Posts Tagged ‘commentary’

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.

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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.

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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.

What’s in a Name?

Summer Winos is unjustifiably proud to present our Names Database, which is now linked to from the top of every page of the site. The Database is a partial listing of the many unseen characters mentioned in passing throughout Last of the Summer Wine‘s history. Due to the proliferation of nicknames, characters are listed alphabetically by their first name, be that real or imagined. We only started to take this seriously around the start of series five, so please feel free to leave suggestions for further entries in the comments section below. Here’s one of our favourite entries so far.

Chuffa Enright – Did brilliant duck impressions and used to roll about under Doreen Tattersill. (Christmas, 1981)

Summer Winos (3.3+3.4)

3.3 The Great Boarding House Bathroom Caper

ANDREW: The first of a two-part seaside adventure? Oh, Mr. Clarke, you are spoiling us. It is a little odd seeing the trio let loose outside of the confines of the Holm valley and the idea of packing up all of your characters and sending them off on holiday has become somewhat of a sitcom cliché over the years, but within the context of these episodes I think it works. Compo, Clegg, Foggy, Ivy, Sid, Gordon, Nora and Wally aren’t off to sunny Spain for some atypical glitz, glamour and antics – they’re heading for a weekend in Scarborough. This minibreak is suitably low rent, cheap and cheerful; Carry On At Your Convenience without the razzmatazz.

BOB: Indeed, and it’s a lovely, unexpected treat to have the title music and opening credits playing out over shots of the seaside! I’m expecting to be overwhelmed with nostalgia during this episode, as family visits to Scarborough were a regular feature of my 1970s summers. There’s every chance we might see my Gran in the background, stepping from a Bee-Line bus and picking sand from a bag of greasy chips wrapped in a copy of the Daily Mirror…

Nice line from Clegg in the opening scenes, as they’re waiting for the bus to arrive – ‘The older I get, the more I seem to like dozy people’. I can appreciate his sentiments… as I race towards my 40th birthday, I do tend to find deep thinkers and over-analyzers increasingly hard work. We all need a Compo in our lives, and he’s resplendent in a lovely stripy blazer in this episode… as Foggy puts it, ‘You look like a National Health gigolo!’

The interaction between Wilde, Sallis and Owen in these opening scenes is superb… so incredibly fast, and funny, and nuanced. I can actually see a bit of Harpo, Groucho and Chico in them. Cue Drew’s ears pricking up!

ANDREW: I guess what we see of Scarborough in the background of this episode represents the beginning of the long drawn out end for the traditional British seaside holiday. By the mid 1970s foreign travel was just about becoming affordable for working class families and certainly by the point at which my family visited the town in the 1990s a seaside getaway seemed like the exception as opposed to the rule. I think I can pinpoint why; from what I remember, nothing had progressed in terms of the tourist industry in those twenty-odd years. In particular, the boarding house at which our trio stay seems eerily familiar. I can almost smell the aroma of stale cabbage and not-so-freshly laundered sheets. Then again, maybe we just went to a crap B+B!

BOB: Does anyone even say the phrase ‘boarding house’ any more? You’re right, it’s very evocative… all tatty lace curtains, floral wallpaper and an octogenarian waitress in Edwardian maid’s outfit. And yet, despite this, there’s still a beautifully-observed scene in the dining room where Ivy – bless her – affects a very well-heeled voice to compliment the landlady. ‘Seldom have we received such service,’ she trills, in exactly the same voice that my mother affected when answering the phone throughout the 1970s. It was still an age where ‘speaking nicely’ was considered correct social practice, and despite her working class Yorkshire background, clearly Ivy would be mortified to think that anyone could consider her (gasp!) ‘common’.

ANDREW: The idea of Ivy and Sid piling into a bus on holiday with three old blokes that loiter around their café might seem a little odd, but the fact that they do creates a cozy sense community. I don’t think the concept of community breaks really exists any more, does it? I remember that, when I was in primary school, practically our entire street would pile into a coach and visit Beamish for the day. It was an annual event; a byproduct of the fact that the street was originally built for workers at the nearby paint factory and that pretty much everyone who lived their still either worked there, had retired from there, or knew somebody eligible who could get them tickets. That’s all over now, and has been for some time, as families move, retirees passed on and the sense of community in that street gradually faded away. I know it’s not quite the same thing, but this episode has succeeded in making me a little nostalgic for a change!

BOB: I’m absolutely overwhelmed with nostalgia by this episode, but – as I expected – it’s Scarborough that’s doing the trick. There’s a beautiful scene where Compo, Clegg and Foggy mess around in the Penny Arcades, and it’s the arcades as my Gran would have loved them – no fruit machines or Space Invader machines yet, just one-armed bandits and Shove Ha’Penny. The sun beats down on sandy pavements, and unsuspecting holidaymakers bustle past in cheesecloth shirts and flares, immortalized in a little piece of TV history. It’s absolutely a window into my early childhood.

I think we need to give a little mention to Ronnie Hazelhurst at this point as well, his scores are so evocative and carefully-crafted… over the scene I mentioned drifts a lovely, lilting flute rendition of Scarborough Fair, and it’s just perfect. A fabulous episode.

3.2 Cheering Up Gordon

BOB: I’d forgotten this was a two-parter and was surprised to find us still in Scarborough at the start of this episode! And – wahey – this is the first episode I can remember actually seeing on TV back in the day, because I distinctly recall an earnest school morning discussion between me and my friend Doug Simpson about the nature of the ‘popsicle’ scene…

Foggy: Lots of people swim in the North Sea.
Clegg: Only if they fall off a boat…
Compo: It’ll turn your popsicle blue!

