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EXCLUSIVE: An Interview With Stuart Fell

I’ve been run over by hovercraft… and in the film Willow I was crushed by a horse… Read more

Series 6 Episode 6: Serenade for Tight Jeans and Metal Detector


In which Compo has a change of scenery…

Bob: As you know, there’s very little in life makes me happier than a good non-sequitur, so the opening lines to this episode put a huge smile all over my beardy, middle-aged chops.

Foggy: I understand the Co-Op has some big reductions in winceyette pyjamas.

Compo: Nigel Hinchcliffe’s nose has turned septic.

Clegg: Two thirds of the human nose could be below the surface.

Alright, let me witlessly dissect these little moments of genius. Foggy’s line is magnificent. He doesn’t start with ‘I’ve heard…’ or ‘Did you know…’, he says ‘I understand’. ‘I UNDERSTAND’!!! Implying that his knowledge of winceyette pyjama reductions has been imparted via a series of clandestine espionage raids conducted by special forces at dawn. In the flaming Co-Op. Two words that speak volumes about his delusions of military grandeur.

And ‘winceyette’! Does anyone ever say ‘winceyette’ any more? Foggy is so precise about every aspect of his mundane existence that he even has to specify the pyjama material in question, lest anyone assume he was sullying his insider nightwear knowledge with references to clearly inferior nylon products. Although such pyjamas were definitely called ‘flannelette’ when I were a lad. Still, the principle of raised-nap cotton fabric is the same. 

Upside Down… Clegg, you turn me…

Andrew: I must admit that I had to take to Google in order to find out what ‘winceyette’ actually means. It’s not just raised-nap, it’s a cotton flannelette with a nap on both sides, apparently. You know, it’s been ages since I’ve had a nice pair of pyjamas. Do you think one of our readers might send some in if I put the call out?

Bob: Only if you put Nigel Hinchcliffe in the names database. Owner of a septic nose. Which was nearly the title of a Top 40 hit for Yes in November 1983. 

Andrew: When Foggy asks, ‘Is that a view or is that a view?’ I thought to myself, ‘Yes, Foggy, it is.’ Alan Bell really knows how to make the most of the natural beauty of his locations, even during his earliest episodes.

Bob: Yes, there’s definitely been a deliberate decision to show off the locations a lot more.

Andrew: Outside Dougie’s Second Hand Shop, Foggy and Clegg shake Compo down for some cash. Literally. Nothing tumbles from our scruffy hero’s pockets as he is hoisted upside-down, though. Where else would he keep his betting money but in his wellies?

Compo: That don’t half make your eyeballs heavy. Suppose they dropped out?

Foggy: It wasn’t THEM dropping out that we were worried about.

Is that our first ball-gag since Forked Lightning? Also, how many extra site visitors will be sent our way via Google thanks to our use of the phrase ball-gag?

Bob: I think we’ll double our usual traffic. So possibly as many as seven.

Andrew: Foggy arrives at the café some time before Compo and Clegg, who we are told are lagging behind. We don’t often get to observe Foggy on his own, do we? Nothing particularly significant happens during this scene, but it’s odd to see him have a one-on-one with Sid.

Foggy reveals he has installed a new set of trousers on Compo, and Sid is shocked enough to send the items he is holding clattering to the floor. This prompts Ivy to emerge and, when told that Sid has received some startling news, presumes that her husband has been ‘seen with’ Mrs. Jessop! What do we think then? Is Ivy paranoid or does Sid play away from time to time?

Those new trousers in full

Bob: I reckon he has – years ago – and Ivy has never let it go. She’s deeply insecure, and desperate to hang onto him by any means necessary. ‘I’ve been expecting something like this ever since you started reading Harold Robbins’ she sniffs, the second Summer Wine reference I can remember to the grandaddy of the bonkbuster novel. Was Mrs Clarke a fan, do we think? The Carpetbaggers was the Fifty Shades of Grey of its time.

