6.1 In The Service of Humanity


In which Foggy becomes an emergency service…   


BOB: Can I chuck in a personal milestone at this point? This is, undoubtedly, the first series of Last of the Summer Wine that I actually watched as it went out. We’re into January 1982 here, Monday nights, and I was nine years old. And the show was already a talking point amongst me and my classmates. Juliette Kaplan (Namedrop! KLANNG!!!) told us that Summer Wine was always beloved of young kids, and in the case of me and my friends, she’s absolutely right. We’d quote it at school on Tuesday mornings, and act out some of the stunts in the playground at dinner break. It’s hard to imagine any modern nine-year-olds finding such common cultural ground in a mainstream sitcom in which the main characters are all over sixty, but – in January 1982 – we had three TV channels and barely a video recorder or a games console between us, so this was the stuff that bound us together.

ANDREW: My experience couldn’t be more different. By the time I tuned in, the show was a family experience, but never ever brought up amongst my peers. Secretly, my skateboard might be a runaway sofa hurtling down a hill in Yorkshire, but this was never a shared fantasy. My friends just weren’t watching. It’s certainly brought me together with people in later life, though.

BOB: Watching this, I’m also a bit taken aback at how much of the language entered my everyday life! “Bog off” became a regular insult around my house in 1982, me and my Dad in particular would regularly fling at back and forth at each other. And undoubtedly Compo is to blame!

ANDREW: Compo is on good form here. “My brain gets confused sometimes,” is a particularly delightful instance of the character getting to a nonsensical thought decades before Karl Pilkington would.  I also love the discussion of his mother, apparently the kind of woman who could have inspired the inventor of the bulldozer. If Foggy’s memory of her throwing the rent man at him isn’t incorporated into First of the Summer Wine, I’ll be sorely disappointed.

BOB: So our trio find a pile of abandoned clothes at the side of the river, and assume – rather grimly – that they’ve stumbled upon a suicide.

ANDREW: Has walking into water ever been a particularly popular method of suicide? You see it crop up in stuff like The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and even The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a TV staple.

BOB: It’s been a very famous method of fake suicide!

ANDREW: I love how Clegg questions there being a dead body in the water, suggesting instead that the man might not be quite dead yet. How morbid!

BOB: It’s interesting to see Foggy actually intimidating Compo into respectfully removing his hat – and Compo does it! Do we think, deep down, Compo is actually a tiny bit scared of Foggy? Or at least has a lot of respect for him? It might explain why, when it comes down to it, Compo never actually refuses to take part in any of Foggy’s harebrained schemes, no matter how dangerous they might look.

ANDREW: I didn’t pick up on that, but that may be because I’m distracted by what I think must be post-production dialogue looping. There’s a strange air of detachment to a lot of the delivery here and given how much the wind seems to be disturbing the reeds and bushes it surprises me that we don’t hear so much as a rustle. I bet it turns out I’m wrong.

BOB: It’s not a suicide, of course, it’s a canoeist out for a paddle… and… hang on, is that an uncredited Tom Owen?! Or am I going mad? I’m really not sure!

ANDREW: It does look like him! Wikipedia makes reference to a cameo appearance by a Tony Good, but I’ve no idea who this is. His character isn’t listed on IMDB and he doesn’t appear to have any other credits to his name. Answers on a postcard…

BOB: I really like the scene in Clegg’s house here… it has a very comforting domesticity, with Clegg ironing while Foggy and Compo chat amiably. It’s a lovely cosy scene, reiterating the fact that – for all their differences – these are three characters very comfortable in each others’ company. Foggy, inspired by the canoeing incident, wants to form a small-scale rescue service for “decent, little people”. It’s an idea they pursue in the café, where Compo suddenly appears to have started smoking again! How long is it since we last saw a cigarette in Summer Wine?

ANDREW: That did strike me as odd, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to go back and check every episode again!

This is a great, character-driven plotline and actually quite touching, really. Foggy’s desire to, “answer the call whenever it comes” is what drives him from one episode to the next. This week he’s a medic, the next he’ll walk dogs. The activity does’t matter, so long as he’s doing something for somebody. My heart broke when he reflected upon finding the clothes by the river and said, “I felt useful. Just for once we were doing something important. Helpful.”

This is all perfectly in-keeping with the theme of the series as a whole; our trio, albeit sometimes reluctantly, are on a quest to find a something useful to do with the rest of their time on earth. A purpose.

BOB: I like Clegg’s line here… “If it’s all the same to you, I had planned to fritter my life away harmlessly”. It’s a sentiment I’m happy to share. How many series have we got left to watch, Drew?

ANDREW: Enough, Bob, enough. In this case, however, I’m siding with Foggy. Despite their protestations, it’s nice to see Compo and Clegg indulge Foggy a little. We’re a far cry from the nastiness of Full Steam Behind.

BOB: Lovely bit of physical comedy here, as Foggy – in his new home-made Red Cross tabard – attempts to interfere with the aftermath of a minor car accident and gets a full-blooded punch on the nose for his troubles. It’s filmed in long shot, with a perfectly-timed “Oof!” from Brian Wilde, and it made me laugh out loud. I’m a simple soul at heart.

