Posts Tagged ‘review’

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)

Advertisements

1981 Christmas Special: Whoops

In which the old gang get back together…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School_Wall_2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1979 Christmas Special: And A Dewhurst Up A Fir Tree

In which Foggy eyes up a festive investment…

BOB: Can we finally draw the conclusion that Roy Clarke’s not a fan of the festive period? Another Summer Wine Christmas special, and yet again it’s given a twist so that it’s not as Christmassy as we might expect. It’s set in late summer, with Foggy wanting to meticulously plan ahead for the forthcoming festivities! I can just imagine Clarke sitting down at his desk to write this on a sunny day in April, with steam flying out of his ears. ‘Christmas special? I’ll give them a Christmas special alright…’

ANDREW: Foggy claims that they are experiencing a pleasant day – the perfect kind of day for a well trained sniper, in fact – but I’d say this is one of the dullest, most under-exposed and grotty looking film inserts seen on the show so far. It’s meant to be set in late summer, but ironically could just about have passed for December had Clarke written a more traditional special.

BOB: Still, nice to see a bit of genuine plaggy-bag sledging! An essential part of any impoverished 1970s childhood. Or, indeed, second childhood. With ICI logos on the bags for added effect.

ANDREW: Then it’s off to Foggy’s house for a slideshow of last year’s washout of a Christmas. Actually, have we seen Foggy’s house before? I’m sure he was in a boarding house or something the last time his living arrangements came up. Foggy’s slides reveal the extent of our trio’s bad festive planning, including a Christmas tree fashioned from a bit of old privet and a dinner that consisted of one fish finger and a chip. This is all attributed to Compo’s desire to do all their shopping on Christmas Eve.

As a side note, I really love seeing slideshows or home movies in sitcoms. They give the impression that the characters exist outside of the half hour periods of time we spend in their company.

BOB: And so – our trio traipse around Holmfirth in August, desperately seeking Christmas cards and festive sweets. To no avail, obviously.

ANDREW: It’s strange to find a Summer Wine environment of this period that hasn’t really changed much. Card shops are still as cheap and cheerful as ever and the alternatively saccharine and cheeky designs of the cards themselves don’t appear to have evolved over the intervening decades.

It’s also quite refreshing to have a sitcom that revolves around characters fretting over the fact that Christmas hasn’t started early enough rather than that now hoary old cliché about it arriving earlier every year.

BOB: Nice to see that the café is grubby again! Sid’s walls were fabulously grotty in the earliest series, but I remember being disappointed that they’d had a fresh lick of paint a few years back. Now they seemed to smeared in dust, grime and chip fat once again, so all is right with the world.

ANDREW:  It’ll be all that summer holiday-maker trade; the chip pan’s been on overdrive.

BOB: Lovely little exchange here between Compo and Foggy as well… ‘Didn’t they ask you to join MI5?’ asks Compo, with a giggly barb in his voice. Foggy just gives a resigned but sincere shake of the head, leaving us in no doubt that – in his mind – his life is that of a fearsome and ruthless soldier whose dedication to Queen and Country is absolute. So many great sitcom characters thrive on the disparity between their perceived and actual lives, and Foggy is a prime example of that. The military heroics in his head, contrasted with the humdrum cowardice of his everyday life, are up there with Basil Fawlty’s pretensions to the aristocratic life and Delboy’s delusions of entrepreneurial success. Brian Wilde’s subtle performances play a huge part, too.

ANDREW:  Despite all of his delusions, he’s genuinely regretful that he hasn’t been called upon to serve his country. You can see that MI5’s snub still stings. As you say, it’s a brilliant performance.

BOB: Good to see the classic ‘Ouch, shrapnel wound playing up!’ routine beloved of so many 1970s sitcom characters, too! Even Basil Fawlty, in fact. We assume that with both these characters, the old war wounds are imaginary, and yet there were plenty of middle-aged men around in the 1970s who did carry these kinds of injuries. Again, my childhood was full of them!

ANDREW: Don’t be so sure. I spend close to twenty-five years believing that my next-door neighbour had suffered a shrapnel wound to the palm of his hand during the war. It turned out he’d just gotten pissed one evening while ashore in New York and had fallen off the dock when returning to his Merchant Navy ship!

