Posts Tagged ‘Bill Owen’

6.2 Car and Garter

In which Compo feels the need for speed…

BOB: Can I admit to a little tingle of excitement every time we reach the debut episode of a regular character?

ANDREW: Please do! We’d best enjoy the experience before saying goodbye to people becomes a more common occurrence.

BOB: Oof, you morbid soul. But ladies and gentlemen, it’s Wesley Pegden! As soon as I saw smoke billowing from beneath a garage door, and the sound of a muffled explosion, I knew exactly who we were going to meet.

There’s a classic opening line to this episode as well: “How do you get marmalade off a ferret?” asks Compo. It’s one of life’s eternal mysteries, isn’t it? Also, an exchange that I remember heartily laughing at back in 1982, and my dad doing likewise…

           COMPO: When you straighten up, why doesn’t the blood rush straight to your feet?

           FOGGY: You don’t think anything’s going to be in a rush to get to your feet…

Brian Wilde’s delivery is a perfect mix of warmth, self-satisfaction and disdain. And I cannot help but feel hugely sentimental whenever I hear a line in anything that made my dad and I laugh together. I know them all when I hear them… in Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Porridge, you name it… as soon as I hear that line – even if it’s for the first time in thirty years – I’m transported back to the front room, and a little routine we would play out: if we both laughed simultaneously at the same thing, then immediately afterwards we’d exchange a fleeting look of mutual appreciation across the room. It was completely involuntary, and my mum found it fascinating. But I’ve always shared a sense of humour with my dad, and we absolutely bonded over TV comedy. And he had fabulously progressive tastes… I know plenty of my contemporaries who were banned from watching The Young Ones when they were kids, but I was introduced to it by my dad. He loved it, and we watched it together… along with all of the edgiest 80s TV comedy you could think of. One of the highlights of my early teenage years was staying up late on a Friday night and watching the likes of Who Dares Wins on Channel 4 with him. Thanks, Dad.

And I’ve just realized that the above paragraph makes it sound like my dad is dead! He’s not everyone, he’s fine. Cancel the flowers.

ANDREW: Good to hear, I’m always on the lookout for a guest reviewer…

BOB: I love Gordon Wharmby in Summer Wine, although has he been surrounded by a bit of urban mythologizing over the years? I’m sure I remember reading somewhere that he was a local amateur dramatics enthusiast without a previous professional acting credit, but that does him a bit of a disservice. True, he wasn’t a trained thespian and combined part-time acting with a day job as a painter and decorator, but he had been part of Oldham Repertory Theatre, and had also done small parts in Coronation Street, amongst others.

What I didn’t realise was that he’d actually auditioned to play the angry man on the roof at the end of the previous episode, In The Service Of Humanity! It’s a one-line part (“Hey, bring back that ladder!”), but he impressed Roy Clarke and Alan JW Bell so much that they asked him to read for Wesley in Car and Garter. Bell, apparently, found him “absolutely real”, and the part was his. However, Wesley was – I’ve read – previously earmarked as a guest role for a well-known TV actor! Anyone know who that might be? This could be Summer Wine’s April Walker moment!

ANDREW: I wonder if, as they were casting this part, Clarke and Bell were specifically looking for a Fred Dibnah type. The Bolton-born steeplejack first rose to fame in 1978 and, although it never struck me until now, Wesley’s likeness to the man is striking.

LShZ2_WrWkHj-KnJpkPA2jlKtWk 

A brief detour to the café sees Sid being harassed by Ivy. Has the phrase, “In the kitchen” ever been spoken with such menace? What really struck me about the scene, however, is the smattering of applause it receives at the end. This is unusual in Summer Wine land and, although I’m not trying to be critical, I don’t understand what the scene did to elicit such a reaction. It’s not a standout. Perhaps scenes routinely received this sort of reaction and, under newcomer Alan Bell, a tiny snippet accidentally made it through to the final edit.

BOB: There’s a staggering scene in Clegg’s house that actually made me rewind the DVD to double check that I’d heard it correctly. They’re talking about Sid, and Foggy – rather amazingly – delivers the opinion that (brace yourself) “Ivy seems him as something of a big dick”.

Whhhhhhhhat?!?!? It’s not even a one-off. “There are far too many boring, serious beggars about,” muses Clegg, immediately afterwards. “We need all the big daft dicks we can get”.

Am I being incredibly prudish here? It’s hilarious, but I always thought ‘dick’ was up there with ‘cock’ and ‘prick’ as an insult I wouldn’t have expected to hear in Summer Wine! Certainly not in this later era, anyway. The reaction from the studio audience suggests that they’re a bit taken aback as well!

