Posts Tagged ‘Steam Engine’

Full Steam Ahead for “Full Steam Behind”


BOB: Well, who’d have thought it? Our first Summer Winos expedition, and it all started because we spotted that, in one scene of Full Steam Behind, the number of the steam train boarded by Compo, Clegg and Foggy was clearly visible on camera. KWVR L89. Literally ten seconds of exhaustive research later, we discovered that said engine was still on display at Oxenhope station on the Keighley Worth Valley Railway line – a heritage branch line in West Yorkshire dedicated to re-creating the golden age of steam. We had to go in search of it, surely? 

ANDREW: I didn’t need much convincing to join Bob on this jaunt. Even without the Summer Wine connection, I love steam railways. I think that somewhere down the line, this is in my blood. My Grandad hauled coal up from the ground for just this kind of use. I’m sure he was bloody sick of the sight and smell of coal and steam after working his entire life down the pit, but the sensation of being enveloped in the cloud created by a working steam engine does something to me. It turns me back into a little five year old with his Thomas the Tank flag and plastic whistle…. Oh, hang on, that was only a few months ago.

BOB: I can’t claim any kind of industrial ancestry (I come from a long, proud line of shirkers) but absolutely – there’s something about steam railways that’s just inherently romantic. A beautiful way to travel from a far more leisurely age.

ANDREW: Well, the day didn’t get off to the best of starts after I managed to jump on the wrong train to meet Bob, delaying my arrival by about half an hour and several miles. Fortunately, my co-conspirator drives and was able to rescue me from the clutches of Billingham railway station. Then the journey could really begin.

BOB: You’re a loveable buffoon. Yes, readers, I bundled him into the passenger seat of my car and we set off for West Yorkshire…

ANDREW: Our seventy-five mile journey remained relatively uneventful until we reached Harrogate. Leaving the town, Bob shouted two words that seemed to make time itself stand still…

BOB: ELECTRIC AVENUE! And here we see Mr Drew Smith having successfully ‘rocked down’ to said thoroughfare, and now – clearly – preparing to ‘take it higher’…

 

ANDREW: Finally, we reached Keighley and after a search for a parking space bought our ticket for a return trip to Oxenhope. Keighley Station itself is a beautiful place where past meets present; one can either hop onto the heritage line or take a thirty second wander to the mainline station. I was even impressed by the retro toilets at the two stations we visited. I don’t think I’ve ever had a sanctioned piddle in an uncovered space before.

BOB: I’ve rarely seen a man emerge from a public urinal looking so pleased with himself. But I can confirm that both KWVR stations were home to a selection of beautiful vintage thunderboxes. We’d barely washed our hands when our train puffed into Keighley Station amidst a gorgeous, wafting cloud of steam, and we piled excitedly into the nearest carriage. A gentle, thirty-minute ride to Oxenhope awaited us, in beautiful autumnal weather. Russet-coloured leaves and syrupy, golden sunshine abounded as we chuffed slowly through the restored splendour of Ingrow West, Damems, Haworth and Oakworth.  I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed! It seemed like we’d actually entered into an episode of Last of the Summer Wine ourselves. 

ANDREW: And there was a pub on the train. A PUB ON THE TRAIN!

BOB: Quiet, little scruffy person. And get your wellies off the windowpane.

ANDREW: Once we reached Oxenhope, we expected to go on a quest to locate our screen-used engine. Knowing that it was no longer in running order, we thought that we might perhaps find it covered in moss or inside a boarded up cave round the back.  Amazingly, however, we found it within two seconds of walking in to the engine shed. There she was is all her glory and although she had been given a new coat of paint and a brand spanking new number, she was still recognisably the vehicle used all the way back in 1979.

BOB: Absolutely! Built in 1929, so it’s rather staggering to realise that she was already fifty years old when she appeared in Full Steam Behind. She’s still in beautiful condition.