ANDREW: Laugh out loud? I winced! There’s something about the sound effect which accompanies the whack that made it sound particularly painful and mean-spirited. He’s a truly tragic figure in this episode. Every time he tries to help, he gets trodden on. Poor Foggy!

Still, this abuse serves to bring out Ivy’s motherly side in the café. A particularly northern maternal instinct has kicked in, so she’s happy to fuss over his wounds but quick to remind him what a daft sod he is.

BOB: Foggy’s nose, Compo suggests, has gone from “early George Sanders” to “more like Colonel Sanders”. This seemed like a staggeringly early KFC reference to me, but apparently the UK’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway opened in Preston in 1965! I’m pretty sure that, by 1982, they were yet to reach Middlesbrough. I actually remember being confused by a Kenny Everett sketch about McDonalds around this time, because I had no idea what McDonalds actually was! Maybe I just had a sheltered upbringing. It was all fishcakes and arctic roll in our house.

ANDREW: And then we’re off to the football for a territorial skuffle with some St John’s Ambulance volunteers. Go on, then. Which ground is this?

BOB: Painted blue, so I’m assuming this must be Leeds Road, Huddersfield Town’s original ground? Filled with glorious slices of football history… Denis Law began his career at Leeds Road, England 1966 hero Ray Wilson spent twelve years here, and England manager Herbert Chapman was in charge in the 1920s. Seeing it here, I can just imagine those rosy-cheeked fans, wrapped in blue and white hats, rattling rattles, chanting chants, paying a handful of pennies to while away a freezing Saturday afternoon on a packed terrace. Lovely.

The ground was built in 1908, and demolished in 1994 to make way for a retail park with a big B&Q. Don’t get me started, Drew. Really. Don’t get me started.

ANDREW: It’s probably best you get it out of your system in a safe environment like this.

BOB: You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. I’m not convinced you like me when I’m not angry. And so we head towards the end with a very welcome glimpse of my hero, Wally Batty, in fine form in the local pub.

ANDREW: I’m at the stage now where the simple appearance of Wally is enough to elicit an audible cheer!

BOB: Should we add Compo’s Auntie Connie to the Names Database, Drew? Mentioned by Wally as a woman who owns a canary, and “gets the gas board out every time it falls asleep”. I laughed out loud at this as well. A good episode for belly laughs, this one!

ANDREW: It’s nice to see a glimpse of Wally’s evil streak. Nora is stuck under the bed at home (“Just luck I suppose” – Wally) and he uses her demands for help as an excuse for a pint. “It’s turning out to be a really magical Tuesday!” he proclaims.

BOB: Foggy’s rescue service is finally pressed into unlikely action!

ANDREW: Oddly, I seem to recall that the scene in which Nora is rescued from beneath her bed as being one of the scenes played in a constant loop when news of Kathy Staff’s death broke on News 24. I suppose it’s a testament to her vocal characterization that they’d choose a clip in which she spends the majority of the time bellowing out of sight!

Rescue accomplished, Foggy gets a second wind and re-embarks upon his plan to provide rescue equipment for the canalside.

BOB: The trio end up “appropriating” a long ladder to exercise a little drill at the water’s edge. Which ends, predictably enough, with Clegg and Foggy in the water and a stranded roof-repairer unable to get down. Good stuff though, and a really enjoyable start to the new series. 

ANDREW: It’s nice to see a slapstick climax that’s relatively grounded and integrated into the story (i.e. no giant pigeons in sight). In fact two slapstick climaxes for the price of one! It’s part of the story though, so I can forgive it’s gratuitousness.

Frank Thornton RIP

ThorntonRIP

1981 Christmas Special: Whoops

In which the old gang get back together…

BOB: Two years have passed since the last episode of Summer Wine, so do we assume Roy Clarke spent 1980 and 1981 working on the revived Open All Hours? Whatever the answer, congratulations are due, Mr Smith – we’ve made it into the 1980s! Will this be a brave new era for Last of the Sumer Wine? Britain as a society changed immeasurably between 1973 and 1981, and it’ll be fascinating to see if Clarke’s writing reflects this at all.

Andew: It’s a shame Blamire isn’t on the scene any more. I’d love to have heard he and Compo discussing the merits of Mrs. Thatcher.

Bob: I have to say, the opening scenes here very place us firmly in the early 1980s… unusually, this is a Christmas episode actually set during Christmas, and the shop windows in Holmfirth are stuffed full of video games! They were certainly ahead of my family in that respect… my main Christmas present in 1981 was a table football game. A proper one, with handles and legs, not some kind of bleepy computerized gizmo! But it’s nicely evocative seeing the ‘Video Computer Systems’ piled up here in tiny shop windows festooned with fairy lights. 1981 was a fabulous time to be a kid… you had the excitement of the earliest home computers and video consoles, but still healthily combined with more traditional childhood pastimes. So we’d play on Paul Frank’s Atari 2600 for an hour, then spend an equal amount of time climbing a tree or building a bridge across the local beck. The best of both worlds.

ANDREW: And by ‘eck, Sid has gone all out with the tinsel! Forget your silver treat, whicker ornaments and glass beads, this is what a proper Christmas looks like.

