Summer Winos: The Book

Now available via our online shop, the first volume of the Summer Winos book series brings fans a revised and expanded celebration of Last of the Summer Wine.

Two Men, 295 Episodes, One Obsession

When two friends decided to watch all 295 episodes of legendary sitcom Last of the Summer Wine in order, they got more than they bargained for. Not just plenty of laughs, but also a fascinating look at 20th century British history through the eyes of Compo, Clegg, Blamire, Foggy and friends. This hugely expanded version of the popular Summer Winos blog sees Andrew and Bob reviewing the first five years of the show in depth, episode by episode. Expect giant carrots, mysterious matchboxes, wayward ferrets, catastrophic canoeing expeditions… and a little too much detail about the prices in Sid’s Cafe!*

With extensive thoughts on each episode, contemporary reviews, 1970s audience feedback, newly-unearthed trivia and a foreword by Last of the Summer Wine’s own Crusher, Jonathan Linsley, this is the ultimate unofficial companion to the formative years of Roy Clarke’s classic BBC sitcom.

*Steak Pie 12p, Fish and Chips 25p, Tea 4p, Coffee 7p.

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Here’s what readers are saying about Summer Winos – Volume 1:

“Watched the pilot episode again last night after reading the first chapter. Excellent book.”
“Filled with charm, and a lovely guided tour through the bleak early years of Last of the Summer Wine, when it was less Three Men in a Bath and more Waiting for Compo.”
 
“Started reading it last night – looking forward to Volume 2 already!”
 
“I’m loving it. If you’ve ever seen the two lads discussing the series you’ll be familiar with the way they describe things and often go off on a tangent every now and then.”
“It’s not just a match to the show but actually makes me appreciate it even more than I did. Fischer and Smith are warm, generous and witty writers and absolutely love and respect the show, the writing and the cast. But they’re also incredibly astute observers of what we’re watching… It’s almost a perfect example of how to watch something that has mass appeal and give it some serious and thoughtful attention. It’s an absolute joy of a book and I cannot wait until the second volume”

Christmas Special 1978: Small Tune On A Penny Wassail

This expanded look at ‘Small Tune On A Penny Wassail’ is excerpted from the book ‘Summer Winos – Volume 1: 1973-1978’. This new companion to Last of the Summer Wine features greatly expanded blog entries, a foreword from Jonathan “Crusher” Linsley, and other added extras you wont find online. For more information on how to order, click HERE.

In which our three wise men attempt a Merry Christmas…

Andrew: I wonder if the production team received a note after the last festive episode – “Not Christmassy enough!” If so, they certainly seem to have taken it to heart. I mean, you can’t get more into the spirit than opening the episode with a shot of Jesus in his manger!

Bob: That’s in the window of the hardware shop round the corner from the cafe, isn’t it? There’s usually a bona fide cat asleep in that window these days! He’s not in a manger, though, he’s on a cushion with his name on it. And it’s not Jesus. It’s Smudge. But yes, a proper Christmas episode! No sleight of hand, no fake festivities at the height of summer, this is Summer Wine on Christmas Day… and it’s slightly incongruous seeing a wintry, tinsel-festooned Holmfirth. We’re so accustomed to that gentle, early autumnal feel.

Mind you, I say Christmas Day… this was actually broadcast at 10.40pm on Boxing Day! Was that the latest time slot the show ever had? I bet Roy and Sydney Lotterby were spitting. Even my dad might have gone to bed by then (cue sound effect: clink of fresh beer bottle being opened).

Andrew: There might be a good reason for that. Roy Clarke’s less than enthusiastic personal attitude towards the season seems to be on full display throughout this instalment, no more so than when Compo’s cheerful approach to a passing teenager is met with the decidedly less festive: “Pissing Christmas”. He mutters it under his breath, but that’s definitely what the subtitles suggest he’s saying! Still, I think it’s a bit rich of Compo to complain about the lad’s “blue language” – we all know the kind of things that he can come out with!

Bob: Oh, you clever little bleeder. I had half a dozen views of that scene, trying in vain to decipher the teenager’s expletive, but it never occurred to me to switch the subtitles on! Deaf people get bonus Summer Wine filth, then?

Still, for a man who – in the previous episode – was grumpily proclaiming that he hates Christmas, Compo seems in remarkably good cheer. And who the hell got him a brand new digital watch? Big Malcolm?

Andrew: When we first meet Compo in this special, he’s essentially being ignored by his quarrelling neighbours. When we first encounter Clegg, he’s trying to make a friendly phone call to somebody named Gordon, who clearly doesn’t have the time of day for him. And when we see Foggy, he’s just been to the church service on his own, and in typical fashion manages to annoy everybody in the vicinity. The trio are spending Christmas Day together not out of choice, but through circumstance – and because there’s nobody else around for them. It’s rather melancholy, to say the least, but Clarke doesn’t dwell upon it. Today, the idea of the disenfranchised elderly spending time alone over the holidays is, depressingly, more relevant than ever.

Clegg can't contain his excitment

Clegg can’t contain his excitement

Bob: Nicely put. And, in my usual facile fashion, can I also point out that the vicar inadvertently poleaxed by Foggy outside the church is played by John Dunbar, thus making him the same vicar who presided over Gordon’s wedding in Series Three?

I was also rather intrigued by the fact that Clegg clearly doesn’t have a phone at home, and has to traipse out to a proper red telephone box to call the ungrateful Gordon. I absolutely did know people who were yet to join the telephone revolution by the late 1970s, but they were pretty few and far between. Surely Mrs Clegg would have wanted one in the house? Perhaps, once she’d died, Clegg decided that he used it so little it wasn’t worth paying the line rental. Men never used to talk on the phone. My dad would answer it as an absolutely final last resort if he was at home alone, but would otherwise just shout, “PHONE!” to the entire household whenever it rang, usually followed by a muttered, “It won’t be for me.” And it never was.

Anyway, Gordon is played by Larry Noble, who… (drum roll)… previously appeared as the trio’s tight-fisted friend Mouse in the Series Two episode ‘A Quiet Drink’. For the sake of a simple life, should we just assume it’s the same character, and that Clegg is simply using Mouse’s given name on this Holiest of Days? And Drew… he “doesn’t have the time of day for him”? That’s a bit harsh – poor Gordon’s shed is on fire! Actually at first, I also thought he was just trying to get rid of Clegg. As my Uncle Trevor used to say when he was bored on the phone: “Get off the line, there’s a train coming!” But no… I think his shed genuinely is on fire. Cut the man some slack, Drew.

Andrew: I thought the actor looked familiar, but didn’t realise he was Mouse! I love this kind of thing; the expanded Last of the Summer Wine universe is banding back together. It’s just like Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Back at Clegg’s place, the host is in full-on Grinch mode, expressing his mild annoyance at how early Christmas rears its head, and how long it seems to hang around once it does arrive. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose. Complaining about Christmas stuff being in the shops earlier and earlier every year is just as much a cliché today as anything actually associated with the big day itself. Not a year seems to go by without me doing battle in the pub with somebody whining about the same thing, as if it was a new development.

Bob: I love the stillness of this very 1970s Christmas morning. Clegg is peeling potatoes, Foggy is impaling little cubes of cheese with cocktail sticks, and a bored Compo pours brown ale into a dimpled pint glass at 10am, unable to find anything but dreary carols on Clegg’s antiquated TV set. This really is the Christmas Day of my very early childhood: dark, deserted streets, teenage lads with flares and new skateboards, and an air of resolute jollity amid the all-pervading austerity.

Just to put things in context, the winter of 1978/79 was James Callaghan’s “Winter of Discontent”, in which the country was brought almost to its knees by an epidemic of industrial action. Binmen, train drivers, lorry drivers, even – famously – gravediggers went on strike, in the middle of the most extreme snowfalls since 1962. It really was an extraordinarily bleak hour, and my memories of that Christmas are of threadbare tinsel and the cheapest of entertainment; of my gran raising a thimble glass of sherry in front of Larry Grayson’s Generation Game. And yet, weirdly, watching this, I want it back. All of it, in a big bundle of misty-eyed cosiness.

Andrew: This episode should remind you of family, because Foggy and Clegg are basically playing mother and father to their child, Compo, whose sole desire is to get on with the opening of his presents. And the episode itself is bathed in its own unique nostalgic glow. “Christmas is magic when you’re a kid,” muses Compo. “Grown-ups never get any fun presents.”

Bob: Of course, he’s right. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I can put my childhood festivities into the context of such bleakness. At the time, aged six, it was simply the brightest, sparkliest day of the year – a riot of 75p Star Wars figures and, hey… I loved Larry Grayson. Still do. When the entirety of the Generation Game finally goes up on Netflix, can we work our way through that as well?

Meanwhile, Foggy is pondering the possibility of the Russians attacking on Christmas Day, when Britain’s defences are clearly off their guard. Yes, add impending nuclear apocalypse to our growing list of 1978 reasons to be cheerful. He really is concerned about the threat of a Soviet attack, isn’t he?

There are class issues on display here, too. In my experience: working class families pile into the front room before the crack of dawn, and every last present is torn open right then, in a frenzy of excitement. Wrapping paper and excited dogs everywhere. Whereas middle class families open them after the Queen’s speech, with polite understatement. No need to guess which respective camps Compo and Foggy fall into, or – indeed – our families. It’s a difference reinforced by this exchange:

COMPO: What time’s dinner?

FOGGY: Lunch. Dinner is at night.

When I was a kid, there were three compulsory meals every day: breakfast, dinner and tea, and then an optional supper. Even school dinners, at mid-day, were called school dinners! Nobody ever had a school lunch. It was only when I rashly entered into a relationship above my social status that I discovered that lunch even existed, and that dinner was – ahem – a moveable feast that slightly more well-to-do people ate at 7.30pm or later… 7.30pm! That’s obscene. We had our tea at half past five, and within the hour my dad was out of the bath and ready to complain about Top of the Pops.

Andrew: And don’t get me started on “pants”.

Bob: Foggy, interestingly, also points out that Compo has no children of his own! Mark that down for future reference in about six books’ time. Although he did once go out with a woman called Hilda, who looked like Mussolini, and the last visitor to his house was a man from the gas board – “him from Haslett Street… married to the eldest Bagnall lass.” It’s the little details sometimes.

Teddy Turner receives instrudctions from Mrs Pumphrey...

Teddy Turner receives instructions from Mrs Pumphrey…

Andrew: Foggy’s in a world of his own, fondly recalling his Christmasses with the army, and even Clegg is looking back and questioning his decision to give up smoking in order to live longer. What’s the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles? Brown-tinted?

And just as a side note, I think this is the first time anybody has mentioned the fact that cigarettes have all but vanished from the series since the grittier Blamire era. Should we designate this the end of Summer Wine’s social realist period? We’ll find out next series!

Bob: Yes! Even Compo has given up, hasn’t he? Actually… with Blamire gone, and Clegg now a resolute non-smoker, he’d have to. Where else would he get his fags from?

Anyway, to alleviate the boredom, Foggy suggests they take a trip to the hospital to visit their ailing friend Edgar. And Drew… your Avengers: Infinity War comparison is complete! This episode now has a hat-trick of returning guest actors, with Edgar being played by the wonderful Teddy Turner. Exactly a year since he delivered Nora’s good news telegram at the end of ‘A Merry Heatwave’.

And he’s remarkably cheerful! I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen Teddy Turner smile before. It’s a very enthusiastic studio audience this week too, isn’t it? They’re absolutely roaring at Compo crawling under the beds and pestering respectable lady visitors to the ward. Edgar, however, is actually perfectly happy not to see anyone. As Compo states afterwards, “He’s got colour television and all the nurses he can eat.”

A little bit of related social history: here we are in late 1978, and it was only in 1976 that the number of colour televisions in the UK first outstripped the number of black and white sets. Does it put a different perspective on these first four series to realise that huge swathes of the population – in fact, a majority in the early years – would have been watching them in black and white? I think it does.

Andrew: After their hospital visit, our trio make their way home through empty streets. I know this is most likely just a by-product of the show’s unseasonal production, but one thing I find really refreshing here is the complete lack of snow, or even references to it. I can’t think of a more accurate depiction of the typical British Christmas than the dull weather and the silent streets on display here. Every other Christmas television special seems to go all out on the festive cheer and fake snow, or to at least have characters pining for it. On the streets of Holmfirth, the only hint that this is Christmas is the occasional glimpse of a decoration through a window.

Bob: It never snowed at Christmas in the 1970s!

We’ve mentioned a few times that the series is slowly turning into an ensemble piece, and there’s a big step towards that here, as we swiftly flit back and forth between three very different kitchens. Sid and Ivy are cooking for the latter’s relations (“If they have to eat this much, how come we never see them down at the cafe?” grumbles Sid); and then we head to the Batty household, where Wally is being forced into his annual crack at the washing-up (“Every blasted Christmas”) amid sounds of further family merriment from the front room.

It’s not that long since we only really saw these characters if they interacted with the main trio, and we certainly never got much of an insight into their home lives. But here they are, bold as brass in their own houses – they’ve become independent fixtures in the show in their own right. And they play a really important role in this episode: the festive obligations of Sid and Ivy and Nora and Wally, all slaving away in their kitchens for a legion of Christmas visitors, provide a family-centric counterpoint to our trio’s lonely yuletide.

