An Interview With Jonathan Linsley

As Ivy’s imposing yet benevolent nephew Crusher, Jonathan Linsley delighted Last of the Summer Wine viewers during his stint on the show in the mid-1980s. The Summer Winos were delighted when he agreed to speak with us about his fascinating career, taking in everything from Pirates of the Carribean to Noel Edmonds’ adandoned shower…

We know you’re a Yorkshireman, but whereabouts are you actually from? We’ve seen Bradford mentioned, but also Skipton, in North Yorkshire…

I was born in Bradford, but my dad moved to the Midlands with his job when I was three, and we lived in a place called Halesowen, just south of Birmingham, until I was eleven. Then we briefly moved to Tamworth, in Staffordshire… but then my dad retired from working in industry, and we moved up to Skipton, where I went to Ermistead Grammar School. He actually bought a small village shop. So I ended up being brought up in Skipton, from the age of about twelve.

Was acting something you were enthusiastic about at school?

Yeah. When I was a very little lad, my primary school did school plays, and for some reason both my brother and myself were very keen on being in those. I think my mum and dad had always been keen on amateur acting, and they pushed us forward. My mum used to take us to the Methodist chapel for Sunday School, and we used to get up and do recitations, so there was always this thing about learning poetry and performing. My mum was very supportive… although she didn’t like my accent for a while, when we lived in Birmingham!

Ah, really?

Well, I always say I was brought up bilingual, because my mum was from Cockfield in County Durham, near Barnard Castle, and my dad was from Ramsgate, and went to school in Birchington, and they met during the war when he was stationed with the tank regiment in Barnard Castle… they met at a dance and fell in love. So during my youth, my dad would always say ‘have a b-a-r-th’ and ‘mow the gra-r-ss’, and my mum would say ‘have a laff’! And then moving around – because I went to three different schools – I became very aware of the way people speak, and of different accents. It’s peer pressure, too; to fit in with your peers, you want to speak with the voice that they speak with. So I probably had a Yorkshire accent right at the beginning of my life; then a bit of a Birmingham accent; and I also learnt a bit of RP from my dad, with him coming from Kent; and then got a little bit of County Durham from my grandparents. So I always aware of all kinds of people speaking with different accents, and I think that’s part of the reason that I became an actor.

We’ve also seen you talk about an English teacher called Mr Thomas, who seemed to encourage your talent for acting?

Yes, Gordon Thomas… who we used to call ‘Delmi’, because Delmi Thomas was a rugby player at the time. When I went to Ermistead School, I had a couple of very good English teachers, but particularly Gordon Thomas, who was interested in school plays, and putting us all forward for drama. He suggested that it might suit me to apply for the National Youth Theatre. In those days, they used to hold their Northern auditions in Manchester… but all the seasons were in London. And so I did my audition in Manchester, and was lucky enough to get in, and did two seasons in London, and it was very interesting. I really enjoyed it, and got a taste for it. You performed, in those days, in the Shaw Theatre in Euston Road, so it was like being in the West End.

I was a young lad, fifteen or sixteen, and it was fantastically exciting to be in London… it was an eye-opener coming from a small Northern town like Skipton, and suddenly being in the big city meeting fairly important people in the theatre world. And a lot of the people that I was at the National Youth Theatre with have gone onto other things, and been in the business, so that was interesting… and my attitude to theatre changed, with me starting to think that it could be a job, rather than just a hobby. My parents just assumed that it was going to be a hobby, and didn’t really approve, and my mum used to ask me why I wasn’t going to get a proper job! And quite understandably so, because she was obviously well aware of the fact that an actors’ life is difficult at times, and not everybody makes a living. It’s not a well-paid profession if you don’t make it.

So was pursuing an acting career a big decision for you to make?

Well, I always thought that it was what I wanted to do. I met a guy called Ken MacDonald, who was in It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, and he directed me in a show at the Youth Theatre…

Kenneth Macdonald
Didn’t he go on to play Mike the landlord in Only Fools and Horses, too?

…yes, that’s right! He was a nice fellow, very helpful, and what he basically said was that if you’re practical about it, you can make a living. And he was nice enough to say that I could make a living as an actor. And, of course, this was the mid-1970s, when no profession seemed very secure; inflation and economics were crazy, and the whole country was changing… so it wasn’t quite such a mad idea. I have to say that my school wasn’t so supportive in terms of me making it my career; they didn’t think it was a sensible thing to do, and of course my parents wanted me to go to university and get a degree… what’s the phrase they always use; ‘something to fall back on’!

So I followed their advice and applied to university, and started reading English and American Studies at Warwick… but I was completely bored by it, so I changed courses at the end of the first year, and went on to do a Theatre Studies degree – a Drama degree, effectively – and, when I graduated from Warwick, I went down to the Bristol Old Vic and did a one-year post-graduate course. In those days, the Department of Education and Science used to give a bursary to the one drama school in the country that did post-graduate work, which was the Bristol Old Vic, and they funded two places a year… and I got one of those. I remember having an interview with the people from the North Yorkshire Education Department, and they basically said ‘What are your chances of getting a job in Skipton, or North Yorkshire?’, and I said ‘Pretty grim, really… there’s not much television actually based in North Yorkshire’. Northallerton is not Hollywood! So yeah, I was lucky… I applied for the bursary, got it, went off to Bristol, and that was how I got started in the business.

But yes, it was a big decision, and I took advice and listened to professional actors. The thing about Ken MacDonald was that he wasn’t a big star, but he was a very good jobbing actor. And the advice that he gave me was very important to me; he basically said that the business was very fickle, and that I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket… but, because of the size and the shape that I was, I could probably make a living as a character actor. And in those days you had to stick yourself down as ‘character actor’, ‘leading actor’, ‘young character’ in Spotlight…

You had to make that decision yourself, and decide what kind of actor you actually were?

Yeah! I remember one agent saying to me ‘You’ve got a choice here… you can either be a fat actor or a thin actor’. And that was quite interesting, because I’ve been both!

So did you have ambitions to work on TV at this stage?

Not really, no. When I started, I absolutely adored the theatre, and I only wanted to be in plays. When I left university, I was quite left wing in my politics, and I said I would never do anything commercial or mainstream… ‘how could you possibly want to be in a soap opera?’… or something! I would only do things that were important and would change the world, that was the idea! And I was lucky when I first got out of drama school, I did forty weeks in rep in Ipswich, I played a lot of different parts in plays, and I did a bit of teaching while I was there. But then, of course, the first television jobs that come along are commercial! Telly, and actual adverts… and you know, you suddenly realise you have to prostitute your talents a little bit, and make a living. That’s if you’re hoping to pay the rent in London, and have a car… all the sorts of things that normal people accept as being as things you want to have. Otherwise you have to live in a bedsit for the rest of your life, starving in a garret, being an artist with principles! And I decided I wasn’t an artist with principles that much.

Although I’ve never advertised anything I don’t really believe in. I’ve never advertised cigarettes, for example, or anything that I didn’t think was good for people. But it’s a different world now… people don’t consider the morality of what they do, they just get on and do it. And there’s no career path either; you can go from being a big star overnight to a nobody the next day, or vice versa. I remember Peter Sallis saying to me, when I first met him… I did the stage play of Last of the Summer Wine before I did the television series, and that meant spending a lot more time with people than you would on television. So I probably knew Peter, and Bill Owen, and Jane Freeman better than I knew the others on the series, because they were all in the stage play with me. And of course, I was forty years younger than just about anybody else on the programme, so they were keen to give me advice. And Peter said to me that the career path for him – and for most actors – was that if you’re lucky enough to become known by your fellow actors, then that’s the start, and if they respect you and your reputation is good, then you get known by directors and casting directors, and if that works out, then you get known by the public. And that’s the way to do it.

Thirty odd years on, I think the career path has changed… it’s kind of backwards now. You get known by the public if you go on reality television, and then the casting agents get to know you, and then your fellow actors start to meet you for the first time. It’s interesting. That’s what’s happened to the world of the theatre.

When I started out, I worked in the theatre and I wanted to be a stage actor… and you’re faced with choices, aren’t you? I remember facing the choice of going into the RSC, to spend sixty weeks carrying a spear, basically, at the back of the chorus… or going into the Last of the Summer Wine stage play with the option of maybe, one day, meeting some of those famous people and hoping they would get me into the television show. And luckily they enjoyed what I did, and Roy Clarke liked what I did, and Alan Bell liked what I did, and they gave me the job on the telly show. But there were no guarantees of that when I took the job… I could have gone to the RSC, ended up being in theatre, and playing Shakespeare for the rest of my life.

Do you remember how you found out about the stage show?

Yes, through an agent. I was with the same agent for almost 25 years, with CCA – a guy called Howard Pays – and they were obviously looking for people to be in the stage play of Last of the Summer Wine. What had happened was… Roy Clarke was going to write a summer season, called Last of the Summer Wine, and it was going to go on a short commercial tour, starting at the Alfred Beck Theatre in Hayes, in Middlesex. And then it was going to travel down to… I think Cardiff, and one or two other places, before going into summer season in Eastbourne. And it was offered as a job, and we rehearsed in London for it in a church hall, and in the first week that we were there, the script that Roy had written was like a long episode of Last of the Summer Wine. It was about an hour long, it sort of meandered, and didn’t really have a plot, because Roy wasn’t an experienced theatre writer. He was a television writer, and he understood the medium of television completely… a lot of short scenes, a lot of funny lines, a lot of one-off things. And I can remember after four or five days of rehearsals, the director Jan Butlin and the producers of the show said ‘You’d better go home… I think Peter [Sallis] and Bill [Owen] are going to spend some time working on the script’. And, basically, Peter and Bill reworked the script and turned it into more of a seaside holiday farce. I think it would be fair to Roy to say that that’s what happened, and I don’t know how much Roy was involved in that. And when we came back, we had a beginning, a middle and an end… and a farce. Obviously Roy created all the characters – Howard, Pearl, Marina, and myself – and I think originally they’d asked Brian Wilde to be in it, and he said he didn’t want to do it, so the device – was which Roy’s device – was that Foggy was ill upstairs in bed, and was banging on the ceiling when he needed anything. So he was a presence in the play, but he was a stick! That’s all he was, his walking stick. Jan Butlin had done a lot of farces, and had a lot of experience of comedy shows, so she was very in helpful making the show work.

My character was quite threatening, and not at all like he ended up. He was supposed to be insanely jealous of his girlfriend, who he’d thrown out of the house in just her bra and knickers, and Compo had found her, taken pity on her, and invited her into Clegg’s house in order to look after her! And obviously his motives were completely pure! But I also happened to be the bread delivery boy in the village, and – of course – I was delivering bread to Clegg’s house. So I turned up and found evidence of my girlfriend being in his house, and I think I’ve found one picture – which I’ve posted on the web – of me grabbing them both round the neck.

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We’ve seen it! Crusher looks like much more of a Hells Angel kind of figure than he was in the TV show…

That was the look we were going for, the tattoos and the leather… he was a biker. We did the show for two years, finishing in Eastbourne, and then they rang me up again and asked if we’d do another short tour and take it to Bournemouth the following year. And inbetween… I did some other telly, actually. I did a Dempsey and Makepeace, and one or two other things. And then I went back to the Summer Wine stage play, and at the beginning of the summer season in Bournemouth, John Comer sadly passed away. And I got a phone call from Alan Bell and Roy Clarke, who said ‘Look, we’re thinking bringing your character into the series as Ivy’s nephew, so you’ll be the male presence in the café, taking over from John’. And being Ivy’s nephew changed me from the stage play character… I was altered quite considerably, and – therefore – never did the stage play again. I think they took my character out and put another character in, and the following year the play was called Compo Plays Cupid, and it went to Blackpool with a completely different cast.

So, going into the television series, I had to be softened a bit, and made to fit the more Summer Wine-ish role of the boyish male, incapable of looking after himself without a woman telling him what to do… which is the central essence of the Yorkshire humour in Last of the Summer Wine. All the women are mums, and all the men are children. It’s the basic philosophy of the programme!

Between appearing in the stage play, and joining the Summer Wine TV series, you appeared in a BBC2 sitcom called The Hello Goodbye Man… any memories of it?

The Hello Goodbye Man
was the first time I worked with Alan J.W. Bell… he directed it. It was a David Nobbs sitcom and there was more ‘goodbye’ about it than ‘hello’! It sank without trace, I’m afraid, though it had some good track records in its favour; Ian Lavender and Mary Tamm were both in it.

What happened was… I was doing the Last of the Summer Wine stage play and I met Alan when he came down to the theatre to watch the show.  At the time I was being asked if I’d be interested in being in Minder to play Patrick Malahide’s sidekick,  but I was doing the Summer Wine stage play in Easbourne and I wasn’t free. I was telling Alan Bell about it, and he said ‘Oh, I’ll get you some telly after you’ve finished, because I’m going to direct a sitcom and there’s a part that you can play… you can be the enormous chef!’

Basically the gag was that Mary Tamm and Ian Lavender went for a meal in a restaurant, and the meal was so dreadful that she kept saying, ‘Stand up for yourself and be a man!’ So Ian said, ‘Right, I want to see the chef!’ I came on, and I was six feet tall, and I think they actually put me on a pancake so I became about six foot nine. I towered over Ian! And he said ‘I just want to say that this meal was… really, really nice, thankyou very much indeed’.

Then Mary Tamm said ‘Stand up for yourself! It doesn’t matter how big he is!’… so he gave this very long, very good David Nobbs description about how bad the meal was… and I said ‘I know, I’m on a Job Creation Scheme and I’ve never cooked anything in my life!’

They came back to the restaurant on a regular basis as I got better at cooking. Ian Lavender’s character was selling medical supplies and one of the best gags – and this will give you an idea of how bad the programme was – was him asking somebody in a chemists shop what they needed in the way of supplies, and the bloke replying that he had everything he needed. Ian said ‘Have you got enough suppositories… because I’m bending over backwards to sell them!’

[We all actually laughed heartily at this stage, so perhaps credit is due to David Nobbs after all!]

I learned a lot on that show, because we shot it live in front of a studio audience, just as the Summer Wines that I did were shot in front of a studio audience at BBC Television Centre. And there’s a whole saga about dressing rooms at the BBC… who gets them, and what’s in them. I was a newcomer to Last of the Summer Wine and I was the only person in that show who needed a shower, because I had to put so much crap in my hair to make it slick back! And you’d have thought I’d asked for a gold-plated Rolls Royce. ‘You can’t have a shower! You don’t even qualify for an upstairs dressing room; you have to be below ground with no windows’. Apparently the BBC at the time had a thing about whether you got a dressing room with a day bed or a sink in it, and whether you shared a communal shower, or had a bathroom and a toilet. If you wanted to wash your hair, they used to give you BBC towels that you had to sign out; they had a BBC monogram in the corner. I said, ‘Well I’ll just bring my own towel from home,’ but I was told ‘Oh no, you have to use a BBC towel!’

That was probably transgressing some kind of union rule!

Yes, probably! I once asked Noel Edmonds, who had a very nice dressing room on the upper floor, if I could use his room when he’d finished with it, because he used to fly off home in his helicopter,  and there was an empty dressing room for the rest of the day! Well that really upset the BBC because I’d gone outside protocol and asked another performer directly. Of course, Noel said it was no problem at all, he wasn’t using it. But the BBC said ‘Well, he might come back and use it later…’

He’d fly back in on his helicopter…

Exactly! He’d gone home to his mansion in Hertfordshire or wherever it was – as if he’d care! I fought really hard, and eventually – I think in the third series I did – they gave me a sink. I’d worked my way up to a sink at that point.

That’s when you know you’re a star…

Yeah, when you’ve got a sink and a day bed you’ve cracked it! You’ve got somewhere to lie down when you’re tired. That was pretty amazing. But of course, things changed after that… because the whole show moved out and went almost entirely on location, didn’t it? It was starting to happen anyway… I think when we did Uncle of the Bride, that was filmed at Elstree and there was no live studio audience on that. It was made as a film.

The facilities were changing, and they also were getting rid of the rehearsal studio at Acton. They used to call it the Acton Hilton. Everybody would be there… Marti Webb would be doing her thing; arriving in her Rolls Royce and parking next to your crappy old Ford Capri. It was great. I loved it, because it was a great leveller and I’ve never been a great one for respecting superstardom and things like that. So that’s what I loved about working for that period of the BBC. Of course I’m joking about the dressing rooms to a certain extent, because ultimiately there has to be some sort of rule. They were paying such rubbish wages that they had to give the stars something extra! A shower and a day bed didn’t seem much really. It saved them a lot of money… and you got a towel with ‘BBC’ written on it! The saddest thing was, I was so honest I never kept one! And now I bet a BBC towel would be worth a fortune. I could autograph it, stick it online and sell it for hundreds of pounds. What a shame. Mind you, wouldn’t it have been terrifying if you’d got stopped by somebody on the door saying ‘Have you got one of our towels?’ ‘Oh, I was just taking it home to show my wife…’

Stepping into the cafe as Ivy’s new companion, did you ever worry at all that John Comer would be a tough act to follow?

It never crossed my mind, because I was so much younger than he was. If I’d been fifty, and coming in as Ivy’s new partner, that would have been a very different dynamic. The idea that Sid had passed away… I don’t know that they actually mentioned it, did they? Nobody ever told me whether Sid had just retired, or gone to live in a back room and never appeared again…

A couple of series later we see Ivy talking about him, and it’s clear that Sid has died, but it takes a few years to be acknowledged in the series, yeah…

…yeah, so I assumed that I was Sid and Ivy’s nephew, and that she was doing a big favour to my parents by giving me a job, which was a slightly different dynamic to being her partner. And I was also very aware that the character I was going to be playing was completely dumb!

Summer Wine had broadened. When I was a kid, I loved Summer Wine, but it was basically about a library, and three old boys who spent a lot of time there, talking and keeping warm. So the early series, which I was a fan of, had changed dramatically, and moved much more towards farce. Also, Terry Wogan had pushed the series on the radio, and talked about Nora Batty, so that whole Wally-Nora-Compo love affair had suddenly started to take off in a big way. And I had lots of hobbies – I canoed, I had a motor bike – and so for several episodes I was the reason that Compo was able to impress Nora. So I knew that I was going to be friends with Compo, because we really hit it off. As characters, I always trusted him, whereas I never trusted the slightly more authoritative Foggy, or the slightly more middle class Clegg! I related totally to Compo as a character… and, funnily enough, as a man as well, because he [Bill Owen] was a very good friend of mine. I liked Peter [Sallis] very much, and could spend a long time talking to Peter, but I would never have called him my mate. Whereas Bill and I had a lot of laughs together.


You probably shared a few politics as well, by the sound of things…

Yes, that’s generally true. It’s quite interesting actually, because I also directed and appeared in a lot of pantomimes with Ken Dodd. And Ken was a big supporter of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party, and so we didn’t really see eye-to-eye… but Ken admired Bill Owen in a big way as a performer, and also admired his politics, because he was so pure about believing in socialism, and being a lifelong member of the Labour Party, and the Unity Theatre. And I think Ken kind of liked that, in a strange way.

I’ve always been attracted to people with real talent. And, when you work with people, you can be friends with people with real talent, and I’ve always felt flattered if people like me, because they obviously think that I’ve got some talent. And I’ve got advice from older actors and older performers. It’s stood me in reasonable stead throughout my career.

We were interested in that, actually… because you have great double act with Jane Freeman in Last of the Summer Wine, who was quite a bit older than you. How was she to work with?

I loved Jane, she was fabulous. She was very professional. She’d come through the theatre too, working at Birmingham Rep, and I think I’d seen her in shows there when I was a child… because she must be 25 years older than me. I know she was very experienced when I met her. The extraordinary thing about Jane was that, as I was leaving the series, she was doing a very successful series of commercials for John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter. She played the wife of Gordon Rollings, who was a character called Arkwright, and there was a distinct similarity between Last of the Summer Wine and those commercials… they were set in Yorkshire, they lived in a terraced house, all that kind of stuff. Anyway, Gordon passed away, and they were looking for a new person to continue the commercials… they had the Oxo family, and the coffee adverts, where you got interested in the relationships of those people… they were kind of soap operas. So they asked me, after I left Summer Wine, whether I would do the commercials with Jane Freeman, and I came in as her toy boy! I played a character selling John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter, and I was very like Gordon Rollings’ character, except that I was 25 or 30 years younger than him. You could get paranoid couldn’t you, thinking your only jobs were going to be when people passed on?

