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Christmas Special 1978: Small Tune On a Penny Wassail

In which our three wise men attempt a Merry Christmas…

Bob: At last, a proper Christmas episode! No sleight of hand, no fake festivities at the height of summer, this is Summer Wine on Christmas Day… and it’s slightly incongruous seeing a wintry, tinsel-festooned Holmfirth. We’re so accustomed to that gentle, early autumnal feel.

Mind you, I say Christmas Day… this was actually broadcast at 10.40pm on Boxing Day! Is that the latest timeslot the show has ever had? Surely it is!

Andrew: Is it that time of year again already? Clegg seems to be wondering the same thing during this, our second festive offering from the series. His mild annoyance at how early Christmas rears its head and for how long it hangs around just goes to show that things never change. Every year I seem to do battle in the pub with someone whinging about the same thing, as though it were a new development.

Clegg can't contain his excitment

Clegg can’t contain his excitement

Bob: I’m sorry to keep banging on about how evocative these episodes are of my own childhood, but really… this just IS the Christmas Day of my very early childhood. Dark, deserted streets, teenage lads with flares and new skateboards, and a real air of resolute jollity amidst the all-pervading austerity. Just to put things in context, the winter of 1978/79 was James Callaghan’s ‘Winter of Discontent’, in which the country was brought almost to its knees by an epidemic of industrial action… binmen, train drivers, lorry drivers, even – famously – gravediggers went on strike, amidst the most ferocious snowfalls since 1962. It really was an extraordinarily bleak hour, and my memories of that Christmas are of threadbare tinsel and the cheapest of entertainments… my Gran raising a thimble glass of sherry in front of Larry Grayson’s Generation Game. And yet, weirdly, watching this, I want it back. All of it, in a big bundle of misty-eyed cosiness.

Andrew: I know that this is just a bi-product of the show’s unseasonal production, but one thing I find really refreshing here is the complete lack of snow or references to it. I can’t think of another more accurate depiction of the typical British Christmas than the dull weather and quiet streets on display here. Every other Christmas television special seems to either have to import some of the white stuff or have the characters pining for it.

And just as a side note, I think this is the first time anybody has mentioned the fact that cigarettes have all but vanished from the series since the grittier Blamire period. Clegg references the fact that he’s given them up in order to live longer. It certainly worked!

Bob: It never snowed at Christmas in the 1970s! Good to see farce supremo Brian Rix in this… quite a big name for 1978, they’d pulled out all the stops. And the scene in Clegg’s house has a nice line in typical Summer Wine humbuggery. ‘Christmas comes but once a year,’ muses Clegg. ‘It just seems longer’. Meanwhile, Foggy is pondering the possibility of the Russians attacking on Christmas Day, when Britain’s defences are clearly off their guard. Yes, add impending nuclear apocalypse to your growing list of 1978 wondrousness!

Compo, at least, finds room for some sentiment. ‘Christmas is magic when you’re a kid,’ he ponders. ‘Grown-ups never get any fun presents’. And, of course, he’s right. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I can put my childhood festivities into the context of such bleakness. At the time, aged six, it was simply the brightest, sparkliest day of the year – a riot of 75p Star Wars figures and, hey… I loved Larry Grayson. Still do. When the surely-inevitable Generation Game boxset finally earns a release, can we blog our way through that as well? Is anyone at Acorn DVD reading this?!?!?

Foggy, interestingly, points that that Compo has no children of his own! Ah, if only he knew…

Teddy Turner receives instrudctions from Mrs Pumphrey...

Teddy Turner receives instructions from Mrs Pumphrey…

Andrew: As ever, our trio is left to their own devices. Alone for Christmas, they make do with each other’s company. It’s a bit sad, really, but Clarke doesn’t dwell upon it. Today, the idea of the disenfranchised elderly spending time alone over the holidays is, depressingly, more relevant than ever.

And so, in order to alleviate the boredom, Foggy suggests they take a trip to the hospital to visit their ailing friend Edgar. Edgar, however, is quite happy without visitors, given that  ‘He has colour television and all the nurses he can eat ’.

Meanwhile, Sid and Ivy and Nora and Wally provide a family-centric counterpoint to our trio’s lonely yuletide. Not that they are exactly thrilled about having the relatives around! Sid and Wally, in particular.

Bob: Can I just keep harping drearily about 1970s Christmases, please? Matching jumpers! Cracking walnuts! ‘Cousin Dudley, all the way from Garstang’! It’s perfect. Lovely scenes with Wally and Nora in the kitchen as well.