BOB: I really like the way that the relationship between Nora and Ivy has been developed over the last few episodes. From frosty exchanges in the café, we’ve now reached the point where they’re taking tea together, sipping from dainty china cups and – it seems – swopping notes on how to deal with Compo’s amorous advances. Some delightfully vicious dialogue here, with magnificently surreptitious barbs being placed into the most seemingly-innocuous lines. ‘Would you like some sugar?’ asks Ivy, ‘You might find it relaxes you, and takes your mind off the airing cupboard’.

I like their potential tactics for dealing with Compo as well. ‘You should have dropped the chip pan down his trousers’ sniffs Nora. ‘The sooner it gets covered in batter, the safer for everyone’. Ouch.

ANDREW: I think this is one of my favourite lines so far!

BOB: This leads to an extraordinary scene in which they lure Compo to the café with their feminine wiles, only to publicly divest him of his trousers! Drew, can we mark this down as Summer Wine’s first-ever honey trap?

ANDREW: I’m not sure if honey is the right word. Treacle, maybe.

BOB: And so we get to the crux of the episode… Foggy, at the height of his festive preparations, has bought 100 Christmas trees for £10, from ‘Big Eric’ in the bar. Trouble is, they’re all 100ft high, and firmly entrenched in the local woods! Delboy would have been proud of such a scam.

nelson_eddy_jeannette_macdonald

ANDREW: While Foggy goes in search of his forrest, Compo and Clegg are quite happy to hang back and wait around for Nelson Eddy, star of the Mountie-tastic Rose Marie (1936) alongside Jeanette MacDonald. He’s mercilessly parodied by Dick Vosburgh and Frank Lazarus in a musical entitled A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. I only mention this as the genesis of said musical just so happens to be detailed in my book, Marx and Re-Marx: Creating and Re-Creating the Lost Marx Brothers Radio Series, available in all good book shops. Go on, it is Christmas!

BOB: A nice little episode, although yet again I’m disappointed that it wasn’t as fully Christmassy as it could have been. I’m an old sitcom traditionalist, and I like my Christmas specials to be full of fake snow, tacky decorations and our main characters cooped up together around a dining-room table being reluctantly nice to each other. Maybe next time?

5.4 Deep in the Heart of Yorkshire

In which Sid’s gotta do what Sid’s gotta do…



BOB: A lovely opening to this episode with some nice direction… Compo, Clegg and Foggy are sitting in trees, and – although we hear their voices – we don’t actually see them. We only see their respective tree trunks! It’s really effective and funny.

ANDREW: And what’s more, this opening shot in which literally nothing happens lasts for 44 seconds. That would never be allowed now, but I love it. For the sake of a completely made up comparison, the average shot in an episode of Mrs. Brown’s Boys lasts 0.003 milliseconds.

Interestingly, IMDB lists Martin Shadlaw as “Studio Director” for this episode and Sydney Lotterby as “Director (Uncredited)”. If this really was the case, I suspect this filmed opening to be Lotterby’s doing.

BOB: Compo’s use of old Yorkshire fascinated me as a kid as well, and these opening scenes are full of his ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. From an early age I was intrigued by language, and the way that different people shaped it to their own ends. It’s incredible to think that Bill Owen was, in reality, a rather well-spoken Londoner. In a way it’s a shame that Compo is the role that SO defines his career in the public eye, as I think his work in perfecting the character is hugely underrated. People assume he was like that, but in fact it’s a consummate acting performance. One of the finest-ever on TV, I’d say.

ANDREW: I’m happy to agree, but I must confess that I’m almost as clueless as the average Joe when it comes to my experience of Owen’s career. If fact, the only over appearances of his I can recall seeing in full are those he made as part of the Carry On team. I think this shall be my required viewing for tonight, sorry it isn’t complete:

BOB: And so the scene is set for a fun episode when our trio spy Sid creeping in the woods with a roll of bedding, and – naturally – assume he’s out for a bit of extra-marital fun. ‘He’s never happy unless he’s getting his divvy,’ chortles Compo, after Clegg speculates that the Co-Op girl is the object of Sid’s affections.