Romancing Jane Freeman in an ad for John Smith's Bitter.

So, yes… I loved working with Jane. She was lovely, a very nice woman. She was also married to the producer on The Bill, Michael Chapman, and I did The Bill for a while, when Michael was there, so my career has been interwoven with Jane and her family over a number of years. But like a lot of the older members [of the cast], they were kind of my parents’ generation, rather than my generation, so I didn’t socialise much with them.

Although I socialised with Peter Sallis in Eastbourne, because he was going through his ‘I’ve never been to a nightclub’ phase! And we used to take him out to nightclubs and discos, and he thought it was brilliant. Bill was a bit older, so he was more into cooking supper for me… he would go to Marks & Spencers to buy some nice food, and make me supper in the evenings after filming, which was very kind of him. And we’d play a bit of golf during the day… but only pitch and putt, not the serious 18 holes! I don’t think Bill was much of a golf course chap…

But yes, I liked Jane very much, she was a good person to work with. But after I’d done the commercials, we didn’t really stay in touch. It wasn’t because we weren’t close friends or anything… it’s a bit like in the theatre; you meet people, you’re very friendly with them for a short space of time, and then you drift apart because it’s such a peripatetic job. It’s the way it is, really.

One actor that fascinates us, not least because it’s been so difficult to find out any information about his life, is Joe Gladwin. Do you have any stories about Joe that you can share with us?   

Oh, I’ve got loads of stories about Joe! I used to spend hours on the bus with him, or sitting in the caravan, in the rain! Joe told me all of his stories about his early life…

Really? This is gold dust! We couldn’t find out anything his life before the late 1950s, by which stage he was already fifty years old…

Right… when he was young, his dad had a coal business in Manchester. But, more than anything else, Joe wanted to be a Music Hall performer. He wanted to be a singer. But his dad wanted him to work in the coal business, so Joe had to drive up to Morecambe, to the docks, in a steam lorry. And it would take four hours, because the lorry had a regulator on it which meant that it would only do about 12mph… but if you took the regulator off, it would do 18-20mph! And one day, Joe was late for a show in Manchester, where he was due to perform as a singer in a Working Mens’ Club. He’d have been 17 or 18, something like that. And he was driving back in the steam lorry, and decided to take the regulator off the engine, so he could go a bit faster and get back in time to perform… because, obviously, he’d have to get washed and put his suit on, and get down the club. So he got back… but, unbeknownst to him, the sides of the lorry had bounced off on the rough roads from Morecambe! The name, ‘Gladwin’, was on them, and another driver – who knew his dad – picked them up, took them round to the yard, and said ‘Look, your lad has lost the sides of the lorry!’.

So Joe’s dad sent a message round to the Working Mens’ Club and said ‘Tell him not to come him unless the sides are back on the lorry, and tell him not to take that regulator off again!’ He knew he must have been speeding, to get back in time for the show… and he didn’t approve. So, after that, Joe gave up driving altogether, and went into a double act with a pianist. They hadn’t got a name, but they got some gigs touring in Wales, and while they were there, they saw a lorry… and the name of the company on the side was ‘Evans and Bevans’. And they decided that that would be their name, and for quite a while, they actually toured as ‘Evans and Bevans’.

And then Joe went into Music Hall as a comedian… they noticed that he was little, and weedy, and skinny, and quite lugubrious with that hangdog look, and he was taken on as part of a sketch show, a comedy trio. I think it was actually Rob Wilton that he worked with, and Joe would come on as the World’s Strongest Man! He had a leotard, like all circus strongmen would wear, made of leopardskin and hooked over one shoulder, but he used to wear it over his long johns! They’d chain him up to a huge anvil that took three stagehands to bring it on, and put these massive cuffs on his wrists, and then he’d start trying to get out of it… and then – if it was Rob Wilton – he’d be in a box in the theatre shouting ‘He’s rubbish! He’s the worst World’s Strongest Man I’ve ever seen! He’ll never get out of that!’

And then they’d drop the curtain, and somebody else would come on and sing a song, but behind the curtain you’d see a blacksmith arrive in silhouette, with a coal chisel and a sledgehammer, and they’d start to try and get Joe removed from the anvil! And then you’d see some people coming on with a stretcher, and five or six stagehands would lift him onto it – still attached to the anvil – then the curtains would go up, and Rob would still be heckling, and then – right at the end of the show – the audience would see Joe carried right down the aisle of the theatre into an ambulance that was waiting to take him away!

But then, of course, what happened was that the Music Halls started to close. And this made him very sad; he used to get a bit tearful. As television took over after the war, there was no work for the performers all, and they used to do something called ‘Park Shows’, which I’d never heard of until I met Joe, but – when the theatres closed – some of the theatrical managers and agents booked the big Music Hall stars into shows on bandstands in parks. And he told me that he’d see performers that had been real superstars of their day, working a park in front of people who were just walking their dogs, or kids that might sit down and watch. It was quite sad. But then, of course, he started in television, because television cottoned onto the way he looked and the way he spoke… and later in life, obviously he became a star, getting the job in Summer Wine, and in other stuff, too. He did something with Hylda Baker, I think? [The ITV sitcom Nearest and Dearest, 1968-1973] But he always drove a Hillman Hunter, a little brown car; he lived in the same house in Manchester all his life; and he drove this Hillman Hunter over to Huddersfield to film Last of the Summer Wine, and had his own parking space at the back of the Huddersfield Hotel.

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Was that the place that you all stayed in?

Yes, owned by Johnny Marsden. The hotel had a disco and a nightclub attached to it, which none of the other Summer Wine cast went to, but I did – because I was a young man, I was 24 or whatever. And the DJ in that nightclub had been Peter Stringfellow! He’d started in Johnny’s nightclub in Huddersfield. And it’s funny… a photograph that I’d signed came up on Facebook the other day, and it was one I’d written to Johnny. ‘To Johnny, I always enjoyed staying in your place…’

Anyway, to finish about Joe… the other side of his life was that he was a lifelong Catholic, and he was a Papal Knight, for all the work that he’d done for Catholic charities.

It’s interesting watching your period of Summer Wine now, because Crusher almost has a hint of what was then called ‘alternative comedy’… you could just about imagine him being a character in The Young Ones. Do you think Crusher was Roy Clarke’s little nod to that emerging school of comedy?

I think… the thing you can say about Roy Clarke as a writer, is that he was truthful. Even though they were ridiculous situations, there was a grain of truth in everything he wrote. As a result, it meant that – as a performer – you could always find the truth in it, and the best comedy comes from truth. If it goes too far, and becomes surreal – a bit like The Young Ones – then I think it kind of loses an element of that. It just becomes people banging each other over the head, and you lose the pathos and the poignancy that Summer Wine has.

So I think Roy was very clear that he didn’t want to write that kind of comedy… but, having said that, he was also quite up-to-date. What I brought to the role was the Walkman, and playing the brush, all those kind of things… they weren’t in the script. It was the early 1980s, and the first Sony Walkman would have been the thing a young man wanted! And Roy Clarke and Alan Bell became very aware of the comic potential of wearing headphones… because, as soon as you’ve got them on, listening to music, you can’t hear what’s behind you! And also, in the early 1980s, there was that slight punk feel… which had happened in the late 1970s, and we brought that in. The wristbands and the leather and the studs, and originally I had a ripped t-shirt with safety pins in it. That was the fashion at the time, and I think all we were trying for was to be fashionable. Crusher was a product of his time. And that made him a little bit anarchic, and a little bit difficult… so that’s why I can see what you’re saying about The Young Ones. Here was a different generation coming into a television series that was really about the older generation. They hadn’t had a youngster in the show at all, and I was very aware of that.

It also created a kind of instant fame overnight… I hoovered up all the children that were watching Summer Wine, because they all related to my character!

And was that a life-changing experience? Did you have hoards of kids following you down the street every day?

Absolutely! I couldn’t sit on a bus, or go on a ferry to the Isle of Wight… you’d be sitting opposite somebody, and they’d go ‘Aw… I know you…’! And also, when I was in the series, there were only three or four television channels, so we’d do an episode of Summer Wine on a Sunday night and it would pull in 19 or 20 million viewers. Whereas seven or eight million is a huge audience these days, in those days 21 million was nothing peculiar. I remember once, at Summer Wine Headquarters in London – the Acton rehearsal studios – somebody saying ‘Have you seen that we topped EastEnders this week?’ And everybody was really chuffed. For a little while, it was the most popular television programme in the country, and you were in your living room while I was in your living room. So inevitably, those people are going to think that they know you… that you’re part of the family, almost. And it was such a family show, Grandmas sat and watched it with daughters, and sons, and grandchildren.

That was both of our experiences of watching Summer Wine when we were growing up…

Yeah! I can’t tell you the number of letters I got from little lads saying ‘My Mum hits me round the head when I play my Walkman… does it hurt, when your Mum hits you?’ They didn’t care that it was my Auntie Ivy, she was my Mum to them! I used to get lovely letters. I got one from a little lad that said ‘Can I have an autographed photo of you? And can you send one for my little brother too, because Mum says we’ll fight over it!’ Kids didn’t understand their mums and dads, and suddenly they were watching a television programme where I was the closest thing to a child in the show. And I was childlike… that was the whole joke of Crusher, he looked like he could extripate your Granny, but he was actually just a loveable, gentle kind of bloke who wanted to make everybody happy.

And I liked playing him, because there was an element of me in him.

Really? We wondered, because you’re clearly a very erudite man, and Crusher… isn’t!

No, he’s not very intelligent, but his heart’s in the right place. That’s the thing, and that’s what I always wanted to find in him… and the thing I found in me. I think I’m a fairly generous spirited and big-hearted person, and I’ve always wanted to make people happy and please them and do the right thing. And I wanted to put my generosity of spirit into Crusher. I used to drive my mother insane, because people would say ‘Is your son like that in real life?’… and she’d say ‘No! He went to university, he’s got a degree, he’s done post-graduate work!’ And I used to say ‘Mother, don’t argue with them… just say yes, I’m exactly like that in real life, and haven’t I done well?’

I think the really interesting thing about watching Summer Wine from the start, as we’ve done, is that it’s almost like a social history of the UK and particularly Yorkshire at that time. I [BOB] was born in 1972, so for me, watching the first ten to fifteen years of the show is like watching my childhood. And it really brings home how much Britain has changed since that time.

I think there’s a lovely nostalgia feel, and a rural nature to it. The small town where everybody knows everybody, and everybody is related to everyone else in one way or another. I can remember, when I was a child, nobody locked their doors, and everybody was in and out of each other’s houses. There was a man who worked on the Fell who had a shed, and fettled engines – he was a Wesley! And I used to meet three old blokes, walking across the Cockfield Fell when I was a little boy, and they made me play horseshoes with an iron stake knocked in the ground. But you’re right; there is an element of social history about it.

And when you hear that theme tune, it’s very wistful. I’ll tell you a really extraordinary story. I did a feature film called Phantom of the Opera, and I flew out to Budapest to film in the Opera House there. I was with Stephanie Lawerence, and we’d just arrived in Budapest, and went to one of the big hotels there. It had an atrium in the middle, and an aeroplane hanging from the ceiling, with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon coming down the middle of the hotel! It was an extraordinary place, with a glass ceiling and open lifts going up the inside of the building. I stepped into the lift, and as the door closed the lift music was the theme tune to Last of the Summer Wine! I’d left the series by then and I just thought ‘It’s following me! It’s haunting me!’ I looked around to see if somebody had arranged it… that is genuinely true.

I also think Roy had a fantastic ear for what people said. I think – perhaps because he was a copper, and an insurance salesman, and did all sorts of other stuff before he came to writing – that he was just a great observer of people, and he could turn a phrase. He gave me some wonderful things to say that I treasure now. They were very easy to deliver. Basically, you don’t need great comedy timing to deliver great comedy lines. That was very much part of why I enjoyed Summer Wine. It was a joy to get the scripts and read them. Quite often, actors will only read their own parts. But I used to like reading the whole half-hour episode of Summer Wine when I got it through the door… I knew my part would be in it, but I used to like reading the whole story.

Alan J.W. Bell also had a big part to play in the popularising of it, because I think it would have stayed as a minority-viewed alternative kind of thing… but what Alan brought to it was a much broader slapstick element… of falling off roofs, sliding down mountains, getting on beds and being towed behind cars.  All that was definitely brought in by Alan. He encouraged it, because I think he recognised how popular it all was. I liked Alan, and I listened to him a lot, and he certainly knew what made the comedy tick. He was a technical director much more than an actor’s director. I think he relied on good casting. Once he got the actors in, they could do their own thing, and he tended to just put the cameras in the right place and shoot it. When I say that, it sounds like I’m belittling his skill, but no – his great skill was allowing the actors to do their own thing, and facilitating that. He understood that if you cast well, then good actors will make it work for you. He didn’t presume to tell us how to do the job.

The series becomes much more photogenic when Alan takes over… he got some incredible shots into it.

You can see it. You can tell the difference between Alan and Sydney Lotterby… just with the shots of three feet in the foreground, or the beautiful sunsets. All that kind of stuff.


It was interesting that you mentioned earlier about having to choose between being a ‘fat actor’ and a ‘thin actor’. Legend has it that you came back after one of the series’ breaks, having lost a lot of weight, and that’s why Crusher wasn’t in any further episodes. Has that been embellished over the years, or is that pretty much the true story?

I’ll tell you what happened… and this is God’s honest truth. The BBC are not the most generous of employers in terms of salary. I saw myself as a regular in a very successful TV sitcom, and I felt – after doing a number of years, and having served my apprenticeship in the stage play – that they should really ring me up a little bit in advance of a new series, and say ‘we’d like to book you’. They did that for Joe Gladwin, they did that for Jane Freeman, they did that for Kathy Staff, and of course for the three stars. And I’m not saying that I got too big for my boots, I was just advised by my agent that, really, it would be a good idea if we could actually know when I was expected to be working on Summer Wine.

What they used to do was wait until the last minute to book you, in order to wait until you were unemployed, in the hope that you would keep yourself free, and then they could get you for less money. That was the deal. That was how it used to work, and it was a bit of a game. And during the course of that year, the year I made my last series, I rang the BBC and said ‘Look, am I going to be doing Summer Wine?’ And they said ‘Well, we don’t know yet, because we haven’t got the scripts in from Roy Clarke – we don’t know how many episodes you’re going to be in.’

I said ‘Why don’t you give me a rough idea?’… they were doing a new series with Seymour, with Michael Aldridge, and they said ‘Well, there’s going to be a new series of eight or nine, or whatever it is, and we think your character might be in it… but we can’t guarantee it, so were not going to book you… blah, blah, blah.’. And then my agent said to me, ‘Look, if another job comes up, then we’ll take it, and you can do it’. And, at that point in my life, I’d met somebody, and was having a good time and enjoying my life, and I decided that I’d quite like my life to continue.

I’d also just seen the doctor, who told me that if I carried on at the weight I was, I probably wouldn’t see forty. So I had to face the decision… should I lose weight and live a longer life and enjoy my life… and was Summer Wine going to be the only thing I ever do in my life? And I thought, no… Summer Wine’s not going to be the only thing I ever do, I’m going to have another job. And while I was doing Summer Wine I did other jobs, so it wasn’t like I didn’t think I could work.

So I thought ‘I know, I’ll lose weight’… and, under advice from the doctor, I lost quite a lot of weight, actually. I think the last series of Summer Wine that I did, I was about 28 stone.

Really?

I was very big. There’s a lot of free food involved in television work, and it’s quite lazy as well… don’t let anybody tell you that it’s hard work! The hardest work is sitting around on set doing nothing at all. As far as I was concerned it was a joy, because I got to listen to stories from Thora Hird, from Joe Gladwin, from Bill Owen… I mean, listening to those people telling you stories about their early theatre life… people would pay for that, and I’m so lucky that I was with those people. The thing I regret the most is not being around those people for many more years.

But I lost fourteen stone in weight, half my body weight, and of course the newspapers got hold of that. The News of the World rang me up and asked if they could do an interview, because they’d seen me in other things, and thought ‘This can’t be the same man who played Crusher in Last of the Summer Wine’… and, of course, it got into the papers that I’d done this. My agent was phoned by the News of the World, and at the time I was um-ming and ah-ing as to whether to do it, because I didn’t really want my private life to be plastered all over a newspaper. And they said ‘If you don’t do this interview, we might be forced to print some of the rumours… he’s a single man, and he might have AIDS…’

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Oh, my word…

And I thought, I can’t allow that to be in the papers… because it would have upset my mother, and my grandmother. And other people. I couldn’t have that speculation. So I agreed to do the interview, and The Sun picked up on it and had me pose with Page 3 girls in a white dinner jacket with my hair styled by L’Oreal, all that stuff. I did that modelling bit with them as a view to kind of relaunching my career as another type of actor. As a leading man, basically.

And then Roy Clarke and Alan Bell saw the papers, and they rang me up and asked if I would come into the BBC, and I went and I saw Alan, and he said ‘We don’t think you can play Crusher any more… because you’ve changed so much’. And I said ‘I think I could still play the character, I haven’t changed as a person, and the essence of me is still the same. What you could do is just write that Ivy has put him on a diet…’

One thing that I learned very early on is that nobody should suggest to Roy or to Alan how the series, in terms of the plots, or the stories, or the writing, should go. So that was probably a mistake on my part! I remember one of the first rehearsals I ever did for Summer Wine, I said ‘Can I say this line like this, because I think it would make it a bit funnier?’ And Alan Bell said, ‘Oh, so you know better than an award-winning writer who’s been writing for television for 25 years, do you?’ (laughs) And I thought, right… I’ve been sat down then, so I won’t make any more suggestions about the script!

So I saw Alan, and he said ‘We don’t think you can play Crusher any more…’ and, to be honest with you, at that point I didn’t really care, because I didn’t have a contract. And then he said ‘Oh, and the character was going to be in every episode of the series…’ And I said ‘Well, if you’d told me that in advance, then I might have been able to do something about how I look. But anyway… I think they felt that I’d let them down, and that I should have kept them informed about what I was doing. I felt that they should have kept me informed about whether I was going to be in the series. But I have to be honest, there was no nastiness. I felt very happy at the time, and I’d just got the job being Jane Freeman’s other half in six or seven John Smith’s beer commercials, which – to be absolutely honest – paid more in those six commercials than the entire time that I worked for the BBC in Last of the Summer Wine! So you can see why I wasn’t that deeply unhappy about leaving the series.

The only thing that saddened me was not being around those lovely people again. People that I thought of as family; Jane Freeman and Bill Owen, people like that.

But I went onto other things, and was quite happy… my agent changed, and another person came into the agency, and I became friends with a lady called Dulcie Huston and she said she said ‘I think there’s a side to you where you could play villains and bad guys, and nasty people…’, and I thought that would be really interesting. If you can’t play good guys, or nice, thick Yorkshiremen…!

Also, I didn’t want to get into ‘Benny from Crossroads’ syndrome. I think if I’d stayed in Summer Wine, I would have never been anything else than Crusher, for the rest of my life. I would have been identified as him, and I’d like to what I call ‘a finger-clicking good actor’… which is where people come up to you and go ‘You were… erm.. you did that part…’ and they click their fingers in your face! I like that feeling because it means that they’ve recognised you from somewhere, but they don’t associate you with one part. And, to a certain extent, that’s where all actors want to be. Ask anybody in EastEnders if they really wanted to be in EastEnders for thirty years… I don’t suppose they did, but they probably get trapped, and stuck in it, and then it becomes part of their life. It’s like the actors on The Bill used to say, it’s like going to the factory every day. You log in, do your job, and come home again. It’s not about acting any more, it’s just about doing that character.

