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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’…

An Interview with Laura of Sid's Café

The Summer Winos were recently delighted  to sit down for an interview with our friend Laura Booth, proprietor of Sid’s Café. Press play to hear about the ins and outs of running a national treasure, and hear the story of how a sitcom facade ending up becoming a real-life business…

LINK

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Series 7 Episode 6: The Arts of Concealment

In which Compo’s trousers go west…

Bob: Oh, now HERE’s a throwback… I think! Compo reveals he once gave ‘twenty fags’ to a child, in exchange for a football rattle. Tell me Drew, when you were a small boy around the turn of the millennium, did you and your peers still think it was cool and ineffably ‘adult’ to puff away on a crafty Rothman’s King Size? Because at the time this episode aired, approaching my eleventh birthday, that was undoubtedly the case! It wasn’t ubiquitous, but there were eleven and twelve-year-olds of my acquaintance who were not averse to a sneaky toke around the back of the bike sheds. And my school toilets frequently had an unmistakeable whiff of cigarette smoke about them. Although admittedly it paled in comparison to the billowing clouds of smog that rolled out of the staff room windows throughout the school day.

Andrew: I wouldn’t say it was ‘cool’ across the board, but there was definitely a smoking subset at school and it was kind of expected that you would at least try a ciggy at some point before leaving. I never did – I’m a good boy, I am. It was also completely accepted that, even if they claimed otherwise, certain teachers would disappear for a crafty cigarette break during the course of the lesson. Thinking about it, the last time I saw a school kid smoking a tab was probably over five years ago. Take that, lung cancer!

Bob: I’ve not always hugely taken with the more slapstick elements of the show, but Foggy disguised as a giant walking bush – attempting to demonstrate ‘the art of concealment’ to his friends – is genuinely hilarious. Great physical comedy… even moreso when the cyclists arrive!

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Andrew: Beautifully directed, as well. The edited chaos of bicycles tumbling around him is almost reminiscent of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin… What? I said, almost!

Bob: CAFEWATCH UPDATE! Cottage pie, mushy peas and jam rolly poly on the blackboards. Yes, ‘Rolly poly’! Terrible spelling again. I’m disappointed Foggy didn’t correct that with a piece of chalk and a disapproving tut. And a tray of ketchup in squeezy tomato-shaped bottles! When was the last time anyone saw one of those? The mid-1990s for me, I think… during my ‘greasy spoon for breakfast’ phase at the height of my hangover years. Hipster hang-outs in Camden probably still have them.

Andrew: We should be scouring eBay for all of this stuff, you know. Can you imagine how glorious your kitchen would look with the simple addition of a checked tablecloth, a squeezy plastic tomato and a matador poster?

Bob: I’ve already got a checked tablecloth in the kitchen. Although admittedly it’s usually invisible beneath our rising mutual collection of Getting Sam Home paperbacks. Hey, is this the last bona fide Sid and Ivy scene that we get? I know they’re both actually in Getting Sam Home, the following episode, but I don’t think I’m spoiling things too much to reveal that poor John Comer was so unwell by that stage that his voice had to be dubbed by a soundalike actor. So I think this might be our final glimpse of full-blooded Sid and Ivy. We’ll doubtless write more about John Comer’s extraordinary contribution to the series in the next instalment, but in the meantime this is a poignant moment to savour.

Why’s he hitting me with that stick, Norm?
Because he hasn’t got anything heavier…

Vintage Roy Clarke. There’s always something.

Andrew: Yep. I’ll save my full comments for Getting Sam Home, but this is indeed our last taste of their back-and-forth banter at full volume. The dissolution of this partnership is going to leave a massive vacuum.

Bob: Oooooh… check out Harold and Phoebe in their broken-door car, on their way to visit the Lord Lieutenant. We’re seven years away from Keeping Up Appearances here, but this feels like a prototype Hyacinth and Richard! Bucket v0.1. And it’s fascinating to see how Foggy, who obviously has pretensions to this lifestyle of semi-nobility, gets genuinely flustered in their presence. He can pretend to Compo and Clegg that he’s part of a plummy-voiced ruling elite, but there’s no fooling a couple who genuinely are part of that social set. And that threatens to undermine his perceived superiority over his friends, and he bloody well knows it. Oh, you can’t whack the British class system as a goldmine for the comedy of embarrassment!

