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Summer Winos: The Book

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

Two Men, 295 Episodes, One Obsession

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

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

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


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

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

Summer Winos LIVE: 2019 Tour

Hambledon Productions Presents…


 with Andrew T. Smith and Bob Fischer

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

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

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



Wednesday 27th February

Bonington Theatre, Arnold (2pm & 7.30pm)

ON SALE | 0115 901 3640 |


Friday 8th March

Robin Hood Theatre, Newark

ON SALE | 07733 179986 |


Friday 22nd March

Phoenix Theatre, Bawtry

ON SALE | Tickets


Sunday 24th March

Museum of Comedy, London

ON SALE | 0207 534 1744 |


Tuesday 16th April

Arts Centre, Pocklington

ON SALE | 01759 301 547 |


Wednesday 17th April

Riverhead Theatre, Louth

ON SALE | 01507 600350 |


Friday 24th May

Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax

ON SALE | 01422 349 422 |


Thursday 30th May

Shire Hall, Howden

ON SALE |01430 432510|


Sunday 2nd June

The Exchange, North Shields

ON SALE | 0191 258


Tuesday 4th June

Little Theatre, Doncaster

ON SALE | 01302 340422 |


Friday 7th June

Middlesbrough Theatre, Middlesbrough

ON SALE | 01642 815181 |


Sunday 16th June

Spotlight Theatre, Bridlington

ON SALE | 01262 678258 |


Friday 12th July

Oldham Library, Oldham

ON SALE |0161 770 8000|

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

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

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.

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?


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!



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.


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.


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.


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…’


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.


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

Jane Freeman – An Appreciation

Ivy 3

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

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

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

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

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

(Gestures to Sid)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


Morris Bright – Chairman, Elstree Studios


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Laura Booth – Proprieter, Sid’s Café, Holmfirth

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

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

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

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


Christmas Special 1986: Merry Christmas, Father Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Uncle of the Bride

In which Seymour gets all inventive…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(NB Disclaimer: Harrogate is actually lovely)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s still there…

The White Horse, Holmfirth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…made me laugh, as did….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hepworth Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCLUSIVE: An Interview with Bobby Ball

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

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

Here’s how the conversation went…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, aye! Ego like you can’t believe!

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

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

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

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

How was Frank Thornton to work with, too?

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

And Brian Murphy as well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s very respectfully done.

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

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

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

What was he like in real life?

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

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

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

Well, we grew up with it!

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

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

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

Who else would go in it, then?

Tommy! Tommy would be the corpse! (laughs)

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

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

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

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

You should do The Sunshine Boys together!

Oh, I’d love to.

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

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

So you knew the area pretty well already?

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

True story, that!

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

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

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

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

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