In which Compo gets trapped in the closet…
ANDREW: Another whimsical hillside opening for this episode. There are some great lines here, including Foggy responding to Compo’s ferret story with ‘You’ve led a really useful life, haven’t you?’ I promise to say that at your funeral, Bob.
BOB: You’ll never outlive me, not with your insane, adrenaline-fuelled high-octane lifestyle. Do you know what? If someone clipped together four or five of these opening philosophical segments of the show to make a full episode, it’d probably be one of my favourites of the whole run.
Clegg: The concept of a hole in space confuses me enormously. But so did the instructions on the electric blanket, and that works. So I suppose God knows what he’s doing.
Compo: Electric blanket? You great Jessie. Why don’t you put a warm brick in it like everybody else…
You youngsters may laugh, but when I was growing up in the 1970s, it wasn’t uncommon to find older neighbours and relatives who still kept a ‘warming pan’ by the fire… essentially a large brass pan to be filled with hot coals from the fire before being slipped between the sheets an hour or so before you went to bed. Taking extra care not to set your bedspread on fire. Brace yourself, but like many houses in the UK we didn’t have central heating in our house until the late 1970s. My first memories of getting ready for school are of putting my clothes on in front of a flickering coal fire while looking at the ice on the inside of the front room windows. Winter 1977. Read it and weep, you children of the Combi Boiler.
ANDREW: And I thought we had it rough not having cable television until I was ten.
I still haven’t gotten used to the new-look Café yet, even though it’s now the version I grew up with! I love this extended sequence, however. First up, we get some choice Sid and Ivy conversation, with lots of bickering about relatives and Sid’s lack of get-up-and-go. ‘Another hectic day in the struggle for existence?’ she asks as he innocently reads his paper. As if this wasn’t enough, in walks Wally Batty! This scene actually reminds me of a stage play; it’s long, confined to a small set and characters drift in and out throughout its runtime. Lovely blocking.
BOB: That exchange is great. There’s something about Northern dialogue that really lends itself to bathos. It’s a tactic that never fails to make me laugh, and Roy Clarke uses it as the basis for many a great Sid and Ivy exchange. You missed off the killer second line, though!
Ivy: Another hectic day in the struggle for existence.
Sid: If you’re on about the dustbins, I’ve already seen to ‘em.
I’m baffled by Compo’s clear depiction of Nora Batty’s bedroom as mysterious, uncharted territory, though. Wasn’t he in her bedroom in the first episode of this very series, rescuing Nora from being trapped beneath the bed? Oh, well. It’s a good job we’re not like those weird Doctor Who fans, Drew, otherwise we could drive ourselves mad worrying about pointless continuity like this. Ahem hem.
ANDREW: Just wait until we reach First of the Summer Wine…
Another name for the database – Chunky Wrigglesworth. A boy who used to very carelessly grab great handfuls of Foggy’s trousers, and who was famous for sitting on people at playtime. We even learn that he had to get married and is now a dentist is Macclesfield. I think he might be the most fleshed out unseen character thus far!
BOB: A bit of a milestone here as well, I think… Sid actually joins in with the schooldays nostalgia! Is this the first time he’s done this? Anyone? I’d actually assumed until now that Sid was an outsider from another town, as I can’t recall him ever previously joining in with any of the reminiscing that our main trio frequently indulge in. I thought it was only his marriage to Ivy that had brought him to Holmfirth! Is he a local lad after all?
And I love how Foggy insists on calling Ivy ‘madam’, despite the fact that they’ve known each other for decades! Does he do the same to Nora, too? I think he does… it’s a lovely character touch, symptomatic of Foggy’s deep-seated fear of women, and his desire to keep them at a formal arms length. A veneer of gentlemanly respect masking a morbid terror of the female world. Although, oddly, Foggy is the one member of the trio that we’ve actually seen indulging in romantic liasons during our adventures.
ANDREW: Compo has tarted himself up to have a photo taken, but he doesn’t want it taken in his ‘disgraceful’ abode. Instead he intends to pose next door inside Nora Batty’s house. He is, of course, turned away. Although he’s been shooed off before, there’s something particular about the way in which this scene is written, shot and played that will set up a long recurring gag for many episodes to come; Compo turns up at Nora’s door only to be chased down her steps by the end of her broom. I must have seen a hundred variations upon this as a kid and never got tired of it.