I love this scene. It’s like a checklist of all the ingredients I enjoy; insights into Sid and Ivy Christmas gift exchanges, unwanted Al Jolson impressions and even Clegg’s-plain covered book that explains the secrets of marital harmony.

BOB: Our first glimpse of our heroes’ old school! A location that goes on to feature regularly in Summer Wine, and – as we all know – it’s located in… erm… actually Drew, where is it again?

ANDREW: That would be Holme Jr. and Infant School, which is located about a six-minute drive away from Holmfirth. I’d recommend visiting outside of term-time, as I’m sure it seemed odd enough watching two suspicious men lurking outside and taking pictures of a school of a weekend.

School_Wall_2

BOB: Thanks! Anyway, this is a beautiful scene, as we enter into a lovingly-written paen to long-lost childhoods. ‘Them were the days,’ muses Compo, wistfully watching a gaggle of 1981 kids enjoying morning break in the school playground. ‘We knew how to enjoy ourselves in them days’. ‘Long distance Yo-Yo’ offers Clegg, and even the normally-stoic Foggy dreamily chips in with ‘freestyle spitting’.  And then, as the school bell rings, Ronnie Hazlehurst’s music swells and the nostalgia drifts onto an even higher plane. ‘When did we last walk on our hands?’ sighs Compo. ‘Or shin up a drainpipe? Or jump off a bus while it was still moving? We’ve let all that slide…’

I find this incredibly touching… possibly because, in December 1981, I was the same age as the kids in that school playground, and can almost reach out and touch that feeling… that nervous excitement of being in school in the last week of term before Christmas. The carols in assembly, the nativity play, the Christmas postbox in the dinner hall – it’s all still there in my head. Right there. But also because I’m fully aware that I’m now much closer to Compo’s age than I am to my eight-year-old self, and I completely share his sentiment, too. I have let it slide. I can’t recapture those feelings no matter how hard I try. And that’s a sad feeling to come to terms with.

But this is Summer Wine restating its ethos, isn’t it? Ageing miscreants facing up to their mortality by obsessing over their childhood and desperately attempting to recreate those halcyon days. It’s a principle that’s been at the heart of the show since the very first episode.

ANDREW: And, after watching a series that has increasingly been leaning towards slapstick, it’s a very welcome restatement. Even I’m getting twinges of nostalgia watching this and, as I’m always keen to remind you, I am considerably younger than your good self.

BOB: Thanks. And so our heroes embark on a quest that I’ve mulled over many a time myself… getting the ‘old school gang’ back together. Primarily Douglas ‘Chuffer’ Enright and Gordon ‘Splotter’ Lippinscale, long since lost into matrimony. Is this a good time to plug the Names Database again, Drew?

ANDREW: Certainly – and don’t forget the earlier mentions of Compo’s Uncle Dudley, who adopted a mule after it followed him home one night, and his Auntie Annie, who knew how to celebrate Christmas and only bit strangers!

BOB: Despite Foggy’s resigned warning (‘You can’t recapture times gone past,’ he sighs, although that’s never stopped him retreating into indulgent nostalgia before), our trio enter darkest surburbia in a desperate attempt to drag Chuffer Enright and Splotter Lippinscale back to juvenile mischief-making.

The rare occasions when Summer Wine ventures into the world of the modern, middle-class housing estate always look downright weird… it’s like Compo, Clegg and Foggy have wandered into the wrong sitcom, and are a whisker away from being chased down a leafy driveway by Margot Leadbetter or Thelma Ferris. But it’s also telling, on this occasion, that all their old schoolfriends now live fully in this world – they have suits, and big cars, and wives with social pretensions. ‘There’s a tramp at the door…’ sniffs Chuffer Enright’s wife, crushingly underlining for us the fact Compo, Clegg and Foggy have resolutely failed to move on in their lives one iota.

ANDREW: I’m starting to feel a bit of that alienation at the moment; everyone I know seems to be settling into careers and buying property while I can barely figure out how to sort my tax code out for my one part time job. Suddenly, the world seems a lot more serious than I’m currently able to deal with!

I could be wrong, but I think Splotter lives on the same estate, perhaps even the same street, that Blamire lived on in the pilot episode. I have a terrible memory and could be wrong, but this seems very familiar.

BOB: Oh, well spotted! Actually I’m not sure if ‘Tempus Fugit’ might have been a better title for this episode. It’s painfully obsessed with the passage of time, and the loss of childhood magic. Chuffer Enright, he claims, has no recollection of our heroes at all, and has succumbed to the miserable ravages of time. ‘I get these terrible colic spasms,’ he grumbles. ‘And then there’s me knee… you’ll not believe this knee…’ It’s a world away from Compo’s gleeful romanticizing of marbles, pudding-bowl haircuts and ‘sherbert round the mouths’. Splotter Lippinscale, it transpires, is similarly uninterested.

