Posts Tagged ‘Last of the Summer Wine’

EXCLUSIVE: An Interview With Stuart Fell

Image from The Bournemouth Echo

Image from The Bournemouth Echo

Recently, Summer Winos had the opportunity to sit down and interview Stuart Fell, one of the great unsung heroes of Last of the Summer Wine. If a skateboard needed mounting, a ladder needed climbing, or a dry-stone wall needed falling off, Stuart was the man the BBC turned to. Chatty, active and cheerful, he was kind enough to guide us through his long career as a stunt-man.

What did you aspire to be as a child?

Well, I was born Morecambe in Lancashire, which isn’t a million miles away from Holmfirth… but my Father was in the RAF during the war and we travelled around a lot. My father was posted to Scotland. We spent a few years there before being posted to places all over the country, as well as abroad. My brother and I were always exploring the countryside and doing quite dangerous things, and one or two of my schools had some very good gymnastic coaches, which was quite rare in those days.

But I started life in electronics. I was an electronic tester, but I didn’t like working indoors… so I joined the army. The regiment I joined was a parachute regiment, which I got on well with. They earmarked me as a Physical Training instructor because I was able to stand on my hands and do a backflip… that type of thing. And I was in Borneo and gained quite a lot of experience with more modern weapons than a lot of the established stuntmen had previously been used to. They’d been on things like 303s and old-fashioned mortars, but the army had brought in newer weapons. So I was trained in those, and I went on lots and lots of courses. I enjoyed learning things in the army – climbing, underwater swimming… anything I could get onto, really.

So I imagine that, at this point, becoming a stuntman wasn’t at the back of your mind?

Well, as a child on the RAF camps, there was a cinema for all the airmen and we pretty much got free access to it. They’d change the film every night, and they were always action films. So my brother and I would re-enact the films that they showed there. We were film buffs. It was always in the back of my mind that I’d love to get into films, but it was almost impossible. I wrote several letters to try and get into different productions, but I never got a reply so I took a job as an electronic tester. But, when I came out of the army, I had become a gymnastic coach as well as a training instructor so I went to a stunt agency and said, “Look, I’m a gymnast and I’d like to become a stuntman.” To which they replied, “Oh, bugger off.” (Laughs) And they were right. You had to have a lot of experience. You had to know how to move and how to act… and it’s not just the ability to do these things; you’ve got to know where the studios are for a start, so that you can get there! Lots of little things that you should know.

But I got into a conversation with another agency and this chap said, “Look, I wouldn’t go around stunt agencies asking to get in because it’s very, very close knit. But because you’re a gymnast, why don’t you go around saying you’re a tumbler?” And there were agencies, and there probably still are, that were jobbing agencies. If you wanted a midget, they had midgets. If you wanted a bearded lady, they had bearded ladies… many of those people were variety folk. So I went to an agency that took on these small parts. Although I didn’t realise it, the fellow was actually going bankrupt… but he took me on and I was surprised to get quite a lot of work from him.

So I got onto things like Hark At Barker that had lots of comedy slapstick sketches. Ronnie Barker kept asking for me, and he started writing scripts to include me. That was the start. Anyway, the agent went bankrupt and I lost quite a bit of money out of that, but in the meantime I had been going to a gymnasium in Tottenham Court Road where the established stuntmen went to train. One fellow, Derek Ware, ran an agency called HAVOC. They were all at the gym every Saturday morning and they accepted me because I’d been getting some stunt work off my own bat anyway, through this agency.

They gave me some work on Doctor Who, and after that I never looked back. Doctor Who used to work nine months of the year, and I didn’t mind playing monsters. A lot of actors didn’t like playing them, because their faces were covered! And some didn’t like taking television work in case it interfered with a film that was coming up that might offer, say, three months continuous work. I wasn’t likely to get on a film, so I was just taking all of this television. And the people who made Doctor Who did lots of other drama for television, too. So when they went onto things like Poldark, if they needed stuntmen then they’d choose the people they’d worked with. So without realising it, working on the different Doctor Who productions was establishing me for other drama series. I found myself getting a lot of work through ITV and BBC by simply being available to work with different directors that I’d already been introduced to, and worked for.

I also started getting quite a lot of comedy work. Ronnie Barker, as I said, did Hark at Barker and then – shortly after – started doing The Two Ronnies. He used to write a great deal of the scripts and he would sometimes say, “Get Stuart in, and he’ll arrange this because he did something similar on Hark at Barker.” Knowing somebody like that… that was great. He would often write the scripts with me in mind.