We were thinking that you might be the only Last of the Summer Wine actor to have worked with Johnny Depp…

That is possibly true! (Laughs) I wouldn’t know, because you have a Bacon Number… have you seen that? How far you’re removed from Kevin Bacon? I don’t know if anybody else in Summer Wine has got a Johnny Depp number…

It was just an extraordinary experience to be in Pirates of the Caribbean, and to suddenly become a Hollywood actor. To be transported over there and learn what the life is like… there’s a little bit of glamour in Hollywood, and then there’s the difference in money! At the BBC, you’re lucky if you get a car, and you’ll probably have to share it with three other actors while they drive round North London, picking up everybody from different addresses to go off on a television shoot. Whereas, in Hollywood, you get a stretch limo that arrives… and if there’s six of you going to the studios, there are six stretch limos. That’s the difference!

It is quite extraordinary… flying First Class, and all that kind of stuff. The world suddenly becomes a different place. But the actors’ world is very weird, because you get a chauffer-driven car one day, and the next you’re out of work and down the Labour Exchange. And the other thing about actors, is that whenever they get a job they’re miserable! They complain so much! They all sit around whinging, and I always think to myself ‘You’ll really regret whinging in a years time, when you’re out of work… and this will seem like a dream!’

You seem to have very good relations with Last of the Summer Wine fans now. You’re very active on Facebook with Summer Wine fandom. Does a little bit of Crusher live on, do you think?

Well that was new to me, because I didn’t know there was any Summer Wine fandom at all on Facebook. A friend of mine told me about it. She said, ‘I’ve seen this site, do you know they’re talking about you as though you don’t exist? There are people asking questions that you could answer’. And I thought, ‘Well I’m sitting here, with nothing to do, at my computer… I might as well see what’s going on.’ So I went online and I started answering somebody’s question, and then somebody else said, ‘Are you the Jonathan Linsley that played Crusher?’ So that’s how it started. Then, of course, I was bombarded with people asking what I’m doing now, and what I’d done before, so I’ve put together a Facebook page that people can look at, with links to my old showreel, showing stuff that I did after Last of the Summer Wine. I mean its not an ego thing, it’s just informative because people are interested. I don’t go pursuing the superstardom!

I absolutely love being involved. It was a part of my life that I’m proud of. I’m proud that I worked on it, and I was genuinely a fan of it before I was an actor. I’d have been seventeen when Last of the Summer Wine started, so I hadn’t even left school, but I was watching like everyone else, with my mum and dad, and my brother. We’d sit round and we’d watch it on a Sunday night, and I thought it was funny. It spoke to me. We used to go on holiday to Scarborough – where Roy was from – and I knew that whole area in Huddersfield. When I was in Skipton, we used to go and play rugby against schools in that area. It seemed very much part of my home and I definitely related to that as a Yorkshireman. It’s quite interesting about the John Smith’s Yorkshire Beer commercials, though… they were never shown in Yorkshire!

Is that right?!

No, they were never shown in Yorkshire, because somebody – in one of their attempts at audience research – said, ‘It’s a bit patronising to Yorkshire folk’. They showed it in every other region around the country – I think there were thirteen ITV regions – so it showed in twelve of them. It was weird because I’d go back home and say, ‘Oh, I’m doing these commercials on telly, with Jane Freeman from Last of the Summer Wine, advertising John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter’, and people would say, ‘Well I’ve never seen them!’ Then they’d go on holiday and see one in Kent…

Summer Wine was also hugely popular in Scotland. There was a massive fanbase for it there… maybe 30% of all letters I received were from Scotland. Again, I think it appealed in that it was slightly old-fashioned, sentimental and nostalgic. Maybe that appeals to the Celtic. There’s an element of storytelling about it that is certainly Welsh, Irish or Scottish. Whenever I’ve worked in those places I’ve always found that people like the gentle whimsy, but they also like the storytelling nature. Maybe there’s a folk element to it. Sometimes folk music can touch your soul because it’s rooted in the rural world.

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So what’s on the horizon for you at the moment?

Well, I came back from Hollywood in 2008, and one of the reasons for that was that my wife became poorly. She’s got a form of Multiple Sclerosis. So I made a decision that I wouldn’t travel around the world, and I wouldn’t stay in Hollywood, because she didn’t want to travel over there and live in Southern California. So I came home, and basically I’m now her principle caregiver.

I’ve not regretted that for one second, because that’s also part of life. I’m also very lucky that I’ve done enough work in the past to keep the wolves from the door to a certain extent, and to pay the bills. I’m not saying that I’m rich by any means, but I’m rich compared to so many other people. I don’t have to worry about the gas and electric being paid, and stuff like that.

Occasionally, if  somebody asks me to do something interesting, where I can work more or less on the South Coast within less than a days’ drive, then I can do it. But of course, once you’re not available for a lot of stuff, then the phone stops ringing. And when you get older the phone stops ringing because you look a bit older and you look a bit different… but who’s to say what could happen in the future?

I did, at one time, have a number of interviews with Coronation Street with a view to joining, and I might have relocated entirely up to the North if I’d done something there… if I’d had a regular character. And I did Emmerdale years and years ago. That was when I was doing Summer Wine, funnily enough, but I had an interview with them not long ago for a new character coming in. But again it didn’t work out, and that was partly to do with the fact that I wanted a bit of a guarantee… if I was going to move back to Yorkshire, then I wanted to be absolutely certain it was going to be for a longer period of time. They weren’t offering that, they were offering a character for maybe three to six months, so it wouldn’t have worked out for me. Obviously I do miss it a bit, so what I do now is a little bit of After Dinner speaking, and occasionally I stand up and tell anecdotes… I do a little chat called ‘From Holmfirth to Hollywood’ which is quite fun. I think people like to hear stories about the other people in Last of the Summer Wine, and what it was like to work on that series… and they also like to hear about Johnny Depp, and working in Hollywood and being in the Bahamas.

There’s a fascination isn’t there, with my profession? Which is why you’re writing what you’re writing… and why you do what you do! People say I should write a book and I’d love to do it, but it’s just discipline isn’t it? Being a feckless actor as I am…. I’ve a butterfly mind. Somebody can ring me up, and I can suddenly go off for three hours on my phone…

The Summer Winos enjoyed an hour and a half with Jonathan on the phone, and we can honestly say it was a delightful, and utterly illuminating conversation. Don’t forget to check out his Facebook page.We’d like to extend extend special thanks to Jonathan Linsley, Frances Wright, and Joy Beddows.

Crusher In The Cafe 6

Series 9 Episode 2: The Heavily Reinforced Bottom

S9E2a
In which Wesley works on Compo’s bottom… 

Bob: Compo is smoking! We haven’t seen that for ages, have we? You can measure out so many changes in British social attitudes by their depiction in Last of the Summer Wine over the decades. In 1973, Compo, Clegg and Blamire were all happily chuffing away without anyone batting an eyelid. Everyone was.

Andrew: It’s very much smoking for the sake of a gag, isn’t it? In fact, we never actually see Compo with a fag in his gob; only plumes of second-hand smoke emerging from behind a lovely bit of dry stone wall.

Bob: Seymour clearly disapproves, though. He can’t stop rolling his eyes. Even Clegg seems to have whimsical reservations…

Clegg: Gordon Ackroyd had this terrible smokers’ cough, but it went overnight.
Compo: How?
Clegg: He dropped dead.

I saw it coming a mile off, like a slow train on a branch line, but I still laughed when it arrived.

Andrew: I love the way in which this conversation plays out, with the characters hidden from view, but also the way in which it continues – seemingly uninterrupted – when the location shifts to the next scene. I wonder if dividing quite a long scene up into two distinct sections is Alan Bell’s work, rather than something stated in Clarke’s script? We get the sight gag and then move on to something more conventionally staged. It suggests that either our trio’s conversations go round in circles, or that there are long lulls during which Compo mulls things over. Love it.

Bob: You can tell you’re a proper film-maker, I just look at the pretty colours. Anyway, all of this seems to spark Seymour off into a determination to get Compo fit… and does this make him the third Third Man in a row to initiate a fitness campaign? Go on Drew, do the hard work and dig out Blamire and Foggy’s attempts…

Andrew: Let’s see… Blamire had his bicycle and canoe schemes, in Forked Lightning and Ballad For Wind Instruments and Canoe respectively, and I think it would take too long to list Foggy’s attempts!

Bob: There’s an interesting moment here too, when Seymour casually mentions enduring ‘North Yorkshire winters’ at his long-abandoned school. I’d always assumed it just sat proudly atop of the hilltops of the Holme Valley, but that’s very firmly in West Yorkshire! Where do we think it actually was?

Andrew: You’re the expert. I’m enjoying the little titbits of information we keep being fed about the school, though. Perhaps by the end of Seymour’s tenure we’ll be able to assemble a complete history? Here, we get some insight into the school catering, and a description of their underpaid Ukrainian chef, who would present a Ukrainian Duff tasting like a railway station with a ‘bland Ukrainian smile’ – whatever that is!

S9E2bBob: Yes, his memories of Helga are a delight (‘You couldn’t understand a word she cooked’), and I don’t doubt for a second that they’re true. I think Seymour has led a genuinely colourful life. For all the ‘Third Man’ has become a stock Summer Wine character, and there are definitely character traits shared by Blamire, Foggy and Seymour, I think the latter really comes into his own as a unique character when he drifts off into wistful nostalgia for his teaching days. His misty-eyed reminiscences absolutely ring true, and they’re a world apart from both Blamire’s bluff, unsentimental boasts, and Foggy’s ludicrous flights of fancy.

Andrew: Isn’t it nice to see some warmth from Ivy? Or at least what passes for warmth with Ivy, as she briefly eyes up a flower that Compo presents to her, and describes her nephew as ‘a great big St. Bernard.’ There’s even a tenderness in the way that she dresses him down, perhaps due to the fact that Ivy knows that Crusher will struggle to understand any point she makes.

Crusher: Auntie Ivy! Is it OK if I go, then?
Ivy: Were you ever here, Milburn?

I did worry that the departure of Sid would lead to Ivy being rendered redundant, but the character has really found her feet as a caregiver to Crusher.

Bob: Yes, despite Compo’s ribbing (‘Can’t tha swap him for three little Italians?’), Crusher is becoming a vital part of the trio’s schemes, isn’t he? He spent a lot of his early episodes marooned in the café, but now – just as Sid did – he’s becoming almost a ‘Fourth Man’, inspiring and abetting their escapades. It’s an oddly touching message… regardless of any age gaps, all men are children at heart. The co-opting of Crusher is like a beacon of fecklessness being passed down through the generations! I remember that nice Mr Linsley telling us that was especially friendly with Bill Owen, and I think you can see that onscreen here.

Andrew: Yes, Crusher’s own excited search for white water (‘It’s great, is white water’) prompts Seymour to concoct a canoe-based scheme of his own… Another canoe episode? Already? We’ve been through this with Blamire, back in Series Two!

Bob: I’ll offer up a defence that Series Two was over ten years ago at this stage, and I’ve no recollection of these Blamire episodes being repeated at any point during my childhood! Anyway, have we got any readers that work for the DVLA? Is Crusher’s yellow Volkswagon – STO 182R – still on the road anywhere?

The previous episode felt almost like an experiment in avant-garde Summer Wine, with the main trio not even meeting up until the final ten minutes, but this is much more traditional, isn’t it? It’s absolutely textbook Summer Wine! Third man gets a wild idea for a new pastime in the first five minutes of the episode, co-opts their café cohort to help out, and uses Compo as a guinea pig. This is the first episode for a while that I can absolutely imagine working with Compo, Clegg, Foggy and Sid, without too many changes.

S9E2cAndrew: It’s possibly the result of it following a very strong series opener, but I’m not optimistic about the direction in which this episode is heading. But, on the plus side, we’re subjected to some fabulous gurning from Bill Owen, as Compo struggles with his new exercise regime, and some of the scenery on display here is stunning. Can we rent some bikes next time we’re in Holmfirth? ‘We’re just two perfectly innocent strangers with a healthy interest in twentieth century sitcom locations…’

Bob: Ha! Ha! Do I have to wear skimpy shorts and jump over a dry stone wall every time a car goes past? I’m in. And… yay! Compo is meant to be exercising, but has hitched a lift on the back of a passing trailer! This is a scene that EVERY long-running sitcom has to include at some point in its lifespan. With bonus points available if – as in this case – the trailer is filled with bales of hay. Can anyone name other examples of this? It definitely happens with both Bob and Terry in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.

I’ve also been trying to identify the celebratory song that Compo sings on the haywagon – ‘my horse is always willing, and I am never sad’ and it seems to be called ‘Jim The Carter Lad’. At first, I thought it had a whiff of the American West about it, but it’s actually a traditional English folk song… it seems to be linked to the West Country, to Dorset and Wiltshire, but also appears to have been a popular Music Hall song.

It survived into the rock and roll era, too… here’s the mighty Joe Brown with a nice version!

Andrew: I see your Joe Brown and raise you this charmingly booze fuelled traditional take!

This is another instance where I have to wonder if it was featured in the script, or if it was something introduced as a result of conversations between Alan Bell and Bill Owen? Owen looks like he’s having a great time, so perhaps it was his idea!

Bob: The look on Marina’s face when Howard solemnly declares ‘you’re the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in my life’ is heartbreaking. Huge credit to Jean Fergusson for expressing the most devastating combination of desperate longing and panting lust that I’ve ever seen played out on anyone’s features. And I’ve spent a weekend in Holmfirth with you, Drew.

Andrew: It cuts right through, doesn’t it? The series might be moving in a broader direction, but its moments like this that continue to make Clarke’s work rise above.

S9E2fBob: Edie is cutting Barry’s hair in the kitchen! Is the home-cutting of hair (not home-shaving with a razor… that’s different!) still a commonplace thing? Do kids still turn up at school with their fringes clearly cut along the outline of a pudding bowl? I don’t think my Dad has had a professional haircut since the day he got married, in 1966. My Mum just does it in the front room, with newspaper on the floor around his feet, and a towel on his shoulders. And she did mine too, until I cracked as a teenager and decided her skills just weren’t good enough to manage the cantilevered Morrissey quiff that I was demanding!

Andrew: It’s not just your parents; I’ve many a time been bemused by the sight of my Mam setting up a salon for my Dad, in the conservatory. It’s rather sweet in a way, but I could do without seeing his back being shaved!

Bob: I like Edie’s disgusted dismissal of the ‘Unisex Hair Parlour’, too. I imagine, in her fevered mind, it’s on a par with the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. Or – even worse – our weekend in Holmfirth in 2009.

Andrew: I have a major fear of getting my hair cut which borders on phobia, so I share Edie’s concern over Unisex joints. Perhaps the ultimate cure would be for me to let my mother loose with the clippers?

Bob: Blimey, this has to be the British sitcom with the most mentions of Dr Crippen since records began. Clegg can’t stop referencing him, as Compo is lowered into Wesley’s home-made canoe. I wonder where all that came from? Dr Crippen, of course, was the US doctor executed in London for the murder of his wife in 1910, for reasons that have never been clear. She was a Music Hall singer, so maybe he just got tired of her singing ‘Jim, The Carter Lad’.

Andrew: Yeah, but would you rather go to the Music Hall with Dr Crippen, or clothes shopping with Nora Batty? Wally’s fate in this episode is to be asked what he thinks about one of Nora’s potential outfit choices, and even his whippet looks bored. Emma will kill me for saying this, but I’m pretty sure this exact conversation once played out between us in a branch of Topshop. I barely have an opinion about what I wear, let alone anybody else!

S9E2gBob: Just as with the opening lines, I saw the ending of this episode coming a mile off, like a slow train on a branch line, but I still laughed when it arrived. Having crashed straight through the bottom of Wesley’s prototype canoe and plummeted feet-first into the murky canal water, Compo tries again with the ‘heavily reinforced bottom’ augmented model… and, this time, the whole kaboosh sinks into the drink. This is absolute textbook Summer Wine! It’s virtually a platonic ideal for the whole show.

Andrew: If you’d like to attempt a re-enactment, the canal location remains virtually unchanged, save for the addition of a pleasant looking visitor’s centre.

Bob: I’m currently reading JB Priestley’s book Delight, about finding joy in the little things in life, and there’s one in this episode that we should try. Three men wandering into a quiet daytime pub and ordering three large scotches to keep out the chill. Can you, me and Andrew Orton do this, the next time we’re filming in Holmfirth on a cold day?

Andrew: Only if you want me flat on me back by mid-afternoon…

Bob: Promises, promises…

Jane Freeman – An Appreciation

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We were incredibly saddened to hear about the recent death of Jane Freeman. Throughout our Summer Winos quest, we have been constantly impressed by Jane’s deft and formidable portrayal of the redoubtable cafe owner Ivy, and the skilful manner in which she gave the character both a fearsome temper and a frequently-overlooked humanity and sensitivity. She proved a fearsome foil for the show’s ever-evolving main trio, as well as forging hugely impressive enjoyable double acts with both John Comer, as Ivy’s on-screen husband Sid, and Jonathan Linsley, as her wayward nephew Crusher.

Last of the Summer Wine entered Jane’s life with the series’ pilot episode, Of Funerals and Fish, in 1973. Both Freeman and Comer were cast after impressing producer-director James Gilbert in The Fishing Party, an instalment of the BBC’s Play For Today strand of one-off dramas. The pair had never met on this production, their scenes having been shot separately, and they worked together on Last of the Summer Wine for some time before realising they had both appeared in the same, earlier programme.

Lazy journalism might see Ivy classed as a shrill, somewhat sexist charicature of the Northern harridan, but to simply dismiss her as a battleaxe would be to do a disservice to the nuanced character that Roy Clarke and Jane Freeman created together. Not least because the model for the character of Ivy approved. “I was a very earnest young woman in those days,” recalled Freeman, “And I wasn’t sure whether it would be fitting to promote this myth about women. I can remember talking to Enid, Roy’s lovely wife, about how awful Ivy was, and she said, ‘Oh love, Ivy’s me.'”

However, in numerous episodes, the veil of aggression is peeled back to reveal the woman underneath. Take, for example, a sequence from the Series One episode, Patê and Chips. Compo’s extended family have turned up to shepherd our main trio on an outing to a National Trust home, and Ivy immediately makes a beeline for the youngest of the clan, a baby boy.

IVY: We’ve got none you know. All I can do is mother him.

(Gestures to Sid)

The baby’s father cracks a joke about donating one of their own offspring to the childless couple, but – as Ivy is wistfully waving goodbye – a very poignant musical cue suggests a deeper resonance to the absence of children from Ivy and Sid’s marriage. It’s a beautiful little moment, combining fine writing, acting and composing.

Another glimpse of humanity can be seen in an exhange between Ivy and Nora Batty in the 1988 Christmas special, Crumbs.

NORA: Funny, isn’t it? All this time, and still sometimes when I head that door open I keep expecting him to walk in like he always used to, daft as a brush, semi-plastered.

IVY: Oh, I know. It’s having all that bed to yourself that gets me.

NORA: I’ll say this for my Wally, he never did take up much room. It was like having a bed to yourself anyway.

IVY: Oh, mine used to spread himself all over the place. Every night it used to be like being trapped in the January sales. You never realise how much you’re going to miss things.

These typically unsentimental/sentimental scenes shed new light on relationships that we may originally have taken at surface value. Last of the Summer Wine didn’t connect with viewers for over three decades because of pratfalls and pretty location shooting; it rooted itself in the public consciousness thanks to important moments like this, and they’re easy to take for granted. This is the series at its best, and Freeman was a intergral part of its success.

Freeman particularly appreciated the latter scene. “We were both quite distressed that we couldn’t talk about our husbands who had died,” she told Andrew Vine, author of Last of the Summer Wine: The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series. “It was absolutely lovely when we were able to do it, and Kathy and I had scenes talking about the old days, and we did feel much better then. We hated the fact that Joe and John had dissapeared somehow. I was fond of John and Kathy was fond of Joe.”

Freeman and Kathy Staff maintained a close friendship for several decades, though it was a tentative friendship at first; during the early years of the series most of Staff’s scenes were shot on location, whilst Freeman recorded her Café sequences in the studio at a later date. As time passed, though, they bonded during rehearsals, taking in tea at the Ritz and shopping in London. During their Yorkshire location shoots, Jane would stay at the home of Kathy and her husband in Cheshire, a twenty minute drive across the Pennines. In later years, Freeman was the only member of the cast to know the true severity of Staff’s final battle with a brain tumour.


