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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…

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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?

Series 7 Episode 2: The White Man's Grave

In which Foggy’s grass is greener…

Andrew: We open with our trio in extreme long shot as the reach the summit of one of the many hills surrounding Holmfirth. I love this kind of scene; there are no cuts and you obviously can’t read anyone’s expression, and yet, thanks to the script, it remains funny and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Also, I can’t think of any other sitcom where you could reduce your main characters down to about a centimetre tall on the TV screen and still have them be perfectly recognisable. Sallis, Owen and Wilde aren’t just gifted when it comes to delivering dialogue; each has brought a distinct physicality to their character.

Bob: This is a really curious episode. It seems to be quite a serious rumination on the nature of matrimony, both from the viewpoint of those who are married and – equally – those who aren’t. Am I reading too much into this? Have we gone off our rockers and started looking for profound subtexts in a cheery, half-hour sitcom? But from the moment that Foggy gets touchy about ‘why he never married’, it’s a running theme for the rest of the episode.

Andrew: No, I absolutely agree. Marriage has always been in the background of the series, but I think this is the first episode dedicated to the institution. It’s Roy Clarke’s version of a concept album.

Bob: Yes! I demand a 20-minute Wally Batty bass solo before the end of the episode.

'Plumb duff and custard'

‘Plumb duff and custard’

And blimey, the era when men ‘who never married’ were the subject of gossip and conjecture! Roy Clarke captures this perfectly, it really was seen as something of a curious lifestyle statement well into the 1980s. I guess the unspoken subtext was that such men were possibly gay, a subject hinted about with much nudging of ribs and whispering. But little malice… at least from my memories. It’s funny, Russell T Davies talks about this in his book The Writer’s Tale… ‘There’s always been funny old Uncle Douglas, who never got married; those two stern women who live together in that old house; someone’s camp little son who doesn’t like football. It’s there, and it’s accepted, quietly, tacitly’. And those are my memories too. Looking back, I can think of a few people who featured in my 1970s childhood who were clearly gay… and it was fine. It’s far too easy to demonise the past these days. It was sometimes much gentler than modern revisionism would have you believe.

Although I should add the disclaimer that I’m speaking from the perspective of a straight man who was seven years old at the end of the 1970s! Maybe anyone who was actually gay on Teesside during that decade could relate some much more harrowing tales.

Andrew: Hmmm… you never married though, did you?

Bob: Confirmed bachelor, that’s me. Hey, there’s a lovely exchange between Sid and Ivy here. Sid clearly has had an affair with some point, but Ivy still loves him. She goes gooey whenever he has a spanner in his hand! ‘Big dollop you may be, but you’re my big dollop’. Lovely. We’ve said it before, but it really is crucial that we have these moments. Otherwise there’d be no reason at all for them still to be together.

Andrew: True, but I’d still argue that the thrashing she gives Sid at the end of the episode strays uncomfortably into domestic violence territory! This scene really is a gem. My personal highlight is Ivy’s critique of Sid’s ‘performance’. Is that one of the naughtiest jokes we’ve heard thus far?

Bob: It’s just a reflection on your filthy mind. And here’s yet another exchange on the nature of marriage! Foggy’s getting quite wistful here, seemingly dreaming of a life of female companionship that’s always somehow evaded him. ‘All those lonely evenings in the barrack room…’ he whispers, looking misty-eyed. And yet Sid is clearly envious of the single mans’ lifestyle! It’s a great ‘grass is always greener’ scene, and I love the notion of Foggy standing to attention whenever he feels under pressure. A great – and absolutely real – character touch.

Is Wally in an outside toilet? Ha! Drew, this will only confirm your belief that I grew up in Clement Attlee’s Britain, but when we moved into my first proper childhood home in 1977, it only had an outside water closet. No inside toilet at all, just a hole in a plank in a shed near the coal bunker. Isn’t it staggering how much British life has changed in the last 35 years?

Holmfirth Stone-Skimming Champion 1983!

Holmfirth Stone-Skimming Champion 1983!

Andrew: That is absolutely true. My Dad, who grew up during the sixties, lived in a pit village and only knew a tin bath for pretty much the first decade of his life. Can I also just backtrack a little to marvel at Joe Gladwin’s exit from that outside loo? I laughed heartily because I could see something of myself in his semi-satisfied limbering up after climbing off the pot.

Bob: I love looking at the signage in these episodes. I have a signage fetish. The blackboard in the café features ‘plumb duff and custard’ (spelt wrong!) as one of the specials on offer. When was the last time plum duff was served in a British café? Answers on the back of a tin of Birds Custard, please.

Andrew: I’ve never had a plumb duff…

Bob: Or a plum duff either, I’ll wager. And now Clegg joins in the marriage discussion! And Wally! ‘It’s like a posting to the Gold Coast, being married to our Nora’, he grumbles. And that’s ‘The White Man’s Grave’… a phrase that absolutely was used as a nickname for that part of the world (now Ghana) during Wally’s childhood years – due to the tropical diseases, mainly Malaria, that killed hundreds of luckless Europeans there. Do we know much about Wally’s exploits in the services, then? This scene suggests he served there himself.

Andrew: I find it hard to imagine Wally at any point B.N. (Before Nora), although according the First of the Summer Wine they did begin courting before World War II. We’ll have to remember to keep our eyes peeled.

Bob: Some SENSATIONAL stone-skimming from Bill Owen under the bridge here! Absolutely effortless! Now THERE’S a man who spent his childhood wisely. I’ve never been able to do it, at best I can sometimes muster one pathetic bounce before I plummet into the depths. And there’s a metaphor for life if ever there was one.

Andrew: It’s not just you. I’ve consulted with many an expert, but have never managed to keep it up.

Bob: That’s the story of my life, too. And why I’ll remain a confirmed bachelor.

Andrew: As we approach Nora’s steps, a sign in the background has leapt to my attention in a way it has never done before. At the end of the street, across the main road, there is a shop called ‘Castles Autopart’. I’m going to try keeping tabs on that. It’s not there today, but when did it disappear? Given that this is such a frequently used location, we could probably trace the complete ownership history of that building between 1973 and 2010!

Who's a little cheeky face, then?

Who’s a little cheeky face, then?

Bob: Brilliant! Is it worth a seperate drop-down menu on the website? We’ve paid for the bloody things, we might as well get our money’s worth.

