Summer Winos (3.3+3.4)

3.3 The Great Boarding House Bathroom Caper

ANDREW: The first of a two-part seaside adventure? Oh, Mr. Clarke, you are spoiling us. It is a little odd seeing the trio let loose outside of the confines of the Holm valley and the idea of packing up all of your characters and sending them off on holiday has become somewhat of a sitcom cliché over the years, but within the context of these episodes I think it works. Compo, Clegg, Foggy, Ivy, Sid, Gordon, Nora and Wally aren’t off to sunny Spain for some atypical glitz, glamour and antics – they’re heading for a weekend in Scarborough. This minibreak is suitably low rent, cheap and cheerful; Carry On At Your Convenience without the razzmatazz.

BOB: Indeed, and it’s a lovely, unexpected treat to have the title music and opening credits playing out over shots of the seaside! I’m expecting to be overwhelmed with nostalgia during this episode, as family visits to Scarborough were a regular feature of my 1970s summers. There’s every chance we might see my Gran in the background, stepping from a Bee-Line bus and picking sand from a bag of greasy chips wrapped in a copy of the Daily Mirror…

Nice line from Clegg in the opening scenes, as they’re waiting for the bus to arrive – ‘The older I get, the more I seem to like dozy people’. I can appreciate his sentiments… as I race towards my 40th birthday, I do tend to find deep thinkers and over-analyzers increasingly hard work. We all need a Compo in our lives, and he’s resplendent in a lovely stripy blazer in this episode… as Foggy puts it, ‘You look like a National Health gigolo!’

The interaction between Wilde, Sallis and Owen in these opening scenes is superb… so incredibly fast, and funny, and nuanced. I can actually see a bit of Harpo, Groucho and Chico in them. Cue Drew’s ears pricking up!

ANDREW: I guess what we see of Scarborough in the background of this episode represents the beginning of the long drawn out end for the traditional British seaside holiday. By the mid 1970s foreign travel was just about becoming affordable for working class families and certainly by the point at which my family visited the town in the 1990s a seaside getaway seemed like the exception as opposed to the rule. I think I can pinpoint why; from what I remember, nothing had progressed in terms of the tourist industry in those twenty-odd years. In particular, the boarding house at which our trio stay seems eerily familiar. I can almost smell the aroma of stale cabbage and not-so-freshly laundered sheets. Then again, maybe we just went to a crap B+B!

BOB: Does anyone even say the phrase ‘boarding house’ any more? You’re right, it’s very evocative… all tatty lace curtains, floral wallpaper and an octogenarian waitress in Edwardian maid’s outfit. And yet, despite this, there’s still a beautifully-observed scene in the dining room where Ivy – bless her – affects a very well-heeled voice to compliment the landlady. ‘Seldom have we received such service,’ she trills, in exactly the same voice that my mother affected when answering the phone throughout the 1970s. It was still an age where ‘speaking nicely’ was considered correct social practice, and despite her working class Yorkshire background, clearly Ivy would be mortified to think that anyone could consider her (gasp!) ‘common’.

ANDREW: The idea of Ivy and Sid piling into a bus on holiday with three old blokes that loiter around their café might seem a little odd, but the fact that they do creates a cozy sense community. I don’t think the concept of community breaks really exists any more, does it? I remember that, when I was in primary school, practically our entire street would pile into a coach and visit Beamish for the day. It was an annual event; a byproduct of the fact that the street was originally built for workers at the nearby paint factory and that pretty much everyone who lived their still either worked there, had retired from there, or knew somebody eligible who could get them tickets. That’s all over now, and has been for some time, as families move, retirees passed on and the sense of community in that street gradually faded away. I know it’s not quite the same thing, but this episode has succeeded in making me a little nostalgic for a change!

BOB: I’m absolutely overwhelmed with nostalgia by this episode, but – as I expected – it’s Scarborough that’s doing the trick. There’s a beautiful scene where Compo, Clegg and Foggy mess around in the Penny Arcades, and it’s the arcades as my Gran would have loved them – no fruit machines or Space Invader machines yet, just one-armed bandits and Shove Ha’Penny. The sun beats down on sandy pavements, and unsuspecting holidaymakers bustle past in cheesecloth shirts and flares, immortalized in a little piece of TV history. It’s absolutely a window into my early childhood.