ANDREW: Well, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the genital connotation in the word is attested in an 1891 dictionary of Farmer’s Slang. Then there is the idiom “Clever Dick”, which has been used as recently as a 2012 game show C4 hosted by Anne Widdicome entitled Cleverdicks. I realise that none of this answers your question, but it’s nice to make the effort sometimes.

BOB: I still think this is filth, and should be banned. Neverthless we get to the crux of the episode… Wesley is building what he sees as the ultimate high-performance car, and needs a test-driver, and our heroes volunteer Sid for the job, believing it will increase his standing in Ivy’s eyes. Interesting to see that, in these early stages, Wesley clearly isn’t taken with Compo’s sense of humour – there’s a real prickliness to their exchanges.

ANDREW: And then we encounter another odd audience response. Bell cuts to a close-up of Foggy and the audience roars with laughter. It isn’t until a few seconds later that we cut to a wide shot which reveals Sid in his ridiculous racing gear. Usually, during this kind of sitcom gag, the set and performers are shielded from the audience. They only see the action play out on monitors, just like viewers at home. I’m convinced these moments have something to do with a change in production techniques, maybe the studio floor layout had been modified.

BOB: I didn’t notice any of this! It’s all real to me, guv. What is this ‘studio floor’ of which you speak? Ivy, meanwhile, is having none of Sid’s daredevil exploits and forbids him to take part (as well as taking a little sideswipe at his implied proclivities – “Don’t be making a fool of yourself if that bus conductress comes in, and don’t have her poking my sandwiches with her bell finger!”) and so – predictably enough – Compo is roped in to drive Wesley’s cobbled-together sports car.

ANDREW: It’s a cliché, but women really are unpredictable sometimes. Just the other week, Emma was upset with me. By way of apology, I baked her a loaf of break in the shape of, erm… a big dick. While I was baking, this seemed like the greatest idea in the world, but it didn’t go down well… so to speak. What I’m trying to say is I sympathise with Sid!

BOB: Bake one for me. We’ll eat it together while we watch Getting Sam Home. I’ll look after you, my angel. 

ADDREW: As for the Bus Conductress, I like to think she’s the same feisty character we saw during series two’s ‘Forked Lightning’. I seem to recall you took a shine to her.

BOB: I can’t remember her! I’m such a fickle fool. There’s a bizarre twist here… Nora is actually impressed! And, not only that, she wears the garter that Compo gives her to keep her wrinkled stockings up. And proudly gives him a tantalizing glimpse of it! I’m not sure how I feel about this, actually… it’s very funny, but would Nora actually do that? Although I can also see the argument that we need to see a certain affection reciprocated between them, otherwise you’re just left wondering why she doesn’t just call the police on him every week.

ANDREW: Like I said, unpredictable.

BOB: I also wonder if this the episode that really kick-started the whole ‘wrinkled stockings’ phenomenon. I know they’d been mentioned in the series before now, but Compo’s hatred of them is major plot point of this episode. And it was around this time that wrinkled stockings became one of the major cultural identifiers of Last of the Summer Wine… you certainly wouldn’t read an article about the show (or about Kathy Staff herself) without them being mentioned, and I think that might have stemmed from this very episode.

ANDREW: Yep. This will become one of the series’ most celebrated running gags and eventually leads to this oddity…

I’d love to know who plays the onlookers in this episode. They’re a small crowd and they don’t look like actors. I wonder whether they were locals, crewmembers, relatives of crewmembers… anybody know?

BOB: What strikes me most about this episode is that Alan Bell was spot on with regards to Gordon Wharmby – he is indeed “absolutely real”. It’s a fine performance, and a great encapsulation of that breed of middle-aged Northern men who spend all of their spare time in overalls beneath a car and need a garage (or a shed, or just some private space to retreat to, unencumbered by female tutting and clucking) to retreat to. I see a lot of my Dad in Wesley.

ANDREW: Actually, what impressed me most about this one was the direction. I know I’ve harped on about a couple of production oddities, but the film sequences really sparkle in this episode. Bell’s signature landscape shots perfectly puncture the studio bound and character based stuff and one sequence, where Ivy returns to the café only to flee upon seeing Sid in his racing get-up is really dynamic. Just look at some of these shots.

Picture 12

Picture 14

All in all, good stuff.

Advertisements

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.

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.

5.3 The Flag and Further Snags

In which Foggy’s plan finally comes to fruition!  

 

BOB: Good grief, it’s a sequel! I hadn’t looked too closely at the episode titles, so I really wasn’t expecting that, and really… the previous episode had nothing about it that suggested a second part was essential to conclude the story. I just assumed Foggy’s plan to erect the flag had come to nothing, like pretty much all of his ideas so far. Here’s hoping things pick up in this episode. I’m desperately in need of an Empire Strikes Back!