Time is essential in television. You can’t hold them up. With films, they’d tell you what they wanted and give you a couple of days to rig it. You might do a test shoot and the director would say, “Yes that’s what I want,” and you’d do it. But in television it’s not like that at all! They’d say, “Look, Stuart, we’ve got about fifteen minutes before we lose the light. Can you do something very quick for us?” So you often did that… and I’ve got a reputation for being accommodating, I suppose.

Stuart in costume, for the 1978 'Doctor Who' serial 'The Invasion of Time' (Image Courtesy of BBC )

Stuart (Far Right) in costume, for the 1978 ‘Doctor Who’ serial ‘The Invasion of Time’
(Image Courtesy of BBC )

Were you surprised when Last of the Summer Wine came into your life? I can imagine how stunt work would be a big part of something like Doctor Who, a show with a lot of action in it, but Last of the Summer Wine had been running for a couple of years before you first took part, and it had a reputation as quite a sedate, script-driven sitcom.

I can’t actually remember if I’d worked with him (director Sydney Lotterby) directly before, but somehow Sydney knew of me… or someone in his office knew of me. There was a sequence, I think in the second series, with a carrot and I was asked to give some advice on it! The special effects department asked me if I could come and have a look at this carrot and see if I could do something with it, but I wasn’t available to do anything.

But I believe that, for the second series, the figures had dropped and they weren’t going to do any more, but they’d got a Christmas special, and they’d given Compo a skateboard. It was the very last scene and it was a runaway skateboard with Compo on it, and a superb brass band in a lovely lane near Holmfirth, with steps and dustbins everywhere, and all sorts of obstacles down the lane. They said, “This is virtually the last scene. The brass band is coming up the hill playing Christmas carols and Compo is on his way down, because he’s been playing with these kids and their skateboard. See what you can do for us.” So we did it, and it turned out quite well, and I remember Roy Clarke saying to me that this was the missing ingredient. He said that, up to then, they’d never got up to any falling about or falling down. But the Christmas special was successful, and they’d given the series another go, so he was going to try and write in scenes for the lads to do. Not very ambitious, because they were old men!

As a result, Sydney Lotterby used to ask me to go on the location recces. We would talk about the stunts and find some dry walls to fall off! In my enthusiasm I would try to build the stunts up and whenever there was a stunt it seemed to fit quite nicely with the balance of the series. I mean, obviously, they were old men weren’t they? They weren’t supposed to kill themselves! They were just supposed to be funny… pratfalls, falling on their bums, and in ditches. Anyway, they used to spend their money getting me up there and shooting it. I would tell them what I might need and it worked! Viewing figures started to go up, and I seemed to get asked to do it every year for the next 21 years.

After a while, Alan Bell came in as director and the pressure was on him. They didn’t give him an awful lot of money to make these things, I must say. I used to improvise greatly and try to save them some money. His problem was that the cast were three old men, and they couldn’t do their own standing-in very well. In films, you have a lighting stand-in when you’re setting up, but in television they don’t do that. They just get the actors to stand there for a few minutes and get the lighting sorted out. But Yorkshire is notorious for lighting, and it would take longer than normal! We had a huge, silver reflector that would reflect the light, wherever it was, onto the three of them. So they needed somebody to stand there instead of the cast, then they’d call the actors to do their lines before they went back to their caravan. That cost them extra money, getting three stand-ins. It also meant they would have to call me up, and sometimes it chucked down with rain so they had to ask you to stay an extra day… which cost them more money! It was very inconvenient really, having these three extra people to stand in for the cast, and then the stunt wasn’t able to be used because it was chucking down with rain or they were losing the light and it was wasting away their money. So they cut down on things like advanced recces.

Anyway, we had quite a good relationship working on that, but it was a bit annoying because if I had been able to recce it and ask for the right budget and equipment, we might have been able to get it done better. But anyway… that lasted 21 years. If I was available I used to go up there and do the stunts, and it was great fun. I hope it helped with the success of the programme.

And then along came an accountant, who looked into ways that they might be losing money, and she put her finger on it and said, “Look, the stuntman has to come all the way from London! Can’t you get a stuntman who lives up here?” Anyway, by chance there was a chap that had been a stuntman in London, and he’d bought a pub near Holmfirth so he was very local. So they found it a bit cheaper to get him in, and he did quite a lot of the work.

Bill Owen had a very distinctive way of moving. Did you try and imitate that when you were standing in for him?

