Archive for the ‘Compo/Clegg/Blamire’ Category

Summer Winos (2.7)

2.7 Northern Flying Circus

In which our trio get the motor running and ride out in the car park.

ANDREW: Unless I’m already forgetting things, I think this has to be our first example of someone going down a hill on an uncontrollable contraption, in this case Blamire on the unpowered motorbike. And we get Compo in a silly outfit to boot! Series two has definitely seen the series evolve in terms of the type of story the show likes to offer.

BOB: From the opening scenes, I actually thought this episode was going to be rather a thoughtful, talky instalment. The conversation about Blamire’s encounter with Mabel Duckinfield (‘She foisted herself onto me birdwatching expeditions’) takes on a slightly poignant quality when you realise that Blamire is talking about fleeting romantic trysts that happened – what, thirty years previously? Forty? He really is desperately clinging onto his youth, and you have to conclude that this might be one of the few romantic encounters he’s ever had in his life. Blamire rants to Compo about the ‘Clockwork Napoleon that you broke at school’… yegods, they’re living in the past so vividly that it’s almost painful.

ANDREW: Blamire’s lack of romantic entanglements goes right back to the pilot episode and Clegg’s line, “Sometimes, Cyril, I could swear that your idea of orgasm is a quick flick through Burke’s Peerage.” Despite the fact that Blamire is the most travelled and best educated of the three, they all recognise him to have lived the least. That’s his tragedy.

BOB: And, shortly after, we have Compo musing ‘I wonder what it’s like being dead?’ to Clegg in the library. And it isn’t especially played for laughs, it’s a melancholic conversation between two men rapidly approaching their sixtieth birthdays. It then transpires that their friend Little Billy Aubrey (who presumably carried his school nickname all the way through his life) has died.

From then on, the episode turns on a sixpence as our heroes decide to approach his widow with a view to buying Billy’s old motorbike! It really is – if you’ll pardon the pun – something of a gear change. And yet again it’s Clegg who initiates this, expressing an insatiable desire to travel! Even though ‘it’s not so much your gleaming speedbird, more your ruptured duck’.

Those thoughtful opening scenes aside, this is undoubtedly the most slapstick-heavy episode we’ve seen so far…we even get Compo attempting to eat a sandwich through his crash helmet visor. Although the whole motorbike caper is given a bit of an edge by the fact that we actually see some blood! Compo ends up with a nosebleed, and has a vivid crimson streak of blood running down his face… a scene that gave me a bit of a start, as Summer Wine usually occupies a world in which no real harm ever comes to our heroes.

ANDREW: I felt exactly the same way. Can you imagine if they had kept up this level of realism towards the end? Viewers would have been calling age concern in their millions!

I have to say, though, that the sandwich gag is the first time I would say that Bill Owen has missed the comedy mark. I don’t think it’s completely his fault, the staging is very awkward, but you can tell that even the studio audience recognise the gag as a bit of a clunker.

BOB: Other bits and bobs that struck me… Sid’s very 1970s flirting with the three giggly young shop girls in the café (‘I’d hate anything to run over your lovely little puddings’), the nosy traffic warden (delightfully identified by Clegg as ‘David Cogden, The Black Tulip’ without a further word of explanation), the fact that Clegg claims to have undertaken a night class in Western Philosophy and Wine-Tasting, and… wait for it…

At the end of the episode, Clegg is still the proud owner of a fully-functional motorbike! Do we ever see it again? I wonder if it’s still abandoned at the back of his shed, rusting away and covered in cobwebs…

ANDREW: And so we say goodbye to Blamire, as Michael Bates will be nowhere to be seen once series three commences.

BOB: These first two series have a gritty, rough and ready atmosphere that I think slowly begins to lessen from hereon, and lots of that feel is down to Michael Bates who brings a real edge to proceedings. Whereas future ‘third men’ tend to be buffoons, Blamire really isn’t to be messed with. His military bearing is genuine and impressive, and yet there’s a real air of melancholy and resentment about the character too… once his army career is over, Blamire has no option to return to Holmfirth to live alone, idling away his days with his old school friends – something that never quite seems to sit comfortably with him. Bates brings all of that to the character with some very subtle and studied performances, and it’s a shame he doesn’t get a proper onscreen farewell in the show. There’s nothing at the end of this episode to suggest we’ll never see him again.

ANDREW: Given the advanced years his co-stars would reach, Bates was really short changed when passed away in 1978 aged just fifty-seven. I wonder if he would have returned for a second run ala Foggy. A pie in the sky thought, but a nice one.

BOB: It would have been fun to see him pop back for a guest appearance during the Brian Wilde years, especially as there are suggestions in Series 3 that Blamire and Foggy were very good friends with a strong mutual respect.

ANDREW: I have to use this instalment of our journey to express how sorry I am to have underestimated Bates in the past. Previously, I had dismissed Blamire a little as the proto-Foggy. I saw the character and the performance as a sign of a series that hadn’t quite hit its stride. Now this might well be true of the series, but not of Bates, who has delivered a fantastic performance throughout. From little character touches like checking his watch as a clock tower strikes on location, to setting a blustering template for ‘third men’ to follow, he really delivered. He was a breed of actor you don’t really find in TV comedy any more and I’m going to miss him.


Summer Winos (2.5 + 2.6)

2.5 A Quiet Drink

In which our trio endeavor to wring beer from a stone.

ANDREW: I like the choice of location for the opening of this episode. As usual our heroes are wandering through the country, but in the background one can spy what I deduce to be the then recently constructed Emley Moor transmitting station. There’s a nice contract between nature and technology in that choice and it ties in nicely with the fact that the trio’s amble is interrupted by two near collisions with passing motorists.

BOB: I missed that completely! Oh, what it is to have young eyes. I might have to break my own self-imposed rule and watch that bit again, as I have a bit of a soft spot for TV transmitting stations, and like to make a pilgrimage to Bilsdale at least once a year. And it’s always pissing down every time I go. Apparently Emley Moor’s current mast went up in 1969 after the previous construction was destroyed in a storm! So yeah, it would only have been five or six years old when this was filmed. I find all that 1970s analogue TV technology incredibly evocative and exciting. Oh yes, my life is a roller-coaster ride of high-octane thrills and danger.

ANDREW: This has to be the most sitcom-like of the episodes so far. The plot is much less free-wheeling, for the most part we remain within the confines of the studio-bound pub, and there are a set of stock comedy characters; the miser, the con-man, the woman driver, the drunk. I don’t mean this as any insult to Clarke, though, as even his stock characters seem to be drawn from life. I’ve known a few women like Tina in my time – in fact they’re mostly relatives! What might seem broad at first is still finely observed.

BOB: Yeah, apart from a few very slight snippets of location work, this would even have worked as a theatrical production. It’s pretty much 30 minutes of our heroes in a country pub, seeking that elusive ‘quiet drink’ as a cavalcade of larger-than-life sitcom characters create chaos around them.