Ivy was second only to Peter Sallis’ Norman Clegg as Last of the Summer Wine‘s longest-running character, appearing in all but four of the series’ episodes. During its run, she outlived her husband Sid; mentored nephew Crusher; and was welcomed intoto the inner circle of Thora Hird’s formidable Edie.  Her unexplained absence from the series’ finale was one of the only downsides of a fittingly low-key conclusion. In every incarnation of the show, she was an anchor around whom chaos unfolded. Freeman, too, saw the series evolve across the decades from a darkly humerous comedy into a cosier, more family-friendly staple; and from a traditional studio-based sitcom recorded before live audience into a series that was shot predominantly on location and entirely on film. She even found time to appear in the sieres’ mid-1980s spin-off stage show. Of all her appearences, however, she singled out the 1983 feature length special, Getting Sam Home, as her personal favourite.

“You forget how long it’s been going,” she told Andrew VineIt’s a lifetime really. I’ve gone from being a young woman to a middle aged woman to an old woman, and yet in my mind’s eye I’m still doing the third episode.”

Jane was born in London. At the age of nine, she lost her father in an accident and, sometime later, moved with her mother and stepfather to Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. Here, she studied at the City of Cardiff (now Royal Welsh) College of Music and Drama, graduating in 1955. Throwing herself into a busy stage career, Jane joined the Gloucestershire-based all-female Osiris Repertory Theatre touring company, and – in 1958 – moved onto the Arena Theatre, Sutton Coldfield where she began to attract attention for her performances. During her 1968 to 1973 stint with Birmingham Rep, she married the company’s artistic director, Michael Simpson. They remained together until his death in 2007.

Although she maintained her passion for live performance throughout her career, Jane enjoyed a busy career in television and, to a lesser extent, film. After her TV debut in a Ken Loach directed episode of Diary of a Young Marriage (1964), notable roles included four appearances in the BBC’s Play For Today strand of single plays, including Peter Terson aforementioned The Fishing Party (1972) and Alan Bleasdale’s Scully’s New Year’s Eve (1978). Other notable roles included appearances in Crossroads (1964), Within These Walls (1975 & 1976), The Black Adder (1983), Androcles the Lion (1983), and Silas Marner (1985).

Despite these varied roles, her best-recognised role outside of Last of the Summer Wine may have been as Gordon Rollings’ wife, in a series of early 1980s advertisements for John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter. After Rollings’ death, Jane continued to appear in ads with her Summer Wine co-star Jonathan Linsley.

Last of the Summer Wine provided Jane with regular employment, but she scheduled as much theatre work around its filming dates as possible. A fraction of her work in the theatre included Billy Liar (Nottingham Playhouse 1980), Sailor Beware! (The Lyric, Hammersmith, 1991), Deborah’s Daughter (Library Theatre, Manchester, 1994), Wuthering Heights (1995 & 1998) and touring productions of When We Are Married (1987), Noises Off (1987), and Situation Comedy (1989).

When we at Summer Winos learned of Jane Freeman’s passing, we reached out to several friends, colleagues and acquaintences, all of whom were kind enough to share their personal memories.

 

Jonathan Linsley – Actor, Crusher in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’

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“I first met Jane in the spring of 1983 when we started rehearsals for a stage play of Last of the Summer Wine. We didn’t have many scenes together and at that time my character, Crusher, was not related to Jane’s character, Ivy. We became friends, however, and I always enjoyed her wisdom, advice, and her stories of growing up and “learning the business” of acting through Rep in Birmingham, where she was great friends with Paul Henry who famously played Benny in Crossroads – she admired the skill he brought to a role that required him to play someone none too bright!

After two short tours and two summer seasons of the Summer Wine stage play, fate played a hand in bringing Jane and I together when John Comer, her long time co-star and husband in the TV show, passed away and Roy Clarke and Alan JW Bell invited me to play Ivy’s nephew Millburn; a none too bright lad who was “learning the business”. Jane was wonderful and helpful and I loved working with her. Her timing and skill made her a true joy to work with. She was also never starry or grand and over the next five years we struck up a professional relationship that had a certain chemistry, and I became part of the Summer Wine family.

When I left the show, fate played another hand and threw Jane and me together a second time. The untimely death of Gordon Rollings who played her long time screen husband Arkwright in the much loved John Smiths TV adverts, meant that they were looking for an actor to replace him. Mrs Arkwright wanted a “toy boy” and I was given that role and we worked together for another couple of years. I remember the last filming day at pinewood with Jane when she had another job later on that day and the production company flew her by helicopter so she could get to the other set on time. She was so excited about that experience and we all stood and waved her off . I never saw her again after that as we never worked together after that day, but she was always busy working, and I kept in touch and later caught up with all her news when I worked for her husband Michael Simpson who was the producer on The Bill.

It was with great sadness then, that I heard that Jane had passed away. She was a fine, talented, and much-loved actress with many devoted fans. I will never forget the happy times and the wonderful laughs we shared over the years. She was, and always will be, a star. RIP Aunty Ivy.”

 

Morris Bright – Chairman, Elstree Studios

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Morris Bright (foreground), in his cameo in Just A Small Funeral…

“It is easy to fall in to the trap – even for those of us who should know better, having been around the industry for a while – of thinking that the character you see on screen is also that person in real life. And so it was in the late 1990s, when I was visiting the location of Last of the Summer Wine for the first time for a book about the show for the BBC, that I got to meet a host of actors who, in most cases (although not all) were totally different from the characters they portrayed on screen.

One such actress was Jane Freeman, who has sadly passed away in recent weeks. It’s easy to watch someone week in and week out playing a battleaxe, a demanding wife – who is really more of a mother to her husband than a spouse, because the men need keeping in check like children in a playground – believing that the person you will meet will be equally as formidable. But that was the strength of the acting in Summer Wine, for Jane Freeman was nothing like the harridan Ivy, the character she played for almost four decades.

I recall sitting in a humble caravan, waiting for the weather to settle before filming could resume, one morning in the Yorkshire hills. I was having a cup of tea with Jane Freeman, Kathy Staff and my late, dear friend Thora Hird. It was slightly surreal as I was chatting with the actresses but they were all dressed up and made up as their characters. They couldn’t have been more lovely. Tea with some favourite aunts. What I loved the most about Jane and Kathy was how they would fuss over Thora who was somewhat older and quite infirm by this stage. I admired Jane’s humility. She was an ensemble player and did not regard herself any more important than anyone else, despite appearing in more episodes of the show than anyone else except Peter Sallis.

Jane was kind, friendly and polite and was surprised that someone would be interested enough in her as a person and not just as a character, to write about her in a book on Summer Wine.

We met several times after that. I recall a cameo role with her when Edie was driving a car towards me. And of course who could ever forget Compo’s funeral where we all spent a long day in church filming scenes for the show, and then the same evening together at a memorial for the actor Bill Owen.

And I was delighted to welcome Jane, along with most of the cast, to a special tribute to Summer Wine at Pinewood Studios that I organised, back in 1998.

I only have happy memories of Jane Freeman. I am sad at her passing but recognise the legacy of onscreen laughter she has left behind. God bless you Jane.”

 

Laura Booth – Proprieter, Sid’s Café, Holmfirth

Roped in by the Summer Winos, Laura Booth offers her best Jane Freeman homage for our 'Getting Sam Home' location tour.

Roped in by the Summer Winos, Laura Booth offers her best Jane Freeman homage for our Getting Sam Home Again location tour…


“We’re sorry to hear the sad news about the passing of Jane Freeman, the actress who played Ivy in Last of the Summer Wine. Jane portrayed the character of Ivy perfectly, a northern battle-axe with little time for the mischief-making of the cafe regulars. Ivy ran the cafe with a formidable style and her customer service skills were renowned! The old adage “the customer is always right” certainly didn’t apply back then! These days we appreciate our customers more, but I suspect some of them would relish the opportunity to be hit over the head with a tray or chased out of the cafe with a broom…”

We end this tribute with a trip to the real life Sid’s Café in Holmfirth. Visit today, and you’ll discover that – and alongside Nora and Compo –  you will be greeted by a cardboard effigy of the formidable Ivy. Jane Freeman’s career was long, varied, and thanks to her suberb, decades-long performance in Last of the Summer Wine, will be remembered fondly for many years to come.

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Series 9 Episode 1: Why Does Norman Clegg Buy Ladies' Elastic Stockings?

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In which Norman Clegg… buys ladies’ elastic stockings…

Bob: Oh, this is an unusual opening shot! We start with a static shot of dried ferns in a jar, and we pan across to Compo’s bedside table. And what a fascinating insight into his character; there’s a GNER mug, clearly half-inched from some long-forgotten railway journey, an ashtray from the Huddersfield Hotel, a copy of The Ferret Fancier magazine (does this actually exist?) and – tantalisingly – what looks like a vintage Betty Grable record. It’s a throwaway shot, but these half-glimpsed objects are immaculately chosen. Does Compo strike you as the kind of man who would pinch ashtrays from a posh hotel, and harbour forty-year old fantasies about the leggy, ‘Forces Sweetheart’ film star of his youth? Of course he does.

I’m now fascinated as to exactly which Betty Grable record is propped up at Compo’s bedside. It looks like the title is something along the lines of ‘Loving Tonight’, but I can’t find any evidence of her having recorded anything with a title that’s even similar to that. Are my ageing eyes letting me down here? Is it even Betty Grable on the sleeve? Can anyone help?

Andrew: I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one, but I can sadly confirm the demise of The Ferret Fancier, if indeed it was ever an actual periodical and not just a comic invention. It pleases me, however, that one can subscribe to Ferrets Magazine. Surely that’s the sort of publication in which we should be taking out an advertisement?

Bob: Good to get our regulation Wally and Nora scene in early! Nora is ‘swilling’… which takes me back. For the first twenty-odd years of my life, I was frequently woken up by the sound of my Mum throwing buckets of water over the back patio, and swilling it around with a good, stiff broom. It’s a very reassuring sound. Although I’m now filled with an overwhelming feeling that I’ve still got geography homework to finish off.

Andrew: I love the rare bit of courage we glimpse from Wally at the end of this scene.

Nora: What are you; a husband or a parrot?

Wally: (with glee) Who’s a clever boy then!

Cue a good thwacking from Nora!

S9E1bBob: Clegg has proper teacups! I want some. I like his world-weary grumbling to Howard, as well… ‘At a time when little southern girls are playing with their dolls, the girls around here are practicing lie recognition and unmarked wedlock’. Peter Sallis and Robert Fyfe make a good double act, actually…two incredibly meek characters who, together, find refuge from an intimidating world.

Andrew: They do make a nice pair. What I especially like is Clegg’s confidence around Howard. As you say, Clegg has grown into a particularly meek character over the course of the series, but even he can’t help coming across as an alpha dog when confronted with the pathetic Howard. There’s the sense of a friendship there, but also an undercurrent of contempt on Clegg’s part. See, for example, his reaction to Howard’s attempt at a guilt-free smile – ‘You look like a little Nazi surrendering at the end of the war.’

Bob: Is it me, or does Pearl not really trust Edie? Our new regulars are pairing off into odd combinations in this episode, and there’s definitely a bit of spikiness between these two. ‘Where’s the virtue in looking like you’ve just come back from a serious operation?’ asks Edie, clearly a dig at poor Pearl’s dowdy appearance. It’s curious how, for the first twelve years of the series, the scripts were very male-dominated… we generally just had Nora and Ivy on the sidelines, acting as foils for the main, male trio. But Roy Clarke seems to have suddenly discovered the delights of writing female dialogue, and he’s an absolute master at it. The show has never had such a feminine feel; there are huge chunks devoted to various combinations of Edie, Pearl and Marina.

Andrew: I don’t think Pearl trusts any other woman. The addition of Pearl and Howard also strengthens the series’ suggestion that all men of a certain age regress regress back to childhood, while women remain maternal.You’re bang on; there’s absolutely a sense of Clarke playing with his new characters. Pearl and Ivy are both newcomers, but he’s obviously keen to see if they can carry a scene on their own. It’s ages into the episode before our trio unite and I wonder if that’s partly due to the fact that, despite having been part of the series for over a year, Seymour has yet to appear in a non-special episode of the show – for the benefit of casual viewers, he has to be eased in to the narrative.

Bob: Clegg is shopping in a very 1980s-looking supermarket! It’s on film, so do we assume this is a genuine location? I’m sure some sort of Supermarket Reform Act must have come into play sometime around 1990, because they suddenly became very spacious, airy places, filled with the fresh smell of baking bread. Before that, they looked like this… narrow aisles, low ceilings, and groaning shelves overladen with stacked-up tins and packets. And they smelled FUNNY. They bloody did… there was one in my hometown that absolutely stank of cats. Good to see an advert for ‘beefburgers’ as well. Not just ‘burgers’, but ‘beefburgers’. Is the ‘beefburger’ actually different to the ‘hamburger’? And when did they all just become ‘burgers’?

S9E1cAndrew: Pre-1990s supermarkets basically looked like large corner shops, didn’t they? Actually, what’s that one around the back of Stockton High Street called? That looks like it was caught in a time bubble at some point during the 1980s.

Bob: Boyes! It’s part of its ineffable charm. Anyway, I’m going to advance a daring theory here, and brace yourselves – because some of you aren’t going to like it. Here goes… Clegg actually DOES fancy Marina. When he spots her working on the supermarket check-out, he freezes on the spot, blushes, and then fills his basket with all kinds of unnecessary tat (including the ladies’ stockings of the title) in an attempt to ward off the suspicions of the store detective. These aren’t the actions of a man who just wants to avoid an undesirable acquaintance… they’re the actions of a man who’s IN LOVE, and is too embarrassed to admit it – even to himself. He’s like the infatuated schoolboy who turns into a beetroot-red, stammering simpleton every time the object of his desire comes within twenty yards. I’m running with this. CLEGG FANCIES MARINA.

Andrew: I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s in love, but I think there’s certainly something to your theory! In the world of Summer Wine, there haven’t been any female characters for Clegg to show an interest in, have there? Marina occupies a previously vacant space between battleaxe and some bloke’s niece. She isn’t there to mother, and she’s not looking for a father figure.

Bob: The last few episodes have had some lovely material for Jonathan Linsley to work with, and I like the way that Crusher is slowly growing into his role as a café assistant. In his earliest episodes, he clearly didn’t really want to be there, and was only doing it to placate either Ivy or some unseen mother, desperate to get him out of the house… but look at him now! He’s got a steak and kidney pie in the oven, and he’s pacing around like an expectant father! It’s a very subtle and nicely-done character progression.

Andrew: Compo (and Bill Owen) makes up for his limited screen time with a high-octane entrance to the cafè. While we’re on the subject of the series entering a new era, the Compo we see here has now completely transitioned into the persona of a harmless imp. He may accost a female customer of the café and make a grab for Ivy, but there isn’t the slightest suggestion that he’s leering, or really out of bounds in any way. He’s just a hyperactive child. I also don’t get the impression he’s supposed to be half as physically horrifying as he was in the series’ earliest episodes – he’s scruffy, but he’s not fag-ash-in-a-doorstop-sandwich revolting.

S9e1eI love Edie’s banning of Wesley from the kitchen. It’s a running gag that will go on for years and years, and it certainly made me cackle when I was a kid watching in the 1990s. Again, although they are taken to their extremes, there is something very recognisable and identifiable about this pairing. My Dad is in the process of building himself a new shed – his justification being that if he doesn’t do it now he never will, as ‘this’ll be me last shed’ – and my Mam and sister just look on, both confused as to why he wants it, but relieved that he’s got something to do outside of the living room.

Bob: ‘This’ll be me last shed!’ That’s worthy of Roy Clarke! I can imagine Stephen Lewis saying that, with a screwdriver in his hand.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the home-made warning signs on the approach road to Seymour’s house are in any way exaggerated for comic effect… if anything, they’re toned down. I’ve done a lot of moorland walking past remote farmsteads, and seen some terrifying sights; from ‘TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT – I MEAN IT’ to rows of rotting, dead moles pegged out on electric fences, presumably as a warning to similarly wayward members of the local mole community. Away from the cities, towns and villages, there still are some truly odd and eccentric loners living very insular and unconventional lives up on the hills; even in 2017. I think Seymour’s house and lifestyle, plotting insane schemes in ramshackle outbuildings, are a nod to those people. At heart, he’s a loner; and it’s hard to imagine scenes like these – with him aggressively turning away a Yorkshire Electricity Board meter-reader from his country house – being played out with either Blamire or Foggy.

Andrew: Thinking I recognised him from somewhere, I looked up the actor who plays the ‘Meter Reader’ on IMDB. It turns out he also played ‘Our Kid’ Colin in Getting Sam Home and will appear as other characters in further episodes to come, but far odder than that is that his last credited role was in a 2007 episode of Life on Mars… where he played the character of ‘Meter Man’. Think of the possibilities! Are they the same character? Does this mean Life on Mars and Last of the Summer Wine are part of the same fictional universe? Is Norman Clegg mad, in a coma, or back in time? And if he can work out the reason, can he get home?

Bob: Amazingly, we’re twenty minutes into the episode before we see our main trio together.

Andrew: The structure of this one is rather strange. The point at which Clegg and Compo arrive at Seymour’s place very much feels like the opening of a new episode.  Are we actually being treated to two mini-episodes here?

Bob: I can’t shake the suspicion that Seymour’s string of insane inventions exist purely for the purposes of getting Bill Owen into some bizarre contraption every week! This week it’s a mobile drilling unit, powered by a rather roughly-converted bicycle, and intended to search the Holme Valley oilfields for Black Gold, Texas Tea, etc. Although what would be the West Yorkshire version of Texas Tea? Tadcaster Tea? That actually sounds like genuine tea, though.

Anyway, this exchange made me laugh a lot:

Seymour: It’s not an important bit…
Clegg: That’s what Melvyn Carcroft said when the swelling started.

S9e1gHe also makes Compo and Clegg swear to secrecy on two books: The Principles of Financial Management and Biggles In Africa. Yet again, I can’t find any sign of the former being a real book… but the latter is very definitely the genuine article, published in 1936. My faith is restored!

Andrew: Before the possibility of striking oil is raised, Seymour is certain that people need holes, and that his is the device to provide them. That’s an insane idea that I can get behind, and I love the fact that it’s actually a familiar-sounding music cue from Ronnie Hazlehurst that suggests the direction the story is about to take, before anybody in the episode catches on.

When Compo finally gets around to testing Seymour’s drilling machine, it isn’t long before something goes amiss. Spying a film of oil on the top of his duck pond, Seymour theorises that there is a vast untapped source somewhere nearby.

Bob: Yes, Ronnie Hazlehurst is on FIRE at the moment! As Compo and Clegg half-heartedly drill for oil in Seymour’s front yard, we are treated to a sensational hybrid of the Summer Wine and Dallas themes. It’s absolutely masterful, and there’s something magnificently strange about hearing those bombastic tones swelling as we watch two pensionable gentlemen pedalling furiously outside a Yorkshire country house. It’s almost subversive. I wonder if Roy Clarke ever gave suggestions for musical cues in any of his scripts, or whether Hazlehurst just had a wild, musical imagination, and was given free reign to use it? I guess the latter is more likely; any man who can create a TV theme tune by tapping out the title of the show in Morse code is up there with Mozart as far as I’m concerned. Don’t believe me? It’s Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Seriously. It’s extraordinary.

Andrew: On the other side of town, Howard and Marina seize what little time they can get together. The sexual longing that Robert Fyfe somehow manages to squeeze into the phrase, ‘I’ve been sent to fetch two prawn curries… and a sweet and sour pork’ is a wonder to behold.

Of course, it isn’t long before our trio’s dream of striking oil is dashed by a water main, and the episode comes to a moist conclusion. Bell has a great eye for silent comedy direction, with the entirety of the gang’s realisation being played out in a series of shocked close-ups, contrasted with widescale angles of destruction.

That was a lovely episode. My only qualm is that we don’t get to hear nearly enough of that magnificent Dallas take–off. They should have used it over the closing titles. I also wonder if this is the point at which the series began to develop its reputation as being almost entirely about physical comedy. There are some absolutely perfect character comedy exchanges throughout this instalment, but the drilling for oil sequence is the only one I’ve ever seen made use of as a clip in a documentary or a chat show. Drilling for oil is what I bet people remember this one being about, despite the fact doing so takes up about two minutes of the episode’s duration!

