1979 Christmas Special: And A Dewhurst Up A Fir Tree

In which Foggy eyes up a festive investment…

BOB: Can we finally draw the conclusion that Roy Clarke’s not a fan of the festive period? Another Summer Wine Christmas special, and yet again it’s given a twist so that it’s not as Christmassy as we might expect. It’s set in late summer, with Foggy wanting to meticulously plan ahead for the forthcoming festivities! I can just imagine Clarke sitting down at his desk to write this on a sunny day in April, with steam flying out of his ears. ‘Christmas special? I’ll give them a Christmas special alright…’

ANDREW: Foggy claims that they are experiencing a pleasant day – the perfect kind of day for a well trained sniper, in fact – but I’d say this is one of the dullest, most under-exposed and grotty looking film inserts seen on the show so far. It’s meant to be set in late summer, but ironically could just about have passed for December had Clarke written a more traditional special.

BOB: Still, nice to see a bit of genuine plaggy-bag sledging! An essential part of any impoverished 1970s childhood. Or, indeed, second childhood. With ICI logos on the bags for added effect.

ANDREW: Then it’s off to Foggy’s house for a slideshow of last year’s washout of a Christmas. Actually, have we seen Foggy’s house before? I’m sure he was in a boarding house or something the last time his living arrangements came up. Foggy’s slides reveal the extent of our trio’s bad festive planning, including a Christmas tree fashioned from a bit of old privet and a dinner that consisted of one fish finger and a chip. This is all attributed to Compo’s desire to do all their shopping on Christmas Eve.

As a side note, I really love seeing slideshows or home movies in sitcoms. They give the impression that the characters exist outside of the half hour periods of time we spend in their company.

BOB: And so – our trio traipse around Holmfirth in August, desperately seeking Christmas cards and festive sweets. To no avail, obviously.

ANDREW: It’s strange to find a Summer Wine environment of this period that hasn’t really changed much. Card shops are still as cheap and cheerful as ever and the alternatively saccharine and cheeky designs of the cards themselves don’t appear to have evolved over the intervening decades.

It’s also quite refreshing to have a sitcom that revolves around characters fretting over the fact that Christmas hasn’t started early enough rather than that now hoary old cliché about it arriving earlier every year.

BOB: Nice to see that the café is grubby again! Sid’s walls were fabulously grotty in the earliest series, but I remember being disappointed that they’d had a fresh lick of paint a few years back. Now they seemed to smeared in dust, grime and chip fat once again, so all is right with the world.

ANDREW:  It’ll be all that summer holiday-maker trade; the chip pan’s been on overdrive.

BOB: Lovely little exchange here between Compo and Foggy as well… ‘Didn’t they ask you to join MI5?’ asks Compo, with a giggly barb in his voice. Foggy just gives a resigned but sincere shake of the head, leaving us in no doubt that – in his mind – his life is that of a fearsome and ruthless soldier whose dedication to Queen and Country is absolute. So many great sitcom characters thrive on the disparity between their perceived and actual lives, and Foggy is a prime example of that. The military heroics in his head, contrasted with the humdrum cowardice of his everyday life, are up there with Basil Fawlty’s pretensions to the aristocratic life and Delboy’s delusions of entrepreneurial success. Brian Wilde’s subtle performances play a huge part, too.

ANDREW:  Despite all of his delusions, he’s genuinely regretful that he hasn’t been called upon to serve his country. You can see that MI5’s snub still stings. As you say, it’s a brilliant performance.

BOB: Good to see the classic ‘Ouch, shrapnel wound playing up!’ routine beloved of so many 1970s sitcom characters, too! Even Basil Fawlty, in fact. We assume that with both these characters, the old war wounds are imaginary, and yet there were plenty of middle-aged men around in the 1970s who did carry these kinds of injuries. Again, my childhood was full of them!

ANDREW: Don’t be so sure. I spend close to twenty-five years believing that my next-door neighbour had suffered a shrapnel wound to the palm of his hand during the war. It turned out he’d just gotten pissed one evening while ashore in New York and had fallen off the dock when returning to his Merchant Navy ship!

BOB: I really like the way that the relationship between Nora and Ivy has been developed over the last few episodes. From frosty exchanges in the café, we’ve now reached the point where they’re taking tea together, sipping from dainty china cups and – it seems – swopping notes on how to deal with Compo’s amorous advances. Some delightfully vicious dialogue here, with magnificently surreptitious barbs being placed into the most seemingly-innocuous lines. ‘Would you like some sugar?’ asks Ivy, ‘You might find it relaxes you, and takes your mind off the airing cupboard’.

I like their potential tactics for dealing with Compo as well. ‘You should have dropped the chip pan down his trousers’ sniffs Nora. ‘The sooner it gets covered in batter, the safer for everyone’. Ouch.

ANDREW: I think this is one of my favourite lines so far!

BOB: This leads to an extraordinary scene in which they lure Compo to the café with their feminine wiles, only to publicly divest him of his trousers! Drew, can we mark this down as Summer Wine’s first-ever honey trap?

ANDREW: I’m not sure if honey is the right word. Treacle, maybe.

BOB: And so we get to the crux of the episode… Foggy, at the height of his festive preparations, has bought 100 Christmas trees for £10, from ‘Big Eric’ in the bar. Trouble is, they’re all 100ft high, and firmly entrenched in the local woods! Delboy would have been proud of such a scam.

nelson_eddy_jeannette_macdonald

ANDREW: While Foggy goes in search of his forrest, Compo and Clegg are quite happy to hang back and wait around for Nelson Eddy, star of the Mountie-tastic Rose Marie (1936) alongside Jeanette MacDonald. He’s mercilessly parodied by Dick Vosburgh and Frank Lazarus in a musical entitled A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. I only mention this as the genesis of said musical just so happens to be detailed in my book, Marx and Re-Marx: Creating and Re-Creating the Lost Marx Brothers Radio Series, available in all good book shops. Go on, it is Christmas!

BOB: A nice little episode, although yet again I’m disappointed that it wasn’t as fully Christmassy as it could have been. I’m an old sitcom traditionalist, and I like my Christmas specials to be full of fake snow, tacky decorations and our main characters cooped up together around a dining-room table being reluctantly nice to each other. Maybe next time?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by David on December 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Summer 1979 must have been very bleak, it could easily pass for December!

    Wasn’t it Clegg’s house, rather than Foggy’s? Clegg has his jacket off and seems to be right at home, while Foggy asks Clegg for permission to draw the curtains and Clegg has a little speech along the lines of ‘I hate drawing the curtains during the day as I end up getting ‘In Sympathy’ letters!’

    Reply

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