Nice scene in the café too, with a classic Clarke trope – the quickfire repeating of an unusual word of phrase by several characters, to almost surreal comic effect. Here, Nora accuses Sid of startling her by ‘rearing up’… the springboard for a delightful mini-sketch in which the phrase ‘rearing up’ is used over and over with increasingly exaggerated delivery. Clarke does this a lot – I have fond memories of an episode of Open All Hours in which Granville’s ‘dangler’ (calm down at the back there, it’s a medallion) gets similar treatment. The word becomes funny in itself, simply by dint of the repetition – but it’s important not to overstay your welcome with these things. It’s artfully done here, though. 

Andrew: Then in walks a post ‘trouser transplant’ Compo. Now, have I missed something or is there absolutely no explanation as to why Foggy chooses to do this now? Whatever the reason, Compo looks distinctly uncomfortable in his new skinny jeans. As a man who has been forced into a pair by his far more stylish partner, I have all the sympathy in the world for him. I believe they were first developed by the Spanish Inquisition.

Bob: You what??! No-one over the age of 19 should be wearing skinny-fit ANYTHING. Hey, a reference to ‘Bickerdyke’s dog’! That’s from Series 4 Episode 6, Greenfingers. Summer Wine is finally eating itself!

Andrew: We also get to learn a little more about Dougie from the Second Hand Shop, who has somehow managed to talk Clegg into purchasing a metal detector. Knowing what is to come down the line, it’s very easy to see the unseen second hand shop proprieter as a proto-Auntie Wainwright, another character who, in Sid’s words, ‘can sell owt’.

Foggy finds a Roman beer can

Foggy finds a Roman beer can

Bob: Foggy is mocked by his colleagues for getting excited about ‘buried treasure’, but metal detecting was a big hobby for men of a certain age in the 1970s! Seismic events like the discovery of the Mildenhall Treasure would have made a big impression on men of Foggy’s age.

It was an era when all kinds of oddities could be found with only the bare minimum of digging. Even in built-up towns, much of the ground remained undeveloped, and many deeply-buried treasures had been unsettled by wartime bombing and lay undiscovered on sites that had stayed largely untouched for decades. As a kid, I remember discovering centuries-old coins and the fractured remains of Victorian pottery while scrabbling around in our own back garden.

Andrew: I once found a copy of Readers’ Wives strewn along a hedgerow.

Bob: You were clearly from the posh end of town. It were all Razzle under our hedgerows. Hey, what a great Radiophonic noise when Foggy finally gets the metal detector working! I can imagine Malcolm Clarke slaving away for hours on that. Inbetween putting the finishing touches to the Earthshock soundtrack.

Andrew: Back on the hillside, Foggy thinks he’s stumbled across something Roman. It isn’t, of course. Instead, he’s found a beer can – Julius Tetley – and it’s off to the pub.

Bob: My dad would doubtless have called that an ‘ancient Roman beercan’! A nice, warm episode, anyway.

Andrew: I had some fun with this episode, particularly the scenes with the whole gang in the café, but it pales in comparison to the last two. You’re spoiling us, Mr. Clarke.

Series 6 Episode 5: One of the Last Few Places Unexplored By Man

A great episode I think, with some of the strongest, funniest dialogue we’ve had for a while. My only disappointment is the clear suggestion that Nora and Wally don’t actually share a marital bed! Read more

Series 6 Episode 4: A Bicycle Made for Three

In which our trio ‘get it continental style’…

Andrew: Have we reached another milestone? Does this qualify as our first truly iconic episode of Last of the Summer Wine? I think that clip from the climax of this episode, in which our trio tumble headfirst over the handlebars of their bicycles, is probably one of the most often used to represent the series in documentaries or highlights packages.

Bob: Yes, that clip has come to embody ‘three silly old sods plummeting downhill’ public perception of the series, hasn’t it? Whenever I mention our ongoing quest to non-Summer Wine fans, they always make reference to this kind of escapade. Which is a shame, as the absolute bedrock of the series for me is the dialogue and characterisation. All the rest is largely window dressing. Here you go, from the opening sequence…

Compo: I tried for a reserved occupation.

Foggy: There was no-one more reserved about taking an occupation than you.

A laugh-out loud joke with a wealth of information about both characters attitudes, backgrounds and personalities, all within the space of two lines. Perfect.