It’s so sad, because… well, it’s so true. I find, as I get older, that there are two distinct camps of people when it comes to childhood reminiscences… those – like me – who revel in them, and whose obsessions with revisiting the tiniest details of their youth can sometimes even come at the expense of the present. And those who, like Chuffer and Splotter, seem to have put their childhood in a firmly-sealed box and kept it resolutely out of sight. They’ve moved on, and find no joy (or even exquisite melancholy) in looking back. When the two camps get together, the divisions can be painfully awkward.

ANDREW: This episode is making me feel guilty about backing out of traditional Christmas Eve pints last year in order to stay in and watch The Snowman and the Snowdog. With people continuing starting to drift apart, I should really seize the moments that remain! Then again, the previous year resulted in me getting “ill” and having to… ahem… fertilize a local farm; perhaps my not turning up was for the best.

Our trio ventures back to Compo’s scrotty place and it’s lovely to see that the mere sight of Joe Gladwin is enough to raise laughter. He comes bearing Nora’s mince pies and goes all out to make them sound appetizing, “Come on, get ‘em down ya! I have to!”

BOB: And so, their grand reunion plans scuppered, we find Compo, Clegg and Foggy sharing a solitary, Christmas Eve pint in a tinsel-covered Butchers Arms. Which, if anyone wants to investigate, is still going strong…

http://www.thebutchersarmshepworth.co.uk/

ANDREW: How on earth did we manage to pass over so many pubs when we were last down there?

BOB: It’s noisy in the bar, but they’re too depressed to face the revelry, and slump sullenly in the lounge to nurse their stale drinks. It seems like a very downbeat and poignant ending for a Christmas episode… but then it turns. It’s possibly one of the most predictable twists in sitcom history, but… aw, sod it. It still brings a  huge rosy glow to my heart. Sid and Wally and Chuffer and Splotter all turn up, and – by the end of the night – they’re shinning up lampposts outside the pub and then, in a lovely touch, jumping off the last bus home on Christmas Eve while it’s still moving.

ANDREW: I wouldn’t say it’s a predictable outcome at all! Given Clarke’s previous distaste for Christmas episodes, this burst of sentimentality took me completely by surprise. The innocuous “Merry Christmas, Chuffa” may be one of my favourite lines of the series thus far, but readers will have to watch the episode to see why!

BOB: As a bonus – we see Nora and Ivy setting aside their recent differences and drinking sweet sherry together, at home, resplendent in their Christmas best. And I know it’s Kathy Staff and Jane Freeman, but all I can see is my Mum and my Gran and my Auntie Norma doing exactly the same thing on exactly the same Christmas Eve in 1981. With Val Doonican’s Very Special Christmas burbling away on TV in the background.

Then the theme music rises up, sung as a rousing Christmas Carol by the Holmfirth Choral Society…

http://www.holmfirth.org.uk/

It’s beautiful, and it put a huge soppy grin on my face. This isn’t just a cracking, heartfelt Christmas episode, it’s an episode that touchingly and thoughtfully puts us firmly back in touch with the show’s roots… of staving off mortality and melancholy by staying true to your inner child, and cherishing the things that really matter in life – friendship, fun and family. I loved this. I really, truly did… it’s a glorious piece of TV, and one of the best episodes we’ve seen so far.

ANDREW: Yep, it’s great start to the decade. With the foreknowledge that the series will change dramatically over the course of the next ten years, I can only hope that Clarke can hold on to this incredibly thoughtful, incredibly sweet, incredibly melancholic atmosphere for just a little while longer.

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?

5.7 Here We Go Again Into The Wild Blue Yonder

In which Compo plans to take to the air…

ANDREW: We should have been taking detailed notes each time we see the trio lurking around an abandoned barn or farm building. That’s the kind of place I’d like to track down (Not that we’d have much chance. You saw the mess we made of finding railway stations and those had their bloody names written on them). I’m pretty sure this kind of location vanished from the show by the turn of the 1990s.

BOB: All the barns have been converted into luxury apartments. I think we’re firmly into the second era of Summer Wine here, aren’t we? Obviously the show was dabbling with stuntwork and slapstick as far back as the Blamire era, but I think this is the first episode we’ve seen in which the whole episode is geared around – and works up to – a spectacular, climactic stunt. Yep… Compo is about to embark on his hang-gliding expedition. When I’ve mentioned this blog to my friends, they’ve all said that their overriding memories of Summer Wine are of Bill Owen falling off something, rolling down something, or flying over something, with the rest of the gang flailing helplessly behind. And here we are with an episode that’s the Platonic Ideal of that!

I guess it’s the show moving into another gear, really… it’s always been about older people operating outside society, and finding ways to kill the time and boredom that has suddenly descended upon them. Whereas in the earlier series, this took the form of rueful, frequently sardonic conversations in libraries or disused barns, our heroes have now become decidedly more pro-active. You can argue that this dispenses with the grim realism of the early years, but it’s undoubtedly the era that transformed the show from a respected sitcom into a national treasure.

ANDREW: I have a feeling that we’ll soon be longing for the moribund tone of those early years, but it’s undoubtedly true that the series couldn’t have survived without this shift in format. It’s a bit like Doctor Who in that sense; it’s very easy to pick and choose favourites from the different eras and just as easy to get into heated arguments over them. 