I think you’ve mentioned before how Summer Wine drops us into this world without too many concessions… we’re rarely given any exposition about new characters, and our heroes almost always know far more about them than we ever do This is pretty much the case for everyone here… as well as Mouse, the miserly boozer, we get Danny and Tina – who seem for all the world like the prototype Boycie and Marlene from Only Fools and Horses. Danny is the man-mountain wide boy with the moustache, camel hair coat and fedora, constantly trying to flog rubbish to his fellow boozers, while Tina drinks like a fish and makes an exhibition of herself at the bar! I expected Denzil and Trigger to walk in at any moment.

ANDREW: It may feel like more of a sitcom, but the plot is still typically light. One line from Clegg is all that is needed to set up the episode’s dramatic thrust, a childish dare amongst friends. “A man could get a real sense of achievement if he could persuade Mouse into buying a round.”

BOB: I actually thought this had more of a traditional sitcom plot than most other episodes we’ve seen before… it has a distinct beginning, middle and end rather than the drifting quality that epitomizes early Summer Wine. Clegg does have some great lines in this. ‘It’s probably only a legend, like Mrs Broderick’s lodger,’ he tells Mouse, as they attempt to persuade him he has the ‘second sight’. More 1970s lodger-related innuendo! I love ‘Happiness is the sum-total of the small things’ as well, which could easily be the guiding principle for all 37 years of Summer Wine.

There’s one line in this episode that made my ears prick up though, and that’s because it’s a very famous line from a British comedy film made pretty much contemporaneously with this episode. As the pub’s resident card-players all return from the gents’ toilets, one of them utters the immortal line ‘That’s the first time he’s known what he’s had in his hand all flamin’ night’. A quip also delivered to great effect by Brigit ‘Thelma’ Forsythe in The Likely Lads – The Movie when Terry Collier vacates their game of bridge to relieve himself outside the caravan!

I’m guessing both Roy Clarke and the Clement & La Frenais tag-team have just done what all great writers do here… picked up on a brilliant line they’ve heard in real conversation somewhere, and adapted it for use by one of their fictional characters. I greeted it like an old friend anyway, and roared with laughter.

ANDREW: This is the only time I’ve noticed Bates’ performance in studio not matching the location inserts and I might be seeing things. As they take Tina to the car it seems to me that he’s clearly playing it pissed, but not so during the studio scenes.

BOB: I didn’t spot that either! We do see our trio behaving in surprisingly decadent fashion in this episode, though… in later years, their ‘elderly delinquent’ behaviour is generally rather harmless and whimsical, so it was a slight jolt to see Compo putting the boot into one of the cars outside the pub! And then, at the end, we have all three of them – clearly the worse for a few drinks – peeing up the side of the car park wall in broad daylight, something I suspect we’d never have got even a couple of series later. It definitely gives them a little bit of an edge… they’re not just harmless drifters, they frequently don’t care at all about the mores of normal society.

ANDREW: Absolutley . There’s also the small matter of putting a drunk behind the wheel of car!

BOB: Incidentally, I’ve never noticed the Clothiers Arms pub in Summer Wine before, but it looks like it still exists…

ANDREW: You filthy temptress, you.

2.4 Ballad For Wind Instruments & Canoe

In which our trio pursue canoeing and fail to drop Compo right in it.

ANDREW: This is really the first of the stunt episodes. While there have been elements of physical comedy in the past, nothing matches up to a canoe ride. Still, though, the decision to take to the river in a canoe extends naturally from the trio’s status as layabouts. The sight of Compo dangling over a bridge and of the trio in Victorian bathing suits however, must be the broadest comedy the series has offered so far. A sign of things soon to come… it all looks rather appealing, though.

BOB: Yes, I thought the same… the first of the real ‘caper’ episodes, in which our heroes embark on an unlikely physical escapade which invevitably ends in disaster. Usually with the involvement of a large physical prop… and, of course, in this case it’s the canoe that drifts into their lives as they idle away an afternoon at the river’s edge.

ANDREW: Speaking of stunts, this must be apex of Clegg’s adventurous spirit. The character I grew up with would be too worried to go plodging at the deep end of a stream, let along propose a canoeing expedition. I wonder if the incoming introduction of Foggy will prompt his evolution.

BOB: Clegg’s very adventurous at this stage, isn’t he? This is the latest in a few examples of Clegg desperately wanting to break away from the confines of Holmfirth and go out… well, adventuring. ‘The key to thousands of tranquil miles of British pollution,’ he deadpans. ‘Mile after mile of waterway, we can get drowned almost anywhere…’ I wonder how long it’s meant to have been since his wife died at this point? You get the impression he’s been through a long recovery phase and is now keen to start enjoying himself and testing his mettle a little.

ANDREW: Post-Traumatic Spouse Disorder

BOB: Interesting you mention Foggy, as I thought a few of Blamire’s lines in this episode pre-empted the introduction of Brian Wilde’s character. In particular, the opening scenes where he’s musing about his military career… ‘I’ve seen men delirious with jungle fever,’ he barks. ‘I’d like to see you lot try to make a camp in a mango swamp’. Roy Clarke definitely carried over some of this attitude into Foggy’s character, with a crucial difference… with Foggy, it’s made very clear that his military musings are almost all complete fantasy, and his ‘hard man’ trappings are constantly debunked and undermined by Clegg and Compo.

With Blamire, there’s no such debunking – so we have to assume that his stories are all actually true, and he’s genuinely a force to be reckoned with. It’s official – Blamire’s absolutely hard as nails!

ANDREW: Has Steve Pemberton travelled back in time in order to play Arnpepper? It’s an uncanny physical and vocal resemblance. He’s a great character part, and a template for more eccentrics to follow.

BOB: Yes, Arnpepper is a fine character, although I didn’t spot the resemblance to Steve Pemberton! His introduction is great, drifting half-submerged along the river, two minutes behind his wayward canoe. ‘Howdo lads, have you seen a canoe?’ he shouts, casually, to our heroes. ‘What colour?’ deadpans Clegg. Brilliant stuff.

And nice to see another scene in a disused farm building, as he attempts to dry off and bequeaths his canoe to our three heroes! John F Landy, who plays Arnpepper, did a lot of fine TV character acting in the 1970s and 80s… he pops up in Minder and Boon, amongst many others.

ANDREW: Arnpepper mentions Look North. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Look North mentioned on television outside of… well, Look North. Now that it is mentioned I have a strange feeling of ownership; ‘that’s my local news programme, that is!’

BOB: I felt exactly the same, although I feel a bit of a party pooper in pointing out that the Yorkshire version of Look North is different to ours… it’s a separate programme made by BBC Leeds. But lines like that work wonders in grounding the show to a very specific place, and giving the characters a base in reality. Arnpepper is an eccentric, surreal character, and therefore exactly the kind of man that would want to get his five minutes of fame on regional TV!

There’s a nice line in that strange pie-eating scene in the café as well… Sid offers to pay for the pies, to which Ivy angrily retorts ‘You know we’re saving up for that mobile chip van!’ A van that I don’t think we actually see onscreen for another eight years, when it becomes a crucial part of the ‘Getting Sam Home’ Christmas special that I know we both adore. Although that show is based on a novel that Roy Clarke wrote during these early years, so I guess the mobile chip van was heavily in his thoughts during 1974/75!