Andrew: Actually, I’d say Phoebe was Bucket v0.2 – don’t forget to count Ivy’s sister as another prototype. The character is obviously one that rattled around in Clarke’s mind for years before he had the chance to perfect her with Keeping Up Appearances. I love the idea that we’re seeing his redrafting actually go out on broadcast television, so here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the type!

Bob: Peter Hughes, playing Harold, was a golfer in the Series 3 episode The Kink in Foggy’s Niblick. And Phyllida Hewat, who plays Phoebe, went on to appear in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles! Over to you, Drew…

Andrew: In an episode written by my friend Rosemary Anne Sisson, no less! It’s a funny old world.

Bob: You and your showbiz lifestyle! While you globetrot, I just stand in the kitchen, staring at my checked tablecloth. Hey, Harold’s car has a manual choke! That takes me back. My first car had one too, and was an absolute bugger to start on a frosty morning. Starting a car was virtually an artform in those days, you had to gently coax the engine into life while easing out the choke, but too much of said easing would flood the engine completely. Computers take all of this out of hands in your average modern automobile, but it has cost us OUR SOULS. And robbed us of priceless exhanges like this:

Harold: I think I might have flooded her.
Compo: (Glancing at Phoebe) Never mind, it doesn’t show…

Filth.

Andrew: Is it shameful to admit that I have no idea what a choke actually does, or rather did? I’m not sure if this is because I’ve never driven a car or because I’m – ahem – slightly younger than you.

Bob: It was basically a manual way of ‘choking’ the flow of air from the carburettor into the engine, so that more petrol would get through – it made the car easier to start when it was cold, and was all controlled by pulling out a little knob under the dashboard. Insert your own jokes here.

Bucket v0.2

Bucket v0.2

Oh, this class war stuff – as our heroes attempt to get the car started – has sparked into life an episode that was ambling a little bit. Clegg grumbles that he feels that the upper classes always take advantage of the lower, and Foggy’s conscience is split asunder when Harold and Phoebe offer him a crisp pound note as a gesture of thanks! It’s been firmly established over the years that he’s extremely tight-fisted, and turns pale at the prospect of buying a round of drinks – but if he accepts a financial reward from the posh knobs then he’s absolutely conceding that he’s NOT on their social footing! This is class-consciousness comedy worthy of Sgt Wilson and Captain Mainwaring. It’s sparkling.

Andrew: You just couldn’t have this scene in a sitcom today, could you? I’m in no way suggesting that we’ve suddenly become a classless society, but the principle doesn’t preoccupy the nation anywhere near as much as it seemed to in the 1970s and earlier.

Bob: I know my place. Oh, forget what I said about Captain Mainwaring – suddenly there are trousers flying off! Arthur Lowe would NEVER stand for trouser comedy… I believe he even had it written into his contract. I love trousers, though. Trousers ARE funny. You can get a lot of laughs from the humble trouser. I’ll NEVER stop laughing at a bit of trouser business.

Andrew: Absolutely – in the Gerry Anderson documentary I worked on last year, we received a big and unexpected giggle at the premiere when an HD scan of some behind the scenes footage revealed a rather unfortunate tear in the seat of the pants of the Four Feather Falls cameraman … it’s what he would have wanted.

Bob: A slightly mean-spirited end though, with everyone being rather nasty to each other – would our heroes really remove Wally’s trousers by force, so that Compo could wear them? Trousers AREN’T funny any more. Only an idiot would ever claim otherwise. Anyone laughing at trousers after this needs to take a good, hard look at themselves. Trousers? Pffffffft.

Andrew: Then, for no real reason, our trio are soaked by a farm’s irrigation system. It’s an odd one, this episode. Lots of lovely moments, but none of them really hang together to form a coherent whole. It would have made a lot more sense, plot wise, to have had Foggy wandering in to a café full of irate cyclists at the end of the episode. It would have neatly tied things together.

Bob: That was a curious episode of two halves… a gentle, ambling first half about the benefits of moorland camouflage; and then it turned on a sixpence and became a gripping little exercise in class conflict. I’m tempted to wonder if Roy Clarke had the opening of one episode, the climax to another and just decided to cut his losses and bung them both together? I’m not averse to that approach at all. It gave us the B-side of Abbey Road.