And it’s 42p in the café for three cups of tea and three buns! Welcome to 1979, everyone. Ivy senses that our heroes know something about Sid’s absence, and gets incredibly emotional about it all. ‘He goes all to pieces if he can’t get good gravy…’ she sobs. Again, a nice glimpse of tenderness behind the classic sitcom Jack The Lad/Battleaxe façade of their marriage.

ANDREW: Once again, Jane Freeman endears herself to me with this fantastically layered character. Ivy’s aggression here is very much based upon fear rather than loathing and the way in which she treats our trio more like naughty children than the usual daft old men points towards a very motherly side that doesn’t get the chance to come out very often. “I tried to talk him out of it… I keep hitting him!” she howls without a hint of sarcasm. Sid has run away and she’s acting just as much like her little boy has gone missing as her husband is cheating. She’s phenomenal.

Our trio then seek to console Ivy by suggesting Sid is too much of a, “horrible looking menace” to attract anyone to have an affair with. Poor John Comer; he’s not that bad!

And what is Clegg’s shake of the head all about as he pays Ivy?

BOB: At 10 minutes 30 seconds into the episode, you can catch a fleeting glimpse of an overhanging boom mic! In an age of super-slick TV with Hollywood production values, stuff like this warms the cockles of my ancient heart.

ANDREW: That’s the second time this series and completely disproves my theory that the soundmen were just bored during an earlier episode because this one is ace!

BOB: We see sensitive sides to both of the main Summer Wine women in this story. As our heroes retreat to the pub (for Compo, oddly, to declare the he’s in love with Ivy), they’re joined by Nora Batty who swiftly knocks back a brandy and a real ale. ‘But if you’re planning on getting me tipsy so as I don’t know what you’re doing, forget it’, she warns.

ANDREW: In case they ever make another episode of Summer Wine, I think we should start campaigning now to be two of the extras milling around in the back of the pub. It’s an art form.

BOB: And, again, what a knack for Northern dialogue Roy Clarke has. Lesser writers would have written the line ‘so I don’t know what I’m doing’, but no… it’s crucial to have the extra ‘as’ in there! ‘So as I don’t know what I’m doing…’ is pure Yorkshire dialect, and perfect for a woman of Nora’s age and background. It’s the little touches like that that make me appreciate what an immaculate little world Clarke has created here.

ANDREW: I fall back on quoting dialogue far too often, but the following is one of my all time favorite exchanges thus far. Here’s Compo and Clegg discussing Foggy’s lack of amour.

COMPO: He’s hasn’t got any romance in his body at all

CLEGG: Ah, But he’s got a knife with attachments for opening cans.

That’s Foggy’s entire character summed up in just twenty-one words. Talk about economy!

BOB: And why is Nora upset? Because Wally too has vanished. With a bedding roll underneath his arm. It’s a lovely running theme in Summer Wine that both Nora and Ivy spend their lives belittling and dominating their husbands… until there’s a possibility of losing them, at which point the veneer of the impassable Northern woman cracks, and we see the love and insecurity beneath. They spend their lives chasing their spouses out of their houses, but depend whole-heartedly on them coming home every night.

And it’s great to see Compo, when actually left alone with Nora in the pub, feeling genuinely terrified!

ANDREW: He has no idea what to do with her.

BOB: It’s the old Billy Liar syndrome… he lives within his fantasies, and shares the ribald talk and imaginings with his male friends, but runs scared at any hint of them actually coming true. The idealized romance that he pictures inside his head is clearly a safer retreat than the reality of it all.

And so, the conclusion… Sid and Wally aren’t having affairs after all, they’re part of a Wild West group, sneaking into the woods to wear chaps and cowboy hats, practicing their quick-draws around crackling campfires. This scene is massive in Lancashire and West Yorkshire, isn’t it? I used to live in Lancaster in the early 1990s, and you’d see loads of middle-aged men wandering around pretending to be Gary Cooper. Whistling Hank Williams songs in the queue for the bus outside the Infirmary.

ANDREW: Are cowboys an obsession peculiar to our parents and grandparents generation? They grew up in an era where Westerns were part of a staple Film and Television diet in the way that police procedurals are today. Barely anybody makes Westerns now. Unless that Doctor Who from a few weeks back counts.