Nora, amazingly, actually seems to like her unseen relatives. There’s her Susan; there’s Clara who is “watching her figure” (crack open the Nimble bread and Ryvitas, Drew); and there’s the reputedly hilarious Dudley from Garstang, who “does impressions of a set of bagpipes.” Wally, predictably, hates him. “I laughed when he broke his leg.”

Back at Clegg’s house, Foggy, Clegg and Compo are attempting to crack walnuts. Good grief, hours of my precious childhood were wasted on this thankless festive pursuit when I should have been merrily destroying my six-year-old brain with a bottle of my gran’s QC Cream.

And Clegg has cooked the full Christmas dinner for the three of them, hasn’t he? After witnessing his adroit ironing skills in ‘Greenfingers’, I think we’re rapidly speeding towards the unlikely conclusion that Clegg is a domestic titan. Although points are deducted for not guessing that he and Foggy would buy each other exactly the same jumper in the pre-Christmas sales. Come on Cleggy, it’s a sitcom! What did you expect to happen?

Andrew: And in a moment that proves Christmas really is for the kids, Compo is the only one truly thrilled with his presents – a book of horse racing statistics from Clegg, and a dressing gown from Foggy that would put Colin Baker’s Doctor Who costume to shame.

Bob: Ha! Ha! Bill Owen would have made a great Doctor. In his tatty TARDIS with dog-ends chucked all over the console room floor. As it is, Compo is inspired by his present to break into the opening lines of ‘I’ll See You Again’, composed in 1929 by Noel Coward – surely the most accomplished dressing gown-wearer of all time. It’s certainly a close-run thing between him and Muhammed Ali.

And, amazingly, it’s Compo who has pulled out all the stops: he’s bought Foggy and Clegg a digital watch each from Nora’s “club”, probably on a weekly repayment of £1.72 for the next 30 years. Oh gosh, here’s a poignant thought: was the watch that Compo was showing off to the foul-mouthed teenage skateboarder in the episode’s opening scene actually a present to himself, bought as part of the same catalogue order? Surely it was.

Andrew: Back in the Batty household, Wally comes out with one of my favourite lines so far, the Freudian slip: “Why don’t you go sit down, Nora? You’ve been on your mouth all day!”

And again, Sid and Ivy inject some real heart into the show. In what I believe is our first glimpse of their actual kitchen – as opposed to the one in the cafe – they’re all bluster and arguments, but then there’s a genuinely tender moment between the pair of them… and a black nightie. As Sid sheepishly hands over this early Boxing Day treat, hastily wrapped in a carrier bag, we stay with Ivy as she unwraps the unexpected garment and finally gets a taste of the kind of passion she was pining for on her Series Three trip to the seaside. The little smile that breaks through her gruff exterior is both heart-melting and heartbreaking at the same time – my favourite moment of the special.

Bob: Yes! She is, incredibly, utterly thrilled. Despite all appearances to the contrary, there are still little frissons of excitement to be found in the darkest depths of that marriage. Although you wouldn’t think it from some of Ivy’s complaints: “I knew you’d be miserable all day,” she fumes. “It’s always the same when you wear those trousers.”

OK, a little thought here that has begun to intrigue me: by anyone’s standards, Sid’s just not miserable at all. He’s constantly cracking jokes. But our friend Mike Scott, who knows a thing or two about comedy, has a pet theory that sitcom characters basically don’t know they’re cracking jokes. It just happens to be the language they use… it’s the comedy equivalent of the characters in an opera who sing their entire body of dialogue. So is Sid actually a miserable sod, who – for the purposes of the sitcom format – just happens to speak in jokes, because that’s the medium of the genre?

Andrew: Hang on. If I’m not aware of it, could I be speaking in jokes all the time, too? Am I merely an imagined sitcom character? It would go some way to explaining why my living room only has three walls.

If there’s a festive moral to be found here, is it that the grass is always greener on the other side? Wally and Sid are surrounded by happy laughing families, and yet it couldn’t make them more miserable.

Bob: Yes, the pair of them slope off to Clegg’s house, mistakenly believing there’s endless merriment to be had around there. And there’s a lovely little touch as they do so. Outside Nora’s front window, you can hear a bizarre parping, squeaking noise coming from the living room; clearly the sound of the insufferable Dudley’s bagpipe impression. I’m with Wally all the way here. What a prick.

Andrew: Our climax sees Compo joining in with some skateboarding frolics. The must-have present of 1978 appears to have been a skateboard – at least in Roy Clarke’s mind. And it’s good to see kids using them for what they were meant for. None of this Tony Hawk rubbish, they’re just bombing down hills at dangerously insane speeds.

Look out for the Dodworth Colliery Band!

Bob: The must-have present of Christmas 1978 was undoubtedly anything with a Star Wars logo on it!* The film had been rolled out across the country earlier in the year and British kids had gone mental for it. Skateboards were definitely pretty hot at the same time, though.

Andrew: And, crucially, they weren’t copyrighted up to the hilt! It isn’t long before we’re witness to a head-on collision with the town’s brass band, and I’m all for this kind of stunt. Compo’s turn on a skateboard is not only perfectly in keeping with his character, but also totally suited to the situation. Sydney Lotterby’s direction is superb during this sequence as well. With careful cutting and well-orchestrated camera setups, he turns a minor kerfuffle into a Hollywood-style suspense sequence.

Bob: It’s nicely done, and I love the lanky teenagers who take Compo under their wings and lend him their gear! All the young kids in this episode seem to know him, don’t they? I can imagine him being a popular figure with the local youngsters, probably cadging crafty fags off them round the back of the cafe. This is such a perfect little scene, actually. All through the episode, Compo has been an uncharacteristic picture of misery, precisely because he can’t act like a child at Christmas. He’s a 60-year-old man who wants toys to play with, just as he did 55 years earlier. He’s been jealously eyeing up skateboards in the streets all day, and – now that he’s actually got onto one – his face is finally a picture of joy.

And indeed, it’s the Dodworth Colliery Brass Band who march cheerily through the freezing streets. What a genuinely lovely sound that is… just beautiful, and so Christmassy. They’re still going strong if you want to book them? Maybe we should get them to play at the party we throw when we’ve finally finished this insane quest, sometime in early 2045.

Andrew: I’ll best call them now, we don’t want to chance a double-booking.

And it’s definitely worth pointing out at this juncture that the skateboard sequence represents the first contribution from actor, gymnast, and stuntman Stuart Fell – doubling for Bill Owen. He’d previously been asked to consult on the giant carrot shenanigans in ‘Greenfingers’ during Series Four, but wasn’t available. We know this because Stuart is a very pleasant chap and kindly agreed to be interviewed by us, back in the earliest days of the project. I think I’ll hand it over to him now:

“It turned out quite well, and I remember Roy Clarke saying to me that this was the missing ingredient. He said that, up to then, they’d never got up to any falling about or falling down. But the Christmas special was successful, and they’d given the series another go, so he was going to try and write in scenes for the lads to do. Nothing very ambitious, because they were old men!As a result, Sydney Lotterby used to ask me to go on the location recces. We would talk about the stunts and find some dry walls to fall off! In my enthusiasm I would try to build the stunts up, and whenever there was a stunt it seemed to fit quite nicely with the balance of the series.”

Quite an important moment, then. This is the point at which Clarke and Lotterby really started to see the potential for much greater elements of physical comedy than we’d seen previously. As stunt performer and arranger for the next two decades of the series, Stuart Fell would manufacture and willingly throw himself into countless bizarre scrapes, and I’d argue that in the process he helped make Compo – and Bill Owen – a mainstream icon. An aging and yet simultaneously ageless pixie, capable of doing anything the situation demanded.

Bob: I’m actually intrigued by the fact that Stuart seems to be suggesting the show’s future had been in doubt at this stage. Doesthat explain why there’d been no full series in 1978? Was it a case of: “Do another Christmas special, and we’ll see how it works out”?

Andrew: All in all, I think this instalment really justifies the “special” label. It feels like no other episode to have gone before it, with a new structure and our first proper taste of a Summer Wine Christmas. I do think Clarke gets to have his cake and eat it, though – it feels like Christmas, but he’s also expressing disdain for the festive season at every possible opportunity! Even the triumphant appearance of a festive brass band is undercut by Compo running them over. Perfect.

Bob: Yes, a lovely episode. It was funny and warm-hearted with the usual streaks of perfectly-judged melancholy and bleakness, and – as such – the perfect encapsulation of a 1970s northern Christmas. And it has another “voiceover” ending, culminating in our three heroes clinking glasses together and chuckling gently. Just lovely.

Did I miss something here, though? What’s the title all about, ‘Small Tune on a Penny Wassail?’ Is it mentioned anywhere?

Andrew: Just a neat pun that’ll look good in the Radio Times.

Bob: Oh good grief, yes. A Penny Wassail substituted for a Penny Whistle. I’m 47, Drew. You’ll sometimes need to spoon-feed me. Probably literally, by the time we’re finished with this madness.

*Actually, we’re both wrong. Hungry Hippos, Simon and Connect 4 were the biggest-selling toys of Christmas 1978.

To see comments from the previous version of this review, click HERE

Series 9 Episode 8: Go With The Flow


In which Seymour lets it all hang out…

Andrew: We open with a slow track in on Nora brushing her front steps. Now, after I previously claimed that you don’t see people doing this any more, Emma set to our front yard with a brush just the other day. I followed her around with a dustpan and everything!

Anyway, here comes a simply adorable Joe Gladwin and friend…

Bob: Wally with his whippet! Straight in, no messing! Cut to the chase, that’s what I say. Regular readers (both of you) will know how much we love Wally  – and his whippet – and I got a genuine frisson of excitement from such an early appearance. Do we ever find out whether Wally’s whippet has a name, though? It’s bad enough that Sid and Ivy went for decades without a surname, but Wally’s poor pooch doesn’t have a single syllable to his moniker. It’s an unwritten Law of Comedy that any docile sitcom dog must be called ‘Gripper’ or ‘Fang’, so I’m going with the latter.  Anyway, my friend Garry now owns a beautiful black whippet called Mr Alfred, so when we take Howdo! The Joe Gladwin Story to Edinburgh next year, we’re sorted for the photo shoot. He’d make a great substitute Fang.

Seriously, this is a lovely start to the episode… I like TV shows that start with the regular characters waking up and getting out of bed; there’s a lovely “just another day” atmosphere to this that makes me feel cosy.

Andrew: It seems that Compo has the better time of it, as Clegg’s morning begins with some door-stepping God-botherers. One presumes that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Bob: Is this a comedy staple that has less of a resonance these days? Although the only time I can ever recall this happening to me was almost thirty years ago, at university, when I came back to my shared student house to find my housemate Raf in the front room, deep in conversation with two earnest-looking chaps in suits, shuffling uncomfortably on the sofa. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses who had knocked on our door and – clearly stunned to be invited into a house for surely the first time ever – had seized the opportunity to set up camp for a serious conversation about faith. What they hadn’t reckoned on was Raf being a devout Catholic who had equally seized the opportunity to wax lyrical to them about his own devotions. They couldn’t get a word in edgeways, and had been there for over an hour. They looked like beaten men.

Andrew: Yes, I wondered if this was a dying practice. We’ve had a few such knocks on the door since we moved in six years ago – though I seem to recall they were Mormons – but you’re far more likely to receive a flyer through the door or be accosted by somebody with a pamphlet on the high street. Perhaps this speaks of the hyper-capitalist digital age in which we live.

Bob: These two don’t look like they belong to the hyper-capitalist digital age. Although this line made me laugh out loud:

Doorsteppers: There are wars… and rumours of wars…
Clegg: Not here. You probably want to be in Arnold Street.

Andrew: Clegg is left reeling in the café after this unexpected religious experience, but I’m a little distracted by the soundtrack. What is going on in the background of this, our first studio scene of the episode? It sounds like somebody has left a particularly noisy air conditioning unit switched on! The noise clearly isn’t meant to be part of the café atmosphere, as there’s no chance Ivy would consider leaving Crusher in charge if the tea urn was making such a suspicious racket. There’s something rather sweet about the way she fusses over her nephew as she prepares to head off to the bank. We always got the impression that Ivy didn’t trust Sid when left to his own devices, but with Crusher I think it’s more the case that she worries what might happen to him.

And can we get technical for moment?At the start of the scene after our trio leaves the café, Compo is precariously tiptoeing his way along the top of a dry stone wall.  He’s not being played by Bill Owen, though – the role is being essayed by a stuntman. He quickly overtakes Seymour and Clegg, disappears out of frame and when the camera catches up with the character he’s once again being played by Owen, acting with a little hop as though he’s just hopped off the wall himself. This little cinematic trick – where the transition from stunt performer to actor is disguised by a camera move or piece of scenery – is called a Texas Switch and you see countless examples cropping up during Last of the Summer Wine. Alan Bell was masterful at finding interesting ways to pull these off, many of which have been spotted by writer Simon Dunn and compiled here. Walking along a wall isn’t much of a stunt to pull off, but little moments like these, executed without risking one of the series’ lead actors, really do sell the idea of Compo and friends enjoying their second childhood.

Bob: Ronnie Hazlehurst is on fire, yet again. As our trio convene in the cafe to discuss religion, is the incidental music swelling into a chorus of Nearer, My God, To Thee? You’re a young person of upstanding morals, Drew. You tell us…

Andrew: I thought it was Abide With Me, but then again I am a heathen. Actually, the last time I went to a church service all the hymns were backed by pre-recorded music on a CD. That didn’t sit right with me, a person who hadn’t bothered joining in with God’s chorus for well over a decade. Now, if Ronnie Hazlehurst provided the arrangements for all of the hymns I don’t think you’ll be able to pull me away from the pews!

