Summer Winos»Series 9

Series 9

Series 9 Episode 8: Go With The Flow


In which Seymour lets it all hang out…

Andrew: We open with a slow track in on Nora brushing her front steps. Now, after I previously claimed that you don’t see people doing this any more, Emma set to our front yard with a brush just the other day. I followed her around with a dustpan and everything!

Anyway, here comes a simply adorable Joe Gladwin and friend…

Bob: Wally with his whippet! Straight in, no messing! Cut to the chase, that’s what I say. Regular readers (both of you) will know how much we love Wally  – and his whippet – and I got a genuine frisson of excitement from such an early appearance. Do we ever find out whether Wally’s whippet has a name, though? It’s bad enough that Sid and Ivy went for decades without a surname, but Wally’s poor pooch doesn’t have a single syllable to his moniker. It’s an unwritten Law of Comedy that any docile sitcom dog must be called ‘Gripper’ or ‘Fang’, so I’m going with the latter.  Anyway, my friend Garry now owns a beautiful black whippet called Mr Alfred, so when we take Howdo! The Joe Gladwin Story to Edinburgh next year, we’re sorted for the photo shoot. He’d make a great substitute Fang.

Seriously, this is a lovely start to the episode… I like TV shows that start with the regular characters waking up and getting out of bed; there’s a lovely “just another day” atmosphere to this that makes me feel cosy.

Andrew: It seems that Compo has the better time of it, as Clegg’s morning begins with some door-stepping God-botherers. One presumes that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Bob: Is this a comedy staple that has less of a resonance these days? Although the only time I can ever recall this happening to me was almost thirty years ago, at university, when I came back to my shared student house to find my housemate Raf in the front room, deep in conversation with two earnest-looking chaps in suits, shuffling uncomfortably on the sofa. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses who had knocked on our door and – clearly stunned to be invited into a house for surely the first time ever – had seized the opportunity to set up camp for a serious conversation about faith. What they hadn’t reckoned on was Raf being a devout Catholic who had equally seized the opportunity to wax lyrical to them about his own devotions. They couldn’t get a word in edgeways, and had been there for over an hour. They looked like beaten men.

Andrew: Yes, I wondered if this was a dying practice. We’ve had a few such knocks on the door since we moved in six years ago – though I seem to recall they were Mormons – but you’re far more likely to receive a flyer through the door or be accosted by somebody with a pamphlet on the high street. Perhaps this speaks of the hyper-capitalist digital age in which we live.

Bob: These two don’t look like they belong to the hyper-capitalist digital age. Although this line made me laugh out loud:

Doorsteppers: There are wars… and rumours of wars…
Clegg: Not here. You probably want to be in Arnold Street.

Andrew: Clegg is left reeling in the café after this unexpected religious experience, but I’m a little distracted by the soundtrack. What is going on in the background of this, our first studio scene of the episode? It sounds like somebody has left a particularly noisy air conditioning unit switched on! The noise clearly isn’t meant to be part of the café atmosphere, as there’s no chance Ivy would consider leaving Crusher in charge if the tea urn was making such a suspicious racket. There’s something rather sweet about the way she fusses over her nephew as she prepares to head off to the bank. We always got the impression that Ivy didn’t trust Sid when left to his own devices, but with Crusher I think it’s more the case that she worries what might happen to him.

And can we get technical for moment?At the start of the scene after our trio leaves the café, Compo is precariously tiptoeing his way along the top of a dry stone wall.  He’s not being played by Bill Owen, though – the role is being essayed by a stuntman. He quickly overtakes Seymour and Clegg, disappears out of frame and when the camera catches up with the character he’s once again being played by Owen, acting with a little hop as though he’s just hopped off the wall himself. This little cinematic trick – where the transition from stunt performer to actor is disguised by a camera move or piece of scenery – is called a Texas Switch and you see countless examples cropping up during Last of the Summer Wine. Alan Bell was masterful at finding interesting ways to pull these off, many of which have been spotted by writer Simon Dunn and compiled here. Walking along a wall isn’t much of a stunt to pull off, but little moments like these, executed without risking one of the series’ lead actors, really do sell the idea of Compo and friends enjoying their second childhood.

Bob: Ronnie Hazlehurst is on fire, yet again. As our trio convene in the cafe to discuss religion, is the incidental music swelling into a chorus of Nearer, My God, To Thee? You’re a young person of upstanding morals, Drew. You tell us…

Andrew: I thought it was Abide With Me, but then again I am a heathen. Actually, the last time I went to a church service all the hymns were backed by pre-recorded music on a CD. That didn’t sit right with me, a person who hadn’t bothered joining in with God’s chorus for well over a decade. Now, if Ronnie Hazlehurst provided the arrangements for all of the hymns I don’t think you’ll be able to pull me away from the pews!

