4.4 + 4.5

4.4. Flower Power Cut

In which the Grim Reaper looms large…

BOB: Drew, I remember one of the first conversations we ever had about Summer Wine, and you said it was ‘essentially three old men talking about death’. I think this episode is pretty much the epitome of that! We start with our heroes being almost mown down by a speeding hearse containing their late friend Murdoch (‘the first time he’s ever passed us without raising two fingers’ – Compo) and from here onwards we get 28 minutes of vaguely surreal musings on the nature of mortality.

It’s a very blunt, Northern, 1970s attitude to death as well. Unsentimental, almost, which rings true for me… ‘Eeee well, when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go,’ was one of my Gran’s catchphrases whenever a friend or a neighbour sloped off this mortal coil, and my parents now are equally stoic. Us pampered youngsters are cosseted and grew up in an age of gigantic medical advances, but for their generation, death was far more commonplace. Part and parcel of everyday life, if that’s not too perverse a turn of phrase. They’d lived through World Wars, lost young and old friends and relatives to all manner of illness and disaster, and still maintained that stiff upper lip.

And so we get that most staple of 70s sitcom scenarios… an open coffin in the parlour, with Compo even straightening the corpse’s wonky tie. ‘He knew he were dying, I telled him…’ muses Murdoch’s widow Annie, almost proud of the accuracy of her prognosis.

ANDREW: I found the entirety of this episode quite awkward (Not in a bad way) and I think the coffin scene was the height of this. The curtains are drawn and that set is tiny and absolutely dominated by the casket. Just look at how hunched up our trip seems to be; their movements are just as restricted as those of their friend in the coffin when forced back into a scene of domesticity they have moved beyond. The look Clegg gives Murdoch’s wife as she talks about she and her sister foretelling the man’s death is at once hateful and terrified; we know what really killed the poor sod.

I also love Compo’s request that no scruffy bugger’s like himself be aloud into his own funeral. It gets back to what you said about unsentimentality; Compo can make throwaway comments about his own mortality over the body of a dead man because he knows and accepts that his own passing will be along sooner rather than later.

BOB: From the funeral onwards, we enter into a world of almost-surreally morbid whimsy. Clegg asserts that flowers are alive and have feelings, and I can’t decide whether he’s genuine, or just trying to wind up Foggy. Compo, meanwhile, decides to attack life with fresh vigour. ‘I want to feel the blood rushing through me wellies…’ he proclaims. Using Murdoch’s funeral as inspiration, every line of Roy Clarke’s script then urges us to celebrate life, and vitality, in every shape and form. It’s one of the most overt and positive messages from the writer I can ever recall seeing in Summer Wine.

And it culminates in the splendidly surreal sight of Compo, Clegg and Foggy sitting cross-legged in a sun-dappled dingly dell, playing ‘Greensleeves’ to the plants on three discordant recorders. It’s bizarre and beautiful – like a scene from some wigged-out 1960s Summer of Love documentary. Summer Wine on acid, and a nice climax to one of the strangest and most atypical episodes we’ve seen so far. And the closing credits roll over a shot of Murdoch’s flower-strewn grave, just to ram the message home further. That’s where we’re all heading, so we should make the most of things while we still can.

ANDREW: Although he does turn things on their head at the end of the episode, I reckon that Clegg was really jarred by Murdoch’s funeral and his own near-death experience at the start of the episode. The moment where they are discovered by the birdwatchers is probably the point at which he snaps out of it!

Listen to the studio audience, though. They really don’t know what to make of Clegg during this episode. Actually, this is something I’ve picked up upon in quite a few of the episodes so far – Clegg at his most existential and whimsical seems to be an incredibly difficult character for the audience to get their head around. Compo will swear a bit and the audience will roar with laughter, but when Clegg goes off on a tangent there’s an almost reverential hush. In any other sitcom this might be grounds to scale back on this aspect of Clegg’s character in order to make room for more jokes, but Clarke is clearly in love with him. Of all the characters, Clegg is Clarke’s alter-ego and I love the fact that he’s using a mainstream, flagship sitcom to set the world to rights in such a unique way.

BOB: Couple of interesting little contemporary references I noticed… would the conversation about Foggy being an ‘unqualified poof’ make it into a mainstream BBC1 sitcom today? Or is that purely a product of its time? And I thought Foggy’s comment about Compo looking like ‘an ancient Sex Pistol’ was funny, if surprisingly jarring for a Last of the Summer Wine script. Always had Foggy down as more of a Buzzcocks man, myself…

4.5 Who Made A Bit Of A Splash In Wales, Then?

In which Foggy finds romance!

BOB: Well, Roy Clarke has certainly decided to tinker with the format here… we’re suddenly pitched into an opening sequence in which Foggy appears to be on the verge of abruptly leaving the series! Amazingly, he’s found romance with an attractively mature lady in Wales. I’ll admit I was expecting some kind of pay-off in which it transpires that the relationship isn’t all that it seems (‘It gives them both the illusion of romance’ muses Clegg)… but no, Foggy and his lady seem to be genuinely in love, and his friends are left pottering around Holmfirth, miserable, lost and bereft of his company.