He did have a very distinctive way of moving, but you learn how to watch those characteristics and mimic them. Yes, it was easy to copy, to be honest. There were lots of shots with frogman suits and flippers and climbing up walls, and I was able to mimic him with no trouble at all because he had very characteristic movements. We were also the same height! By coincidence, years ago when I first started doing stunts, Bill Owen’s son had very early success in a children’s series and – by chance – I doubled for him as well. He had a series that involved him riding a scooter at high speed around country lanes with an American girl on the back, and I doubled him in that. Toffering Towers, it was called.

They were happy days, those.

When you think back over all of the different stunts you were asked to do for Summer Wine, were there any that even you were a bit wary of?

No… with that terrain, a lot of the stunt work was done on bicycles. Sometimes we were given one old bicycle, and the three of us would be on it. We’d find a suitable hill in the morning, but by the afternoon it would have been chucking it down and become very slippery, with mud on it… or it would have had a tractor going up and down it all day! But for one reason or another, there’d be a danger, a change in the situation. But sometimes it would be very inconvenient to get the whole crew to go to another location, so some of it was a lot more difficult than it looked.

And I suppose some of it was a lot easier than it looked, too! They often used to get behind time, and I remember there was a shot on a scooter, flying over a dry stone wall. I had to find a quarry so that I was in the air for a long time, and then I landed on boxes that the viewer didn’t see… but we substituted compost for them, and Bill landed in the compost heap. And they were so far behind that they sent me, with a second cameraman, off to shoot that on our own! That’s very rare for the BBC because it was a bit risky, as we didn’t have monitors to see what the effect looked like. They would have to return to London and keep their fingers crossed that the cameraman hadn’t made a complete mess of it! It was good fun to be able to do that, because a lot of directors wouldn’t have trusted you.

Have you done stunts in your career where you thought afterward, “Oh blimey, that was a bit close”?

Yes, you do get that sort of thing, but I’ve only had a couple of injuries in my career. The trouble with working for television is that you do the best you can for them, but they don’t have the time to take you along to all the recces and things, and they just guess whether the location will be suitable. And when you get there, sometimes it’s totally unsuitable and they’re going to injure either you, or an actor that’s involved in a taped scene. Sometimes, it’s braver to say “Look, we can’t really do this here”.

Of course, there are a few things that you try to talk yourself into doing, but really you are looking at the wider picture and making sure that no actors get injured. With television you never know quite what you’re letting yourself in for. But again, with television directors, they tend not to be very demanding. They’re not selling these programmes on their spectacular stunts are they? With Summer Wine, it was the scripts, and the countryside. It was shot in the middle of summer, and they used to show it in January and February when it was snowing. Everybody wondered why the programmes were so wonderful to watch! It was something to look forward to, “Look, spring!” I mean, it was wonderful countryside, wasn’t it?

I was going to say, most of your work on the series would have been done on location rather than in a studio, wouldn’t it?

Yes, it had a lot of location filming for its time. Of course, that cost a lot of money as well. The BBC used to knock these programmes out quite cheaply by rehearsing them all week and shooting them in about an hour and a half, one evening after rehearsals… but with Summer Wine, more and more depended on the lovely countryside, so they had quite a lot of filming inserts. Which is quite rare, because it’s so cheap to record everything in the studio on video. They used to shoot the studio scenes in order, and then stop the tape and put in a bit of the pre-recorded outside film. It sounds a bit primitive but they were very clever at getting some good programmes out of video tape.

How does a smaller budget production like Summer Wine compare to when you worked on something like The Empire Strikes Back or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

(Laughs) It absolutely doesn’t compare at all! On those, they’d say to me on one sequence, “Look Stuart, you’re going to have a pretty tiring day tomorrow, so if you want to bring one or two other stuntmen to stand in for you, do it.” I used to say to them, “How long have we got to do (this scene)?” And they’d say, “As long as it takes!” It’s completely different. Everything is absolutely drawn up with storyboards, whereas on Summer Wine they didn’t do any storyboarding.

Which approach did you prefer?

I used to prefer television, to be honest! With films, you can be involved for about three months, and then when you watch them you’re on for a second, and that’s it! It’s all ended up on the studio floor. With television, they ask for your advice, and quite often they take it. When I started in television, people that watched these programmes didn’t expect to see any action, so it pleased them to see a hanglider being chucked off the top of a roof! They just weren’t expecting it in those sorts of things.

When you watch things back on TV, can you spot the cuts from the actor to yourself?