BOB: No wonder Compo is embarrassed by his house, it’s in a worse state than ever! In the early series it was just a bit scruffy and untidy, now it looks… well, it looks like Mr Trebus’ house. There’s stuff piled up everywhere. Up yer chuff!
And then ‘By ‘eck, she’s like Margaret Lockwood…’ he gurns, kindling his sordid Nora Batty fantasies once again. Erm, she’s really not…
I really admire Roy Clarke’s unapologetic use of cultural references entirely in keeping with his characters’ backgrounds. I’m not sure Margaret Lockwood would have meant a great deal to huge swathes of Summer Wine’s family audience in 1982, but Compo would have worshipped Lockwood during her cinema heyday in the 1940s, and his dropping of her name here as the epitome of female perfection is absolutely consistent with his character. I see a lot of current TV comedy where elderly characters are given lines that are completely inappropriate for their age… and sure, it gets a laugh, but I always end up thinking ‘No! 70-year-old men DON’T talk like that’. I suspect a lot of comedy writers think of funny lines first, before assigning them to their characters without worrying too much about the consistency of the whole thing. Clarke lets the lines flow naturally from his very well-defined characters, and it lends the dialogue a much more satisfying air of authenticity.
My laugh-out-loud moment of the episode…
Compo: Are you telling me she doesn’t set your pulses racing?
Clegg: Only for cover.
ANDREW: At Compo’s house, it is explained that the randy little Herbert doesn’t just want his photo taken in Nora’s house, but in Nora’s bedroom; the titular place unexplored by man. Compo really is a little boy in his attitudes to carnal pursuits. Describing being chased off by Nora as ‘sexual foreplay’, he goes on to flap his arms and quack his way around the room in some bizarre mating dance.
Foggy is just as childish, unable to accept responsibility for any mistake he makes during the episode. Earlier, he accidentally hit a woman in the bottom with his walking stick. Instead of apologising he blames wasps and as a result is labelled a ‘sex maniac’. Now, he refuses to accept responsibility for dropping Compo’s camera, making up an earth tremor to excuse his butterfingers.
BOB: Wilde is magnificent in this series. I can’t praise him highly enough. Foggy is a ridiculous character, but Wilde makes him totally believable and – amazingly – sympathetic. He’s one of the truly great sitcom characters, and doesn’t get recognized as such nearly often enough for my liking.
ANDREW: Again our slapstick climax comes about as a natural extension of the plot; which is nice. Returning from an auction, Wally needs a hand carrying his new purchase – a wardrobe for Nora’s bedroom. Seizing the opportunity with glee, Compo concocts a Trojan Horse-inspired plan to secure entry to the room of his dreams. I particularly like the fact that we get another glimpse of Foggy’s maniacal streak during these scenes. He takes great joy in locking Compo up in a dark, confined space and is quick to abandon his friend and nip off to the pub. This is his revenge for getting involved with a scheme that he hasn’t concocted himself!
BOB: Yes, Foggy’s on great vindictive form here. ‘Just lie there and make a noise like a coathanger’, he says, gleefully shutting Compo into the wardrobe. And again, bringing back memories of my dad’s absurdist sense of humour. Long before this episode aired, I had a rather vicious pet rabbit, and I distinctly remember my dad solemnly telling me ‘whatever you do, don’t make a noise like a carrot’. Was ‘don’t make a noise like a… (insert entirely silent object)’ a running joke for men of their generation? It wouldn’t surprise me if this stemmed from wartime (or, at least, forces) banter somewhere along the line.
‘There’s something very satisfying about locking him in a dark, confined space’ made me laugh as well. Brian Wilde’s impeccable delivery goes a long way – a perfect combination of haughty disdain with just a hint of affection.
Clegg: Do you think he can breathe?
Foggy: I don’t doubt it for a minute, he’ll do anything to spite me.
Oh, I could listen to this all day.
ANDREW: I like to think that Stuart Fell was locked inside that wardrobe for the sake of realism.
BOB: A great episode I think, with some of the strongest, funniest dialogue we’ve had for a while. My only disappointment is the clear suggestion that Nora and Wally don’t actually share a marital bed! I want them sitting up in bed together, like Joe and Petunia from the Public Information Films. They’re the prototype Wally and Nora, you know. Oh yes they are. Oh yes indeed. Oh yes.
ANDREW: Yeah, another cracking episode. It isn’t difficult to see why the series was going over gangbusters during this period.
BOB: Eh? Oh, you young people and your funny new words. You’re WEIRD. You hear me? WEIRD (fetches brush)