Bob: The changing depiction of faith in Summer Wine has been interesting to observe over the years. Blamire was absolutely a devout Christian, and would castigate Compo for his slack morals, and that seemed very much part of 1970s British society and an era when, I suspect, many people would have ticked “Church of England” on their census forms even if their church visits were limited to the occasional wedding and funeral. I’m sure Foggy would have counted himself as an upright Christian of stout moral values, too… but, by the time we reach the mid-1980s, Seymour seems considerably less convinced. He’s easily the most bohemian Third Man, isn’t he? He’s positively louche.

Anyway, I love this cricketing scene, with our heroes rattling through an innings with an oil drum wicket at the canalside. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the “pensioners returning to childhood” ethos that she how has made its trademark. Seymour’s magnificently elaborate run-up made me laugh, as did his embarrassed reaction when he realises that a small, motley crowd has assembled to watch them. “The click of willow on a summer’s evening,” he muses, “and tea in the school pavilion…”.  I think Michael Aldridge is the best Third Man for pulling off this wistful sense of “Faded Empire” nostalgia, too.

Andrew: Compo brings Seymour back down to Earth with a reminder that said school pavilion was falling to bits and probably being kept up by the tallest boys at the school, but despite the dilapidated nature of his former surroundings, I still get the impression that his current antics feel like a genuine comedown for him. He’s slumming it back in Holmfirth after having made his way out of his childhood home. 

Bob: Is this turning into Seymour’s quest to discover spiritual enlightenment, and the meaning of life? Every now and again we get an episode that has a subtle but genuine sense of the profound, and this is shaping up to be one of them. In an attempt to find inner meaning, he drags Compo and Clegg to the local vicarage; and it rapidly, simultaneously, becomes another rare but always interesting type of Summer Wine episode; one where we almost seem to enter a different sitcom altogether! The fusty, model-train obsessed vicar and his snobby wife (“A man has brought us some poor people, dear”) could easily have been the lead characters in their own gentle 1980s BBC comedy; especially when played by the wonderful Richard Vernon – who looks magnificent with huge sidechoppers – and Ann Way, who made a career of playing dotty old ladies for decades on end. She puts in a great shift in the ‘Gourmet Night’ episode of Fawlty Towers, but also seems to pop up in pretty much every long-running British TV show of the 1970s and 80s. They’re genuinely terrific characters. 

‘And now, on BBC1, Richard Vernon plays a priest with a penchant for miniature railways, in our new comedy for Tuesday nights… On The Right Track

Andrew: Vernon’s voice is so magnificent that I almost wish that the vicar had remained an unseen character. I say “almost” because, if that were the case, we’d have been deprived of the sight of his wonderful model railway. I’m rather jealous of this miniature world – which appears to be an HO scale Hornby layout, in case you were wondering. My favourite odd touch is that, amongst the serious replicas of real world locomotives and rolling stock, one can spot either Annie or Clarabel from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends! I wonder, actually, whether this character was inspired by the creator of Thomas, the Reverend W. Awdry. A Church of England cleric with a passion for railways, he was also known not to suffer fools gladly and at this point in time was enjoying a rather high profile, the television adaptation of his Railway Series books having been adapted for television in 1984.

Bob: Compo’s musical interjections are becoming more and more frequent, aren’t they? It was interesting when Roy Clarke told us (CLANG!) that they were all Bill Owen’s own, unscripted contributions. Here he sings A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, a song written by Irving Berlin in 1919, when Compo was a child, although I wonder if he’d have come across it more as a teenager in the 1930s, when he’d have heard it used as the theme tune to the Ziegfeld Follies films that doubtless played regularly in the Holmfirth fleapits. Either way, the line about Pontefract is more Bill Owen than Irving Berlin. I don’t think Irving Berlin ever made it to Pontefract. More of a Wakefield man, I imagine.

Andrew: Back in the vicar’s study, the old git refuses to take any responsibility for greeting his visitors. I think there’s something telling about Clarke’s view on organised religion when the vicar justifies shouting at his wife’s mistakes as being part of “the pursuits of that ideal of excellence that marks us as Christians.” Roy’s scripts are frequently full of wonder and philosophical musings that indicate a spiritual side to the man, but officially sanctioned representatives of organised religion rarely come off well in his work.

Bob: It’s a sign of my appalling pettiness that I felt duty bound to investigate the following exchange…

Vicar’s Wife: I’m afraid I’m not very good with electricity…
Clegg: You could say the same about the electricity board.