Yes, I can always spot myself… as could my mother, and certainly my wife! We didn’t have any recorders at home though, so if you were away filming something else or working in the evening on a live show, you’d missed your only chance to see it until they repeated it again. I didn’t get the chance to watch a lot of the things I’d done until they brought out cassettes and DVDs. So now I’ve been collecting the sort of things that I missed, and I watch them for what they are… and they’re quite good.

Films used to use different techniques. They did a lot more undercranking on films. If you did a fight on a film, it was always undercranked. If you rode a horse on a film and it was a gallop, they used to speed that up too… whereas television didn’t have that facility because it was mostly on video tape, so the horses – and fights – appeared to go quite slowly. But it was only because people were used to watching horses going so quick. Cowboys would go ridiculously fast!

There were a few of us that preferred doing television, and there were some of us that could act as well, so we would occasionally get parts. Not that we benefitted from them, but it was just a bit more fun!

Is stuntwork quite competitive?

We always want to do the biggest and the best that the director will let us do, but a sensible director will say, “But the script doesn’t call for that!” Ronnie Barker did actually say to me once, “Why don’t you just do what’s in the script? Don’t do any more!” And he was right, really. You should just put in what the scriptwriter wrote, and do the best you can for them. But there was a great competitiveness amongst the stuntmen! It’s changed a lot now. There isn’t nearly the sort of work that there used to be for stuntmen. Health and Safety has made a big difference. Once, we were responsible for our own safety, and if we injured ourselves we just went away and licked our wounds for a few months, then returned quietly without any fuss. But Health and Safety came in, and you had to fill in an accident book, and somebody would look at that and make a big fuss about it. And of course, if you injured somebody else that was curtains… you never worked again!

Is there one stunt from your career that really sticks in your mind?

There were one or two little stunts from Summer Wine that were nice to do. I’ve been run over by hovercraft… and in the film Willow I was crushed by a horse, and that put me out of action for a few months. We were galloping towards a castle with a dragon inside… we did this shot about six times and they said, “Would you do it one more time before we break for lunch and give the horses a rest?” But my horse was absolutely knackered and didn’t make it to the castle… he fell on top of me and rolled over and dislocated my hip.

The Kenny Everett Show used to have lots of little funny stunts in them. Again, the scriptwriters used to know us, or know me, and I used to be a dead ringer for Kenny Everett!

How was Kenny to work with?

He was absolutely fine. Very, very easy going… a really nice bloke. Most of them are. I could tell you the ones that aren’t, but… (laughs). It was actually a lot of pressure on these stars if they had a series. Dick Emery was another one I worked for… you just do the best you can, and hope they ask you back. I did about 25 years of continuous stuntwork for TV and then it dropped off a bit when they started tightening up on the Health and Safety… and they said that, when you have an injury, it’s not down to you any more, it’s down to the producer. So they stopped using a lot of stuntwork and a lot of special effects for quite some time after that. But we still had to work, so – because I had been a gymnast – I worked out an act to do at medieval banquets and jousting tournaments, so I got a bit sidetracked with that! I occasionally did a few stunts, but they were fewer and farther between, and there were more and more people coming on the stunt register. So I’m completely retired now.

The last stunt that I can see credited on your IMDB page is for the sitcom Duck Patrol. Was there anything about that job that made you think it was time to draw the line?

It’s funny you should say that actually… on Duck Patrol I was a fisherman fishing in the water, and I believe it was the River Police boat that caught my line and dragged me into the Thames. It’s very, very difficult to be dragged through the water by a motor boat if you haven’t got something like a surfboard to lie on, because your body is being pulled through the water, and there’s a huge bow wave that comes over your head and stops you breathing. And you don’t have a radio with you because you’re in the water! So I was being pulled along by that, and of course I was able to release myself… that was the one safety thing I would allow myself. And they said, “Stuart, we want to do another one, but could you hang on a bit longer?” So this boat catches the line again and drags me through the water, and of course I was drowning in the damn river… and it was freezing cold, in the middle of the winter, and I thought, “This is bloody hard work!” There wasn’t a safety boat or anything. So it does get quite hard, and of course you wake up the next morning and wonder why you’ve got stiff arms and joint pains. To be honest, it is something that you should start thinking about giving up when you’re about fifty! But it’s a wonderful job and I can think of a lot of worse things to do.

So how does a stunt man spend his retirement?