ANDREW: Archaic reference alert! Compo refers to Blamire as Joe E. Brown during the biggest gob completion. That almost flew over my head, but rekindled some memories of old-time Hollywood comedy. Today, he’s probably best remembered for delivering the final line in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. Here’s the gob in question:

BOB: Indeed, and I noticed Compo actually says Joe E Brown’s legendary line ‘Nobody’s perfect’ later in the episode! I wonder if Roy Clarke had seen Some Like It Hot around the time he wrote this episode, and thought he’d pay a subtle homage? Although Joe E Brown died in July 1973, so I suppose it might have been a personal tribute to Joe himself? Whatever, it’s a clever little touch.

As you’ve said, the closing scenes are very broad (especially the swimming costumes disguised with leaves and branches – far more conspicuous than just walking home in the costumes themselves!) but the canoeing scenes themselves are heavenly… the sun-dappled river, the shady, rustling trees and our three idle heroes drifting lazily into nothingness. It’s almost a metaphor for the show itself at this stage.

Summer Winos (2.3 + 2.4)

2.3 The Changing Face of Rural Blamire

In which Blamire feels the pains of unemployment and our trio become the new faces of Shinyglow.

ANDREW: There’s a lovely scene at the top of this episode that sums up another of the series’ themes. Upon a hillside, the trio look down upon the Holm valley. Compo takes pride in the view and reckons it is scenery worth painting while Clegg seems comforted by its boringness. Blamire, on the other hand, has had enough.

BLAMIRE:  What this view lacks is a few factory chimneys. Then perhaps there’d be some work for our kind.

CLEGG: Nature lover.

COMPO: You try speaking for yourself. Some of us are idle enough to appreciate things like this.

There are three life philosophies wrapped up in a few lines. Lovely.

BOB: Yes, I like that scene as well. For all the show came to romanticise the Yorkshire countryside, it can also be extremely unsentimental about it, especially in these early episodes. Blamire’s attitude is probably fairly typical of the mid-1970s… there were mills and factories closing down left, right and centre at the time, and his concern is absolutely for the plight of the working man rather the splendour of nature.

And so we see Blamire actually looking for a job! The first suggestion we’ve had that any of our heroes are particularly dissatisfied with their idle, rambling second childhood.

I love his first attempt to secure work, in that cold, clinical office – Clegg is genuinely angry about the receptionist’s snotty demeanour towards them, isn’t he? ‘You ought to be out tending the dying with a whip,’ he snarls at her. It’s a rare opportunity for Peter Sallis to be genuinely unpleasant to someone in the series, and it’s quite a moment. We see Clegg as a man who actively despises the modern, impersonal approach to work… the ‘take a seat and I’ll see if he’s in his office’ attitude is absolute anathema to him. For the first time, we get a glimpse of a man who actually finds contemporary life quite distasteful.

ANDREW: Blamire is really a tragic figure in this episode, desperate to work for a living but completely oblivious to the fact that the world has moved on and no longer needs or desires his services. If anything, his time spent as a salesman for Shinyglow could be interpreted as a nervous breakdown!

BOB: Come on, let’s be generous… it’s a mid-life crisis! Yes, Shinyglow products, with their corrosive, face-destroying cleaning spray. I like the Shinyglow boss Oswald Green, about as stereotypically Welsh a character as you’ll find on 1970s TV – in fact, I spent the entire scene coming to the conclusion that the part had clearly been written with Harry Secombe in mind. And yet again, we see Clegg driving! This time taking control of the Shinyglow van, as Blamire embarks on his short-lived career as a door-to-door salesman. ‘He’s had my leg in neutral twice,’ grumbles Compo. Great line.

ANDREW: I didn’t pick up on that! My new theory is that he must run over a sheep in some unseen adventure between series four and five; that’s the only way I can explain his latter-day abject fear of getting behind the wheel!

BOB: The scenes with Blamire’s face gradually turning green and lumpy following an accidental coating of Shinyglow seemed, again, to be heading into much broader, traditional sitcom territory than we’ve been used to so far, although the scenes in Sid’s Café afterwards are great.

I loved Ivy’s new-found spirituality in particular, and it’s beginning to dawn on me that, despite the central trio’s best attempts, it’s actually Sid that consistently gets the funniest lines in the show…

IVY: Mrs Brocklesby’s going to take me to a lady in Retford who’s in touch with an angel called Kathleen.

SID: Can you call in at Abercrombie’s on the way back? We’re running short of crisps.

ANDREW: At times he gives of a working man’s comic vibe; but in a good way. John Comer actually started his career in comedy acts that toured social clubs and later the variety circuit, and his delivery certainly reflects that.

BOB: The spiritual stuff is a very authentically mid-1970s thing… there was a lot of that kind of stuff around. The Sunday papers were forever filled with table-rappers who had been in touch with Buddy Holly ‘on the other side’, and mediums like Doris Stokes were huge public figures. I imagine most families had an elderly friend or relative (always a woman) who would offer ‘readings’ and attempt to predict the future from tea leaves – I certainly did, and remember my Gran and Mum talking about such things quite a lot. It was a very uncynical age.

As for Sid, it’s just struck me that he bridges the gap between the ‘real’ world and the strange, fantasy existence our three heroes occupy, doesn’t he? He’s the only character so far that has a foot in both camps… he’s married, with a job and a mortgage, but he’s utterly envious of the main trio and their idle drifting and occasionally manages to escape for long enough to join them in their daydreams.  I actually think he’s the character we’re meant to identify with the most… the Summer Wine everyman figure. It’s a great performance from John Comer as well.

The closing scene is lovely… sleeping, under a tree, in the afternoon sunshine. You can’t blame Sid for being jealous.

2.4 Some Enchanted Evening

In which Wally Batty makes his entrance and beats a hasty retreat.

ANDREW: For this episode, I’ve decided to take a risk. Ever since moving in with me, my partner Emma has been exposed to far more wrinkled stockings that she signed on for. Still, she’ll happily accommodate Ronnie Hazlehurst blaring through for the living room and even professed to enjoy our trip to Holmfirth (although I’m still not 100% convinced of that). Would asking her to review an episode alongside us be a step too far? There’s only one way to find out – say hello Emma.

EMMA: Hi. And I did enjoy Holmfirth, even if your Stephen Lewis impressions nearly sent me mad. Oh, It was funny watching you and Bob wee on a school field.

BOB: I remember being caught short under a tree on a long walk back from the pub, but it wasn’t a school field was it? We were in the woods! I feel bad about that now. Although undoubtedly Compo would be proud of us.

Pulling a Lewis

ANDREW: Yeah, anyway, what’s your background with Summer Wine?

EMMA: I used to watch it with my Granddad on Sunday afternoons. We’d have tea, pickled onions, egg and salad. I’ve got mixed emotions I suppose; happy memories, but it makes me miss my Granddad.

ANDREW: This is our first, full-on taste of the Compo/Nora dynamic that will dominate much of the series from now on. He’s truly in heat!

EMMA: He’s really seedy isn’t he? And the thought of him and Nora? Urgh! I’m actually struggling to understand his accent as well. Does it soften as the series go on?

ANDREW: It softens as the episode goes on!

