exploits.

BLAMIRE: It soon passes, doesn’t it?

CLEGG: Aye. You don’t get a lot of time given for being 19.

Roy Clarke at his best, and a finely-timed moment of melancholy. Has Blamire been perennially single? I had the impression he’d been married, but this episode suggests his entire romantic life consists of a few chaste exchanges over three decades earlier. It’s a very downbeat ending.

1.4 Spring Fever

In which Compo’s sap rises.

Andrew: Even by this fourth episode, Compo’s character is so well defined that the fact that he would start feeling romantic and choose to clean up his act sets up a real sense of mystery. As a viewer, you want to find out what’s going on as much as his friends do.

Crikey, even when Liz Smith was young she was old!

Bob: Liz Smith was startling in this… for those not joining us in this marathon Wineathon (come on in, the water’s lovely), she plays a classic ‘mutton-dressed-as-lamb’ old bird, resplendent in knee-length boots, red PVC coat and gigantic blonde beehive. My initial reaction was, oddly, that I could fully imagine this character being Denise Royle’s grandmother! Liz will have been in her early fifties when this was shot.

I was slightly baffled by the sexual politics here… Liz’s character responds to Compo’s advertisement for a ‘housekeeper’, but there seems to be a tacit acceptance by both parties that a bit of – ahem – hanky panky will be a small but crucial aspect of the job. Was that accepted practice back in the early 1970s? Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised, this is, after all, an episode in which a clothes shop in a small West Yorkshire town has the bold slogan ‘IMPRESS THE CHICKS!’ proudly emblazoned in the window.

Interesting that we see Compo quite readily buying new clothes in this episode, and that it isn’t especially played for laughs. I’m sure there are scenes in future episodes where he’s shown to be virtually surgically attached to his moth-ridden jacket and woolly hat, and any new get-up is inevitably outlandish and inappropriate, but not here. He looks fairly smart in his new suit.

Ivy seems to be a little softer in these early episodes as well, she even compliments Compo on his new look.

Andrew: Compo’s advances don’t seem as affectionate or as innocent as they would later, at least not during the opening scene in which he pressures Norah to leave her husband and especially so when he mentions wanting to get his date drunk and have his way with her! Then again, as his “sap rises” as Clegg so delightfully puts it, you sense that he has a real appreciation for what his love rival takes for granted. Not so much the companionship of a woman really, but more the being looked after.

You spot Compo polishing a bugle as he cleans the house. Amazingly, Clarke pays this off years later in the millennium special, when the character takes it back to the scene of his wartime service in France.

Bob: I think Compo just wants his leg over, far more than you’re prepared to admit! And his washing done as well, admittedly. Take a look at the scene in which he’s lying in bed polishing that bugle… it’s riddled with unbridled sexual symbolism. I bet Mary Whitehouse was straight on the phone to Sir Charles Curran.

Andrew: I think I’ve figured out why these early episodes feel so strange. This might seem a bit weird, but although it was always broadcast on the BBC, these first samples of Summer Wine feel like ITV productions. There’s something of an emptiness to the studio scenes and the exteriors seem really roughly done, grotty even. There certainly aren’t any of the production values that were bestowed upon the production later on and that are seen as hallmarks of prestigious BBC productions. I’m not sure any of the above would make sense to the kind of normal person who doesn’t feel the urge to subject themselves to things like Kinvig, Don’t Drink the Water and George and Mildred.

Bob: Yes, you’re right… it’s the whole soot-stained streets thing again. It’s absolutely not an advert for Holmfirth, the place is portrayed as a rather rough, shabby Yorkshire town. I have a theory the ITV sitcoms of the 1970s are always a more authentic glimpse into British society than their BBC equivalents, particularly when it comes to the working classes… and I wonder if that’s due in part to the regional nature of ITV? A sitcom like Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt! – set in working class Yorkshire – was made entirely in the county itself (even the studio scenes were filmed in Leeds) by authentic Yorkshire writers, cast and crew. It couldn’t NOT be reflective of its setting and social make-up.

Whereas the BBC might make the occasional foray into the provinces for location filming, but their production team and studio work would all have been London-centric. I think it’s testament to the early Summer Wine team that they managed to transcend that so successfully.

Some nice 1970s touches in this episode as well… Compo idly leaves his door unlocked while he’s out, there’s a tantalising glimpse of the TV’s famous Test Card F, and the references to Home Help and Milk Stout both warmed the cockles of my heart. And Kathy Staff looks so young! Just checked, and she was only a few years older than me when she made these episodes. Amazing. Or maybe not, I probably seem just as ancient to your youthful eyes, Mr Smith.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Chris Orton on May 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Terrific stuff again chaps. LotSW really was an entirely different series back then wasn’t it? The early years really are the essence of the series for me. I always say it, but the show started to go off a bit for me following the first departure of Foggy (possibly even as far back as Alan Bell becoming involved.)


  2. Posted by Barry Delve on May 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Interesting analogy with ITV comedies. I wonder if the reason the early series feel like ITV rather than BBC is because they weren’t set in the home counties and they’re also ‘working class’ without being about class divisions. I’m struggling to think of any other BBC comedies of that time that weren’t based on class struggles. All the Perry/Croft/Lloyd stuff was about it, – even the Liver Birds and Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads had aspirational characters, and a lot of the comedy came from that. I know it’s superficial, but a lot of ITV comedy from the early 70s seemed to be based around sex.

    This makes George & Mildred the one comedy that could have shown on either channel and you need to ignore Only When I Laugh completely for this theory to have any legs at all…


    • Posted by Andrew T. Smith on May 10, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, Barry. There’s no sense of any of the characters in Summer Wine wanting to ‘rise above’ their working class routes. Blamire possibly comes the closest to that attitude, but he doesn’t actually do much about it.

      George and Mildred shouldn’t have been shown on any channel.


  3. Posted by David Cook on May 4, 2011 at 8:38 am

    I think that the first episode I ever watched was, aptly enough, Foggy’s debut. Somehow I was aware of Michael Bates (perhaps because of It ‘Aint Half Hot, Mum) and I seem to remember that they showed a Bates episode when he died, as tribute.

    At that time I think that they showed the series at a surprisingly late slot (post-Nine O’Clock News) and I have comfy memories of eating Bakewell Tart as my supper when watching it!

    Shame that the Michael Bates era is so obscure (little repeats, edited videos/DVD’s, no mention of the character in First Of The Summer Wine….)


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