Well, I had quite a good end to my retirement. The medieval banquets I worked on were for tourists at stately homes and castles… places like the Tower of London and Hampton Court. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years… juggling and magic and performing for rich American tourists! I used to do a fire-eating act and walk on stilts and do jousting tournaments, too. So that’s how I ended it. And my friend Derek Ware started to teach stage fighting at drama school, so that’s another way of ending it. He had a very good time teaching students how to stage fight. A lot of them just can’t give it up because they can’t find anything else to do!

Stuart_Fell-2

Now that you are fully retired is there ever an occasion where you’re walking down a road, see a wall and think ‘It would be quite nice to throw myself over that’?

I do a lot of sailing and surfing and windsurfing these days, so I do keep myself reasonably fit. You’ve got to live near the sea to do these things, and I never did when I was looking for stunt work! So I just try to do the things I didn’t get the time to do when I was a full-time stuntman.

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6.5 One of the Last Few Places Unexplored By Man

In which Compo gets trapped in the closet…

ANDREW: Another whimsical hillside opening for this episode. There are some great lines here, including Foggy responding to Compo’s ferret story with ‘You’ve led a really useful life, haven’t you?’ I promise to say that at your funeral, Bob.

BOB: You’ll never outlive me, not with your insane, adrenaline-fuelled high-octane lifestyle. Do you know what? If someone clipped together four or five of these opening philosophical segments of the show to make a full episode, it’d probably be one of my favourites of the whole run. 

Clegg: The concept of a hole in space confuses me enormously. But so did the instructions on the electric blanket, and that works. So I suppose God knows what he’s doing.

Compo: Electric blanket? You great Jessie. Why don’t you put a warm brick in it like everybody else…

You youngsters may laugh, but when I was growing up in the 1970s, it wasn’t uncommon to find older neighbours and relatives who still kept a ‘warming pan’ by the fire… essentially a large brass pan to be filled with hot coals from the fire before being slipped between the sheets an hour or so before you went to bed. Taking extra care not to set your bedspread on fire. Brace yourself, but like many houses in the UK we didn’t have central heating in our house until the late 1970s. My first memories of getting ready for school are of putting my clothes on in front of a flickering coal fire while looking at the ice on the inside of the front room windows. Winter 1977. Read it and weep, you children of the Combi Boiler.

ANDREW: And I thought we had it rough not having cable television until I was ten.

I still haven’t gotten used to the new-look Café yet, even though it’s now the version I grew up with! I love this extended sequence, however. First up, we get some choice Sid and Ivy conversation, with lots of bickering about relatives and Sid’s lack of get-up-and-go. ‘Another hectic day in the struggle for existence?’ she asks as he innocently reads his paper. As if this wasn’t enough, in walks Wally Batty! This scene actually reminds me of a stage play; it’s long, confined to a small set and characters drift in and out throughout its runtime. Lovely blocking.

BOB: That exchange is great. There’s something about Northern dialogue that really lends itself to bathos. It’s a tactic that never fails to make me laugh, and Roy Clarke uses it as the basis for many a great Sid and Ivy exchange. You missed off the killer second line, though!


Ivy: Another hectic day in the struggle for existence.

Sid: If you’re on about the dustbins, I’ve already seen to ‘em.


I’m baffled by Compo’s clear depiction of Nora Batty’s bedroom as mysterious, uncharted territory, though. Wasn’t he in her bedroom in the first episode of this very series, rescuing Nora from being trapped beneath the bed? Oh, well. It’s a good job we’re not like those weird Doctor Who fans, Drew, otherwise we could drive ourselves mad worrying about pointless continuity like this. Ahem hem.

kathy-staff

ANDREW: Just wait until we reach First of the Summer Wine

Another name for the database – Chunky Wrigglesworth. A boy who used to very carelessly grab great handfuls of Foggy’s trousers, and who was famous for sitting on people at playtime. We even learn that he had to get married and is now a dentist is Macclesfield. I think he might be the most fleshed out unseen character thus far!

BOB: A bit of a milestone here as well, I think… Sid actually joins in with the schooldays nostalgia! Is this the first time he’s done this? Anyone? I’d actually assumed until now that Sid was an outsider from another town, as I can’t recall him ever previously joining in with any of the reminiscing that our main trio frequently indulge in. I thought it was only his marriage to Ivy that had brought him to Holmfirth! Is he a local lad after all?