And, just to get a perspective on marriage from the woman’s perspective, we have a bit of textbook battleaxing from Nora. But you know what? It’s episodes like this make me appreciate their points of view. She’s not grumpy for no reason… the men she knows ARE weird! She’s right! Can you seriously imagine being a beleaguered housewife, trying your best to keep your house in order, and your elderly husband’s pensionable friends disguise one of their number as your other half and smuggle him into the house to do his chores? You’d think they were ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THEIR MINDS. You’d go off your rocker, and wonder where the hell you’d gone wrong. I’m starting to really empathise with Nora. It’s probably Stockholm Syndrome.

Although I’m glad I can go to my grave saying that I’ve seen Joe Gladwin in a baby’s pram. It’s moments like this that make our quest worthwhile. But Nora’s concern when she thinks a real baby has trundled down the steps is really touching. ‘I’m coming, precious… Nana’s coming…’ That grabbed my heartstrings for some reason.

Andrew: It’s hilarious, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense does it? For starters, Nora must have seen Wally running off with the trio when Clegg was exposed as a faux-Batty. Why do they feel the need to sneak him back? Also, if they want to get him around the back of the house, why do they need to pass the front door at all? This episode has already demonstrated that the house is accessible from either end of the street. I know it’s anal, but this is a pigeon-costume level of illogical plotting.

Bob: I never notice these things. I’m just a simple-minded confirmed bachelor. I thought that was another oddly wistful episode with some great lines, and I’m really enjoying this series so far.

Andrew: Absolutely. Despite my problems with the conclusion, this episode has had an above average level of laugh out loud moments for me.

Series 7 Episode 1: The Frozen Turkey Man


In which Foggy becomes an object of lust…

Bob: 1983! The first episode of the tenth anniversary series, and you can tell that the show has gained national treasure status by this stage… there’s an extraordinary confidence to the writing, assuming that we already know all about Compo and Nora and their relationship. And, indeed, that we already know all about Dorothy Lamour!

For the benefit of our younger readers…

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

Andrew: There’s also a visual confidence to this episode that I really like. I know we often praise Alan J.W. Bell for injecting a bit of visual panache to the series, but Sydney Lotterby does an equally wonderful job here. The beautiful and long-sustained opening shot, in which our trio are gradually revealed from behind a grass verge, is very playful with the depth of field throughout the scene: Compo dips in and out of frame, popping up in unexpected places in a way that really complements Clarke’s lines. I’d be very interested to know if this physical business was written into the script or invented by the director.

Bob: I like Compo’s line, ‘She washes on Mondays’. When I was a kid, the idea of ‘washday’ was still firmly entrenched… a designated day of the week when the lady of the house did the entire family’s laundry in one fell swoop. And, in terraced streets, the whole street would often agree on the day; so that drying could be done in unison, with lines strung across the back alley from window to window. Can you imagine that, these days? I don’t even know what half the people in my street look like.

Andrew: And they’ve told me that they’d like to keep it that way.

Bob: Their fantasies about Dorothy Lamour living with Compo, and doing his washing, are almost entering Pete and Dud territory! ‘Tap tap tap, on the bloody window…’ But it’s beautifully done.

Andrew: There’s something charmingly sweet about it, though. All Compo would ask for, in return for taking Lamour into his home, is that she do a bit of washing and changes the flower in her teeth every now and again. There’s an innocence to that desire that I think is key to keeping Compo away from Dirty Old Man territory. It’s a little boy’s desire, if anything.

Bob: I like the old battleaxe cycling past too, a timely nod to the gap between their everyday and their fantasy lives, and a little nudge to remind us that – for all the fun – these are three men who are actually bored to tears by the mundanity of their existence.

This is a hoary old one-liner, but it never fails to make me laugh…

Compo: Quadrants, Norm.

Clegg: And the same to you.

Let’s get to the crux (and the same to you). Compo (and his friend ‘Thunder’ – NAMES DATABASE!) buried a tin of ‘Yorkshire remains’ (their equivalent of Roman remains) somewhere on the moors in 1932. And now he wants them back. And there are far too many brackets in this paragraph, but I’m not backing down. I’m with Foggy, and a line that made me absolutely laugh like a drain… ‘Marriage was never an option for me. I knew from an early age I was dedicated to the life of a Samurai’.

Brian Wilde’s delivery is just magnificent. If he’d overplayed by even a fraction, and gone for the laugh, it wouldn’t work. We have to believe that even Foggy believes this stuff. Peter Sellers used to say that Inspector Clouseau, despite the fact that we laugh at him, is actually a sombre and serious man. And so is Foggy, at moments like this. Wilde is so deadpan, and so understated, that lines liked this are both hilarious and poignant. Brilliant.

Andrew: It’s also revealed here that Foggy actually worked for Northern Dairies. It’ll be interesting to see if this is ever mentioned again, as I believe Clarke must like the incongruity of a man who sees himself as an action hero, but actually works with milk. Years later, Russ Abbott’s similarly delusional character, Hobbo, will be introduced in an episode entitled I Was a Hitman For Primrose Dairies.

'Gobble, gobble...'

‘Gobble, gobble…’

Bob: Drew, I know you were fond of a scene back in the early days, when Michael Bates heard church bells ringing, and improvised a little glance at his watch to check the time. There’s an equally nice bit here where Bill Owen, as they leave the café, just swings gleefully on a bollard. There’s no way that was in the script!

Andrew: By this stage, they’re all in tune not only with their parts, but the location of Holmfirth itself. I really do think the series is unique in that respect.

Bob: Fifteen minutes in here, and there’s not a hint of a plot! It’s brave, but lovely, and the dialogue here is as good as anything Clarke has ever written – with Brian Wilde once again benefiting the most. ‘High spirits?’ he snorts at Compo. ‘You were barely tall enough for low spirits’. And ‘that’s how the Black Death got underway’, as Compo plants a kiss on Foggy’s forehead. Wilde has got some great material to work with here.

Andrew: You’re not wrong about the plot, although there are a deceptive number of threads being woven. This episode feels like a welcome throwback to the Blamire years. There’s a listless quality to it. It isn’t that it feels disjointed or that it drags at all, just that it’s simply content to ramble towards its conclusion at its own charming pace.