Andrew: Wally comes out with one of my favourite lines so far, the Freudian slip, ‘Why don’t you go sit down, Nora? You’ve been on your mouth all day!’ It’s Sid and Ivy, however, who once again inject a bit of heart into the show. There’s a genuinely tender moment between the pair and a black nightie, with Ivy finally getting a taste of the kind of relationship she was pining for, back during her Series 3 trip to the seaside.

Bob: Yes! Sid has, incredibly, bought Ivy a saucy black nightie for Christmas and she is, incredibly, utterly thrilled. Despite all appearances to the contrary, there are still little frissons of excitement to found in the darkest depths of that marriage.

Andrew: Our climax sees Compo joining in with some skateboarding frolics. The must-have present of 1978 appears to have been a skateboard – at least it Roy Clarke’s mind.  And it’s good to see kids using them for what they were meant for; none of this Tony Hawk rubbish, just bombing down hills at dangerously insane speeds.

Look out for the Dodworth Colliery Band!

Bob: The must-have present of Christmas 1978 was undoubtedly ANYTHING with a Star Wars logo on it! The film been rolled out across the country in early 1978, and British kids had gone mental for it. Skateboards were definitely pretty hot at the same time, though.

Andrew: And, crucially, weren’t copyrighted up to the hilt! It isn’t long before we are witness to a head-on collision with the town’s brass band and I’m all for this kind of stunt. Compo’s turn of the board is not only perfectly in keeping with his character, but also totally fitted to the situation. Sydney Lotterby’s direction is superb during this sequence as well. He turns a minor kafuffle into a Hollywood style suspense sequence with careful cutting and well-orchestrated camera setups.

Bob: I’m not as keen on the stunts as you, but yep – it’s nicely done. And indeed, it’s the Dodworth Colliery Brass Band marching cheerily through the freezing streets. They’re still going strong if you want to book them?

Dodworth Colliery Band

Maybe we should get them to play at the after-blog party when we’ve finally finished this insane quest, sometime in early 2045.

Andrew: I’m working on it….

All in all, I think this episode really justifies ‘special’ label.

Bob: Did I miss something here, though? What’s the title all about, the ‘small tune on a penny wassail’? Is it mentioned anywhere?

Series 4 Episode 8: The Bandit from Stoke-on-Trent

In which our heroes mingle with the criminal classes…

Bob: Timothy Bateson! Timothy Bateson! Timothy Bateson!

NOTE : It took a full five minutes, two cups of tea and half a packet of McVitie’s Hobnobs to pull Bob down from his character actor-fuelled mini-stroke.

Bob: What a brilliant surprise… a fabulous, fruity British character actor who’s never failed to light up absolutely anything I’ve seen him in. He’d be doing his marvellous thing in the Doctor Who story The Ribos Operation a few months after this episode was broadcast, so 1978 was a vintage year for seasoned Timothy Bateson-watchers.

Attention Griffin Savers!

Attention Griffin Savers!

Anyway, he turns up here as the suave but slimy Amos, clearly an old acquaintance of our heroes with a reputation that’s less than salubrious. ‘You’ll love Amos, he’s a laugh a minute,’ enthuses Clegg, and for once there’s not a hint of sarcasm. It’s a brilliant guest performance from Bateson that brings the episode to life. Is Amos really a seasoned criminal? We’re never sure, but our heroes are constantly checking their wallets to be on the safe side.

Andrew: I’m not as entirely enamored of Amos as you are. Bateson was undeniably a great actor – with his roles in Labyrinth and Tugs being my standouts – but his character here is both written and performed a little too broadly for my tastes. It’s almost as if he’s popped over for a visit from a David Croft sitcom. I love Croft’s work, but his tone is a million miles from Roy Clarke’s.

Bob: There’s some lovely late 1970s nostalgia in this episode. The sight of an old-school Midlands Bank, complete with griffin logo, took me back… as did the pub’s stained brown snooker room, complete with wooden fag machine and leatherette seats. There aren’t many pubs these days that have maintained that level of studied shabbiness throughout the decades. And so, in a fit of Foggy-led paranoia, our heroes become convinced that Amos is back in town with the intention of robbing said bank, despite all appearances to the contrary.

It’s an episode with the bare minimum of plot, but a delicious helping of lovely character acting and fine, fruity dialogue. Where else can you see two old ladies in a shop, talking about the ‘illustrated sex manual’ bought by one of their husbands. ‘Is it fully illustrated?’ asks one old dear, her eyes agog. ‘You must be joking,’ comes the reply. ‘I couldn’t eat solid food for a week’. Pure Northern nudge-nudge, and I love it.

'...an illustrated sex manual'.

‘…an illustrated sex manual’.

Andrew: That really shocked me actually, but I think I might have read more into the lines than was actually there! I’m a scrotty little herbert by default.