And I love how Foggy insists on calling Ivy ‘madam’, despite the fact that they’ve known each other for decades! Does he do the same to Nora, too? I think he does… it’s a lovely character touch, symptomatic of Foggy’s deep-seated fear of women, and his desire to keep them at a formal arms length. A veneer of gentlemanly respect masking a morbid terror of the female world. Although, oddly, Foggy is the one member of the trio that we’ve actually seen indulging in romantic liasons during our adventures.

ANDREW: Compo has tarted himself up to have a photo taken, but he doesn’t want it taken in his ‘disgraceful’ abode. Instead he intends to pose next door inside Nora Batty’s house.  He is, of course, turned away. Although he’s been shooed off before, there’s something particular about the way in which this scene is written, shot and played that will set up a long recurring gag for many episodes to come; Compo turns up at Nora’s door only to be chased down her steps by the end of her broom. I must have seen a hundred variations upon this as a kid and never got tired of it.

BOB: No wonder Compo is embarrassed by his house, it’s in a worse state than ever! In the early series it was just a bit scruffy and untidy, now it looks… well, it looks like Mr Trebus’ house. There’s stuff piled up everywhere. Up yer chuff!

Trebus
And then ‘By ‘eck, she’s like Margaret Lockwood…’ he gurns, kindling his sordid Nora Batty fantasies once again. Erm, she’s really not…

I really admire Roy Clarke’s unapologetic use of cultural references entirely in keeping with his characters’ backgrounds. I’m not sure Margaret Lockwood would have meant a great deal to huge swathes of Summer Wine’s family audience in 1982, but Compo would have worshipped Lockwood during her cinema heyday in the 1940s, and his dropping of her name here as the epitome of female perfection is absolutely consistent with his character. I see a lot of current TV comedy where elderly characters are given lines that are completely inappropriate for their age… and sure, it gets a laugh, but I always end up thinking ‘No! 70-year-old men DON’T talk like that’. I suspect a lot of comedy writers think of funny lines first, before assigning them to their characters without worrying too much about the consistency of the whole thing. Clarke lets the lines flow naturally from his very well-defined characters, and it lends the dialogue a much more satisfying air of authenticity.

My laugh-out-loud moment of the episode…

Compo: Are you telling me she doesn’t set your pulses racing?

Clegg: Only for cover.

ANDREW: At Compo’s house, it is explained that the randy little Herbert doesn’t just want his photo taken in Nora’s house, but in Nora’s bedroom; the titular place unexplored by man. Compo really is a little boy in his attitudes to carnal pursuits. Describing being chased off by Nora as ‘sexual foreplay’, he goes on to flap his arms and quack his way around the room in some bizarre mating dance.

Foggy is just as childish, unable to accept responsibility for any mistake he makes during the episode. Earlier, he accidentally hit a woman in the bottom with his walking stick. Instead of apologising he blames wasps and as a result is labelled a ‘sex maniac’. Now, he refuses to accept responsibility for dropping Compo’s camera, making up an earth tremor to excuse his butterfingers.

BOB: Wilde is magnificent in this series. I can’t praise him highly enough. Foggy is a ridiculous character, but Wilde makes him totally believable and – amazingly – sympathetic. He’s one of the truly great sitcom characters, and doesn’t get recognized as such nearly often enough for my liking. 

ANDREW: Again our slapstick climax comes about as a natural extension of the plot; which is nice. Returning from an auction, Wally needs a hand carrying his new purchase – a wardrobe for Nora’s bedroom. Seizing the opportunity with glee, Compo concocts a Trojan Horse-inspired plan to secure entry to the room of his dreams. I particularly like the fact that we get another glimpse of Foggy’s maniacal streak during these scenes. He takes great joy in locking Compo up in a dark, confined space and is quick to abandon his friend and nip off to the pub. This is his revenge for getting involved with a scheme that he hasn’t concocted himself!

BOB: Yes, Foggy’s on great vindictive form here. ‘Just lie there and make a noise like a coathanger’, he says, gleefully shutting Compo into the wardrobe. And again, bringing back memories of my dad’s absurdist sense of humour. Long before this episode aired, I had a rather vicious pet rabbit, and I distinctly remember my dad solemnly telling me ‘whatever you do, don’t make a noise like a carrot’. Was ‘don’t make a noise like a… (insert entirely silent object)’ a running joke for men of their generation? It wouldn’t surprise me if this stemmed from wartime (or, at least, forces) banter somewhere along the line.

‘There’s something very satisfying about locking him in a dark, confined space’ made me laugh as well. Brian Wilde’s impeccable delivery goes a long way – a perfect combination of haughty disdain with just a hint of affection.


