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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dog had only just settled back on his armchair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Series 8 Episode 5: The Woollenmills Of Your Mind


In which Compo gives up his knees for Nora Batty…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series 8 Episode 4: Catching Digby's Donkey


In which Howard pines for fishnet tights…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series 8 Episode 3: Enter the Phantom


In which Compo’s winged ferret takes flight…

Bob: This opening shot looks bloody freezing! It’s blowing a gale up there.

Andrew: Look at Brian Wilde’s trousers go!

Bob: ‘Look at Brian Wilde’s trousers go!’ is the best sentence either of us have ever written on this website. Clegg is decidedly grumpy about the prospect of walking in these conditions… ‘Don’t tell me we’ve walked all this way and God’s not in,’ he grumbles. And I’m slightly surprised to see that Foggy has an Ordnance Survey map on him! Are they that far from home? I always assume they know these hills like the backs of their proverbial hands, but maybe they have been on a bit of an expedition here.

Andrew: I think Compo and Clegg know exactly where they are. If Foggy wants to over-complicate things and play at being the leader, they’re quite happy to let him.

Bob: As a kid, I was always intrigued by Foggy’s wartime occupation as a ‘Corporal Signwriter’… and I still am! Does this military position actually exist? I can find plenty of evidence of army signwriters, but Googling for ‘Corporal Signwriter’ just brings up hundreds of references to Foggy. Are there any military historians out there who might be able to help?

Anyway, not for the first time, I’m with Foggy here. He’s exasperated at Compo and Clegg’s reluctance to explore that beautiful countryside, and I would be too. Why wouldn’t you want to spend a brisk and breezy day finding new bits of Yorkshire? A similar thing happened when I watched Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May recently. Ever seen it, Drew? It’s fabulous, but my attitude towards the main character, Keith Pratt, has completely changed over the years. When I saw it as a teenager, he was just a figure of fun – an uptight nutcase who railed against the world. But I watched it last year, and… Keith is right! About everything! He has a genuine love of the countryside, he’s passionate about animal rights and folk music, he likes a bit of peace and quiet and expects people to respect his privacy. I feel the same about Foggy. I laughed at him when I was young, but now… I think we’d get on.

Andrew: I think Ronnie Hazlehurst’s score is on Foggy’s side as well. There’s a beautifully wistful cue that plays beneath his defence of these outdoor pursuits.

Bob: Rudely interrupted by scramblers on motorbikes! Churning up the moors! That’s a real 1980s thing… suddenly, whenever my Dad and I walked in the hills, we’d see gangs of these pillocks scattering sheep and making a bloody racket. I’m surprised Foggy takes it all in his stride, I thought he’d be outraged. Keith Pratt would never have stood for it all.

Andrew: And, back in the café, the scramblers even provide Foggy with some inspiration. He suggests that, while Nora would be able to resist Compo’s charms, she would be defenceless when faced with ‘The Phantom’.

Bob: Are your ‘stunt finale’ senses tingling, Drew? Foggy seems inexplicably determined to turn Compo into this mystery stunt rider… ‘The Phantom’, indeed. Since when did Foggy like to encourage Compo’s amorous intentions? He’s normally desperate to drag him away from her!

Still, I love Ivy’s pep talk to Crusher in the café. ‘They’re not wicked… they’re not bad… and only one third of them could be said to be unhygienic. What they are… is irresponsible’. And yet again, she expresses her theory that men, without women in their lives, turn – in an nutshell – daft. And again, I think that’s true. Left to our own devices, we end up sitting up at 1.30am writing detailed critiques of 31-year-old sitcoms.

Nice to hear a Barry Sheene reference, too! It’s easy to forget how massive he was, but Sheene was a huge celebrity in the early 1980s. He suffered horrendous injuries in a crash in 1982 and the X-rays of his pinned-together limbs made the front pages of EVERY newspaper. Actually, motorbikes in general were a big thing amongst my generation of schoolkids! Fascinated by Sheene, Eddie Kidd and Evel Kneivel, we dreamed of racing around the streets on the latest Kawasaki, and jumping over the No 294 bus to Eaglescliffe. And everyone knew an older brother or a neighbour who, at the age of 16, immediately starting tootling around on a 50cc Honda, posing outside the corner shop with a tinted crash helmet and a battered leather jacket. Wanting to be Eddie Kidd, but looking more like Tucker Jenkins.

Andrew: For once, I think I’ll stick up for the laboured incorporation of a stunt here. After the way Clegg and Compo have demoralised him for trying to broaden their horizons, Foggy is trying to win their favour while getting a vicarious taste of adventure for himself. He knows the only way to motivate Compo is to dangle Nora in front of him and that Clegg enjoys watching Compo making a tit of himself. Quite canny, really! What I find more difficult to swallow, is the idea that Foggy has a motorbike to hand, and even the vaguest understanding of how to tinker with one!

Bob: Yeah, where DOES Foggy get that bike from? Anyway, Compo is swamped in Crusher’s leathers, and a winged ferret is painted haphazardly onto his crash helmet. You can play Summer Wine bingo with this one!

Andrew: It’s all very familiar. Does Car and Garter ring a bell?

Bob: A lovely scene with Wally in the pub here, mind… I don’t think Joe Gladwin has ever put a foot wrong in this programme. ‘I’m under strict instructions to avoid Tom Fools or unaccompanied women,’ he deadpans, and I laughed my socks off. Nobody says ‘Tom Fools’ any more! Where is all the Tomfoolery? And where does it come from? Hang on…

http://uk.ask.com/question/origin-of-tomfoolery

Andrew: OK, stay with me here, but I think Wally might secretly be an omnipotent super-being. Think about it… he appears at will and disappears almost as soon as he does; and unlike the other characters in this week’s episode, he seems to be totally clued into the fact that the events unfolding are adhering to an unspoken formula. ‘I wish I could help you,’ he says, before Foggy even begins roping him into the scheme.

Bob: I like it! Can we have Wally in a tight jumpsuit with a big ‘W’ on the front of it? Anyone any good with Photoshop? Wally was right, too… the last third of the show is pretty much taken up with pure Tomfoolery. There’s a lot of messing about with that bike.

Andrew: It’s all a bit, ‘let’s throw some pratting about at the wall and home some of it sticks’ this week, isn’t it? Not very co-ordinated at all. Keep your ears open for a suspiciously To The Manor Born-styled musical cue from Ronnie at one point, though!

Bob: Blimey, you’re right! I was expecting Audrey Forbes-Hamilton to come marching over the hill there! Some nice little interludes with Wally and Nora too, as Compo gears up to impress her. ‘You’re spoiling for a fight,’ barks Nora, at the not-entirely-aggressive-looking Wally. ‘There’s no point in bringing you out if you can’t be pleasant’. I really wish we’d had just one episode as a Wally and Nora two-hander. They’re amazing together.

I also was intrigued by the song that Compo sings a snippet of when he’s gearing up for his big stunt. It’s taken a bit of hunting down, but I think he’s singing his own variation on this…

http://monologues.co.uk/musichall/Songs-J/Just-Like-The-Ivy.htm

It’s an old Music Hall favourite, written – as far as I can see – in 1903, so I guess it might have been a favourite from Compo’s childhood? I love these little gems being dropped into the show, they’re SO full of character. I wonder if this example came from Roy Clarke or Bill Owen? I’m going to hazard a guess at the latter… it looks like an adlib.

Andrew: And so to the big climax of the episode… Compo rides the bike straight into a lake, splashing Nora before running away… and she’s not the only thing that’s a bit damp about this ending.

Bob: Yeah, that had some nice lines, but didn’t quite match up to the previous two episodes, which both felt very fresh and funny and broke lots of new ground for Summer Wine. A bit of a mid-season wobble for me!

Series 8 Episode 2: Keeping Britain Tidy


In which Ogden has a mid-life crisis…

Andrew: There’s an odd little title sequence in this one. Our trio wander up a lane and observe a bloke cleaning a window, who in turn looks down and observes them. Its so brief, and has so little to do with anything else in the episode, that I wonder about the reasoning behind it, rather than just doing the usual ‘credits over countryside’ sequences that we usually see on episodes that begin in the hills.

Bob: I was just excited at seeing one of my favourite free car-parking spots… we’ve parked up in that street a couple of times on our visits to Holmfirth. I like the trademark whimsical musing at the start here, with Compo wanting to be an insect trapper, ‘Big Bill Simonite… I’d ride into town with me load of priceless bluebottle pelts’. This is gloriously barmy surrealism – it’s worthy of Eddie Izzard! In fact, didn’t Izzard do a live routine about tiny ‘bee cosies’, years later? He owes everything he has to Compo. Apart from possibly his dress sense.

Andrew: Clegg is still in a state of evolution, transforming from the pro-active character of the early episodes to the timid and reluctant adventurer he will settle into. He seems to have plenty of energy here – I love the mock swordfight he and Compo engage in – but he still squirms when he realises that Foggy is conjuring up a scheme.

Bob: I’m with Foggy all the way in this episode… he’s disgusted to find an abandoned mattress rotting on the moorside, and pledges to found ‘The Dewhirst Campaign for a Cleaner Countryside’. I’m right behind you, comrade! I’ll get the T-shirts printed up! I spend a lot of time tramping around hills, woods and moors in North Yorkshire, and nothing gets me more annoyed than the sight of beer cans and biscuit wrappers chucked into hedgerows or blowing around the trees. Have some respect, you grunting halfwits! If you’ve ever dropped litter in the countryside, I hope a crack squadron of giant badgers come round to your house one night and crap all over your front room carpet. See how you like it. And believe you me, badger crap STINKS.

Andrew: And believe me, readers, he’d know! Clegg’s enthusiasm soon fades when he spies the arrival of the magnificently described, ‘Ogden Butterclough, demon insurance man’.