ANDREW: The one thing I wasn’t expecting was to feel a bit emotional when getting up close and personal with the engine. I know I’ve gone on record as saying that Full Steam Behind leaves me a little underwhelmed, there was something about how unchanged the inside of the cab looked some thirty-odd years after it was used in the series. Brian Wilde and Bill Owen are no longer with us and Last of the Summer Wine has retired from our screens, but this small cabin where our heroes had once stood remains, thanks to the dedication of a legion of volunteers, preserved for the ages. I desperately wanted to climb inside, but there was a little laminated sign that put me in my place.

BOB: There was nobody else at all in the exhibition shed at one point, and we wrestled with our consciences for about a minute, didn’t we? I mean, really… what harm could it possibly do if we clambered into the drivers cabin and pulled a few levers? Then we had visions of the train slowly chuffing through the shed wall and onto the branch line, with the pair of us trapped behind the wheel and hollering desperately for help. Good idea for a sitcom episode, that…   

ANDREW: We then proceeded to look for other bridges in order to make sure we had the right one. The problem was, though, that we kept losing the railway line while trying to navigate by the A-Z. Some say that two heads are better than one. Some haven’t ridden in a car with you and me.

We did find a bridge to settle on in the end, hopefully the one from which Compo was dangled, but the one we found and recorded a video piece at really doesn’t look like the right one when compared side by side with the original episode. What do you think? The one of the top we located by car and the one on the bottom eluded us.

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BOB: I think we ballsed it up. But at least it gives us an excuse to go back and try again!

ANDREW: Looking at it with hindsight, the bridge with the hut beside it is clearly the one we wanted. Damn you, Confusingly Erected Inanimate Red Hut!

We managed to miss some key locations, but you know what? I don’t really mind. We got to see the actual engine our trio abducted and we rode the line they completely failed to buy a ticket for. A definitely got a feel for the place, if not a great handle on the locations used. Next time, however, we’re taking a map and some screenshots!

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5.1 – Full Steam Behind

In which our trio take a tank engine for a walk…

BOB: September 1979, and Summer Wine comes back for its first full series in two years. I’m assuming the gap year was down to Roy Clarke’s writing commitments… in 1978, his series Rosie – the police sitcom with Paul Greenwood – was broadcast, and earlier in 1979 Potter – with Arthur Lowe as the titular retired busybody – made its TV debut. On first impressions, the break from Summer Wine has done him a power of good, as this episode is one of my favourites of the entire run.

ANDREW:I’ll admit off the bat that the odds have been HEAVILY stacked in favour of me loving this episode. I haven’t seen it for a looong time and can’t recall any plot details, but I’m predisposed towards liking it simply because it features a steam engine. The Lady Vanishers, The Titfield Thunderbolt, Thomas the Tank Engine, the episode “The Royal Train” from Dad’s Army, and instalment 308 of The Muppet Show have all won me over with steam power.

I’ve no idea what it is about steam trains that appeal to me. I’m not one to amass trivia about their manufacturer’s or their model numbers and I was born far too late to hold any nostalgic attachments to that era. There’s just something about the sight of an iron beast puffing through the English countryside and the smell of coal and oil and water forcing tonnes of machinery forward along the rails that really does it for me. If Emma was here, she’d be rolling her eyes at me now as I do tend to get a little carried away. Take for example, my twenty-fifth birthday…

 

That getup is disturbingly close to that seen upon Foggy’s entrance in this episode, railway memorabilia clasped excitedly in hand.

BOB: I’m with you all the way, which explains why this episode is a bit of a watershed episode for me. Previously, Foggy has been portrayed as a well-meaning idiot… all of his strange schemes and ambitions are decidedly hare-brained, and Clegg and Compo’s objections to them are generally entirely justified. However, in this episode… brace yourself… sit down… put one hand on the sideboard and breathe deeply… FOGGY IS RIGHT! On a glorious summers day, a vintage steam train is travelling from Keighley to Oxenhope, and all he wants to do is take Compo and Clegg to greet it along the route.

And they don’t want to go! And I can’t, for the life of me, work out why. The sun is shining through sun-dappled leaves, the railway is a gorgeous, bumbling branch line meandering through countless sleepy villages, and I absolutely share Foggy’s enthusiasm for the whole, beautiful venture. ‘Have you no regard for the poetry of steam?’ he blusters. His wild-eyed joy, for once, is both justified and infectious.