Clegg: Do you think he can breathe?

Foggy: I don’t doubt it for a minute, he’ll do anything to spite me.


Oh, I could listen to this all day.

ANDREW: I like to think that Stuart Fell was locked inside that wardrobe for the sake of realism.

BOB: A great episode I think, with some of the strongest, funniest dialogue we’ve had for a while. My only disappointment is the clear suggestion that Nora and Wally don’t actually share a marital bed! I want them sitting up in bed together, like Joe and Petunia from the Public Information Films. They’re the prototype Wally and Nora, you know. Oh yes they are. Oh yes indeed. Oh yes.

ANDREW: Yeah, another cracking episode. It isn’t difficult to see why the series was going over gangbusters during this period.

BOB: Eh? Oh, you young people and your funny new words. You’re WEIRD. You hear me? WEIRD (fetches brush)

Last of the Summer Wine: On Stage

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In 1984, Last of the Summer Wine took to the stage in Bournemouth for a production simply titled Last of the Summer Wine or, more informally, the “summer season”. Peter Sallis, Bill Owen and Jane Freeman reprised their television roles of Clegg, Compo and Ivy in a storyline that saw the introduction of timid Howard, his overbearing wife Pearl, and his potential mistress Marina.

Proving successful, the show went on to enjoy a two week tour of Britain in 1985, followed by a return for another summer season in Bournemouth. By this point, the roles of Howard, Pearl and Marina were played by Robert Fyfe, Juliette Kaplan and Jean Fergusson, respectively. This run proved successful enough to warrant the transitioning of these characters to television, where they would remain with the show for the duration of its run.

The Last of the Summer Wine stage show is highly significant in that, through the introduction of new characters, it provided a template for years of television episodes to follow. It is unfortunate, then, that neither Bob and I have seen it! This, my friends, is where I hope you will be able to help.

We’re looking for memories from anybody who saw the Last of the Summer Wine stage show during its 1984 and 1985 runs, or even in its modified Compo Plays Cupid form, which toured Britain in 1987. What were your impressions? Where and when did you see it? What scenes stick in your mind? Was the television series able to make the difficult transition to stage? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment or get in touch at drewsmith@hotmail.co.uk

Eventually, we hope to compile your thoughts, as well as the recollections of a couple of the actors, into a separate article. No pressure.

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6.3 The Odd Dog Men

In which things get a little hairy…

ANDREW: Right away we have another name for the database; Mabel Stoddard, whose father had a propensity for “just going out” and didn’t consider Compo suitable. During the war, Mabel married an American who had two pips on his shoulders.

BOB: It’s another nice opening, alright! “You were never really the warrior class”, snorts Foggy to Compo. “You’ve got something deeply civilian about those legs”. I could handle a full episode of this, and – now I think about it – I’m surprised that Roy Clarke never actually attempted a pure three-handed episode. Or did he? Does Full Steam Behind come close? The dialogue between the three main characters is so funny and believable that I can barely think of a sitcom that lends itself more readily to this stripped-down format.

ANDREW: Mabel Stoddard has got me thinking. As Compo reveals more and more women whom he claims to have loved (or at least lusted after) and lost, I’m starting the get the impression he has spent his entire life being rejected! It’s not overt, but Clarke imbues every one of his characters with this sort of depth and I’m loving it.

BOB: I wonder! Even his wife left him for a Pole, didn’t she? Although his quest for romance might not have been helped by the fact that his idea of the “first move” seems to be grabbing whichever middle-age woman is closest to him and attempting to force a kiss on them…

ANDREW: Is it just me, or is the sight of a poodle in Summer Wine land almost Lynchian in its incongruity?

BOB: Congratulations on being the first person ever to equate Last of the Summer Wine with Twin Peaks! Can you imagine Ivy’s reaction if Sherilyn Fenn turned up in Sid’s Café and started tying cherry stalks in knots with her tongue? Her feet wouldn’t touch the ground. Compo’s reaction to the runaway poodle made me laugh out loud, too – “Ey up, someone’s made a right bog up of shearing that sheep!”. And I liked the exasperated dog-owner… “All I ever see it do is eat toffees, lick the wife and pee on my geraniums”. It’s an unwritten law in sitcom land that male dog-walkers must never actually like the hounds that they’re forced to drag around the streets.