Bob: The changing depiction of faith in Summer Wine has been interesting to observe over the years. Blamire was absolutely a devout Christian, and would castigate Compo for his slack morals, and that seemed very much part of 1970s British society and an era when, I suspect, many people would have ticked “Church of England” on their census forms even if their church visits were limited to the occasional wedding and funeral. I’m sure Foggy would have counted himself as an upright Christian of stout moral values, too… but, by the time we reach the mid-1980s, Seymour seems considerably less convinced. He’s easily the most bohemian Third Man, isn’t he? He’s positively louche.

Anyway, I love this cricketing scene, with our heroes rattling through an innings with an oil drum wicket at the canalside. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the “pensioners returning to childhood” ethos that she how has made its trademark. Seymour’s magnificently elaborate run-up made me laugh, as did his embarrassed reaction when he realises that a small, motley crowd has assembled to watch them. “The click of willow on a summer’s evening,” he muses, “and tea in the school pavilion…”.  I think Michael Aldridge is the best Third Man for pulling off this wistful sense of “Faded Empire” nostalgia, too.

Andrew: Compo brings Seymour back down to Earth with a reminder that said school pavilion was falling to bits and probably being kept up by the tallest boys at the school, but despite the dilapidated nature of his former surroundings, I still get the impression that his current antics feel like a genuine comedown for him. He’s slumming it back in Holmfirth after having made his way out of his childhood home. 

Bob: Is this turning into Seymour’s quest to discover spiritual enlightenment, and the meaning of life? Every now and again we get an episode that has a subtle but genuine sense of the profound, and this is shaping up to be one of them. In an attempt to find inner meaning, he drags Compo and Clegg to the local vicarage; and it rapidly, simultaneously, becomes another rare but always interesting type of Summer Wine episode; one where we almost seem to enter a different sitcom altogether! The fusty, model-train obsessed vicar and his snobby wife (“A man has brought us some poor people, dear”) could easily have been the lead characters in their own gentle 1980s BBC comedy; especially when played by the wonderful Richard Vernon – who looks magnificent with huge sidechoppers – and Ann Way, who made a career of playing dotty old ladies for decades on end. She puts in a great shift in the ‘Gourmet Night’ episode of Fawlty Towers, but also seems to pop up in pretty much every long-running British TV show of the 1970s and 80s. They’re genuinely terrific characters. 

‘And now, on BBC1, Richard Vernon plays a priest with a penchant for miniature railways, in our new comedy for Tuesday nights… On The Right Track

Andrew: Vernon’s voice is so magnificent that I almost wish that the vicar had remained an unseen character. I say “almost” because, if that were the case, we’d have been deprived of the sight of his wonderful model railway. I’m rather jealous of this miniature world – which appears to be an HO scale Hornby layout, in case you were wondering. My favourite odd touch is that, amongst the serious replicas of real world locomotives and rolling stock, one can spot either Annie or Clarabel from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends! I wonder, actually, whether this character was inspired by the creator of Thomas, the Reverend W. Awdry. A Church of England cleric with a passion for railways, he was also known not to suffer fools gladly and at this point in time was enjoying a rather high profile, the television adaptation of his Railway Series books having been adapted for television in 1984.

Bob: Compo’s musical interjections are becoming more and more frequent, aren’t they? It was interesting when Roy Clarke told us (CLANG!) that they were all Bill Owen’s own, unscripted contributions. Here he sings A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, a song written by Irving Berlin in 1919, when Compo was a child, although I wonder if he’d have come across it more as a teenager in the 1930s, when he’d have heard it used as the theme tune to the Ziegfeld Follies films that doubtless played regularly in the Holmfirth fleapits. Either way, the line about Pontefract is more Bill Owen than Irving Berlin. I don’t think Irving Berlin ever made it to Pontefract. More of a Wakefield man, I imagine.

Andrew: Back in the vicar’s study, the old git refuses to take any responsibility for greeting his visitors. I think there’s something telling about Clarke’s view on organised religion when the vicar justifies shouting at his wife’s mistakes as being part of “the pursuits of that ideal of excellence that marks us as Christians.” Roy’s scripts are frequently full of wonder and philosophical musings that indicate a spiritual side to the man, but officially sanctioned representatives of organised religion rarely come off well in his work.

Bob: It’s a sign of my appalling pettiness that I felt duty bound to investigate the following exchange…

Vicar’s Wife: I’m afraid I’m not very good with electricity…
Clegg: You could say the same about the electricity board.

Clegg’s electricity provider in 1987 would have been Yorkshire Electric, but there were constant rumblings in the air about privatisation (British Gas had gone in 1986… and if you see Sid, tell him) and public ownership of the Holmfirth electricity supply ended in 1990 when shares were sold in the newly-formed Yorkshire Electricity Group PLC. I don’t know whether Clegg’s cynicism about his local leccy company was justified, but they seem to have now metamorphosed into nPower, who I’ve had all kinds of bloody trouble with, so I’m feeling a little solidarity with him regardless. Sorry, were we watching the telly?

Andrew: We were, but the meter’s just run out. Have you got 20p?

Bob: So, despite looking for spiritual guidance, Seymour has instead been pressed into selling tickets for the vicar’s wife’s am-dram Beatrix Potter production. And, ironically, the failure of this leads to a spiritual awakening in its own right… Seymour doesn’t care! He’s embracing failure! Again, I think this absolutely marks him out from Blamire and Foggy. There’s no way that either of our previous Third Men would have accepted defeat in this way; but – as I mentioned – there’s a bohemian quality to Seymour that makes him yearn for a few dry sherries and a decadent afternoon on a chaise longue. He’s not a worker, is he? Even his inventions are cobbled together hastily. Blamire and Foggy had a working class work ethic, but Seymour doesn’t. Clegg sums up his and Compo’s ethos perfectly – “when it comes to failure, you’re in the hands of two of the finest natural players in the country” – and Seymour is quick to adopt that attitude in a way that would have been anathema to his two predecessors. After a half-hearted sales campaign down the boozer, he even returns the unsold tickets to the vicar and his wife!

Andrew: I think he’s a bit resigned to it. He made his way through the education system; an “intellectual” who coasted into a cushy job as a headmaster. Now that’s been taken away, he’s rudderless and lacking the talent, enthusiasm, or work ethic to try and get it back!

Bob: Ivy and Nora are at the vicarage now, having been roped into sewing Beatrix Potter costumes together, and it’s heartwarming to note that, when Clegg has a mild dig at Crusher, Ivy is quick to defend him! “He’s a good lad… underneath”. We’ve commented on this before, but beneath Ivy’s bluster beats a heart of pure gold.

Andrew: When Compo first crosses paths with Nora and Ivy at the sewing machines, he greets them with “It’s the sew-sew sisters!” – a line that gets the type of laugh from the studio audience that would suggest to me that they recognised the phrase. Now, I had a quick search around online and couldn’t spy anything that seemed to fit the bill. There were a team of seamstresses who worked for NASA in the late 1960s and came to be known as the Sew Sisters, but that strikes me as too American and too modern a reference for both Compo and Roy Clarke to have at hand. I put the question to Twitter and some folks suggested that the line was merely a play on the phrase “so-so”, but I think the audience’s reaction discounts that. Far more likely, given the general frame of reference we’ve seen across the series, is the suggestion that it harkens back to a WW2 campaign featuring the characters Mrs Sew-and-Sew urging housewives to make do and mend. I’m content with this explanation!

Anyway, we’re nearing the end of this episode and with such impressive guest sets – we see four or five rather large rooms inside the vicarage grounds – and a lot of build-up to the Beatrix Potter play, you might expect it to be heading for quite a climax… but where it does actually end up is just downright bizarre. As the credits roll, Compo dresses up as a mouse to sell tickets for the show and races around the streets of Holmfirth, accosting women and getting chucked out of shops. Even the studio audience doesn’t quite seem to know what to make of it!

Bob: That was an interesting episode… it’s sometimes easy to see view Summer Wine‘s Third Men as being almost interchangeable, but that storyline could only have worked with Seymour. His realisation that not everything in life has to be a hard-fought success, and that it’s rewarding to “go with the flow” is almost Taoist! He’s revelling in non-action, and allowing the universe to unfold around him as he sits back with a wry smile. The idea of Blamire or Foggy reaching such a conclusion is unthinkable. And I’m kind of with Seymour, really… one of my favourite quotes of all time is from the great radio broadcaster John Peel, who – when asked towards the end of his life whether he had any regrets – apparently replied “I wish I’d spent more time staring out of windows”. I’m with him all the way. And  yeah – the fact that Compo ends the episode dressed as a mouse, pestering what appear to be genuine passers-by in the streets of Holmfirth, doesn’t undermine my philosophy one jot. He’s only doing it to impress Nora and Ivy.  Like the best of us, he’s still a lazy bugger deep down.

Remembering Juliette Kaplan (1939-2019)

Juliette Kaplan, best known to television viewers as Pearl in Last of the Summer Wine, passed away this week at the age of 80 after a long battle with cancer. Though the role of Pearl dominated her career, Juliette lived an extraordinary life that saw her travelling far far beyond the rolling hills of Holmfirth.

Juliette Kaplan was born in 1939 to an English mother working as a nurse and a South African father serving in the navy. Her parents married and at the age of six months, Juliette travelled with them to settle in South Africa. Family life, however, was the prove turbulent – her parents divorced when she was three years old and, though she lived with her mother, her father “had a habit” of taking his daughter out of school and disappearing with her. It was for this reason that her mother decided she should attend The Priory in Port Elizabeth – a convent school at which Juliette found herself the only Jewish girl!

They remained in Johannesburg until Juliette was nine, at which point they briefly returned to the UK where the company that employed her mother as a secretary offered her a transfer to New York. Juliette loved this city, soon picked up the accent, and was disappointed when her mother turned down another transfer to San Francisco. Instead, in 1951, mother and daughter returned to the UK. This coincided with Juliette being just in time to have missed her Eleven Plus exams. As a result, she was sent to attend a Secondary Modern school, which she hated.

Despite this turbulence, Juliette maintained a pragmatic view of her childhood – taking delight in the adventure of it all and refusing to see herself as traumatised or damaged at all by the experience. In a 2012 interview, the only trauma she recalled holding on to was the time her mother forced her avid reader of a daughter to donate her book collection to a local children’s home in anticipation of their return to South Africa.

As a child, Juliette was known to tell tall tales, resulting in her school making concerned phone calls to her mother. Rather than reprimand her for this, however, her mother suggested she channel this creativity by writing her tall tales down and performing them in a more appropriate manner. At the age of seven, watching films starring the child actress Margaret O’Brien was when Juliette realised that she wanted to be an actress. Though supportive, her mother insisted that she first gain a teaching qualification to fall back on should her career choice not pan out..

Juliette attended the Hampshire School of Drama in Bournemouth as an afternoon student. Without hope of a grant or state support to further her ambitions, she would work any job available in the mornings – taking stints as a waitress, chambermaid, sales girl, and telephone operator – to pay her way for through school.

It was during drama school that a Bournemouth company that made religious documentary films cast Juliette as Solome in His Name Was John and a refugee in And It Came To Pass; her first on-camera work. It was here she realised that she preferred working in front of cameras to being in front of live spectators – described herself as a “devout coward” who would far rather her performance was “in the can” before the audience could see it.

An agent called Vincent Shaw was attached to the Hampshire School and took Juliette on as a client, though the first she knew of this was when Shaw telephoned her to say that a script had arrived for her and that she was expected to travel to Llandudno to performed in the play Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary? 

This role paved her way to repertory theatre. After a 1958 role in Waters of the Moon in Margate, Juliette found herself with no job to immediately go to and asked to stay on. They kept her on as assistant stage manager, providing regular work in addition to on-stage roles. 1958 was also the year in which Juliette met her husband, Harold Hoser, and started a family. The would go on to have three children.

After a break from the theatre to focus on her growing family, Juliette returned to the profession in 1978 for a small scale tour of Two for the Seesaw, then The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb for Harlech TV. Appearances on the London ‘Fringe’ included Meat Love at the Almost Free and After All These Years at the Finborough Arms. It was around this time that she also made her directing debut at the Edinburgh Festival with Anyway by Tudor Gates before going on to play Joanne in Gates’ play Who Killed Agatha Christie? at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End.

Harold Hoser suffered a heart attack  and passed away in 1981 aged 54. Juliette was 42 and and found herself left in charge of a gift shop business. Retiring from acting, she made a go of it until her old agent called  with the offer of a part in a play at Folkestone. Agreeing to a meeting but fully expected to turn the part down, upon arrival she was handed the script and told she stated rehearsals on Monday. This paved Juliette’s way back in to regular acting and shortly afterwards it was another stage play that would provide Juliette with the role that would define her career, as she recalled in her 2012 interview:

One day my agent phoned, and asked if I could go to London for an audition for a touring play. I was in a filthy mood at the time, and said to let them know that I couldn’t make it. My husband had died, I’d taken over the business, I had to see my accountant… but she said ‘Oh come on, it’s tomorrow evening…’. So I did. I walked into the audition room, and the lady doing the interviewing was very charming. And I’m not a ‘charming’ sort of person! If somebody’s charming to me, I think they’ve got a hidden agenda. She said ‘can you do a Yorkshire accent?’ and I (angrily) said  ‘Well, I am an actress!’. In that tone of voice. She said ‘This part calls for an aggressive actress…’, and I said ‘GIVE ME THE SCRIPT!’ 