Bob: And then, right at the end, apropos of nothing, a moment of pure poignancy from Clegg. ‘We were married all those years, and we never had children,’ he ponders, staring wistfully into space. ‘Do you think flannelette sheets cause impotence?’

I’ve never heard Clegg be so rueful about anything in the series so far, but my heart went out to him here. A really nice touch, made all the more striking for its incongruous inclusion amongst the belly laughs. 

Andrew: Yep, in the poignancy stakes, that’s up there with Ivy’s wistful look at Compo’s extended family, back during Series 2.


Series 4 Episode 7: A Merry Heatwave


In which Christmas comes early for Nora’s brother Billy…

Bob: This is marked on the DVD as the Christmas Special, but it’s a curious bit of scheduling… the previous episode from Series 4 – Greenfingers – was broadcast on 14th December 1977, in the usual Wednesday night slot, but A Merry Heatwave actually went out on New Year’s Day 1978, a Sunday. The final episode of Series 4, The Bandit From Stoke-on-Trent was then shown on Wednesday 4th January. So is A Merry Heatwave officially part of Series 4 or not? These are the things we need to know…

Andrew: The series is in desparate need of an Andrew Pixley. Perhaps we should see if he’s free?

Love's young dream!

Love’s young dream!

Bob: Whatever the airdate, it sees Summer Wine celebrating its first Christmas special in typically perverse fashion… the episode is set during a summer heatwave, but a distraught Nora needs to create an unseasonal festive period so she can send the pictures to her brother Billy in Australia, who isn’t expected to live to see the real thing. Yes, more death and terminal illness! ‘This time he seems to have his heart set on it,’ wails a hysterical Nora in the café, prompting our heroes to rally around with paper chains (Oh crikey, I spent MONTHS of my childhood making paper chains for Christmas. The whole of our household decorations were held together by juvenile spittle) and tinsel.

Andrew: It’s a gloriously stifling and enforced Christmas that they throw together, and one that isn’t helped along by Foggy’s cinéma vérité aspirations behind the camera. Then again, watching Wally and Nora struggling to appear jovial while wearing festive hats, you get the impression that the real holiday season doesn’t run any more smoothly.

Bob: There are Some nice Sid and Ivy moments in this episode, including a great set-piece in which they’re actually kissing in the café – with Ivy seemingly encouraging Sid to attempt to turn her on! It’s a scene that’s clearly a riff on a similar routine between Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot… and with mentions of Joe E Brown fresh in the memory from a previous episode, you have to conclude that it’s one of Roy Clarke’s favourite films.

Flora Batty...

Flora Batty…

Even Nora’s attitude seems to have been softened for the festive period… she has her hair tumbling down and is wearing a floral blouse! She actually looks… quite… nice (hit me with something, Drew). And, amazingly, she can’t take her eyes off Compo’s ripped trousers. ‘It draws you in like something mysterious…’ she ponders, turning her head sideways to get a better look. It makes you wonder…

Andrew: While I feel hitting you with something is an entirely justifiable punishment for such wicked thoughts, it really is a testament to Kathy Staff’s performance that we are so totally convinced by her Nora’s costume, and its usual padding and dowdiness. 

Bob: Some cracking one-liners in this episode, all of which made me laugh heartily…

Compo: She came from a good home
Clegg: Yes, for unmarried mothers…’

Nora: Billy has great difficulty in passing water…
Clegg: Can’t he move inland?

Clegg: Tommy Warburton had to give up a certain married woman
Compo: Fancy giving her up when she was certain…

A very enjoyable episode, all told. And, of course, Nora’s cousin Billy rallies by the end and runs away with his nurse. All is well in 1970s sitcom-land.

Andrew: Yes. And, although we’ll never see him, I will forever imagine Harold Bennett in the role… 

Series 4 Episode 6: Green Fingers


In which Foggy yearns for a satisfactory carrot…

Bob: So with no explanation or elaboration on last week’s romantic detour, Foggy is back in Holmfirth. Firstly – I assume – in the town’s hitherto-unseen marketplace, and then onto Clegg’s kitchen, complaining characteristically about ‘the deterioration of the British vegetable’. The perceived passing of an era of British life and the transition of our society into the modern world is a theme that subtly underpins the whole series at this stage. Foggy and Clegg in particular simply cannot let go of the past, often to great comic effect. ‘How long is it since you last had a satisfactory carrot?’ spits Foggy. I laughed.

As I did with the constant references to Compo’s ‘shriveller’. A bizarre archaic expression that gains lovely comic weight due to the sheer repetition of the word. The dialogue in those scenes has a lovely poetry and rhythm. And so our heroes set off to attain some ‘proper’ vegetables from Compo’s nemesis, the objectionable (but green-fingered) Lewis Bickerdyke.