Series 7 Episode 5: The Three Astaires


In which Compo treads the boards…

Andrew: We open in a churchyard, as Foggy pesters Compo and Clegg into volunteering for the church show. It’s a nice opening that plays up to what we already know about the characters. Compo’s fear of the church raises its head again, and the increasingly insecure Clegg reveals a fear of being observed while attempting to ‘perform’. It’s fun stuff, but is it just me or are the studio audience oddly unresponsive?

Bob: It was 1983. They were probably on strike. Was Clegg’s marriage really ‘a bad dream’? I certainly like the fact that it’s shrouded in mystery… we never really hear much at all about the late Mrs Clegg, other than the fact that she seems to have made poor Norman’s life a misery. But then Clegg likes wallowing in self-pity, doesn’t he? Maybe it wasn’t all bad. She doesn’t seem to have been actively unpleasant to him, I just get the impression that he wasn’t particularly suited to married life. But like many man (and women) of his generation, he put up with it for the sake of a quiet life. Poor sod.

Andrew: I always imagine him as having agreed to a marriage simply because doing so was exactly what was expected of him. His head may always have been in the clouds, but he wouldn’t have wanted to upset anybody by deviating from the norm.

Bob: Normal Clegg. I’m also intrigued by Foggy’s Christian leanings. This is probably the last gasp of an era of British life when you could have a religious sitcom character without it being a defining part of their personality. In 2014, it’s likely that anyone you meet who claims to be a Christian REALLY means it, and modern sitcoms reflect that. In 1983, it could just be a part of your everyday make-up without being worthy of much comment. Even my family – who stepped into church for weddings, funerals, christenings and not much else – would still have claimed to be ‘Church of England’ on the census forms. It was a default setting.

‘Are you feeling chesty, Joan?’

Andrew: Absolutely. My mother, when asked, would always reply that we were ‘Church of England’ despite the fact we went to church maybe once a year at most. Interestingly, that pretence seems to have slipped away as she, or maybe her children, have gotten older. I don’t think he beliefs have particularly changed – it’s just that there’s not really an obligation to maintain any more.

Bob: The late, great John Horsley! He got a tiny cameo as the vicar in Series 4 Episode 3, Jubilee… and amazingly, six years on, Roy Clarke brings him back to flesh the part out further. He’s fondly remembered, of course, as Doc Morrissey from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, but he was a prolific film and TV actor from the late 1940s onwards. He’s in The Runaway Bus with Frankie Howerd and Margaret Rutherford; and the 1950s Father Brown adaptation with Alec Guinness. Amongst dozens and dozens of other great things. He only died last year, at the grand old age of 93. One of that great breed of character actors who popped up doing loveable turns in everything; constantly in demand throughout several different eons of British culture.

Andrew: He’s absolutely fantastic almost anywhere he turns up, but… I don’t like him here. It’s not that he turns in a duff performance – I think he does exactly what the script asks him to – but from the moment he, his wife, and his assistant show up, they feel totally out of place. There’s nothing particularly Summer-Winey about them at all.

Bob: Compo says ‘mouse crap’! That’s quite rare for this era of the show, isn’t it? Won’t somebody think of the children, etc…

Andrew: That initially struck me as a hangover from the series’ earlier days, but moving forward I suspect that it’s actually a hint as to how broad this episode is to become.

Bob: And so to the crux… Horsley’s vicar is keenly seeking new blood for his local amateur dramatics production. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for us to hit an AmDram plotline, actually! It was – and still is – a big part of rural life. I spend half of my days walking the dog around quiet stretches of North Yorkshire, and a remarkable number of the villages seem to have a local society, putting on Private Lives and Run For Your Wife at the local church hall. I’ve dallied with it, it’s a good laugh. They’re ALWAYS sold out as well, packed full of friends and relatives and general nosey parkers. Like me.

Andrew: I’ve seen you in Pinter, no less! Here’s a bit of trivia, dear reader – Bob was directly responsible for me learning what gefilte fish is. The first commenter to guess the play wins nothing of consequence.

Bob: Oooh, hasn’t Brian Wilde got a lovely singing voice? He sings a couple of lilting lines from On the Road to Mandalay… and again, it’s a measure of the thought that Roy Clarke puts into his characters, because this is a perfect song for Foggy. It was popularly covered in the 1950s by Frankie Laine and Frank Sinatra, at a time when Foggy was – I think – serving in the Far East himself? And that’s exactly what it’s about… a soldier returning home from Burma and missing the Burmese sweetheart that he’s had to leave behind. That, and all its implied romanticising of a time when the sun never set upon the British Empire, is pure Foggy Dewhurst.

