Posts Tagged ‘Roy Clarke’

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. 

6.2 Car and Garter

In which Compo feels the need for speed…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDREW: Like I said, unpredictable.

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

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

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

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

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

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All in all, good stuff.

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

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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.

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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.

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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?