Bob: BRIAN GLOVER KLAXON! I’m watching most of these episodes for the first time since their original broadcasts, and I genuinely don’t look ahead to see what’s coming, so it was a brilliant surprise to see Glover appear, narrowly missing squashing Compo with his car. Given that he’s such a prominent Yorkshire actor, and had done tons of sitcoms by this stage, it’s amazing it took so long to get him into Summer Wine!

Andrew: He’s certainly the type of actor who can elevate a part – or even a show – simply by turning up to appear. I think my personal favourite is his gloriously OTT appearance as Mr Rottweiler in the Gas episode of Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson’s Bottom.

Bob: Do you get independent, travelling insurance men any more? Of course you don’t. We all just do it online, being bossed about by a truculent hound. A friend of mine used to work for Churchill, and said he fielded about a dozen calls a day from giggling pillocks asking to speak to the dog.

Andrew: What was the company policy with that? Transfer the call to Vic Reeves’ personal number?

Bob: ‘I’m sorry, the dog’s not available at the moment. Can I help?’ Genuinely. You know what, I was expecting Ogden to be a traditional Angry Sitcom Bloke, but he’s not! He’s actually quite jaded and sympathetic. He wants to abandon his humdrum existence and life the life of a travelling itinerant! ‘Gauguin did it… he went to the South Seas to paint dusky maidens’, he muses. Oddly enough, an argument also used by Bob Ferris to justify his mid-life crisis in the Likely Lads movie! The male mid-life crisis is a comedy goldmine, though. Show me a 40-year-old bloke who hasn’t, in some idle moment, dreamed of packing a few bottles of Badger Golden Glory into a rucksack and walking into the sunset to seek spiritual enlightenment (and possibly a few dusky maidens) and I’ll show you a man without a soul.

Andrew: I can imagine it now, scores of fifty-year-old linoleum salesmen hitchhiking to freedom down the A1, with scruffy mattresses strapped to their backs.

Bob: ‘I hate it when people spill blood’, winces Clegg. ‘Why can’t we be filled with a nice, fragrant powder?’ That made me laugh. And is the angry cyclist who punctures Ogden’s car tyre former Doctor Who stuntman Derek Ware? Yes! Yes it bloody well is! Brilliant. Last spotted croaking ‘Ooooar?’ and riding his bike into a quarry outside the Axon spaceship.

Andrew: It’s quite rare to see Ware enjoying such a meaty role. For those not in the know, he’s probably best known as a stuntman and the founder of HAVOC, a team of daredevil blokes with grizzled late 1960s features and later 1970s chest hair, to be found gracing the more dangerous scenes in television series like Adam Adamant Lives!, Doctor Who, and Dick Barton: Special Agent. He had an amazing career in film, television, and on stage, but more often than not can only be glimpsed while doubling for another actor’s character.

Bob: Actually, was it Ware cleaning the windows in that opening sequence that confused us? I think it was! That explains it! That sequence was just a nifty bit of foreshadowing.

This is turning into a meditation on the tensions and tempers of modern living. Everyone is being driven mad by life’s little annoyances! As REM once poignantly sang, ‘It’s the little things that can pull you under’. And it’s true. Give me a day with one huge, single, sorrowful problem to deal with it, and I’ll stick my jaw out and deal with it manfully. Give me a day filled with dozens of utterly pointless niggles and I’m ready to head to the South Seas myself. Fire up the dusky maidens, Drew.

Andrew: By the way, it’s well over 14 minutes before our trio retreat to the café and therefore the television studio. Is that a record for filmed sequences in the series? I know we’ve had an entire feature-length special on film, but I can’t stress how unusual this is for a sitcom of the period. Not that I’m complaining; as much as I appreciate the live studio audience, I think the best material is increasingly to be found amongst the on-location scenes.

Bob: Crusher is working in the café! Our first glimpse of him! Ivy refers to him as her nephew, so do we assume he’s the son of Sid’s brother? They’re clearly designed to look alike, even down to the slicked-back hair!

Andrew: I think we have to assume he’s Sid’s relation rather than Ivy’s, hence the familiar distain with which she treats him! Had he been a blood relative, I doubt he could have done anything wrong in her eyes.

Bob: He’s not a direct replacement for Sid, though… whereas John Comer’s dialogue was filled with razor-sharp one-liners, Crusher is – as my Dad would say – ‘thick as a NAAFI table’. I’ve been watching The Young Ones recently, and he actually wouldn’t be out of place in it – there’s a real air of post-punk menace about him! Is this Roy Clarke’s little nod to alternative comedy, do we think? Whatever, Jonathan Linsley does a great job, and I like Compo’s line – ‘Who rubbed a lamp?’. And Foggy’s – ‘Yegods, the Egon Ronay Armoured Division’! You can tell the series is growing older, and broadening out a little now… with first Wesley, and now Crusher joining the regular cast.

Mind you, I don’t believe Brian Glover would be intimated by Crusher. Glover was a champion wrestler… Leon Aris, the Man from Paris! He was nails! He’d have Crusher in a headlock and be slamming him against the café counter before Ivy could safeguard the chip butties (still 25p)

Andrew: His fear of Ivy is completely understandable, however. She’s even more formidable, now that we see her dominating the likes of Crusher!

Bob: There’s a nice little snapshot in time here, as they exit the café… what’s very obviously a coach full of holidaymaking tourists slowly chugs along the main road past the square. I wonder how many people on that bus had come to Holmfirth purely because of Last of the Summer Wine? You’d have to suspect most of them, really… the show was a huge success by this point, and they’d have been desperate to catch a glimpse of some filming. And they got it! As soon as they arrived in town! We’ve been to that café a few times now, Drew… imagine how exciting it must have been to drive past it and see Compo, Clegg and Foggy being thrown from the door. Oh, I’m all a-quiver. Cancel my flight to the South Seas, I’m staying put.

Andrew: Far be it from me to stop you mid-quiver, but I think that bus is empty. We’ll have to order up HD copies from the BBC archive to make sure, though. Nevertheless, it won’t be long before the effects of tourism generated by the show are in many ways felt upon the series itself. It must have become an absolute nightmare having to heard ogling bystanders out of view of the camera, and even more difficult to get them to keep their mouths shut!

Bob: ‘It’s a bad time for children,’ muses Foggy. ‘You get ‘em to fourteen, and their hair turns green’. Not in 1985, granddad! It were all blond highlights and mullets by then.

Andrew: Yes, but before the digital revolution, wasn’t it a safe bet to say that a small Yorkshire town like this was operating at least five years behind a bustling metropolis like your own Stockton?

Bob: Stockton? How dare you. I have dual nationality: born in Middlesbrough, raised in Yarm. Hey, I love the fact that Brian Glover has carried his punctured tyre EVERYWHERE in this episode! It’s a great little touch of low-key surrealism. A proper McGuffin. It’s Summer Wine’s version of the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

Andrew: I love the fact that the trio have carried Brian Glover around for the duration as well! There’s something about the way in which they’re inducting him into their world and introducing him to the various characters that populate it that makes it feel like the series in preparing us for him to join full time. I know that this isn’t going to happen, but based on this one appearance I would have welcomed Glover with open arms!

Bob: Absolutely, he’s great. And wow, does Foggy actually STAND UP to Nora on her doorstep here? Just for once, he’s not intimidated at all by her aggressive brushing! And she actually gives in, and lets them in to see Wally! The tide is turning here, Drew. It’s a watershed moment. Nothing can ever be the same again.

Andrew: I can only assume that Foggy briefly feels that Nora is manageable, following his brush with Crusher. She soon ensures that the natural order of things is restored, however; by the time Foggy is settled into her front room he’s back to being a quivering jelly.

S8E2aBob: I love Wally Batty, though. I may have mentioned this before. When I head for the South Seas, can I take Joe Gladwin with me as well?

Andrew: Although, of course, Wally isn’t allowed to assist the trio with a lift up the hill with his motorbike. Perhaps that’s part of what makes the character so intoxicating to us; Nora keeps him rationed – Wally Batty, forbidden fruit!

Bob: And so Ogden’s car is fixed, and the mattress attached to the roof rack as Foggy’s clean-up campaign starts in earnest. It looks insane, but do you know what? It’s so true to life. My Dad never had any qualms whatsoever about strapping all manner of insanely large objects to the roof of our car. We were once driving along the A66 when a wardrobe – yes, a WARDROBE – that he was transporting from my Nana’s house slipped off into the hard shoulder. How’s that for a stunt? Even Derek Ware would head for the South Seas if you told him that.

Andrew: I refuse to be impressed until you reveal you were inside the wardrobe at the time.

Bob: The first episode of this new series was very much ‘business as usual’, but this feels like the start of a new era already. Brian Glover’s Ogden was almost the main character in this, the first time I think we’ve encountered a visiting, big-name guest star who gets that kind of treatment. And with the introduction of Crusher too, it feels like we’re now entering a wider world. And I think that’s fair enough… as brilliant as the three lead actors are, the show had been running for 12 years at this point, and I don’t blame Clarke at all for wanting to take it in new directions. Something I’d felt a bit uneasy about before we watched these shows in order, and in context, but now I think it’s completely the right decision.

Andrew:  Yes, so far so good! It’s a significant tonal shift from Getting Sam Home, but then again that film was a big shift from what preceded it. I’ve mentioned before that the popular conception of the show as unchanging is wrong, and this kind of change of direction demonstrates why – for a good portion of its run, the series never rested on its laurels.

 

Wellystock 2015: Crusher In The Cafe

Crusher In The Cafe 1 In which Crusher finally learns the business…

On Saturday 24th October 2015, the Summer Winos website reached a milestone… its first official event! The streets of Holmfirth might have been chilly and windswept, but Sid’s Cafe was a warm hive of activity, as two packed houses of Summer Wine fans crammed into this beautiful and intimate venue to witness a little bit of history; Jonathan ‘Crusher’ Linsley returning to the cafe – and indeed to Holmfirth – for the first time in almost thirty years.