I think we need to give a little mention to Ronnie Hazelhurst at this point as well, his scores are so evocative and carefully-crafted… over the scene I mentioned drifts a lovely, lilting flute rendition of Scarborough Fair, and it’s just perfect. A fabulous episode.

3.2 Cheering Up Gordon

BOB: I’d forgotten this was a two-parter and was surprised to find us still in Scarborough at the start of this episode! And – wahey – this is the first episode I can remember actually seeing on TV back in the day, because I distinctly recall an earnest school morning discussion between me and my friend Doug Simpson about the nature of the ‘popsicle’ scene…

Foggy: Lots of people swim in the North Sea.
Clegg: Only if they fall off a boat…
Compo: It’ll turn your popsicle blue!

It must have been a repeat, as I didn’t know Doug until 1983, but I clearly remember us debating whether Compo, when referring to a ‘popsicle’ was actually referring to… well… you know… he couldn’t be, could he? But now, 28 years on, I think I can safely say that – yes! He is! Filth, from Roy Clarke! Whatever next? Well… a semi-naked Brian Wilde, that’s what…

ANDREW: When Foggy decides to strip off (PHWOAR) and venture into the sea, he’s really not that old looking is he? In fact, Brian Wilde was only around fifty at the time. This struck me with Clegg in the first series as well. Summer Wine has this reputation for being, ‘that show about old people’ but for at least half of its run it isn’t anything of the sort.

BOB: Wilde was 48/49 during the filming of this series, so no – by today’s standards he’d barely be considered middle-aged. He’s only a decade older than me! Do we assume that the character of Foggy is meant to be considerably older than Wilde, given that all three of the main characters were clearly schoolfriends, and that Clegg and Compo are obviously closer to sixty than fifty?

Great scene anyway – there’s a studio audience member who’s absolutely howling with laughter as Foggy runs into the sea, and I love that kind of thing. It’s probably just me, but studio audience laughter these days seems much more smooth and generic than it used to be! There are lots of 70s sitcoms where you can pick out individual audience members laughing… lots of coughing and little outbreaks of applause as well. It’s very charming.

ANDREW: Absolutely. There’s one chap who yaks his way through a good chunk of Dad’s Army  and one particularly hysterical woman during Are You Being Served who, for me, have just about become series regulars.
And in terms of dialogue, I think Roy Clarke is absolutely on fire at this stage. I laughed heartily, by myself, all the way through this episode – it’s just full of little gems. His writing for Wally Batty in particular is magnificent…

Nora: Are you going to sit there while he insults me?
Wally: No, I thought I’d go and have a look at the lifeboats.
Nora: You talk yourself into being miserable.
Wally: No I don’t, I just have to listen.
Nora: I don’t know what people must think. You’re on holiday.
Wally: Not really. If you’d come by yourself, then I’d have been on holiday. Remember that smashing fortnight when you had to go and nurse your mother?

I could listen to this all day. Joe Gladwin is just extraordinary – nobody has ever made twisted, hangdog misery so sensationally funny.

Compo’s nephew Gordon is a pleasant addition as well. As our representative from the younger generation he’s clearly fond of his ‘Uncle Bill’ but has no interest in the trio’s time wasting activities. In fact, he’s not really interested in any silliness at all.

BOB: We’ve seen a few of Compo’s family in these early episodes, haven’t we? Surprising, as he always seemed to be much more of a loner in later series. Gordon’s another lovely, world-weary character – very nicely played by Philip Jackson, who’ll forever be the Abbot Hugo in Robin Of Sherwood to me! He still pops up regularly on TV, but this is one of his earliest roles.

I have to mention that extraordinary scene on the beach as well, where Sid and Ivy – and there’s no easy way of putting this – discuss their sex life!