ANDREW: Maybe the BBC ordered one more episode than Clarke was expecting? That might explain why The Flag and its Snag felt so padded.

BOB: And crikey, we start with an incest joke. ‘Billy Butterwick had a cousin on the railway once,’ giggles Compo. ‘She said she wouldn’t tell her mum, but she did’. Hear that scribbling? That’s Mary Whitehouse taking notes. 

Nice to see Stan Richards in this episode, bumbling about the Railway Parcels Office when Foggy goes to collect his flag. Later to become hugely famous as Seth Armstrong in Emmerdale Farm, although he only made his Emmerdale debut in 1978, so probably hadn’t quite achieved national treasure status when this aired!

Stan Richards as Seth Armstrong in the long running Yorkshire Television soap ‘Emmerdale’

ANDREW: He’s gently sinister here. I bet his house is full of unclaimed goods from the sorting office. I love Compo’s method of breaking into Foggy’s parcel. There’s something primitively satisfying about opening a package without having to turn to a cutting implement. Don’t laugh, I’m afforded very few opportunities to feel manly.

BOB: Nice bit of physical comedy here as well, with Compo’s trousers being pulled asunder by the snagged string on Foggy’s parcel. I laughed out loud. Trousers ARE funny.

ANDREW: And it’s executed much more effectively than last week’s farting about with Donkeys and dry stone walls. Perhaps that’s the luxury of sitcom rehearsal time at work.

Our trio ventures back to base in order to solve Compo’s predicament, said base being the café, of course. This just a sign of my unobservant nature, but this is the first time I’ve noticed that Sid and Ivy have their prices written up on a chalk board behind the counter. Egg and Chips for 55p and a cup of tea for just 5p – lovely.

BOB: An unexpected but rather lovely bit of character development in this episode… Wally Batty is a member of the Old and Ancient Order of Bullocks! Obviously Roy Clarke’s gentle spoof on Freemasonry, although there’s a distinctly smalltown feel to all of this… they meet in the café, and Wally – we learn – has become a Bullock to advance his standing in racing pigeon circles. And, you have to assume, to get out of the house.

Something we rarely see in Summer Wine here as well… proper, hammering, filthy torrential rain. Foggy even has a brolly! There’s a real ‘end of summer’ feel to this episode, and already I like it much more than the previous installment.

ANDREW: Certain sitcoms seem to have been blessed when it comes to location shooting. Dad’s Army is another example of a series where nary a drop of rain is glimpsed. Red Dwarf, on the other hand, always seems to have the worst of weather for their trips outside of the studio.

So the trio heads off to see “the Commodore” and we’re treated to two 1970s staples; a scantily-clad, shrieking  woman and some ghastly, brown, flower-patterned curtains. The way in which Clarke has the Commodore bastardize Kenneth Grahame is also very cheeky.

BOB: Alright, can I introduce an element of actor geekery here?

ANDREW: Can I stop you?

BOB: Robert Lang, who plays the ex-sea cadets Commodore ‘entertaining’ a young lady on his houseboat, was something of a theatrical powerhouse. He was talent-spotted by Laurence Olivier in the early 1960s, who’d seen him playing Theseus in the RSC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Olivier tapped him up and encouraged him to jump ship to his newly-formed National Theatre Company! The famous critic Caryl Brahms once described him as having ‘quiet grandeur, cogency and gravity’, all essential qualities for a guest role in Last of the Summer Wine.  

Robert Lang in ‘The Sandwich Man’ (1966)

And his young lady is a tiny role for Maggie Ollerenshaw, one of my favourite actresses. And clearly one of Roy Clarke’s too, as she’s also Wavy Mavis in Open All Hours, and went on to play Clegg’s mother in First of the Summer Wine! I love her, she’s got brilliant comic timing.

ANDREW: I knew that I recognized that voice from somewhere!

BOB: The final stages of the episode are quite odd, in that our heroes are actually separated in a way that I don’t think has really happened before. Foggy steams ahead on his flag quest, while Clegg and Compo stay behind.

ANDREW: Well, it is raining.

BOB: I like Compo’s remark about Wally’s pigeon – ‘That’d go well wi’ a few tatties’, which reminds me SO much of the stuff my Dad would say around this time… I had a pet rabbit, which he would (JOKINGLY!!!) remark would make for a cracking pie with a few carrots and peas. The legacy of a wartime childhood, I guess.

ANDREW: My dad wasn’t so lucky. He was unknowingly fed his rabbit after my Grandad’s weekly pay was delayed. Perhaps that’s why I was only ever allowed a hamster. Who wants to eat a Hamster?