Until, of course, they decide to hire a car and pay him a visit… with Sid and Ivy in tow, under the pretext of visiting Ivy’s sister en route. And so we get some more curiously frank 1970s attitudes to sex… as Ivy clambers into the car, Compo brazenly attempts to look up her skirt – his childlike persona veering dangerously into bona fide sex pest territory. And then Sid openly admits he was ‘hoping to get round a few of those Welsh barmaids’! Idle male banter, or were unreconstructed 1970s husbands generally accepted to like ‘a bit on the side’, and their long-suffering wives just stood back and… well, suffered?

ANDREW: Don’t ask me; I was but a glint in some café owner’s eye back then!

BOB: We see Clegg driving again, becoming increasingly nervous and incompetent behind the wheel of the car. There’s a lovely scene where our heroes are lost in the Welsh countryside, and there’s clearly a hell of a summer storm brewing in the distance! The skies are absolutely black, and full of thunder. Clearly just a happy accident, but it creates a gorgeous late-summer atmosphere.

It nicely foreshadows the tense scenes with Foggy as well, as Compo and Clegg finally arrive at his Welsh retreat, finding him holed up with his charming lady-friend and her seemingly frosty mother. The relationship between Foggy and Compo is nicely played by Wilde and Owen here… he’s genuinely mortified by Compo’s very presence in the house, clearly desperate not to offend his new, middle-class companions. He’s like a teenage boy, ushering his first girlfriend away from his embarrassing parents. It actually feels very odd to see such familiar Summer Wine characters in very well-to-do suburban 1970s settings… the house, the street and the cars on the drives are right out of Butterflies or Terry and June. It’s a stark contrast to the soot-stained terraces of Holmfirth.

ANDREW: I get the impression that, had Clarke thought of this idea a few years later, this scenario would have warranted a special length episode. The idea of Compo and Clegg being soo lonely without Foggy that they’ll drive across the country to hassle him is a lovely idea, but there’s not really enough time to do the story justice in thirty minutes. I could quite happily have spent that amount of time watching Compo kick the back of Ivy’s seat as they potter along the M56. According to Google Maps, it would have taken them about one hour and nineteen minutes to make it to the Welsh border alone. That’s a long time to be stuck in the car with Compo, even if he does claim to have washed that morning.

BOB: And, in a nice side-story, we actually meet Ivy’s sister, with Jean Boht putting in a fine snooty turn, well-served by some prime Roy Clarke dialogue. ‘I don’t think I’ve seen you since I papered the lounge,’ she trills, ‘I hope you like pale mustard’. You can almost smell the simmering social tension between the two sisters.

ANDREW: She seems quite wasted here. As you say, it’s a wonderful scene and performance. Even if the character doesn’t make her way back into the series, her spiritual sisters will continue on in Clarke’s writing – see Edie Pegden and Hyacinth Bucket for a couple of examples of one of the writer’s favorite archetypes.

BOB: The episode ends, predictably, with Compo and the aforementioned frosty mother-in-law getting on like a house on fire (‘I want to see a pair of corsets hanging over the end of me bed’, he muses, longingly) and – even more predictably – with the injured Foggy rolling down a hill towards a shimmering lake.

ANDREW: I actually rolled my eyes a bit when it was first hinted that Foggy would end up in the lake. Even the studio audience seemed to cluck at the fact that twist was coming. Then, just at the last minute, it was all saved by some good old-fashioned retribution.

BOB: All in all, it’s a very un-Summer Wine episode, and never quite feels like it belongs to the rest of the series. An odd experiment.

And how did Foggy and his lady friend actually meet? Perhaps it’s best we never know…

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jakob Pieterson on April 3, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    I think my favourite moment in “Flower Power Cut” is a bit which wouldn’t survive today, they’d retake it. It’s the second scene in the Cafe, after the funeral, when Peter Sallis goes to sit down, overbalances and nearly falls over, starts laughing but continues his line. For some reason that always makes me smile

    You mentioned looking at the posters in the cafe in the last entry, and in “Who’s Made a Bit of a Splash in Wales Then” we get some cracking, genuine Wrestling ones, advertising a night of wrestling at the Victoria Hall, Hanley with Big Daddy and Bobby Ryan taking on “Tally-Ho Kaye”, “Roller Ball Rocco” and Tony Walsh in a Tag Team Match, and a smaller poster with names like “Zebra Kid”, “Mike Marino” and “Pat Roach” (who of course later starred in “Auf Wiedersehen Pet”). Other than that, it’s a very odd episode, feels quite out of place somehow

    Reply

  2. Posted by David on April 6, 2012 at 9:54 am

    The ending of “Flower Power Cut” is one of my favourites (as the whole’flowers are alive’ thing an elaborate practical joke on Clegg’s part?)

    “Wales” is indeed an odd episode. It’s hard to belive that Foggy’s in that situation and whatever does happen to her? I wonder if this was originally meant to have featured Michael Bates as didn’t his character end up romantically involved in Wales? Perhaps, a few years on, this was dusted down for Foggy?

    Reply

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