Series 9 Episode 7: Set The People Free


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob: Nail on head. That was wonderful.

An Interview With Roy Clarke


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

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

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

It went like this…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, true.

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

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

Did you have any input into any of the casting?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This kept happening for forty years…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norman Wisdom…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right! Interesting…

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

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

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

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

Joe Gladwin is also a man that fascinates us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a bit.

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

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

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

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

Are you a nostalgic person, as a rule?

Aren’t we all?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you miss it? Do you miss writing it?

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

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

…they’re almost real.

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

Right! (Laughs) That can happen, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It sounds like you weren’t too keen… 

Mmmm… not wise to leave your roots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With great sitcoms you need some poignant acting, too.

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

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

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

Did you have any?

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

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

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

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

And it’s carrying on?

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

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

Series 9 Episode 6: The Ice-Cream Man Cometh

   
In which Compo’s little wiggly thing lets loose…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Winos - Live 2018

Two Men, 295 Episodes, One Obsession…

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

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

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

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

FULL 2018  LIVE DATES

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

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

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

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

Official teaser trailer now online!


 

 

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


In which Compo experiences some ups and downs…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series 9 Episode 4: The Really Masculine Purse

 

S9E4gIn which Crusher fears he’s developed a squeak…

Bob: What an incredible view across the hills at the opening of this episode! I think this might be most we’ve ever seen of the Holme Valley in a single shot. There’s a reservoir just visible on the right-hand of the screen, too. Where we can we find that? We need to go there. I love a good reservoir.

Andrew: I think that now he knows how much Alan Bell is up for shooting on location, we’re going to see more of Roy Clarke’s love of the Yorkshire landscape coming across – a love that probably reaches its peak with the publication of 1989’s Summer Wine Country book. This scene also has a fantastic transition… from Seymour contemplating a Power behind the Universe to him immediately discounting it, due to his own lack of success in life.

We next see the trio travelling through the countryside via tractor, and a subtle bit of visual trickery. I’m 99% sure that stuntman Stuart Fell, rather than Bill Owen, is sitting on top of the tractor’s cab and that the reason the vehicle stops next to a gap in a dry stone wall is to allow the two performers to covertly switch positions. That’s some daredevil stunting right there!

Bob: I like the continuing character trait of Compo’s friends reminding him of Hollywood film stars, in increasingly unlikely fashions. Nora has previously reminded him of Dorothy Lamour, and now it’s Seymour that makes him think of the 1930s and 1940s Western movie legend Randolph Scott. Only from the back, though! It’s lovely that all of the celebrities in his head are from that golden age of Hollywood, too – all dating from around the time of the Second World War, when the young Compo was more than likely down the local flicks every other night. Like everyone, he’ll have a ‘cut-off point’ when it comes to popular culture… I bet he hasn’t seen a film made later than about 1965. It’s also the cue for a superb little Ronnie Hazlehurst ‘Cowboys and Injuns’ sting; it’s pure ‘get off your horse and drink your milk…’

I like this exchange, too:

Seymour: Would you know a cowslip if you saw one?
Compo: I didn’t know cows wore them….

What a long-lost item of lingerie is the humble ‘slip’! Do any women even wear them any more? I bet this confuses our American readers…

Andrew: In the cafè, our trio are charged 60p for three cups of tea. This is your department, Bob; how does that rate compare to what we’ve seen on the blackboard in previous series?

S9E4hBob: What do you think I am, some kind of insane obsessive? Anyway, it transpires that Seymour keeps his loose change in a small purse, something that Compo fears will fatally compromise the collective masculinity of all three of them! ‘Another tulip…’ he mutters. Although how can a man who looks like Randolph Scott from behind ever be considered effeminate? Nevertheless, we’re thrown into an episode that I’m going to pretentiously claim is an examination of traditional masculinity in the mid-1980s, and whether it even needs to be maintained in modern-day Britain. In the age of equality, is fair to consider a man a tulip for keeping his small change in a purse?