BOB: Roy Clarke likes the word ‘dangler’, doesn’t he? Clegg uses it in the makeshift gym they’ve constructed in a barn for Compo (‘He was always one of the all-time great danglers’) but also recycles it in a fabulous 1982 episode of Open All Hours – in which Granville decides to ‘get cool’, with a shirt boldly slashed to the waist and a medallion that he repeatedly refers to as his ‘dangler’. I seem to recall he gets his dangler caught in the till! Quite right, too. It’s a great comedy word.

And there it is, Wally’s hang-glider itself! Essentially a giant racing pigeon outfit, complete with beak and feathers. And it clearly owes far more the BBC props department than to Wally Batty’s shed! Fair to say we’ve moved a long way from the Waiting for Godot realism of Series 1 here. Would five 60-year-old men really attempt to build a hang-glider from scratch, and force one of their number to jump from a barn roof? Am I just taking this too seriously, Drew? Am I? Really?

ANDREW: Yes, but so am I and somebody has to! Actually, I wouldn’t have so much of a problem if it was just a hang-glider. It’s just that, well, look at the bloody thing.

Picture 11

It is incredibly silly, but if one is looking for a glimmer of realism you have to ask after what else would one expect Wally to model a hang-glider on? As the man himself says, “That’s what ah knows best, is pigeons.”

BOB: A deliciously macabre scene in the middle of this episode, with an innocent bystander idling away the hours in his car, reading a book called ‘The Hanging Tree’. Looking up, he sees the silhouettes of our heroes on top of the moors, marching Compo to a suspiciously similar-looking tree with a coiled length of rope in his hand. It’s really funny – you can’t beat a ‘horrified stranger’ routine when it’s done well.

ANDREW: I know it doesn’t matter, but I really want to know more about that book. I cant make out an author on the cover and a Google search doesn’t turn up anything that looks the part. A closer inspection of the jacket appears to indicate that this is another example of the BBC props department at work. The tree depicted on the back is very reminiscent of the one featured on location. Then there’s this lovely detail on the back

Other Titles By This Author: Murder After Dark, The Black Revenge, Satan Meets Venus

It can’t be real. Can it? Answers on a postcard…

BOB: A funny scene with Ivy and Nora as well, now clearly becoming friends and pondering on the whereabouts of their missing husbands.

ANDREW: Ivy’s reference to Wally having slipped his leash is spot on. He’d be a whippet, of course.

BOB: We even get Nora alluding to Wally’s sexual exploits! ‘I’ve never found him excessively demanding,’ she states, with a certain degree of relief. One in the eye for those previously convinced that Wally Batty was a carnal titan with an insatiable sexual appetite.

ANDREW: I’m still not convinced.

BOB: And here we go… the classic stunt finish. Compo thirty feet up on a barn roof, Clegg on his wobbly bike, and Wally and Sid forming a rescue party in a tiny boat. The tone has very much shifted from a 9.30pm adult sitcom to a 7.30pm family show over the course of a couple of series, which – instinctively – I find a little sad. And yet… these are the shows that I fell in love with! I would have laughed uproariously at all of this when I was seven years old, and alongside the funny stuntwork there was still the crackling dialogue and downright Yorkshire oddness sinking into my psyche by osmosis. So I became a fan during this era, and the show essentially did its job.

I’ve struggled to find out, but I’d be fascinated to know – when did Summer Wine move from a late-night slot to primetime family scheduling? And did the change in tone happen afterwards, with Roy Clarke adjusting it accordingly?

ANDREW: Brace yourself for an info-dump. At the start of this series, which commenced on the 18th of September 1979, the show had been brought forward from 9.25pm to 8.30pm on Tuesdays. This was the first time the show had been screened in a slot where families could collectively view it and, incredibly significantly, this period also happened to coincide with the ITV strike. An industrial dispute had seen the ITV network shut down transmissions on the 10th of August and they wouldn’t resume until the 24th of October; great news for the BBC, who offered the only other viewing alternatives! 

Therefore it totally makes sense that the show would continue to move in the direction that series five embodies; for better or worse, this was how the vast majority of the viewing public came to know Last of the Summer Wine.

Most of this info, by the way, was cribbed from Andrew Vine’s book,  Last of the Summer Wine: The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series. I highly recommend it.

BOB:I can’t shake the feeling that Foggy actually wants to kill Compo during the final stages of this episode. He’s going to fall from a thirty-foot barn and be dragged to his death, man! Is that really what you want, Dewhurst? Is it? IS IT???

ANDREW: Well he knows he can get away with tormenting him, for once. Compo’s hardly gonna catch him while in that get-up. He absolutely delights in tormenting him, doesn’t he? I like to think this is his revenge for Full Steam Behind. It’ll be Clegg’s turn next. Actually, I’d watch a Friday the 13th style take on Last of the Summer Wine; Clarke missed a trick not writing a non-canon Halloween special.

Speaking of canon, Clegg’s previously established fear of driving is suspiciously absent. I’ll let Clarke off, though, as he does struggle to get the van going. Still, I’m not happy.

BOB: I need a long lie down, Drew. Good job this is the series finale.