It all started back in March, when Jonathan kindly agreed to be interviewed for the Summer Winos website about his time working on the show. He had so many great stories to tell (and we’ll have the whole interview on the site soon – we  promise!) that we were determined to meet up with him at some stage for a proper chat. And when he mentioned that he hadn’t been back to Holmfirth since leaving the show, well… we clearly had to put that right.

Crusher In The Cafe 2Tickets for the event were sold out in advance, and – on the day itself – there seemed to be a real buzz of anticipation around the town. Jonathan had arranged to meet us for lunch in the bar of the Old Bridge Hotel, and it’s fair to say we were a little bit shaky ourselves. After four years of blogging our most candid and intimate thoughts about the show, this was the first time we’d ever met one of its stars in the flesh! Would Crusher stride manfully from the snug in his white ‘frock’ and studded bikers’ gloves, ready to bang our heads together? Would we even recognise him, almost three decades on from his final Summer Wine appearance?

Needless to say, the answer to these questions were, erm… no. And yes. In that order. We found Jonathan in a quiet corner of the bar, looking almost entirely unchanged since 1987! And he’s fabulous company; funny, thoughtful, and an absolute goldmine of fascinating anecdotes from the acting world. We enjoyed a relaxed bite to eat with Jonathan, his wife Frances and their friend Joy, and then – finally – it was time to wander over to the cafe.

Crusher In The Cafe 3With a buzzing throng of Summer Wine fans already congregating in that famous square outside the front door, Jonathan quite rightly decided to preserve the integrity of his theatrical entrance, and crept around the back of the cafe to hide in the venue’s sumptuous Green Room! (Mind the bucket). And, with cafe owner Laura buzzing around, serving tea and cake in a considerably more friendly manner than Crusher’s Auntie Ivy ever managed, the crowd began to excitedly wander in. We were thrilled to find quite a few devotees of this humble website amongst the audience – and, needless to say, we’re very grateful for all of your kind words.

And then the moment finally arrived… with a theatrical flourish, Jonathan emerged from the cafe kitchen to rapturous applause, and proceeded to entertain the crowd for well over an hour with a fabulous talk, covering his early days as a viewer (as a Yorkshire teenager, he’d been a spectator during location filming for the Blamire episodes!); telling us how the character – and costume – of Crusher came about; how his success in the Last of the Summer Wine stage play led to him being headhunted for the TV show; and all about his extraordinary career beyond Summer Wine… including breathtaking tales of Hollywood excess, working alongside Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Crusher In The Cafe 5

And, in a stroke of utter genius as the talk reached its climax, the character of Crusher was reborn before us! Gasps of delight sprang forth from the crowd as a white ‘frock’ and a pair of studded bikers’ gloves were indeed produced from a hitherto hidden suitcase. Jaws dropped, cameras flashed, and there he was… Crusher in the Cafe! Towering over everyone in the room, Jonathan was thrilled to pose for photos, sign several hundredweight of memorabilia, and chat one-on-one to fans about his fascinating career, and his time on the show.

And then, as darkness fell outside the cafe windows… we did it all over again! Such was the popularity of this first Summer Winos event, that we’d sold it out twice over. So a second, entirely different capacity crowd were then treated to a repeat performance, just as funny and fascinating as the first. And the celebrations rumbled on, long into the evening.

Crusher In The Cafe 4

Huge thanks to Jonathan, Frances and Joy for their endless enthusiasm, and all the time and effort that they all put into making this event such a success. And indeed to Laura Booth, owner of Sid’s Cafe, and her amazing team… they seem to have boundless reserves of patience when it comes to our madcap schemes, and it’s been a thrill and a pleasure to work with them all.

And the question on everyone’s lips… will we back with another Summer Winos event in 2016?

Well, let’s just say we’re ‘learning the business…’

Crusher In The Cafe 6

Series 8 Episode 1: The Mysterious Feet of Nora Batty

In which Wally has a furtive peep…

Bob: And so to 1985, and a series that I think is the end of a hugely significant era for Last of the Summer Wine. Things were never quite the same after this! But there are no signs of the upheaval to come just yet, and we start – as so often we do – with Compo, Clegg and Foggy on the moors.

Foggy: He’s the best advert for euthanasia I’ve ever seen.
Compo: Toothpaste?

Be honest, Drew – did you get this?

Andrew: I assumed that there must have been a brand of toothpaste whose name sounded somewhat like euthanasia. Am I even close?

Bob: Congratulations! You win your own weight in pink goo. Yes indeed, Euthymol toothpaste.  It looks like it’s still available, but I’m guessing it’s not widely used amongst actual young people. There was powder, too! When I was a young, my Gran cleaned her teeth with Euthymol powder, essentially a small white tub of fine, pink sand that you dipped your wet toothbrush into. It tasted like a combination of bleach and Liquorice Allsorts, and had a slightly anaesthetic effect on the tongue. For twenty minutes after getting up every morning, I was unable to pronounce the letter ‘t’.

Andrew: Well I hope you brushed your teeth after breakfast, because that would seriously limit your options.

Bob: I just asked my Gran for ea and oas. On a ray.

Andrew: I think it’s also worth noting that this the second episode in a row to feature Clegg spinning a bit of whimsy involving Hitler. Was Roy Clarke watching repeats of The World at War when he was writing this run?

Bob: Even a bonus dose of Hitler Whimsy can’t hold up the pace of this episode, though. It comes out of the blocks like Steve Ovett, and we establish in the first few minutes that our heroes are going to spend the ensuing thirty minutes measuring the size of Nora Batty’s feet. Blimey, is this a record for us getting to the crux of an episode?

Andrew: I really like how genuinely protective Compo is of Nora here. ‘She’s not got big feet!’ he cries, taking genuine offence. To me, this is a lovely little acknowledgement that Compo isn’t just a little sex pest, and that he really does have deep-rooted feelings for her, beneath all of his lust and bluster.

Bob: And so poor Wally is dragged into the pub to have his testimony extracted. So to speak. Is it me, or is the studio audience unusually lively in this episode? They’re absolutely hysterical! It’s like watching Happy Days. I expected Wally to get a round of applause when he first appeared.

Andrew: Well, Wally and The Fonz both ride motorcycles… actually, I think the comparison ends there. If any character deserves a round of applause every time they enter the scene, however, it’s Wally.

Bob: Good to see they’re drinking Mild! A good West Yorkshire pint, that.

I’m actually baffled to learn from Alan JW Bell’s book that Brian Wilde had to be talked into this series, feeling that the scripts weren’t all they could have been. Because the dialogue in this episode is absolutely sparkling, with Roy Clarke taking his love of the non-sequitur to almost surreal levels. According to Clegg, Wally is ‘dark and Slavonic… I always imagine Dostoevsky as being rather like him’.

And ‘hands up everybody who cannot describe an ilk’! And the entire pub does! This is weird and utterly inspired.

Andrew: I think I’d describe this scene as Joe Gladwin’s finest moment, though I seem to say that about every scene he appears in these days. He’s on fine form for this episode, however, and Clarke’s sparkling script really does bring out some fine comic acting.

Bob: Yes, this is a truly magnificent episode for our hero! If The Loxley Lozenge was a charming showcase for Gordon Wharmby, then this is a love letter to Joe Gladwin and his extraordinary comic timing and exquisite hangdog misery. ‘I’m being held in this boozer against me will,’ he deadpans. ‘Which I must say is a big improvement in me normal standard of living’.

Mind you, I raised an eyebrow at Wally’s concerns about being ‘sterile’! Nora and Wally don’t appear to have any kids, do they? And nor did Sid or Ivy, as far as we ever learn. I guess having lively thirty or fortysomething offspring forever buzzing around these two lifeless family units would have ruined the ethos of Summer Wine; that focus on older people eking away their time with literally nothing to do. Wally and Nora wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny if they had a jolly, happily married son or daughter to fuss over.

Andrew: I can only think of one Summer Wine couple from the entire run with a child who plays a major role in the series – later on we’ll meet Wesley’s wife Edie, and their daughter Glenda. Sid and Ivy, Wally and Nora, Howard and Pearl, and Barry and Glenda are all childless. Aside from Compo, none of our leads are referred to as having sired off-screen offspring either, are they? And even that was a bit of a retcon for the character. I’d be genuinely interested to know where this comes from. Is it, as you say, a plot convenience, or does Roy Clarke have some sort of personal connection with this trope?

We can’t gloss over the fact that Wally appears to be wary of accepting strange pints after having his drink ‘nobbled’ at the pigeon club. His reference to this goes absolutely nowhere, but that’s certainly a bit of backstory I’d love to hear more about. Who on earth slipped Wally Batty a roofy?!

Bob:  That should have been an episode title in its own right. And whoah, what a superb close-up of Joe Gladwin! For a man with a reputation for showing off Summer Wine’s glorious scenery, Alan JW Bell also knows the value of a good, comedy close-up. The audience roar as Wally is clearly traumatised, trying to work out the part of Nora’s body that our heroes wish to examine at close quarters. There’s a battleground of emotions being played out across those craggy features. And then:

If she were attacked right in front of me eyes, I’d have to stand there helpless. She could have the bloke mauled to death before I could drag her off.

Magnificent!

Andrew: Not to be insensitive, but have you noticed Gladwin’s nose in this episode? We’ve spoken at length about his worn features, but his conk looks positively necrotic here – it’s a completely different colour to the rest of his face! I hope it wasn’t painful.

I’ve no worthwhile point to make about this other than that you would never ever see an actor go before a television camera like that these days. I think there’s a much thicker level of artificiality when it comes to the presentation of characters in modern television, and it permeates costume, make-up, and even casting itself. Show me one unconventional-looking sitcom lead today and I’ll eat my hat.