I’m really missing the regulars here. No Sid or Ivy; or Nora and Wally. And you’re right…  John Horsley – although I love him – seems a bit at odds. He’s playing this in a very traditional sitcom style; it’s a ‘big’ performance.

Andrew: He sort of comes and goes with little bearing on the plot, as well.

'Ground Floor: Perfumery, stationary and leather goods...'

‘Ground Floor: Perfumery, stationary and leather goods…’

Bob: Foggy’s enthusiasm for all things song and dance is a nice touch, though, and very reminiscent of my dad, who seems to pop up with alarming regularity in this blog! My dad is a bluff, no-nonsense kind of chap, who grew up in a rough part of Teesside and spent most of his early adult life serving with the RAF in Singapore and the Middle East before coming home and breaking his back on rainswept building sites for years on end. And yet, curiously, he has an abiding passion for the golden age of the Hollywood musical! And it seems quite common for men of his generation… I’m not sure if the easygoing glamour and Technicolor vibrancy of those films were just the perfect antidote to what must have been a pretty grey and austere life in the North-East in the 1940s and 50s.

Andrew: I think that’s definitely part of it, and it’s something I’ve seen Victoria Wood tap into on a number of occasions. I’d heartily recommend seeking out The Giddy Kipper and That Day We Sang, both of which contrast the dreary, quintessentially ‘Northern’ lives of their protagonists with song and dance numbers straight out of Tinsel Town. There’s something very poignant about that kind of longing for greener pastures, whilst simultaneously accepting one’s lot in life. You can tell your dad that next time you see him – ‘My mate Drew reckons you’re dead poignant, you are’.

Bob: He’ll give me a clout. You’re right, this doesn’t feel like Summer Wine as we know it, does it? There’s a hell of a lot of dressing up and dancing around… we see Compo in no less than five different silly costumes, from knight’s armour to feather boa to all-over bandages! It reminds me of those episodes of Are You Being Served, when the finale would consist of the entire cast dressing up and taking part in a Gang Show-style singalong. Except we don’t actually get the show itself here! I wasn’t sure if this was building up to be a two-parter, with the live performance still to come, but apparently not. Shame.

Andrew: Are You Being Served is exactly what sprang to mind for me as well. Not just the costumes, but also the way in which both Foggy and Clegg get entangled with collapsing scenery. You can tell that the BBC effects department were put to work here.

Bob: And at last, at the very last moment, we get a bit of Nora and Wally! It’s worth it for Wally’s hangdog grumbling alone. ‘Marriage is so unequal. You’re only married to me, but look how much I’m married to…’

Perfect. Not one of my favourite episodes, but it’s all worthwhile for a line like that.

Andrew: Indeed, a fantastic Wally and Nora appearance, but it isn’t enough to redeem the episode. After a strong run this series, it’s odd to see such a misfire. The studio audience seem to agree as well. Listen up after Clegg’s final line of the episode, and you’ll notice that they aren’t entirely sure when to begin applauding for the credits. There’s a faint whiff of, ‘Is that it?’ about their response!

Series 7 Episode 4: Cheering Up Ludovic


In which Noddy Hargreaves boasts he has the biggest…

Andrew: Look at this opening shot of the trio. There really hasn’t been a sitcom before or since that puts this much thought into composition. Both directors – Lotterby and Bell – went above and beyond.

Bob: Lovely, isn’t it? And good to start with ANOTHER of my dad’s old jokes! ‘What has six legs, is slimy, and has a face under its feet?’… these old gags must have swept the playgrounds in the 1930s, when Roy Clarke was at school, and the 1940s, when my dad was a boy. Closely related to ‘What’s that?’ (offer the victim your hand with palm and fingers facing upwards) ‘A dead one of them’ (turn hand upside down). Oh, the winter evenings, etc…

Andrew: And, even better, said joke leads to what I think is an inspired moment of improvisation. Foggy, disgusted at the thought of a creepy crawly on his cap, throws it to the ground and begins thrashing it with his stick. This of course would have been in the script, but then Wilde catches the underside of the cap with the stick and accidentally flips it into the air. Instead of breaking character, he blusters and throws the stick after it. I’m convinced this was made up on the spot – I love these actors!