Lewis Bickerdyke. Green fingers not pictured.

Andrew:  That’s such a fantastic name. They all are, really. Do these kinds of names still exist in the real world any more, or have they been phased out of our society by way of natural selection? The art of the sitcom name seems to have been lost over the years.

Bob: I think the art of the comedy name has died a little, yeah. The Two Ronnies is a goldmine of them! Even ‘Charlie Smethers’ in their Mastermind spoof makes me laugh out loud. Anyway, blimey… feast your eyes on a surprisingly vicious garden cane swordfight between Compo and Clegg (‘Enough Monsieur… I am Le Shagged’) that took me back decades! Garden cane swordfights were an essential part of my 1970s childhood, and I still have tiny scars on my fingers from endless after-school duels on top of the coal bunker. Nice to see Peter Sallis indulging in the textbook 1970s comedy device of suggesting groinal injuries in a high voice… ‘Just checking for damage!’

Andrew: I sustained an injury to the hand while partaking in a lightsabre battle with Emma a couple of years ago. To this day I don’t think I can pass a sizable set of sticks and not attempt to engage somebody or something is a spot of sword fighting. I must have been an underprivileged child if I still spy dead bits of tree and think to myself, ‘Oooh, free toy!’

Bob: We’re very much moving into the second phase of Summer Wine now… the show has pretty much dispensed with the gritty edge of the Blamire years, but we haven’t yet fully entered into the era of showcase stunts and physical comedy. Instead, we have some delightful whimsy. ‘I don’t believe in infinity,’ assures Compo. ‘It means the sky’s got no lid on it’. We then enter a charming philosophical debate about the implications of having two mirrors opposite each other on the walls of the local chippy. ‘Some clever twonk might think he’s in infinity when he looks into that mirror, when all the time he’s in some tatty little chip shop’. It’s glorious stuff.

Andrew: That actually got me thinking! One doesn’t expect a sitcom to provide points for philosophical mulling and if you consider his point, he does have one! The only character I can really think of who might come out with something similar would be Hancock.

A truly satisfactory carrot...

A truly satisfactory carrot…

Bob: All this philosophy, and still room for a giant plastic carrot at the end of the episode – used, naturally, to make the legendary vegetable-grower Bickerdyke feel inadequate. The plan – amazingly – works a treat, and we’re left with a strange and beautiful sight… Foggy actually laughing along with Clegg and Compo! Until now, he’s almost uniformly been the butt of their hilarity, and it’s actually quite a jolt to see them all giggling together! Especially as Wilde’s laugh is such a weird, gasping chortle.

Andrew: Then they’re brought crashing back down to earth when their unattended carrot starts to hurtle away down the road. We’ve probably missed a few already, but is now the time to start a ‘Thing Rolls Down a Hill’ counter? The audience certainly seem clued in; as soon as the carrot-cart’s wheels begin to turn they shriek with delight! We’ve had a few examples before now, but I’ll be damned if I can recall them all. Perhaps a reader can help us out? Comments below please!

This is also the second instance of the juxtaposition of a large object and a double-decker bus being used for comic effect. Will this be a new trope as well?

Bob: And a great bit of ‘legless’ acting from Joe Gladwin at the very death! Some fine physical comedy, that.

Series 4 Episode 4: Flower Power Cut



In which the Grim Reaper looms large…

Bob: Drew, I remember one of the first conversations we ever had about Summer Wine, and you said it was ‘essentially three old men talking about death’. I think this episode is pretty much the epitome of that! We start with our heroes being almost mown down by a speeding hearse containing their late friend Murdoch (‘the first time he’s ever passed us without raising two fingers’ – Compo) and from here onwards we get 28 minutes of vaguely surreal musings on the nature of mortality.

It’s a very blunt, Northern, 1970s attitude to death as well. Unsentimental, almost, which rings true for me… ‘Eeee well, when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go,’ was one of my Gran’s catchphrases whenever a friend or a neighbour sloped off this mortal coil, and my parents now are equally stoic. Us pampered youngsters are cosseted and grew up in an age of gigantic medical advances, but for their generation, death was far more commonplace. Part and parcel of everyday life, if that’s not too perverse a turn of phrase. They’d lived through World Wars, lost young and old friends and relatives to all manner of illness and disaster, and still maintained that stiff upper lip.

And so we get that most staple of 70s sitcom scenarios… an open coffin in the parlour, with Compo even straightening the corpse’s wonky tie. ‘He knew he were dying, I telled him…’ muses Murdoch’s widow Annie, almost proud of the accuracy of her prognosis.

'He knew he were dying, I telled him...'