Bob: Into the café, and mark this down as a historic moment… without a doubt, it’s the first exclamation of ‘What the blood and stomach pills?!!!’ from Ivy! Do ladies of a certain age still do this kind of ‘nearly’ swearing? Just as Ivy is clearly restraining herself from saying ‘What the bloody hell’, I remember elderly relatives in my distant youth saying things like ‘Oh, my godfathers…’ to narrowly avoid taking the name of Our Lord in vain.

Andrew: Despite generally having a mouth like a Tourette’s-stricken docker, this sort of avoidance is certainly something that has been passed down to me from previous generations. Emma shoots me some various curious glances if I let slip with a ‘Blummin’ Heck’.

Can I admit to something rather embarrassing here? In my notes for this episode I wrote ‘First Blood and Stomach Pills’ and while writing this up, I spent ten minutes scouring the episode for a reference to Rambo that I assumed I’d forgotten.

Bob: Ha! Ha! Sylvester Stallone, of course, played Foggy in the big-budget Hollywood Summer Wine remake. You know, the one that – thank God – never actually happened.

Right… 1985 Price Watch: 75p for Pasty and Chips, 20p for a Chip Butty. On the café blackboard. I like Compo’s cheeky kiss on Foggy’s fizzog as well, it’s a really nice affectionate touch. Despite their constant sniping, let’s not forget that Foggy and Compo have been friends for – what? At least 55 years at this point? A passing peck seems fair enough to me. ‘Italians do it all the time’, grumbles Wally. ‘Men kissing each other at the railway station. You see some terrible things in the war’.

I’d give Joe Gladwin an affectionate kiss, though. He deserves it for a performance like this.

Andrew: 1985 Shop Watch: I’ve set myself the mission of keeping track of the shop that is visible at the end of Compo and Nora’s street in order to chart its evolution through the years. As of 1985, the unit is occupied by G.W. Castle Ltd. Now you know.

Bob: Good work. It’s about time we got ourselves a hobby. Hey, this is a lovely scene of Foggy attempting to draw out Wally’s memories of Nora’s feet by regressing him to the cold winter nights of the early days of his marriage. It’s incredibly sweet, with Ronnie Hazlehurst providing a charming, gentle soundtrack. And Foggy is an old romantic at heart, isn’t he? He paints a lovely picture here.

Andrew: There’s some champion gurning from Bill Owen, as Foggy attempts to jog Wally’s memory by conjuring up images of Nora in her nightie.

Now is it just me, or has the series’ relationship with filmed location inserts changed recently? The show has always been made up of pre-filmed inserts, placed between scenes shot in front of a studio audience, but here the balance seems to have changed slightly, with the studio scenes acting in support of the film. Am I imagining this shift? We don’t have time to go back and watch all of the episodes again!

Bob: I think there’s definitely a lot more location work than there used to be, especially in the town itself. We’ve moved in from the moors a bit, haven’t we?

Mind you, these final studio scenes, with Wally in the house casting furtive glances at Nora’s feet from all kinds of awkward angles, are an absolute delight… just brilliant physical comedy. ‘It’s like having a piece of furniture coming alive’, barks Nora, and I’m absolutely sold on the prospect of a man of Wally’s generation having absolutely no idea about the size of his wife’s feet. I wonder if my Dad knows what my Mum’s shoe size is? I bet he doesn’t.

Andrew: A big laugh from me as Nora questions, ‘Have you been readin’ funny books?!’ Just the idea of Wally attempting to procure such things…

I also love Nora’s motherly instructing of Wally to ‘Wash your hands for tea’, as though he were a child. Saying that, my own pre-meal hand washing has gone downhill since moving out of my parents house, so maybe she’s quite right to remind him.

Bob: You’ve baked cakes for me, too. I feel a a bit queasy now. Hang on a second here, has Foggy just SHOPLIFTED? He seems to have smuggled a footsizer out of a respectable shoe shop, clutching it beneath the folds of his jacket! What’s going on? The scales have fallen from my eyes! The man is a habitual recidivist, and a menace to society. What? WHAT???! Have I got this right?

Andrew: That certainly seems to be the case ,and absolutely nothing is made of the fact! If this was Series One or Two, the entire episode would have revolved around the planning and execution of this heist!

The trio take their illicit footsizer, attach it to a comically long pole, and attempt to measure up Nora from a safe distance, as she climbs a ladder to clean the windows. I love the ridiculousness of the footsizer creeping into frame behind Nora’s heel and the scene is improved immeasurably by what I think is Ronnie Hazlehurst making a subtle musical reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Brilliant.

Bob: Oh, brilliant spot! I never got that! A great episode, I think, and the show is on fine form at the moment. And I’d be amazed if this wasn’t one of Joe Gladwin’s favourite episodes… it’s virtually built around him, and gives him countless opportunities to show off his impeccable comic timing. I really think he’s one of Summer Wine’s great unsung heroes – Wally is a truly brilliant and loveable comic character, and it’s episodes like this that make me regret that Wally and Nora never had their own George and Mildred-style spin off.

Christmas Special 1984: The Loxley Lozenge


In which Wesley gets hot under the chassis…

Andrew: Before we begin, some context. From what we’ve been able to gather, The Loxley Lozenge started life as just another episode of Series Eight, before being picked out for broadcast over the Christmas period. Several online sources have suggested that the character of Crusher actually appeared in this episode upon first broadcast, only to be cut from subsequent repeats, as well as the UK DVD release. The only reason we could imagine this being done is that Crusher is actually introduced to the trio for the first time during Keeping Britain Tidy, the second episode of the eighth series.

The thing is, however, we haven’t been able to find much actual evidence of Crusher being snipped from this episode! For starters, there’s no logical place in the story where he might have been included. Then there’s the fact that he’s not listed during the closing credits. It would have been a lot of effort for the BBC to have excised his scene AND remade the credits from scratch by superimposing captions over the original film insert.

So, dear readers, what do you make of this conundrum? Ideally, the best way to settle this would be for some clever soul to come forward with an off-air VHS recording of the initial broadcast. Is there anybody out there? [UPDATE: SKIP TO THE END TO READ WHAT OUR READERS HAVE BEEN ABLE TO UNCOVER]

Bob: I’d rather settle it in the boxing ring, like gentlemen. Who wants some? Actually, although I can’t provide a VHS from the original broadcast, I can provide some cast-iron proof that I actually watched it. Here’s my GENUINE DIARY ENTRY from Sunday 30th December 1984…

 

1984 Diary 30th December copy

 

So there you go! I was twelve years old and, after a day spent messing about on my brand new ZX Spectrum 48K computer, I watched two of the greatest pieces of fantasy drama ever committed to celluloid. Oh, and Star Wars. Ha! Ha! Only joking, amateur Jedi. But yes, I loved Summer Wine so much that I actually tore myself away from that infernal rubber keyboard and ‘hung around’ to watch The Loxley Lozenge on first broadcast. And – brace yourself – I was all excited because Loxley was, of course, the lost medieval village that the titular hero in Robin of Sherwood hails from. I’d spent much of 1984 utterly obsessed with this show, and went into the Summer Wine Christmas special half-expecting Ray Winstone, Clive Mantle and Nickolas Grace to come charging out of Wesley’s shed, firing arrows into the side of Mottishaw’s bakery.

Actually, if Summer Wine ever comes back, there’s your main trio right there! I’d watch. Providing I could tear myself away from the ZX Spectrum 48K emulator I’ve got installed on this laptop. Complete with Atic Atac. And I have Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz on DVD! And The Loxley Lozenge, obviously. Drew, come over sometime and we can recreate Sunday 30th December 1984! My parents can pop in too, and you can pretend to be my Gran. Is this getting creepy yet?

Andrew: I’ll only agree to this if your uncle Trevor swings by and your dad belts out some show tunes.

You’ve missed out one important detail in discussing this diary entry, you know. You hung around until Last of the Summer Wine began at 7:45, but you also wrote your diary entry at 7:45. Call yourself a fan?! You probably missed Ashley Jackson’s cameo.

Bob: Do you know what? I think my Radio Times scan (see below) actually explains this! The episode was broadcast at 7.15pm, so I clearly just wrote down the wrong time in my diary. And then wrote the entry as soon as it had finished. Although Big Deal was on straight afterwards, which explains why I raced through it. Big Deal is ace!

And yes, Ashley Jackson, the painter we see in these opening scenes, is a genuine working landscape artist from Holmfirth. You can find his work here…

Ashley Jackson’s Website

And I tell you what… his stuff is bloody gorgeous. I might have to buy Christmas on Littlecake for my landing. We should go and have a chat with him sometime!

Andrew: Preferably while he’s trying to get on with some painting, causing him to shoo us away. Actually, I’d love to meet with him just to ask what became of the in-progress paintings we see in this episode. Those would surely be the Holy Grails of Last of the Summer Wine collectables!

Bob: Gordon Wharmby is great, isn’t he? It’s a ‘big’ performance, but he somehow makes it feel completely real. He doesn’t play it solely for laughs, he absolutely understands the obsessiveness of men like Wesley, and gets that across perfectly.

Andrew: Wesley strikes me as one of those characters who is a perfect fusion of writer and actor. Wharmby feeds off Clarke’s wonderful words, but Clarke’s words are equally tailored to the actor’s inherent likability.

Bob: I like Foggy’s mission statement as well… ‘we’ll always listen to any legal proposition’. They are basically a geriatric version of The Goodies! They’ll take on anything, any time, anywhere.

Yikes! Scrub what I said about the Robin of Sherwood reboot. Summer Wine needs relaunching with THE GOODIES IN IT!!! This is TV gold in the making. Who do we write to? Why haven’t we got Roy Clarke on speed dial yet?

Andrew: Didn’t I send you a copy of the restraining order?