Bob: Compo has a mark ‘where Eileen Watkins got me’. She was mentioned in Series 5 Episode 6, Here We Go Into the Wild Blue Younger. She was in love with Chunky Rumbelow and looked like King Farouk of Egypt!

Andrew: I know, I know!

Bob: This is a glorious glimpse into the world of the early 1980s boozer. Look how grotty the pub is! The walls are absolutely filthy, and the whole place just reeks of nicotine and stale, split beer. And there’s a bloke at the bar doing a Rubik’s Cube! Good grief. That’s absolutely spot on – the bloody things were everywhere. I love the look of utter disdain that Foggy gives him, that combination of ‘Oh, you facile idiot, giving your time over to such pointless fads’ and ‘actually, I bet I could solve that thing in five minutes flat’. It’s exactly the look that my dad gave me back in 1982 when I first brought my own cube into the house!

Andrew: Ah, but did you ever manage to master it? Mine always ended up being chucked across the room.

Bob: I bought a book in the end. You Can Do The Cube, by Patrick Bossert. And even then my Uncle Trevor had to do it for me.

I was wondering when the title of this episode was going to come into play, and it’s barely a passing reference… our heroes try to set up Foggy with the buxom barmaid, telling her that he’s an eccentric millionaire in the frozen turkey business. Amazingly, she’s interested! ‘Gobble gobble’, indeed. The barmaid, incidentally, is played by Gaye Brown, who has a fine film pedigree – she was in A Clockwork Orange, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd! Does this make her the only actor to have worked with both Brian Wilde and Johnny Depp? (Actually, I’m guessing not… but we’ll come to that in later series)

And, like all great sitcom characters, Foggy is absolutely terrified of sex. Just as Basil Fawlty slept in a separate bed to Sybil, each with their airport paperbacks, and George Roper broke out in a cold sweat whenever Mildred puckered her lips, Foggy reverts to a being a tongue-tied schoolboy at the slightest hint of female attention. And yet… we’ve seen him enjoy an ACTUAL romance before, haven’t we? Maybe it’s just the highly-sexed vamp type that puts him off. He needs to be courted by a demure old maid who likes a bit of crochet on the side.

Maaaarching on together...

Maaaarching on together…

Andrew: Once Foggy has been suitably terrified, it’s back to the hills we go in search of Compo’s ‘Yorkshire Remains’. Keen to apply logical thinking to the search, Foggy comes up with the idea of recreating the scene when the remains were actually buried. Now, this really got my mathematically-challenged brain straining – it is said that Compo was twelve years old when he squirrelled them away in 1932. This means that he was born in 1920 and thus was only fifty-three years old when Last of the Summer Wine started in 1973! Does this sound right to you?

Bob:  It’s curious, as it means Compo is six years YOUNGER than Bill Owen, who was born in 1914! And I always thought that, if anything, the main actors were playing characters slightly older than them. Oh, I don’t know. My brain hurts as well. I suppose it’s possible that Compo was only 53 when the show started.

And hey, right at the end, we get a stunt! On a scooter! Do kiddies’ scooters like that even exist any more? I had one in the late 1970s, but I haven’t seen one for years. They were the natural middle ground between walking in a straight line (which I still haven’t fully mastered) and cycling. But it’s a nice idea to have Compo use them to emulate his 1932 roller skates, and try to find his missing tin from the perspective he’d have had back then. It reminds me of a lovely bit in Oliver Postgate’s autobiography, when – as an old man – he revisits his childhood home and is shocked to discover it holds no sentimental feelings for him whatsoever. But then he realises he’s simply seeing it from the wrong height! When he gets down on all fours, and sees the front door from the perspective of his five-year-old self, he’s overcome with a powerful rush of nostalgia.

Andrew: As far as slapstick finales go, this works very nicely for me. Unlike certain previous episodes, there is a sense of logical progression here. It makes a crazy sort of sense that Compo ends up strapped to two children’s scooters. Basically, I’m just happy he’s not dressed up like a sodding pigeon.

Bob: Is Compo wearing a Leeds Utd scarf? I’ve gone off him.

Andrew: Inevitably, Compo’s trip down the hillside sees him come to crashing halt where he discovers… Yorkshire Remains!

Bob: Compo’s landing in the cowpat reminds me of an odd riddle that swept my school at the time… ‘What would you rather do – run a mile, jump a style, or eat a fresh country pancake?’ With much derision following if you unwittingly plumped for the latter option. Because it’s a cowpat. See? Hur, hur. You said you’d eat a cowpat. Urrrrgh.

Andrew: I think you’re showing your bumpkin roots, there. Now, sniff my cheese…

Bob: By the standards of much that we’ve seen recently, that was an oddly aimless episode… but for that reason, I loved it! A cracking series opener.

Andrew: I couldn’t agree more, but I’m amazed we’ve yet to touch on the fact that this episode features yet another pitch pefect Wally Batty scene! I love the idea that his sole weapon against Nora is to annoy her with a well-timed sulk. How on Earth is one meant to tell when Wally Batty is sulking?

The Funny Side of Christmas (1982)

On 26th December 1982, BBC1 broadcast The Funny Side of Christmas, ‘a specially-written show taking a lighthearted view of the festive season’,  and comprising unique mini-episodes of some of the BBC’s biggest comedy hitters, all linked by a jovial Frank Muir. Naturally, we got our hands on a dodgy VHS copy and (brace yourselves) actually sat down together on Bob’s sofa to watch the whole 80-minute show…

Andrew: ‘A touch of nostalgia on BBC1 this Christmas’, proclaims the continuity announcer. Not for me, I’m afraid. Apart from the Last of the Summer Wine segment, which turned up online a couple of years ago, the rest of this festive offering is completely new to me. In fact, I’m unfamiliar with quite a few of the programmes featured within it. I won’t reveal which just yet.

Bob: Ah well, speak for yourself. I’ve just been transported back to Christmas 1982, when I finally got my hands on a Sinclair ZX81 computer and spent most of the day playing 3D Monster Maze on the TV in our front room, while my Dad tried to shoulder barge me into the kitchen so he could watch Ben-Hur. This was broadcast on Boxing Day evening, wasn’t it? I have vague memories of watching it, but that’s all. My copy of the Christmas 1982 Radio Times (mint condition, North-East region – oh yes, Drew… read it and weep) tells me that it was sandwiched between the 1970s King Kong remake and a late screening of Convoy. Meanwhile, primetime BBC2 was showing Burden of Dreams, the story of Werner Herzog’s desperate battle to finish his film Fitzcarraldo in the heart of the Amazonian jungle. Up yours, Mary Berry! 