Andrew: There’s a lot of location work in this episode and it’s all beautifully shot, but doesn’t the transfer look manky? Doctor Who fans have been spoilt rotten with the amount of care and attention that’s been exercised in restoring that series’ many episodes, and the thought that the original film elements of many of these Summer Wine episodes could just be lying in a vault gathering dust is almost too much to take.

Bob: This probably makes me some sort of heathen, but I rather like a bit of grit and grain on vintage 16mm film sequences. Gives them a bit of character and period charm. I can spend hours watching a trapped hair fizzing away in the corner of the screen.

Andrew: I’d have to check the novel again to see whether it originates there, but the gag with the trio careening down a hill upon one bicycle is used again, in almost identical fashion, in the Getting Sam Home feature-length special the following year.

Bob: Spoilers!

Andrew: And who would have thought that a thirty-year-old episode of Last of the Summer Wine would become so topical in hindsight? Not too long ago, a video in which former American sitcom star Kirk Cameron and Christian minister Ray Comfort displayed support for the ‘Banana Theory’ went viral. The Banana Theory, in case you’re wondering, posits almost exactly what Clegg states in this episode, ‘If there’s no guiding hand behind the universe, how come bananas are just the right shape for your mouth’. Have a look!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z-OLG0KyR4]

I wonder if they were fans (joke)? Within the context of Summer Wine, Clegg gets away with it, but as an argument for intelligent design it just doesn’t hold up at all.  Who would have thought that the battle of Darwinism and fundamental Christianity would intrude upon our little oasis of tranquillity?

Bob: Wait until we get round to Open All Hours. There’s a full episode in which Granville and Mrs Featherstone discuss the implications of Sartre’s theory of Bad Faith and the direct contradictions it posits to Freud’s theories of the unconscious.

Andrew: Another couple of names for the database; Lily Matthews – With his scruffy khakis, Compo never had a chance with this RAF-mad girl. Lily was ugly, but only from the front. Then we get Mildred, a loud welder, apparently.

'I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple'

‘I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple’

Bob: And then we meet a new character – Junk-shop owner Percy Westerfield, or ‘Dirk’ as he now insists on being called. As soon as he appeared, I shouted ‘JOE MELIA!’ with unseemly abandon, making both dogs scatter in panic across the front room. A fine character actor, Joe Melia… beloved of us science fiction geeks for playing Mr Prosser in The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, but he’s also the delightfully amoral journalist Ron Rust in A Very Peculiar Practice, the viewing of which – like archery practice on a Sunday – should be on the statute books as a compulsory weekly activity for all adults.

Good to see Dirk wearing a classic comedy slogan T-Shirt as well… ‘I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple’ is emblazoned unashamedly across his chest. The comedy T-shirt is a quintessentially 1980s phenomenon, and a couple of years before this episode aired you could barely move in Britain’s High Streets for ‘I Shot JR’ T-shirts hanging from shop windows. And wobbling beer guts. The practice still exists in the minds of weird 50-year-old men who proudly strut around in public wearing hilarious ‘If Found, Please Return To The Pub’ T-shirts, but the rest of the world – thankfully – seems to have moved on.

Andrew: I actually quite like Dirk nee Percy as a character and wonder whether we’re going to see him again?

Bob: He’s certainly a great ‘deluded’ character in the classic sitcom style. Despite being the owner of a rather run-down second-hand shop, he still considers himself to be a future millionaire, without ever stooping to being ‘your flash-in-the-pan overnight whizzkid’. Anyway, he allows Compo, Clegg and Foggy to rummage for spare bike parts in the shed, in order to construct a bicycle each to continue their two-wheeled adventures…

Andrew: One thing that really strikes me about this episode, particularly the scenes where the trio are putting their bicycles together, is just how much fun they’re having. There’s little in the way of moaning or complaining, and just look at the glee that Foggy and Compo exhibit when gently ribbing one another for their efforts. It’s a little bit special and reminds us why these characters continue to knock about together, despite their many setbacks and fallings-out.

Clegg, officially having fun

Clegg, officially having fun

Bob: Roy Clarke’s very good at that. Amidst all the friction between Summer Wine’s main characters, there’s always something that reminds you that – beneath it all – they’re actually very fond of each other. It can be a single line, or even just a warm glance between the barbs, but it’s always there. Very important.