Bob: Clegg has a lovely flight-of-fancy monologue here about Hitler’s hitherto untold story as a young Ovaltiney! ‘They made him give his badge back’. Has the idea of Hitler as a ludicrous figure of fun now faded from memory? From the 1940s from the 1980s, he was a character that loomed large in British comedy – lampooned, sent up and pilloried mercilessly by everyone from Charlie Chaplin to The Goons to Basily Fawlty and even Freddie Starr. Was this British society slowly working the horrors of the Second World War out of its system? I wonder. It’s certainly hard to imagine Hitler being referenced in modern comedy… I guess he’s s slowly slipped from being a character within living memory to a distant historical figure. But I also wonder if the Nazis are seen as ‘off limits’ for comedy these days… as though the whole subject is now deemed too horrible to place AT ALL in a comedic context. But I’m not sure that’s the right approach, it’s almost as though we’re scared of Hitler all over again. I think the piss needs royally taking.

Andrew: Might I suggest you’re overthinking this one? Clearly what actually happened was that a memo went out declaring Hitler off limits after a parody of him was perfected in the sublime 1990 masterpiece, Heil Honey, I’m Home.

Bob: Make it stop. Please, just make it stop. Do we need to explain The Ovaltineys as well? My Gran used to drink Ovaltine at bedtime. Just helping you get into character, Drew.

Andrew: I think I might know more about the Ovaltineys than you, actually, little scruffy person. As a formerly highly valued member of the teaching profession, my History of Broadcasting students used to sit in wide-eyed wonder as I expounded upon the history of Radio Luxemburg. At least I think it was wide-eyed wonder; that expression could have had something to do with the matchsticks that were propping their lids open.

From memory, I believe Clegg continues to reference his status as an Ovaltiney well into the 2000s.

Bob: Awwww… no Sid in the café. That’s a real culture shock, although Jane Freeman is in good form. ‘I shall treat you as though you were a recognisable human being’, she tells Wesley – and I’m a bit surprised to see that she clearly doesn’t know him! Holmfirth is clearly a small town, and they’re both – ahem – ‘characters’ who have been around for a few years, so it seems quite odd that they’ve never bumped into each other.

Andrew: The loss of John Comer is sorely felt by us, the audience, but the programme makes no reference to Sid’s absence, and won’t do so for several years to come. This is something I’m a little conflicted about when it comes to Last of the Summer Wine. Quite a few characters vanish over the years due to the passing of the actors who played them, and only very rarely are the characters ever mentioned as having also died. On the one hand, having loved the characters, I’d like to see them given a farewell, but on the other it would be very easy to get bogged down by their loss. Why draw attention to the big Sid-shaped hole in this episode when Clarke can use that time to make us laugh? Actually, there’s also something very Northern about just getting on with it.

Bob: Oh god, Wesley paying for his tea in pennies… I used to do this too. In the days when a cup of tea cost 20p, it actually wasn’t THAT outrageous! I even remember going into the corner shop near my school sometime in the long-lost sepia-tinted haze of my childhood, having found a penny on the floor outside… and using it to buy two halfpenny sweets. Yes, I am an Edwardian urchin. I think I’d spent all morning with my nose pressed up against the shop window. Until I went home to play Atic Atac on my ZX Spectrum 48K.

Compo thinks he’s about to star in a blue movie! Oh, I actually remember getting embarrassed about this back in December 1984. When you’re twelve years old, the LAST thing you want to happen when you’re watching TV with your parents is for anything remotely connected to ‘how’s your father’ to appear onscreen. I used to live in fear of heaving buttocks on Channel 4.

Andrew: That reminds me – how is your father?

Bob: Fine, and singing show tunes. Does this morbid, suffocating embarrassment at the ‘TV SEX SCENE’ (in reality, usually barely more than a bit of chaste rolling around beneath satin sheets) still exist for kids today, or are they all watching hardcore porn on their iPads and shrugging their shoulders?

Andrew: You’re a naïve man if you think they’re just shrugging their shoulders…

Bob: Wesley has a secret, and Clegg reassures him that ‘none of us went to Cambridge’. Woah, a spy ring reference! Kim Philby, Donald MacLean, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt had passed official secrets to the Russians during wartime, and were exposed, one-by-one, in a process that lasted from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. It’s a historical reference that went completely over my head in 1984, but I guess it’s merely the equivalent of a modern comedy making jokes about Margaret Thatcher. Which makes me feel ancient. You’ll have to look after me one day, Drew. I want a bath chair. And an ear trumpet.

This is such a lovely pub scene, with Wesley discreetly informing our trio – amidst much paranoid scanning for earwiggers – that he’s ‘found a Loxley Lozenge’.

Andrew: Can we just take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the name ‘Loxley Lozenge’? Just say it out loud. Nice and slowly. Isn’t that a pleasant thing to say? It also seems to have been custom built to trip off the tongue of Gordon Warmby.

Bob: The ensuing madness, as Foggy attempts to decipher this bizarre declaration, is a magnificent example of Clarke’s writing and Brian Wilde’s delivery working in perfect tandem. ‘Let me put it through the computer,’ says Foggy, tapping his temple. ‘I read widely through the kind of information found in pocket diaries’.

Oh, glorious. Character work done to perfection! Foggy is absolutely the kind of man who would commit to memory the dates of Yom Kippur and Princess Anne’s birthday, and the conversion formula required to convert acres into hectares. All of which, I hasten to add, are located on the first two pages of my 1984 diary. Before I start waffling on about Terrahawks* and the latest Fighting Fantasy book.

And you know what? I miss those men. I fear forthcoming generations will commit no facts, figures and aimless trivia to memory whatsover, because they won’t need to. It’s all on their bloody iPad at the touch of a button, together with oceans of hardcore filth and ZX Spectrum emulators. But there’s no substitute for hard, tangible knowledge and decades of accumulated wisdom. And I’ll still be saying that in my bath chair when I can barely remember where my ears are.

(Matron: ‘They’re in the bathroom cabinet, next to your teeth!’)

Andrew: I’m ashamed to say that the abundance of technology in my life has led to me completely forgetting any of the mathematics I was ever taught at school. I’m still a wiz at writing BOOBIES with an upside-down calculator, though!

Bob: I love the way Brian Wilde says ‘cough sweet’. There’s such a brilliant, military precision about his manner of speech. And Roy Clarke is still on great, whimsical form here, too. ‘Cromwell denounced them as the Devil’s Baubles’ indeed.

Andrew: Is this as whimsical as Clarke has ever allowed himself to be in Last of the Summer Wine? Foggy doesn’t believe he’s making all of this history up, of course, but his entire back-story to the Loxley Lozenge is just as fantastical as Clegg’s rather more self-knowing Hitler yarn. This is really, really beautiful writing.

Bob: Let’s get to the crux! The Loxley Lozenge is an ancient racing car, and clearly the Holy Grail for a seasoned autophile like Wesley, even though the relic he has unearthed is little more than a rusted chassis. ‘This old girl’s not as bad as she looks,’ he beams, proudly. ‘That’s what they said about Lavinia the Strangler,’ grimaces Clegg.

At first I thought this was another splendid Clarke non-sequitur, but now I’m not so sure if it refers to this lady! She doesn’t appear to have strangled anyone, though – she was more of a consummate poisoner. What do we think?

Lavinia Fisher

The Loxley Lozenge, bare and rusty as it is, gets a big laugh from the studio audience. But you know what? I think it’s rather lovely! And it’s absolutely right and touching that a man like Wesley would find pride in salvaging and restoring it. Were the 1980s the culmination of a couple of decades of wanton disposability? I have a feeling they were. When I was a kid, no-one hung onto ‘old stuff’… it was chucked out. People wanted NEW and IMPROVED, and the idea of homely retro chic would have seemed ridiculous. My parents are still pretty ruthless when it comes to decluttering the house. ‘Oh, that old thing? It went in the bin just last week…’ (Cue me scrabbling through potato peelings to look for a rack of ancient VHS tapes)

Anyway, I’ve done a bit of research on vintage car sites, and although the Loxley Lozenge itself is fictional, it seems to be widely agreed that the actual chassis used in the show is that of an old Austin Sheerline…

The Austin Sheerline

Andrew: Widely agreed?! You just toss that off as if it isn’t utterly remarkable that there is more than one man out there who has decided that tracking down the true origins of this forty-year-old television sitcom prop is a worthwhile use of his time on Earth!

Bob: The door falls off Wesley’s landrover, and he casually picks it up and sticks it in the back. I have done this. Not with a door, but with the back bumper of a Hillman Imp that I was travelling in, circa 1991. It clattered off on a country lane near Hutton Rudby, and I watched it bounce into a ditch through the fogged-up back window. My friend slammed on the brakes, rolled his eyes, and wearily backed up the car to collect it.

My dad also claims to have lost his entire exhaust while travelling down the A19 in a Triumph Toledo. Again, he just shoved it onto the back seat and carried on with his journey. Chew on this, 21st century children of the onboard diagnostic computer.

Andrew: Have you ever owned a car that wasn’t falling to bits? There have been at least two occasions I can think of where it seemed quite likely your car was going to have to be towed away from my driveway. Are you maintaining some sort of elaborate tribute to Gordon Wharmby?

Bob: My entire life is an elaborate tribute to Gordon Wharmby. A lovely bit of Wally and Nora business, right at the death! Chuntering deliciously to each other in their motorbike and sidecar.

Nora: Talk to me. You never speak to me.
Wally: I spoke to you yesterday. I asked you where me elastic bandage was.
Nora: You used to like my company once.
Wally: Oh aye, once. But now I’ve got it all week.


Andrew:
The sight of Wally and Nora in their motorbike and sidecar is never going to fail to make me laugh. My highlight of this scene has to be:

Nora: You’re wicked you are. You do this ‘harmless old man who loves his pigeons’ act, but I know you’re wicked.

There’s so much truth to this dialogue. The mutual distrust and surface level bitterness masking what again actually appears to be a very solid relationship. It also doesn’t hurt that this scene is beautifully performed by Gladwin and Staff. Look closely and you can actually catch Gladwin breaking out of character and stifling a giggle at one point – magical.