Andrew: I feel bad for saying this, but Frank Muir really was the dull man’s Dennis Norden, wasn’t he? It’ll be The Funny Side of New Year by the time he’s gotten through this interminable introduction!

Bob: Oh, come here and let me batter you over the head with my vintage Radio Times collection. And they’re in a BLOODY big box. Muir was a brilliant comedy writer and an unrivalled pun-master. He just belonged to a slower, gentler age. But yes, I admit… for a man who starts by saying he couldn’t think of anything to say about Christmas, he goes on to make a decent fist of it! 

Andrew: At last, our first taste of sitcom arrives in the form of a reunion for The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. I’m only semi-familiar with the series, so it’s up to you to tell me whether this fits in to its continuity or not, Fischer.

Bob: The final series ends with Reggie trapped back in the same suburban, middle-management hell from whence he came, so there’s no reason why this little skit couldn’t follow on from it. It’s odd to realise that this was broadcast only three years after the end of that final episode, as 1982 already feels like a completely different era. Does Reggie Perrin work in the age of the home computer, the Space Invader machine and Depeche Mode? I’m not sure it does… it’s a sitcom that seems SO entrenched in the social mores of the 1970s.

Andrew: It’s always a joy to watch Leonard Rossiter at work. In fact, the same is true of all of these actors! It’s just a shame that this skit really seems to consist of one joke padded out with familiar catchphrases. It doesn’t really have a reason to exist beyond getting the gang back together.

Bob: No, it’s purely a reunion gang show, but a nice one nevertheless. Good to see Michael Ripper, too… a Hammer Horror stalwart, and a man frequently glimpsed behind the reins of a rickety carriage in a spooky thunderstorm! I wonder if he’ll turn up in the Butterflies sketch as well?

Andrew: Onto Les Dawson… and the older I get, the more I grow to love Cissie and Ada. I think that’s got a lot to do with how brilliantly observed those characters were. They’re basically my Auntie Mary or Nana Betty and their friends. Even though time has moved on, the characterisation still applies; today my Mam and her sisters will do things that instantly bring Dawson and Barraclough back to mind. It’s a good job none of them read this blog, or I’d be for the chopping block!

Bob: Tremendous, isn’t it? It’s interesting to watch the contrasting styles of Dawson and Barraclough too. Dawson is ALWAYS doing something… he’s a great physical comedian, and he literally can’t stop moving. Whereas Barraclough gives Ada an almost-elegant poise. Some tremendous lines in this. Not only was the Christmas sherry ‘brewed in a bucket’, but…

Ada: Leonard and I are firm believers in tempus fugit.

Cissie: I know, I’ve often seen the bedroom curtain drawn.

Perfect.

Andrew: And now onto Yes Minister. I’ve never cared for Yes, Minister or Yes, Prime Minister and this skit doesn’t do anything to win me over. The writers and producers clearly couldn’t be arsed, judging by how short this runs. When the Reggie Perrin lot can be bothered enough to revive a dead series, you need to do more that shoot a gag on a standing set.

Bob: Not surprisingly, Yes Minster washed over me as a kid… but as an adult viewer, I’d urge you to give it another go. It’s magnificent. One of the cleverest, funniest and most subversive sitcoms ever made. And extraordinarily prescient, too… I’ve watched them all in recent years, and my jaw his literally dropped at the plotlines and references that still echo, almost word-for-word, with the political events and figures of 2015. Three lead actors working their socks off, and a host of brilliant guests, too.

But yes, I’ll happily concede this sketch was knocked off in twenty minutes at the end of a day’s filming!

Andrew: I’m pretty sure Nigel Hawthawne is reading from cue-cards as well. Although to be fair, that was a long speech.

Bob: Again, give the series a try. He’s incredible in it.

Andrew: And now to Peckham Market, and Del and Rodney Trotter flogging some very tacky Christmas trees. Now, this really is a special production. It’s the first segment to feature a fully-fledged plot and it uses multiple locations, guest actors, is filmed on location and even treats us to a new arrangement of the theme tune! John Sullivan and company were really on form. 

Bob: A lot has been said over the years about Only Fools and Horses being a slow-burning success, but I don’t really remember it that way. David Jason was a big star by 1981, Nicholas Lyndhurst was a household name from Butterflies, and the opening episode got nearly ten million viewers! It was definitely a series that was watched and loved from the very start, and certainly the talk of my school from the very earliest episodes. And it effectively had two Christmas specials in 1982… this lovely extended sketch, and then the brilliant Diamonds Are For Heather, broadcast only four days later.

Andrew: Even more important that any of that, though, is that this mini-episode features Lennard Pearce as Grandad. The early years of this show have always been my favourite and Pearce is a bit contributing factor to that, so any chance to experience more of his performance is to be cherished.

Bob: He’s great, isn’t he? He was a proper, serious actor as well… he was a regular at the National Theatre in the 1960s, and appeared onstage with Olivier and Anthony Hopkins. And yes, this IS a bona fide mini-episode. You’re right, the early years of Fools & Horses are absolutely the best, and this is effectively a lost episode of the show at its peak. It’s pure 1982 as well! ‘Microchip Christmas trees as advertised on Tomorrow’s World’ that are ‘going down like Union Jacks in Buenos Aires’. And – the clincher – Del announces that he’s ‘surrounded by wallies’!

Is this the last recorded use of the word ‘wallies’? What a perfect early 1980s term of abuse! Bring me 3D Monster Maze, I want to go back to 1982 NOW.

Anyway, yes… hats off to John Sullivan and the team for pulling out every stop for this. A gargantuan, and utterly worthwhile effort.

Andrew: It’s worth mentioning at this stage that between every segment, the programme has been returning to Frank Muir’s fake living room for some more wittering. Hearing him condescendingly introduce Lenny Henry, Tracey Ullman and David Copperfield as ‘a trio of young people’ is rather disconcerting today, given how the three have them have now risen to the starry heights of Hollywood comedy, the Shakespearian stage and… erm… magic? OK, I’ll admit it; I’ve never seen Three of a Kind before.