‘He knew he were dying, I telled him…’

Andrew: I found the entirety of this episode quite awkward (not in a bad way, though) and I think the coffin scene is the height of this. The curtains are drawn, and the front room set is tiny and absolutely dominated by the casket. Just look at how hunched up our trio seem to be; their movements are just as restricted as those of their friend in the coffin… they’re forced back into a scene of domesticity that they’ve long since moved beyond themselves. The look that Clegg gives Murdoch’s wife as she talks about she and her sister foretelling the man’s death is at once hateful and terrified; we know what really killed the poor sod.

I also love Compo’s request that no scruffy buggers like himself should be allowed into his own funeral. It gets back to what you said about unsentimentality; Compo can make throwaway comments about his own mortality over the body of a dead man because he knows and accepts that his own passing will be along sooner rather than later.

Bob: From the funeral onwards, we enter into a world of almost-surreally morbid whimsy. Clegg asserts that flowers are alive and have feelings, and I can’t decide whether he’s genuine, or just trying to wind up Foggy. Compo, meanwhile, decides to attack life with fresh vigour. ‘I want to feel the blood rushing through me wellies…’ he proclaims. Using Murdoch’s funeral as inspiration, every line of Roy Clarke’s script then urges us to celebrate life, and vitality, in every shape and form. It’s one of the most overt and positive messages from the writer I can ever recall seeing in Summer Wine.

That Incredible String Band Reunion not going to plan

That Incredible String Band reunion not going to plan

And it culminates in the splendidly surreal sight of Compo, Clegg and Foggy sitting cross-legged in a sun-dappled dingly dell, playing ‘Greensleeves’ to the plants on three discordant recorders. It’s bizarre and beautiful – like a scene from some wigged-out 1960s Summer of Love documentary. Summer Wine on acid, and a nice climax to one of the strangest and most atypical episodes we’ve seen so far. And the closing credits roll over a shot of Murdoch’s flower-strewn grave, just to ram the message home further. That’s where we’re all heading, so we should make the most of things while we still can.

Andrew: Although he does turn things on their head at the end of the episode, I reckon that Clegg was really jarred by Murdoch’s funeral and his own near-death experience at the start of the episode. The moment where they are discovered by the birdwatchers is probably the point at which he snaps out of it!

Listen to the studio audience, though. They really don’t know what to make of Clegg during this episode. Actually, this is something I’ve picked up upon in quite a few of the episodes so far – Clegg at his most existential and whimsical seems to be an incredibly difficult character for the audience to get their head around. Compo will swear a bit and the audience will roar with laughter, but when Clegg goes off on a tangent there’s an almost reverential hush. In any other sitcom this might be grounds to scale back on this aspect of Clegg’s character in order to make room for more jokes, but Clarke is clearly in love with him. Of all the characters, Clegg is Clarke’s alter-ego and I love the fact that he’s using a mainstream, flagship sitcom to set the world to rights in such a unique way.

Bob:  I thought Foggy’s comment about Compo looking like ‘an ancient Sex Pistol’ was funny, if surprisingly jarring for a Last of the Summer Wine script.  I always had Foggy down as more of a Buzzcocks man, myself…

Series 4 Episode 2: Getting On Sidney's Wire

In which Compo shows a tender side, and Foggy sleeps with the fishes…

Bob: The opening scenes to this episode are my idea of heaven… idling away a sunny afternoon beneath rustling tree branches and – splendidly – neither Compo, Clegg nor Foggy have any idea which day of the week it is. Foggy – of course – bristles at this (‘We ought not to be just sitting here in the sunlight’) but it feels to me like a pretty damn fine way to live. Again, we see the closeness between Clegg and Compo, and I can’t help but see them as a kind of senior, Yorkshire version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn… substitute the River Holme for the Mississippi and you’re just about there. Although I’m not sure where Foggy comes into proceedings. Joe Harper, perhaps? Or even Injun Joe?

Andrew: The way in which they struggle to remember what day it is takes me back to those long summer holidays during primary school. They seemed to stretch on forever and, just like Foggy, we were lost at sea without a timetable. In fact, since I still work in a school and still get most of the summer holidays off, I continue to find myself in the same predicament!

Anyone know which college Foggy’s scarf belongs to? We need to know!

Bob: Meanwhile, back at the café, there’s a pepper spillage and suddenly Compo, with tears streaming down his face, finds himself being comforted within the ample bosom of Nora Batty. I’m sure I’ve read that Kathy Staff used to repeatedly request that Roy Clarke write more tender scenes for Nora, as she didn’t want the character to come over as a complete battleaxe… there had to be some compassion there to make the character believable. And here we see it in droves… it’s a lovely performance from Kathy, as Nora takes Compo into her front parlour (the very thought!) and continues to console the conniving little twerp.