Bob: I can’t think of many other sitcoms that would open with a discussion about the Theory of Relativity. Yet again Clarke is not afraid to write intelligent, uncompromising dialogue. I’m pretty sure that, if a young comedy writer tried this now, it would be swiftly nixed by a script editor or producer who would be terrified of scaring off potential viewers in the opening exchanges. Like they’d scarper in horrified confusion to Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.

Andrew: It’s also a very relatable moment. Of course Foggy can’t explain the Theory of Relativity when challenged, but we’ve all ended up over our heads whilst trying to sound more clevererer than we are… haven’t we?

Bob: Durrr… (scratches forehead). Hey, crank up the Names Database, Drew! In fact there’ll be steam coming off it by the end of this episode. Their old schoolmate Noddy Hargreaves was ‘always boasting he had the biggest’, and – during the war – Compo stayed in England, ‘guarding Gloria Quarmby’. Isn’t Compo’s wartime inertia very much contradicted in future episodes? But hey, come on! This series ran for 37 years. It’s a downright miracle that the whole thing is as remarkably consistent as it is. I think we’ve already seen that seemingly throwaway remarks in episodes can be expanded upon beautifully in dialogue years later, and that’s an incredible achievement.

Andrew: The trio venture down the pub, the Will’s O’ Nats to be precise. It’s still open if you fancy a swift one.

http://www.willsonatshuddersfield.co.uk/

Can I just take a moment to extol the virtues of outside conveniences for pubs? I bet the one seen in this episode has long since been replaced, but venturing outside for a Jimmy Riddle can have a very useful sobering effect. You hear that, Cameron? You’ve been going about tackling this so-called binge-drinking crisis all wrong!

Anyway, here our trio encounter the titular Ludovic.

Bob: Ludovic is a tour-de-force of comedy misery from the great Bryan Pringle. Men popping down their local pub by themselves is pretty much a dying art these days, isn’t it? There was a stage in British life when I think it was almost the accepted norm… you popped into the pub, alone, and would doubtless find yourself chatting to the other regulars who had also wandered in, accompanied. And thus it became a social hub… the starting point for your social activities. My dad used to pop down to our local on Sunday nights in the 1970s and ‘see who was in’. Whereas pub-going these days seems to have almost a gang mentality… I’ve known grown men who will steadfastly refuse to go into a pub by themselves, as it’s ‘sad’. Have we been lumbered with a generation of criminally under-confident milksops, who feel deeply insecure unless they’re with a gang of friends?

Bryan Pringle. Once you’ve popped…

Bizarrely, I’ve even known men who are uncomfortable going to the cinema by themselves. The CINEMA! You sit in the dark, in silence, for two hours. It’s the perfect pastime for the terminally solitary.

Andrew: I’ll happily go to the cinema by myself, although I drew the line and forced Emma to come along when I fancied seeing Winnie the Pooh. Then again, there was also the time I requested and received special dispensation from the manager to attend an OAP screening of The Whales of August. Double standards.

Unless I’m travelling, though, I do feel odd in a pub on my own. I also end up drinking faster, which can be a dangerous path.

Bob: Raymond Holcroft. Bought a boarding house in Maplethorpe. Names Database now spinning wildly out of control. Fetch the fire extinguishers, Drew!!!

Andrew: The trio are absolutely aghast at the idea of anybody wanting to buy a boarding house, but it strikes me as a rather lovely idea. Apart from the getting up early every morning, of course… and the cleaning… and the talking to people…

Bob: Bryan Pringle makes a great comic drunk, but there’s a lot of physical comedy here trying to get him upright, and I always prefer Summer Wine when it relies on the dialogue for its humour. Thankfully there’s some classic Foggy business to get me laughing… he’s acting ‘in the finest traditions of Bushido’, and warns the others that ‘if you see me adopting one of the killing postures, try to restrain me’. I think Foggy’s assertion that he is a trained assassin, unable to control his honed killer instincts, is THE funniest thing the series ever does. It’s underplayed to absolute perfection by Brian Wilde, and I think the key factor is that we never see THAT much to contradict it. Obviously it’s nonsense, but Foggy is rarely called upon to actually prove his claims… meaning that, in our minds, just a sliver of it might be true. Which makes it all the funnier.