Bob: Ha, he’s almost apologetic, isn’t he? More pure 1982 on display though… a synth-funk soundtrack, and jokes about credit cards… everyone’s VERY keen to appear like, totally right-on and, like… cool!

Andrew: Come back Frank, all is forgiven! This really is woefully bad. Especially the tortuous Ullman monologue. The BBC made three series of this?

Bob: Three of a Kind is an odd one for me. I absolutely loved it as a kid, and at the time it felt very much of the same movement as something like The Young Ones… comedy that belonged completely to me, and to the spanking newness of the early 1980s. And it absolutely has all the trappings of that new wave of comedy – the jokes about Space Invaders and CEEFAX, the current pop videos, the downbeat ‘Fatcher’s Britain’ ambience. But I bought the DVDs when they came out, and loads of that is essentially window dressing to some very old and creaky jokes! It’s very well performed, but it does feel like an ancient, cobweb-covered BBC executive has decided to give these ‘new wave chappies’ a hesitant run-out on the Beeb. Of its time, let’s say.  

Anyway, here’s the main event… it’s the Last of the Summer Wine segment…

Andrew: Is it just me, or is Clegg’s house here a redress of the set for Compo’s digs? Anyway, once again Clarke nails his anti-Christmas colours to the mast. Our trio is absolutely determined to give no indication that today happens to be Christmas Day. Christmas last must have been very traumatic, although I’m not sure which Christmas that would have been, continuity wise. Any ideas?

Bob: Bizarrely, the Summer Wine trio seemed to have two separate Christmas Days in 1982! We’ve already seen them going on holiday for the festivities in All Mod Conned… but 24 hours later, this was broadcast, with them firmly staying at home and being miserable. The 1983 Christmas Special isn’t set at Christmas though, so should we be generous and assume that THIS is Christmas 1983, just broadcast 364 days too early? That would explain why they’re all so traumatised, having been through the disastrous events of All Mod Conned a year earlier.

Thank God we’re not Doctor Who fans, Drew… we’d drive ourselves mad with this kind of nonsense.

Andrew: I know it’s silly, but Clegg saying ‘Wensleydale’ gives me a tiny thrill.

Bob: I’m still thinking about how much Roy Clarke seems to dislike the festive season! Almost all the Summer Wine specials have had no Christmas setting at all, or have dwelt upon how depressing his main characters all find it. Even this little skit is no exception! ‘There will not be one solitary sign that this is Christmas Day,’ mutters Clegg. ‘I want us all to think of it as some dreary Sunday in late November’.

Andrew: Clegg and Foggy usually have to keep Compo in check, but for once he appears to be really trying to go along with their plans. That is, of course, until it transpires that he has adopted three buxom ‘orphans’ for the day, plunging Foggy and Clegg into abject terror.

Bob: What on EARTH persuaded them to tag along with Compo? And shower kisses over these three shabby old blokes? It gives hope to us all. ‘I like the tall one, he just fits…’, as Brian Wilde pulls one of his best rabbit-in-the-headlights faces.

Andrew: And so Clegg decides that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, uttering what, if this episode had a title, would surely be it… ‘Christmas is Compulsory’.

Bob: It’s an odd little interlude to our quest, isn’t it? A nice snippet, though. It’s such a shame the DVDs weren’t put together with a bit more attention to detail… stuff like this (and the pilot) should surely have been included as extras. Let’s form our own DVD company and do it PROPERLY!

(Opens wallet to find only moth droppings and old bus tickets)

Andrew: Butterflies is another series I’m not too familiar with, I’m afraid. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a complete episode. I do, however, remember the special Children in Need episode that was made in 2000. Alongside this little instalment, that makes two important mini-episodes that are pretty much lost to history. So yes… it’s such a shame that these kind of oddities are so often left out of ‘Complete’ DVD releases. Has any of the content from this special ever been officially released?

Bob: The Reggie Perrin clip is on the DVD box set, but I’m not sure that anything else has sneaked out!

Andrew: I’m definitely not a Carla Lane fan, The Liver Birds and Bread leave me completely cold. But this I could see myself warming to, for some reason.

Bob: Butterflies goes alongside Yes Minister as a sitcom that made little impression on me as a kid… but my God, as an adult it’s an absolute revelation. Put The Liver Birds and Bread to the back of your mind, because Butterflies is a completely different kettle of fish, and it’s masterfully written. It’s a brilliant depiction of middle-class stagnation and boredom, and the feeling of imprisonment and utter ennui that surburban affluence can bring about. With utterly believable characters, superbly portrayed. It’s as melancholy as it is funny, but it’s absolutely Lane’s masterpiece.

Anyway, our second helping this evening of Nicholas Lyndhurst, Geoffrey Palmer… and Michael Ripper! Get in, I’m crossing off the little faces on my Britcom Bingo card as we speak. This has a beautiful exchange between Wendy Craig and Bruce Montague on the pains of bygone love, and possibly the last recorded sighting of the National Government Issue 1970s ‘PHWOAR’ gesture (insert right palm into crook of left elbow, raise left forearm with clenched fist)

And so we come to another little lost TV rarity… Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith acting out what was apparently intended as a mini-pilot for their Alas Smith and Jones series. Not The Nine O’Clock News had ended in March 1982, and with Rowan Atkinson already making The Black Adder, and Pamela Stephenson (I think) decamping to the USA for Saturday Night Live, Mel and Griff were left having to persuade the BBC that they were worthy of making their own sketch show. 

And you can see why they were successful! This is a perfect little sketch, with Mel grumpy and pompous as a bedbound patient spending Christmas in hospital, and Griff fabulously irritating as his visitor. His line ‘I have an extensive collection of video naaaaaarsties’ is also used on a bootleg BBC VT Christmas Tape that I’ve seen thousands of times, so has been firmly ingrained on my consciousness for years. It actually feels odd seeing it in context for the first time!

And I’d also like to point out that, at this stage in proceedings, Drew was so distracted by my dog clambering all over him that he failed to make any notes whatsoever on this sketch. Youth of today, etc.