Andrew: It’s clear to me now that Roy Clarke must have something of an attraction towards a comforting bosom (don’t we all?). Nora’s particular brand of sympathy foreshadows the similarly – ahem – ample comforts that Nurse Gladys Emmanuel would offer Granville in Open All Hours.

Bob: It’s nice to see that Nora clearly does have a certain tenderness towards Compo. If she genuinely hated him, as seems to be the case on the surface, then the relationship just wouldn’t work onscreen. Nora would long since have moved away, or taken out a court order, or had him battered by some intimidating nephew or other. We need occasional respites like this just to justify the fact that they tolerate each others’ existence for so many decades. And, just for a few seconds, Compo is clearly transported right back to that mysterious VE Night encounter!

I’ve just noticed in this episode that the café has been decorated as well! In the first series the filthy walls are clearly visible… the one behind the counter, in particular, is absolutely black with mould and long-ingrained damp. It’s a really grotty little place. Now, though, it’s covered in clean, fresh wallpaper! Clearly done by Sid under duress while Ivy bellowed from the kitchen. And now she she’s got him installing a temperamental buzzer on the café door… hence the ‘Sidney’s Wire’ of the title. A strange thought struck me when I saw that title… do Sid and Ivy ever reveal their surname?

Those football fixtures in full

Those football fixtures in full

Andrew: You know, I don’t think they do! That’s quite strange when you consider how often the characters are referred to by their second names; whether it’s Mrs Batty as opposed to Nora, or the derogatory ‘’Symonite!, levelled at Compo.

Bob: I actually spent far too much of this episode trying to decipher the posters on the café wall. There’s an advert for ‘Underbank RLFC vs Mayfield’ – both still functioning Rugby League sides, with Underbank being based in Holmfirth itself. And, next to it, advance notice of ‘Meltham AFC vs Rawthorpe’. Proper football this time, and although Meltham AFC are still going strong (they’re a non-league side, also based in Holmfirth), I can’t find any trace of a Rawthorpe FC still existing. Anyone else want to have a go?

Underbank RLFC

Mayfield RLFC

Meltham AFC

A nice touch, though – especially as, I assume, the café scenes were filmed in a studio at TV Centre? So presumably someone brought a load of local nick-nacks down from the location filming in Holmfirth, and used them to decorate the studio set? That’s attention to detail, that is. Some would call it love.

Andrew: Maybe we should return the favour, design a huge Summer Wine banner, and go cheer on the next Underbank home game? I’m sure we could turn Ronnie Hazlehurst’s theme into a chant.

Bob: The tender scenes with Nora have clearly put Compo in a romantic mood, as there’s a nice wistful scene towards the end of this episode, where Compo reclines against a back alley and ruminates upon his former romantic glories. ‘I used to do a bit of courting round here, with Mary Daggles. Forty years ago… I wonder if she still thinks about me?’ he ponders.

Bogwatch!

Bogwatch!

Andrew: Yep, this is the sort of scene that makes the series for me, so far. Clarke’s little character moments act as a nice contrast to his increasingly knockabout plotlines, but they’re not overly sentimental. They’re very grounded and personal and… well, Yorkshire, I guess.

Bob: It’s beautifully played by Bill Owen, and – again – it’s Clegg alone that is the recipient of this more thoughtful side of Compo. He never seems to open up like this in Foggy’s presence. I occasionally find myself thinking about youthful scrapes that happened – to my horror – over thirty years ago, and the depiction of similarly melancholy angst in this scene is pitched perfectly.

Andrew: I have to highlight the closing scene as well. Just one sustained shot of a public convenience, with our heroes chatting away from the inside in voiceover. It’s also nice to know that toilet wall graffiti hasn’t changed a bit in the forty years since this was made.

Series 4 Episode 1: Ferret Come Home

In which Compo loses a little something, and Clegg gets uptight about beefburgers…

Bob: And so we arrive in 1977, the year I started school!

Andrew: And ten years before I was born!

Bob: Oh, shush. I thought it was worth pointing out that, although the series later became synonymous with early Sunday evening entertainment, for the first ten years of Summer Wine it was very much a late-night midweek show! These earlier episodes tended to be broadcast on a Monday or Wednesday evening, and I’ve a feeling that the first few series even went out in a surprisingly adult 9.30pm slot. Which possibly explains the grittier, more robust feel of these early years – it was very much intended for a different kind of audience to the latter series.

Foggy puts his life on the line...