Andrew: In a move that I expect will upset you, Sid’s Café has undergone some extensive renovations, doing away, as Clegg puts it, with ‘the homely air of neglect’. This doesn’t bother me at all, however, as the set now looks exactly as it did when I was growing up with the show. I think this was my first burst of nostalgia. I wonder if this move to brighten the place up is part of Alan J.W. Bell’s influence on the series.

Bob: Ha! I’ve written exactly that in my notes.‘They’ve redecorated – I don’t like it’. I suspect that, if we watched one of the Blamire episodes again, we’d be surprised at how filthy and run-down all of the sets and locations look in comparison to this brave new era. There was a real grimy, soot-stained bleakness to life in 1973 that was beginning to fade from sight in the spruced-up, computerized 1980s.

I’m glad you’ve got a nostalgia blast, though! You’ll be going all fuzzy on me from here.

Anyway, nice to see Nora and especially Wally making much more regular appearances in this series. Some funny lines for Nora in particular in this scene, including her musings on men. ‘I blame television,’ she grumbles. ‘They see all these funny ideas. People enjoying themselves…’

Andrew: Wally in whites almost doesn’t look like Wally.

Bob: I’m sorry, but you could dress Wally Batty up as Carmen Miranda and he’d still look like Wally Batty. There’s no getting away from THAT FACE.

Andrew: If Gladwin had stuck around for a few more years I’m sure  Roy Clarke would have had him dressed up as Carmen Miranda.

One thing this episode does– probably better than any episode so far – is to skilfully blend Clarke’s verbal humour with the slapstick elements of the series. I didn’t feel short-changed on either front and the episode’s comic climax, in which our trio tumble head first from Foggy’s new take on the tandem bicycle, is rooted within the series logic. Unlike Wally’s pigeon-shaped hang glider, I can totally believe that this is something Foggy would come up with and have the ability to construct.

They've redecorated. We don't like it.

They’ve redecorated. We don’t like it.

Bob: Yes, Foggy joins three bikes together by the handlebars to make a treble-seated monster, and it’s absolutely believable. The scenes in which they road-test the bike look lovely as well… freewheeling fun on a bright summers day.

Andrew: I also really enjoyed the scene with our trio attempted to eat ‘continental style’ outside the café. Ronnie Hazlehurst’s Parisian take on the series’ theme tune is beautiful, and the action is taken straight out of a Laurel and Hardy or Chaplin short from the silent era.

Bob: Absolutely! ‘They’re going to get it continental style’, deadpans Jane Freeman, refusing to allow our scruffy trio to slurp their tea in her newly-refurbished café. It’s such a well-worn 70s double entendre that I heartily applaud Roy Clarke for having the audacity to use it! There’s a whole scene in Are You Being Served – The Movie in which Captain Peacock and Mrs Slocombe debate whether they’d prefer it ‘English or continental style’. Their breakfast, of course. What else?

And you say Chaplin, I’ve written Jacques Tati in my notes! Same difference. Yeah, a lovely little homage to silent cinema, with our heroes’ attempts to eat in the yard being disturbed by unruly schoolkids, careless car-washers and funeral processions alike, all with barely a word spoken. All, as you say, accompanied by Ronnie Hazlehurst’s beautifully Gallic-sounding accordion music. We should probably talk more about Ronnie Hazelhurst on this blog sometime… he’s the unsung hero of Summer Wine. Didn’t he compose completely unique scores for every episode? I can’t think of many other TV shows in which the incidental music is such an integral and recognisable part of the atmosphere.

Andrew: All in all, probably one of my favourites so far.

Bob: Me too. Series 6 has been a joy so far, and I can absolutely understand why this was the year in which the show really began to elevate to national treasure status.