Andrew: I fear this is one of those rare instances where we disagree. Pringle is broad, but just the right side of broad for me. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he’s one of my favourite guest actors of the run so far. There’s something about his face that just fits in with the series and, in a very weathered Northern sense, the landscape. The studio audience seem less keen, though. There’s one moment where Ludovic pops into frame and shouts “Why?!” into Foggy’s ear, and where the actor leaves a pause for laughter, none is forthcoming – I think the audience are a bit scared of him!

Normally, I’d agree with you about preferring dialogue over the more physical comedy, but in this instance it’s expertly woven into the fabric of the episode. The mishaps here stem from the characters. A million miles away from a pigeon shaped hang glider!

Bob: I’m always slightly fascinated by unwitting participants in TV shows. Passers-by, and distant traffic. While Ludovic shows off his dilapidated van, we see a steady stream of cars passing on the moorland road behind. Who were they? Where were they going on that ordinary day in the summer of 1982? Were they courting couples on their first holiday together? Kids being taken to the country for a birthday treat? Harried businessmen dashing to a meeting? And were they aware that, for a second, their everyday journey was captured forever on 16mm film and stuck into a prime-time BBC sitcom? Just little moments in time, frozen for eternity.

Andrew: I know exactly what you mean. I’m always fascinated by shots of motorways in old films and TV shows. All of those people. Where were they going? What has become of them?

Bob: I’d love to think that, somewhere, a second or two of a 1982 car journey that I made as a nine-year-old, with my parents, is caught in perpetuity like this. That something that exists only vaguely in my head, lost to the ravages of time, is actually tangible and real on a dusty can of film.

Andrew: Trapped for all eternity in a telecined film insert? Very Sapphire and Steel.

But look, Wally and Nora! What an unexpected pleasure so late in the episode!

Get your motor runnin’…

Bob: Is this the first time we’ve seen Wally on his motorbike, and Nora grumbling in the sidecar? It’s great to see them. What a classic British attitude to the countryside as well: ‘We’ve come to look at the view’… without actually leaving the vehicle. There’s something terribly noble about sitting in a stationary car, on bleak, windswept moorland, ‘looking at the view’ as sweeping torrents of rain crash against the windscreen. It’s made us what we are as a nation*

‘You’re bored already’, moans Nora, to Wally. But she’s KNITTING, the cheeky mare! Poor Wally should have brought his pigeons to keep him company.

Andrew: The moment where they watch in stunned silence as the driverless van trundles past is fantastic, but more importantly is a prototype for many similar moments to come. From what I remember of the 1990s episodes, I can’t think of a single example where something comparable to this doesn’t happen!

Bob: There’s a great Yorkshire love of language, isn’t there? Ludovic could have talked about ‘why I liked this van’, but no – he wants to discuss ‘a factor that pre-disposed me towards this vehicle’. A sentence that, oddly, I can only imagine a Yorkshireman saying. I’m sure I remember Alan Bennett saying that, when he was young, his grandfather ran a corner shop, and – when asked if he had a particular item in stock – would reply ‘I shall assertain’. It’s a love of florid vocabulary that I was brought up with, too… which probably explains why I rabbit on so much on here.

Andrew: With Clegg nudged out of the van by a contraption designed to provide privacy in the cab, Compo, Foggy and Ludovic are all trapped as the driverless vehicle slowly makes its way down the road. This is about as high-octane as I like my Summer Wine chases and it’s beautifully done. I could do with Ronnie Hazlehurst’s funky chase music being a little higher in the mix, though – it’s barely audible!

And look! As the van crashes through a field gate a bit of mud flies up and hits the camera lens – we’re in Tarantino territory now!

Bob: Reservoir Ferrets. I’d also like to point out, in the interests of balance, that I quite like Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.

Andrew: All in all – and I’d never have expected to say this about an episode without Sid and Ivy – this has been my favourite of Series 7 so far.

*miserable.

 

Series 7 Episode 3: The Waist Land


In which Foggy gets physical, physical…

Andrew: As they take their usual stroll through the countryside, our trio stumble across a health farm and a parade of reluctant joggers. Is it just me, or does the first appearance of the fitness fanatics mark the point at which Last of the Summer Wine suddenly feels very, very 1980s?