Bob: That was our most whimsical episode for a little while, and it passed by very pleasantly, like a light daydream on a summers afternoon. Now… Betty Grable, anyone?

Christmas Special 1986: Merry Christmas, Father Christmas

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In which a two-fingered salute prompts festive chimney fondling…

Andrew: It’s worth pointing out that, if I had gotten my act together, we would have published this entry in time to mark the episode’s 30th anniversary on the 28th of December 2016. Then, it snagged 16.3 million viewers! Still, it wouldn’t really be Summer Winos if I had pulled my finger out.

Three decades may have passed, but the bookshop, Daisy Lane Books, seen in the background of this Christmas special’s first scene is, remarkably, still trading and looks pretty much the same! We’d been visiting Holmfirth for years before we noticed this little gem of a place, tucked away in a cobbled passage just off Towngate. I can’t vouch for the fact that the toyshop the trio admire was ever actually a toyshop, but today the building houses the thematically-named Daisy’s Nails and Beauty.

Bob: What are we waiting for? It’s time for my traditional New Year pedicure! And hey, you know you’re in for a classy Summer Wine when the opening line is an inexplicable non-sequitur. They used to be Foggy’s exclusive domain, but Clegg seems to have inherited them now. ‘He said it was part of his mid-life crisis,’ he ponders. ‘Left him with this yearning for Salad Cream’. Marvellous.

Anyway, what the hell is going on here? Not only is this a very Christmassy Christmas special, actually set at Christmas, but there’s snow on the ground too! Is it real, do you think? Usually, when fake snow is pressed into service for sitcom Christmas specials, the BBC props boys (warehouse coats, flat caps, jam-jar glasses) go overboard and spread the stuff everywhere. But these sparse fringes of snow, clinging desperately to the grass verges and pavements, look like the real deal to me.

Andrew: Exactly! It does look very convincing – mainly because it’s quite patchy and paltry looking! Surely if you were to cover the landscape in fake snow you’d do a more even job than that? What we need is access to the production paperwork and some detailed records from the Met Office.

Bob: It’s curious that we didn’t get a Summer Wine series in 1986… meaning that Seymour’s first two episodes are two Christmas specials, almost exactly a year apart! Do we assume that a year has passed in Summer Wine world as well? I’d like to think so, because – despite having a somewhat frosty relationship in Uncle of the Bride – Compo, Clegg and Seymour are now clearly as thick as thieves, giggling away merrily together. The latter in particular has noticeably softened since his prickly and pompous debut appearance, and seems full of genial Christmas spirit. He’s almost a different character.

mcfc4Andrew: The whole episode seems imbued with Christmas cheer for a change. Maybe it’s because the characters can actually hear Ronnie Hazlehurst’s lovely, sleigh bell-coloured score? That’s what’s doing it for me! He really gets into the spirit for this one, with some lovely quotations from Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Good King Wenceslas.

As for the missing year between specials, who knows what our trio have been up to? If this was Doctor Who, several thousand books, comics, and audio plays would have been written to fill this continuity gap… and it would all be utterly mental.

Bob: This is the first time that one of the main trio has had their family featured regularly in the show, isn’t it? It’s only their second episode, but Barry, Glenda and Edie already feel like part of the Summer Wine furniture. Roy Clarke’s blending of them into the usual mix has been effortless; and you’re right with what you said in our Uncle of the Bride review, too… the fact that they’re also closely related to an established character – Wesley – has helped a lot. These characters aren’t just suddenly being foisted onto us out of nowhere… we’re just getting a wider glimpse of an already existing world.

Anyway, I like the fact that Edie’s house is festooned with balloons. Do people still put common-or-garden balloons up at Christmas? She can on put her posh voice as much as she likes, balloons on the walls are a sure-fire sign of a working class upbringing. You couldn’t move in our house for Christmas balloons; those and about forty miles worth of paper chains, all held together with my juvenile spittle.

Andrew: Yes, the set dresser has really nailed the Christmas decorations. They aren’t overdone, and they stem from character, rather than simply what looks good on camera. See also the tatty, folded Santa Claus poster in the Café window!

While we’re on the subject of Edie’s house, I’d like to once again highlight some interesting direction from Alan Bell. At the start of the scene, we can hear Edie’s voice for a moment as the camera dollies in on the empty, sitting room doorway. It’s a very simple move, but also strikes me as very unusual for a multi-camera sitcom. This continues throughout the episode. I’d say this is a sign of a director who is trying his best to make the videotaped studio sequences as dynamic as those he is able to execute on film – a medium in which he clearly loves working.

Bob: There’s a poster in the café advertising a ‘Carol Service, St Agnes Church, 20th December 6.30pm’. Is St Agnes Church real? Can we go there and sing carols one year?

Andrew: There’s a St Agnes Church in Leeds… but I suspect we may be thirty years too late for the advertised event.

Bob: And, just to give us the flipside to this Christmas piety, Seymour’s smutty ‘I shall have to take your diction in hand’ warning to Compo gets an absolute roar from the studio audience. #festivefilth

Andrew: Not to mention Compo’s earlier question – ‘Can you have a normal fairy?’

mcfc7Bob: I keep saying it, but I genuinely can’t fault the seamless way in which the new cast members have been weaved into the Summer Wine narrative over the course of – let’s face it – only a handful of episodes. Here we’ve got Crusher being interrupted in the café by Marina, who gives Clegg a present to pass onto Howard, away from Pearl’s prying eyes. And it all feels utterly natural. There have been eight major new characters introduced since the start of Series 8, but it doesn’t feel at all contrived.

Mind you, there’s a whiff of Nurse Gladys Emmanuel and Granville about the way Marina clasps Crusher to her heaving bust here! It had been a couple of years since Open All Hours ended, so maybe Roy Clarke was pining for a decent bosom scene. Actually, I’ve decided to do this review in hashtags now, as it’s long overdue that this blog moved with the times. #bosomscene

Andrew: I love the fact that Marina’s Crusher crush has been carried over from Uncle of the Bride. We said at the time that it would be a shame if that dynamic was forgotten about. It also means I can stop writing all of that slash fiction… I was developing carpel tunnel.

Bob: I’ve absolutely no idea what carpel tunnel is. Is he in the new Star Wars film? Anyway, Drew… a little straw poll here. What was the name given to the beardy Christmassy bloke in your house when you were little? And if you say Noel Edmonds, I’ll clobber you. He was always ‘Father Christmas’ in our house, never ‘Santa Claus’. I’m turning this review into a #festiveclasswar, actually… I’ve always thought there was a hint of middle-class affectation about ‘Santa Claus’. So I’m glad to see that the slightly skew-whiff looking figure that our main trio pass in the street is very firmly referred to by them all as ‘Father Christmas’.

Or, to give him his full title, ‘Jackie Pilsworth’. #namesdatabase

Andrew: I beg to differ on this one. He was always Santa Claus to us, and it’s actually ‘Father Christmas’ that strikes my ears as a little… poncier. Subjectively, I think this is actually more of a generational thing. Father Christmas is the more British of the two terms, with a lineage that goes back to Pagan festivals, wheras Santa Claus has his roots in the Sinterklaas of Dutch tradition. Dutch settlers carried that tradition over to the American colonies, which in turn led to Santa Claus becoming the dominant nomenclature there. As the latter half of the 20th Century moved along, British Christmas traditions became more and more entwined with those of America; particularly in terms of popular culture. Holiday films, television specials, and pop songs far more frequently featured ‘Santa Claus’, and so – by the time I was growing up in the early 1990s – I would say naming him as such was pretty much the norm. Basically, blame Dudley Moore.

Bob: Do High Street shops still have a resident Father Christmas in a grotto? Drew? You strike me as the kind of intrepid young person who actually leaves the house during the Christmas period…

Andrew: Fenwick’s department store in Newcastle certainly does. Not that I went this year…

Juliette Kaplan plays Pearl wonderfully in the scene in which Clegg attempts to covertly deliver Marina’s present to Howard. She delivers perfect menace, but you can’t help but be on her side. And it’s just occurred to me that this instalment still isn’t exactly about Christmas, but rather the intense preparations that lead up to the day. The decorations, the shopping, the strategic gift giving – Roy Clarke is still complaining!

mcfc2Bob: Our trio next retreat to a tinsel strewn pub. A great line from Seymour here; ‘You put a couple of schoolboys together and they start fermenting’. He’s got a much more of an acid wit than Foggy, hasn’t he? He can be very cutting and acerbic.

Wally and Nora. Wally and Nora. #wallyandnora. I can’t say any more about these little scenes, Drew… they’re perfect, I’ve exhausted my superlatives. I’ll leave you to quote Wally’s killer line here!

Andrew: You mean, ‘I don’t know whether I can stand the excitement of getting our Desmond a shirt?’ It’s obviously a wonderfully delivered line, but I think it’s topped by Nora’s ‘And don’t let me hear you thinking what I think you’re thinking!’

Bob: Can we edit all of Wally and Nora’s recent self-contained scenes together, and make a half hour sitcom? Come on… what else have we got to do that’s more important?

Andrew: I’ll have a Christmas special prepped for 2017!

Back in the pub, Seymour can’t help but intervene in what I would nominate as one of the most poorly-choreographed bar-room brawls in television history. Two extras giving each other some very gentle shoves while standing silently and puffing their cheeks.

Bob: All pub fights are like that! And oh blimey, listen to this:

Edie: Are you happy, love?
Glenda: Oh, we’re fine. He’s a good, steady lad.

It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t doubt for a second that all of these Summer Wine married couples actually love each other… it’s just the ‘anything for a quiet life’ acceptance of the aching dullness of it all. The endless days eating their dinners and trudging around shops and wrapping their Christmas presents with the telly on, without a single breath of excitement to spice things up. And yet the fact that Edie even asks the question suggests that she might just pine for something more. Something more than a husband who spends every daylight hour under the bonnet of his car, and sits on sheets of newspapers in his overalls every night. The unspoken melancholy of all of these relationships is just so bittersweet.

Andrew: They’re real people. Clarke sometimes gets stick for the lack of plot in his work, but so frequently it is during these side scenes that the most human moments sneak into the dialogue.

Bob: Let’s cut to the Christmas crux #christmascrux. Seymour is determined to ‘put the magic back into Christmas’, and wants Compo – dressed as Father Christmas – to stride around the town’s chimneytops, giving it as much ‘ho ho ho’ as he can muster. And so we have a dry run on Seymour’s roof, with poor Compo shoved to the highest point with a long, padded ‘thingummy’ administered by Wesley and Barry. And do you know what? I’m definitely claiming this wintry landscape as real snow. I’ve spent enough afternoons trudging around the moors in December to know real snow when I see it. Those yellowy-grey skies are positively bulging with the stuff as well… I bet Holmfirth was under a beautiful blanket the following morning. Insert your own Marina joke here.

mcfc10Andrew: I don’t know about you, but nothing quite says Christmas to me quite like Bill Owen shagging a chimney pot.

Bob: Good grief, Compo does indeed appear to be having a somewhat intimate relationship with Seymour’s chimney! No wonder Nora is keeping her distance if that’s how vigorous his romantic attentions can be…

When Roy Clarke is on form, he writes dialogue worthy of Alan Bennett. We’ve got Nora, Ivy, Pearl and Edie on the steps here discussing their respective husbands; and it’s glorious. No wonder Roy Clarke ended up incorporating having those regular ladies’ coffee mornings; they’re the perfect vehicle for these brilliantly catty exchanges: ‘Mrs Nuttall saw hers getting off a bus in Halifax with a man,’ nods Edie, knowingly. Nora has little sympathy, though. ‘That Emmy Nuttall wants to mind her own affairs,’ she harrumphs. ‘She can’t make mince pies. She’s very heavy-handed with the fat’.

Andrew: Prolific stuntman Stuart Fell can be spied in long shots that require Compo’s full body to be seen astride a roof in the town centre, but Bill Owen was also clearly willing and able to climb up as well. The closer, full-bodied shots reveal him to be clowning around on what looks like an actual rooftop. I’ve studied it as closely as a Standard Definition DVD will allow, and as far as I can tell it isn’t a mocked-up roof, and it certainly isn’t making use of CSO.

Bob: Stop sitting so close to the telly, your eyes will go all funny and you’ll need to wear glasses when you’re older.  Still I can confirm that’s definitely the real Kathy Staff giving one of her little semi-smiles as Compo dangles from the rooftops and declares his festive feelings for Nora! Staff is magnificent at ‘that look’… it’s barely a twitch, but there’s such affection in it.

Andrew: There’s also a lovely little throwaway moment during the credits, where Seymour rewards Compo for his efforts with some bottles of beer produced from beneath Father Christmas’ robes. There; I said Father Christmas. Happy?

Bob: I’m always happy. That was a really sweet and fun little episode; possibly one that gets overlooked a bit, falling so oddly between Uncle of the Bride and Seymour’s first full series. But I liked that a lot, it made effortless work of a tough job, getting the new characters further bedded in. And you can insert another Marina joke of your choosing here, if you like. Go on, it’s Christmas.

Andrew: Keep your filthy mind to yourself, spotty little person; it’s January. Anyway, this was very enjoyable. It’s silly Christmas fluff for the most part, but sometimes that’s exactly what the season calls for.

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Uncle of the Bride


In which Seymour gets all inventive…

Andrew: So it’s an unceremonious goodbye to Foggy…

Bob: …and it’s a warm welcome to Seymour! Another feature-length special introduces the show’s third ‘Third Man’, and I remember this getting an awful lot of press coverage over Christmas 1985. It must have been a strange experience for Michael Aldridge, who’d spent his entire career as a very respected character actor, but wasn’t a huge household name… but suddenly, at the age of 65, he was all over the tabloids.

Andrew: Getting Sam Home was only ever called ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ during the onscreen titles, but here we are rather grandly welcomed to ‘Last of the Summer Wine: Uncle of the Bride’. It’s a tiny little touch to have a title and subtitle appear at the same time like this, but it really does mark out from the beginning that this is different to your average half-hour episode. There’s something grand about it – like seeing Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Nice location work aside, I think that’s where my comparison stops.

Bob: I don’t know, there’s a whiff of Gandalf about Seymour Utterthwaite! You’re right, though… this feels like a sumptuous feature film from the start. And those epic sweeps of Holmfirth, on gorgeous 16mm film, and the smoking chimneys – and the choral arrangement of the theme – transport me to more innocent times. I remember one Boxing Day, as a fresh-faced teenager, cycling down to the bridge over the railway at Aislaby, and looking out over the frost-coated vista of Yarm, the town where I grew up, with the North Yorkshire Moors in the distance. There was an old coal merchant’s yard behind me, a town full of smoking chimneys ahead of me, and barely any traffic on the roads. And I genuinely remember thinking… life won’t be like this for much longer. Everything is changing. But at that moment, it looked exactly like this episode: grey, misty, and with a stark but beautiful bleakness. And, in an odd piece of synchronicity, I’m pretty sure that was Boxing Day 1985. Six days before this episode was broadcast. Thirteen years old, and I was already taking stock of my life.

Andrew: Talking of stock, you’re right; 16mm really is the right film stock for Yorkshire. There’s an honesty to 16mm, which doesn’t wrap up the images it captures in the same false glamour that 35mm can. Technically, 35mm captures a spectrum of visual information that is more akin to what the human eye sees, but I’m convinced that my eyes process in 16mm.

The choral arrangement of the theme is indeed lovely, and I’ll put my cards on the table right now and say that I think the unsung hero of this film is Ronnie Hazlehurst. Let loose with a slightly bigger orchestra and obviously inspired by what he sees on screen, the maestro clearly had a whale of a time working on this. He’s rightfully acknowledged as one of the masters of television theme tunes, but listening to this film really makes me wish he had done more scoring for feature films. Saying that, he still can’t resist the comedy trope of a horn section as we cut to the fulsome posterior of the local post lady.

Bob: These opening scenes are a great statement of ‘Business As Usual’ intent, aren’t they? Soldering on regardless, in the absence of Brian Wilde. Howard is enslaved into domestic duty, Clegg is sarcastic to the post lady, and Nora is cleaning her steps. ‘I’ll show her clean steps,’ she mutters. ‘And not just when company’s coming…’ I wonder who’s upset her? Maybe it’s the same neighbour that was complaining about her having Jimmy Young on too loud a couple of episodes back. By the way, I still share this resolutely Northern attitude to domestic hygiene. I only clean up when I’ve got company coming. Which, luckily, is virtually never.

Andrew: Are you trying to tell me your house had actually been cleaned up the last time I was round? Blimey.

Bob: Everything just gets swept under the rug. Aw, I like Nora’s comment to Rosemary, the fearsome post lady, as they attempt to wake up the hungover Compo to deliver a parcel. ‘You can call all day when they’re in drink’, she complains. ‘In drink’! Roy Clarke’s ear for Northern dialogue – especially amongst ladies of a certain age – remains as sharp as ever.

Andrew: There’s a glimpse of Nora’s softer side coming out here, as well. If there’s one thing Nora would welcome, it would be for Compo to be tucked up in bed rather than outside pestering her, but she’ll put that to one side in order to wake him up because his post has arrived. He may be a scruffy beggar, but he’s her scruffy beggar and she can’t help herself from looking after him.

Bob: The mysterious parcels are finally explained… Compo and Clegg have received decorated eggs from Foggy, who has inherited a decorated egg business in Bridlington. Is the suggestion that they didn’t previously know this? I wonder where they thought he’d gone? Whatever, it’s a nice touch to see Foggy’s artistic bent being put to good use. He was a Corporal Signwriter, after all! And the eggs look genuinely lovely. I like this exchange as well…

Howard: What do you do with them?
Pearl: You don’t do anything with them. They’re for display.
Howard: Oh. Display.

I don’t know if it really exists any more, but – for my parents generation – that gap between the practical and the aesthetic was definitely a sharp cross-gender contrast! I can’t think of many of my dad’s household possessions that don’t have some practical application – tools, or books, or gardening gear. Whereas my mum is always one for a nice ‘ornament’. Do people still have ‘ornaments’ in their houses? Most of my friends have houses filled with action figures. Even the girls. In fact, especially the girls.

Andrew: Compo and Clegg don’t seem quite as lost as they were after Blamire left the scene, but it’s still very odd to see them pottering around as a duo. It left me rather sad, and pining for Foggy, when I saw them walking up to Wesley’s shed without having to be drafted into it!

Bob: Let’s get to the crux of the film… Wesley’s daughter Glenda is getting married to the as-yet unseen Barry, and his wife Edie is fussing over everything – including the means of transport. How has it taken this long to get Thora Hird into Last of the Summer Wine? She’s absolutely made for it, and gives a pitch-perfect performance as Edie. I love that contrast that between her ‘posh voice’ for ‘company’, and the common-as-muck Yorkshire brashness that she reserves for Wesley. Mollie Sugden was a past master at it, too!

Andrew: That’s definitely something that runs in my family. All of the women certainly have ‘telephone voices’ and I’ve seen my Uncle Graham adopt RP for the most lowly of McDonald’s Drive-Thru intercoms. I do it as well, apparently – though Emma tells me I’ve bypassed posh and headed straight into camp.

UOTBfBob: It comes to us all. And so a grumbling Wesley is pressed into service delivering freshly-ironed shirts to Edie’s feckless brother Seymour, with Compo and Clegg coming along for the ride. Wesley is really bitter, isn’t he? Seymour, as we discover, is a fellow tinkerer with engines and motors, so you think they’d have a lot in common… but their differences are clearly drawn along lines of class distinction. Wesley is the down-to-earth working class enthusiast, who clearly thinks his hobby has a practical application. He’s restoring the perfect car to transport his family around, something that will clearly be far better than any of your fancy-dan modern motors, and at half the price. Whereas Seymour is an idle dreamer with a garden full of Heath Robinson inventions, frittering away – we assume – some kind of independent wealth with gay abandon. It’s Roundheads versus Cavaliers all over again.