Andrew: Ivy’s reaction to Seymour’s counting out his change – much like her reaction to anything he does at this stage – isn’t a positive one, but Compo still suggests that Seymour ‘could be lucky there’. Is this a rare acknowledgement that Sid has passed on, as opposed to him just hiding upstairs somewhere?

Bob: Gosh, really? A suggestion of impending romance between Seymour and Ivy? The mind boggles. She’d never let a man like Seymour finger her buns.

Clegg is often referred to as the ‘philosophical’ member of the trio, so I’m delighted to point out that the following musing…

Clegg: How fortunate it is that your lips are at the front… if they were at the back, you’d never know what you were eating.

…is remarkably similar to a philosophy lecture that I once enjoyed at university. Yes, you read that right – I ENJOYED it! It was the final lecture of the autumn term in my first year, and the man at the lectern was the extraordinary Colin Lyas, a very respected philosophical writer, and a man who would illustrate complicated academic points by showing clips from Laurel and Hardy films in his bachelor flat on campus, while dishing out coffee and brandy to little gatherings of us pasty, wide-eyed students. He was utterly fabulous, and – in his final lecture before Christmas that year, a study of the theories of evolution vs intelligent design – said ‘I’ll leave you to mull this over during the festive season… is it any coincidence that the fur on a dog’s face stops in exactly the right places for its eyes?’

Pure Clegg, that. We should put together a Tao of Clegg compilation of his most profound utterings.

Andrew: Is the world ready for such a publication? Just look at the bother Mao’s Little Red Book got everybody in to.

From the philosophical to the physical, I’d like to draw everybody’s attention to the lovely little ballet that Compo dances, as he stands behind – and mimics – Seymour. We really must track down some of the original shooting scripts at some point, as I’d love to see how much of this kind of material was outlined by Clarke and how much was workshopped on location.

Bob: He’s a lovely little mover, Bill Owen. Anyway, back to the main theme of today’s lecture: gender stereotyping. Seymour makes it his mission to ‘rid the purse of all feminine associations’ so I guess the answer to my previous hypothesis is this: yes, in the age of equality, it IS fair to consider a man a tulip for keeping his small change in a purse. I like Clegg’s musing on Seymour ‘s diligence, too… ‘If people didn’t persevere, we’d never have such things as the Sinclair Electric Vehicle, or the Titanic!’

What a timely but unexpected reference to the Sinclair C5! Launched in 1985, it was computer magnate Sir Clive Sinclair’s ill-fated attempt to revolutionise the British transport system with a white, plastic buggy that was half-pedalled, half-electrified. For the benefit of our younger (and American) readers:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_C5

Only 5,000 were ever sold, and – by the time this episode aired in 1987 – they were already seen as something of a laughing stock. And there were plenty of them in stock.

S9E4fAndrew: There’s a rare burst of continuity here, as Seymour once again attempts to perfect his voice-activated front door lock. This time, ‘Codfanglers’ is out and ‘Marjorie’ is in, but our trio unfortunately aren’t – meaning Compo has to be stuffed through the pantry window. Once inside, we get to take in the faded Edwardian pomp of Seymour’s living room, adorned as it is with mementos of his old days as the headmaster of a boy’s school. The aesthetic is suddenly very All Creatures Great and Small, isn’t it?

Bob:  I’ve said it before, but Michael Aldridge would have made a brilliant 1970s Doctor Who. That front room is exactly how I’d imagine his TARDIS. Ronnie Hazlehurst is on sensational form here. too… as Seymour clatters away, unseen, in his workshop, his rhythmic hammering and sawing is turned into an almost-experimental little musical motif. It pretty much anticipates the entire 1990s output of Tom Waits.

Andrew: It’s an interestingly Radiophonic turn from Hazlehurst. Isn’t it also unusual to have this prominent a musical cue over a studio-bound scene? I may be wrong here, but I always associate the series’ score with its location work. It jarred me, anyway.