Ivy: You never talk to me, not even when me make love…
Sid: Not much to talk about is there, the rate we go at it? You still do it as if your mother’s watching.
Ivy: You should try and rouse me more…

Given that they spend most of the programme at violent loggerheads, you’d be forgiven for being amazed that Sid and Ivy have a sex life at all… and, in broader sitcoms, great comic play would undoubtedly be made of them being trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage. But their relationship is nothing of the sort – at the beginning of this scene, Ivy is wistfully lost in a romantic magazine, dreaming of the lithe-limbed lotharios that inhabit its pages. She absolutely wants to be loved and to be seduced, and still dreams that Sid can be that dream-like hunk in real life.

I think we learn a lot about Ivy in this sequence… the fact that he falls so short of her ideals again and again is clearly the source of her constant anger and frustration at Sid. And, maybe, against the male gender as a whole? None of the idle, child-like men in Summer Wine are a match for the perfect, silky-voiced lovers in her books and magazines, and yet she can’t give up on the hopeless dream that, one day, Sid just MIGHT be. She really can’t. She has to keep dreaming… and just taking what she can from Sid in the hope that, some day, things WILL be perfect. 

An unexpected bit of sauciness at the end of the episode as well, when Compo heads out on the pull, and succeeds in bringing four women back from a local nightclub – one each for himself, Foggy, Clegg and Gordon! We only ever hear their screeching voices outside the boarding house door, but by crikey… you can just smell the gin-soaked breath and stale Benson and Hedges, and see the smudged lipstick and laddered fishnet stockings. And all in vain, because Gordon – bless him – is already enjoying a quiet game of chess with a charming redhead called Josie.

Clegg, predictably, runs upstairs. ‘Supposing they’d raped us…’ he trembles, later, reminding us that Summer Wine isn’t ready to settle into cosy teatime whimsy just yet.

Anyway, I loved these episodes. Can you tell? Absolutely my favourite of anything we’ve seen so far, and I think the series has hit an extraordinary peak at this stage. I genuinely can’t wait to carry on. 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by David Brunt on June 28, 2011 at 12:01 am

    There was a nice run of early episodes around 1983/4, in one of those protracted gaps where there was hardly any new episodes. Most or all of Season 3 was in there.

    The ultimate classic audience voice is in “Steptoe and Son” – ‘Divided we stand’, where old man Steptoe’s trilby peeks out over the top of the partition wall as he walks past. Causing some old ratbag to squeal and shout “look at his hat!”.

    Reply

  2. Posted by David Cook on June 29, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I reckon that Proust must have been a Yorkshireman, as, like Bob, I get a nostalgic rush watching this two-parter! While other comedies would feature their heroes travelling to such exotic climes as the Costa Plonka or Els Bels, here we get Scarborough. In a way it strengthend the shows realism for me, as not only was this a real place, but one where I used to go on holiday too.

    Watching our trio wander through the town, I’m reliving my ‘seventies holidays, re-experiencing the sights and sounds of far distant days, wearing silly hats like Compo, reading the saucy postcards like Clegg, playing the one armed bandits, half deafened by the rattle of coins and the ever-present bingo callers. I swear I can almost smell that special seaside smell (a mixture of ozone and fish and chips) and i have a broad grin when I glimpse the dinosaurs in episode two (dinosaurs, another icon of my ‘seventies childhood).

    All this nostalga almost (but not quite) over-runs the episodes themselves. Thankfull Clark and our heroes are at their peak (Foggy feels at this point that he’s always been there) and it’s great to see Sid and Ivy outside the cafe.

    Philip Jackson (he’ll always be Inspector Japp to me!) is fantastic as Gordon and it’s a shame that he only ever re-appears once.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Jakob Pieterson on June 30, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I love these 2 episodes…even though i was born in 1978 we visited Scarborough every year (I still have to visit every year) and it hasn’t changed a huge amount.

    The thing which makes me smile is that the voices of the women at the end, are clearly Kathy Staff and Jane Freeman (Nora and Ivy)…you can recognise Kathy’s voice particularly when she shouts “Are you coming?!”.

    Reply

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