It must have been a repeat, as I didn’t know Doug until 1983, but I clearly remember us debating whether Compo, when referring to a ‘popsicle’ was actually referring to… well… you know… he couldn’t be, could he? But now, 28 years on, I think I can safely say that – yes! He is! Filth, from Roy Clarke! Whatever next? Well… a semi-naked Brian Wilde, that’s what…

ANDREW: When Foggy decides to strip off (PHWOAR) and venture into the sea, he’s really not that old looking is he? In fact, Brian Wilde was only around fifty at the time. This struck me with Clegg in the first series as well. Summer Wine has this reputation for being, ‘that show about old people’ but for at least half of its run it isn’t anything of the sort.

BOB: Wilde was 48/49 during the filming of this series, so no – by today’s standards he’d barely be considered middle-aged. He’s only a decade older than me! Do we assume that the character of Foggy is meant to be considerably older than Wilde, given that all three of the main characters were clearly schoolfriends, and that Clegg and Compo are obviously closer to sixty than fifty?

Great scene anyway – there’s a studio audience member who’s absolutely howling with laughter as Foggy runs into the sea, and I love that kind of thing. It’s probably just me, but studio audience laughter these days seems much more smooth and generic than it used to be! There are lots of 70s sitcoms where you can pick out individual audience members laughing… lots of coughing and little outbreaks of applause as well. It’s very charming.

ANDREW: Absolutely. There’s one chap who yaks his way through a good chunk of Dad’s Army  and one particularly hysterical woman during Are You Being Served who, for me, have just about become series regulars.
And in terms of dialogue, I think Roy Clarke is absolutely on fire at this stage. I laughed heartily, by myself, all the way through this episode – it’s just full of little gems. His writing for Wally Batty in particular is magnificent…

Nora: Are you going to sit there while he insults me?
Wally: No, I thought I’d go and have a look at the lifeboats.
Nora: You talk yourself into being miserable.
Wally: No I don’t, I just have to listen.
Nora: I don’t know what people must think. You’re on holiday.
Wally: Not really. If you’d come by yourself, then I’d have been on holiday. Remember that smashing fortnight when you had to go and nurse your mother?

I could listen to this all day. Joe Gladwin is just extraordinary – nobody has ever made twisted, hangdog misery so sensationally funny.

Compo’s nephew Gordon is a pleasant addition as well. As our representative from the younger generation he’s clearly fond of his ‘Uncle Bill’ but has no interest in the trio’s time wasting activities. In fact, he’s not really interested in any silliness at all.

BOB: We’ve seen a few of Compo’s family in these early episodes, haven’t we? Surprising, as he always seemed to be much more of a loner in later series. Gordon’s another lovely, world-weary character – very nicely played by Philip Jackson, who’ll forever be the Abbot Hugo in Robin Of Sherwood to me! He still pops up regularly on TV, but this is one of his earliest roles.

I have to mention that extraordinary scene on the beach as well, where Sid and Ivy – and there’s no easy way of putting this – discuss their sex life!

Ivy: You never talk to me, not even when me make love…
Sid: Not much to talk about is there, the rate we go at it? You still do it as if your mother’s watching.
Ivy: You should try and rouse me more…

Given that they spend most of the programme at violent loggerheads, you’d be forgiven for being amazed that Sid and Ivy have a sex life at all… and, in broader sitcoms, great comic play would undoubtedly be made of them being trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage. But their relationship is nothing of the sort – at the beginning of this scene, Ivy is wistfully lost in a romantic magazine, dreaming of the lithe-limbed lotharios that inhabit its pages. She absolutely wants to be loved and to be seduced, and still dreams that Sid can be that dream-like hunk in real life.

I think we learn a lot about Ivy in this sequence… the fact that he falls so short of her ideals again and again is clearly the source of her constant anger and frustration at Sid. And, maybe, against the male gender as a whole? None of the idle, child-like men in Summer Wine are a match for the perfect, silky-voiced lovers in her books and magazines, and yet she can’t give up on the hopeless dream that, one day, Sid just MIGHT be. She really can’t. She has to keep dreaming… and just taking what she can from Sid in the hope that, some day, things WILL be perfect. 

An unexpected bit of sauciness at the end of the episode as well, when Compo heads out on the pull, and succeeds in bringing four women back from a local nightclub – one each for himself, Foggy, Clegg and Gordon! We only ever hear their screeching voices outside the boarding house door, but by crikey… you can just smell the gin-soaked breath and stale Benson and Hedges, and see the smudged lipstick and laddered fishnet stockings. And all in vain, because Gordon – bless him – is already enjoying a quiet game of chess with a charming redhead called Josie.

Clegg, predictably, runs upstairs. ‘Supposing they’d raped us…’ he trembles, later, reminding us that Summer Wine isn’t ready to settle into cosy teatime whimsy just yet.

Anyway, I loved these episodes. Can you tell? Absolutely my favourite of anything we’ve seen so far, and I think the series has hit an extraordinary peak at this stage. I genuinely can’t wait to carry on. 

Summer Winos (2.7)

2.7 Northern Flying Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Winos (1.5+1.6)

1.5 The New Mobile Trio

In which our three friends take up motoring.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

1.6 Hail Smiling Morn Or Thereabouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLAMIRE: She married a University lecturer!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Winos (1.3+1.4)

1.2 Pâté and Chips


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

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

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

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

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

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

(GESTURES TO SID)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLAMIRE: It soon passes, doesn’t it?

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

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

1.4 Spring Fever

In which Compo’s sap rises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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