I read the script, and it was a play called Last of the Summer Wine, and it was going on tour before playing in Bournemouth, on the pier, for the summer season. I went home, and the next day they called me up and gave me a recall. I slammed the phone down, drove back to London and said ‘Look – I can’t go charging up and down the motorway like this, either you want me or you don’t want me’. By the time I got home, I’d been offered the part! 

Something about the part seemed fortuitous to Juliette; for one thing the character was called Pearl – the name of her mother. When she told her family of the offer, her son asked “Who’s going to look after the shop?” Her response – “To hell with the bloody shop!”

At the time of her casting, Juliette had never seen Last of the Summer Wine and was only vaguely aware of its popularity – facts which she believed helped her come into the play completely fresh. In later years she conceded that the experience would have been much more daunting had she known how popular and established it was.

As much of a fixture as Last of the Summer Wine was, however, this stage production represented somewhat of a shakeup. A whole slew of characters who would later go on to be included in the television series were first introduced in this live production – including the foreboding Pearl, the stern yet caring wife of would-be lothario Howard. The cat and mouse dynamic that played out between the pair and Howard’s mistress Marina proved very popular with theatre audiences. This was something that writer Roy Clarke and producer Alan Bell picked up on when they went to see the play, resulting in the characters and actors being ported over into the television show.

It was on camera that the character of Pearl really formed, as Juliette recalled:


They actually gave me a wig from stock, and it used to flap at the back… so every time the wind blew, my wig came off! So it was my idea to anchor it with either a turban or a beret. And when the rushes came back after the first day, Alan Bell said that I looked too young. I thought ‘Oh my god, I’ve lost the part before I’ve started…’ So I suggested wearing glasses. And that’s really how Pearl, as we know her, came into being.

The costume and the make-up helped, but really I just fell into her. And then you start establishing the relationships, too… I became very friendly with Robert Fyfe, and Jean, and Sarah Thomas who played Glenda.

After her first on-screen appearance as Pearl, several more scripts landed on Juliette’s doormat. Without any formal agreement or contract, she would appear in every subsequent series from then on, becoming part of the comedy landscape and a fixture in households across the country for almost twenty-five years.

In 1995, at the height of Juliette’s Last of the Summer Wine fame, she received a letter from Equity, the actors’ union. Enclosed was another letter that the organisation had been asked to forward on – a letter from  two half-brothers and a half-sister of whom Juliette had been completely unaware. It transpired that, after divorcing her mother, Juliette’s father had gone on to remarry and start a new family. At first reluctant to look back at the past, Juliette did go to South Africa to meet her new-found family and formed a close bond with them. Many trips to South Africa followed over subsequent years.

Away from Pearl, Juliette appeared in numerous television roles such as Grace in Brookside, Lucille in EastEnders and as a Croupier in London’s Burning alongside her continued stage work. In addition to productions like The Normal HeartWho’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Hobson’s Choice It was her turn in a touring production of  Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads that inspired her to approach Last of the Summer Wine creator Roy Clarke about writing her something for the stage. With characteristic bolshiness, she informed him, “If I can tour Alan Bennett, I can tour Roy Clarke.” The resulting one-woman play, Just Pearl, was launched in March 2003 and toured over 40 venues.

Last of the Summer Wine came to an end in 2010 and of the cast and crew, Juliette was perhaps the most vocal in her dissatisfaction over the way in which the BBC handled the cancellation of the long running and beloved show.

Following the end of the series, Juliette continued to perform on stage and appeared at fan and charity events. In 2015, she was cast as Agnes Tinker, grandmother of regular character Beth Tinker, in the long running television soap opera Coronation Street. Though she expressed interest in returning to the role, her initial eight episode run was to be her only appearance in the series. 

In her spare time, Juliette was a passionate bridge player, paraglider, snorkeller and often returned to South Africa. Though she put many hours into the writing of her autobiography, it was never finished during her lifetime. She is survived by her three children – Mark, Perrina, and Tania – as well as grandchildren, all of whom she expressed great pride in.

Finally, on a personal note, Juliette was one of the first people we contacted after starting work on the Summer Winos project. Always having time for her fans, she maintained a personal website through which she could be contacted and, though she had no reason for doing so, graciously accepted our request for an interview. Our subsequent Skype conversation lasted far longer than we anticipated and proved what a force of nature Juliette was. The resulting interview, in which we covered Juliette’s formative years and time on Last of the Summer Wine continues to be one of our most popular articles. For this early boost, we are very grateful. 

When Juliette entered hospice care a short time ago, her longtime agent Barry Langford passed on all of the many well wishes sent by admirers of her work, which cheered her as she celebrated her 80th birthday. Mr Langford also reported her final message to fans – “ta-ta and it’s been fun.”

This obituary has been compiled with the upmost respect utilising publicly available sources and interview tapes. If you have any corrections to suggest or memories to add, please get in touch with summerwinos@gmail.com

Summer Winos LIVE: 2019 Tour


Hambledon Productions Presents…

 SUMMER WINOS – LIVE!

 with Andrew T. Smith and Bob Fischer

 Two Men, Two Hundred and Ninety-Five Episodes, One Obsession…

 When does a fondness for a TV show become an obsession? Andrew and Bob’s gentle love of Last of the Summer Wine quickly become a quest to watch all 295 episodes. In order. While visiting locations. Making films. Meeting the cast. Boozing with the writer. And, ultimately, turning their passion into a live stage show. But they’re not obsessed. Are they?

In August 2018, Andrew and Bob performed their show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to hundreds of appreciative Summer Wine fans. And now, fuelled only by cream scones and strong Yorkshire tea, they’re taking it out on the road. With dressing up, audience participation, overly-earnest reminiscing, and – brace yourself – kazoos, Andrew and Bob take to the stage to explain just how Last of the Summer Wine has taken over their lives, and what YOU can learn and love from the world’s longest-running sitcom!

 

TOUR DATES AND TICKETS


Wednesday 27th February

Bonington Theatre, Arnold (2pm & 7.30pm)

ON SALE | 0115 901 3640 | www.boningtontheatre.co.uk

 

Friday 8th March

Robin Hood Theatre, Newark

ON SALE | 07733 179986 | www.rhtc.co.uk

 

Friday 22nd March

Phoenix Theatre, Bawtry

ON SALE | Tickets

 

Sunday 24th March

Museum of Comedy, London

ON SALE | 0207 534 1744 | www.museumofcomedy.com

 

Tuesday 16th April

Arts Centre, Pocklington

ON SALE | 01759 301 547 | www.pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk

 

Wednesday 17th April

Riverhead Theatre, Louth

ON SALE | 01507 600350 | www.louthriverheadtheatre.com

 

Friday 24th May

Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax

ON SALE | 01422 349 422 | www.squarechapel.co.uk

 

Thursday 30th May

Shire Hall, Howden

ON SALE |01430 432510| www.howdenshirehall.co.uk

 

Sunday 2nd June

The Exchange, North Shields

ON SALE | 0191 258 4111www.attheexchange.info

 

Tuesday 4th June

Little Theatre, Doncaster

ON SALE | 01302 340422 | www.doncasterlittletheatre.co.uk

 

Friday 7th June

Middlesbrough Theatre, Middlesbrough

ON SALE | 01642 815181 | www.middlesbroughtheatre.co.uk

 

Sunday 16th June

Spotlight Theatre, Bridlington

ON SALE | 01262 678258 | www.spotlighttheatrebrid.co.uk

 

Friday 12th July

Oldham Library, Oldham

ON SALE |0161 770 8000| http://www.oldham-council.co.uk

NOTE: This performance forms a double-bill with “Carry On Celebrating!”

Further dates and venues TBC. If you would like to see the Summer Winos in your town, please feel free to let us know!

Series 9 Episode 7: Set The People Free


In which our trio attempt not one, but two great escapes…

Andrew: We’ve talked a little about how Holmfirth is gradually becoming less of a grim place than it was in the show’s early episodes, but the panoramic opening shot that kicks off this episode still offers us a town that is black with soot and capped with a misty haze. Don’t get me wrong, though – I think it looks gorgeous like this. There’s something about those soot-blackened walls that lends Howard’s constant window-washing an air of melancholy. They could be absolutely gleaming, but that house is never going to look ‘clean’. He and Pearl are fighting for house proudness, in a era where that meant something. Also, I don’t want to know what Pearl’s ‘terrible plans’ with an emulsion brush are…

Bob: Is ‘house-proudness’ an actual word? I’ve been staring at it for ten minutes now, and I can’t decide. The only alternative is ‘house-pride’ though, and that just makes me think of Homepride flour. Sorry, am I getting distracted here? You’re right though, Holmfith looks fabulously melancholy and autumnal. I always get a little frisson when the opening shot of an episode is something other than the main trio pottering the countryside; it feels like all bets are off! And I’ve got a bonus frisson from knowing that we’ve actually been on Clegg and Howard’s balcony ourselves! Oh, and whatever Pearl is planning to emulsion, I hope she’s primed it first.

Andrew: You’d better get used to Howard asking for help in getting out of the house – we’ve got over twenty years of it to come!

Bob: It won’t take us twenty years to watch it all, though. No way! At our current rate of progress, it’ll be more like thirty. There’s a tremendous bit of textbook Roy Clarke here, too:

Clegg: What are you using on your windows, Howard?
Howard: The best years of my life…

I also like Howard’s claim that he’s practising his ‘double handed death grip’ on Clegg. ‘Death grips’ were everywhere when I was a kid! I spent most of my 1980s lunchtimes try to perfect (or avoid) them in the school playground. They normally involved a nasty pinch on the side of the neck, and were often accompanied by some kind of mystical Eastern mumbo-jumbo, shouted at a volume not quite loud enough to attract the attention of Mrs Gallon, our most feared, yellow-overalled dinnernanny. I blame The Karate Kid. Or possibly Mr Spock.

Andrew: I think we’ve mentioned this before, but Jonathan Linsley is a very good background actor. Just look at the concentration on Crusher’s face as he carefully dries one fork with a dishcloth.

Bob: He’s terrific! It’s the sequel to his open-mouthed window-wiping in the previous episode. And good grief, our heroes are eating BEANS-ON-TOAST in the cafe! When did that ever happen before? Ivy is normally lucky to flog them three cups of tea, so an actual hot meal is the Summer Wine equivalent of dining at the Savoy! Are we seeing Seymour’s influence here? Although he always strikes me as the kind of penniless toff who would happily tuck into a table laden with slap-up posh nosh before tapping his pockets in mock surprise and saying ‘I’m terribly sorry, old boy… I seem to have left my wallet at the Garrick…’

I can’t help but notice that the cafe has a list of Huddersfield Town fixtures on the wall, too. If we’re assuming they’re for the 1986/87 season, then it wasn’t a vintage campaign for the Terriers. They spent the entire season at the bottom of the old Division 2, and their manager Mick Buxton was sacked about six weeks before this episode was broadcast. They only escaped relegation by three points, and ultimately went down the following season. I know some people have no interest in such sporting frivoloties, and prefer to concentrate on the important implications of Pearl’s ambitions with an emulsion brush, but this nonsense genuinely gives these episodes a social and historical context for me! Although, on the downside, I’ve had to think about Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: There’s an odd directorial quirk that crops up when Crusher foolishly asks Seymour about ‘man’s superior intellect’. Last of the Summer Wine, at this stage, is still predominantly a studio-based sitcom, shot in front of a live audience. Traditionally, this means that each scene is shot in quite a theatrical style. There are three walls to each set, with the fourth wall removed to allow both the cameras and the live audience to see what’s going on. When Seymour turns to Crusher, however, that fourth wall is either back in, or they have cheated in such a way as to make it look like it is. Either way, Seymour’s closeup has to have been filmed separately and edited in later, or else we would have seen a hulking great BBC video camera in the middle of the previous shot. This wouldn’t be at all unusual for a film-based series, but for an old-school sitcom it is rather jarring – to me at least. Once again, I think Bell is showing his true colours.

Bob: As a film director, you mean? This is why I need you here… I honestly wouldn’t have noticed that in a million years. Although thankyou for distracting me from thoughts of Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: ‘Apathy Birthday To You’ might be my favourite Compo moment in a long while. It’s so silly and fun and underlines that fact that Bill Owen has now brought the character into full-on pixie mode. Compo at the start of the series might be someone you’d cross the street to avoid, but he’s such a delight not you’d run to him.

Bob: That made me laugh out loud, too! I know Roy Clarke told us (CLANG!) that he saw the main trio as elderly children from the very start of the series, but Compo has certainly become more childish as the years have rolled by. I guess, in the early years, he was a like lazy, sulky teenager with an air of danger… whereas now he’s an absolutely loveable eight-year-old.

Andrew: ‘Love is always a clean shirt’ is such a beautiful, yet thoroughly depressing phrase, isn’t it?

Bob: I made a note of that, too. There’s a real sadness to it, and to Peter Sallis’ immaculate delivery. He’s half-missing his late wife, but also half-mourning the fact that his marriage seems to have been barely more than a state of convenient domesticity for them both. It’s been fifteen years since she died, and Clegg is still only in his mid-fifties, but he’s never shown the slightest interest in finding another relationship.