BOB: Does it? I always thought Compo’s accent was really consistent – especially considering that Bill Owen was a rather well-spoken Londoner. I remember being fascinated as a kid by his archaic Yorkshire vocabulary… all those ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. I’ve always been intrigued by language and the way it varies through the generations… when I was a kid, I had an elderly next-door neighbour called Jim Cogan, who had been a coal miner in his working days and spoke with a very thick County Durham accent, and used vernacular that clearly dated from his youth… which, amazingly, was probably around the time of the First World War. I struggled to understand him sometimes when I was very small, and that both baffled and fascinated me. It’s a different accent, but the way that Compo speaks always reminds me a little of Jim.

ANDREW: I definitely think there is a slight difference between his accent during the location filming and the studio sequences. Perhaps his accent naturally softened a little when performing in front of a London studio audience. As you say, though, he’s completely convincing throughout.

BOB: A couple of nice 1970s references in these early scenes as well… Compo’s TV delivery man ‘caught the manager adjusting the horizontal hold on her from the record counter’ and Blamire mentions whooping cough as well! I don’t suppose anyone encounters horizontal holds or whooping cough much these days, but it’s nice to know their legacy has been immortalised.

EMMA: My Mam had whooping cough just the other month! I didn’t hear her whoop that much, just cough. She’s fine now.

ANDREW: And here he is, Wally Batty; Bob’s idol.

EMMA: Why? He’s a bit boring isn’t he? Just muh muh muh (Emma is attempting her own Stephen Lewis impression) He reminds me of Drew. No, not really!

ANDREW: I don’t think I’d mind! Besides, I should remind you that in our first six months of living together, both of us ran home to our Mams’ houses for a bit of respite. Admittedly, we didn’t sneak out during the night, pants in hand, but the principle is the same.

BOB: Wally is brilliant! It’s a fabulous performance from Joe Gladwin – so downtrodden and gloomy, and yet with a fabulous rapier wit. He’s Eeyore in a flat cap and britches.

NORA: (Pointing to Compo) Are you going to let him do what he likes to me?

WALLY: What’s there to like about it?

Brilliant. Again, I see a lot of Jim Cogan in him. Men who had married young, worked like a bastard every single day for fifty years, and now just wanted to eke out their remaining days with pipe, pigeons and ale. Bodies absolutely knackered by decades of back-breaking graft… I don’t know if it’s ever specified what Wally did for a living, but it was clearly bloody hard going and you can see every second of it etched into that face, and piled on top of those hunched shoulders.

When I see Wally Batty, I realise that I really did grow up in a very different era, even to you two fine people. I saw men like Wally all over the place in the 1970s… they were there, I absolutely knew them. But I don’t see them anymore.

Bob speaks from experience.

ANDREW: Joe Gladwin is fantastic. I’d like to believe that he just was Wally Batty as I can’t imagine him playing anything else. Character isn’t just written onto his face, it’s chiselled.

I find this whole episode a bit weird overall. Again there’s a bit of a nasty streak that one wouldn’t expect of the shows later years. I guess it also proves that Roy Clarke never had a master plan, as the whole Nora/Compo plotline is played out in it’s entirety in the space of one half hour. This is as close as they come to getting together, but both will be going through the motions for years to come.

BOB: Compo occasionally seems rueful about his bachelor status here… there a couple of moments when it’s clear his longing isn’t just about the pleasures of the flesh. He’s envious of Wally having a woman to care for him, and look after him. We see him in bed, in his long johns, drinking brown ale and reading ‘True Romances’ magazine as the radio plays out his request for Nora! Sent in under the pseudonym ‘Lonely Brown Eyes…’ its rather touching.

ANDREW: But brilliantly undermined when the DJ refuses to read out Compo’s list of things he’d like to do with Nora and advises him to seek a solicitor before attempting any of them. It’s a list you don’t want to spend much time contemplating!

BOB: There’s a nice bit of slight of hand from Roy Clarke in this episode as well… for a while we’re genuinely led to believe that Wally has left home for good, and Compo is sparking up a fully blown relationship with Nora. At this stage of the series we haven’t seen that much of their cat-and-mouse games, so we’ve no reason to believe that it couldn’t actually happen.

I love the scene in the café, where Blamire and Clegg contemplate life without Compo as part of their regular routine… Blamire has a rant about the unions, Clegg muses about the possibility of God returning to Earth as an insect, and the conversation just doesn’t work at all. They both as much as admit that they don’t actually have much in common… they need the common factor of Compo to bounce off and unite them as a trio. It’s very tight and disciplined characterisation from both writer and actors.  And a neat twist on the time-worn cliché of the teenage boy getting his first girlfriend and abandoning his mates at the drop of a hat. Here the ‘teenagers’ are all pushing sixty, but the same principle applies.

ANDREW: Emma, as a lady of the female persuasion, what did you make of the representation of women here?

EMMA: Well they’re all lesbians or husband abusers. There are no desirable women, at least not by normal standards. Then again, going back to when I first saw Summer Wine, I can recognise a bit of my Grandma and Grandad in the relationships depicted here. A bit less abusive, but with a lack of love on surface and something more underneath. My Grandad wasn’t a Wally, though, and gave more back in return!

ANDREW: What did you think overall then?

EMMA: It was fine. A bit slow though, not much seems to happen.

ANDREW: That’s part of why we like it.

EMMA: Yeah, but you’re weird.

BOB: I’ve been trying to shoehorn this in for a while, but you’re right… Summer Wine works very differently from most other sitcoms of the era. You watch most 1970s sitcoms and they’re very formulaic… you have a small bunch of regular characters in a recognisable place, and every week there’s a plot device that’s set up in the first five minutes, spirals out of control to comedy effect with hilarious consequences, and is resolved in the last five minutes… often with some kind of grand finale… a stunt, or a special routine, or some other way of hammering home a grand punchline. Then the reset switch is pressed so we can do the whole thing again next week.

Early Summer Wine isn’t like that at all… lots of episodes have no real plot at all, they just… drift. Especially in these early series, our three heroes usually aren’t facing any particular problem or pursuing the kind of quest that would normally drive the plot along, they’re just wandering idly through town and countryside, and we follow them. Guest characters drift back and forth through the episodes, often contributing nothing whatsoever in traditional plot terms, but simply adding colour and depth to the world we’re being presented with. There’s often no natural end to the episodes… they just fade out with a gentle fizzle. It’s all about character and atmosphere at this stage, and it’s a breath of fresh air. It feels real, like we’re eavesdropping on randomly-selected thirty minute segments of these characters’ lives and daydreams. It’s absolutely why I like it.

ANDREW: Summer Wine land definitely feels like it has existed long before the cameras start rolling and I think it is mainly the multitude of acquaintances and passersby who drift in and out the episodes that contribute to this. It’s just a lovely place to spend some time, even if it can be grim. Will you come back for more, later?

EMMA: I guess I wouldn’t object too much. I’ll go back to Holmfirth if we can stay at the same place with the nice breakfasts and mad dogs.

BOB: I’d forgotten about the dogs! I’d love to go back. We need to stay somewhere with a TV and DVD player so we can watch a couple of episodes while we’re there!

Summer Winos (2.1 + 2.2)

2.1 Forked Lightning

In which Clegg slips a gear and the trio attempt to ride a bicycle made for one.

