Summer Winos (2.7)

2.7 Northern Flying Circus

In which our trio get the motor running and ride out in the car park.

ANDREW: Unless I’m already forgetting things, I think this has to be our first example of someone going down a hill on an uncontrollable contraption, in this case Blamire on the unpowered motorbike. And we get Compo in a silly outfit to boot! Series two has definitely seen the series evolve in terms of the type of story the show likes to offer.

BOB: From the opening scenes, I actually thought this episode was going to be rather a thoughtful, talky instalment. The conversation about Blamire’s encounter with Mabel Duckinfield (‘She foisted herself onto me birdwatching expeditions’) takes on a slightly poignant quality when you realise that Blamire is talking about fleeting romantic trysts that happened – what, thirty years previously? Forty? He really is desperately clinging onto his youth, and you have to conclude that this might be one of the few romantic encounters he’s ever had in his life. Blamire rants to Compo about the ‘Clockwork Napoleon that you broke at school’… yegods, they’re living in the past so vividly that it’s almost painful.

ANDREW: Blamire’s lack of romantic entanglements goes right back to the pilot episode and Clegg’s line, “Sometimes, Cyril, I could swear that your idea of orgasm is a quick flick through Burke’s Peerage.” 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.

BOB: And, shortly after, we have Compo musing ‘I wonder what it’s like being dead?’ to Clegg in the library. And it isn’t especially played for laughs, it’s a melancholic conversation between two men rapidly approaching their sixtieth birthdays. It then transpires that their friend Little Billy Aubrey (who presumably carried his school nickname all the way through his life) has died.

From then on, the episode turns on a sixpence as our heroes decide to approach his widow with a view to buying Billy’s old motorbike! It really is – if you’ll pardon the pun – something of a gear change. And yet again it’s Clegg who initiates this, expressing an insatiable desire to travel! Even though ‘it’s not so much your gleaming speedbird, more your ruptured duck’.

Those thoughtful opening scenes aside, this is undoubtedly the most slapstick-heavy episode we’ve seen so far…we even get Compo attempting to eat a sandwich through his crash helmet visor. Although the whole motorbike caper is given a bit of an edge by the fact that we actually see some blood! Compo ends up with a nosebleed, and has a vivid crimson streak of blood running down his face… a scene that gave me a bit of a start, as Summer Wine usually occupies a world in which no real harm ever comes to our heroes.

ANDREW: I felt exactly the same way. Can you imagine if they had kept up this level of realism towards the end? Viewers would have been calling age concern in their millions!

I have to say, though, that the sandwich gag is the first time I would say that Bill Owen has missed the comedy mark. I don’t think it’s completely his fault, the staging is very awkward, but you can tell that even the studio audience recognise the gag as a bit of a clunker.

BOB: Other bits and bobs that struck me… Sid’s very 1970s flirting with the three giggly young shop girls in the café (‘I’d hate anything to run over your lovely little puddings’), the nosy traffic warden (delightfully identified by Clegg as ‘David Cogden, The Black Tulip’ without a further word of explanation), the fact that Clegg claims to have undertaken a night class in Western Philosophy and Wine-Tasting, and… wait for it…

At the end of the episode, Clegg is still the proud owner of a fully-functional motorbike! Do we ever see it again? I wonder if it’s still abandoned at the back of his shed, rusting away and covered in cobwebs…

ANDREW: And so we say goodbye to Blamire, as Michael Bates will be nowhere to be seen once series three commences.

BOB: These first two series have a gritty, rough and ready atmosphere that I think slowly begins to lessen from hereon, and lots of that feel is down to Michael Bates who brings a real edge to proceedings. Whereas future ‘third men’ tend to be buffoons, Blamire really isn’t to be messed with. His military bearing is genuine and impressive, and yet there’s a real air of melancholy and resentment about the character too… once his army career is over, Blamire has no option to return to Holmfirth to live alone, idling away his days with his old school friends – something that never quite seems to sit comfortably with him. Bates brings all of that to the character with some very subtle and studied performances, and it’s a shame he doesn’t get a proper onscreen farewell in the show. There’s nothing at the end of this episode to suggest we’ll never see him again.

ANDREW: Given the advanced years his co-stars would reach, Bates was really short changed when passed away in 1978 aged just fifty-seven. I wonder if he would have returned for a second run ala Foggy. A pie in the sky thought, but a nice one.

BOB: It would have been fun to see him pop back for a guest appearance during the Brian Wilde years, especially as there are suggestions in Series 3 that Blamire and Foggy were very good friends with a strong mutual respect.

ANDREW: I have to use this instalment of our journey to express how sorry I am to have underestimated Bates in the past. Previously, I had dismissed Blamire a little as the proto-Foggy. I saw the character and the performance as a sign of a series that hadn’t quite hit its stride. Now this might well be true of the series, but not of Bates, who has delivered a fantastic performance throughout. From little character touches like checking his watch as a clock tower strikes on location, to setting a blustering template for ‘third men’ to follow, he really delivered. He was a breed of actor you don’t really find in TV comedy any more and I’m going to miss him.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by David Cook on June 11, 2011 at 11:26 am

    And it’s farewell to Michael Bates…

    Watching the early years of Last Of The Summer Wine is a it like watching the first year or so of The Avengers – you expect film, zany plots and Emma Peel catfight action but end up watching something vastly different but somehow oddly familier.

    It’s not quite the show that you remember, people drink, smoke and (mildly) swear, while Holmfirth in the early ’70’s was no picture postcard, dull, over-cast and grimey (and shaby – not just Compo – the likes of Clegg and Sid have hair out of place and look seedy)and the show reflects this. It’s this sense of realism that strikes you, that help makes it a little strange.

    I wonder what would have happened to the show if ill-heath hadn’t forced Bates to leave (as I understand it, he was diagonised with a serious illness – cancer perhaps – and couldn’t cope with extended filming in Yorkshire), would it have been such a long running show or would it have developed in other ways?

    The sad fact is that to many people (even me!) the show is ‘Compo, Clegg and Foggy’, with poor Cyril consigned to the dustbins of history 9I don’t think he gets a mention in First Of The Summer Wine – but then, that show, understandably throws continuity out of the window and gives Seymour leading character status).

    But Bates is a brillient actor and deserves to be remembered (he’s also got an amazing CV, which includes significant roles in Bedazzled and Frenzy).

    Reply

    • Posted by Andrew T. Smith on June 13, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      What a lovely comment to leave Blamire on. Thanks David.

      Have you considered entering our Compo-tition? Something along those lines would be fab.

      Reply

  2. Great site! The Blamire episodes are among my favourites. Did you know that most of the Third Series was written with Blamire in mind? It should have been “The Kink in Blamire’s Niblick”. But Brian Wilde was tremendous as Foggy

    Reply

  3. I loved Michael Bates as an actor. He crops up all over the place., including a brief moment in Clockwork Orange as the officer Alex first encounters when arriving at the Ludovico centre. He made quite an impression on me in that short appearance.

    And I think he turns in a cracking performance in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. There are whole essays to be written on how well he played the part of Ranji Ram, and why he was perfect for that role, whatever revisionist opinion may say about the casting. And it’s been nice to hear him again recently in some of the re-runs of the Navy Lark that were on Radio4 Extra recently.

    Reply

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