Bob: And ooh, another mid-1980s pop culture reference! ‘Right, little tatty Rambo…’ says Seymour to Compo, and indeed – in 1987 – Sylvester Stallone’s mumbling lunk was one of the best-known film characters on the planet. I even had a Rambo computer game for my Sinclair ZX Spectrum, so that ties everything together neatly, doesn’t it? This exchange also suggests that Seymour has a slightly more up-to-date knowledge of popular modern cinema than Compo, with his Randolph Scott and Dorothy Lamour obsessions.

Andrew: Speaking of cultural milestones I should probably point out that this is the final episode of Last of the Summer Wine to have premiered prior to me appearing on the scene. That is to say, this first screened on January 25th 1987, and I was forcefully brought screaming into the world with a pair of forceps, three days later! Obviously this makes little difference to us right now, but it will be interesting to see how my perceptions of the series change once we reach the episodes that I watched first time around.

Bob: Seymour’s solution to the problem of the non-masculine purse is to strap it to the ankle. I’ve got to say, if he launched that in 2018, it would likely become a hipster sensation. It’s a really good look.

S9E4dAnd… Wally Klaxon! WALLY! WALLY! WALLY! Oh, always a pleasure. Wally lends Compo his new boots to accommodate the ankle-strapped purse, grumbling in his own inimitable fashion that he needs ‘a bit of help breaking them in, anyway’. Do you still need to break in new shoes and boots, or do they come pre-broken in now? I can’t remember having done it since my late 1980s winklepicker phase. I just put new shoes straight on now, and they’re fine. Has there been a big footwear breakthrough at some point in the last thirty years?

Anyway…

Clegg: He’s not only married to Nora Batty, his boots are too tight.
Compo: Looks like real tough leather.
Clegg: She does to me…

Poetry.

Andrew: I know I keep saying this, but the knowledge that our time with Joe Gladwin in the series is coming to an end really does make each new scene with him feel extra special. This one really is a belter, though. At first he seems to be on a shorter leash than usual; barely making it past the front step. There’s a beautiful wistfulness to his dialogue too, amplified by a gorgeously sentimental and Chaplinesque musical cue.

Wally: I never get a chance to do things like that. You don’t when you’re married. She gives me security and full employment, but they’ve no idea how a bloke misses sheer stupidity.

Nora appears to escort him inside, of course, but she seems to do that with an extra air of tendernesss this time – at least by her own standards. I wonder if this is a slight acknowledgement of Gladwin’s waning health. This scene is so pitch perfect, in fact, that I almost wish it was the last time we got to see him.

This being Last of the Summe Wine, the air of melancholy is soon punctured by the sights of Compo’s trousers falling to his ankles. In something of a running theme, this trouser malfunction has been caused by the removal of another treasured memento of Nora – a purloined section of her clothes line. Spoken of in only the loftiest terms by Compo, he remembers her looking strikingly like Joan Crawford on that day. ‘Do you not mean Broderick Crawford?’ asks Clegg. For the sake of comparison…

Broderick Crawford Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford
Broderick Crawford

Bob: Our trio road-test the purse (and Wally’s squeaky boots, now sported by Compo) by catching the 356 bus from Blackmoorfoot to Dean Bottom. Was this a real bus route? I’m guessing so, and I’ve actually inadvertently answered my earlier questions in trying to look this up… Blackmoorfoot is clearly the home of the picturesque reservoir that I mentioned earlier!

Blackmoorfoot Reservoir

Andrew: It’s less the bus route and more the passengers themselves that fascinate me. Who are/were these people? I suspect they’re locals drafted into a bit of extra work. Are many of them still around to watch repeats of their starring moment on cable? Are their children and grandchildren thrilled to spot them? If you’re out there, get in touch!

Bob: There’s actually a bloke in the bus queue that’s a dead ringer for you! Glasses, beard, flat cap and blue cagoul. Have you time-travelled in Seymour’s TARDIS?