Series 6 Episode 3: The Odd Dog Men

Congratulations on being the first person ever to equate Last of the Summer Wine with Twin Peaks! Read more

Series 6 Episode 2: Car and Garter

BOB: What strikes me most about this episode is that Alan Bell was spot on with regards to Gordon Wharmby – he is indeed “absolutely real”. It’s a fine performance, and a great encapsulation of that breed of middle-aged Northern men who spend all of their spare time in overalls beneath a car and need a garage (or a shed, or just some private space to retreat to, unencumbered by female tutting and clucking) to retreat to. I see a lot of my Dad in Wesley. Read more

Series 6 Episode 1: In The Service of Humanity

This is a great, character-driven plotline and actually quite touching, really. Foggy’s desire to, “answer the call whenever it comes” is what drives him from one episode to the next. This week he’s a medic, the next he’ll walk dogs. The activity does’t matter, so long as he’s doing something for somebody. Read more

Christmas Special 1981: Whoops

This isn’t just a cracking, heartfelt Christmas episode, it’s an episode that touchingly and thoughtfully puts us firmly back in touch with the show’s roots… of staving off mortality and melancholy by staying true to your inner child, and cherishing the things that really matter in life – friendship, fun and family. Read more

Christmas Special 1979: And a Dewhurst Up a Fir Tree

Can we finally draw the conclusion that Roy Clarke’s not a fan of the festive period? Another Summer Wine Christmas special, and yet again it’s given a twist so that it’s not as Christmassy as we might expect. Read more

Series 5 Episode 7: Here We Go Again Into the Wild Blue Yonder

In which Compo plans to take to the air… again!

Andrew: We should have been taking detailed notes each time we see the trio lurking around an abandoned barn or farm building. These are the kind of places I’d like to track down! Not that we’d have much chance. You saw the mess we made of finding railway stations, and those had their bloody names written on them. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this kind of location vanished from the show by the turn of the 1990s.

Bob: All the barns have been converted into luxury apartments. I think we’re firmly into the second era of Summer Wine here, aren’t we? Obviously the show was dabbling with stuntwork and slapstick as far back as the Blamire era, but I think this is the first episode we’ve seen in which the whole episode is geared around – and works up to – a spectacular, climactic stunt. Yep… Compo is about to embark on his hang-gliding expedition. When I’ve mentioned this blog to my friends, they’ve all said that their overriding memories of Summer Wine are of Bill Owen falling off something, rolling down something, or flying over something, with the rest of the gang flailing helplessly behind. And here we are with an episode that’s the Platonic Ideal of that!

'That's what ah knows best, is pigeons'

‘That’s what ah knows best, is pigeons’

I guess it’s the show moving into another gear, really… it’s always been about older people operating outside society, and finding ways to kill the time and boredom that has suddenly descended upon them. Whereas in the earlier series, this took the form of rueful, frequently sardonic conversations in libraries or disused barns, our heroes have now become decidedly more pro-active. You can argue that this dispenses with the grim realism of the early years, but it’s undoubtedly the era that transformed the show from a respected sitcom into a national treasure.

Andrew: I have a feeling that we’ll soon be longing for the moribund tone of those early years, but it’s undoubtedly true that the series couldn’t have survived without this shift in format. It’s a bit like Doctor Who in that sense; it’s very easy to pick and choose favourites from the different eras and just as easy to get into heated arguments over them. 

Bob: Roy Clarke likes the word ‘dangler’, doesn’t he? Clegg uses it in the makeshift gym they’ve constructed in a barn for Compo (‘He was always one of the all-time great danglers’) but also recycles it in a fabulous 1982 episode of Open All Hours – in which Granville decides to ‘get cool’, with a shirt boldly slashed to the waist and a medallion that he repeatedly refers to as his ‘dangler’. I seem to recall he gets his dangler caught in the till! Quite right, too. It’s a great comedy word.

And there it is, Wally’s hang-glider itself! Essentially a giant racing pigeon outfit, complete with beak and feathers. And it clearly owes far more the BBC props department than to Wally Batty’s shed! Fair to say we’ve moved a long way from the Waiting for Godot realism of Series 1 here. Would five 60-year-old men really attempt to build a hang-glider from scratch, and force one of their number to jump from a barn roof? Am I just taking this too seriously, Drew? Am I? Really?

Andrew: Yes, but so am I and somebody has to! Actually, I wouldn’t have so much of a problem if it was just a hang-glider. It’s just that, well, look at the bloody thing.