Foggy puts his life on the line…

Having said that, this episode is rather gentle and whimsical… the crux of the plot being Compo’s lost ferret, and the possibility that said rodent has taken up uninvited residence in the Batty household. The plot, in the main, plays second fiddle to some top-notch Roy Clarke musings, though. ‘Funny things, feet,’ ponders Clegg, at one stage. ‘If they were turned the other way round, we’d be able to stand much closer to walls’. These are men with LOTS of time on their hands.

Andrew: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but from the offset there is something very different about the opening of this new series. There aren’t any major changes; just a lot of little things that add up to alter the tone.

The first thing that struck me is that everything, both outdoor and indoor, is brighter – especially the Café – pulling us away from the grim atmosphere of the earlier shows and pushing us towards something a little lighter in tone. A little more picturesque, maybe. I should restate that this isn’t a pronounced difference, just a subtle shift, but it took a while for my eyes to get used to everything. Even Compo’s hat is a lighter shade of Green!

Ronnie Hazlehurst also seems to have been encouraged to provide more incidental music than before. Compared to the early series, this episode is drenched in his lilting melodies… in a good way! I particularly loved his adaptation of Singin’ in the Rain, during the scene in which our trio enjoy ice-creams while hiding under their umbrellas.

There’s also the look of our leads. Is it just me, or does everybody suddenly look a bit older? Foggy’s hair is longer and wispier, Clegg is greyer and even Compo’s stubble has turned white. This ageing, however, might be attributed to make-up artist Janis Gould, who wasn’t credited last series. Then again, they might genuinely be growing into the parts… it’s been a year since the last series, and John Comer in particular looks a bit worse for wear.

Nora in a lighter mood

Nora in a lighter mood

Bob: For all Clegg has become more whimsical over the course of three series, he’s still capable of some splendid rants about the ravages of modernity, and what he sees as the passing of ‘his’ beloved England. ‘There are generations growing up who think that meat really tastes like that!’ he grouches, in a rather unprovoked tirade about the ubiquity of the frozen beefburger. Later, he has a grumble about the reasonably recent implications of decimalization… ‘With the will of politicians to get rid of everything British, even the humble guinea pig will have to become 105p…’ he ponders, brilliantly.

This stuff is never out of character, and I absolutely buy into Clegg as a man mourning the loss of the comfortable, significantly smaller world that he enjoyed during his younger days, but I’m also beginning to wonder if Clegg is sometimes a mouthpiece for Roy Clarke… a lot of these grumbles seem very heartfelt and passionate, and it’s hard not to imagine Clarke taking great joy in pouring his own personal middle-aged grumbles and grouches into Clegg’s extended dialogue. Foggy and Compo are great characters, but clearly not an extension of Clarke’s personality at all. With Clegg, I’m not so sure.

There’s a glorious moment in this episode when Foggy, creeping around on the Batty doorstep in search of the missing ferret, is unaware of a furious-looking Nora opening the door behind him. And – in hilarious unison – the studio audience gasp in horror. It’s a fabulous reaction, and what a testament to the impact these characters have had on the public consciousness in just a few short years. In an era of three TV channels that – in the pre-home video era – absolutely HAD to be watched live, shows like Summer Wine became a huge part of our collective cultural experience, and there’s your proof, right there. The audience KNOW these characters intimately, and absolutely buy into the fiction of Summer Wine. They know how Nora’s going to react before Roy Clarke has even put pen to paper, because Nora – as with all of these characters – has become real to them. That gasp is the sound of TV viewers completely inhabiting this little fictional world, and it’s beautiful. Brought a little rosy glow to my heart, that did.

Andrew: You’re spot on. Every essential element of the series is firmly in place now, and it’s great to actually hear the audience anticipate certain actions. It’s also a little strange to me, though, how much the studio audience itself becomes part of the show. We’ll never know their names, and in all probability many of them are now dead, but in every sitcom of this era the studio audience is a character in and of itself.

The Dance of the Lost Contact Lens!

The Dance of the Lost Contact Lens!

Bob: There’s a nice little scene in Compo’s house towards the end of this episode, and a timely 1970s reference as Compo spills milk over himself… ‘Are you getting enough?’ grins Foggy, the tagline to a late 70s advertisement from the Milk Marketing Board. We get a good look at Compo’s décor in this scene, and a lot of effort and attention to detail has been poured into it by some inventive set-dresser or other. The nick-nacks on his walls are charmingly reflective of his character… we see naked Pirelli Calendar girls and beach bombshells snipped out of newspapers (probably during the baking summer of 1976, the quintessential ‘Phew, What A Scorcher!’ year). There’s an ancient photo of a shaggy black dog, clearly once loved by Compo but now presumably long-deceased, and – on the opposite wall – the spoils of decades worth of mild kleptomania… a sign offering the stern instruction to ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS’ has clearly been pilfered from some pub or boarding house during a long-lost drunken escapade, and there are others that I couldn’t quite decipher. It’s absolutely the home of the light-fingered, single layabout that we’ve come to know and love.