S9E4c
Anyway, Jane Freeman’s shriek when Compo dramatically lifts his leg to access the ankle-bound purse made me laugh out loud. This is a really funny climax, actually… just a marvellous bit of silly, physical comedy as Compo’s squeaky boots (in the background) coincide perfectly with Crusher’s dainty stroll around the front of the café. And Jonathan Linsley is SUPERB! ‘I’m only a lad, and I’ve been struck down with squeaky boots…’ he gasps, his face a mask of terror. What a fine piece of smalltown nonsense. There’s something truly heart-warming about the silliness of all this.

Andrew: Fantastic direction, too. For the second time in this review I’m going to invoke Charlie Chaplin. If I was to sum up Bell’s visual style in one word then that word would have to be ‘depth’. The way in which the action is framed, with Crusher bouncing in the foreground and Compo pacing in the background. conveys the gag in such a visual manner that you would still get the joke if the sound was turned off. That’s good storytelling!

S9E4aI also feel the need to note that we get to see Wally and his whippet again. I know this goes against what I was saying earlier about being content for the previous scene to be his farewell, but this is a joy.

Bob: And we end, as we began, with a glorious bit of direction from Alan Bell! A lovely final shot of Compo’s wellies teetering along a dry stone wall, with Seymour and Clegg frame in the background. Combine it with Seymour’s musings on mechanical trousers…

Seymour: You press a button, and out comes your small change.
Compo: I had a pair of trousers like that…

… and you’ve got the perfect combination of smut and beautiful scenery. That was a nice, gentle little episode that meandered along in a rather lovely, understated fashion. It’s been a very enjoyable series so far.

Andrew: That, I think, is about as good an episode as Clarke has written to date. A perfect blend of silliness, whimsy, and the oh-so-subtle grit that makes the series what it is. I much prefer the more grounded, yet equally ludicrous invention from Seymour this time around. I bet the series’ budget did, too!

Series 9 Episode 3: Dried Dates and Codfanglers


S9E3a
In which Seymour invents the Amazon Echo…

Andrew: You know your characters are well-defined when you’re able to identify them by their footwear alone, and Alan Bell is happy to indulge us with one of his gorgeous, signature opening shots. And we’re immediately directed back towards our poorly-maintained Names Database by another mention of an old schoolfriend…

Compo: I see Alvin Butler’s got a new wife.
Seymour: I wouldn’t say new. Looks more like reconditioned.
Clegg: Well, he was like that at school. He needed two goes at everything.

Bob: Roy Clarke likes the name ‘Alvin’, doesn’t he? There are at least two of them in Last of the Summer Wine, which is a veritable surfeit of Alvins… the only other Alvin that I can think of anywhere is Mr Stardust. And I’m putting ‘Mr Stardust’ down on my ever-expanding list of potential autobiography titles. You’re right about Alan Bell’s direction of this opening sequence, though… it’s lovely. I actually got a bit wistful seeing the shadow of the cloud moving across the landscape in very first shot! What a gentle, evocative image.

Andrew: Seymour is doing a good job of defining the series for us with his musings on life’s full circle. Life has taken him up and away from his roots, but now he’s back “playing with the backward stream.” It also doesn’t hurt that he’s discussing this while racing down a hill on an overburdened, out of control bicycle – the two eras of the show thus far have been neatly summarised!

Bob: That little sequence is a lovely encapsulation of Seymour’s character, I think… and the class differences that still possibly rankle between the trio. “I was damn glad to get to grammar school,’ harrumphs Seymour, staking his claim amongst the intelligentsia. “Bedwetters!” sneers Compo. And yet. amidst this delicious bickering, Seymour is quite clearly having the time of his life… despite the fact that. as you say, he’s “playing with the backward stream”. Compo’s response to this is gleeful – “Ah, but tha’s enjoying it, Seymour” – and Seymour’s guilty “Keep your voice down!” is charming. He’d never admit it amongst Edie’s “polite company”, but Seymour is shaking off the shackles of upper middle-class fustiness. He’s been liberated by the power of arsing around!