Bob: Absolutely! We’ve already had Rubik’s Cubes, and now it’s time for a withering look at the fitness craze that swept the country. And, from about 1981 onwards, it suddenly seemed to be everywhere. In the 1970s, there were no such thing as ‘gyms’. There were ‘gymnasiums’ and they were occupied solely by amateur boxers and ‘body-builders’… men with large moustaches who spent their days lifting long poles with a dumbbell on each end. But suddenly, new, swanky gyms were occupied by middle-class executives popping out to do treadmills in their lunch hours. And paying a fortune for the privilege. There was one near my house called ‘Gym and Tonic’! With a little crowd of amateur boxers outside it, shaking their heads and weeping.

I remember my Dad finding it hilarious, as he spent pretty much my entire childhood lugging heavy things around building sites. No gym (or tonic) required.

Andrew: What’s our excuse, then?

Bob: We’re natural athletes. We don’t need to work at it. And hey, it’s hard to imagine an exchange like this taking place in a modern sitcom…

Compo: It’s where they come to get slim.

Clegg: It’s nearer than Bangladesh.

Harsh, but put it into context… well into the 1980s, I definitely remember an attitude of ‘finish what’s on your plate, and be grateful for every mouthful… there are people abroad starving to death’. I think to my Gran’s generation, idea of actually dieting to lose weight felt like an incredible indulgence, and rather ungrateful. She’d grown up in the East End of London during World War I, and food was scarce. And she’d raised a family in the midst of World War II rationing; and the subsequent austerity years. You didn’t turn down food; you were thankful for it. You said grace. And Clegg – a man of a similar generation – would have had this attitude, too. He’s not laughing at the starving of Bangladesh here, he’s bemoaning the self-indulgence of a new generation of Brits.

Andrew: You’re spot on, but I bet the BBC would still make a kneejerk decision to cut that if the show was repeated on BBC2 today!

While we’re on the subject of notable lines, there’s also this:

Foggy: I wish I knew the tormented history of this old barn.

I love these men!

Bob: I’m slightly surprised that Foggy believes the barn is haunted, as I’d always had him down as a rationalist man of science! Or is that just part of his front? Like his fictional military derring-do, is it a façade to hide the nervous, timid man underneath? Either way, this scene of him telling ghost stories from his army days is beautifully played. It’s actually quite chilling. I could listen to this all day.

You can't get the Staff...

You can’t get the Staff…

Andrew: Oh, I think it’s perfectly in character. It’s a side to his fantasy life we haven’t really seen before, but a valid side nevertheless. From the beginning, this series has been about a bunch of displaced blokes staving off boredom and I think this is just another coping mechanism on Foggy’s part! They’ve stopped for lunch in old barns before, so what can his brain come up with to make this feel less humdrum? Ghosts!

Something else I’d never picked up on before is that Foggy has what today might be described as a social disorder. He obsesses to his heart’s content about the idea of the barn being haunted, but he isn’t having a conversation. This is something that happens a lot – he goes off on one, but doesn’t really pick up on the fact that Clegg and Compo are either mocking him or just not interested. He just bulldozes his way through the scene.

Bob: Any psychoanalysts out there want to have a crack at Foggy? And hey, some more early 80s loveliness – Clegg drops Adam and the Ants into his musing! I like the way Compo wonders if the health farm refugees are ‘a group’ as well… a word you NEVER hear in that context any more! Are One Direction ever described as a ‘pop group’? Never. It’s all ‘bands’ these days. I miss the days of the ‘group’.

Andrew: You mean the good old days of earnest groups like The Archies and The Banana Splits?

Bob: Don’t diss the Splits, man. Clarke has utter disdain for the 80s health craze, doesn’t he? His fitness fanatics are pale, speechless zombies, driven so such extremes of feebleness by their diets that they can barely operate as human beings. A life wasted in pursuit of ‘carrot juice, sauna and manipulation’. And a delightful contrast to Compo with his doorstep sandwich and Foggy with his ‘Normandy pate’! We’ve talked before about how Summer Wine is a celebration of the freedom that old age brings… the indulgence of the second childhood, unfettered by passing fads and expectations; and this is virtually a battle line drawn up between that attitude and the neurotic, hyperactive madness of the young professionals. We’re left in no doubt as to who has the healthier approach to life.

Andrew: Sorry, what was that? I was too busy salivating over Compo’s sarnie.

Bob: Oh, a brilliant scene in the café here. Nora is working there! In a maid’s outfit! And plum duff has been replaced by treacle tart on the menu. NOTHING escapes my beady eye, Drew. So watch yourself.

We HEART Seabrooks!