Bob: It’s marvellous. Nobody writes like this any more. And after all that, she offers him a Raspberry Ruffle! It’s love. Just not as we know it.

And, unlike the Loxley Lozenge, Raspberry Ruffles are real. You can buy them at any good, traditional sweetshop…

Raspberry Ruffles

Andrew: Tasked with steering the Loxley Lozenge as Wesley tows her home, our trio take to a sofa that has been lashed to its rusting chassis. It isn’t long, of course, before said sofa breaks loose and sends them hurling down a hill only to come to a stop behind a bemused Ashley Jackson. Full circle.

Bob: Yet another Christmas episode with no Christmas trappings whatsoever, but I enjoyed that enormously. A great premise with some truly sparkling dialogue, and a huge compliment to Gordon Wharmby to have such a prestigious episode built around his talents. What a top turn.

Andrew: I’d rank that as one of the best of the series’ run so far. It’s wonderfully written and the cast are at the top of their game. If this is a sign of things to come, Series Eight is shaping up to be something special.

* Andrew You know, I never thought I’d find reason to plug this here, but I happen to be one of the script editors of the revived audio drama series of Terrahawks. Yes, there is such a thing. If you’re as nostalgia-driven as Fischer is, why not treat yourself to this free taster episode?

The Loxley Lozenge

UPDATE:
Thanks to our brilliant readers, we’ve been able to figure out what became of Crusher’s appearance in this episode. Rather than beginning its life as a separately comissioned episode for Christmas, The Loxley Lozenge was produced as part of the regular run of Series Eight. It was later chosen as the best episode to be transmitted over the Christmas period, but as the character had not yet been introduced to viewers, it seems that the decision was made to edit his appearance from the episode. This is how The Loxley Lozenge was first transmitted. For a repeat run in 1985, however, the BBC returned to the original master tape and transmitted the episode with Crusher’s scene intact. This was also the version of the episode later released on the The Finest Vintage VHS release. A big thank you to everybody who contributed towards clearing this up!

Getting Sam Home Again

After falling in love with the feature-length 1983 Last of the Summer Wine special, Getting Sam Home, the Summer Winos decided to spend a glorious May afternoon in Holmfirth tracking down some of the episode’s more notable locations.  Thanks to all at Sid’s Cafe and the Shoulder of Mutton pub for allowing us to film there, and to our regular, long-suffering cameraman Andrew Orton! He’s rapidly becoming our ‘Third Man’…

Getting Sam Home

gsh2
In which Compo, Clegg and Foggy ain’t got no body…

Andrew: Let’s be upfront about this. We’ve both seen Getting Sam Home before and we both think it contains some of the best material Roy Clarke has ever written, that Alan JW Bell has ever directed, and that any of the actors have ever performed. This is going to be less of a review and more of a love letter.

Bob: Don’t give things away this early, we want to build up an air of tension! But yeah, you’re right… and is this the most wistful start ever to a British comedy film? The church bells chime, a melancholy flute solo rises into the autumn sky, and craggy-faced Wally Batty lets loose a flapping pigeon to the heavens. It’s like he’s sending a message to the world; from Holmfirth… from Summer Wine country. And you know what? It feels like a message from my younger self to the modern-day me, as well. Because there aren’t many pieces of TV from my childhood that have meant more to me than Getting Sam Home. I was eleven years old when this first aired, and it made a lifelong and profound impression on me. It’s like a platonic ideal of Summer Wine for me; the very essence of the show. And it’s also an encapsulation of the end of my childhood… those people; those places, the feeling of an innocent era slowly drifting away. There are hardly any TV shows that have to power to transport me in this way.

The rural primary school with the cows grazing outside; the kids being called in from the playground; the first bars of the opening theme, and blimey… it’s got lyrics now. Beautiful, heartfelt lyrics. Oh gawd, we’re barely into the title sequence and I’m a mess already. Honestly, I’ve got tingles everywhere. I’m eleven years old again, and I want it all back.

Andrew: Obviously I had a very good excuse for not seeing this when it originally went out, but it does hold a similarly nostalgic pleasure for me. I grew up with the series during the second Foggy era of the 1990s, but at some point I must have caught a repeat of this film because for years I had odd memories of the chip van that features in it. Not only that, but I distinctly recalled the fact that there was no laugh track and that it looked somehow different from the shows I was used to. It wasn’t until the DVDs came along that I finally got to experience it all over again.

Bob: Repeated on the 8th May 1994, according to BBC Genome! You were seven years old. I blame the parents.

The reason David Walliams is David Walliams?

Fairburn gets his divvy…

There’s a perfect, unbelievably economic bit of character work here in these opening scenes. Clegg is unfavourably comparing the weather to the same time last year, Foggy contrasts it with his experiences in the Far East, and Compo lusts after the girl in the dry cleaners who strips naked beneath her uniform whenever the sun shines. And there you go – your three main characters in a nutshell.

Andrew: I absolutely agree with you that this perfectly sets up our main characters, but that’s actually rather strange when you think about it. This film was based upon Roy Clarke’s novel – simply titled Last of the Summer Wine – and in that book the three protagonists are Clegg, Compo… and Blamire. It’s strange to consider that everything Foggy says or does in this film actually originates in some way with Blamire. Clarke does a bang-up job of adapting his own work, mind you. You’d never guess this wasn’t created for the screen unless somebody told you.

Bob: And yes, no laugh track! A bold but very wise move, I think… this isn’t a studio sitcom any more, it’s a proper film. It has elegance, grace and a lavish sense of style. Huge credit to Alan JW Bell for pulling this off.

Andrew: Although the film was really his pet project, Bell was only awarded the job of directing after putting in a lower quote than Sydney Lotterby, so I can’t begin to imagine the uphill battle he must have faced to create such a polished-looking film as this. It’s also worth pointing out that this is starting to look much more like Last of the Summer Wine as I remember it from my childhood. As much as I appreciate the unique mix of videotape and film inserts in classic British television, by the time I was watching the show in the early to mid 1990s, it had switched entirely to film production.

Bob: How many times do our trio inadvertently stumble across illicit courting couples in some remote area of the countryside? This time it’s Fairburn, the Co-Op tailor, sneakily ‘getting his divvy’ with ‘her from the bacon counter’. And Fairburn is playing by David Williams, who I suspect might be the reason that David Walliams is David Walliams!

Andrew: It does seem a tad farcical that our trio would keep stumbling across these secret trysts in the countryside, but I’ve also encountered a fair few couples of an evening who were doing far more than courting!

Bob: They have sexual intercouse in Gateshead these days? The place is coming on leaps and bounds. This is a brilliant introduction for Lynda Baron, as the voluptuous Lily Bless ‘Er… and we’re instantly shown what a different proposition she is to the rest of the women in Summer Wine country. ‘I like your knickers’ leers Compo, grimacing through the skimpy underwear on the line. ‘Do you, love?’ beams Lily, a clear battle-line being drawn between her warm brand of sauciness, and the thunderous response that the same compliment would have elicited from Nora or Ivy. Some cracking curtain-twitching in the street, too! My mum still does this. She’s unbelievable. If a car passes within fifty yards of the house, she’s at the front window with more unseemly haste than you’d expect from a woman who’s had two hip replacements. ‘Oooh, it’s Gary coming back early,’ she’ll muse. ‘Sandra must be on days this week…’ I have no idea who any of these people are.

Drew's dad's curtains are twitching already...

Drew’s dad’s curtains are twitching already…

Andrew: My dad’s the curtain twitcher in our family, although he manages to sense everything from the comfort of the sofa. Honestly, I think he must have Sonar or something. He can’t hear us if we try to ask him what he wants for his tea, but he’s straight on the case if there’s a neighbour outside parking a car where they shouldn’t be. It’s an art.

Bob: I was fascinated by the name ‘Lily Bless ‘Er’ as a kid, it just seemed so outlandish to me. Does it imply that Lily is viewed with a degree of sympathy by many of the people in town? For all her flouncy sex appeal, she’s quite a sad figure… a lonely, middle-aged woman grasping for fleeting encounters with married man. A proto-Marina, I guess, in many ways? Her front room just reeks of solitary desperation, too. The ticking clock, hammering away the days. And Compo is offered a can of Tetley’s bitter from the fridge. How long do you think that’s been in there, waiting for the right gentleman caller to pass by? I bet it’s as flat as a fart.

Andrew: There’s a touch of Marina about her, perhaps, but the key difference between the characters is that Lily Bless ‘Er’ is actually getting some from time to time. Given that, at this point in its run, the series was transforming into a much more family friendly show, its quite striking to me how adult this film is. Later in the run, much will be made of how chaste and innocent Howard and Marina’s affair is – but I think I prefer the honesty on display here. Sam and Lily aren’t usually getting together for a kiss and a cuddle!

Bob: And so we discover that Lily is desperate to get messages through to the miserably married Sam, currently languishing in hospital with an unspecified malady, and smuggling out hilariously garbled messages to the lady of his dreams. ‘There’s a bloke here who knows you from the Three Horseshoes with a hernia called Trevor’, she reads out loud, with deadpan concern. I laughed out loud.

And Sam, in hospital, really does look dreadfully ill! I hope that’s all make-up. Played with more wistful melancholy by Peter Russell, who was actually a very respected stage comedian… as well as playing Eldred in the 1965 Doctor Who story The Time Meddler! (I know, I know…) His thoughtful voiceover, envying the happy lives of his fellow patients while his stony wife Sybil knits furiously, is a lovely touch. ‘She’s 45, and badly dressed… and lovely’ he muses, eyeing up Mr Cosgrave’s wife with a resigned sigh. How long has it been since this poor old sod had any love in his marriage whatsoever? Nobody weaves lonely resignation into a comedy script with more elegance than Roy Clarke. Nobody.