Clegg’s electricity provider in 1987 would have been Yorkshire Electric, but there were constant rumblings in the air about privatisation (British Gas had gone in 1986… and if you see Sid, tell him) and public ownership of the Holmfirth electricity supply ended in 1990 when shares were sold in the newly-formed Yorkshire Electricity Group PLC. I don’t know whether Clegg’s cynicism about his local leccy company was justified, but they seem to have now metamorphosed into nPower, who I’ve had all kinds of bloody trouble with, so I’m feeling a little solidarity with him regardless. Sorry, were we watching the telly?

Andrew: We were, but the meter’s just run out. Have you got 20p?

Bob: So, despite looking for spiritual guidance, Seymour has instead been pressed into selling tickets for the vicar’s wife’s am-dram Beatrix Potter production. And, ironically, the failure of this leads to a spiritual awakening in its own right… Seymour doesn’t care! He’s embracing failure! Again, I think this absolutely marks him out from Blamire and Foggy. There’s no way that either of our previous Third Men would have accepted defeat in this way; but – as I mentioned – there’s a bohemian quality to Seymour that makes him yearn for a few dry sherries and a decadent afternoon on a chaise longue. He’s not a worker, is he? Even his inventions are cobbled together hastily. Blamire and Foggy had a working class work ethic, but Seymour doesn’t. Clegg sums up his and Compo’s ethos perfectly – “when it comes to failure, you’re in the hands of two of the finest natural players in the country” – and Seymour is quick to adopt that attitude in a way that would have been anathema to his two predecessors. After a half-hearted sales campaign down the boozer, he even returns the unsold tickets to the vicar and his wife!

Andrew: I think he’s a bit resigned to it. He made his way through the education system; an “intellectual” who coasted into a cushy job as a headmaster. Now that’s been taken away, he’s rudderless and lacking the talent, enthusiasm, or work ethic to try and get it back!

Bob: Ivy and Nora are at the vicarage now, having been roped into sewing Beatrix Potter costumes together, and it’s heartwarming to note that, when Clegg has a mild dig at Crusher, Ivy is quick to defend him! “He’s a good lad… underneath”. We’ve commented on this before, but beneath Ivy’s bluster beats a heart of pure gold.

Andrew: When Compo first crosses paths with Nora and Ivy at the sewing machines, he greets them with “It’s the sew-sew sisters!” – a line that gets the type of laugh from the studio audience that would suggest to me that they recognised the phrase. Now, I had a quick search around online and couldn’t spy anything that seemed to fit the bill. There were a team of seamstresses who worked for NASA in the late 1960s and came to be known as the Sew Sisters, but that strikes me as too American and too modern a reference for both Compo and Roy Clarke to have at hand. I put the question to Twitter and some folks suggested that the line was merely a play on the phrase “so-so”, but I think the audience’s reaction discounts that. Far more likely, given the general frame of reference we’ve seen across the series, is the suggestion that it harkens back to a WW2 campaign featuring the characters Mrs Sew-and-Sew urging housewives to make do and mend. I’m content with this explanation!

Anyway, we’re nearing the end of this episode and with such impressive guest sets – we see four or five rather large rooms inside the vicarage grounds – and a lot of build-up to the Beatrix Potter play, you might expect it to be heading for quite a climax… but where it does actually end up is just downright bizarre. As the credits roll, Compo dresses up as a mouse to sell tickets for the show and races around the streets of Holmfirth, accosting women and getting chucked out of shops. Even the studio audience doesn’t quite seem to know what to make of it!

Bob: That was an interesting episode… it’s sometimes easy to see view Summer Wine‘s Third Men as being almost interchangeable, but that storyline could only have worked with Seymour. His realisation that not everything in life has to be a hard-fought success, and that it’s rewarding to “go with the flow” is almost Taoist! He’s revelling in non-action, and allowing the universe to unfold around him as he sits back with a wry smile. The idea of Blamire or Foggy reaching such a conclusion is unthinkable. And I’m kind of with Seymour, really… one of my favourite quotes of all time is from the great radio broadcaster John Peel, who – when asked towards the end of his life whether he had any regrets – apparently replied “I wish I’d spent more time staring out of windows”. I’m with him all the way. And  yeah – the fact that Compo ends the episode dressed as a mouse, pestering what appear to be genuine passers-by in the streets of Holmfirth, doesn’t undermine my philosophy one jot. He’s only doing it to impress Nora and Ivy.  Like the best of us, he’s still a lazy bugger deep down.