An Interview With Juliette Kaplan – Part Two

Since Summer Winos has been on one of its little breaks for a few weeks, we thought it might be nice to release the second part of this interview ahead of schedule. If you need to catch up, part one can be found HERE. Don’t forget, you can get your fix of all things Kaplan at www.juliettekaplan.com.

How did your one-woman show come about?

I actually had the temerity once when I was out of work to phone Roy Clarke and say ‘How would you like to write me a one-woman show?’. There was a long pause, and a sharp intake of breath, and he said ‘…why not?’. So he wrote a script, called Just Pearl, and it toured all over the country, in about fifty venues.

When was this, in about 2003?

Yes, that’s right.

Do you ever revive it?

I was supposed to recently, for charity, but ended up twisting my back and had to have an operation. But Just Pearl will be resurrected at some stage. Absolutely.

For those of us who haven’t seen it, what’s the show about?

About Pearl’s life with Howard, and what happened before Howard. She’d met somebody else, but he was killed in the war. And in the show, she’s on the phone to Howard, keeping one step ahead of him. Funnily enough, I sell them on my website – I’ve just been out this morning to post some.

Did you have a great deal of input into the script?

Roy wrote the script, and sent it to me, and then I worked on it and wondered how it could best be staged. I asked if he minded if we transposed various things, because I’d  been to the Edinburgh Festival and seen a show about Abraham Lincoln. The actor walked onstage to dead silence, put the make-up on, then just turned into Abraham Lincoln. And I thought… I’m going to do that. So my show starts with me turning into Pearl in front of the audience. I put the make-up on, put the coat on, and say ‘There you are… there’s Pearl’. And the audience likes that sort of thing.

I’d like to talk about Roy Clarke’s writing, actually… one of his techniques is the repetition of situations, so – for example – we see Howard and Marina nearly getting caught in the act virtually every week, and the audience embraces that. From an actors standpoint, do you need try to keep those scenarios fresh?

No, because the scripts were always fresh. When you think of the disguises that Howard and Marina would get into… they were so funny, and how Roy thought them up, I have no idea. One thing I think that I’ve never done is get stuck into a rut, just churning out Stock Character Number 14. Every script, to me, has something in it that I can analyse and turn into a real person.

So when it comes to a character like Pearl, do you have her background in mind? Where she comes from and what her history is? Do you carry that around with you?

I don’t carry it around with me, but when I realised that I’d got the part and was going to be a regular, I evolved a scenario. I think she worked in a Building Society, because she’s very neat and organised. And I remember once having a scene with – I think – Thora Hird, and she said ‘You’ve never had children’. And Pearl replied ‘We were waiting for the spare room to be done’. And it never got done.

What brought Howard and Pearl together, do you think?

In my mind – which might be far from the truth – Pearl was in the Building Society, and Howard came in, with all his papers in a mess. And Pearl liked organisation so said ‘Right, I’ll have to sort you out… meet me afterwards, buy me a cup of tea, and we’ll get all your papers in order’. I don’t think he had much choice! She was not an attractive woman, so I think she probably thought ‘I’d better snap this one up…’. She wasn’t attractive on the outside, anyway. Inside, she was a beautiful woman.

I like that! Howard as an ongoing project.

Absolutely. I can’t think of what Howard used to do, though… actually, I suppose he might have been working in the Building Society as well…

Being the onscreen partner of Robert Fyfe for so long, what kind of relationship does that bring about? Are there times when it feels like you’re a real married couple?

Just good mates. I never wanted to shag him! (laughs)

There’s the quote to sell the interview!

I’ve met his wife, and she’s a darling, but I can’t say that – as a partner – Bob has never really turned me on! (laughs) Added to which, I don’t believe in relationships in the theatre. I was married to someone who ran a gift shop, and I always said that he kept me grounded. We were driving along one day, and saw a film set, and I said ‘Look over there… it looks like chaos, but it’s organised chaos, and everyone knows what they’re doing’. And he said something to the effect of ‘Crazy people doing crazy professions…’ So there you go.

I noticed on your IMDB entry that, for the episode ‘Elegy For Fallen Wellies’, you’re listed as choreographer! Was that for the cabaret routine? How did that come about?

Yes! Well, I’d been a dancer. We were getting ready to shoot, and Alan Bell wanted shots where we were tight together, but Jane Freeman wasn’t happy about dancing. So I suggested we do the ‘train step’, pushed myself in, and Alan very kindly gave me a credit as choreographer. It was fun doing it, and can you think of a better way for Compo to have died than in shock at seeing Nora Batty’s stockings?

Those are superb episodes.
Those three episodes, I think, are the best Roy Clarke has ever written. I’d never contacted him before, but I wrote to him to say how brilliant they were. And to thank him. Actually, I’d never actually met Roy until I asked him to write the show for me! But yes… I loved dancing. I did ballet for eight years at drama school, but you’ve got to grow up the right shape, and I didn’t! I grow up with big hips and a small waist, and they don’t want that in a ballerina.

So you look for your chances to dance…

Oh yes. When I was doing panto, there’d always be a dance routine. I remember Bob Fyfe and I doing Cinderella in Leamington Spa, and we had a number to ourselves… the Sand Dance! And Chu-Chi Face… Bob’s a very good dancer! Great fun.