Seymour, however, is positively pining. ‘If only I’d met Marjorie earlier…’ he muses. Is this the first time she’s been mentioned? Compo and Clegg don’t seem to be aware of her existence. In my fevered imagination, Marjorie is genuinely Seymour’s soulmate… a woman that he met and fell in love with only after she got married to some less-deserving pillock. But Seymour was married as well, wasn’t he? He’s moping about his ex-wife when we first meet him, in Uncle of the Bride. Having lost out on Marjorie, did he reluctantly marry another woman who, despite her best efforts, didn’t make his heart quicken in quite the same way? No wonder his wife left him. There’s such sadness in all of these backstories.

Andrew: Shop front update! The business at the end of Nora and Compo’s road is still G.W. Castle Ltd. As you were.

Bob: If you’re not careful, you’ll gain us a reputation as some kind of pathetic obsessives. And aw… just as Howard is imprisoned by Pearl, Wally is kept in captive domesticity by Nora. And she’s getting ready to wield her emulsion brush, too! What’s going on here? Have G.W. Castle Ltd been flogging off a job lot of cheap paint? Joe Gladwin is a deadpan delight, as ever. ‘It’s just one giddy sensation after another…’

And so Compo, Clegg and Seymour make it their mission to spring Howard and Wally from their domestic bondage. And I bet that’s something you can’t buy from G.W. Castle Ltd.

Andrew: The old pram wheel that our trio find in the river has endless possibilities. How did it get there? I bet Clarke could get an entire episode out of that back story.

Bob: Never mind that, what about Clegg’s description – ‘maybe it’s a primitive form of contraception’?! That’s the kind of ribald musing that we haven’t heard in Summer Wine for a little while! Very topical, though… 1987 was arguably the height of the media’s coverage of the dangers of AIDS, and it was suddenly perfectly commonplace to hear talk of ‘condoms’ in all kinds of unexpected places. I’d go as far to say that ‘Safe Sex’ was arguably the phrase of 1987, even amongst Huddersfield Town fans.

Andrew: Oh, no! There’s another one of those horrible video-mixer clock-wipe thingies – this time accompanied by a musical cue just to draw further attention to it. I hope this isn’t a lasting trend; this is Summer Wine not Star Wars!

Bob: Ha! Ha! I thought of Star Wars as well! In case nobody has a bleedin’ clue what we’re talking about, the changeover from one scene to another is achieved with the picture changing in a sweeping motion like the hands of a clock whistling around… George Lucas was absolutely obsessed with using them in his early films, but it does seem oddly incongrous here. Mind you, some of Harrison Ford’s recent aeroplane prangs have a hint of Last of the Summer Wine about them. Was that plane he crashed into a golf course designed to look like a giant ferret?

Andrew: Argh, I’ve jinxed it! Another one of those accursed clock wipes! I’d be fascinated to see if these are in the scripts or a result of having to trim material for time.

Bob: They were put there thirty years ago specifically to annoy YOU. Alan Bell plays a LONG GAME.

In a lovely bit of continuity, Seymour still has the ‘Codfanglers’ voice identification gizmo on his front door, but blimey… he’s now changed the password to ‘Marjorie’! He’s really got it bad! Again, in my fevered imagination, he’s done that in the hope that Marjorie will one day turn up at the house with a hastily-packed bag… and be able to guess that the password has been set in her honour. I absolutely love these little, unexplained titbits of backstory that we’re given, a tiny hint at a time.

Andrew: The cast are really playing to the audience this week, but I mean that in the best possible sense – particularly in this scene. Peter Sallis is the one who really stands out. He’s usually very restrained and subtle, but just look at the synchronized bits of physical business he’s got going on with Bill Owen here. There must have been something in the water.

Bob: Just pram wheels and contraceptives. But yes – they’re on fire this week! I’m thoroughly enjoying this… all of the regulars are playing it with gusto, and there’s some cracking dialogue, too. Sallis has got the lions’ share of it this week… I loved Clegg’s memories of living ‘in a hothouse of tension and damp carpets… it was like Tennessee Williams.’

Andrew: Another of the ways in which Seymour differs from Foggy is the lack of engagement on his part. He’s just as likely to ignore Compo and power ahead with a train of thought than to directly engage with him. Is it niceness or apathy (birthday)? Whatever the answer, he still gets his way.

Bob: In my capacity as this blog’s official CLASS WARRIOR, I’ll speculate that it’s a terrible sense of upper-middle-class entitlement. Seymour is a professional man, with breeding, don’t you know! He doesn’t need the permission of working class commoners like Compo before he forges ahead with his crackpot schemes. Although, funnily enough, I’ve also written ‘Is Seymour too nice?’ in my notes. Despite his railroading of the ‘lower orders’, he doesn’t have the brusqueness and impatience of Blamire and Foggy. I bet he’d actually be lovely, genial company over a few drinks.

Andrew: The trio head back to Clegg’s house and mull over Howard’s fate. There’s a lot of filmed material in this episode, isn’t there? And ambitiously filmed material too – not just workmanlike long-shot, mid-shot, close-up work, but thoughtfully constructed sequences. I can’t quite get my mind around the sheer number of setups that Bell appears to have been able to get through in what must have been a matter of hours for each location. The crew must have been really well drilled.

Bob: Again, you’re a born film director. My main observation at this stage was that Compo steals a bottle of milk from Clegg’s doorstep on the way into the house, suggesting that Clegg has the tardiest milkman in the West Riding! They’ve been out all day, so this must be late in the afternoon! Oooh, I bet it was on the turn…

Andrew: Pearl assaults Seymour with an emulsion brush – making this deadly implement a running theme of the episode. I wonder what horrible thing happened to Roy Clarke to give him this post-traumatic flash of inspiration? And Clegg uses a vignette between a husband and his ‘bossy’ wife in the pub as an example of the evolution of the Yorkshire housewife, but I can’t be the only one who feels her request that he not drink and drive isn’t completely unreasonable!

Bob: Oh, I love that scene. ‘He’ll have a small beer…’ she snaps, and there’s no arguing. It’s a little mini-rumination on the miseries of loveless marriage, and – yet again – Clegg has the killer lines. ‘Years of exposure to treacle pudding forges formidable wives…’ he muses, with a wince. Good grief, you can virtually taste the comfortable drudgery of Clegg’s married life from these tiny revelations. Treacle puddings, damp carpets, pent-up tension… and clean shirts. The combination of repressed, domestic duty with the reassurance of steady – but dreary – home life. Oh god, it’s brilliant. I bet they never went out.

Andrew: We’re treated to even more classy location work, as the trio travel to Pearl and Howard’s house in Wesley’s van. They’ve even gone to the trouble of mounting cameras down the sides of the vehicle to lend the stunt work a real bit of dynamism. This is definitely the most ambitiously directed-episode to date. And is the track playing on Wesley’s car radio the same one we’ve heard in previous episodes? I think it is. He must be a real admirer of BBC Stock Rock Music #446/H37.

Bob: That’s my favourite heavy rock song of all time. But yes! I think the same track was used every time a BBC sitcom featured a ‘punk rocker’. I haven’t checked, but I’d put money on the same track being used in the episode of Terry and June where June decides to ‘get with it’ and slouches into the front room in leathers, safety pins and spiked, peroxide hair. And no… I’m not making this up.

Andrew: I promise that I’ll stop banging on about the direction after this, but in the sequence where our trio attempt to jailbreak Wally from the clutches of Nora, I counted 32 distinct shot set-ups, some of which involve camera cranes, stuntmen, and handheld shots in a rubber dinghy. Between each of these setups the crew needs time to reset, check the gate, occasionally change the magazine, make sure the sound is fine, and ensure that Joe Gladwin hasn’t drowned. This is a BBC sitcom, for God’s sake – not The Great Escape! Then again, maybe that’s the allusion that got Alan Bell fired up this week. The only thing that slightly spoiled the sequence for me was the fact that Stuart Fell (I assume), doubling for Compo as he leads Nora away, stood out so much that I assumed the use of a doppelganger was part of the plot, and was left scratching my head a bit when it wasn’t followed up on!

Bob: Again, I didn’t notice! Honestly, I was absolutely swept up in the closing sequences of this episode… in attempting to spring Howard from the miseries of domestic slavery, our heroes are beaten back by Pearl (who lets loose with a ‘What the blood and stomach pills…?’ line stolen directly from Ivy! Does that phrase occur anywhere else but in the scripts to Last of the Summer Wine?); but they distract Nora Batty for long enough to coax Wally down their ladder and into the waiting dinghy that you mention. I remember watching this scene back in 1987, and feeling a wave of genuine love for Joe Gladwin even then, because he’s clearly rather frail in these location scenes… the bloke had turned eighty, and you can see it in his movements, being gently helped into the boat. Even as a teenager, I just wanted to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

And, 31 years later, all of those feelings have returned… and then some. We’re reaching the end of Joe’s fourteen years in Summer Wine, and I’m so saddened by that. He’s been such a highlight of the show, and when you see him acting on the small screen, you see 70 years of experience in Music Hall and variety theatre seeping out of every performance. And you also see a wonderful little man, who – over 100 years after he was born – is still thrilling the socks off two grotty little herberts like us. The final scene of this episode, with Joe laughing his head off in that rotating rubber dinghy, is just joyous. Glorious. I really want to do more to help celebrate his life and work. And I still want to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

Andrew: What a great episode. The ambition of a feature film within thirty minutes of sitcom, all underpinned by a fantastically tight script and some truly joyous performances. One of the best.

Bob: Nail on head. That was wonderful.

An Interview With Roy Clarke


A little while ago, we Summer Winos – to our amazement – were given Roy Clarke’s home address. The Roy Clarke… the writer of all 295 episodes of Last of the Summer Wine, and the prolific and extraordinary scripwriting genius behind Open (and Still Open) All Hours, Keeping Up Appearances, and countless other TV shows all defined by his wry, witty and lyrical dialogue and immaculately-observed characters. We’ll be honest… we stared at Roy’s address and twiddled our thumbs for a long time. Months, even. Should we write him a letter, telling him all about the Summer Winos website and our obsession with his work, or should we leave well alone? In the end… we bit the bullet, sent Roy a heartfelt missive expressing our adoration of these iconic shows, and asking – nervously – if he would ever agree to an interview for the website.

And then we chewed our fingernails. For two days solid.

And then… an e-mail arrived. An e-mail from Roy. He was intrigued and flattered by our devotion to all things Summer Wine, and invited us – unbelievably – to join him for dinner. And so it came to pass that, one balmy September day, we caught the train to Doncaster and emerged nervously onto the platform. And there waiting for us was a tall, silver-haired figure with a warm smile and a friendly handshake. It’s hard to describe how surreal it felt to be whisked away to a luxurious Yorkshire hotel by our TV hero, but as the afternoon progressed, and Roy treated us to a slap-up, four-course meal (and drinks… oh my word, the drinks…) we all settled into our chairs, and embarked on a long, fascinating and very frank conversation about Roy’s long unparalleled career… a conversation that he has been generous enough to allow us to record and reproduce here.

It went like this…

Summer Winos: Let’s start at the start…  we were fascinated by the fact that, when you started writing Last of the Summer Wine, a series about older people looking to fill their days, you were a fairly young man yourself. Weren’t you only in your early forties?

Roy Clarke: Yes. I started in drama, so I never thought about a sitcom; never, ever.  Way before that I was thinking that I wanted to write, but I thought it would be novels. But of course I’d start one every Tuesday, and that was no good. And I never thought of dialogue. I never thought of performance. So it clicked for me when I did think of those things, through [writing for] Radio Leeds. I started in drama, as I said, but everything I do has an element of comedy because I’m scared to death of boring people. My chickening-out is to do humour. And the BBC’s head of comedy at that time had seen The Misfit (Roy’s 1970 series for ATV, in which Ronald Fraser’s bemused old soldier struggles with life in Swinging Britain) and invited me in for a chat. He said, ‘Would you like to try a sitcom?’ and I thought… ‘Sounds nice’. It was short story length… I was still thinking in printed terms in those days. And he said – and I promise you this was the entire brief – ‘we want something for three old men.’ And I thought, ‘What a terrible idea! What are you looking at me for? What do I know about old men?’ I really toyed with it a lot because I wanted to try a sitcom – why not? – but this idea was a real non-starter.

So I played about with it for about a fortnight. I couldn’t get anywhere, and I was really on the point of turning it down, when it occurred to me that if I could get them all unattached and free, then they were in the same position as adolescents – kids! As soon as I saw them as kids it clicked, and it worked for me from there. I couldn’t do it as old people. They were always kids for me.

Were those three central characters based on anyone that you knew at all? Older family members?

Compo probably was, insofar as I used to hear stories from my in-laws in Thorne [in South Yorkshire] about some notorious character that used to go out on the bin lorries – thick as a brick, but very strong. There were all sorts of stories about this guy and I think I sort of pulled Compo from him, really. And then when you’ve got a Compo you want the opposite, so you get Michael Bates as Blamire… but those two would never have been in contact unless you had somebody in the middle that can pull them together, so I finished the trio with Clegg.

Lots of people seem unware that the name Compo doesn’t evoke compost, but compensation. It’s how he made his money to live on.

No, a lot of people don’t spot that, but it was a common saying in my area. ‘Oh, he’s on the Compo.’

When you watch the early years of Last of the Summer Wine it’s very much a depiction of post-industrial Yorkshire. The mills have closed down and the area is in decline, and the series really captures that.