ANDREW: So, we kick off with series two and there’s not much from the outset that would mark this out as being a second run.

After Clegg damages his, umm, equipment, slipping from his bike he describes the condition as, “Best described as forked lightning.” It’s a very genital fixated episode, really, what with Compo’s discussion of his “person”, but I have literally no idea what the episode title refers to here! Am I missing a reference?

BOB: You’ve clearly never impaled your cobblers on a bicycle frame! Ah, the youth of today. I think it’s just a reference to the sudden explosion of pain and knacker-wrenching torment that Clegg goes through when the accident happens. I’m going to claim a little bit of Summer Wine for Teesside here as well…the people queuing at the bus stop break into a sterling rendition of ‘Nice One, Cyril’… A 1973 hit for Cockerel Chorus, inspired by Middlesbrough-born left-back Cyril Knowles, then playing for Tottenham Hotspur. ‘Nice One, Cyril’ was still doing the rounds as a popular playground song and catchphrase during my own childhood ten years later, even though we had no idea by then who ‘Cyril’ actually was!

ANDREW: At one point during this episode our trip attempt to board a number 47 bus that displays the destinations “Huddersfield” and “Holmfirth”. I think that has to be one of the only occasions that the town is ever named. For the most part Summer Wine takes place in a generic Yorkshire Never-Never Land and I kind of like it that way!

BOB: I didn’t spot that! I was too busy looking at the saucy bus conductress. I loved Compo’s innuendo-laden comment that she ‘took a lodger’… in more ways than one, clearly. Ah, lodgers… such a comedy staple of the 1960s and 70s, wiped out by Mrs ‘Fatcher’s property-owning boom of the 1980s! The possibilities of having a strange (and, obviously, young and virile) man living in the marital home kept British sitcom writers salivating for decades.

Good to see a very young Kenneth MacDonald as the Huddersfield mechanic as well… it would be another ten years before he found fame as Mike, the landlord of the Nag’s Head in Only Fools And Horses. I think his performance jars a little bit here, actually… he’s very good, but he gives a traditional ‘big’ 70s sitcom performance, whereas everyone else in Summer Wine so far has underplayed things.

ANDREW: The series does seem to be getting a tiny bit broader, though… in fact, is this the first example we get of three men rolling down a hill on a rickety contraption, only to crash into a heap at the bottom? The little wah-wah stab on the soundtrack when Clegg’s bike is run over puts us closer to traditional sitcom territory as well. It still, at this stage, feels like a natural part of their acknowledged second childhood, though, and not one of the showpiece stunts that came to embody the series in later years.

I love the way Ivy responds to Compo’s cheeky advances. It almost seems like a gut reaction for her to chase him off, but once the scruffy get is out of sight she’s quite clearly pleased with the attention. This kind of little character moment keeps cropping up and it really does mark the series out as something special. There’s always something more to the characters that the stock types they might first appear.

BOB: I loved that, too! ‘Tha’s got a chest like a proud pigeon’, says Compo. She gives him his usual comeuppance, but then – when he’s out of sight – admires her own heaving bosom proudly in the café mirror. There’s some classic Roy Clarke dialogue in this one, actually… I liked Clegg’s comment on Compo’s smoking habit – ‘On a clear day, you can hear the wind rustling through the undergrowth in your lungs’. Poetry, that.

I think we might have another Summer Wine first in this episode, too… in that lovely pub scene (‘Any distinguishing marks on your… person?’) Compo refers to Blamire as ‘Elsie’. For the next 27 years he’ll regularly call the authority figure of the trio by a traditional lady’s name, but is the first time he does it? I can’t remember noticing this in any previous episodes.

ANDREW:I had never noticed that motif, but now that you mention it, yes this does look like the first in a running gag!

BOB: And a glorious homage to Butch and Sundance at the end, with Sid freewheeling Clegg’s bike around the square as our heroes break into a chorus of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’. Everyone’s suppressing genuine, bubbling laughter, Ronnie Hazlehurst’s music swells to accompany them, and it’s all clearly been filmed on the most beautiful, sun-drenched 1970s afternoon. Heavenly.

2.2. Who’s That Dancing With Norah Batty, Then?

In which Blamire tinkles the ivories and Compo contemplates life down under.

ANDREW: Norah and Compo’s neighbour Gloria emigrating to Australia sets something of a precedent as Norah ends up moving there when she’s written out of the show. I might be misremembering, but I’m sure other characters move down-under as well. I wonder if Roy Clarke sees it as the perfect antidote to Yorkshire gloom.

BOB: Emigrating to Australia was a big thing in the 1960s and 1970s… it was seen as the ultimate antidote to working class British life, not just Yorkshire. The Kinks even made a concept album about it (‘Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire’, from 1969 – check it out, it’s their best album) and the cliché of barbies on the beach on sunny Christmas mornings was a huge draw for many disillusioned Brits tired of the darkness and drizzle. I’d be surprised if there were any families around in the 1970s that didn’t lose at least one member or close friend to the lure of the Antipodes. I certainly did  – I’ve got quite a few cousins that have been over there for nearly forty years now.

I think there’s an onrunning storyline in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em as well, with Frank and Betty contemplating the move? I haven’t seen those for a long time, though.

Anyway, isn’t Gloria lovely? It always seems slightly incongruous when Roy Clarke introduces younger characters to Summer Wine, but I wish we’d seen more of this giggly, earthy redhead – there’s a nice, threeway dynamic between her, Norah and Compo, with Gloria clearly being very fond of them both. She reminds me of the young housewives I used to see around Teesside in the 1970s… all headscarves and Nimble bread. Apparently Angela Crow, who plays her, was a Coronation Street regular in the early 1960s, but I’ve never seen any of those episodes. She still seems to be acting regularly on TV, bless her.

ANDREW: Yes, she was in Corrie. In fact, I’ll soon be looking at her first appearance as Doreen Lostock as part of another marathon on this blog!

BOB: Is this the first mention of Norah’s wrinkled stockings as well? We’re ticking off the ‘firsts’ here!

ANDREW: Any thoughts on the new librarians, Miss Probert and Miss Jones? I’m not quite sure what to make of them yet and certainly miss the animal lust of Mr Wainwright and Miss Partridge. Aren’t series that underperform in the ratings supposed to add sex rather than take it away? Then again, I’m definitley getting a little bit of a velvet-tipping vibe from the new duo.

BOB: Oh, definitely comedy lesbians, in the traditional sitcom ‘comfortable shoes’ style. Some lovely Roy Clarke dialogue again… ‘We’ll have an entire section labelled FOR DEGENERATES and see who has the nerve to browse through it…’ ‘That Mr Charlesworth has had Sex Amongst The Eskimos for eight weeks now…’ The early 70s was the era when ‘proper’ sex began to infiltrate mainstream culture for the first time – the age of the Confessions films, Linda Lovelace and a legion of ‘mucky books’ appearing in mainstream shops following the relaxing of the obscenity laws in the 1960s. I remember my parents having a book called Dear John by Olle Lansburg that clearly fell into the Sex Amongst The Eskimos territory, although I imagine with the benefit of hindsight it’s incredibly tame! I’m with Miss Probert, though. Ban the lot of them.