Andrew: Open All Hours making an appearance alongside Last of the Summer Wine here really does cement Roy Clarke as one of the kings of early ‘80s comedy. In fact, there are a few people who crop up twice during this special; we’ve already had Geoffrey Palmer, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Michael Ripper, and now it’s David Jason’s turn.

Bob: I love Open All Hours, and this is another great little sketch. Jason and Ronnie Barker have such an incredible rapport, and it’s a masterclass in writing for TV… the whole series is packed with jokes and one-liners, but not one of them feels contrived – they just flow beautifully from the natural conversation of the characters. So many sitcoms make the mistake of shoehorning great jokes into the mouths of characters who would never actually say them… but it’s not a trap that Roy Clarke falls into.

Andrew: David Jason in particular is a revelation. For some reason, I think I must subconsciously place Open All Hours chronologically ahead of Only Fools and Horses, because seeing them side-by-side is rather jarring. There is absolutely no trace of Del Boy in Jason’s portrayal of Granville and vice versa. It’s odd, because they’re both playful, cheeky and entrenched in business.

Bob: They are, but Granville has the downtrodden edge that Del Boy lacks. Del is convinced his millionaire playboy lifestyle is just around the corner, but Granville knows he’s just a smalltown fantasist who will never escape from that grotty little shop. But yes, extraordinary to think that Jason was appearing in both series simultaneously. Just like Barker, he had a talent for vanishing completely beneath his characters. Who would have thought that Arkwright and Norman Stanley Fletcher were the same bloke?

Andrew: There’s a standout Clarkian (I’m trademarking that word) exchange here that is worthy of the best of Sid and Ivy’s barbs.

Arkwright: I was hoping her Mother would be going away this Christmas.

Granville: Oh aye, where to?

Arkwright: Heaven.

In fact, I think this may even top the Last of the Summer Wine skit as my favourite component of this special. It really feels like a truncated episode of the series rather than a quick sketch. The Summer Wine scene doesn’t quite achieve this, thanks to the lack of location filming.

Bob: Yep, another little beauty. And that’s the end!

Andrew: So what have we learned on this time-travelling festive-odyssey? Well, if nothing else, the idea that Roy Clarke really doesn’t care for Christmas has been well and truly hammered in.

Bob: That Les Dawson fiddles with his knockers more than Roy Barraclough.  

Andrew: Also, the more things change the more they stay the same! Christmas 2013 saw Yes, Minister remade and Open All Hours return to television with a new festive special. Then, in 2014, Only Fools and Horses was resurrected as a sketch for Sports Relief. Even Reggie Perrin returned for a remake between 2009 and 2010. Not that I’m complaining!

Bob: I was complaining when we didn’t get tickets to see Still Open All Hours being filmed. Can I put 3D Monster Maze back on now?

Christmas Special 1982: All Mod Conned

In which Christmas is cancelled.. again!

Andrew: It’s time, once again, for a not-quite festive Christmas Special and, this year, Foggy has decided the best thing the trio can do is whisk themselves away for a quiet holiday by the sea. Have you ever been away for Christmas, Bob? I know a few people who have, but the idea has always been completely unappealing to me.

Bob: I don’t like going away even when it’s NOT Christmas! I’m with Clegg all the way… ‘Don’t you think the only thing worse than Christmas,’ he muses, ‘is going away for Christmas?’ Roy Clarke is really not a fan of the season at all, is he? Still, I’ll forsake a few baubles and a bit of tinsel for black exchanges like this…

Foggy: We’re going to have to cover him up with something.

Clegg: Like what?

Foggy: Six feet of earth springs to mind…

Andrew: When Compo whips out his mistletoe, Nora demonstrates that, deep down, she quite enjoys his attention. And when these little cracks in her battleaxe exterior are shown, you can see why people really took to her character. And of course Wally’s blank stare is a perfectly played reaction – Joe Gladwin was a genius.

Wally seethes with festive jealousy...

Wally seethes with festive jealousy…

Bob: Yeah, there’s a kind-hearted woman lurking in there somewhere, isn’t there? And it’s played beautifully, with just a hint of warmth. Kathy Staff wanted more of this, didn’t she? She was right, but it needs to be used sparingly… we need to like Nora, but still be rather fearful of her.

Which seems to be Wally’s attitude, at least! ‘He’ll be staying indoors to enjoy himself with his family,’ barks Nora, when asked about Wally’s plans for Christmas. ‘I’ll be staying indoors to enjoy meself with me family’, repeats Wally, with a lifetime of glum acceptance dripping from every sarcastic syllable. You’re right – Joe Gladwin is untouchable for this kind of put-upon resignation. He really is. Such an underrated actor, and very sorely missed.

Andrew: And it  wouldn’t have been a very special Christmas Special without an appearance from Sid and Ivy, so I’m glad our favourite café owner is the man tasked with driving our trio out to the railway station. We’re also treated to another hint of Compo’s unexpected sexual prowess, as he pounces on Ivy and puts some colour into her cheeks.

Bob: The scene in the station waiting room is a charming insight into Foggy’s character. ‘Thankyou, driver,’ he says to Sid, desperate to (ahem) keep up appearances in front of his fellow travellers. ‘We take a little cottage,’ he continues, with the stiff, hoity-toity vagueness of Dad’s Army-era John Le Mesurier. Do people still put on a ‘posh voice’ when keen to impress? I’m slightly (but only slightly) embarrassed to admit that I actually do. It’s a legacy passed down from my mother, who would speak in a full blooded Teesside accent around the house… until the phone rang, and she’d answer in a voice that was part Dame Edith Evans with just a hint of Cicely Courtneidge. ‘H’aim terribly sorry, he’s not hair at the mow-ment…’

'I wonder if Argentina's claiming this lot...'

‘I wonder if Argentina’s claiming this lot…’

Anyway, the holiday begins! With the trio being dropped into the bleakest-looking countryside imaginable, beside a dark and desolate-looking beach. ‘I wonder if Argentina’s claiming this lot…’ ponders Clegg, starkly reminding us that this was broadcast on Christmas Day 1982, when the Falklands conflict was still fresh and raw in the nation’s consciousness. Last of the Summer Wine is often said to exist in a kind of timeless limbo, but I’ve actually been surprised at how many topical references it contains in this first decade. At this stage at least, it’s not at all divorced from the concerns of contemporary Britain.