Andrew: I think that inner monologue is one of the few signs we get that this film has been adapted from a novel. It’s not a technique Clarke uses much in Summer Wine. In fact, I can’t think of a nother example off-hand. But in order for us to get to know and care about Sam in the limited time we’re going to spend with him, making use of this device makes perfect sense.

Bob: It works, and it’s a nice luxury to play with when you’re not worrying about the live rapport with a studio audience.

Sam is taken home via the only transport that our trio can muster… Sid’s ramshackle, semi-derelict fish and chip van. A little word for John Comer here, as it’s an incredibly sad story… poor John had lost his voice for this recording, and so is dubbed throughout the entire episode by fellow Yorkshire actor Tony Melody who, you have to say, did a magnificent job. I was a seasoned Summer Wine watcher by the time this was first broadcast, and I didn’t notice it at all. And I was rather taken aback years later, when I first read about it, as I think I’d even seen it on DVD by that stage, and still not noticed! With the benefit of hindsight and experience… yes, you can tell it’s not John Comer, but it doesn’t detract at all. And, tragically, what nobody realised at this stage was that John had throat cancer, and would die only a few short months after filming was completed.

Andrew: It was an incredibly unfortunate situation, to put it mildly, but Tony Melody does indeed do a fantastic job. I guess the dubbing works so well because none of Comer’s dialogue made it into the film, so it’s not a case of swithching back and forth between a sound-alike and the real thing. It might also have helped that this film stands on its own. If Tony Melody had had to step in during the middle of a series, it probably would have been a lot more obvious.

Bob: Another lovely scene here, with Sam on the moors, picking out the spot where he’d like his ashes scattered. It’s beautifully poignant. ‘I can see Ducketts Foundary, and Mottishaw’s Bakery… I shall know where I am’. You wonder how many of those traditional landmarks would have lasted much longer beneath the relentless march of progress… or had they gone already, even in 1983? Is Sam gazing into his own past here? Either way, a huge word of praise to Ronnie Hazlehurst, who scores this scene beautifully. Another gorgeous moment of melancholy.

Andrew:  On a good day, my life is scored by Ronnie Hazlehurst. By the way, I’m assuming you want to be scattered under the table closest to the loo in Sid’s Café? I’m not sure what Laura will make of that plan, but I’ll do me best.

'Ravenous sexual activity'

‘Ravenous sexual activity’

Bob: Just sprinkle me on a doughnut. And so we get to the crux of the episode… Sam, now imprisoned in his home (and shed) by the fearsome Sybil, wants our trio to break him out for a night of passion with Lily Bless ‘Er! I love Foggy’s self-conscious ‘not acting suspiciously’ as they creep towards the house. And ‘Mamsy and Dadsy’ in the house next door, with that bloody poodle! Yegods, Roy Clarke’s obsession with sterile, loveless marriages knows no bounds. But he writes them brilliantly.

We see frustratingly little of Nora and Wally in this episode, but this tiny cutaway to Wally, drunkenly ascending the steps to his house, is a perfect little showcase for a bit of vintage Joe Gladwin. Such great physical comedy! We don’t see a lot of out-and-out drunkenness in Last of the Summer Wine, do we? Just lots of women complaining about it.  It’s surprising that we’ve seen so little of Nora in this episode, given that Kathy Staff was such a famous and integral part of the show by this stage. But I guess the original 1974 novel must have been written concurrently with the first series… before Nora really became the sensation that she did!

Andrew: Unless, of course, you buy the reissue of the book that was published to coincide with this television adaptation. It seems pretty much everything remains the same as the first edition, except for the fact that the book replaces every mention of the name ‘Blamire’ with the name ‘Foggy’. Of course, this means that Foggy is weirdly out of sorts throughout. The cheeky beggars! Actually, it’s a bit annoying this buggered-about with version is now much easier to find than the original. If you can, folks, pick up the Coronet Books paperback edition!

Bob: Sam is dead! In the arms of Lily Bless ‘Er! While our trio idle away their time in her tick-tocking living room, clad in her frilly cardies after a soaking from the rain. ‘He only wanted a cuddle…’ weeps Lily, which gives the whole thing even more poignancy. Was Sam in the throes of some wild, illicit passion? No… he just wanted a flicker of comfort, lying chastely in his buttoned-up pyjamas with a final smile of affection upon his face.

Andrew: At this juncture can I just point out that we are looking at a corpse? Once again – this is not a family film!

Bob: We’re heading into quite traditional farce territory though, as our trio have to beg to borrow Sid’s van (which involves tapping on Sid and Ivy’s bedroom window… is this the first and only time we actually see them in bed together? At least they still snuggle up of an evening – unlike virtually every other married couple we see in this series!) and smuggle Sam back into his own marital home.

A nice bit of vintage Roy Clarke during this steamy bedroom scene, too…

Ivy: It could be anybody! Some lunatic desperate for a woman.

Sid: Well there you are, you see… it’s for you.

Andrew: Out of all of the characters in the series, Sid and Ivy are the only ones whose bedroom I expect to be a secret hive of ravenous sexual activity. There is far too much passion in their ranting and raving for them not to be absolutely gagging for one another… What, too much?

Bob: Not enough! Keep going! You could be tbe Jilly Cooper of the Blogsphere. You can have my arse, in jodhpurs, on the cover of your first novel.

So Sam is safely home, and the ensuing daytime scene outside our trio’s old primary school is – I think – not just one of the finest scenes in Summer Wine’s history, but in British comedy as a whole. With another one of their childhood friends having passed on, Compo finds himself discussing his own early encounters with death. ‘The morning that little yellowhammer flew straight into the glass,’ he muses, ‘I picked it up. And it had a drop of blood on its beak. One drop. Identical same colour as ours’.

And Clegg joins in, wistfully reminiscing about former classmates who ‘ran smack into World War Two’. ‘Including Little Tommy Naylor, lying in a field in Africa. Blood on his beak. Identical same colour as ours’.

RIP Little Tommy Naylor...

RIP Little Tommy Naylor…

It’s everything to me, this scene. How could a young boy, idling away his childhood in such idyllic surroundings as this, find himself – just a few short years later – dying so brutally, so far away? Tommy Naylor must have once imagined Clegg’s life ahead of him, and relished it. The quiet contemplation, the dull but secure warmth of marriage and work and, ultimately, old age. And yet all the while, the clouds were gathering over Europe. Who would live, and who would die? It was horribly, cruelly random. And Clegg knows that. Tommy Naylor’s blood was the same colour as his, and it could so easily have been Norman Clegg, aged 18 or 21 or 25 or whatever, dying in a field in Africa and thinking one last time of his childhood in this playground. Of his mother, of his friends, of the missing years he’d never grow to know.

No other sitcom would attempt this. None. It’s magnificent, and real, and can only be borne of Roy Clarke’s own feelings.

Andrew: Agreed on all counts. In fact, if I was to pick one scene to represent the best of Last of the Summer Wine as I see it, it would probably be this one. It’s shot in beautifully grim surroundings on lovely 16mm film stock, features an absolutely typical meditation upon the nature of life and death, and ends with a pratfall ­– what more could I ask?

Bob: And then, just to ram the point home, we see Foggy jostled down the steps outside the café by a crowd of cheering 1980s schoolkids! And the wheel has come full circle. He was them, just a few blinks in a short lifetime ago. But time is cruel, and now he’s just an old man in the crowd. Oh, this is glorious and profound.

And Sam’s relatives arguing over his possessions, and lumping his gear out of the shed before the funeral has even taken place, is fabulously real! And curiously Northern, I reckon? Oh, the free-for-all that takes place after a death in the family is something I’ve come to find incredibly blackly funny. And my name is ON that hostess trolley. I mean it.

Andrew: So you’re saying I’d better get round to your gaff sharpish if I want to get my hands on your collection of Peanuts books? Noted.

Bob: Into the Shoulder of Mutton pub! For any of our readers who have never visited Holmfirth, I recommend you do… and you’ll be staggered at how delightfully tiny the place really is, and how close together all of these seemingly disparate locations actually are. The Shoulder of Mutton is thirty seconds walk around the back of Sid’s Café, and the yard where Sid kept his ramshackle van is another few yards around the corner from there. But I LOVE this pub scene! The sultry, brassy pub singer, pointing and pouting like a Yorkshire Shirley Bassey. And again, this has a lovely, filmic quality… it’s clearly shot inside the actual pub itself.

Andrew: We’ve actually visited this pub a couple of times now on our jaunts to Holmfirth and I must confess to a slight feeling of disappointment every time we cross the threshold. Not that it isn’t a nice pub ­– it is – but it isn’t the bustling social gathering place that was captured in this film. Saying that, I’d probably flee the pub as featured in the film in search of a tobacco-free breath of fresh air.

Bob: And doesn’t Brian Wilde make for a fabulous comedy drunk? I’m not much of a boozer these days, but I used to love sitting at a pub table that was covered in empty glasses. It gave me such a heartfelt feeling of achievement.

It's kicking off in the Shoulder of Mutton!

It’s kicking off in the Shoulder of Mutton!

Andrew: Brian Wilde makes for a fantastic everything.

Bob: When I watched this episode on DVD this time around, for the first time ever I started to think ‘Oooh… it’s a bit padded here, isn’t it?’ The fact that Lily decides that Sam – now deceased – needs rescuing from Sybil’s clutches AGAIN (and taking back again afterwards) felt like one of those episodes of Doctor Who that relies on our heroes being captured, escaping, recaptured and escaping again for a fake sense of tension and drama. But I’m wrong! Totally wrong! The two halves of this film are like a mirror image of each other; with death the dividing line between. So in the first half, the living Sam is smuggled from home, taken to Lily Bless Er, and smuggled back again. In the second half, the same thing happens to his dead body. Is there a message here? I’m going to be pretentious and suggest this: that death is no obstacle to our feelings for each other. Lily adores Sam; and wants his body to be as rested and comfortable in her house in death as much as it was when he was alive. Sybil can’t stand him; and kept him exiled to the shed both before and after he’d died. And on both occasions, he provides equal quantities of fun, terror and inconvenience to our heroic trio. There you go… I should be running a media studies course. It’s the early mornings that would do for me, though.