Saying that, the obsession did recur a bit in the late 1990s as well. Remember when line dancing was the done thing?

I should point out how well structured this episode has been, as well. We began with the disembodied voices of an off-screen trio and we reach our climax with the disembodied voices of Sid and Wally, who are reluctant to reveal their cowpoke attire. Very neat. And is it just me, or does Sid look remarkably like Lou Costello in this costume?!

Abbot and Comer?

BOB: Great episode, anyway – fun and warm-hearted.

Summer Winos (3.5+3.6)

3.5 The Kink In Foggy’s Niblick

In which Foggy takes to the green and Compo makes a tidy sideline in recycled balls.
BOB: Given that it’s a series centered around working class Yorkshiremen, it’s surprising how tiny a part football plays in Summer Wine… I can’t remember any characters expressing much interest in the sport at all. I’m assuming that it’s a reflection of Roy Clarke’s lack of footballing enthusiasm, so it feels slightly incongruous in this episode to see Foggy, Compo and Clegg bundling their jackets into goalposts and attempting a kickabout… even if it’s a matter of moments before Foggy sprains his back and professes that, actually, he’s more of a golfing man instead.

I remember roaring with laughter at this episode as kid, but – oddly – watching it now, I think it’s probably the weakest we’ve seen so far. Still enjoyable, but it feels like a bit of an anti-climax following the superb Scarborough two-parter.

ANDREW: Yeah, it’s OK, but there’s something just a little bit forced about it. Sallis and Owen in particular seem to be playing it far broader than usual. Perhaps they noticed that the script wasn’t quite up to the usual standard and felt the need to compensate.

BOB: Still some interesting bits, though… is this one of the only occasions on which we see inside Foggy’s house? Albeit only his attic, where Clegg gives us a lovely, surreal monologue about ‘the den of the great wardrobe spider’… take note, Steven Moffat.

I did wonder about Foggy’s domestic situation here… it’s mentioned in his first episode that he’s returning to ‘an empty house in Arnold Crescent’, which I assumed he’d inherited. But now he appears to have an unseen landlady living on the premises! I know I shouldn’t get too wrapped up Summer Wine continuity, but this is the stuff that keeps me awake at nights…

Once Foggy’s decidedly wonky golf clubs have been retrieved, we head to the posh clubhouse and – ultimately –  the local green itself, where predictable antics ensue. Again, we get a line that seems very un-Summer Wine with the benefit of hindsight… Compo, on spying a troupe of stern-looking lady golfers, says ‘Fancy being up for municipal rape and finding that lot on the jury’. I wonder what Mary Whitehouse thought? 

ANDREW: The plot itself is also a bit broad, and not particularly tailored to the series. One could just as easily drop Del Boy, Rodney and Boycie or Bob and Terry into this situation without having to change the lines too much. That indefinable Summer Wineyness isn’t to be found, though it’s hard to pinpoint why.

BOB: When Compo was making a nuisance of himself in the clubhouse, demanding beer and peanuts to Foggy’s embarrassment, I thought of Bob and Terry too! And you’re right… Compo’s rampaging around the golf course, swiping wayward balls to sell back to their owners, is pure Del Boy. 

It does have one great line, though – Foggy’s description of Compo as ‘what you’d get if you tried to summon up a small evil spirit at midnight in an Oxfam shop’ had me chuckling.

ANDREW: You do have to give Clarke credit for that title though, possibly his finest so far and everything one could ask for from the series. The perfect blend of whimsy and the observation of archaic oddball terminology or a knob joke, take your pick.

BOB: A lovely mixture of all three, I think. It IS a great title, and one I remember causing much hilarity at school when this was repeated back in the early 1980s.

3.6 Going To Gordon’s Wedding


In which Compo, for once, is best man.

ANDREW: Amazingly, we’ve jumped from the series’ weakest episode thus far, to one of the strongest. Clarke really has put his all into this finely observed, half-hour farce. To say he is “back on form” doesn’t do this installment justice.