ANDREW: Yeah, yeah; having spent the night in your spare room I feel it necessary to point out your hidden stash ofWrinckled Stockings Monthly.

BOB: I noticed a nice thing about Michael Bates in these library scenes as well… he varies his Yorkshire accent. Clearly Blamire wants to ‘better himself’ and so Bates plays many of his scenes with an almost RP voice, but when Blamire gets angry or frustrated he slips into broader Yorkshire. Mollie Sugden used a similar technique as Mrs Slocombe, but Bates is much more subtle.

ANDREW: Shep the shell-shocked Lollypop Man is quite a wonderful creation, this cantankerous old army veteran who hates children but who giggles like a schoolboy himself at the mention of one of Compo’s old flames.

BOB: That’s a great scene… Shep is played by Jack Woolgar, who was forever popping up as tramps and dirty old men in 1960s and 70s TV shows. And another bleak, deserted outbuilding being used as a shelter for layabouts and middle-aged smokers! Again, Angela Crow puts in a lovely performance when Gloria turns up to joins them, and breaks down into little sobs as she realises what she’s leaving behind. Lesser writers than Roy Clarke would have heaped on the pathos and wrung every last emotion from the scene, but no… our heroes give her a cigarette and drift away, leaving her with her thoughts. And there’s 1970s Britain for you, again… there was much less time for sentiment and self-indulgence. Three fifty-year-old men know full well there’s nothing they can say to a crying thirty-year-old woman, so they gently leave her alone and wander off to find something else to do. It’s a very different era.

Summer Winos (1.5+1.6)

1.5 The New Mobile Trio

In which our three friends take up motoring.

Andrew: Clegg being keen to have a go on the driving simulator would seem at odds with his later fear of getting behind the wheel. Then again, the way in which even playing this children’s game gets him agitated does seem to point towards his latter day nerves. Despite the fact that he still wants to buy a car you can put this down to him looking back on his past as a motorist with rose (or toffee) tinted spectacles and the trio’s lack of success during this instalment might be seen to scar him for life. Some would say that this isn’t the sort of series I should be inspecting for watertight continuity of characterisation but… actually, they’re probably right.

Bob: No, it is slightly jarring seeing them buying a car, as I think a big part of the appeal of the show is that they’re NOT mobile. It’s a certainly a big part of the ‘retirement as second childhood’ theme… yes, childhood is a gloriously liberating time, with no real responsibilities, but it can also be a frustrating time. When you’re a kid, you’re effectively trapped in your home town and its surroundings, bound by the limits of how far you can walk (or at least cycle) during the day. ‘We had to make our own entertainment,’ to coin a phrase. Our three heroes are equally trapped and similarly making do with their lot.

By the way, I’ve NEVER seen anything like that driving simulator, even in the 1970s. How did it work? It just seemed to be seamless footage filmed through a car windscreen, it can’t have responded to the controls, surely?

And £30 for a car! Even a knackered old one.

Andrew: Clegg on his expired partner, “My dear wife, God rest the silly bitch…” I know I keep pointing out these lines, but bloody hell!

Bob: He’s nasty to the kid on the driving simulator as well, (‘Ever heard the phrase, suffer the little children…?’) and – amazingly – it’s Clegg’s initiative to buy a car and get out on the open road. Very much at odds with his ‘not getting involved’ persona that was firmly in place by the end of the 1970s. You’re right, Drew… let’s keep within the spirit of the show and say that Roy Clarke deliberately lightened Clegg’s character as he got older, mellowing his temper but narrowing his ambitions. I like that.

A classic ‘dotty old lady’ turn from the fabulously-named Mollie Maureen in this episode. She pretty much made a career out of similar roles, I remember her popping up in Kenny Everett’s various TV shows in the 1980s. And Ronald Lacey as well! No-one does a greasy, seedy leer quite like Ronald Lacey. He even does it in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wonder if any other of the Lucasfilm family pop up in Summer Wine? Do we get to see Michael Sheard or Leslie Schofield at any point? Oh, the anticipation…

Another 1970s flashback for me… the kids with the grimy hair, sitting on the stone steps in their vests. It just took me back, for some reason. A tiny snapshot of nothingness that just encapsulates Northern England of the mid-1970s. It’s the little things that set me off.

1.6 Hail Smiling Morn Or Thereabouts

In which Blamire whips out his brownie and asks Compo for a better exposure.

Andrew: I had no idea Clegg had two houses during the series. This first one doesn’t seem as fitting somehow. That sofa is far too seventies for a start.

Bob: You’re right, but… it’s not just Clegg’s house, is it? It’s his marital home. We’re not sure how long it’s been since his wife died, but it’s clearly still HER house… the patterned wallpaper, the plush sofa, the ornaments and soft furnishings. Clegg’s later house is a single man’s home, but this one has seen a woman’s touch. It’s nicely done.

Andrew: During this episode, I think we get the one and only time we ever get of Mrs. Clegg. Compo says, “She were always ugly, then?” but to be fair to the woman, the fleeting glimpse we get off her wedding picture reveals a slim and fairly attractive bride. Perhaps she was just ugly on the inside? But just check out the lingering look Clegg gives her photograph at the end of that scene. Despite all of his bravado, he does seem to miss her, or at least to have admired her.

Bob: I love Clegg’s lengthy anecdote of his and his wife’s aborted camping expedition, where she wept and ‘pined for her draining board’. Lovely writing again, and superbly played by Peter Sallis. And yes… the passing look that he gives the photo is very touching. You could blink and you’d miss it, but the love and the loss is all there in a brief, beautiful moment. I wonder if that second of silence was scripted, or if it’s pure Peter Sallis? A gorgeous character moment.

Andrew: I’d love to get hold of some of the photographs that Blamire takes during the course of this episode. More-so than the staged publicity shots, they seem to capture the playfulness of our trio when they get to mucking about. It would seem unlikely, but it would be nice to think that those negatives are still locked up in a BBC archive somewhere.

Bob: That’s a fab little sequence. The gentle pastimes that they pursue in these early episodes are far more effective and believable than the stunts that came in later years. There’s actually a scene in the ‘Spring Fever’ episode, two weeks earlier, where they’re idly drifting down the river on a raft made from planks and empty barrels. And it’s just casually dropped into the episode as an incidental feature… a bit of background to the REALLY important stuff – the dialogue. Same with the photography here… it’s very nicely done.

BLAMIRE: She married a University lecturer!

CLEGG: Well don’t hold that against her, anybody can make a mistake.

Andrew: I suppose I should be offended by Clegg’s comment, but to be honest I can sort of see his point…

Bob: Yeah, but university lecturers were GENUINELY weird in the early 1970s. Most people would never have actually seen one outside of the Open University on BBC2. The nearest things to universities anywhere near me in the 1970s were Teesside Polytechnic and Cleveland Art College… and even those were seen as dangerously subversive refuges for hippies, communists and other similar beardy-weirdy types. Breeding grounds for potential Mr Wainwrights! It was only in the 1990s that ‘going to uni’ became the almost universal experience that it is now.