Andrew: Absolutely. You only have to look at Holmfirth in these early episodes to realise that these shows come from a very particular time and place. It’s run down, grubby and very, very working class during the early years – a complete reflection of 1970s economic hardship and later Thatcherite abandonment. It’ll be interesting to see when this ‘timeless’ quality kicks in though, because that’s certainly how I remember the series being when I was a child.

Bob: ‘Beachview Holiday Cottage’ transpires to be a derelict caravan on the beach, and becomes the setting for some very broad slapstick, as Compo topples over the WC. The dialogue doesn’t seem up to the usual standard in this episode, but these scenes at least work as a nice character study of Foggy; surviving and relishing the challenges of a pretty desolate adventure.

Andrew: As with Full Steam Behind, I find myself feeling rather sorry for Foggy during the course of this episode. Yes, he’s being a prat, but his heart is in the right place. He’s genuinely trying to give Compo and Clegg a nice Christmas and all they do is throw it back in his face.

Bob: What a lovely scene between Sid and Wally! We cut back to the pub, and have a rare chance to see John Comer and Joe Gladwin working together; and both are acting their proverbial socks off. ‘If I had my time over again, I’d be a hippy’, muses Sid… and I half-expect a Reggie Perrin-style cutaway to John Comer in beads and long hair, dancing around a totem pole to the strains of Jefferson Airplane. It’s a beautiful scene, full of wistfulness and regret… probably the stand-out moment of the episode.

Wally and Sid share a joke

Wally and Sid share a joke

Andrew: It’s very strange isn’t it? We should be wanting to get back to the exciting, location-based adventure story, but these scenes with the series’ secondary characters are the ones that save this years festive outing from being a bit of a downer. They’re absolutely lovely. The only problem is that I now have no interest in returning to our trio.

Bob: This exchange between Nora and Ivy is oddly melancholic, too. ‘He’s no trouble… scarf and gloves’, says Nora, of Wally. Which makes me sad in so many ways – because again, there’s such a ring of truth about it. Nora and Wally have been married for… what? Forty years? Fifty? And still, the only thing she can think to buy him every single Christmas is a scarf and a new pair of gloves. It’s not just the penny-scrimping modesty of it, it’s her total lack of appreciation for all of the things that Wally enjoys. Could she not buy something for his pigeons? Or a few bottles of beer? Or anything that would make them both laugh and enjoy a little moment together? But no… scarf and gloves. It’s so depressingly impersonal, and yet you know she buys them love in her heart, and that Wally accepts them every year with good grace. And life – and their marriage – trundles on, regardless.

Meanwhile, Ivy claims she gets tired of skimpy nighties – not last year, she didn’t… she was clearly very thrilled and excited!

Andrew: You know it’s all just a front. And what a front!

Bob: Cheeky! All of this is so well-written and thoughtful, and multi-layered that, like you, I’m a bit disappointed when we head back to the slapstick on the beach, with Compo falling through the roof and the caravan going up in smoke. And finally, our threesome attempt to paddle home along the coast in the outhouse. Come on! They’d die!

Andrew: I found this one to be a bit of a damp squib. I’m all for a comedy of disasters, but the whole thing started started to seem a little mean-spirited and contrived around the mid-point. The last visual gag just leaves me cold, I’m afraid. Right, that’s it – Christmas ruined!

Bob: That had its moments, but I honestly don’t think Roy Clarke enjoys writing ‘Christmas’ at all.

Andrew: I wonder if this is the true curse of Last of the Summer Wine’s popularity; Roy Clarke being forced to put the effort into a festive special… over and over and over again.

Bob: Happy Christmas, readers!

All Mod Conned For Web

 

Series 6 Episode 7: From Wellies to Wet Suit

In which Compo gets into (not very) deep water…

Bob: And so we reach an episode that was famously Bill Owen’s favourite, and it starts with a question that nails Compo’s ‘child in an old man’s body’ persona beautifully. ‘What makes water wet?’ he muses, lying flat on the grass and waggling his fingers in the stream. ‘Why does it feel different to dry?’ Lines like this make me wonder if Roy Clarke took some of Compo’s dialogue from his own children, as it captures so perfectly a child’s sense of fascinated bafflement at the way the world works.

Andrew: You know, I was sort of dreading reaching this episode. Am I right in saying that this is the first one we have watched that is always guaranteed to be used in clip shows, documentaries and tributes? I know we’ve already had episodes that are big on slapstick, but this pratfall-heavy episode has always marked the end of the low-key, dialogue driven era of the show to me. That’s why it’s so nice to find that its opening is so dialogue driven. And what dialogue it is!

There’s also a really nice directorial touch, as the first shot pans across to reveal our trio’s feet – including Compo’s wellies. We literally do go from wellies to wetsuit, then!

Bob: Oh, well spotted! This exchange made me laugh out loud as well…

Foggy: Let’s look for bubbles…

Clegg: That’s a hell of a name for a big, fat angry bloke…

And lo, Sid rises from the water in a rather saggy-looking wetsuit. It seems to be a running theme in Summer Wine that men are desperate to keep their harmless hobbies as guilty secrets from their wives… ‘Wives never understand’, grumbles Sid. Why was that, then? Was it a financial thing, do we reckon? When early 1980s household budgets were tight, was it seen as an unnecessary frivolity to splash the cash on pastimes that needed expensive gear? It’s hard to imagine a man like Sid in 2014 managing to keep a time-consuming hobby like scuba-diving a complete secret from his missus. He’d be Tweeting about it all the time, for a start… #ivymustneverknow

Sid rises from the depths…

Anyway, good to see our first abandoned farm building for quite some time!

Andrew: Here’s a rarity… we have Compo giving the call to adventure! Usually it’s Foggy having to talk his mates into outlandish schemes, but Compo is all for getting into the water. Not just up to his ankles, either; he plans to go in ‘all over’.

Bob: There’s a lovely, summery feel to this. On the seven-minute mark, a white butterfly flies right into the camera! And Compo singing ‘You Are My Honeysuckle’ while clumping about in flippers only compounds the feeling of an idyllic, sun-soaked afternoon. This must have been filmed in the summer of 1981, which pretty much reflects my memories of a long, sun-baked school holiday that year. Much of it spent messing about in remote barns and riverbanks on Paul Frank’s farm! I was Compo.