BOB: Yep, I enjoyed this too. Nice to see Compo’s nephew Gordon back in the series, although you wonder how long is meant to have passed between installments, given that that Gordon is now marrying Josie, the elegant redhead he met in Scarborough only two episodes earlier! It’s a very 1970s wedding – all giant buttonholes, disapproving mothers and good-natured punch-ups over Tetley’s Best Bitter. And Gordon’s not the only returning character here… we get another cameo from Paul Luty as Big Malcolm, Compo’s towering relative, last spotted duffing up Foggy in the first episode of this series.

It all reinforces the feeling of Summer Wine being a running story taking place in a small, close-knit community, and it struck me that Foggy’s arrival seems to have heralded a slight stylistic change… in Blamire’s two series, our three heroes are very much portrayed as outsiders, literally spending their days around the peripheries of town life, sitting in disused barns and abandoned factories. In Series 3, we’ve seen MUCH less of the countryside… the show has been far more grounded in sitting rooms, pubs, cafes and boarding houses, and Compo has been shown to be pretty close to several members of his extended family. It has to be a deliberate move.

ANDREW: There’s some lovely domestic material here, from the competitive mothers and the forced jollity of family gatherings to Clegg’s brilliant comparison of weddings and flying, “When you consider how many weddings there are it makes you realize what a safe way it is to go. It’s just that, in regard to weddings, if there is an accident then it’s usually rather a nasty one.”

BOB: Yes, I love the scene in the Gordon’s mother’s sitting room, the sheer awkwardness of making polite conversation with distant family members, suffocated by floral wallpaper and that ominous, ticking clock. The desperate, nervous laughter and the young, randy couple snogging obliviously on the sofa.

Do we assume, then, that Gordon’s flighty and giggly mother – clearly three sheets to the wind by the middle of the morning – is actually Compo’s sister? It’s never specified, but the way she greets him at the door (‘Lovely to see you love, I knew you wouldn’t let me down,’ she beams, proudly, stroking the shoulder of his suit) is every inch the actions of a proud sister rather than a more distant relative.

ANDREW: I guess we’ll find out for sure come First of the Summer Wine, if Clarke remembers she exists by then.

BOB: If so, it’s intriguing to note that Foggy seems to take something of a shine to her, repeatedly vying for her attention and attempting to take photos of her! Can you imagine the comic potential if that relationship had developed? Oh, the shame he’d have brought upon the proud Dewhurst name… 

ANDREW: There’s also a nice line in physical comedy, and unlike The Kink In Foggy’s Niblick it doesn’t seem forced. Compo’s buttonhole, the noisy wedding present, the damaged best man and Foggy’s ongoing feud with Big Malcolm are all nicely signposted and extend naturally from the characters and situation.

BOB: Indeed, and I loved Josie’s line to her father outside the church, flicking up her bridal veil and hissing ‘You see it so many times on wedding photos… embarrassed fathers pining for their overalls…’ Never a truer word spoken, and – again – a fine, pithy and beautifully concise bit of writing. We learn so much about both Josie and her fathers’ characters – and the relationship between them – from that single line.

ANDREW: What strikes me most of all is how big and confident it seems. A lot is packed into twenty-nine minutes in terms not only of situation but also the sheer number of characters involved. The world of Summer Wine suddenly opens out to include extended families and old friends like Gordon and Malcolm.

BOB: And all drenched in that glorious 1970s sunshine, on washed-out 16mm film. All is right with the world, and I want to carry on… 

Summer Time is Here Again

Hello and welcome back to From the Get-Go, now re-christened Summer Winos. As you can see, we have redecorated the place in a manner that better reflects our on-going Last of the Summer Wine obsession. This isn’t to say that we have given up on Public Eye, but those updates take time to realise and, if I’m honest, deserve a home of their own where they may garner a little more attention.

Over our break, Bob and I have been building up a backlog of Summer Wine commentaries that will ensure that this place will be updated regularly for months to come. Let’s crack on…

Summer Winos (2.5 + 2.6)

2.5 A Quiet Drink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.clothiers-arms.co.uk/

ANDREW: You filthy temptress, you.

2.4 Ballad For Wind Instruments & Canoe

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

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

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

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

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

ANDREW: Post-Traumatic Spouse Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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