Wally really reminds me of one of my Uncles here. He always has, but a think it’s his pride in his racing pigeon photos. With my uncle, it was whippets, but it’s still very familiar. And I mean this as a compliment should you ever read this, Lar! (It’s my Auntie Sue who might knack me should she believe I’m comparing her to Nora by proxy).

BOB: And so – amazingly – Foggy’s plan comes to fruition! He DOES raise his flag on the top of the hillside! Until it falls over, obviously. But is this the first of Foggy’s harebrained schemes that’s actually reached a successful conclusion? It’s a watershed episode!

ANDREW: Dare we attempt to restage his attempt on our next trip to Holmfirth? It’ll have to be on a smaller scale, of course, but the idea of a Brian Wilde memorial flagpole strikes me a rather beautiful thing.

BOB: I enjoyed that, anyway. A huge improvement on the previous instalment with some great guest appearances and funny moments.

ANDREW: And a fantastic punch line. All in all, I think that just about redeemed the last episode. Still a very strange two-parter, though.

Summer Winos on Tour

Hello folks! Sorry that it has been so long since we last updated the site, but we’ve both been a little run off our feet. In the meantime I have finished editing a video that should have been ready for the launch of this blog. It’s slight, but we hope you enjoy. Click the little HD symbol for a higher quality version.

4.7

4.7 A Merry Heatwave

In which Christmas comes early for Nora’s brother Billy…

BOB: This is marked on the DVD as the Christmas Special, but it’s a curious bit of scheduling… the previous episode from Series 4 – ‘Greenfingers’ – was broadcast on 14th December 1977, in the usual Wednesday night slot, but ‘A Merry Heatwave’ actually went out on New Year’s Day 1978, a Sunday. The final episode of Series 4, ‘The Bandit From Stoke-on-Trent’ was then shown on Wednesday 4th January. So is ‘A Merry Heatwave’ officially part of Series 4 or not? These are the things we need to know…

ANDREW: The series is in desparate need of an Andrew Pixley. Perhaps we should see if he’s free?

BOB: Whatever the airdate, it sees Summer Wine celebrating its first Christmas special in typically perverse fashion… the episode is set during a summer heatwave, but a distraught Nora needs to create an unseasonal festive period so she can send the pictures to her brother Billy in Australia, who isn’t expected to live to see the real thing. Yes, more death and terminal illness! ‘This time he seems to have his heart set on it,’ wails a hysterical Nora in the café, prompting our heroes to rally around with paper chains (Oh crikey, I spent MONTHS of my childhood making paper chains for Christmas. The whole of our household decorations were held together by juvenile spittle) and tinsel.

ANDREW: It’s a gloriously stifled and enforced Christmas they throw together and one that isn’t helped along by Foggy’s cinéma vérité aspirations behind the camera. Then again, watching Wally and Nora struggle to appear as if they are enjoying themselves while wearing festive hats, one doesn’t get the impression that the real holiday season goes any more smoothly.

BOB: Some nice Sid and Ivy moments in this episode, including a great set-piece in which they’re actually kissing in the café – with Ivy seemingly encouraging Sid to attempt to turn her on! It’s a scene that’s clearly a riff on a similar routine between Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot… and with mentions of Joe E Brown fresh in the memory from a previous episode, you have to conclude that it’s one of Roy Clarke’s favourite films.

Even Nora’s attitude seems to have been softened for the festive period… she has her hair tumbling down and is wearing a floral blouse! She actually looks… quite… nice (hit me with something, Drew). And, amazingly, she can’t take her eyes off Compo’s ripped trousers. ‘It draws you in like something mysterious…’ she ponders, turning her head sideways to get a better look. It makes you wonder…

ANDREW: While I feel hitting you with something is an entirely justifiable punishment for such wicked thoughts, it really is a testament to Kathy Staff’s performance that we are so totally convinced by her Nora costume’s usual padding and dowdiness. 

BOB: Some cracking one-liners in this episode, all of which made me laugh heartily…

Compo: ‘She came from a good home’
Clegg: ‘Yes, for unmarried mothers…’

Norah: ‘Billy has great difficulty in passing water…’
Clegg: ‘Can’t he move inland?’

Clegg: ‘Tommy Warburton had to give up a certain married woman’
Compo: ‘Fancy giving her up when she was certain…’


A very enjoyable episode, all told. And, of course, Nora’s cousin Billy rallies by the end and runs away with his nurse. All is well in 70s sitcom-land.

ANDREW: Yes, although we’ll never see him, I will forever imagine Harold Bennett in the role… 

4.4 + 4.5

4.4. Flower Power Cut

In which the Grim Reaper looms large…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In which Foggy finds romance!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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