Andrew: A nod to Ronnie Hazlehurst, as well, who quickly drops in a further refrain from ‘You Are My Honeysuckle’ as Compo tussles with a farmer’s dog. There are some really great musical moments in this episode. You know, if these music cues still exist, I want them. You must know at least one record producer who would jump at the chance to release a deluxe ten disc box-set of Last of the Summer Wine music cues.

Bob: I’d give Phil Spector a call, but I believe he’s busy. Hey, what a great scene between Foggy and Clegg, as they reminisce about their 1930s schooldays in Compo’s absence! ‘Him and Cloggy Hopwood (NAMES DATABASE!!) must have stuffed hundreds of beetles down my trousers’, muses Foggy, affectionately. The dynamic of the trio is such that Clegg and Compo usually seem like the more natural double act, effectively stepping into line as Foggy’s reluctant footsoldiers, so this is a nice reminder of the fact that Foggy and Clegg are close, lifelong friends too. And genuinely enjoy each others company.

Andrew: It’s a lovely scene. We get a nice glimpse into Foggy’s background, too. His mother struggled to come to terms with the way he was turning out as an adolescent and used to look at him with a deeply disappointed expression every time she passed him his Horlicks before bedtime. No wonder he feels the need to overcompensate all the time.

And his commending of Compo with ‘That’s my boy!’ a short time later takes on somewhat of a Freudian overtone as a result.

Bob: Foggy as Compo’s surrogate Dad? I can see something in that!

And so Compo is the new owner of Sid’s wetsuit, and predictably wreaks havoc in it, clumping around the town and country. As he enters the café, Jane Freeman gives a scream worthy of any Doctor Who companion! She should have joined Peter Davison’s TARDIS team in Arc of Infinity. Come on, imagine that! She’d be great. John Nathan-Turner would have snapped your hand off for that.

Andrew: Then, for what I think is the first and only time ever in the show, we are carried into the next scene via an optical wipe. What is this, Star Wars? Very odd.

Is it the rubber? The machismo?

Is it the rubber? The machismo?

Bob: Just thank your lucky stars George Lucas was never asked to direct Last of the Summer Wine. We’d have had a CGI Wally. Instead, we cut to two middle-aged women in the corner shop, and a completely unexplained exchange about ‘this wooden thing, it’s a replica of what they used in the old days’.

‘That gentleman friend of our Edna’s would know’, comes the reply. ‘He’s very well-travelled in the paper towel industry’.

Oh, Roy Clarke is the KING of the non-sequitur! Just magnificently funny and – more importantly – it feels real. I’m a bit of a nosy parker myself, and gain immense pleasure from overhearing snippets of out-of-context conversation in supermarkets. I once saw one smiling, elderly lady reach up for a packet of fishcakes and gleefully say to her friend ‘…and the next thing she knew, he had his shirt off and his camera out…’, which made me laugh all the way down to spices and condiments (aisle 5).

If you see me coming in Tesco, it’s best to shut your trap.

Andrew: We don’t make enough time for passing oddballs in today’s society, let alone today’s sitcoms. I’m as guilty as the next man, mind you; with my headphones in and my iPhone on, I’m never going to be able to effectively eavesdrop on little old ladies.

Bob: I was a little bemused by the following scene, in which the wetsuit-clad Compo inadvertently destroys the shop, knocking over the magazine racks in a cascading domino effect as the place falls apart around him.

Andrew: As soon as I saw those shelves, I thought to myself, ‘those are going to fall over, collapse or be otherwise disturbed’. There’s something about the whole set-up that just screams BBC Special Effects and Scenic Department.

Bob: It’s brilliantly done, but it feels more like a scene from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em than Last of the Summer Wine. So I was intrigued to read in Alan JW Bell’s book From the Director’s Chair that it was actually Bill Owen’s suggestion! It looks great, but I’d have been interested to see the original scripted version, in which – apparently – Compo just stands there in his diving gear while the two ladies continue gossiping, oblivious. I like a bit of silent underplaying.

Andrew: You can absolutely see why this was one of Bill Owen’s favourites – it’s so Compo-centric! He gets to do pratfalls, wear a silly costume, has some fantastic lines, and then there’s ‘You Are My Honeysuckle’!  I wonder if Sallis and Wilde felt a bit put out at all during this one?

Bob: And so we reach the climactic stunt sequences… soundtracked by Ronnie Hazlehurst’s immaculate pastiche of the Jaws soundtrack, as Compo’s flippers slap their way down the steps! ‘Have you gone berserk???’ screeches Nora, and it’s hard to argue with her sentiments. And ‘berserk’ is a word that you don’t hear enough of these days. People were always going ‘berserk’ when I were a lad. Dogs, too. Dogs went ‘beserk’ a lot. Bring back the berserkers, that what I say. Let’s all go berserk!

Andrew: Steady on, that man. Would you settle for going wild? How about potty?

It’s not a particularly clever or outstanding line, but for some reason I’ve falled utterly in love with the way Staff delivers, ‘Keep your fishy fingers away from my body!’

‘Keep your fishy fingers away from my body!’

Bob: Two wellies glued to waterskis made by Wally, and the whole shebang pulled by Sid’s motorbike… it’s ridiculous, but it works. A nice bit of overcranked film sees Compo being dragged wildly across the countryside and landing in a gentle country picnic. It’s very well done.

Andrew: It is, but again it highlights the ever changing nature of the show. Blamire wouldn’t be down for this. I’m sure I’ll get used to it and I’m sure I’ll get used to the increased physical comedy, but for now it just feels odd.

Bob: What a beautiful coda! Our heroes walk home, bathed in evening sunlight, looking forward to fish and chips. It really does remind me of those endless, childhood summer holiday afternoons, messing about with mates and scrapes, getting wet and grazed and sunburnt and tired, but filled with a sense of freedom and fun. And yeah, bugger it… it’s me and Paul Frank, on his farm, in that summer. I can see why this is Bill Owen’s favourite episode. He gets plenty to do, with some great physical business, but – more than that – it’s one of the best encapsulations yet of the show as the embodiment of the ‘second childhood’. Lovely.

Andrew: Sorry, but that ending didn’t do it for me at all. The whole thing seemed to just peter out with no surprises. Compo prats about in the water which is funny in and of itself, but nothing pays off. Maybe it’s my fault. I never did like summer evenings.

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