And then when a thing begins to go on, it seems to me that the audience determine its direction in many ways. Of course, you pick up on what they like, and you’re going to give it to them – why not? So it lost any abrasiveness and you got the ‘gentle’ thing. There was an interesting critical response that supports a prejudice of mine: they loved it for starters, until it got popular! The minute it got popular they all backed out like hell! I never, ever afterwards got a good critical review, it seems.

Maybe the show had to change as well, being so bound to Holmfirth and with Holmfirth changing so much… by the 1980s it wasn’t the same town it had been in the early 1970s – so you couldn’t set the same kind of show there.

No, true.

Interesting that you mention Clegg being the central ground between Compo and Blamire… we’re always fascinated by his philosophical flights of fancy. How much of yourself is there in Clegg?

I think Clegg’s closer to me than any of the others. I used him as a bit of a sounding board.

Did you have any input into any of the casting?

I picked Peter Sallis. I wanted him. I’d done a TV play that he starred in… I was very impressed with Peter.


Was that Spyder’s Web? (1972 spy thriller, produced by ATV, for which Roy wrote several episodes)

No… we’ll not talk about that! It was a thing called… it’s another weird title to be honest… a thriller (we all draw a blank here, but a bit of later digging reveals it must have the BBC’s 1970 anthology series Menace, in which Peter Sallis starred in Roy’s magnificently-titled episode The Millicent Sisters, Edward De Bruno and Ruth – Where Are They Now?). The thing is that Peter can do comedy and Peter can do sinister, and he was quite sinister in this. I was so impressed with him, and when Summer Wine was starting, I asked for him as Norman Clegg. The others were down to [producer] Jimmy Gilbert. When he rang me and said ‘How about Bill Owen for Compo’ I thought ‘Bad idea…’

Well, he was the opposite of Compo… he was a really dapper Londoner!

Exactly! All I’d ever seen Bill play were Cockney airmen and all that…

He was in The Way To The Stars, with Michael Redgrave…

Yes, yes! That’s the one! So I thought it was a terrible idea. What I didn’t know was that apparently he’d been doing some theatre in London where he was playing the Northern guy and Jimmy Gilbert had seen him do it. Bill brought a lot to it. He was a good clown. A good, physical clown. It was a good move. And Foggy, I always thought was brilliant. Awkward, but brilliant!

And we guess Foggy only appeared because Michael Bates had to leave after two series… was that because of his illness?

He got cancer very quickly. He was in pantomime, and I think he got a knock and it turned bad, and he didn’t last very long at all. He’d just had a massive success in a Joe Orton play at the theatre, and was sort of peaking at the top of his career. It was a great shame.

Was that a difficult point for you and for the series, then? To lose one of your three leading men after two series?

This kept happening for forty years…

And often the same character… the ‘Third Man’.

Yeah. And every time that you think ‘Oh, this is it’, someone comes up with an idea and you try it… and thank God, it tended to work. But when Bill died, it was in the middle of a series, so we had to find something. Had he died between series, I think that might have been the end of it.

They were horrible circumstances for it to happen, but we think the three episodes you wrote – depicting Compo’s death and funeral – were phenomenal. Some of the best material you’ve ever written.

They were. That’s the thing about pressure. They had to be written very quickly, and for a while you can do that. Only for a while, but the pressure seems to help somehow.

Where did the character of Foggy come from? He’s such a well-rounded character, and we think the key to him is that he is a fantasist… but you’re kind of sympathetic to his fantasies because they’re what keep him going.

It’s a mysterious thing, this likability… which is so necessary in comedy, and this is why I have less admiration for a lot of modern comedy, because it’s got no likeability at all. It’s hard, it’s vicious, it’s funny, but it’s not nice in many ways. And I think the great comics have niceness – Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, George Formby, Will Hay….

Norman Wisdom…

Yeah, Norman Wisdom. They might be playing quite hard characters, but they’ve got this likeability that comes through. I mean Ronnie Barker (in Open All Hours)… if you take him line for line, he’s an appalling character, but somehow it shines through. That element of niceness is very important.

Can the actor surprise you  too, and bring things to the part that you didn’t expect to see?

Oh, yeah! And I like to know who the actor is. When you’re doing a pilot and they’re your characters entirely – there’s no flesh and blood in them at all – you’re alright to a point, but once I hear their voices, then I can hear them when I’m at home writing, and that helps a lot.

Have there been moments where you’ve watched an actor perform something you wrote and you thought ‘Oh, I didn’t expect that at all!’

Yeah, and sometimes that happens with a very tiny part and you think… ‘I’ll use that more.’

Towards the end of the 1970s, the series suddenly became an extraordinary mainstream success. Did that take you aback a bit?

Yeah. I was surprised that the thing ever worked from Day One. I really thought it was a bad idea. And it didn’t get huge ratings when it started… It was a slow starter. But the BBC in those days would persevere. Dad’s Army was another example. Today it would have been junked, I think.

It’s often the little things that made the the show so perfect. We love things like Bill Owen singing little showtunes and we were wondering if that kind of thing would have come from you? ‘My Aunt Nellie had a wooden leg…’ all that stuff!

No, that would have come from Bill, but through Alan [Bell, director] who’d let him do his musical things.

On a similar tack, actually, we actually have a little section of the website called the ‘Names Database’, which is for any name that is mentioned in the series , but we don’t actually see the character…

Right! Interesting…

They’re mainly old school friends, because the main trio talk about their school friends a lot, often in quite colourful terms. Were any of those based on your own school days?

No, but I have a thing about names. Names are very important. They’ve got to fit a character or there’s something wrong. They don’t feel right. So I pore through telephone books and God knows what, sometimes. There’s a rhythm to them.

Which reminds us, where does the name ‘Foggy Dewhurst’ come from?

I don’t know, really! Just The Foggy Foggy Dew, I guess… (we’d never considered this possibility, but The Foggy, Foggy Dew is indeed an traditional English folk song famous performed by Burl Ives, amongst many others. It’s hard to listen to this now without thinking about Brian Wilde!)

Joe Gladwin is also a man that fascinates us…

All that experience and all of that old school… I don’t know, he was just a one off. The shape, the size, the look, the voice – everything was right.

Were you writing Wally before Joe came along? Was he the type you had in mind?

It was a perfect fit; let’s say, but I just had some generic, hen-pecked, small, opposite to Nora Batty in mind.

Jonathan Linsley told us that in Joe’s days as a Music Hall performer, he’d be built up as ‘the World’s Strongest Man’ coming out on stage… and then Joe would appear in a loin cloth! He’d collapse while lifting the weights and when the audience left the theatre at the end of the night, there would be an ambulance taking him away…

(Laughs) Yes, when telly first began all those old Music Hall acts were still available, and ready and willing. You couldn’t kill ’em. They’d got the energy somehow, however old they were.

Was that a godsend to you; knowing that these guys were out there and that you could use them?

I never really thought about casting like that. But Alan Bell was always very inventive with casting… and cheeky, really. He’d come in and say ‘How about so-and-so?’… and I would never have dared to ask them.

There’s a great episode (Crums, 1988) where the Music Hall and variety double act Eli Woods and Jimmy Casey make a cameo appearance as two drunks… it’s lovely. Was that an Alan Bell brainwave?

It was, yeah. And Alan used to get all of those really big names in to do a bit. Warren Mitchell said it’s like National Service! ‘You’ve got to do Last of the Summer Wine…’

Did the change of directors, from Sydney Lotterby to Alan Bell, influence a change in your writing? Did you tailor your approach to suit the different directors?

Not originally, because change takes place and you’re unaware. But yeah, I think afterwards you realise that Alan was very filmic.

He does an extraordinary job on Getting Sam Home. Both of us just adore that film. Was it a proud achievement for you to do what is effectively a Last of the Summer Wine feature film?

Yeah I liked it very much. I was very pleased with it. And again, it was Alan pushing it – wanting the film.

And when Brian Wilde left in 1985, you had to find another new regular actor in Seymour Utterthwaite – played by Michael Aldridge. Was that a big challenge?

Yes, because if you don’t get it right that’s the end of the series.

And the series was absolutely huge at that point. We were looking at the audience figures and it had twenty million viewers at that stage. Say that to a television executive now and they’d faint.

A different ballgame then, though. But you do your best. Again, nobody knows what’s going to work. There’ll always inevitably be some disappointments; people who liked the one before would always complain. Some would be disappointed in what was to follow while others latch on to it and you’d be all right. But, yeah, nice guy.


Your career in the 1980s suddenly seemed to explode into this absolutely prolific period… you were writing Summer Wine, Open All Hours, Flickers [ATV comedy-drama, starring Bob Hoskins] Mann’s Best Friend [Channel 4 sitcom, starring Fulton Mackay]… what was the workload like? You must have been working sixteen-hour days!

No, no, no. I couldn’t do that. I’m an idle bugger, actually! For instance, I need a peaceful evening, I really do. I wanna read, you know. So I’m not a workaholic. The secret is that if you keep doing it regularly you get through a lot of work. It’s not usually a trauma for time and pressure, it’s just a steady thing.

Do you treat it as a day job then – starting in the morning and then clocking off at a certain time?

Absolutely. I always thought I was the most disorganised guy available, but when it comes to work I suppose I’m fairly well-organised. In terms of the amount of writing, anyway. Filing it – forget it! I don’t suppose I could find any of these scripts. I don’t know where they’ve gone. And keeping abreast of stuff for the Inland Revenue – forget it! But I can do the work.

It’s curious watching the episodes that we’ve reached now, from the mid-1980s… you widened out the cast to bring in lots of new characters. What was the thinking there?

They came about because we did a pier-ender in Eastbourne… and [it was] absolutely nothing to do with me, but in that cast were Howard, Marina, Crusher – that’s where I picked those from and they were a great bonus for the show. I thought ‘I’m not losing these’. It became a big ensemble piece, and I could hear them saying “Where’s my bit? Where am I this week?”

Is that a problem when you’ve got a big group of actors?

It is a bit.

We’re not far off watching First of the Summer Wine. Was that your pitch to the BBC, or did they come to you?

No, that was mine, because I could visualise what a nice combination it would be if – during the same week – you saw a First of the Summer Wine, and then you saw a Last of the Summer Wine. I thought that would have been a most intriguing thing for me to do, as a writer. Whether it would have been intriguing for the audience is more controversial, but I think it might have gone down. When you get solid, substantial characters that you’ve had for a while, you get fond of them and they are basically – for you – real people. And a natural interest arises in what they were like years ago… and why not? So, yeah, I was quite keen on that, and I was sorry when it didn’t work out as planned.

When you set about writing First Of, did you already have the characters’ history and backgrounds in mind, or did you concoct it for the show?

No, I think apart from the general idea that you’d have some curiosity about it,  it’s getting the commission that forces you to get the detail! (Laughs)

Are you a nostalgic person, as a rule?

Aren’t we all?

We’ve met some that aren’t. Drew’s mother will throw away anything at the drop of a hat. Getting very anoracky here, we’ll pose a question of continuity… in Last of the Summer Wine, when Clegg and Compo meet Seymour for the first time, they’ve no idea who he is. But in First of the Summer Wine they’re growing up together. Did you care, or did you just say, ‘This is what works for this particular series’?

You rely on the fact that nobody’s going to notice!


The main show, especially in its later years, has been compared to Ealing comedies. Were they an influence?

If so, it would be unconscious… but it’s quite reasonable to think so, because I watched all of those films. That was one of the big kicks for me about getting into the profession… it’s unlike most fields in that you don’t need any qualifications; once you’ve got in, you’re immediately accepted. So it was an enormous kick for me to be working with people like Thora Hird, who I used to sit in cinemas and watch and idolise. You know… it was lovely.

Is there a Yorkshire voice? We watched your pilot for Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt! last night. You wrote the pilot and Alan Plater wrote the rest of the series, and there are similarities between your work and his. Watching your stuff, we’re sometimes reminded of Alan Bennett as well. Is there almost a Yorkshire vernacular that you fall into?

Certainly the vernacular is there, so maybe so. If you spot these things, then I guess it’s there.

You strike us as someone who doesn’t want to analyse your own work too much…

I think it’s fatal. I wouldn’t want to know. I think you wing it. If you thought too much about it, I think you’d be in trouble.

You mentioned that, if Bill Owen had died between series, that you would have probably called it a day with Last of the Summer Wine. Were there any other occasions when it crossed your mind to stop?

Yeah, every time a major character goes, you wonder about it. One of the things about Summer Wine that I’ve always been grateful for was that somehow, for many years, we were left alone. ‘Oh, they’re going to do Summer Wine next year; it’s on the schedule…’ and nobody interfered… except for cutting the budget every year. We were left alone to the point that I began to think that the new management within the BBC thought it was an ITV programme! So we were doing alright, and we just used to get on with it every year. But finallly there was a pressure to end, and I can’t grumble. I mean who the hell else would support you for thirty-seven years?

Do you miss it? Do you miss writing it?

Yeah. I mean it’s been my career, basically. It was there all the time and… yeah, I do.

Do you miss the characters? It must get to a point where…

…they’re almost real.

Are there ever moments when you think, ‘that’s a good idea for a Summer Wine script’… and then there is no Summer Wine script to write?

Right! (Laughs) That can happen, yeah.

When it did come to the end, was there any temptation – or even the opportunity on your part – to a write a definitive end? The ending has a nice air of finality for that particular series, but possibly not for the whole shebang.