Andrew: I think you’re on the money there, but I should point out that ANY film would start to feel padded if watched the same number of times that you have seen Getting Sam Home.

Bob: I love these scenes on the moors, with Sam’s body hidden in the van as Sid fobs off a passing police car. And it’s Ken Kitson playing the copper! Brilliant. I was watching an old Children’s Film Foundation movie recently (Terry On The Fence, 1985, for those that want to check) and he plays an amiable policeman in that as well. Did Roy Clarke write him into The Trials of PC Penrose, by any chance? I’m off to check…

Andrew: Oh God, don’t go! I don’t have your talent for filling space! What am I supposed to talk about? I like Getting Sam Home… I really like Getting Sam Home… that’s it; I’m out. Please come back!

Bob: Ken Kitson was NOT in The Trails of PC Penrose. At ease, everybody.

Andrew: Phew.

Bob: The scenes with the bickering Mamsy and Dadsy, Sam and Sybil’s neighbours, are some of the funniest in the film. Accused of not checking whether their pampered poodle has ‘done his business’, Dadsy is indignant. ‘What am I supposed to do, dabble for it with me fingers?’ There’s a brilliant comedy faint from Dadsy too, as Foggy – ‘sitting in’ as a substitute in Sam’s coffin – rises up in the shed. I laughed like a drain. And probably smelt like one as well.

Sitcom Rule No 47: Any kind of ‘weird business’ conducted in a darkened suburban street, MUST take place outside a house in which the residents are nervously watching a horror film on TV. Which we NEVER see… we only hear the chilling music and the bloodcurdling screams. Them’s the rules!

Andrew: Except – and I’m sorry to make you question your entire belief system here – we DO see one shot of the film Dadsy is watching! Here’s a challenge for our all-knowing readers ­– what is the name of the film?

Bob: There’s something lovely and reassuring about seeing a flickering TV in a front room from a darkened street, though. As I kid I was scared of EVERYTHING, and all manner of imaginary ghosts and vampires followed me on my travels around Teesside. But a glimpse of normality like that, just a flash of The Generation Game through a gap in the curtains, would swiftly drag me back into the world of the ordinary.

Oooh, do you want a bit of controversy here?

Andrew: Always…

Bob: I distinctly remember sitting in my Gran’s front room, possibly the day before this was broadcast, reading an article in the Daily Mirror stating that Getting Sam Home was set to cause a rumpus due to the inclusion of an unprecedented four-letter word, claiming the existence of a scene in which Sid refers to a customer as ‘f*** face’! That’s what it said, ‘f*** face!’ Now, naturally you can imagine what I assumed the phrase was going to be, and I was genuinely mortified by this. With my friends, I swore like a navvy, but I was incredibly embarrassed by any of that business actually filtering through to my parents, and the thought of hearing such a word IN THEIR COMPANY filled me with horror.

So I think I genuinely sat through Getting Sam Home with a sense of uneasy dread bubbling away throughout. And, of course, it’s ‘fart face’! ‘Listen, fart face!’ Which didn’t bother me at all. The Daily Mirror, eh? F***ing t***s!

Boys Keep Swinging…

Andrew: Not to ask too much of our readers, but surely someone out there must be able to track this article down?

Bob: God, this is macabre stuff, isn’t it? Sid is serving chips on a dark, windswept moor to drunken idiots as the stiff arm of his dead friend swings from the parapet above the bubbling chip pans. Has the show ever been quite THIS dark before?

Andrew: Absolutely not, and I don’t think it ever will be again. This has got to be down to the fact the film started life as a novel, hasn’t it? Freed from the shackles of broadcast restrictions, Clarke really went all out!

Bob: The policeman to Mamsy, distraught over the disappearance of her fainting husband… ‘They’re not usually dead, Madam… they’ve usually just run off with some other woman’. Magnificent!

And so, as the dawn begins to rise and the church bells chime, Sid’s van has broken down and there’s seemingly no chance of getting Sam’s body back to Sybil in time for the funeral. And – it seems – the tailors dummy blackmailed from Mr Fairburn will be sent for cremation instead. Clegg’s offer to confess all to Sybil is very noble, but VERY unlike him! But I like Foggy and Compo’s ‘all in this together’ attitude. When there’s genuine trouble, they do stick together like the best of friends. It’s heartwarming.

Andrew: The whole film is about friendship and loyalty as much as it’s about mortality. Sam isn’t a character we’ve seen before and certainly isn’t part of the main trio, but he’s their mate and that’s enough to ensure they go absurd lengths to carry out his final wishes. There’s also the school days connection made during the opening credits, and that beautiful speech from Clegg that we mentioned earlier. These are blokes who have known each other for decades – of course they’re going to stick together. It’s lovely.

Bob: Are coffins left open any more? Thankfully I don’t think they are, so we’re spared exchanges like ‘Who coloured that? Get the lid on, quick!’ Sybil was ahead of the game with the smoking ban, as well. All the seasoned nicotine chuffers are exiled to join Sam’s coffin in the shed, so it’s no wonder he’s gone a funny colour.

Andrew: I knew somebody whose father died a couple of years ago. Apparently when all the family gathered together at home to prepare themselves for the funeral, it was just expected that the body should be there too. This really rather freaked out this person’s partner, who wasn’t expecting to be chatting, eating and drinking next to a dead person for the better part of a week. It’s really not something we should be made uncomfortable by, but I think most of us are. I suspect it’s a cultural shift. As the population has gone up and up, death has, by necessity, come to be treated in a much more conveyer-belt fashion. You’re bagged, tagged, prepped and delivered to the crematorium with great efficiency these days. We simply don’t have to deal with the dead in the same way that we used to, unless for whatever cultural reason we choose to. A generation who went through World War Two, however, are much more used to and practical about the idea.

Bob: Good grief, really? I’m with your friend’s partner. I’d never sleep! I have a ventriloquists dummy in the spare room wardrobe, and even that keeps me awake at night.

Coconut Mushrooms not pictured

More glorious dialogue as our trio, convinced that a shop window dummy is about to be cremated, forlornly make their way to the church. ‘Would anyone like a coconut mushroom?’ inquires Cousin Olive, cheerful to the last. Clegg is gazing wistfully out of the window. ‘From the standpoint of heaven, how magical must Mottishaw’s Bakery be?’ he muses, in melancholy voiceover. And, again, I like to imagine that Mottishaw’s Bakery has long since been demolished, and that Sam is gazing from some celestial standpoint into the long-lost childhood that all these characters constantly yearn for.

And, when it comes down to it, Ivy has bailed them out. The dummy is in the chip van, Sam is in his coffin, and she kept it to herself as ‘I thought it might do you all good to sweat a little bit’. And, as The Lord Is My Shepherd plays in the church, a lonely Lily Bless ‘Er is taken into the funeral car by a relenting, sympathetic Sybil. It’s a really touching end to an incredibly accomplished film.

Andrew: A touching end, and a very important one in terms of not misrepresenting Clarke’s view of women! He may create truly terrifying female characters, who keep a like to keep a tight leash on their husbands, but they are absolutely the ones who keep the world he has created from falling apart. It’s a balance between masculinity and femininity, as much as it is between childishness and dour maturity.

Bob: What can I say about Getting Sam Home? It was one of my favourite pieces of TV when I was eleven years old, and nothing in the last thirty years has changed my opinion one jot. It’s full of poignancy and melancholy, shot through with deliciously black humour, and has some of the show’s funniest-ever lines and performances. And, on top of that, it’s beautifully directed, with a real flair for both sweeping countryside and all of those intimate little scenes in pubs and cafes and tiny front rooms. This isn’t a TV special… it’s a film. And it’s one of the best British comedy films of all time.

Andrew: It’s such an unassuming little film, but it really does deserve classic status. Sadly, I think the fact it was made for television robs it of the prestige it deserves. Had it been released to cinemas, I think it could have single-handedly done away with that silly myth about television programmes not working on the big screen. They do when they’re done as well as this!

In a fair world, Getting Sam Home would have been restored in HD from the film rushes and would be transmitted on BBC1 on bank holiday weekends instead of endless repeats of Carry On films. Well a chap can dream, can’t he?

Bob: And a little word for John Comer, Drew? It’s terribly sad to think that this is the last time we’ll see him. Sid is a magnificent character, and has some of the funniest lines in the first ten years of the show… all delivered with absolutely immaculate comic timing. But he’s a great straight actor too, and I absolutely believe both in Sid and in that marriage. There’s a gritty truth to Sid, and he’s given these early years a lot of heart and soul. He made a great double act with Jane Freeman, but also an hilarious foursome with the three main characters, and I’ll miss him enormously. RIP Sid… and John.

Andrew: I’ll miss Sid enormously. Of all the things I’ve discovered in returning to these early series of Last of the Summer Wine, it’s the chemistry of John Comer and Jane Freeman that has been the most revelatory. Together, they brought vibrancy and charm to some of Roy Clarke’s very best scenes and, as you say, there’s a real truth to that relationship that’s quite rare in sitcom. They should have been given at least a pilot episode of their very own. It is very sad to watch him here with the knowledge that his voice was so weak that he had to be dubbed by another actor. Still, I’m glad that he made it to this film, the jewel in Summer Wine’s crown. It wouldn’t have been nearly as special without him. Here’s to you, John.

Comer
Getting Sam Home

STOP PRESS EVERYONE!

We’re now proud to unveil Getting Sam Home Again, our little feature film tracking down some of the more notable locations from this episode. Thanks to all at Sid’s Cafe and the Shoulder of Mutton pub for allowing us to film there, and to our regular, long-suffering cameraman Andrew Orton! He’s rapidly becoming our ‘Third Man’…

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