Andrew: Although I think I might have put my finger on why Seymour still hasn’t really clicked for me. In the cafè, he muses that he always thought retirement would be more elegant. and that more awards and honours would have come his way by now. So whereas Foggy’s schemes generally came from a place of altruism and a sense of duty, Seymour is a fundamentally selfish character. His plans are much more self-serving in nature. Compo and Clegg see straight through this of course, but I wouldn’t be putting up with him!

S9E3bBob: Foggy wasn’t entirely selfless… he always dreamed of recognition for his good deeds, I think. But I know what you mean, and I think it’s that class difference again. Foggy was prepared to work for his rewards, and actually get his hands dirty, but Seymour feels a sense of entitlement. There are some fascinating glimpses into his character in this cafe sequence, too… including “those unfounded rumours that I used to drink”.  We’ve already seen Seymour absolutely throwing back the booze in Uncle of the Bride, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’d made a habit of demolishing rather too many large brandies after a difficult day at the Utterthwaite Academy. There are hints of a darker past, much moreso than we ever saw with Foggy.

I like the Crusher-inspired cake mix explosion, too. And the recurring references to Clegg’s elbow. The comic potential of elbows has been much underused in British comedy. Elbows are funny.

Andrew: Back when we embarked upon this… quest, we often remarked upon the fact that Holmfirth looked like a bit of a dump – that’s the reason it was chosen as a location, after all – but in this episode (and actually, when I think about it, this series in general) the town looks really lovely. That might have something to do with the time of year they were filming, but could it be that Holmfirth was flying in the face of the 1980s depression by actually being on the up at this point?

Bob: It was probably a result of the tourist trade! We’re at the peak of Winemania here, aren’t we? There were people pouring into Holmfirth to grab a cuppa at Sid’s Cafe! Only to discover it was actually a wallpaper shop. Although I bet even the wallpaper shop got enough passing trade to help it through any sticky patches.

Sticky patches! Wallpaper! Oh, I’m wasting my time here.

Andrew: I love the “friendship” that we far too infreqently get to see between Nora and Ivy. There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest they can’t actually can’t stand one another, but they are united over their mutual loathing of others! We also surely can’t let Nora’s description of Wally as “That little muffin I’m married to,” pass us by. Is this the true origin of the term “stud muffin”?

S9E3dBob: Well, come on… we get to see him in leather in this episode. Anyway, are you really going to get us started on the regional differences between the names of baked goods? If you ask for a teacake in Holmfirth, you get a breadbun. Then there’s the whole pikelets versus crumpets nest of vipers. Don’t start on muffins, for crying out loud. We’ll go viral. There’ll be a Twitstorm (amongst our 46 Twitter followers). A storm in a teacake… which is actually a decent Summer Wine episode title. Are we still in touch with Roy Clarke? He can have that one.

Andrew: This episode is very heavy on detailed descriptions of events past, isn’t it? Alvin Butler’s school days, Clegg’s trouble in a ladies’ outfitters. Seymour’s dalliance with a barmaid and a home-built ice creamer (on separate occasions), Clegg’s trouble in a ladies’ dress shop, Compo’s short-lived marital problems, his flirtations with a hefty barmaid, and now sweet summer memories of Nora Batty’s dried dates. It could completely stall the episode’s plot, but for me at least this kind of diversion just draws me closer to Clarke’s characters. Their pasts help them live and breath. In Seymour’s own words, “Where does he get detail like that?”

Bob: The older you get, the more you live in the past. It’s absolutely true, and it’s nicely captured in all of this. I also like the fact that we can pin some of Compo’s reminsences down to an actual date… “that long hot summer a few years back… it just went on and on…”. He’s clearly referring to the summer of 1976, which is the first that I can remember. There were 45 consecutive days without rain, average temperatures of over 30 degrees, and we appointed a Minister for Drought! There was a plague of ladybirds as well. I bet Nora’s stockings were covered in them.