In 2009, when it was first suggested that Summer Wine was about to end, you were once of the most vocal of the cast. Why did you feel the need to step up? What was your reaction?

Absolute horror. We’d been told to do that series, find out what the ratings were, and then the decision would be made about whether to carry on. But Jay Hunt (BBC1 controller) axed the show without ever seeing those episodes. I went up to her at a dinner and asked her why, and she said ‘We want new, young, fresh blood’. I pointed out that the new, young, fresh blood are all out in the pubs and clubs on a Sunday evening! What about the people who want to stay in and watch something good on TV instead? She said ‘I knew I’d get something like this…’, turned away… and tripped over her orange high heels! (laughs) If it’s something good, that the audience likes, that constantly gets high ratings, then why pull it? I was furious.

The young people that she’s talking about are the generation who don’t watch scheduled TV anyway… they watch it using iPlayer, and downloading, freeing up the schedules for people who don’t watch TV in that way.

We also got a lot of children watching the show. The kids loved it. When Barry’s hanging off the edge of a kite, when the boys are rolling downhill in a barrel because they’re three little boys… (pause) Roy once said that when he was first given permission to write the show, he didn’t know how to write it until it struck him… they’re three little boys, unencumbered by wives, sweethearts, anything. I once said to Bill Owen, ‘You’re like Just William, but with a pension book’. We got a lot of our audiences from young kids.

That’s the case with Bob Fischer and myself. He started watching around 1980, as a kid, and I was the same in the early 1990s. And now that we’re older, we’ve come back to the show with a whole new level of appreciation. That’s one of the reasons the show could keep going… it works for different generations. It’s like Sesame Street, or Doctor Who… it gathers as it goes along.

It’s quite amazing. Especially as Roy Clarke has written every single word. And they’re spot on, he has such a philosophical outlook on life. That comes through Peter Sallis, as Clegg… he’s the character that will espouse the philosophy behind the jokes, and that’s what gives the show its depth.

It’s a unique brand of philosophy of well, rooted in Yorkshire.

I’m not sure I agree actually…

Sorry!

No, it’s fun! When Fiddler On The Roof was first produced, it was suggested it would only work for Jewish people, but it didn’t… it worked all over the world. The Chinese, Africans, Americans all related to it, because it had universal themes of family. And I like to think that Summer Wine was a universal family, too. Every family has got one of ‘those’.

So, the offbeat eccentric, the grumpy old man…

Yes. In my eyes.

What was the feeling going into production on that final series? Knowing it was coming to an end?

We didn’t know. We had no idea. We got the scripts, but had no idea we wouldn’t we doing another one. There was one episode where Pearl took Howard back, and it went through my mind then… if all these knots are being tied up…? But no, we had no idea, really. It was an arbitrary decision to kill it. And the BBC gave us a lunch! I remember at a previous lunch to celebrate the 30th anniversary, they were heaping praise on us, and I got up – and I told you I’d been a bigmouth since I went to New York – and said ‘If you think the show’s so marvellous, why don’t you increase our budget?’ (laughs). I like to say the things that other people think, but haven’t got the guts to say.

It was interesting you picking up on Howard and Pearl’s story coming to a conclusion in that final series, as they seemed to be the only characters that really did get that kind of closure.

We always said that if Howard and Marina ever actually got it going, that would be the end of the show! But in those six episodes, Pearl throws him out… and then, in the final show, takes him back. And there was a scene with us walking together, with Howard trying to explain himself, and I got caught up in the emotion of it. And Alan Bell said ‘No… don’t play it like that, play it absolutely straight’. And I realised how right he was. We finished the shot, and I called him over, and said ‘You know what? You’re a bloody good director’. If I’d got all emotional, it wouldn’t have had any effect on the audience. Because I didn’t, they felt more for him… rather than me, taking him back. Damn good.

How did you eventually find out that the show was ending?

Alan sent us all a letter. It was a total, complete shock, and it affected us all the same way. Gobsmacked isn’t the word. But… as I say, there is a possibility that Roy might write some more.

That’s great news. To round things off… two questions. First one might be more difficult… can you pick out a single moment from filming Summer Wine that stands out as a highlight?

I don’t know if I can… oh, I remember once having a line that I delivered in a certain way, and somebody made a comment about trying it differently. And Alan Bell said ‘No – Juliette knows how to play this part, leaver he alone’. He always let me try something different. He may have wanted it a certain way, but he’d always give the chance to try it my way. There was a professional respect there that I really appreciated.

Second question… what does the future hold for you?

Well I might be doing a tour next February. I’ve been asked, and we’ve almost agreed, depending on what the pay’s like! (laughs). And, as I’ve said, Roy is coming out of retirement, he is doing something else, so I might yet have another script to learn. And then I’m going to South Africa! I’ve just done a couple of cruises, and I went paragliding. Paragliding and snorkelling! My two big hobbies.

What?! Where do you go snorkelling?

I started in Hawaii… then I’ve in snorkelled in Israel… and Sharm El Sheikh, several times… then in Marmaris, in Turkey. It’s a different world. I always carry my gear around with me!