No, but that was me. For several years there was the possibility that it might be the finish, so I always deliberately didn’t do a big splash – ‘This is it, this is the end.’ And it was the same for the final one. I knew by that time that it likely was, but I still didn’t make a huge splash about it. Just in case, you know?

One of the things we like about the final series is that there’s a thread running through the six episodes about Pearl throwing Howard out of the house… it’s a loose story arc.

It was a kind of farewell. It wasn’t blatant, but it was there, I think.

You mentioned at the start of our chat that, in your early days, you thought were going to be a novelist. We seem to remember that when Last of the Summer Wine ended, you said that you might finally finish your novel. Was it about the police? Do you think you ever will?

I don’t think it was policemen. I’ve had a  fantasy novel I’ve been working on for about thirty years. I suspect it’ll never happen but it’s kept me sane, all through the television. I’ve got about forty-five versions and about a million words! It’s an organisational job rather than a writing job.

When we say fantasy are we talking Tolkien and C.S. Lewis kind of territory?

No, we’re talking Merlin, but he’s now in a psychiatric ward.

Wow… is British mythology and folklore something that appeals to you? We’ve heard your 1968 Radio 4 play, Events at Black Tor, and that has an element of  folklore to it…

Yeah, it does. I think life’s so weird that who needs fantasy? You’re almost there anyway!

We actually stumbled across a 1990s fantasy TV series that you wrote for Sky…

Oh…. The Wanderer. A friend of mine, actually, was trying to get into films and he talked me into it.

It sounds like you weren’t too keen… 

Mmmm… not wise to leave your roots.

Is that the key, do you think? To write about what you know?

Well, there’s no question about it; that helps enormously. I suppose at my age I’m cheating a bit, because what do I know about the modern age? I can never do anything now. I’m still pulling stuff from my experience of life. I don’t know this modern world at all. I’ve got an iPad, but all I use it for is if I’m in the car and I get a breakdown. I don’t know what the hell it does otherwise.

While we’re on the subject of technology you wrote a piece for BBC iPlayer a few years ago, starring Russ Abbott… and it was fantastic. (Final Message, from 2015… in which Abbott plays a man recording his last message to the world before committing suicide). How did that come about?

Shane Allen is head of Comedy Commissioning, and he’s good news. If you hear him give a speech, he’s funny… and that’s a happy coincidence these days in management, I find. So I’ve got a lot of time for Shane, and for some reason he wanted several things like that… so that was one of them. An odd one, but I enjoyed doing it. Russ Abbot’s a very good actor.

Is there a difference between comedians and actors? We always think that with older sitcoms it often wasn’t comedians that were cast, it was actors that could do comedy. With modern sitcoms, you tend to get stand-up comedians cast in lead roles. And it’s a tough ask for them.

It’s a different ballgame, isn’t it? The only link being comedy. The assumption that they’re going to be able to do both is not valid really. But maybe some do.

With great sitcoms you need some poignant acting, too.

Yeah, you need a bit of heart in it. Sure. Especially these days because they tend to be rather hard… stand-ups.

You said to us you’d considered yourself basically retired… and then Still Open All Hours came Along. Was that David Jason’s doing?

Absolutely, yeah. I owe it to David, no question. They were looking for a series for David. They couldn’t find anything that seemed to work for him and he mentioned in a meeting sometime, ‘Well, what about Roy Clarke? What’s he doing?’ I told you they said, ‘Is he still alive?’ but it worked out from there! They approached me and said, first of all, to try a new series entirely – nothing to do with Open All Hours, just find some new idea for David.

Did you have any?

No, not immediately, but when someone rings up you find one pretty quick! So we did this idea and I met David several times with this detailed idea in mind and it changed rapidly… because we went for a meal and were talking over this idea, and the waiter came over and he was so fantastically gay! He was lovely. We’d say ‘Can we have ten minutes?’ and he’d say ‘I’ll give you five!’ We loved him and so we changed the idea – ‘Why don’t we do it with him?’ So we figured out a programme with him, and I did a script, but we didn’t get anywhere.

During the course of another meeting, I think it was Mark Freeland, Head of Comedy at the time, who said ‘What about doing more of Open All Hours?’ David was keen, and I was keen, and that’s how it began.

Did you expect anything like the audience figures you got for that first episode? (The first episode of Still Open All Hours, broadcast on Boxing Day 2013, gained an extraordinary 12.23 million viewers, making it the most-watched TV programme of Christmas week)

No, that’s too much to hope for, really. I hoped it would work, but that was a real lift.

And it’s carrying on?

Yes. I’ve been lucky. I mean, everybody needs to have a lot of luck in whatever they do… and I’ve been lucky.

As you can gather, Roy is an incredibly modest and self-effacing chap… and tended to brush aside all of our compliments about his work! But he’s also absolutely terrific company, and we can’t thank him enough for an afternoon that neither of us will ever forget. He was kind, patient, funny and incredibly welcoming… and wouldn’t let us throw a single penny into the pot for the slap-up meal and constant supply of beer, wine and brandy that arrived at the table all afternoon. In his own words – ‘I’m determined to send you two buggers home pissed!’. And good grief, he succeeded… neither us can remember a great deal about the journey home, and we’re proud to have been drank under the table by the most resilient octogenarian we’ve ever met. Thanks so much to Roy Clarke for his time and generosity, and for… oh, everything.

Series 9 Episode 6: The Ice-Cream Man Cometh

   
In which Compo’s little wiggly thing lets loose…

Andrew: They seem to have had a stretch of good luck weather wise this series, haven’t they? This could be false memory syndrome, but my recollection is that earlier series were often rather grey and overcast, whereas the reservoir we open with here looks positively Mediterranean. There’s something very alien about the landscape, actually – I could see Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant walking around this location!

Bob: That’s a Doctor Who reference, everyone – and I distance myself from it. It does look idyllic, though… and I like Clegg’s use of the phrase ‘creepy crawly’! Nobody ever says ‘creepy crawly’ any more. I also like Compo’s skilled approach to the noble art of sucking your ice-cream through the bottom of the cone. That’s impressive. I once knew a girl who could drink an entire cup of tea by sucking it through a Twix with the ends bitten off. We had some interesting evenings in.

Andrew: My God – we’ve only just reached the second scene of this episode and we’ve already been presented with two beautifully directed sequences. Once again, Alan Bell is a master of camera movement and blocking. Instead of using editing to introduce our trio in close-up, the camera instead performs a sweeping ballet around them. It’s a lovely contrast to the sound of Compo slurping at the bottom of his ice cream cone, and is the absolute lifeblood of a long-running series.

Bob: Funny thing was, she didn’t really like Twixes. I used to eat what was left of it once she’d finished.

Andrew: I take back what I said about the weather – it’s clearly been pissing down outside of the cafe!

Bob: Sorry, were we meant to be watching something? Oh, yes! We’re in the cafe! Aw, a classic Roy Clarke exchange here, with Ivy and Clegg discussing Compo’s laissez-faire approach to personal finance…

Ivy: You almost have to admire him, the way he’s led such a worthless life with so little income.

Clegg: Properly handled, poverty can be within the reach of everybody…

No other sitcom writer would ever write a line so dropping with pathos and social comment. None at all.

This little scene also features a sensational ‘only from Roy Clarke’ reference to the childhood indulgences of our main characters. When Pearl and Nora arrive in the cafe together, Compo exclaims excitedly ‘Heyup, it’s the Dolly Sisters!’ It had to a be a reference to something, and a little digging reveals… the Dolly Sisters were identical twins Rose and Jenny Dolly; vaudeville dancers and silent movie stars whose heyday on Broadway barely extended beyond the mid-1920s.  It’s easy to imagine that Compo would have fostered a crush on them during his very early childhood; and doubtless the 1945 film of their lives, with June Haver and Betty Grable as Rose and Jenny respectively, would have had a run-out at the local Holmfirth fleapit… possibly just as Compo was returning from wartime service? It’s wonderful that Roy Clarke was keeping their legacy alive, almost 60 years after the sisters themselves had faded into obscurity.


Andrew: Seymour pines for the days when ice-cream men peddled their wares around on bicycles. Again, this feels like a callback to a bygone Edwardian age. He’s the Peter Davison of Summer Wine!

Bob: Is that another Doctor Who reference? That’s it, you’ve filled your quota. I know what you mean… there was definitely an Edwardian ambience around in British pop culture in the early-mid 1980s; not just Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor in his cricketing flannels, but also Chariots of Fire and Brideshead Revisited and no shortage of pop stars sporting floppy fringes and plus-fours. Seymour seems to tap into that; there’s a feeling of ‘faded Empire’ about him. Much moreso than Foggy, he lives in the past. Foggy never felt like a man out of time, just a deluded fantasist. Whereas I think Seymour would happily flip a switch and return to his presumably idyllic ‘between the wars’ childhood.

With regards to ice cream, I like Compo’s little throwaway line here, too… ‘I could never afford one. What with the beer and the fags, there was nowt left for non-essentials.’  

Andrew: I’m not quite sure what sets her off – Seymour producing an inflated rubber ring for Compo’s bad back, or Compo and Clegg’s reaction to it – but one woman in the studio audience lets off a magnificently donkey-esque laugh at this point. You don’t really get idiosyncratic laughs like this in modern sit-coms, do you? I suppose sound recording and mixing technology is at a stage where one can probably pick and choose exactly which sections of the audience you want to hear at any given moment, but I miss the days of being able to zero in on the odd eccentric.

Bob: There’s a run of episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus where a woman with an absolutely howling laugh is really noticeable throughout… I’ve since seen suggestions that it was actually a pre-Fawlty Towers Connie Booth!

Andrew: Pearl’s difficulty in engaging with Ivy and Nora’s questions about ‘relations’ is delightful, as is the revelation that, on their honeymoon, Howard showed her a picture from a book… of a jam roly-poly. I’m definitely not one of these people who pines for a bygone era of television where sex wasn’t on everybody’s minds (because I don’t think that age ever really existed!) but this frank, honest, and utterly disinterested exchange does mark Clarke’s writing out as unique. I also really like the idea that Ivy, Nora, and Pearl are a trio having separate adventures of their own!

Bob: Oh, I absolutely love this scene. Not only does it have Nora Batty using the phrase ‘a man of powerful appetites’, but it has some sensational silent acting from Jonathan Linsley in the background, slowly wiping the window behind our gossipping trio, and becoming utterly engrossed in their conversation, with his jaw literally dropping. Do we imagine that Crusher is, essentially, an innocent? In theory, a 25-year-old biker shouldn’t really be outdone in the bedroom talk department by Nora Batty, but it’s part of Summer Wine’s eternal charm that he’s clearly shocked to the very bottom of his turn-ups.

Andrew: In complete contrast to the other ladies in the episode, Glenda is clearly desperate for a bit of excitement in the country with Barry, who isn’t really designed for the task – bless him. Sarah Thomas does an excellent line in sexually frustrated bread-buttering, too.

Bob: Sexually frustrated bread-buttering! That’s the most erotic thing you’ve ever said on this blog. If you’d said that when we’d been outside Sid’s Cafe, I’d have been polishing the windows behind you with my face on the floor. I honestly couldn’t work out if that whole scene was just laden with filth! Barry wants to go for a ‘nice, long ride in the country’ so he can ‘listen for that valve slapping’. I’ve never heard it called that before.

And I’m sorry, but from Clegg delving into Compo’s trousers to look for a ‘little wiggly thing’ to Compo’s rubber ring letting out a series of sensational comedy farts… I am in bits. Absolutely creased up laughing, with tears rolling down my face. There is nothing as funny as flamboyant, squeaky, rasping flatulence in a sitcom. Especially in a car. Next to a woman sniffily attempting to ignore it and look in the opposite direction. I know, I know. I am eternally eight years old.

Andrew: Arriving at Edie’s house, Seymour is pleased to see that Wesley has done as asked and prepared a pedal-powered ice-cream cart. Bloody quick, isn’t he? I did wonder if the title of this episode was every going to actually pay off.

Bob: Oh, that’s just men of a certain age, and a certain era. My Dad was the same when I was a kid… he’d decide over breakfast that he was going to knock through the kitchen wall, and by teatime that night he’d be finished, with soggy wallpaper hanging over the new bits. On more than one occasion I’d go to school on a morning, and when I returned at 3.30pm the house would have a different layout.

Compo also sarcastically suggets that Seymour ties a ‘bag of coal round my neck, and I can flog a few Sun-Brite nuts…’ which took me back. We were still going strong with a coal fire in the front room in 1986, and a local coalman who came round with a delivery of nuts (of the anthracite variety, not salted or roasted) every fortnight.

Andrew: Seymour’s line ‘That’s it, go on and throw away all that commission’ is very odd indeed. It seems to have been dubbed in post-production, but sounds to me more like somebody doing an impression of Michael Aldridge than Aldridge himself. Either that, or he had a bad throat. And Ronnie Hazlehurst can’t resist a few bursts of O Sole Mio as part of his score for Compo setting off on the ice-cream cart. The man’s a daft genius!

Bob: That was a lovely touch! I laughed at Compo’s wild duck call, too. Essentially, I just like funny noises. And I like Compo’s attempt to sell ice-creams resulting, essentially, in him losing control of his bike and ploughing into Howard and Marina. Amidst more duck calls. And probably a comedy fart in there somewhere. And mention of Raspberry Ripples. I’m in heaven!