ANDREW: Yes, this may be the first time I’ve ever sided with Foggy against Compo and Clegg! There’s nothing wrong in a healthy interest in railway preservation, I tell you!

At the aforementioned birthday, I too had to lure certain friends along with the promise of a pub at the end of the line. I hardly complained as we knocked back pints, but secretly I would have been happy to chuff up and down the line all day, pushing children out of the way in order to get a better view of the engine driver.

By the way, as our trio make their way to the railway, there’s a lovely sound gag – the first of two in this episode. Just as Compo challenges anybody to tell him what is wrong with his trousers and Foggy and Clegg stop dead in their tracks, so does hazlehurst’s music. That had me giggling like a loon. The second sound gag is a sitcom staple, with a well-timed steam engine’s whistle drowning out an expletive from Compo.

BOB: I adore the scene in the railwayman’s shed… a part-abandoned refuge, in the middle of sleepy nowhere. My mother will kill me if she reads this, but my friends and I used to regularly seek out similarly remote rail sheds back in our distant childhoods, and use them as makeshift HQs for our assaults upon the adult world. ‘There’s something tremendously nostalgic about places like this,’ sighs Foggy, leaning back with a distant look in his eyes. ‘I’d like to come here for a few hours every week, just lie on this sofa with a railway timetable and listen to the trains go by…’

‘Tat!’ spits a genuinely disgruntled Compo, and I want to dangle him off a bridge by his wellies. Compo and Clegg really are unpleasant company in this episode… the pair of them never stop whining throughout, about something that’s a genuinely lovely idea! Oh dear, can you tell I’m actually getting angry about this?

ANDREW:It isn’t long, of course, before Compo sets things in motion and our trio are faced with catching up to a runaway train. All of the action is still conducted at a Summer Wine pace, however. That is to say a leisurely one.

BOB: And Compo IS actually dangled off a bridge – dropping onto a speeding carriage to attempt a rescue mission. ‘What’s life without a slice of danger?’ snaps Foggy. ‘Longer,’ replies Compo. Nice stuff, but I’m not sure I need Summer Wine attempting to pre-empt Speed. The scenes set on the train itself are lovely, but it’s clear that we’re entering further still into broad, trad-sitcom territory.

Anyway… how geeky do you want to get with all this train stuff? An insane shiver of excitement ran through the very fibre of my being when I realized that, in one scene, it was possible to see the number on the train itself. It’s KWVR (Keighley and Worth Valley Railway) L89. It didn’t take much Googling at all to bring me here…

LINK

 …and if you scroll down to locomotive No 5775, that’s the chap. And although ‘in need of overhaul’, it’s currently on display at Oxenhope Railway Station! Surely a day out is on the cards…

ANDREW:You filthy temptress. The climax of our episode sees the trio attempt to stop the engine at the station where the local mayor, assembled dignitaries and a brass band are waiting. And once again it’s the Dodworth Colliery Miner’s Welfare Brass Band, led by musical director Graham O’Connor!

But what is that they are playing? A diagetic rendition of Hazlehurst’s Summer Wine theme. I’m not sure how I feel about that, actually. It’s very jarring for me to have the real-world trappings of the show invade the fantasy land of Clarke’s creation. In the context of this episode, what is the name of the song that the band are playing? Is it “The Last of the Summer Wine”? Does this make Ronnie Hazlehurst an on-screen character? My brain hurts!

BOB: Yes, are we starting to see hints of post-modernism creeping into Summe Wine country? That struck me as being really jarring, too.

ANDREW:So, did I love this episode above all others? Surprisingly, not really! I did like the episode, but it doesn’t tap into my tank engine obsession in the same way the abovementioned examples do. I think it all comes down the fact that Foggy’s passion for steam is tempered by Clegg and Compo’s not giving a fig – just as it should be in Summer Wine land. This world of Clarke’s creation is no place for one-dimensional rose-tinted nostalgia.

BOB: I’m surprised! It really is one of my favourites, but I agree that Clegg and Compo do come over as unnecessarily curmudgeonly.