Image courtesy of ‘The Daily Mail’
(Boo, hiss, etc.)

5.6 Here We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder

In which Compo plans to take to the air… 


BOB: Increasingly, these opening scenes are my favourite parts of the episodes… the conversations between our three heroes are always fabulously funny and well-observed.

Compo: We used to roll Eileen Watkins down this hill.
Foggy: What did she look like?
Clegg: Very dusty, and covered in bits of grass.
 

Cracking stuff, as is the traditional childhood reminiscing, complete with typically florid names and descriptions for unseen characters. Eileen Watkins, it transpires, was in love with Chunky Rumbelow, and was actually a dead ringer for the late King Farouk of Egypt. Complete with twirly moustache, do we assume?

Eileen Watkins


ANDREW: It’s quite stylishly directed as well, with each character literally as well as figuratively having their own perspective; Clegg standing, Foggy sitting, and Compo lying. It just seems a little more carefully composed than recent episodes. Maybe the director had a little bit of extra time.

BOB: Should I be surprised that Sid and Ivy have a microwave oven in 1979? I always think of them as a quintessentially 1980s invention, and am taken aback that someone as – ahem – traditionally-minded as Ivy would have one anywhere near her precious kitchen! I’m pretty damn sure I’d never even HEARD of a microwave in 1979, it were all pressure cookers and deep-fat fryers when I were a lad.

ANDREW: It’s never been mentioned before, but if they don’t know how to use it this might explain why our trio are so often unimpressed by their grub.

The scene in the café is great here, with a rare chance to see the dynamic between Ivy/Sid and Nora/Wally. There’s still something quite antagonistic between Nota and Ivy here, but I love how quickly they bond in their natural habitat – the kitchen. I love how, even on her day out, Nora isn’t content until she resumes domestic duties.

And just what is the expression of a man who knows what he’s doing with a microwave?

BOB: This is, of course, Wally’s idea of taking Nora out for a meal, the old smoothie. ‘Your pastry’s not light enough,’ she snaps, stony-faced, reducing Ivy to tears! At which point Nora softens too, and offers gentle advice. It’s interesting how we’ve seen the relationship between these two women develop over the years, am I right in thinking that they barely seem to know each other in the early series? Here, there’s clearly at least a grudging respect between, and then – in later years – they become firmer friends.

ANDREW: Yes, I think the first sign we saw of a developing relationship was during the seaside episodes. This is a pleasant continuation.

BOB: Interesting to see friction between Sid and Wally as well, when it comes to repairing the microwave! Women are competitive about baking, men are competitive about fixing things. Them’s the rules in Summer Wine world.

ANDREW: People whose sauce bottle tops looked like they had “bunches of raisins on ‘em” were the bane of my childhood existence. I loved and love red sauce (I’d even fill my Yorkshire puddings up with the stuff), but I equally hated the muck that would build up. Just the thought of one dropping off into me food… ugh. May Earnshaw bless the inventor of the squeezy plastic bottle!

Nice bit of casual racism directed at the Japanese as well. It’s been a while since we’ve had a similarly awkward moment. There’s not a hateful bone in the script’s body, but it’s still very odd to see. It’s all worth it from this line from Wally Batty, though:

WALLY: They do say the Japanese are very gifted in the trickier aspects of the marriage bed.

BOB: And so, after some nice character work, we get to the crux of what is clearly shaping up to be a stunt episode… Compo wants to go hang-gliding. And Wally volunteers to build the craft in question. Should I be ashamed of saying that I find Compo a bit annoying in this episode? I prefer his darker-edged persona of the early series, when he was almost a drop-out from normal society. Here, he’s essentially a child in an old man’s body, pulling faces and putting on comedy voices.

Although, again, there’s some lovely dialogue floating around. ‘He’s got a throat like a flush lavatory’ comments Foggy, deliciously, as Compo throws another pint down his neck. Compo, meanwhile, points out that he learnt his boozing skills from Slack Edna, a woman he accompanied on bat-hunting expeditions! Another one for the database, Drew…

ANDREW: Done and done.

BOB: And so we finish with a tree-climbing competition between Foggy and Compo, and – hooray! – a credit for Stuart Fell, the former Parachute Regiment stuntman beloved of Doctor Who fans. It’s a rare CV that includes spells doubling for both Bill Owen and Katy Manning, but Stuart’s pulled it off with aplomb! Is he also the only performer to have appeared in both Last of the Summer Wine and The Empire Strikes Back? Or do we have a Michael Sheard guest appearance to look forward to?

Stuart Fell – Jester of the Year 1993
http://www.tarothejester.co.uk

ANDREW: That sounds like a challenge to me. So I’ve done the leg-work and discovered that stuntman Peter Diamond, a Snowtrooper Guard and Stunt Arranger for Empire played the role of “Motorist” in the 1990 episode “Barry’s Christmas”. Now, I am the master.

BOB: An enjoyable enough episode with some nice moments, but I have a curious feeling we’re being set up for another sequel.

ANDREW: That’s just ‘cos you’ve seen the back of the box. Based solely upon viewing this episode, I would never have expected another installment was coming.