Andrew: Given how much we’ve already learned about Edie doting on her brother, I think we can read a lot into her relationship with Wesley here. She picked out a man who in some ways reminded her of him, but of course Wesley could never live up to her expectations. That’s bound to breed resentment.

I really like the way in which Seymour is introduced to us as part of the wider ensemble cast. His being the brother-in-law of the pre-established Wesley makes the character instantly feel like part of the landscape. He hasn’t just dropped in from nowhere. It also marks him out as different from both Foggy and Blamire in that he is resolutely not a loner. Even before the characters cross paths, however, Compo hones in on the one character trait that unites all of our ‘third men’ – Seymour is pompous.

Bob: These first scenes with Michael Aldridge just make me dream of an alternate universe early 1970s, where he would have made a great old-school Doctor Who. Tall, wild-haired, and full of plummy-voiced eccentricity and condescention. ‘Who are these… people?’ he splutters, on first sight of Compo and Clegg, and it’s pure Jon Pertwee, battling it out with some faceless Man from the Ministry over a bubbling test tube in UNIT HQ.

I like Clegg’s retort, too. ‘They talk like that in Harrogate,’ he mutters, cementing the resort’s reputation as a Yorkshire town with ideas above its station. Compo, hilariously, has never been there. How far is Holmfirth from Harrogate? 52 miles, according to AA Route Planner. And he’s never been. It’s a lovely evocation of a) Compo’s smalltown attitude, and b) his nose-thumbing attitude to middle-class pretensions. Why would he want to go to Harrogate, and spend time amongst those toffee-nosed twerps?

(NB Disclaimer: Harrogate is actually lovely)

There’s a lovely romantic quality to Seymour; he gets misty-eyed about the school he once commanded, and his army of ‘little men’. How long ago do you think this was? Thirty years? Forty? Like Foggy, he’s stuck in an idealised version of his own past, but – unlike Foggy – he seems to have all but retreated from the modern world. Foggy wanted to impose his archaic values on 1980s Britain, and build it in his own image, but Seymour has just vanished into his own misty-eyed nostalgia. You suspect he doesn’t leave that cottage very often.

Andrew: Ah, but unlike Foggy one gets the impression that Seymour has actually done the things he claims to have done. The character actually has a non-fantasised history, even if he does apply rose-tinted spectacles and overestimates his achievements.

Bob: Great line from Clegg here, too – ‘The trouble with human nature is, it’s in the hands of so many people’. That’s existential philosophy, that is. Jean-Paul Sartre in a flat cap and tweeds.

Andrew: It’s rather odd to see Barry and Glenda introduced here as the young couple about to embark on matrimony. They’ll stick with the show (with one blip) for over thirty years and by the end of it they still feel like the young couple!

Bob: Barry is played with great ponderous drippiness by Mike Grady… who, back in 1985, the whole country knew as Ken from Citizen Smith. He puts in a cracking performance here, lost in a world of his own, where – on the EVE OF HIS WEDDING – his primary concern is: ‘I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve a wheel bearing gone…’ You suspect he’ll get on better with his bride’s father than her mother.

Anyway, this is a lovely ensemble scene between Hird, Grady and Sarah Thomas as Glenda, all bouncing lines off each other with impeccable comic timing.

Andrew: Is there a finer visual than Wally and Nora travelling along through the countryside in a motorbike and sidecar? Oh, yes there is – add a stray whippet into the mix and you have perfection!

Bob: Yes, amidst all the wedding business, there’s a nice sub-plot evolving, with Wally and Nora being followed home by a beautiful black whippet, and Wally – not surprisingly – wanting to keep it! ‘Maybe it’s a wild whippet’, barks Nora. ‘It’s friendlier than you are,’ comes the retort. This has been an episode for warm smiles rather than laugh-out-loud one-liners so far, but that one had me chuckling. As did the resulting clout. I keep saying it, but even just a single two-hander episode, with Staff and Gladwin going hammer and tongs, would have been worth the entrance money alone.

Andrew: Seymour muses about his intellectual heroes James Watt, George Stephenson and… Porky Earnshaw? Is that one for the Names Database? All that we learn about him is that Seymour admires him for some reason. Another local oddball? I love Wesley’s morose and lon- suffering reply to Compo’s assumption that these are the names of Seymour’s mates; ‘They’re not his mates. They’re dead.’

Bob: We’ve talked before about how a running Summer Wine theme is the passage of the years, and the frittering away of our salad days, and yegods – even the ‘young blood’ of Barry has this melancholy attitude in spades! ‘I haven’t got any mates,’ he grumbles, reluctantly contemplating his stag night. ‘We’ve been courting so long, I’ve lost touch with them all’. How old do you think they’re meant to be, Drew? Mike Grady was 39 and Sarah Thomas was 33 when this was filmed, so should we treat ourselves to an extra dose of misery, and assume that Barry and Glenda have been aimlessly courting for a decade or more? The poor sods.

Andrew: I would never have guessed that Mike Grady was pushing 40! I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest they’re both supposed to be around thirty. And what’s wrong with an aimless, decade-long courtship? Actually, it might be worth my asking Emma that…

Bob: It was interesting to read in Alan Bell’s book that Gordon Wharmby was so intimidated by the prospect of acting opposite Thora Hird that he actually made himself ill with nerves. Because they’re fabulous together! ‘You tell me what you think the trouble is with Barry,’ she sneers, seating him gingerly on newspaper at the kitchen table. ‘The lad’s right,’ he sniffs, with perfect timing. ‘It probably is a wheel bearing’. They’re a great double act.

Andrew: And so, with Compo and Clegg commandeered into carrying Wesley’s greasy socket set back to Seymour’s house (Seymour himself, we learn, won’t even drink from a china cup without closely inspecting it for blemishes), we finally to get to see the new trio in full action together.

Something that I like about Seymour’s introduction is that it feels incredibly organic, and I think that’s partly the luxury of having an entire feature film in which to tell the story. Compo and Clegg are subtly drawn into his orbit rather than simply jumping into a guest-character’s scheme, in search of a hurried, slapstick finale. There’s also the fact that this has very clearly been written as a vehicle for Aldridge. Unlike some of Foggy’s early episodes, where one could quite easily have dropped Blamire into his place without issue, the plot of this instalment simply couldn’t exist with Seymour.

Bob: It’s a curious dynamic at first, and I’m not sure that Michael Aldridge quite hits the ground running in the same way that Brian Wilde did. Foggy was a fully-formed and believable character from the very first second we saw him onscreen. But then again, Compo and Clegg were much more established characters in 1985 than they were in 1976, and it would be hard for any actor/character to come into the show and dominate them in the way that the script demands. As such, it’s Compo and Clegg that steal the limelight here. Compo, in particular, treats us to a song that is clearly about to descend into filth…

‘My Auntie Nellie’s got a wooden leg, she caught it in the mangle…’

Andrew: Bill Owen has lots of lovely little bits of comedy business throughout the film. There’s his preparation for a boxing match, his mock swordsman routine, and his pratfall at Seymour’s front door. I wonder how much of this was in the script and how much of it was ‘expanded’ on set by Owen and Alan Bell? It’s all very effortless.

Bob: And Clegg gets a lovely monologue about his own brother-in-law, who ‘smelled of musty hymn books. He was superbly adapted to that decaying chapel. He had the kind of face that really summed up the decline of Christianity’. While Ronnie Hazelhurst’s rendition of Abide With Me swells up behind him. It’s a beautiful, bitter-sweet moment, and it’s interesting to note that a substantial portion of ‘the decline of Christianity’ has happened during the lifetime of this series! Blamire was staunchly Christian, wasn’t he? And even Foggy, in the early years, was seen to have leanings towards church-going. It’s hard to imagine such a character would be introduced in 1985, though.

Andrew: Is this the first mention we’ve had of Clegg’s sister? My memory isn’t what it never was. And, more importantly, look at that bus stop! Set into the ruins of a decrepit stone building – that’s a proper bus stop! Anybody fancy tracking down that location for us? Come on Bob, I know how to show you a good time.

Bob: Am I sensing another Summer Winos locations film in the offing here? Thora Hird’s ‘posh voice’ continues to make me laugh. ‘The raight payple’ indeed. And hey, DEREK WARE KLAXON! Another appearance for the former Doctor Who stuntman, this time as a hapless painter and decorator whose scaffolding tower trundles down the hill at the hands of Seymour. We need to start keeping our eyes open for our mate Stuart Fell here!

Compo, Clegg and Seymour hop on the 325 ‘Metrobus’ to Huddersfield, and – after 45 minutes of being treated like children by Seymour, Clegg pointedly requests ‘One and two halves please’ from the driver. He already knows full well how their relationship is shaping up.

Andrew: And, of course, it’s at this moment that the reason for Derek Ware’s casting is revealed. Having had his scaffolding fiddled with by Seymour, he now comes hurtling past the top deck of the bus before being flung into a river. The advantage of a casting a stuntman in this part, of course, is that you can clearly show his face throughout and Ware does an excellent line in comedy facial expressions. Actually, comedy facial expressions are a running theme with this film; see also Wally’s rare and toothy smile at Nora as he tries to hide the whippet in his jacket, and also be on the lookout for a real humdinger of an expression when Edie finds out that Barry has gone missing.

Bob: Wesley in a suit! Looking awkward! This scene rings incredibly true to me… I am 43 years old, and I have never seen my Dad in a suit. He definitely doesn’t own one. In the incredibly unlikely event of me ever getting married, I’ll frogmarch him off to get fitted up. Bloody hell, though… I really like Compo’s jacket! The green chequered affair that he puts on for the stag night! Drew, you will let me know if I start dressing like Compo, won’t you…?

Andrew: This is one of those moments where you can tell that Ronnie Hazlehurst is enjoying himself. There’s a lovely 1920s ballroom-inspired track that he uses for Seymour getting dressed for the stag do, and it transforms into an equally lovely tramps’ ball-inspired track, for Compo getting ready.

Bob: Don’t tell me you’ve been hanging around tramps’ balls again. Hey, have we been in the White Horse pub, Drew? And did it look like it does in this?

It’s still there…

The White Horse, Holmfirth

Andrew: Alan Bell’s book suggests that the sequence was filmed in the studio rather than on location. If this is the case then they’ve done an excellent job of capturing the layout and spirit of the place. We visited The White Horse on our very first trip to Holmfirth together, when this project was but a glint in our eyes. It was the pub where the only other occupant was a dog. From memory, the layout was pretty much the same, but looking at the website it would appear that they’ve since had a quite radical overhaul…

White Horse 2016I wonder if the owners of the establishment took offence after seeing the final episode? The script isn’t exactly complementary about the place!

Bob: This still has funny lines, but it actually feels more like a proper drama than the show has ever managed before. We see Nora adjusting Glenda’s wedding dress, and reminiscing about her own wartime ceremony, and then Compo and Seymour in the pub, commiserating each other over their absent wives. And suddenly Seymour sparks into life as a believable and sympathetic character! There’s a real sadness to him, much moreso than we got with Blamire or Foggy. He misses his wife and his job so much.

Andrew: Actually, this scene doesn’t work for me at all. Seymour’s story about his ex-wife and the electric oven highlights one of the problems I’ve had with the character on previous viewings. The events he describes have clearly happened to him, but they are very… cartoonish when compared to the existential failings of Blamire and Foggy’s pasts. That is to say, I don’t observe any of the finely-observed human tragedy that I so love from Clarke’s best work. There’s little grounding in reality with his backstory.

Bob: Oh, I think he’s just a florid – and rather drunk – storyteller. I’m warming to Seymour hugely, now. And these later sections in particular really drive home how much the format of the show has now changed… throughout the Blamire and Foggy years, the show was absolutely about the adventures of the main trio, and any supporting characters were met by them in the course of their wanderings. There were rarely any cutaways to scenes that didn’t feature the central threesome. But now… well, they’re everywhere! I’d dare to say that Compo and Clegg aren’t even the main characters in this – we’re cutting frantically between the pub scenes, Edie and Glenda, Wally and his dog, Howard and Marina… it’s all a bit dizzying.

A couple of cracking lines in the midst of all this…

Marina: There’s no substitute for marriage.
Ivy: And believe me, she’s tried…

…made me laugh, as did….

Pearl (to Howard): You should have no problem remembering the name Marina. Just think of it as a place frequented by sailors.

You don’t get sailors used as a signifier for all manner of naughtiness these days, do you? Oh, for the days when you average Jolly Jack Tar had one in every port.

Andrew: I really like the odd way that Ivy treats Crusher during the scene at Edie’s house. She treats him as both a child and as a substitute Sid!

Bob: This is a proper old-school stag night, isn’t it? Half-a-dozen maudlin blokes, sitting in their usual pub, getting increasingly melancholy as the night progresses. On – and this is crucial – THE NIGHT BEFORE THE ACTUAL WEDDING! This doesn’t happen any more, does it? Your modern ‘stag night’ is essentially a foreign holiday that takes place weeks before the ceremony. With no chance whatsoever of the groom regaining consciousness tied, half naked, to a lamppost and screaming ‘But I’m getting married in four hours!’ to bemused passers-by. Did that sort of thing EVER actually happen, outside of British sitcoms? Readers, over to you.

Andrew: Mike Grady as a drunken Barry, with his gormless smile, tucked in chin and blank blinking eyes, really reminds me of Stan Laurel. So much so, that I wonder if he had specifically recently been watching the 1930 short, Blotto. He’s great.

Bob: Michael Aldridge plays a brilliant drunk, too. At first maudlin, and now fired with enthusiasm. ‘I’ve always wanted to run barefoot across the moors by moonlight,’ mumbles the drunken Barry. ‘You shall, you shall!’ proclaims Seymour, with a flourish. He’s like a benevolent Uncle Monty.

Andrew: And, outside the pub, we are treated to a momentous moment; Howard and Marina decide that the best way to hide the true intentions of their meetings is to purchase a pair of bicycles. For better and worse, their cycling is going to become perhaps the longest-running gag in the series.

Bob: Another big laugh from me at Howard’s excuse for skulking in the car park with Marina… ‘I was just showing this lady the difference between Crossply and Radial tyres’. A line clearly inspired by this vintage Public Information Film, ubiquitous on TV in the 1970s and 80s…

And Barry’s gone missing! He’s stuck down a hole in the hills. But I’m more thrilled by the prospect of a lovely Joe Gladwin monologue as Wally walks his new-found dog along a deserted moorland road. And we get a fascinating insight into how he views his life with Nora, which I don’t think we’ve really had before. It’s a life of security for him really, isn’t it? ‘I’ve always felt safe at nights,’ he tells the happy-go-lucky whippet. ‘If we can get you in, she’ll look after you. Once you’re on the staff…’

It’s a lovely scene, and a charming little window into Wally’s soul. Wally’s not just there for downbeat comic relief, he’s a fully-rounded character, and – I think – one of the most underrated British TV characters of all time. Joe Gladwin deserved a leading role in his own sitcom. He’s SO good.

Andrew: Absolutely. This scene is one of a couple coming up that really pulls at my heartstrings. They’re so gentle, and melancholic, and just plain lovely. We’ve mentioned before that Christmas might bring out Clarke’s crankier side, so I wonder if weddings encourage his softer side to emerge. On the way to the wedding, Nora realises that she quite misses Wally now that she has bullied him out of sight, and in turn, this prompts an unexpected aside from Ivy that reduces me to jelly.

Bob: Blimey, yes… Ivy’s talking to Nora about how much she misses Sid. It’s the first time that Sid’s death has been acknowledged in the show, and it’s a lovely piece of writing and performance. ‘It’s the things that irritate that you miss the most,’ she ponders. ‘I miss mine every day. I go to that cemetery twice a week. You daren’t talk above a whisper. He never will feel at home if I’m not there raising my voice’.

It’s totally unexpected, but you’re right, Drew… I tend to find that big family occasions like that really do bring out the wistfulness in people. At every wedding I’ve ever been to, there’s a trace of sadness because ‘Your grandma would have loved this…’, or something similar. Glasses are raised, and lumps are in throats. And this is no different.

Andrew: I’ll confess now that I didn’t pick up on any of this upon first viewing, and I think that’s largely down to my dipping in and out of the series at random. Watching the series in order has really connected me to the characters in a way that I never expected, and I can only assume this was also the case for a proportion of the audience viewing at home, at the time. I feel like I know these people, and I miss them when they leave.

Bob: Everyone is going to the wedding, aren’t they? It’s a real gathering of the Summer Wine clans. This has been a very clean, and family-friendly episode, but this exchange made me laugh out loud…

Howard: You’ve just crushed a whole packet of cigarettes!
Pearl: I know what I will crush, one of these days.
Howard: My favourite filter tip.
Pearl: That’s the one…

Andrew: Having been told by Ivy to look for a girl who has had a hard time in life, Crusher comes to the rescue when Marina snaps a heel. They make a great visual double act, and I hope this little frisson of attraction is investigated further, but my continuity alarm is now sounding. Previously we had assumed that Marina and Clegg’s hinted-at back story was a reference to the popular Last of the Summer Wine stage play, but in said play wasn’t Marina introduced as Crusher’s girlfriend? As they appear to be locking lustful eyes for the first time here, that’s that theory out of the window!

Bob: Is this the church where Sam – of Getting Sam Home fame – was buried too? Yes, it clearly is. The Holy Trinity Church, in Hepworth. That’s a nice touch.

Hepworth Church

With Clegg having reversed Seymour’s car into the pond, and Barry brought to the church in a motorised wheelbarrow, Compo and Clegg are officially recruited to ‘The Utterthwaite Team’. They’re clearly thrilled to be part of a trio again, and there’s a lovely little cheesy grin from Clegg. I remember, back in Foggy’s first episode, us speculating that a little of their delight at Foggy’s appearance had seeped in from real life too, from genuine relief that Blamire’s disappearance didn’t mark the end of the show, and that Brian Wilde was clearly going to be a hugely successful new recruit. I get the same impression here… the feeling probably helped enormously by the fact that Michael Aldridge was, so everyone seems to say, one of the nicest men you’d ever hope to meet.

Andrew: In another moment of unexpected heart, Nora agrees to let Wally keep his whippet. And when Seymour offers to escort her into into the church, there’s also a lovely line in which she asserts her ownership of Wally…

Nora: Take your unwanted arm away before me husband sees you. He may be covered in whippet hairs, but he is mine, and it is his arm I shall be entering on.

Wally, of course, has obliviously wandered off, leaving Compo with the opportunity to cop a feel.

Bob: Oh, we should have had a cheeky ‘You Have Been Watching’ over these end credits! Every character gets a little chance to shine once again as the theme tune swells – it’s almost like a curtain call, reinforcing the fact that this is a reinvented show, and the new ensemble cast are all now firmly in place, and they mean business. Previous changes in the show have felt gradual, and part of a natural evolution, but this really does now feel like a clean sweep, and a fresh start.

Andrew: Upon first viewing, I didn’t particularly care for this film, but I think that was because I’d watched it back-to-back with Getting Sam Home and expected it to be more of the same. Instead, what we have is a beautiful piece of ensemble writing in which absolutely every character has a chance to shine, and one in which there is an unexpected amount of sheer warmth.

Bob: Yes, it’s a lovely, warm-hearted film. It doesn’t have the gritty, black humour of Getting Sam Home, but I enjoyed the gentle eccentricity of it. And Michael Aldridge did very well, easing himself unobtrusively into the role rather than storming in and stealing scenes. Such a generous and likeable actor. It’s like a Yorkshire Ealing Comedy.

EXCLUSIVE: An Interview with Bobby Ball

Bobby Ball
When the Summer Winos got wind of the fact that legendary British comedy duo Cannon and Ball were touring in a fascinating-looking new stage production called The Dressing Room, we couldn’t resist going along… and cheekily asking for an interview for the website! The duo appeared in three episodes of Last of the Summer Wine; The Swan Man of Ilkley (2005), Who’s That Talking to Lenny? (2006) and Get Out of That, Then (2008).

On Wednesday 27th July 2016, The Dressing Room came to Middlesbrough Theatre, and Bobby Ball very kindly agreed to meet us for a chat a few hours before the curtains went up; so we found a quite corner of the foyer, and settled down for a chinwag. Tommy was still stuck in transit on his way to the theatre at this stage, but Bobby was more than happy to natter away!

