Summer Winos (3.7+4.1)

 3.7 Isometrics and After

In which Foggy yearns for physical jerks and Compo puts something nasty in a matchbox…

BOB: After everything I said about Series 3 having a distinctly different tone, we’re suddenly back to a very traditional Summer Wine episode – in fact, I’m even tempted to wonder if this instalment might have started life as a Blamire episode, it’s so reminiscent of that earlier style. There’s a lot of meandering and musing in the countryside, a typically lusty Wainwright diatribe in an extended library sequence, and more than a few gritty political references. 

ANDREW: I get the impression that Clarke is a hoarder of ideas and gags, stockpiling material that could come in handy later on. As you say, this does feel a little like an episode from the first or second series, but there are examples from much later on as well, like the first feature length episode being based upon an older novel or the characters of Howard, Pearl and Marina being extracted from a touring stage show. That’s the benefit of everything being written by one man, I suppose; nothing goes to waste!

BOB: And to cap it all, we begin with a marvelously morbid speech from Compo… ‘When tha’s dead, tha’s dead,’ he ponders, ‘I saw our Walter when that safe landed on him, and if he was having any sort of afterlife, he wasn’t enjoying it’. Again, just beautifully economic writing – from a single line we learn about Compo’s atheism, his dubious family background, the grisly death of his relative and his gruesomely black sense of humour. When Roy Clarke’s on form, his dialogue is just unbeatable.

Having described this episode as being evocative of the earlier style, there is one major difference – Clegg’s character. We were frequently surprised in Series 1 by Clegg’s swearing and his use of some surprisingly fruity (and grumpy) turns-of-phrase, but in this episode he deliberately swerves to avoid even the most minor of cussing… ‘People who want to be nice are a pain in the ar-r-r-m…’ he stammers. And, having been the main instigator of adventures during the Blamire years, he now steadfastly refuses to join in with Foggy’s exercise regime. The gentrification of Clegg is complete!

ANDREW: And he’s clearly been scarred Blamire’s canoeing scheme. Having been forced to walk through the town in a swimming costume, Clegg’s got no desire to encourage a similar experience. I love the lines, “I should be reluctant to start anything that might involve taking me vest off,” and “This latest plot of yours has the squeak of plimsolls and the flash of nipples about it. Or is it the flash of plimsolls and the squeak of nipples?” That pretty much sums up the reason I’ve stayed away from the swimming baths for the past ten years…  

BOB: There’s a lovely scene in this episode where Clegg and Compo wander to a babbling brook without the isometrics-obsessed Foggy, and we get a real impression of just how close a friendship they’ve forged over the decades. ‘There’s some good rabbit droppings here!’ exclaims a gleeful Compo. ‘Fill your pockets kid, there’s nobody looking,’ grins Clegg and the warmth between the two characters is a joy to behold… two very disparate characters on the face of it, but Compo’s enthusiasm for the base and grotty aspects of life seems to bring out a childlike glow in Clegg as well.

You wonder what their relationship was like during the decades when Clegg was married? I can only picture a classic Bob and Terry relationship, with Mrs Clegg surely disapproving of Compo’s presence in ‘her’ Norman’s life. And yet, in these latter years, they’ve absolutely rekindled what was surely a close childhood bond. And utterly regressed to those halcyon days. It’s great to watch, and Sallis and Owen make a fine double act.

ANDREW: I can imagine the two barely seeing each other while married. Don’t forget that Compo was married for a bit as well. If so it would play into the impression we have of them making up for lost time by spending so much of their retirement out and about.

BOB: And brace yourself, but we have another historic Summer Wine ‘first’ to report… this is our inaugural sighting of Compo’s legendary matchbox! And it’s the mild-mannered librarian Miss Moody who has the honour of being his first female victim… screaming in horror as Compo shows her the terrors within. What a fabulous running joke, and how gloriously evocative of that bygone generation of Northern men – my childhood was filled with strange neighbours and elderly relatives who kept all manner of gruesome souvenirs for posterity… owl pellets, teeth, and full menageries of stuffed and pickled beasties.

ANDREW: The tradition continues. I’ve told you about my Mam and her box of loose teeth, haven’t I?

I genuinely have no idea of what Compo could have in there. I wonder if Clarke knew.