Some more lovely long-forgotten vocabulary in this episode… Compo says ‘Speak up, we can’t hear you in the Fourpennies’ to an arguing Sid and Ivy – presumably a reference to the cheap seats at a theatre? And Ivy delivers a classic put-down to Sid… ‘Three pints of ale, and you think you’re Jack Benny’. I wonder how archaic that sounded in 1973? The height of Benny’s popularity had arguably been thirty years earlier, and yet… it’s same as making reference now to someone who was popular in 1981. Kenny Everett, or Russ Abbott, maybe? Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey.

Andrew: Are there many abandoned farm buildings scattered along the countryside these days, or have they all been converted into stylish apartments and getaway cottages by the team from Grand Designs?

Bob: No, they’re out there. I walk a lot on the North Yorkshire Moors, and there are still some gloriously rugged and desolate little places. Fancy watching Series 2 in one of them? I’ll bring my laptop…

Summer Winos (1.3+1.4)

1.2 Pâté and Chips

In which our trio visit a Stately Home with Compo’s nephew and family.

ANDREW: A very rare trip out of Holmfirth in this episode. Actually, from what I’ve read of your childhood, this is how I imagine your family outings. Just with fewer kids. Any truth to that?

BOB: Yes. I find all of these early episodes staggeringly evocative of my early childhood. The black, soot-stained buildings, the chugging, unreliable cars, and the security of family life, for better and for worse. We get to meet unspecified relatives of Compo in this episode – the charming Chip and Connie and their kids – and they reminded me so much of the young-ish relatives that surrounded my childhood in the mid 1970s. The uncles, aunts and cousins who – by the time they hit 25 – were securely married with a small army of kids and a job that they’d reasonably expect to hold for the next forty years of their lives.

It’s gone now. Look at me, for crying out loud… I’m 37, single, childless and spend my working life effectively messing about. And most of my friends have similar lifestyles. And yet a significant chunk of me pines for Chip and Connie’s life. There’s a great moment in the pub towards the end of the episode where they exchange a loving look and a very tender peck on the lips. I’ve no idea if it was scripted, but it’s a lovely, lovely touch.

ANDREW: There’s a lovely little moment of melancholy in this episode that I didn’t actually spot the first time I watched it. Just before they are about to set off for the country home, Ivy is holding Connie and Chip’s baby.

IVY: We’ve got none you know. All I can do is mother him.


Chip cracks a joke about letting her have one of theirs and says how he thinks everyone should be sterilised, but as Ivy is waving good-bye to Compo’s extended family there’s a very poignant music cue that seems to suggest there is something to the fact that she and Sid never had kids? It’s quite a beautiful little moment combining fine writing, acting and composing that adds depth to the supporting characters. Taking this into consideration really sheds new light on their relationship.

BOB: Oh, I didn’t spot that at all! Eagle-eyes Smith strikes again. I do love the way we’re slowly discovering more about these characters, but at a charmingly slow pace. I think this is the first episode to suggest that Compo carries a torch for Nora Batty, isn’t it? He’s stolen her washing line to hold up his trousers, and says ‘I thought I’d wear it close to me skin’.

And Ioved the scene in the café, where Compo and Chip both eat bread and dripping. Again, just gloriously evocative of its time… I don’t suppose anyone under the age of 30 has any idea about ‘dripping’ any more (do you, Mr S? Come on, be honest) but I vividly remember it being a staple part of the North-Eastern diet at least up until the late 1970s. It was edible, so it got eaten. Waste not, want not.

Another sign of the times… the ripple of excitement amongst the stately home tour party when it seems as though His Lordship is about to make an appearance! Hushed deference, and Clegg even frantically combs his hair. I remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, when every street around my house was bedecked in red, white and blue bunting, and the high street became a carnival, complete with a float procession and a fairground. Unthinkable in 2010, the world is just that tad too cynical.

ANDREW: Taking of charming moments, during one scene where the trio are walking towards the café, Michael Bates checks and adjusts his watch when the church bell goes off. Now that’s either good dubbing or fine improvising and I can’t imagine that the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop went anywhere near Last of the Summer Wine.

BOB: Sensational! I missed that as well. Such a fine actor. It’s lovely little touches like that that show you how quickly they began to inhabit these characters.

ANDREW: Classic line “I should fetch a shovel old lad, he’s crapped all over t’capet.”

BOB: Indeed! Swiftly followed by a lovely poignant exchange in the pub, as they drunkenly recall their wartime romantic exploits.

BLAMIRE: It soon passes, doesn’t it?

CLEGG: Aye. You don’t get a lot of time given for being 19.

Roy Clarke at his best, and a finely-timed moment of melancholy. Has Blamire been perennially single? I had the impression he’d been married, but this episode suggests his entire romantic life consists of a few chaste exchanges over three decades earlier. It’s a very downbeat ending.

1.4 Spring Fever

In which Compo’s sap rises.

Andrew: Even by this fourth episode, Compo’s character is so well defined that the fact that he would start feeling romantic and choose to clean up his act sets up a real sense of mystery. As a viewer, you want to find out what’s going on as much as his friends do.

Crikey, even when Liz Smith was young she was old!

Bob: Liz Smith was startling in this… for those not joining us in this marathon Wineathon (come on in, the water’s lovely), she plays a classic ‘mutton-dressed-as-lamb’ old bird, resplendent in knee-length boots, red PVC coat and gigantic blonde beehive. My initial reaction was, oddly, that I could fully imagine this character being Denise Royle’s grandmother! Liz will have been in her early fifties when this was shot.

I was slightly baffled by the sexual politics here… Liz’s character responds to Compo’s advertisement for a ‘housekeeper’, but there seems to be a tacit acceptance by both parties that a bit of – ahem – hanky panky will be a small but crucial aspect of the job. Was that accepted practice back in the early 1970s? Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised, this is, after all, an episode in which a clothes shop in a small West Yorkshire town has the bold slogan ‘IMPRESS THE CHICKS!’ proudly emblazoned in the window.

Interesting that we see Compo quite readily buying new clothes in this episode, and that it isn’t especially played for laughs. I’m sure there are scenes in future episodes where he’s shown to be virtually surgically attached to his moth-ridden jacket and woolly hat, and any new get-up is inevitably outlandish and inappropriate, but not here. He looks fairly smart in his new suit.

Ivy seems to be a little softer in these early episodes as well, she even compliments Compo on his new look.

Andrew: Compo’s advances don’t seem as affectionate or as innocent as they would later, at least not during the opening scene in which he pressures Norah to leave her husband and especially so when he mentions wanting to get his date drunk and have his way with her! Then again, as his “sap rises” as Clegg so delightfully puts it, you sense that he has a real appreciation for what his love rival takes for granted. Not so much the companionship of a woman really, but more the being looked after.

You spot Compo polishing a bugle as he cleans the house. Amazingly, Clarke pays this off years later in the millennium special, when the character takes it back to the scene of his wartime service in France.

Bob: I think Compo just wants his leg over, far more than you’re prepared to admit! And his washing done as well, admittedly. Take a look at the scene in which he’s lying in bed polishing that bugle… it’s riddled with unbridled sexual symbolism. I bet Mary Whitehouse was straight on the phone to Sir Charles Curran.

