Summer Winos (3.1+3.2)

REMINDER: Our Compo-tition is open to entries until the 18th!

3.1 The Man From Oswestry

In which Compo and Clegg befriend the world’s most deadly ex-army corps sign writer the same height as John Wayne.

ANDREW: Losing one of the three main characters so early on in the run could easily have resulted in the end of Last of the Summer Wine, but Roy Clarke is firing all cylinders here.

BOB: Absolutely, this is a fabulous episode – really top notch British comedy. Full of great lines and alternating lovely pathos with some brilliant laugh-out-loud comedy. And superb performances from everyone. It’s as though all involved felt they had to be really on top of their game for what’s effectively a relaunch of the whole series.

ANDREW: Poor Compo. He’s devastated to have lost Blamire, and it’s totally believable. The opening scene in which Compo and Clegg visit the café and lament the loss of their friend to a Welsh widow are very clever on Clarke’s part. It reminds us of how essential the ‘third man’ is to the series’ premise and sets us up to welcome Foggy Dewhurst with open arms. Without Blamire, Clegg is reduced to fretting over oil stains on his trousers and some of the sparkle is gone from Compo’s impish eyes. Without a third man, the last of the summer is turning into Autumn for the duo. They need an authority figure to push them out of their comfort zone and force them into diverting situations.

BOB: I love the opening scenes, with Compo idly kicking tin cans around the square outside the café as he waits for it to open. It’s the second childhood syndrome again, isn’t it? He’s absolutely the kid with no friends in the corner of an empty playground. In the previous series we saw Clegg and Blamire struggling to hold a conversation in the temporary absence of Compo. Clegg and Compo aren’t quite THAT bad, but in the scene in the café, it’s clear that their lives are going to be much less interesting without an authority figure to rail against. ‘It’s times like this, when I’m low on fags, that I really miss old Cyril Blamire,’ says Compo, which is as profound an outpouring of emotion as you’d ever get from a Yorkshireman in the mid-1970s.

ANDREW: It’s nice to see that Blamire’s absence has been accounted for and that, rather than ignore his departure; Clarke has given the character somewhat of happy ending. Last episode we were talking about Blamire’s tragedy being routed in his lack of personal relationships, but he is now happily shacked up with “a certain lady.”

BOB: Yes, great to see the unseen Blamire being given a happy send-off. The letter that he sends to them (as read out loud by Clegg, to a tittering Compo) is superb, and almost a pre-curser to the hilarious missives that the never-seen Joe Maplin would dispatch to the staff in Hi-De-Hi. ‘Thanks to the Labour government, when the Russians finally come, all we’ll have left to throw at them is one Welsh-speaking Alsatian,’ he writes, building up to the revelation that Foggy Dewhurst will soon be returning to Holmfirth and joining the merry gang.

We’ve talked before about how we’re constantly dropped into an established Summer Wine world that’s existed long before the series started. Even early in this episode, we hear Compo talk about characters that we’ve never met and probably never will… ‘Vernon Hislop broke his pelvis – I had an eyewitness account in the bookies from a bloke called Trigger’.

Foggy is the most audacious example yet. In most other sitcoms, a new main character like Foggy would be as unfamiliar to the existing characters as he is to us viewers, and we’d get to know and appreciate his qualities and quirks together. But, as you’d expect in a close-knit community like Holmfirth, everyone already knows Foggy, and it’s us viewers that are on the back foot from the beginning. ‘A great long gormless streak from Arnold Crescent,’ as Compo describes him, ‘his mother wore brown boots’. Roy Clarke’s attention to detail in making Clegg and Compo’s memories -stretching back five decades to their collective childhoods – so complex and real is a joy.

ANDREW: There’s a lot of buildup to Foggy and I love Compo’s recollection that, “He looked like a pencil with a rubber on the end.” When he does turn up, Foggy is a tempest in a green kagool; as Clegg says a genuine fourteen-carrot guilt edged barmpot.  It’s lovely to see Clegg come to life at the sight of this maniac. It’s as if the character has regained his purpose; sort of like the toys in Toy Story who are lost without somebody to play with them.

BOB: There’s a glorious moment when Foggy is rummaging maniacally in his pockets for his notebook, and Clegg turns to Compo and gives him a look of utter, heartfelt joy. It’s only a fleeting second or two, but you have to wonder if there’s a little bit of Sallis’ true feelings in that look – it’s a real ‘everything is going to be alright, after all’ moment, and Sallis seems to be genuinely revelling in Brian Wilde’s performance.