BOB: Interesting to see that Nora is now working in the café! There were suggestions in an earlier episode that she didn’t have much time for Ivy, but Sid (in a nice piece of continuity) now seems to have acquired the mobile chip van that he was saving for, and so Nora provides an extra pair of hands in the café – ‘because she doesn’t have recognisable boobs’, according to Ivy. I like to think the thawing of their relationship began during that idyllic weekend in Scarborough earlier in the series, but then it’s possible I think too much about these things.

ANDREW: No, I think you’re on the money there. There was a nice sense of community in those episodes and given that Ivy was on her best behavior at the bed and breakfast I’d like to think she and Nora were brought together by forced civility. I think those two episodes sort of kickstarted what later develops into the extended Summer Wine family, clearly marking that characters like Sid, Ivy, Nora and Wally are continuing regulars rather than guest artists.

Speaking of guest characters, we say goodbye to Mr. Wainwright once again, this time for good. It makes sense really, as the library isn’t used much now that the series has found it’s feet in the countryside and café, but I’ll miss his political spin on pulling. It’s actually quite nice to leave him at this point actually. When first introduced, Wainwright was the intellectual dreamer with his eyes on a Eliza Doolittle protégé, but in this episode it’s clear that Miss Moody is more on the ball than he is.

MISS MOODY: Elliot’s Wasteland is depressingly real, Mr Wainwright.

MR. WAINWRIGHT: Absolutely. I can’t understand why the council doesn’t slap him with a compulsory purchase.

BOB: And, in a charming finish to a hugely enjoyable third series, our three heroes actually ride into the sunset on horseback. Surely Roy Clarke’s little homage to the golden age of the Hollywood western. Amazing to contemplate that it’s barely half-a-dozen episodes since we were first introduced to Foggy Dewhurst, and yet the series now seems unthinkable without him – what a huge testament to Brian Wilde’s skills as a comic actor. We’re about to enter, arguably, the golden age of Summer Wine. 

4.1 Ferret Come Home

In which Compo loses a little something and Clegg gets uptight about beefburgers…

BOB: And so we arrive in 1977, the year I started school!

ANDREW: And ten years before I was born!

BOB: I thought it was worth pointing out that, although the series later became synonymous with early Sunday evening entertainment, for the first ten years of Summer Wine it was very much a late-night midweek show! These earlier episodes tended to be broadcast on a Monday or Wednesday evening, and I’ve a feeling that the first few series even went out in a surprisingly adult 9.30pm slot. Which possibly explains the grittier, more robust feel of these early years – it was very much intended for a different kind of audience to the latter series.

Having said that, this episode is rather gentle and whimsical… the crux of the plot being Compo’s lost ferret, and the possibility that said rodent has taken up uninvited residence in the Batty household. The plot, in the main, plays second fiddle to some top-notch Roy Clarke musings, though. ‘Funny things, feet,’ ponders Clegg, at one stage. ‘If they were turned the other way round, we’d be able to stand much closer to walls’. These are men with LOTS of time on their hands.

ANDREW: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but from the offset there is something very different about the opening of this new series. There aren’t any major changes though; just a lot of little things that add up to change the tone.

The first thing that struck me is that everything, both outdoor and indoor, is brighter – especially the Café – pulling us away from the grim atmosphere of the earlier shows and pushing towards something a little lighter in tone. A little more picturesque.. I should restate that this isn’t a pronounced difference, just a subtle shift, but it took a while for my eyes to get used to everything. Even Compo’s hat is a lighter shade of Green!

Ronnie Hazlehurst also seems to be encouraged to provide more incidental music than before. This episode, in comparison to the first series is drenched in his lilting melodies; in a good way. I particularly loved his adaptation of the Singing in the Rain” theme during the scene in which the trio enjoy some ice-creams while hiding under umbrellas.

There’s also the look of our leads. Is it just me or does everybody suddenly look a bit older. Foggy’s hair is longer and wispier, Clegg is greyer and now even Compo’s stubble has turned white. This aging, however, might be attributed to make-up artist Janis Gould, who wasn’t credited last series. Then again, they might genuinely be aging into the parts; it’s been a year since the last series and John Comer in particular looks a bit worse for wear.