I love Compo’s references to Nora’s “Days”, too. “Monday is wash day… this was a Tuesday, she was baking”. Good grief, mow there is a lost little corner of British culture. From memory, wash days in particular were synchronised; because washing lines were strung across back alleyways, and hanging out washing made said snickets and ginnells impassable. So if the women of the street all agreed to do their washing on the same day, then at least their husbands’ drying undercrackers only held up any passing traffic for a single day each week.

S9E3eIt’s a lovely, and rare, monologue for Bill Owen anyway, and he handles it superbly. Roy Clarke’s dialogue often reminds me of Alan Bennett, and this is like a mini-Talking Heads. And the summer of 1976 was the gap between Blamire’s departure and Foggy’s arrival, so it’s interesting to imagine Compo’s passions for Nora running wild in the simmering heat, without the calming influence of a Third Man to dampen his ardour.

Andrew: And just when it seems the episode is in danger of having nothing actually happen, Howard and Marina turn up with a pair of defective bicycles for Seymour to be let loose upon. There’s a pantomimic quality to their appearances in this series so far that reveals their seaside stage show origins, I think. Compo even has a “Ay up, it’s Howard and Marina!” catchphrase that smacks of “he’s behind you!”

Bob: There’s something deeply Freudian and sexually charged about Howard and Marina’s bikes being tangled together. I bet his pump is touching her spokes.

Andrew: Now this kind of contraption I can get behind. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had an affinity for Heath Robinson–esque home improvements. and Seymour’s gate and front door security system certainly qualify. Maybe I’m still traumatised by that giant pigeon, but I appreciate a more grounded bit of prop comedy!

Bob: Seymour’s voice recognition contraption is decades ahead of its time! Isn’t this how the Amazon Echo works? That Alexa thing? I’ve no idea, I haven’t got one. But if I did, I would program it to refuse to co-operate unless I shouted ‘Codfanglers’ in its electronic lughole. Does the Amazon Echo have electronic lugholes? There you go, there’s another potential episode title.

Andrew: We’re rapidly approaching the conclusion of this episode and I’ve just realised that the only TV Centre-bound set we’ve crossed paths with is the interior of the cafè. Keep trying Alan, they’ll let you completely ditch the videotape soon enough! I think we have a new Alan Bell trademark to watch out for as well, the tight two-shot – two characters in close up, one head hovering over the shoulder of the other. It’s all over this instalment!

S9E3gjpgAnyway, Crusher and Wally arrive with their respective mistresses’ demands for the return of their appliances. and in order to get back into town everybody piles into Crusher’s comically small  Citroen 2CV. All except Compo, that is, who is dragged behind while precariously perched on top of Howard and Marina’s fused bicycles. There’s a lovely community feel to this oh-so-silly ending that seems entirely fitting for an episode that has been so focused on personal histories. Top marks!

Bob: I just can’t stop imagining the conversation that Wally and Crusher had, cramped together in that car on their way over to Seymour’s house! Especially now we know that Jonathan Linsley and Joe Gladwin were good friends, and often sat together on the coach to filming locations. You know what, Jonathan’s memories of Joe’s stories is one of the loveliest rewards that we’ve had for embarking on this bizarre quest. I’m so glad we got to hear those. And you’re right, all of this is tied up with a delightul feelgood ending with a genuine ‘team Summmer Wine’ feeling to it.

And the lamb at the end is a perfect punchline! A very nice episode indeed.

Return To 'Uncle of the Bride'

‘Uncle of the Bride’ represents such a turning point in Last of the Summer Wine’s history, we felt it was only proper to take another trip down to Holmfirth to document its many locations. Three trips and almost two years later, we finally cobbled together a location report!

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!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dueUWlalAKk]

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N36kiusurv4]

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…

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