Andrew: Here’s a thought. If Howard ever did get up the courage to leave Pearl and shack up with Marina, would his relentless inane conversation and cowardice inevitably turn her into Pearl as well?

Bob: Inane conversation? Howard? I’ve just spent a week cooped up in a tiny Edinburgh apartment with you. Believe me, Howard is David Niven by comparison. There wouldn’t be time for conversation if Howard and Marina ever actually got it together, anyway. They’d be too busy slapping valves.

Andrew: There were some nice moments here, but little to really to get ones teeth in to. I’d rather they’d skipped the business with Compo’s farting truss in order to devote more time to Nora and Ivy’s advice on conjugal relations. I suppose it’s a sign of a rich cast and developed characters that I suspect that what, say, Wally and Nora are getting up to is more interesting than what’s actually happening on screen!

Bob: SKIP THE FARTING TRUSS?!?!?! What madness is this?! Honestly, I genuinely loved all of that. That episode provided my biggest source of belly laughs for quite a while. Great fun, and just a lovely, silly romp.

Summer Winos - Live 2018

Two Men, 295 Episodes, One Obsession…

When does a fondness for a TV show become an obsession? Andrew and Bob’s gentle love of Last of the Summer Wine quickly become a quest to watch all 295 episodes. In order. While visiting locations. Making films. Meeting the cast. Boozing with the writer. And, ultimately, turning their passion into a Fringe show. But they’re not obsessed. Are they?

Yes, you heard it right… seven years after embarking on the Summer Winos quest, Andrew and Bob are planning to take to the stage to explain just how Last of the Summer Wine has taken over their lives, and what YOU can learn from the world’s longest-running sitcom!

There will be dressing up, audience participation, overly-earnest reminiscing, and – brace yourself – kazoos. The show is running at the Edinburgh Festival, as part of the PBH Free Fringe, and will be staged at Bannermans Bar at 212 Cowgate, Edinburgh, from 12th-17th August 2018. Before then, there are special preview shows at the Waiting Room in Eaglescliffie, Stockton-on-Tees (their local!) on 29th July, and at Sid’s Cafe, Holmfirth (where else?) on 5th August. All performances are free to enter.

So come and say hello! Will YOU be their Foggy?

FULL 2018  LIVE DATES

NB The capacities of the Waiting Room and Sid’s Cafe are pretty limited. The Waiting Room holds about 60 people, and Sid’s Cafe about 30… if you’re planning to come to either show, please give them a call on the numbers below and reserve a seat. Thanks!

Sunday 29th July (19:30) – The Waiting Room, Eaglescliffe, Stockton-on-Tees, TS16 0BU… Tel 01642 780 465

Sunday 5th August (18:30) – Sid’s Cafè, 4a Towngate, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, HD9 1HA… Tel 07706 823 855

Sunday 12th-17th August (16:15) Bannermans Bar, 212 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1NQ… Tel 0131 556 3254

Official teaser trailer now online!


 

 

Series 9 Episode 5: Who's Feeling Ejected, Then?


In which Compo experiences some ups and downs…

Andrew: Here we go, then; the first episode of Last of the Summer Wine broadcast during my lifetime. Not that I expect the Summer Wine world to suddenly become a lot more recognisable… I think I described last week’s episode as ‘Edwardian’, and this is certainly not a show of 1987 in the same way that the first series was very definitely a show of 1973.

Bob: Ah, really? You think we’re entering the ‘timeless’ era of Summer Wine? That’s interesting, and a bit of a shame for you… the 1970s episodes were so redolent of my childhood, and I was hoping you’d get a similar frisson of nostalgia from the late 1980s and 1990s series. I think there are still elements of the show that reflect the feel of the 1980s (which were a lot more grim and grotty than a lot of TV retrospectives would have you believe… there was no power dressing or outsized mobile phones on Teesside, believe me) but I know what you mean. The 1970s episodes were often specifically about the issues of that decade; with the disctinctly post-industrialised landscape and issues of the Holme Valley sometimes combined with specific events like the Silver Jubilee.  There’s been a bit less of that kind of thing recently.

I laughed out loud at the opening sequence though, with Compo bouncing up and down on some unseen contraption, boinging away behind a dry stone wall. I just like the sight of old men boinging. I’m that shallow.

Andrew: Following… whatever was going on in that field, Compo staggers into the cafè. Bill Owen is clearly having a ball here, chewing the scenery with physical comedy. It’s nice to spend a little more time with Crusher here, as well. He feels a touch underused of late, but comes out with an intriguing line here:

Crusher: I never would have bothered having all them tattoos if I’d known I was going to end up in a frock.

What do we think Crusher’s tattoos are of, then?

Bob: Your baby face, all over his chest. The only appropriate way to mark your entry into the world. I thought that line was a very telling sign of the times, actually… back in 1987, big, butch bikers like Crusher were amongst the very few people that you’d ever expect to have a tattoo! The only people I remember having tattoos during my childhood were sailors and nutcases. They’re everywhere now, though. I bet Mary Berry has got one.

But you’re right, it’s lovely to have a bit of Crusher time, and yet again… there’s a lovely rapport between Bill Owen and Jonathan Linsley. ‘Howdo, little Crushy!’ cries Compo, chuckling away at Crusher’s cheek. There’s real warmth there, and it’s lovely. And hey, there you go! A bona fide 1980s reference! Ivy describes Crusher as the cafe’s ‘nuclear deterrent’. The terrifying Cold War years had only just started to thaw by early 1987… in fact, it looks like Mikhail Gorbachev started talking about ‘Glasnost’ only a matter of weeks before this episode was broadcast. You could imagine Crusher being deployed at Greenham Common.

Andrew: So why has Seymour invented this ejector seat? I’m starting to suspect we might not get an answer to that fundamental question! So far, there’s a slightly unpolished feel to this instalment. Even when Compo ponders Nora Batty – recently a frequent whimsical highlight – it all comes across as a little bit simplistic. Nora cleans, and Compo is dirty.

Bob: It’s a real departure from the format, isn’t it? There’s no big build-up to Seymour creating this invention, nor any explanation as to why he’s done so… the ejector seat is already fully formed and operational at the start of the episode. I do like this scene of it being left outside the cafe though, and drawing a curious crowd who think it’s ‘the electric chair’. There’s something that rings true about inexplicable behaviour or objects in public places causing instant consternation. My Mum says that. when she was a kid in the 1950s, she and her friends would stand in Middlesbrough town centre pointing at completely non-existent objects in the sky. Within seconds, a little crowd would gather around them, squinting at the clouds and trying to figure out the subject of their fascination.  

And, as we shift into Wesley’s garage to find a car capable of housing said ejector seat, we gain an interesting insight into Seymour’s character. ‘I’ve always known life was unfair,’ he muses, ‘ever since that terrible Christmas Day when it broke my train set’. You surely have to suspect that Seymour broke his own train set with some infernal tinkering, but like every good egomaniac, he can’t see that. As far as he’s concerned, the universe is conspiring against him… because, clearly, he’s at the centre of it.

Andrew: Here’s an oddity. As Compo prepares to be strapped to the top of the car, a video-mixed clock wipe ushers us from one filmed scene to another. Very unusual to see in Summer Wine, and I can’t help but wonder if this is because the episode is once again a little undercooked. or perhaps just rushed into production. I certainly can’t imagine that transition having been planned at the scripting stage.

Bob: A video-wiped mixed what? I had to wind that back and watch that again, you bugger. We’re not all Stanley Kubricks, you know. I see what you mean, though… the way the scene changes like a clock’s hands moving around? It’s very George Lucas!

Andrew: As soon as the car speeds off, some decent yet still very obvious CSO work rears its head whenever the camera needs to see Compo close up. That’s understandable given how dangerous the stunt looks, and I suppose the technique has a charm of its own, but I’ll never understand how nobody at the BBC ever seemed to figure out that a bumpy and jostling background plate of driving film needs the studio camera to be equally unsteady in order to look anything less than phoney!

Bob: That’s right… you distract them with the dodgy camera effects, and I’ll get down to the real business of stalking the Last of the Summer Wine cars on the DVLA website. Barry’s red Ford has a registration number of HFH 315N, first registered in April 1975, but the road tax has been due since Sunday 1st June 1986. So was this episode filmed before then, or was it an already off-the-road prop requisitioned by the BBC? I hope Alan J.W Bell had filled in a Statutory Off-Road Notification form.

Andrew: There really is nothing sexual to Howard and Marina’s relationship, despite what Marina may crave. I think Howard just genuinely longs for companionship – the kind he clearly doesn’t get from Pearl, who over the years has essentially become his mother. Rather than carnal pleasure, he has a genuine interest in the pastimes the pair use as a cover story… in this instance tracking down ‘the caterpillar of the wood moth.’ Basically, his affair with Marina is an excuse for him to indulge the hobbies that they use as an excuse to be seen together!

Bob: Get away, nobody has ever said ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to show you the caterpillar of the wood moth’ with as much sexual frustration as Howard. It was a commonly-used euphemism amongst the pre-Viagra generation.  There’s a real wistfulness to Marina’s response, too… ‘You look at me, you look at the wet grass, and all you think about is rheumatism.’ They’re lonely people, aren’t they? There’s a genuine sadness behind their slapstick. I think Ronnie Hazlehurst sees this too, and provides some lovely, melancholy music as they cycle away. 

Andrew: I definitely side with Compo in this episode, moreso than usual. There is literally no reason for any of this business with the ejector seat. I think it comes back to what I’ve said before about Seymour’s fundamental selfishness. This time round, he doesn’t even come up with an excuse for the batty invention, or a decent justification for Compo’s safety being put at risk. Apart, of course, from the dangling carrot of impressing Nora Batty.

Bob: It’ll take more than a dangling carrot to impress Nora Batty. But yes, I’ve written ‘WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS?’ in my notes… in big letters too, to show I mean business. To be fair, I think there are hints that Seymour just sees a big commercial market for car-based ejector seats, and thinks he can claim both fortune and glory as a result of this episode. I empathise more with Clegg though, setting up a makeshift crash mat for Compo’s trail run. ‘At my age,’ he ponders, ‘there’s something deeply uninteresting about a mattress…’ I’m actually starting to wonder if there’s a big metaphor at work here. Everyone appears to be especially world-weary. and feeling their age, in this episode.  Is the ejector seat an allegory for Seymour’s attempts to spring them all out of their torpor? Life is a trundling, untaxed, red Ford, and he’s desperate to boing them all out of it… even though we all know that, ultimately, the attempt will be futile. It’s possible I’m overthinking all this.

Andrew: OK, I’ve been disappointed with this episode so far, but I think the entire thing was worth it for Ivy’s clairvoyance! Desperate to sneak out and view Seymour’s test, Crusher tries to fool Ivy into thinking he is doing some work by leaving the vacuum cleaner on as he sneaks to the front door. As if by magic, however, she has disappeared from the kitchen and reappeared outside, ready to catch him!

Bob: That made me laugh, too… although is this the first hint that we’ve had that the cafe has a back door? I like Ivy’s line, as well: ‘Loonies of the calibre of those three will still be available long after closing time…’ There’s something terribly reassuring about that. Oh, and… Compo mentions ‘screaming his clacker off’! I’d never heard of the word ‘clacker’ until very recently, when my radio cohort Uncle Harry used it to describe the little dangly organ at the back of his throat, and I – shamefully – disputed its use in this context. But Compo is clearly using it in the same way, so I officially retract all of my doubts. Medical opinion describes it as the ‘uvula’, but where’s the fun in that?

Andrew: Given that Bill Owen has to be blue or yellow-screened onto the top of a car, I’m amazed that frail old Joe Gladwin continues to mount Wally’s motorbike and sidecar out on location. The cast often spoke of how frail he was in his later years. What a trooper.

Bob: I genuinely have nothing but admiration for Joe Gladwin and his achievements on this series; and, indeed, everything else he did in his extraordinary life and career. One day, when all of our other nonsense is out of the way, we need to work on a biography of him. There you go, it’s in print now.  We’ll have to do it.

Andrew: Barry puts his foot on the accelerator, and the contraption is off. Seymour gives the signal for the ejector seat to be engaged, and… BANG. This is the first bit of slapstick in this episode that has really made me laugh. The cloud of smoke, accompanied by Compo tumbling forward, seems so unexpectedly violent that it really caught me by surprise! It’s a great moment, but then the episode just sort of stops, without a resolution. Do we really believe Seymour would give up at this stage? There’s no particular sense of an ending.

Bob: It’s an odd episode, and it does feel like it might have been written quite quickly. I tell you what, though… you have to hand it to the Summer Wine continuity machine. There’s a credit here for Maxton Beesley, who I’m guessing might have been one of the gathered throng watching the ejector seat test-run? Whatever, the same actor has a previous credit for Getting Sam Home, where he played ‘Colin’s Mate’, one of the toolbox vultures keen to raid the late Sam’s shed for ratchet screwdrivers and socket sets. We discussed him a little in the comments below our episode review! Three years later, was ‘Colin’s Mate’ drawn up to the moors on the promise of seeing Compo flying over a hedge? Of course he was. Like me, he just can’t resist the sight of old men boinging.

Andrew: I’m convinced that something went awry during the production of this episode, and I think it’s worth pointing out that it has the shortest running time of any episode of the series. That’s what happens when you forget to include subtext! I hope my birth hasn’t jinxed the series, because that was a bit of a duffer!

Bob: It’s all your fault. We were doing fine until you came along.

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