Andrew: I think I’ve figured out why these early episodes feel so strange. This might seem a bit weird, but although it was always broadcast on the BBC, these first samples of Summer Wine feel like ITV productions. There’s something of an emptiness to the studio scenes and the exteriors seem really roughly done, grotty even. There certainly aren’t any of the production values that were bestowed upon the production later on and that are seen as hallmarks of prestigious BBC productions. I’m not sure any of the above would make sense to the kind of normal person who doesn’t feel the urge to subject themselves to things like Kinvig, Don’t Drink the Water and George and Mildred.

Bob: Yes, you’re right… it’s the whole soot-stained streets thing again. It’s absolutely not an advert for Holmfirth, the place is portrayed as a rather rough, shabby Yorkshire town. I have a theory the ITV sitcoms of the 1970s are always a more authentic glimpse into British society than their BBC equivalents, particularly when it comes to the working classes… and I wonder if that’s due in part to the regional nature of ITV? A sitcom like Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt! – set in working class Yorkshire – was made entirely in the county itself (even the studio scenes were filmed in Leeds) by authentic Yorkshire writers, cast and crew. It couldn’t NOT be reflective of its setting and social make-up.

Whereas the BBC might make the occasional foray into the provinces for location filming, but their production team and studio work would all have been London-centric. I think it’s testament to the early Summer Wine team that they managed to transcend that so successfully.

Some nice 1970s touches in this episode as well… Compo idly leaves his door unlocked while he’s out, there’s a tantalising glimpse of the TV’s famous Test Card F, and the references to Home Help and Milk Stout both warmed the cockles of my heart. And Kathy Staff looks so young! Just checked, and she was only a few years older than me when she made these episodes. Amazing. Or maybe not, I probably seem just as ancient to your youthful eyes, Mr Smith.

Summer Winos (1.1+1.2)


In which our heroes rid Compo of evil spirits, loose a front door key and attempt to attend a formal dinner dance.

ANDREW: I like the way that the first episode of the series proper opens with a shop of some kids mucking about on a field, because even in these early episodes the theme of pensioners reverting to adolescence is quite clear. They giggle over adult magazines, loiter at bus stops and fail to get in to a posh dance; an episode of The Inbetweeners with an old-age cast!

BOB: As for the plot, it’s typically light… Blamire gets his hair cut, Compo loses his house key while being upended in the library to shake evil spirits from his head, and the trio blag their way into the dinner dance to retrieve it from Wainwright the prissy librarian – before retreating, typically, to the backroom where Sid ferries them bottled beer and chicken butties from the buffet.

But it doesn’t matter, it’s a hugely enjoyable start to the series proper. Good to see Compo flick an authentic 1970s V-sign at the end, as well.

Andrew: Actually, with that V-sign and Clegg’s mention of rape in mind, it’s probably worth noting that the first three episodes of the series have awarded a ‘12’ certification from the BBFC. I’m not trying to suggest that this means that the early years of Summer Wine are a den of filth, but they are a little at odds with the cosy, family friendly, innofensive reputation that the series had in its later period. Just look at that topless calendar at the back of the barber’s shop!

BOB: And more fabulous early 70s grottiness! Have a good look at the café in this, it’s absolutely filthy. The walls are coated in damp, grime and cobwebs. A fantastic double act from Sid and Ivy, though, and you forget how much of an important figure Sid was in these early series… he has the one line in this episode that made me laugh out loud:

IVY: I came here to dance, but fat chance of that with you. You don’t even know how to hold me.

SID: (MAKING A STRANGLING MOTION) Put your neck in there…

Roy Clarke’s love of odd Northern dialogue shines through constantly. The devil’s in the detail, and Clegg gets most of the best lines. He talks of Compo making a nest, a ‘simple construction of mattress fluff and old Sporting Chronicles’. He pricks dinner dance doorman Charlie Harris’ pomposity with the splendid riposte ‘I’ve seen you making imitation rude noises for the entertainment of the Young Conservatives’. Although, a heartbeat later, Compo’s perfectly-timed aside, ‘And your Eileen had to get married’ is laced with brilliant old-school Northern nose-tapping knowingness.

I loved Mrs Patridge’s comment about her 12-year-old son as well… ‘he’s never been strong, and everything goes to his chest’. Roy Clarke’s ear for the rhythms and absurdities of speech is just perfect. I could hear my mother saying that line, word for word, in my own grimy, early 70s childhood. Does anyone talk like that any more?

1.2 Inventor of the Forty Foot Ferret

In which Compo is persuaded to visit church.

ANDREW: Before we begin properly I’d just like to note the title of this episode. I love ferrets and I think Compo is partly to blame. As a kid, his descriptions of the slinky little angels made them seem so exciting; you could stick them down your trousers!

BOB: You’re a freak, Smith.

ANDREW: This episode is all about class and religion really. You have Blamire as  the bossy, middle class church-goer, Compo as the scruffy, sub working class atheist and Clegg as, well, just Clegg really. He gets my favorite lines of the episode; “Who needs eternity? Suppose you’re waiting for a bus.” Again this is a series that has come to be identified with the likes of Songs of Praise but in these early episodes Clarke is questioning whether organised religion has a point at all!

BOB: I thought the depiction of faith in this episode actually spoke volumes about early 1970s society. Blamire, every inch the conservative Christian, is never the butt of the joke… instead, its Compo – gauchely suspicious of the church and its conventions – that we’re encouraged to laugh at. Christian faith in the early 1970s was still a cornerstone of British life, and it’s treated seriously here.

For an extra bit of poignancy… the church they visit is clearly St John’s in Holmfirth, where Bill Owen is now buried. They walk very close to his current resting place in one scene.

ANDREW: This isn’t angry, boundary breaking satire, though. The characters take the mick out of each other but in the end they’ve all ended up in the same predicament and despite what they believe or say they’re just mates. If anything Clarke seems to be encouraging acceptance and tolerance. Sort of progressive for its time really.

On the other hand, there is a very 70s rape joke and Cleggy says poof! In light of this I take back everything I said about the use of the word orgasm earlier in the series. The word poof is the one that feels out of place now.

BOB: Both of those lines gave me a jolt as well! Clegg comments that Blamire’s mother ‘brought up a little poof’, and Compo tales the wartime tale of ‘Hilda Mason and those four Yanks… everybody knew it were rape, but she were never prosecuted’. Did you spot the delightfully incongruous swearing in the café as well? Compo tells Sid that his wife left him for a ‘pissing Pole’.

All just more examples of the grittiness that gradually dissipated as the series continued, I guess. In that context, the portrayal of Mr Wainwright, the librarian, and his married fancy lady is interesting. They’re clearly the prototype for Howard and Marina, and yet while that latter relationship feels like a bit of playground kiss-chase (they never seem to get further than a chaste cuddle… actually, do they ever even kiss?) the extra-marital affair here is much more lusty, and we’re clearly led to believe there’s been some distinctly heavy petting going on behind that mahogany counter.

I love the location work in this episode, too. We get out into the countryside, but it’s WINTER – not something we see a lot of in latter-day Summer Wine. It’s bleak and windy and desolate, and we spend a lot of time in a delightfully derelict and ramshackle old mill. Was this the workplace that Compo spent much of his life avoiding? I’d like to think so.

And yegods… Jane Freeman’s legs in the cycling scene at the end are truly a sight for sore eyes.