Foggy, meanwhile, is inspired to launch a new business venture…

ANDREW: This episode offers somewhat of a return to normality as, in principle, Foggy’s plan to walk dogs for money makes perfect sense. It’s only further on, when he lets slip his fantasy of walking the royal corgis, that he reveals himself to be a total barmpot.  Does Foggy actually believe he could be hand-picked by the Queen, or does he need to believe this kind of thing in order to cope with his feelings of inadequacy?

BOB: I thought exactly the same – a dog-walking business is a great idea! And one that I think has actually taken off in the last few years? I’ve definitely seen businesses like that advertised around here, so Foggy was clearly miles ahead of his time. I hope he was planning to call the business “Foggy’s Doggies”, though. Anything less would be a crime. I like the following exchange in the café, too…

CLEGG: You’re not afraid of hard work.

COMPO: Sure?

CLEGG: Yes, you’re afraid of easy work.

As for Foggy’s delusions of grandeur, I think he just gets carried away. Do any of us launch a new venture assuming that it’s going to be a failure, or just a moderate success? We always think it’s going to end in quadrillions of pounds and limitless social prestige. That’s the only reason I’m doing this bloody blog. I want us to be Summer Winos by Appointment to Her Majesty.

ANDREW: Well, I know the Queen Mum was a fan…

The use of “stupid bitch” is one of two things that conspire to make this episode feel like a throwback to the Blamire years, the other being just how long it takes for the plot to get going.

BOB: Yes, it’s slower than we’re used to now, isn’t it? We get some very traditional sitcom stereotypes during their cold-calling escapades as well – doors answered by saucy housewives and irate husbands alike. There also seems to be a running joke of Foggy being almost knocked over by the same purple wagon, speeding through the streets of Holmfirth. Is this a little homage to something, or am I reading too much into it?

ANDREW: With their struggle to carry the “self assembly modular high impact and stain resistant unit” into the kitchen, Sid and Ivy prove once again that they should have had their own spin-off sitcom. I quite like the idea that in their show Foggy, Clegg and Compo are the guest stars who occasionally show up. In Sid and Ivy’s world an entire episode is devoted to trying to assemble that unit.

BOB: Another cracking one-liner as well…

          IVY: (angrily) You’ve got no idea!

          SID: You wouldn’t say that if you knew what I was thinking…

I agree, I could easily handle a full episode in which Sid and Ivy were the main characters. Shame that, in such a long-running series, it didn’t happen at least once.

ANDREW: I love, love, LOVE the scenes in Sid’s Café between the trio and Wally. I think we learn more about Wally in this episode than ever before; his boyhood nicknames were Inky Batty and Little Laughing Walter Batty. This presumably all changed when Nora got hold of him. Wally had to make himself more attractive before Nora would take him on (like a fool, he did) and when asked what she looks for in a man, Gladwin delivers the deliciously deadpan, “total submission”. My very favourite revelation, however, is that Wally finds Foggy sexier than Nora!

BOB: Wally Batty NEVER fails to light up this series, and Joe Gladwin’s performances are magnificent. He has truly tremendous comic timing, and I think Wally’s life story intrigues me more than any other character in Summer Wine. The others do indeed paint him as a happy-go-lucky young man whose entire persona was ground into submission by his marriage to Nora! By the time we meet him, he’s virtually in a state of permanent shellshock. I actually want to write Wally’s biography. Prospective titles include “Howdo”, “Pigeon-Toed”, and “If The Cap Fits”, but I’m open to other suggestions.

ANDREW: Surely it has to “You Have To Laugh” accompanied by the most miserable picture we can find.

BOB: Actually, genuinely, I’d like to read a biography of Joe Gladwin, as I find his performances fascinating… and yet the earliest acting credit I can find anywhere is from 1959, by which time he was already in his mid-fifties. Anyone any idea what he did before that?

ANDREW: Thanks to the scenes in Sid’s Café and with Wally, I enjoyed this episode. The dog walking plot, on the other hand, left me cold. The ending was particularly weak.

BOB: The dog-walking just kind of fizzles out, doesn’t it? Although the ending sees our heroes being chased around by a very unscary-looking Old English Sheepdog. For me, the one outstanding revelation in this episode is Foggy’s real first name – Walter! Is this the first time we’ve heard this? He looks like a Walter, and I can’t help but think that it’s Roy Clarke’s little nod to The Beano’s resident Softie, to whom Foggy bears a startling resemblance. 

6.1 In The Service of Humanity


In which Foggy becomes an emergency service…   


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Thornton RIP

ThorntonRIP

1981 Christmas Special: Whoops

In which the old gang get back together…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School_Wall_2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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