Here’s how the conversation went…

So how did you end up in Last of the Summer Wine? Can you remember the approach?

Last of the Summer Wine came to me for a small part – Lenny, he was called – and it’s such an iconic programme that I got a bit nervous about it. But I said yeah, I’ll do it… and I loved every minute of it. They really made me welcome. And then they asked me back a few times!  It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say ‘I’ve done Last of the Summer Wine.

There’s a bit in Alan Bell’s book, where he says that – before casting you – he came to see you and Tommy playing live in concert, to check you out…

It’s a funny thing… we went to sign merchandise at the end of the night, and there was this feller just stood there looking at me. I thought ‘He’s a bit weird, him!’ He never bought a book or anything, he was just looking at me. So me and Tommy went over afterwards and Tommy said ‘Are you alright, pal?’ And the feller said; ‘I don’t want to talk to you, it’s him I want to talk to. I’m Alan Bell, the director and producer of Last of the Summer Wine, and we’d like you to be in it!’

I thought, ‘Oh wow, he’s come all this way to tell me that, in front of a theatre’…  but it was great. It was smashing.

Was Tommy always going to be in it as well? He has a cameo right at the end of The Swan Man of Ilkley (Bobby’s giant, inflatable water-bound swan gets caught on the back of a barge, the driver of which is revealed to be Tommy…) 

They wanted him in it, so yes… and I said ‘They’ve got you in it, Tommy’. He said ‘Have you seen my part? I’m just sat in a boat, and I look at you!’ I said ‘Well, we’re together, aren’t we?’ and he said ‘Yeah… you’re right!’

You spend a lot of time in the water in that episode… did you do all your own stunts?

I did really… there was nowt to do, just walk in the water! ‘Lenny, the Swan Man of Ilkley’… I loved it. With that big swan! I’m a bit sick me, really, because when it comes on TV, I look to see how I am in it…

You can watch yourself on TV, then? Lots of actors can’t!

Oh, aye! Ego like you can’t believe!

Last of the Summer Wine always had a superb main cast, and we wondered about your memories of working with them. Peter Sallis, of course, was in every single episode of the show… how was he to work with?

Absolute legend. I know people say this, but it’s true…  there wasn’t one person on that programme that had an ego. They were just nice people, they helped you along and they made you feel right. Wonderful people, every one of them.

There’s a really nice bit in Alan Bell’s book where he says that – in the middle of filming your first episode – Peter Sallis took him aside, slapped him on the back and said ‘Good casting, Alan…’. Talking about you!

Did he really? Oh, that’s nice! I didn’t know that. That’s lovely. I’m a bit big-headed now, that’s fantastic!

How was Frank Thornton to work with, too?

I loved him. Off camera we’d have these little sneaky laughs… I can’t explain it, but he’d say ‘How are you, Bobby?’ and his little eyes used to glint! He was fantastic, I loved him.

And Brian Murphy as well?

Oh, aye! What did he used to call me? ‘The turn!’ ‘Here he is, the turn!’. I’d say ‘I’m an actor now’, and he’d say ‘No you’re not, Bobby… you’re a turn!’ (laughs)

When you did that first episode, did you expect to be asked back for further episodes?

No… that was one of the earliest acting jobs I ever did. So no, I thought it was a one-off, but then they asked me back a couple of times, which was fantastic. And then I would have gone into it regularly, but I had another job come up, and someone else had to take my place. So that was it.

So there was the offer for you to be a regular?

There was the offer, but I couldn’t do it… I was doing Mount Pleasant (for Sky 1), something like that.

Is acting onscreen a very different discipline to performing onstage, then?

Yeah, it’s a lot different. Onstage, you can do what you want. But with acting, you’ve got to stick to the words, and give your feed line to the next person… it’s a different kettle of fish. I like them both, but I prefer live.

BobbyBallGrab3We watched your second episode today, Who’s That Talking To Lenny?… in which you hear the voice of God, with a Barnsley accent!

I do! Looking up into the sky! Why do we always think God is in the sky? I don’t get that! We do that, don’t we?

Yes, ‘Him up There!’ We were fascinated by that, with you being a Christian yourself… do you know if that was written especially for you, and whether Roy Clarke knew about your experiences with your faith?

I really don’t know… but I am a Christian, and I enjoy it. And the thing with ‘that’ (looking up)… there would have been some religious people saying ‘Oh, he’s taking the mickey’, but I would never do that.

It’s very respectfully done.

Course it is… and if it hadn’t have been, I wouldn’t have done it. I enjoyed that one… well, I enjoyed them all.

You worked with Stephen Lewis in that one, who we’re kind of fascinated by…

Gggggghhhhhghghghhghghghg! (At this point all three of us descend into Stephen Lewis impressions, with a few inevitable ‘I ‘ate you Butler’s thrown in! It takes a while to compose ourselves)

What was he like in real life?

He was that! That’s him! I’m serious! ‘Ghghghgngngngngn, Bobby…’ (laughs)

Your third episode, Get Out Of That, Then has you spending quite a lot of time in a strait jacket.

Oh, I remember that! Tommy’s in it as well, so I was pleased about that. He’s a bit late today! He’ll be on his way somewhere. I really enjoyed them all, and it’s nice of you to do this, and keep it going.

Well, we grew up with it!

They should bring it back, but I’m not sure whether – if it was a different cast – it would work the same.

It evolved a lot over the years, but yeah… would it work without – say – Peter Sallis in it? He was the core of the show.

I think they should have a go, because they’re bringing all the others back! I’m old enough to be in it now, properly!

Who else would go in it, then?

Tommy! Tommy would be the corpse! (laughs)

Tommy gets a lot to do in Get Out Of That, Then… you become a double act again in that episode, but it’s a different double act to your normal stage personas…

That’s the only trouble with putting me and Tommy together in something, the minute you put us together, we cease to become the characters, and we become Cannon and Ball. In peoples’ minds. We can play the two separate characters, but they associate us with ‘Oh, it’s Cannon and Ball…’ so that’s what’s difficult for writers to do. Really difficult. And that’s why we don’t do a lot together, acting-wise. Lee Mack wanted us in Not Going Out, and put Tommy in as the vicar, but it still comes over as Cannon and Ball.

Is that something you’d like to try and overcome, then?

Sure, I’d like me and Tommy to work together on something on TV that was serious. Together. But I doubt it’ll ever happen, because they just see Cannon and Ball.

You should do The Sunshine Boys together!

Oh, I’d love to.

All of your Summer Wine filming was done on location, so you must have spent a lot of time around Holmfirth… it’s a beautiful town, did you enjoy being around the place?

Yeah! I think, you know… I lived for a while in a place called Todmorden, so I’m not sure if I was doing Summer Wine then. So I wasn’t so far away!

So you knew the area pretty well already?

Yeah, and I knew what the people were like, because when I first bought the farm, I went into the pub and one of the local guys kept staring at me… and he came over, and said ‘What are you doing here?’ I said ‘I’ve just bought the farm up the hill…’ He said ‘Yeah, but what are you doing here?’ I said ‘I’ve… just.. bought… the… farm… up… the… hill…’ He said ‘No, you don’t understand… I’ve just seen you on television, how have you got here?’ (laughs)

True story, that!

And we’re all here today because you and Tommy are onstage in a show called The Dressing Room… which sounds fascinating. Tell us a bit about it…

I had the idea of doing a play with my mates, so everyone who’s in this… we’re all very close friends. And it’s about what goes on in a dressing room, and I’ve called it a ‘playriety’… so it’s a play, and a variety show. So we go into the dressing room, then the compere goes out and does a ten-minute spot, then back into the dressing room, and the play goes on. It’s been very successful!

The Dressing Room is indeed great fun; and stars Cannon and Ball alongside Stu Francis, Jonnie Casson and Ann-Marie. It’s on tour throughout the rest of 2016, and the full dates are here…

http://www.cannonandball.com/shows.htm

Thanks so much to Bobby and to everyone at Middlesbrough Theatre for being so kind to us; it’s a lovely theatre and it’s always worth keeping an eye on their events…

https://www.middlesbroughtheatre.co.uk/

Series 8 Episode 6: Who's Looking After the Café, Then?


In which Foggy bids his farewells… (except he doesn’t)

Bob: What a beautiful sight to start the show… I know the show’s title isn’t to be taken especially literally, but I always feel like its soul truly resides in these drowsy, melancholy days of late summer… when the brambles are starting to ripen and the first mists appear in the meadows. And here we are, amidst tumbledown haystacks and a grumbling sky! It’s a time of year that I’ve always loved, tinged with melancholy for the end of the holidays, and secret excitement about the start of the new school year. I grew up in an old farming cottage next to an expanse of wheat fields, and climbing on the haystacks during the final weeks of August was an evocative annual ritual for me and my friends.

Andrew: I know I keep banging on about Alan Bell’s staging and direction, but this opening scene really is something special. In one take, we track back from the landscape to reveal two sets of feet, then we track back even further to reveal who those feet belong to, and to reveal Compo in the foreground. Then, as Compo continues to speak, the camera pushes forwards and rotates 180°, all the while remaining focused on Bill Owen. All of this in one continuous shot that lasts over three minutes and that’s captured on film during a dialogue heavy scene, on location, up a hill in the Holme Valley… in a BBC sitcom. I can’t stress how technically difficult this would potentially have been to pull off, and I can’t quite figure out how it was actually done. I can only imagine they used a crane. Alan Bell, if you’re out there, please get in touch!

Bob: Names Database Alert! Compo has seen Charlie Parblow in town. Foggy remembers him as a ‘tall lad… wore glasses… use to give the pencils out in 3C. Seemed to have a permanent discharge from his ear. Kept poking about at it with 3C’s pencils’. How many of these unseen schoolmates were based on characters from Roy Clarke’s own childhood, do we reckon?

Andrew: Oh, there has to be a grain of truth to most of them… and what a memory he must have!

Bob:  There’s a nice bit of class war here, too! Charlie Parblow is clearly – as my Mum would say – ‘a bit up himself’ and, Compo reveals in a Lord Snooty voice, has ‘just retired from office management’.

‘Peace at last,’ sniffs Clegg. ‘He’s no longer giving the pencils out’. Oh, I love their disdain for the self-regarding mores of the lofty executive world! Yes, when it comes to the crunch, it’s ALL just giving the pencils out. ‘He’s got a bit tucked away in a eunuch’s truss,’ deadpans Compo, which made me laugh so loud I scared the dog from his armchair. And these were the days when the humble truss (and its accompanying ruptures) was the very lifeblood of TV comedy! When was the last time anyone got a laugh out of a truss? Do they even exist any more, or is hernia technology now 4G downloadable? You can probably get an App to keep your unmentionables in place.

Andrew: Wesley appears from over the hill to the sound of deafening rock music and the trio are, of course, keen to bum a lift. I love how relaxed the interactions between Compo and Wesley are. Despite Compo’s disapproval of the music, they’re clearly kindred spirits. On a performance level, I find their relationship really interesting, because on the one hand you have the experienced and actually quite refined Bill Owen acting his socks off to convince as a scruffy oik; and on the other you have the relatively inexperienced yet brilliant Gordon Wharmby feeling like he was just simply born into the part.

Bob: That defeaning rock music is clearly taken from a ‘ROCK STARS RIFFAGE’ BBC library music album, too – I don’t recognise it, and I know my way around a screaming axe solo. I like the fact that Wesley is a devout heavy rock fan, it’s a nicely unexpected little character touch.

Andrew: And one that I don’t think will ever come up again!

Bob: Oh, there are OTHER PEOPLE in the café! That actually looks a bit weird. Although I had started to wonder how Ivy kept the business alive, seeing as Compo, Clegg and Foggy seemed to be her only customers. And they only ever bought three teas.

Andrew: Ivy is preparing to head off somewhere, but where? It’s hard to imagine what would be important or alluring enough to tempt her away from her natural habitat behind the counter.

Bob: Is the Names Database cooling down? Crank it up again! Clegg reckons Ivy looks ‘just like my missus used to look on the days that the Rev Garth Winstanley BA was due to call. He’d chat confidently about the Lord and eat fruitcake’. Oh, this is worthy of Alan Bennett. I absolutely believe in these people, in a man so proud of his degree (I hope it was a 2:2 in Theology from some minor university) that he continued to use it as a title for his entire adult life. I’m going to start being Bob Fischer BA. I want it at the start of all my entries on this website.

Andrew: I always feel that BPBW (Blue Peter Badge Winner) is just as valid an addendum to any respectable name. I really enjoy Crusher’s interactions with the customers during this sequence. Jonathan Linsley is on brilliant form, walking the fine line between intimidating and cuddly.

Bob Fischer BA: Yes, he’s  great… he has a fabulous rapport with Jane Freeman, they work so well together.  So Ivy is going away for the day, she doesn’t trust Crusher to run the café, and she’s delegating to… Mr Crabtree! I’m fascinated by Mr Crabtree, who is he? Up until this point, Ivy seems to have had utter disdain for the entire male population of the planet… but it doesn’t apply to Mr Crabtree! He’s a dapper, prissy-looking little man, and she clearly respects him enormously. Let the speculation commence! Drew, who IS Mr Crabtree, and what does he mean to Ivy? Come on! Come on! You’re talking to a man with a 2:2 in… etc.

Andrew: OK, my guess is that Sid and Ivy went on a daytrip decades ago and popped into an establishment operated by Mr. Crabtree. Ivy was dubious at first, but was won over by his charm and organisational skills. Sid, of course, thought Crabtree was a bit of a ponce and grew to resent the man as the years went by, with Ivy bringing his name up every time she needed an example of the kind of man Sid should aspire to be. There. How’s that for fan fiction?

Bob: We definitely need a section on the website. By the way, I’m bored with my degree now. I’m going back to being ‘umble.

I’d also like to point out that Mr Crabtree is played by Gil Morris, who was Zaphod Beeblebrox’s private braincare specialist Gag Halfrunt in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where he delivers the immortal line ‘Vell… Zaphod’s just zis guy, you know?’ A series also directed by Alan Bell! Which, I assume, is how he ended up in this. These were the days when TV directors hired their own casts, and often went for trusted actors that they’d worked with previously.

Andrew: Mr Crabtree is put out action by a stray piece of luggage that topples from the car roof of Ivy’s dissatisfied customers. By the way, do we think they count as another prototype for Keeping Up Appearances’ Hyacynth and Richard?

Bob: Oh yes, indeed! There have been a few now, haven’t they? Roy Clarke loves his ‘ladies with pretentions’ married to grounded, downtrodden husbands. I suppose Edie and Wesley aren’t a million miles away, either.

And awww… another Wally and Nora cutaway. The Battys almost seem to have their own sitcom within a sitcom now, and these little inserts are never unwelcome.

Andrew: Do we have any musically inclined readers out there? If so, I want to make a commission. Surely the world needs to hear the hypothetical theme tunes for both the non-existant ‘Sid and Ivy’ and the ‘Nora and Wally’ sitcoms. Also, what would they have been called? I’m on a speculative roll now!

Bob: Wally is being reluctantly fitted for a new suit, and – in a marvellous bit of continuity – the man breathing warmly on the end of the tape measure is Mr Fairburn, the Co-op tailor from Getting Sam Home! Lesser sitcoms wouldn’t have bothered getting the same actor back for such a short scene (David Williams barely has a line), and I’m sure 99% of the audience won’t even have noticed. But, watching these shows in order, it creates a real sense of verisimilitude, and a feeling that this town and these people truly exist. In real life, you don’t see the people you know all the time, you might just bump into them once every couple of years. And Summer Wine is exactly like that.

Andrew: Both Clarke and Bell must have liked Williams, because I’m thrilled to tease you with the fact that this isn’t the last time we will encounter him on our journey through the series.

The tailor’s shop, however, isn’t the same Co-op location that we saw in Getting Sam Home. Can anybody with a better head for geography figure out where we are in relation to Holmfirth? There’s a nice clear view out of the window if we’re looking for clues.

Bob: Joe Gladwin has one line in every episode that pretty much steals the show. Here’s this weeks…

Nora: I’m fed up with me taking you out in your old suit.
Wally: We could go out less…

The dog had only just settled back on his armchair.

Andrew: Every line that Wally utters in relation to his new suit is golden. The way in which Gladwin can mine a a phrase like, ‘It’s a very popular material’ for such world-weary resignation is a wonder to behold.

Bob: So, with the dapper Mr Crabtree run over by departing customers, our main trio – and Crusher – take over the running of the café themselves, against Ivy’s will. Compo has a large box of Walker’s Crisps, which is disappointing, as Walkers are by far the inferior brand to the prominent Seabrooks varieties we saw in Series 7.

Andrew: You’re not still hoping for that sponsorship deal, are you?

Bob: At least I’m honest about my proclivities. A mere five episodes after Foggy steals a foot measure from a shoe-shop, we’re now faced with Compo surreptitiously pocketing the payment for a rather nasty-looking ham salad! This lot aren’t safe to be let out onto the streets! Ivy was right not to trust them, and would never have had this trouble with Mr Crabtree. He looked like a nice man. But it is nice to have a reminder that Compo’s not always a harmless pest… back in 1973, he could quite a selfish, vindictive little character, and a bit of that unpleasantness still lingers on.

Andrew: There are few more reliable staples of slapstick comedy than a set of step ladders and a plank of wood. Obviously things don’t go as Foggy has planned, so he has to commandeer Wesley’s van, as Compo and Cleff take to the roof in order to clean the café’s sign. Can I sense the payoff to Wesley’s sudden liking for deafening rock music approaching?

Bob: Yes, of course! And, as Doctor Who fans, I think we’re within our rights to point out a slightly dodgy bit of Colour Sepration Overlay as Compo finds himself stranded on top of Wesley’s van, surfing his way through the streets of Holmfirth as ROCK GUITAR RIFF #27 pounds out of the car stereo. Chased by Crusher and the gang… oh, it’s like Bullitt. Except Steve McQueen didn’t end up in a haystrack with Howard and Marina.

Andrew: It’s a well earned slapstick payoff, but surely the highlight has to be Compo sneaking a peek at a disrobing Nora Batty. I also feel it is my pedantic duty to point out that Wesley’s route through the town once again adheres to real world geography. Even the CSO background plate matches up! Oh, and is that our friend Stuart Fell standing in for Bill Owen?

Bob: Surely! Well, that was good fun, with more cracking dialogue. And no indication at all that it was Brian Wilde’s swansong, so I assume at the time of filming that he was still undecided on doing the following series? Of course, we both know that, in reality, he was only away for a handful of years, but – as far as we knew at the time – Foggy had left the show for good, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get a proper goodbye here.

Andrew: It’s not a proper farewell, but at least his character is on top form here. Rather than seriously attempt to run the café, it’s more like he, Compo, and – to a lesser extent – Clegg, are playing at shop. Foggy is only interested in the situation because he gets to wear a nice striped apron and boss people around.

Bob: I think we have to give a big mention to Brian Wilde here, who came into an already-established show and played a huge part in transforming it from respected sitcom to national sensation. Foggy is a brilliant character, perfectly written by Roy Clarke, but – in the hands of a lesser actor – could have seemed little more than a figure of fun. But Wilde made Foggy feel absolutely real… I believe totally in this forlorn, deluded man; clinging onto his fantasies of military glory because his real day-to-day life has been too mundane and meaningless for him to accept as reality. He’s a sad, unmarried old man, and he has to invent justification for that… and it’s a testament to Wilde that, sitting in the middle of this Wilter Mitty-style web of self-deceit, Foggy is so damn likeable as well. He’s one of the sitcom greats.

Andrew: He had a lousy taste in scripts, though, didn’t he? I just can’t get over the fact that he considered the scripts for this series were below par. I think this has easily been the most consistently excellent run of the series so far, with a far more satisfying blend of character and physical comedy than we have seen previously.

 

Series 8 Episode 5: The Woollenmills Of Your Mind


In which Compo gives up his knees for Nora Batty…

Andrew: I think we’ve been spoiled by Alan Bell’s episode openings for this series, because the static, wide shot of Nora’s steps that greets us here suddenly feels out of place – just by virtue of not being the rolling hills of the Holme Valley.