Andrew: Very much like the ‘museum’ we ended up visiting at the location of Compo’s house when we went to Holmfirth some thirty years later. In effect, a room full of tat, but very easy to get sentimental about.

Bob: And so we finish with a bizarre and oddly beautiful ballet of passers-by tiptoeing around Nora Batty’s doorstep, fruitlessly searching for a non-existent contact lens as Compo’s lost ferret gazes down from the window above. It’s marvellously choreographed and effortlessly strange, and the perfect coda to a charming, warm-hearted episode.

Series 3 Episode 5: The Kink in Foggy's Niblick


In which Foggy becomes a seasoned swinger…


Bob:  Given that it’s a series centered around working class Yorkshiremen, it’s surprising how tiny a part football plays in Summer Wine… I can’t remember any characters expressing much interest in the sport at all. I’m assuming that it’s a reflection of Roy Clarke’s lack of footballing enthusiasm, so it feels slightly incongruous in this episode to see Foggy, Compo and Clegg bundling their jackets into goalposts and attempting a kickabout… even if it’s a matter of moments before Foggy sprains his back and professes that, actually, he’s more of a golfing man instead.

I remember roaring with laughter at this episode as a kid, but – oddly – watching it now, I think it’s probably the weakest we’ve seen so far. Still enjoyable, but it feels like a bit of an anti-climax following the superb Scarborough two-parter.

A rare glimpse inside Foggy's attic!

A rare glimpse inside Foggy’s attic!

Andrew: Yeah, it’s OK, but there’s something just a little bit forced about it. Sallis and Owen in particular seem to be playing it much broader than usual. Perhaps they noticed that the dialogue wasn’t quite up to the usual standard and felt the need to compensate.

Bob: Still some interesting bits, though… is this one of very few occasions on which we see inside Foggy’s house? Albeit only his attic, where Clegg gives us a lovely, surreal monologue about ‘the den of the great wardrobe spider’… take note, Steven Moffat.

I did wonder about Foggy’s domestic situation here… it’s mentioned in his first episode that he’s returning to ‘an empty house in Arnold Crescent’, which I assumed he’d inherited. But now he appears to have an unseen landlady living on the premises! I know I shouldn’t get too wrapped up Summer Wine continuity, but this is the stuff that keeps me awake at nights…

Once Foggy’s decidedly wonky golf clubs have been retrieved, we head to the posh clubhouse and – ultimately –  the local green itself, where predictable antics ensue. Again, we get a line that seems very un-Summer Wine with the benefit of hindsight… Compo, on spying a troupe of stern-looking lady golfers, says ‘Fancy being up for municipal rape and finding that lot on the jury’. I wonder what Mary Whitehouse thought? 

Relaxing at the 19th hole

Relaxing at the 19th hole

Andrew: The plot itself is also a bit broad, and not particularly tailored to the series. One could just as easily drop Del Boy, Rodney and Boycie or Bob and Terry into this situation without having to change the lines too much. That indefinable Summer Wine-ness isn’t to be found, though it’s hard to pinpoint why.

Bob: When Compo was making a nuisance of himself in the clubhouse, demanding beer and peanuts to Foggy’s embarrassment, I thought of Bob and Terry too! And you’re right… Compo’s rampaging around the golf course, swiping wayward balls to sell back to their owners, is pure Del Boy. 

It does have one great line, though – Foggy’s description of Compo as ‘what you’d get if you tried to summon up a small evil spirit at midnight in an Oxfam shop’ had me chuckling.

Andrew: You do have to give Clarke credit for that title, though – it’s possibly his finest so far! The perfect blend of whimsy and archaic oddball terminology … or a knob joke, take your pick.

Bob: A lovely mixture of all three, I think. It IS a great title, and one I remember causing much hilarity at school when this was repeated back in the early 1980s.

Series 3 Episode 3: The Great Boarding House Bathroom Caper

I loved these episodes. Can you tell? Absolutely my favourite of anything we’ve seen so far, and I think the series has hit an extraordinary peak at this stage. I genuinely can’t wait to carry on. Read more

Series 3 Episode 1: The Man From Oswestry

There’s a glorious moment when Foggy is rummaging maniacally in his pockets for his notebook, and Clegg turns to Compo and gives him a look of utter, heartfelt joy. It’s only a fleeting second or two, but you have to wonder if there’s a little bit of Sallis’ true feelings in that look – it’s a real ‘everything is going to be alright, after all’ moment, and Sallis seems to be genuinely revelling in Brian Wilde’s performance. Read more

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