And quite right too, because Wilde makes an absolutely magnificent debut. From the first second he appears, marshalling the troops on the bus into Holmfirth, Foggy is a fully-formed, three dimensional character, and a brilliant one to boot. Bereft of Blamire’s self-confidence and brashness, it’s made clear even at this stage that Foggy’s military exploits are pure fantasy, scarcely concealing a timid and awkward man who lives largely inside his own mind. And yes, it’s played for laughs, but Wilde’s performance is so nuanced and perfect that all of Foggy’s tics and quirks (The meditative ‘planning sessions’, staring into space with a rigid expression of silent concentration, are my favourite) are never anything less than believable. We’ve ALL met the smalltown loners and dreamers that weave themselves a fantasy persona… it’s a fictional staple made famous by Walter Mitty and Billy Liar alike. Foggy is the latest in a long line of these characters, and it’s absolute TV magic from the off. A sensational creation and a stunning performance.

ANDREW: Even the supporting characters recognize the suitability of this new recruit, with Compo’s cousin Big Malcolm remarking, “If you can keep him alive, you might get some mileage out of him.” Clarke is almost winking at the audience at this point and whispering, ‘Yeah, this new set-up is going to work out.’

BOB: I was convinced for a couple of seconds that it was legendary TV wrestler Big Daddy making an appearance as Big Malcolm! ‘I get these… murderous tempers,’ stammers Foggy, slamming a kung-fu palm onto the pub table, seconds after toasting the mysterious ‘Operation Swordblade’ with a heavenly-looking half-pint of bitter. I could watch him all day.

ANDREW: “On the whole you shouldn’t say anything to me that you couldn’t safely say to John Wayne.” What a line.

3.2 Mending Stuart’s Leg

In which our trio click into action and scale the dizzy heights of the Café roof.

ANDREW: Whereas Blamire was seemingly happy to do anything, provided he was doing something, Foggy definitely seems to require a mission in life. Instead of aimlessly roaming the hills, our trio will head out on expeditions and instead of loitering in the café, the greasy spoon is used as a base of operations, be they inspecting Sid’s roof or mending Stuart’s eponymous leg. The tone has already shifted from those early, meandering installments.

BOB: Ha! How odd, I was actually going to say that after a couple of tightly-focused episodes, we’re back to a bit of old school meandering! This episode is filled with delightful non-sequiteurs, many of which are provided by Foggy. ‘I made a good contact yesterday if you ever want any offcuts of polystyrene,’ he muses, a propos of nothing, in the opening scenes. ‘I see there’s been another failure in Soviet agriculture,’ he ponders later, during a gap in the conversation. I laughed out loud, as I did ten minutes later at the following exchange:

COMPO: What’s wrong with me trousers?
FOGGY: I realise you’re a socialist, but you could invest in another pair. You don’t have to wait for the council to pull the old pair down.

Contrasting political viewpoints, social and sartorial comment and a genuine, stunning laugh-out-loud gag in the space of two lines. Even if you knew nothing whatsoever about Compo or Foggy, you could still infer so much about their characters just by reading those two lines. Now THAT’s writing.

ANDREW: And here we have it, the first instance of Clegg chickening out of something; in this case he sheepishly declines the opportunity to climb a rickety ladder and inspect some slates.

BOB: Yes! Foggy has instantly become the instigator and director of their activities, and Clegg now seems firmly entrenched as the reluctant non-participant that he remains for the next three and a half decades.

There are a few little character moments that intrigued me in this episode… I think, Drew, you mentioned that an earlier episode very subtly alluded to the fact that Sid and Ivy were childless, and I missed it completely. This time, following a classic argument, we get Ivy wistfully musing ‘Oooh, if I’d had kids…’  and the sentence is left for us to finish ourselves. There’s a definite sense of regret and melancholy that hangs over this fleeting scene.

And good to see Mr Wainwright back at the library! With another doe-eyed young acolyte – Miss Moody – now in tow.

WAINWRIGHT: I used to dream of leading the people into a better society…
MISS MOODY: Maybe you still can?
WAINWRIGHT: (respectfuly) There’s so much paperwork.

Fabulous.

And is it me, or does Compo’s shouted riposte to Nora as she rebuffs his advances yet again (‘It wasn’t like this on VE Night!’) suggest that they had a brief romantic tryst thirty years earlier, presumably before she married Wally? It’s an absolute revelation to think that his feelings towards her aren’t just the unrequited lust of an old letch, but an attempt to recapture a sensational night of passion from their long-lost salad days, on an occasion of unparalleled emotional release for the whole country. If that’s true, it must have been one of the most glorious nights of Compo’s life, and brings a whole new perspective to his character and motivations. He wants to feel young and happy and virile again, and rekindling a fleeting encounter with Nora has become fixed in his mind as the only way to do so… even though her appearance and personality have – we assume – been completely transformed since then. He just doesn’t see that, though! One of our constant sources of comedy so far as been exactly why Compo lusts after this sour-faced battleaxe – it just seemed inexplicable. But at last we have an answer! To Compo, Nora will always be the vibrant 20-year-old lass that gave herself to him at the ultimate national celebration. I actually feel like 37 years of Summer Wine suddenly makes a lot more sense!

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