Bob: We don’t get many episodes starting first thing in the morning though, do we? But a toast-nibbling Compo is being chased from those steps, and – for the second episode running – Howard is cleaning the windows, so all feels right with the world to me.

Andrew: Intentional or not, I love the fact that even Compo’s toast is a bit scruffy!

Bob: Holmfirth is being overrun by joggers in training for ‘The Yorkshire Marathon’ – which, in 1985, was a Roy Clarke joke, as no such thing existed… but now it does! The inaugural Yorkshire Marathon took place in 2013…

Andrew: If those parentheses represent the suggestion that we should get involved, then I’m afraid that’s just one hare-brained scheme too many for my liking! I’m with the clearly fearful Clegg on this one; the sight of runners in training is a shortcut to indicating guilt and self-loathing. Actually, I might be projecting, there.

Bob: You milksop! I’m with Howard here… ‘I’ve got this urge to push myself to the frontiers of human experience’. I like his style. I remember, as a student, once boldly proclaiming to my housemates that I intended to bring myself up to an Olympian level of physical fitness. Running was free, swimming was cheap, and I had the loan of a rather rickety bike and time on my hands, so what could possibly go wrong? Six months wasn’t a long time to follow a punishing daily regime of triathlon training, and I was genuinely convinced that – by the summer – I would have a physique that would put Daley Thompson to shame. The fact that I was expounding this theory while sitting in the Wagon and Horses eating Scampi fries, drinking Robinson’s Best Bitter and smoking my way frantically through a packet of twenty Silk Cut was neither here nor there.

And a lovely bit of physical comedy here, too – in one seamless take, Foggy takes an old lady’s arm to help her across the road, gets lost in a deluge of joggers, and emerges on the side with a baffled-looking adolescent fitness freak on his arm. It’s fantastic, and I had to wind the DVD back to see how it was done!

Andrew: In the café, Ivy is keen that her clean floors remain unsullied until they have dried. She’s at full volume here, but something occurs to me that I’ve never really registered before – Ivy and Clegg rarely interact, do they? If Ivy yells at Foggy, he’ll jump out of his skin and try to fight back with some wartime nonsense that winds her up even further, but Clegg doesn’t really acknowledge Ivy’s barked orders, and she acts as though she can’t hear his airy musings. They barely even make eye contact here!

I quite like that. The two longest running characters, when positioned alongside one another, seem to operate on completely different planes of existence. Does that make sense, or am I having another funny turn?

Bob: I’ve never noticed that! Maybe Clegg just isn’t offensive enough to truly get on Ivy’s wick? Compo, meanwhile, is concerned that Nora is unhappy. ‘The world’s leading expert on rice pudding?’ stammers Foggy, splendidly. ‘What do you want to make her happy for, she’ll only be miserable…’ What a delightfully Northern attitude… I’ve known generations of grumpy Teessiders over the years who have positively revelled in their own misery, and seem to draw their entire life’s purpose from it. I was once walking away from a 3-0 Middlesbrough win, a fortnight before Christmas, a result that had sent us to an unprecedented fifth place in the Premiership… and got locked into a conversation with hangdog old timer who solemnly told me it was ‘the worst bloody Boro side I’ve ever seen in my life’.

I like Foggy’s declaration that Nora takes great pleasure in ‘sudden deaths’, too. My Mum is exactly the same! She only buys the Evening Gazette for the Deaths column. ‘Ooooh, let’s see who we know…’

Andrew: Is Compo off his trolley here, or is he actually able to perceive the subtle changes in Nora’s behaviour that would suggest she is feeling neglected? It isn’t just lust on his part any more, is it? He really cares for her. With Wally such a passive figure who can’t wait to escape from her, is Compo actually her soul mate?

Bob: We’re definitely entering very poignant territory here… Compo gets sentimental thinking about the death of Marilyn Monroe, and upset that she passed on thinking that nobody cared about her. And declares that Nora should never have to suffer the same fate. This has to be Roy Clarke’s own sentiment, surely? It’s really touching and heartfelt.

Can we put ‘Fragrance’ into the Names Database? A girl that Compo claims to have once dated, she was a dab hand with a shovel, and ran away to work on an oil rig. Is this nonsense, do you reckon? Compo isn’t really known for his tall tales, but usually – when he reminisces like this – Clegg or Foggy will chip in with memories that back up his story. But this time, even Clegg clearly doubts the veracity of it all! Is Compo showing off to make himself look tough in the eyes of Crusher?

Andrew: Compo’s exclamation that Crusher has been ‘blackberrying with a coloured bird’ really dates the series here, not just for the indelicate racial descriptor, but also his judgement of her punk attire. He makes her sound less like a real person and more like Molly Sugden dolled up for Are You Being Served! By the way, I’m pretty sure that this has been cut for the series’ recent satellite and cable broadcasts.

Bob: Oooooh, a comedy vicar! You don’t see many of those these days.

Andrew: The one thing that can still strike fear into the heart of the formidable Ivy. Don’t worry; we’ll be having plenty more of those before the series has finished.

Bob: And more poignancy here, as our trio ponder on their respective romantic lives. Compo describes Foggy as ‘sexless’, which Foggy denies… actually, is he claiming to have a secret lady friend here? Let’s not forget, Foggy is the only member of the trio that we’ve actually seen enjoying any kind of active love life – back in Series 4, he went to stay with a charming lady in Wales! And Clegg chips in with his heartbreaking observation that ‘my marriage worked reasonably well… and then she died, which I always took as a form of criticism’. This is really good stuff, and the show hasn’t been this emotionally raw for quite some time.

Andrew: It’s beautifully written, which makes me feel all the more guilty for observing the following piece of pointless trivia: as our trio travel between the café and Nora’s house, they follow the correct geographical route through the town – a rarity for film and television! Oh, and I can’t remember where we last left this, but the shop at the end of Compo and Nora’s road is now G.W. Castle Ltd. I’m determined to keep track of it changing hands through the years, so please let me know if I miss a sudden change!

Bob: It’s sad to see Joe Gladwin looking a little slow on his feet, but these scenes between Nora and Wally really bring these episodes to life. He’s checking to see if her ‘wireless’ is too loud, as they’ve clearly had a complaint from a neighbour! What a delightfully dated scene in two ways, 1) nobody says the word ‘wireless’ any more… apart from me, when I’m on the wireless. I use it all the time, just to confuse any passing teenagers. And I undoubtedly got it from my Gran, who used to refer to a tiny, battered transistor on the kitchen top as a ‘wireless’, and the merest mention of the word is enough to transport me back to those days, cleaning out a bowl of pudding mix while Terry Wogan burbled in the background. Oh, and 2) Nobody cares about upsetting their neighbours with loud music any more. I once lived next door to two girls who seemed to run a boutique nightclub in their front room from 6pm onwards every night.

‘Don’t you come here complaining about me and Jimmy Young,’ snaps Nora. In 1985, Jimmy Young was doing his ‘JY Prog’ on Radio 2 from 10.30am – 1pm every weekday, in the days when Radio 2 still had the spirit of ‘The Light Programme’ lingering on, long before the days of Chris Evans and Jeremy Vine. Nora would have lapped it up. I can’t find anything from 1985, but here’s a compilation of Radio 2 clips from 1989 that sweeps me back. Jimmy Young starts at 8 mins 30 secs…

Bob: Another really sweet scene, as Compo gives Nora a tiny flower that he’s clearly half-inched from somewhere, and she looks secretly thrilled… until she sniffs it. ‘He lets them damn ferrets get everywhere’, she barks. I LOLed, as any passing teenagers might say. There you go, a tentative olive branch from me to the younger generation.

Andrew: I’d stick to the wireless if I were you.

Bob: And another little moment where we should celebrate the genius of Ronnie Hazlehurst, as Compo attempts to go running to impress Nora, and a Summer Wine-esque take on the Chariots of Fire theme sparks up! Beautifully done. I like this little exchange as well, as Compo wheezes past…

Foggy: Do you know the way to Chesterfield?
Clegg: It’s no use asking me about foreign travel.

This really has the feel of an early episode! I was expecting a grand stunt at the end, but no… they just quickly sack off the fitness campaign and head to the pub to get pissed! Which is startlingly reminiscent of my own experiences.

Andrew: The pub they’ve visited this week is The White Horse at Jackson Bridge, should anybody be keeping track of these things. It’s one of the most frequently-used locations from the series and nestles just below Clegg, Howard, and Pearl’s street. Not the street used in this series, mind you. But that’s a story for another day…

Bob: And as they emerge from The White Horse into the night, Compo is singing a song that begins ‘There was a man, he had a wife…’ and is clearly about to descend into filth. Does anyone know the rest of it? Knowing Roy Clarke, it’ll almost certainly be real.

Another laugh out loud moment for me, meanwhile, at their discovery of Howard teaching Marina ‘the rudiments of jogging by night’! Oh, there’s a euphemism to relish. And we end with a drunken Compo hobbling to Nora’s window to tell her he’ll always care for her. Oh, what a lovely, sweet, romantic episode. I really wasn’t expecting that at all. It’s almost a rumination on the nature of (platonic?) love, and the importance of… well, just being there for the people that you care about. And how easy it is to forget that. I loved that.

Andrew: There is a very strange moment during this sequence that I’d love to get to the bottom of. As it’s set outside of Nora’s house, the scene was obviously filmed on location. But for just one shot of Compo being doused with water, we cut to what is clearly studio videotape. I wonder if something went wrong on location? Was there a hair in the gate? Did the camera get splashed? I suppose that’s the one shot that, if it was technically deficient, couldn’t just be cut around in the editing – you want to see Compo getting drenched! I bet the answer to that one lurks in the BBC Written Archives Centre somewhere. Fancy another romantic weekend away, Bob?

Bob:  Me, you and a warehouse full of internal BBC memos? You know how to show a middle-aged man a good time. I’d love to! We might even find out why this episode is called The Woollenmills Of Your Mind. Does anyone have any idea? Did we miss something?

Series 8 Episode 4: Catching Digby's Donkey


In which Howard pines for fishnet tights…

Bob: Our first glimpse of Howard! Blimey, the new characters are coming thick and fast now. Am I right in thinking that Robert Fyfe, Jean Fergusson and Juliette Kaplan were all drafted into the TV show after impressing in the Summer Wine stage production?

Andrew: Yes, that’s right. The play had actually debuted in Hillingdon in 1982 and then transferred to Eastbourne, but Alan Bell had only been mildly impressed. It wasn’t until he saw the show in Bournemouth, by which time it had been largely recast, that he saw some potential for characters crossing over into the television series. Roy Clarke obviously agreed, and so we ended up with not only Howard, Marina, and Pearl, but also Crusher. And this is par for the course here, but don’t they all look young?!

We also came very close to seeing Fulton Mackay join the cast at this point, as a replacement for Foggy! After reading the scripts for this series, Brian Wilde had insisted that he wouldn’t appear unless they were rewritten, but Alan Bell was very confident that there was nothing wrong with what Clarke had written. Cannily, he got in touch with Mackay, Wilde’s Porridge co-star, to see if he would be interested and available to join the series, and within half an hour Wilde was on the phone to confirm his own availability!

Bob: The wily old goat! Howard is great here, and instantly the dialogue and characterisation is back to its sparkling best. He’s up a ladder, washing the windows for Pearl (who we catch a first glimpse of, glowering from inside the house) and rueing the missed opportunities in his life… the lack of ‘glossiness’ and the older, exotic woman he failed to elope with as a teenager. ‘I was keen… idealistic… ready to devote my life to 30-year-old showgirls,’ he muses. ‘She had fishnet tights…’ He’s such a sad character, and suddenly his forlorn pursuit of Marina makes perfect sense. He’s spent his entire life trying to compensate for what he sees as a life-changing lack of teenage gumption.

‘You weren’t ready for a woman who played the mouth organ like that,’ Clegg ponders, which might just be the most erotically-charged statement he’s ever made. Clearly Clegg knew her as well, then! Do we assume this happened in the pre-war period, and said showgirl was part of a travelling circus that came to Holmfirth?

S8E4dAndrew: It’s very interesting to discover some of the characters’ backstories here and how tragic they are, in a way. As the years go by, Howard and Marina are definitely rounded off into cuddlier, more innocent, creatures. Howard certainly doesn’t possess the slight edge that he has here.

Bob: Oh, this is right back on form. Our trio are on the hills, discussing Howard… ‘His adolescence has gone on so long, it’s spilled over into his mid-life crisis’, claims Clegg. A phenomenon that I think is now the default setting for most modern British men! We don’t grow up and then regress, we just stay as overgrown children for our entire lives. I’m 43 years old and still live like a student. I have Star Wars figures on a shelf in the front room.

Some more sensational revelations about Foggy’s youthful exploits too… he ‘worked as an office boy in a ladies stocking factory’ – an occupation where I imagine he spent his entire working day in a state of perpetual embarrassment – and then, once again, he goes on to justify his wartime signwriting career. ‘After Dunkirk there was a critical shortage of frontline signwriters,’ he muses. ‘I’ve seen men’s curlicues and serifs go completely to pieces…’

Magnificent. And the truth is too hard for Foggy to face, isn’t it? He’s an elderly, unmarried man, without any of the compensations of old age… the comforting wife; the proud, successful children, the wide-eyed grandchildren listening to his stories of wartime endeavour. He HAS to invent this façade of lifelong military service to justify his painfully solitary lifestyle… ‘the way of the warrior’, and all that. Otherwise, he’d have to face the truth – that he’s just old, and lonely. It’s really bitter-sweet.

Andrew: This is a very character-heavy episode, and all the better for it. I love the depth that is revealed in episodes like this, even when it’s at the expense of the plot. Six minutes go by before Digby’s titular donkey arrives on the scene, and at this point one might be forgiven for expecting some slapstick chaos to kick off, but instead we take a diversion into the pub for some pint-side meditations.

Bob: A pub with dimpled pint glasses! When I was a kid, nothing was a more potent symbol of adulthood than the dimpled pint glass. I’ve just bought a load for the kitchen cupboard.

Andrew: I don’t think a dimpled glass is going to transform your drinking Nesquick in your pyjamas into a shortcut to adulthood. Have you considered getting a proper job?

Bob: No. I’ve seen what they do to other people. Hey, I love Ormeroyd, the swivel-eyed lunatic at the bar. ‘I’ll fight anyone for a quid!’ he rages. When I first started hanging around public houses in the late 1980s, men like this absolutely existed. I remember walking down Stockton high street late one night with a couple of mates, when a bloke just like Ormeroyd approached us from a pub doorway with the classic opening gambit ‘Howay lads, fancy a scrap? You and me?’ He followed us for five minutes, desperate for us to have a friendly ruck. And he was really polite about it! He had nothing personal against us, he just fancied a bloody good barney down a back alley! We had to jump into a taxi to get rid of him.

S8E4bActually, there’s a bit of Yosser Hughes about Omeroryd. I bet Roy Clarke loved Boys from the Blackstuff. And he’s played by David Hatton, who was a sitcom regular in the 1970s and 80s… and is still going strong! He’s in Sky Atlantic’s This Is Jinsy, which I’ve never seen – but it looks great…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_is_Jinsy

And so poor old Digby, clapped out from chasing his own donkey around the paddock, enters the pub… and takes Ormeroyd up on his offer! They head outside for a friendly fight. I swear this genuinely happened in my teenage years… there were middle-aged men around who just liked fighting. No tempers involved, they just got a lot of pleasure from hitting people. As Clegg says in this very episode, ‘It’s turning into a really good day for idiots’.

Andrew: That’s part of the delicate balancing act one enters into down the pub. You really want an entertaining idiot to turn up, but you’ve got to be careful not to cross over into becoming one yourself.

Bob: While Foggy heads off – carrot in hand – to bring Digby’s donkey under control, we get our first real glimpse of Pearl, in the café. And blimey, if there was ever any doubt that Summer Wine is now an ensemble sitcom… here’s Pearl, Nora, Wally, Ivy and Crusher all in the same scene! It’s like David Croft has suddenly taken control.

Andrew: The flavour of this series is quite different as a result. We’re definitely in a new era of the show and we touched upon the reasons for this when we chatted with the lovely Juliette Kaplan. To quote from her interview:

“I became very friendly with Jane Freeman – I still am – and I asked her once how everyone had felt about us all coming in, like usurpers. And she said that they’d had to expand the cast to give Roy Clarke more material to work with. It was fine with them. I wonder if I might have been a bit snotty in the same situation… although no, I don’t think so”

I really like the fact that this episode, which serves to introduce three key new characters, doesn’t actually focus on them. The temptation may have been to mine the stage play for its best material and put Pearl, Howard, and Marina at centre stage during their screen debut, but there’s something about the fact that our trio are off having an almost completely separate adventure that makes this feel a little more true to life. Howard’s disappearance is mainly played out amongst the supporting cast and, as such, the new characters are instantly aligned with the existing players in the audiences mind, rather than feeling like one-shot guests. It’s a very neat trick.

Bob: Pearl’s quite a sympathetic character here, too… ‘I left him cleaning windows,’ she says. ‘Turned me back, and he’s gone…’. Like all the Summer Wine women, despite everything, she loves her husband and wants him by her side.

And is it me, or for the first time ever, as our heroes lie back in the heather, does Peter Sallis let his accent slip, just for one line? ‘It seems to me we’re going to a lot of trouble,’ he says, and that’s not Clegg’s voice! Ha! First time I’ve ever noticed that. I think we can forgive him, eh? He’s pure Yorkshire again by the end of the sentence!

Andrew: It is rare! Actually, it has only just dawned on me how infrequently we talk about Peter Sallis as a performer. We’re far more inclined to comment upon something that Wilde or Owen is doing and I think that’s probably down to the fact that I can’t think of a better example of an actor merging with his character. At this stage in the show, Sallis just is Clegg – it’s effortless.

Bob: These café scenes, with Pearl desperately concerned about Howard, are really nicely done. And it’s interesting that, although she suspects he has another woman, she clearly doesn’t know about Marina at this point! ‘He won’t wear the same shirt for more than two days…’ she cries, unnecessary hygiene being a dead giveaway of extra-marital activity. It sounds hilarious now, but I think the idea of ‘bath night’ still extended well into the 1980s… many families only had one bath a week! Any advance on that was seen as unseemly decadence, and would spark off all kinds of suspicions.

‘They always want more than their share of everything… including original sin’, grumbles Nora. I always forget she’s really religious, but it’s good to have the odd reminder. I can’t imagine Wally has ever had much original sin in his life, though. Werthers Original Sin, possibly.

And so we end with our donkey-chasing trio catching Howard and – yes – Marina dancing the tango in a remote field! Good grief, how young does Jean Fergusson look? Marina is clearly a substitute for the exotic showgirl that Howard has spent his whole life mooning over, and the whole thing makes perfect sense now. Is there a hint that she has a bit of history with Clegg as well? Blimey! I’ve never picked up on this before! ‘Norman Clegg that was…’ she breathes, clearly overcome with dormant lust. ‘That once dallied with my affections…’

Oh please, let’s NEVER have this explained. I love the intrigue and ambiguity of it all. ‘Norman Clegg that was…’ is a real phrase from my childhood too, along with using ‘as I live and breathe’ as a formal greeting. ‘As I live and breathe! Drew Smith that was…’. It’s all very Yorkshire, and I think Middlesbrough in the 1970s had more of its culture in common with the White Rose County than anyone in the modern town would ever care to admit.

Andrew: Interestingly, when our trio first spy Howard and Marina in the distance and realise who it is they have caught out, Clegg also exclaims ‘Not that Marina he once got us mixed up with?!’ Given that we’ve never seen these characters before, this must be a reference to the events of the stage play – and I’m sure that must be against some sort of BBC guideline! If anybody can point me in the right direction I’d love to get my hands on a copy of the script to said play, because – based on this little quirk of continuity – I’m guessing that there’s a lot of material contained within it that wasn’t actually recycled for the series.

Bob: That was a great episode. Quite old school in many ways, with the donkey and the pub fighting, but also forward-looking, as the new ensemble cast begins to quickly take shape.

Andrew: In quite an achievement for a half hour comedy, we learn something new about almost every single character on screen. Not in a direct way either, but through little hints at their back-story and the ways in which they choose to present themselves to the world. It’s a master class of world-building.

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