It’s incredibly silly, but if you’re looking for a glimmer of realism then you have to ask… what else would you expect Wally to model a hang-glider on? As the man himself says, ‘That’s what ah knows best, is pigeons’.

It’s good, but it’s no Satan Meets Venus

Bob: There’s a deliciously macabre scene in the middle of this episode, with an innocent bystander idling away the hours in his car, reading a book called The Hanging Tree. Looking up, he sees the silhouettes of our heroes on top of the moors, marching Compo to a suspiciously similar-looking tree with a coiled length of rope in his hand. It’s really funny – you can’t beat a ‘horrified stranger’ routine when it’s done well.

Andrew: I know it doesn’t matter, but I really want to know more about that book. I cant make out an author on the cover, and a Google search doesn’t turn up anything that looks the part. A closer inspection of the jacket appears to indicate that this is another example of the BBC Props department at work. The tree depicted on the back is very reminiscent of the one featured on location. And then there’s this lovely detail on the back…

Other Titles By This Author: Murder After Dark, The Black Revenge, Satan Meets Venus

It can’t be real. Can it? Answers on a postcard…

Bob: There’s a funny scene with Ivy and Nora as well, now clearly becoming friends and pondering on the whereabouts of their missing husbands.

Andrew: Ivy’s reference to Wally having slipped his leash is spot on. He’d be a whippet, of course.

Bob: We even get Nora alluding to Wally’s sexual exploits! ‘I’ve never found him excessively demanding,’ she states, with a certain degree of relief. One in the eye for those previously convinced that Wally Batty was a carnal titan with an insatiable sexual appetite.

Andrew: I’m still not convinced.

Bob: And here we go… the classic stunt finish. Compo thirty feet up on a barn roof, Clegg on his wobbly bike, and Wally and Sid forming a rescue party in a tiny boat. The tone has very much shifted from a 9.30pm adult sitcom to a 7.30pm family show over the course of a couple of series, which – instinctively – disappoints me a bit. And yet… these are the shows that I fell in love with! I would have laughed uproariously at all of this when I was seven years old, and alongside the funny stuntwork there was still the crackling dialogue and downright Yorkshire oddness sinking into my psyche by osmosis. So I became a fan during this era, and the show essentially did its job.

I’ve struggled to find out, but I’d be fascinated to know – when did Summer Wine move from a late-night slot to primetime family scheduling? And did the change in tone happen afterwards, with Roy Clarke adjusting it accordingly?

Sid and Wally brace themselves for Andrew's info-dump...

Sid and Wally brace themselves for Andrew’s info-dump…

Andrew: Brace yourself for an info-dump. At the start of this series, which commenced on the 18th of September 1979, the show had been brought forward from 9.25pm to 8.30pm on Tuesdays. This was the first time the show had been screened in a slot where families could collectively view it and, incredibly significantly, this period also happened to coincide with the ITV strike. An industrial dispute had seen the ITV network shut down transmissions on the 10th of August and they wouldn’t resume until the 24th of October; great news for the BBC, who offered the only other viewing alternatives! 

Therefore it totally makes sense that the show would continue to move in the direction that series five embodies; for better or worse, this was how the vast majority of the viewing public came to know Last of the Summer Wine.

Most of this info, by the way, was cribbed from Andrew Vine’s book,  Last of the Summer Wine: The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series. I highly recommend it.

Bob: I can’t shake the feeling that Foggy actually wants to kill Compo during the final stages of this episode. He’s going to fall from a thirty-foot barn and be dragged to his death, man! Is that really what you want, Dewhurst? Is it? IS IT???

Andrew: Well he knows he can get away with tormenting him, for once. Compo’s hardly gonna catch him while in that get-up. He absolutely delights in tormenting him, doesn’t he? I like to think this is his revenge for Full Steam Behind. It’ll be Clegg’s turn next. Actually, I’d watch a Friday the 13th style take on Last of the Summer Wine.  Clarke missed a trick not writing a non-canon Halloween special.

Speaking of canon, Clegg’s previously established fear of driving is suspiciously absent. I’ll let Clarke off, though, as he does struggle to get the van going. Still, I’m not happy.

Bob:  We’re thinking about this stuff FAR too much. I need a long lie down, Drew. Good job this is the series finale.

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