Andrew: All credit to the BBC Costume Department here. As wonderful as Kathy Staff is, the moment she gets into something other than her usual wrickled stockings and pinnie, Nora all but disappears for me. It’s like when I see you without your crop-top.

Bob: When you’ve got abs like us natural athletes, it’s a crime not to show them off. I bet Kathy Staff got ‘letters’ after this.

This is just a perfect scene between Ivy, Sid and Nora – lovingly written, and with three fine actors all bouncing off each other. ‘If their mouths are hanging open it’s lust, if they’re clamped tight shut it’s larceny’, snaps Ivy, delivering her withering judgement upon the male species. She’s in fearsome form here… she’s even tearing a strip off Nora, and Nora is incredibly insecure in her presence! It’s not the first time we’ve seen genuine tension between these two characters, but I can’t remember Ivy being so dominant before. Nora is a part-time battleaxe, but Ivy is the real deal.

Andrew: Yes, I love that. Until this point, Nora has been superhuman in her power of intimidation, but Ivy is a real force to be reckoned with. It makes her less of a caricature, somehow.

And can I just take a moment to appeal for help with my new obsession? I want the bullfighter poster than can be seen on the café wall in this episode. After innocently wondering whether I could track down the same print online, all I was able to turn up were a plethora of similar, but not quite right, items. I’m obsessed. Also, does anybody recognise the seaside scene on the postcard pinned to the wall behind the counter? I want to know where Sid and Ivy holidayed after Scarborough!

Bob: Bullfighting?! Really? Who are you all of a sudden, Gateshead’s answer to Ernest Hemingway?

And so Foggy decides to make a fortune by flogging illicit pies and packets of crisps to the half-starved Health Farm mob. Initially, I thought this was a bit out of character for Foggy… surely he’d approve of people trying to improve their physical fitness? But I suspect it’s the middle-class, executive, resolutely ‘modern’ nature of it all that he disapproves of. If the nation wants to get fit, then bring back National Service! Harumph.

HUGH LLOYD KLAXON

HUGH LLOYD KLAXON

Actually, Foggy does seem a bit odd here… his schemes are usually borne out of a misguided desire to help and improve society, but here he’s just out to make a few quid. Mrs ‘Fatcher’s Free Market Economy finally hits Summer Wine country! Great to see that the crisps are Seabrooks, though… the KING OF ALL CRISPS. Fiercely independent and non-corporate, and delightfully crinkled. And they once sponsored Captain Sensible’s political campaign ‘The Blah Party’, so I’m with them all the way.

Oddly enough, the deputy leader of the Blah Party, Boney Maroney, stood in the Holme Valley North Council Elections in 2008. Foggy could have voted for her.

Andrew: I can see your point about Foggy, but what I find more off-putting than his plan being out of character is that it feels like all-too-familiar sitcom fayre. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that’s very little about this plot that feels specific to the Last of the Summer Wine that we’ve grown to love. This is reinforced by a supporting cast who, while fun, look and sound like they could have wandered in from the set of another show entirely. I can quite imagine a pleasant early 1980s sitcom about these characters stuck in a health farm, with our trio lending support as the B-plot to one of the episodes.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still very enjoyable; it’s just not what I would describe as… Summer Wine-y.

Bob: Hugh Lloyd, though! Over to you, Drew…

Andrew: Hugh Lloyd! Television character actor stalwart Hugh Lloyd can improve anything by up to 50%. His presence even made the execrable Doctor Who story Delta and the Bannermen watchable… kind of. He only appears in one scene here, in which he dithers over whether or not her should treat himself at Foggy’s tuck shop and covets a pork pie, but he’s an absolute joy to watch. However, his character still feels like he’s walked off the set of an entirely different series. This is such an odd episode!

Bob:  Delta and the Bannerman is bleedin’ magic, you heathen!  I thought that was a fun episode, and resolutely of its time. But I like that! Archive TV fans often complain about old telly looking ‘dated’ but that’s what I want from it. TV should reflect the times in which it was made, and I can fully imagine Roy Clarke rolling his eyes at the The Kids From Fame and Olivia Newton John’s Physical video and sitting down to write that episode. And good for him.

Anyway, these are the two cafe nick-nacks that Andrew is keen to identify. Can anyone help? First up, the postcard… any idea where this is? (NB We don’t think it’s Gran Canaria)

 

 

 

 

 

 

And secondly, where can old Torero T. Smith here get hold of this bullfighting poster?

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