BOB: For all Clegg has become more whimsical over the course of four series, he’s still capable of some splendid rants about the ravages of modernity, and what he sees as the passing of ‘his’ beloved England. ‘There are generations growing up who think that meat really tastes like that!’ he grouches, in a rather unprovoked tirade about the ubiquity of the frozen beefburger. Later, he has a grumble about the reasonably recent implications of decimalization… ‘With the will of politicians to get rid of everything British, even the humble guinea pig will have to become 105p…’ he ponders, brilliantly.

This stuff is never out of character, and I absolutely buy into Clegg as a man mourning the loss of the comfortable, significantly smaller world that he enjoyed during his younger days, but I’m also beginning to wonder if Clegg is sometimes a mouthpiece for Roy Clarke… a lot of these grumbles seem very heartfelt and passionate, and it’s hard not to imagine Clarke taking great joy in pouring his own personal middle-aged grumbles and grouches into Clegg’s extended dialogue. Foggy and Compo are great characters, but clearly not an extension of Clarke’s personality at all. With Clegg, I’m not so sure.

There’s a glorious moment in this episode when Foggy, creeping around on the Batty doorstep in search of the missing ferret, is unaware of a furious-looking Nora opening the door behind him. And – in hilarious unison – the studio audience gasp in horror. It’s a fabulous reaction, and what a testament to the impact these characters have had on the public consciousness in just a few short years. In an era of three TV channels that – in the pre-home video era – absolutely HAD to be watched live, shows like Summer Wine became a huge part of our collective cultural experience, and there’s your proof, right there. The audience KNOW these characters intimately, and absolutely buy into the fiction of Summer Wine. They know how Nora’s going to react before Roy Clarke has even put pen to paper, because Nora – as with all of these characters – has become real to them. That gasp is the sound of TV viewers completely inhabiting this little fictional world, and it’s beautiful. Brought a little rosy glow to my heart, that did.

ANDREW: You’re spot on there. Every essential element of the series is firmly in place now and it’s great to actually hear the audience anticipate certain actions. It’s also a little strange to me, though, how much the studio audience itself becomes part of the show. We’ll never know their names and in all probability they’re mostly dead by now, but in all sitcoms of this era the audiences are a character in and of themselves.

BOB: A nice little scene in Compo’s house towards the end of this episode, and a timely 1970s reference as Compo spills milk over himself… ‘Are you getting enough?’ grins Foggy, the tagline to a late 70s advertisement from the Milk Marketing Board. We get a good look at Compo’s décor in this scene, and there’s a lot of effort and attention to detail been poured into it by some inventive set-dresser or other. The nick-nacks on his walls are charmingly reflective of his character… we see naked Pirelli Calendar girls and beach bombshells snipped out of newspapers (probably during the baking summer of 1976, the quintessential ‘Phew, What A Scorcher!’ year). There’s an ancient photo of a shaggy black dog, clearly once loved by Compo but now presumably long-deceased, and – on the opposite wall – the spoils of decades worth of mild kleptomania… a sign offering the stern instruction to ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS’ has clearly been pilfered from some pub or boarding house during a long-lost drunken escapade, and there are others that I couldn’t quite decipher. It’s absolutely the home of the light-fingered, single layabout that we’ve come to know and love.

ANDREW: Very much like the “museum” we ended up visiting at the location of Compo’s house some thirty years later. In effect, a room full of tat, but very easy to get sentimental over.

BOB: And so we finish with a bizarre and oddly beautiful ballet of passers-by tiptoeing around Nora Batty’s doorstep, fruitlessly searching for a non-existant contact lens as Compo’s lost ferret gazes down from the window above. It’s marvelously choreographed and effortlessly strange, and the perfect coda to a charming, warm-hearted episode.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by David Brunt on March 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Re: TX times

    The pilot was shown at 8pm on a Thursday.
    Seasons 1-4 started at 9:25 on Monday or Wednesdays.
    Xmas 1978 was the amazingly late 10:40.
    Season 5 and the 1979 special turned up at 8:30.
    Xmas 1981 was 7:15.
    Back to 9:25 for Season 6.

    Thereafter, Xmas episodes aside, it was always on a Sunday apart for season 13 (1991), which was Friday at 8pm for some strange reason..

    Reply

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