Series 9 Episode 7: Set The People Free


In which our trio attempt not one, but two great escapes…

Andrew: We’ve talked a little about how Holmfirth is gradually becoming less of a grim place than it was in the show’s early episodes, but the panoramic opening shot that kicks off this episode still offers us a town that is black with soot and capped with a misty haze. Don’t get me wrong, though – I think it looks gorgeous like this. There’s something about those soot-blackened walls that lends Howard’s constant window-washing an air of melancholy. They could be absolutely gleaming, but that house is never going to look ‘clean’. He and Pearl are fighting for house proudness, in a era where that meant something. Also, I don’t want to know what Pearl’s ‘terrible plans’ with an emulsion brush are…

Bob: Is ‘house-proudness’ an actual word? I’ve been staring at it for ten minutes now, and I can’t decide. The only alternative is ‘house-pride’ though, and that just makes me think of Homepride flour. Sorry, am I getting distracted here? You’re right though, Holmfith looks fabulously melancholy and autumnal. I always get a little frisson when the opening shot of an episode is something other than the main trio pottering the countryside; it feels like all bets are off! And I’ve got a bonus frisson from knowing that we’ve actually been on Clegg and Howard’s balcony ourselves! Oh, and whatever Pearl is planning to emulsion, I hope she’s primed it first.

Andrew: You’d better get used to Howard asking for help in getting out of the house – we’ve got over twenty years of it to come!

Bob: It won’t take us twenty years to watch it all, though. No way! At our current rate of progress, it’ll be more like thirty. There’s a tremendous bit of textbook Roy Clarke here, too:

Clegg: What are you using on your windows, Howard?
Howard: The best years of my life…

I also like Howard’s claim that he’s practising his ‘double handed death grip’ on Clegg. ‘Death grips’ were everywhere when I was a kid! I spent most of my 1980s lunchtimes try to perfect (or avoid) them in the school playground. They normally involved a nasty pinch on the side of the neck, and were often accompanied by some kind of mystical Eastern mumbo-jumbo, shouted at a volume not quite loud enough to attract the attention of Mrs Gallon, our most feared, yellow-overalled dinnernanny. I blame The Karate Kid. Or possibly Mr Spock.

Andrew: I think we’ve mentioned this before, but Jonathan Linsley is a very good background actor. Just look at the concentration on Crusher’s face as he carefully dries one fork with a dishcloth.

Bob: He’s terrific! It’s the sequel to his open-mouthed window-wiping in the previous episode. And good grief, our heroes are eating BEANS-ON-TOAST in the cafe! When did that ever happen before? Ivy is normally lucky to flog them three cups of tea, so an actual hot meal is the Summer Wine equivalent of dining at the Savoy! Are we seeing Seymour’s influence here? Although he always strikes me as the kind of penniless toff who would happily tuck into a table laden with slap-up posh nosh before tapping his pockets in mock surprise and saying ‘I’m terribly sorry, old boy… I seem to have left my wallet at the Garrick…’

I can’t help but notice that the cafe has a list of Huddersfield Town fixtures on the wall, too. If we’re assuming they’re for the 1986/87 season, then it wasn’t a vintage campaign for the Terriers. They spent the entire season at the bottom of the old Division 2, and their manager Mick Buxton was sacked about six weeks before this episode was broadcast. They only escaped relegation by three points, and ultimately went down the following season. I know some people have no interest in such sporting frivoloties, and prefer to concentrate on the important implications of Pearl’s ambitions with an emulsion brush, but this nonsense genuinely gives these episodes a social and historical context for me! Although, on the downside, I’ve had to think about Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: There’s an odd directorial quirk that crops up when Crusher foolishly asks Seymour about ‘man’s superior intellect’. Last of the Summer Wine, at this stage, is still predominantly a studio-based sitcom, shot in front of a live audience. Traditionally, this means that each scene is shot in quite a theatrical style. There are three walls to each set, with the fourth wall removed to allow both the cameras and the live audience to see what’s going on. When Seymour turns to Crusher, however, that fourth wall is either back in, or they have cheated in such a way as to make it look like it is. Either way, Seymour’s closeup has to have been filmed separately and edited in later, or else we would have seen a hulking great BBC video camera in the middle of the previous shot. This wouldn’t be at all unusual for a film-based series, but for an old-school sitcom it is rather jarring – to me at least. Once again, I think Bell is showing his true colours.

Bob: As a film director, you mean? This is why I need you here… I honestly wouldn’t have noticed that in a million years. Although thankyou for distracting me from thoughts of Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: ‘Apathy Birthday To You’ might be my favourite Compo moment in a long while. It’s so silly and fun and underlines that fact that Bill Owen has now brought the character into full-on pixie mode. Compo at the start of the series might be someone you’d cross the street to avoid, but he’s such a delight not you’d run to him.

Bob: That made me laugh out loud, too! I know Roy Clarke told us (CLANG!) that he saw the main trio as elderly children from the very start of the series, but Compo has certainly become more childish as the years have rolled by. I guess, in the early years, he was a like lazy, sulky teenager with an air of danger… whereas now he’s an absolutely loveable eight-year-old.

Andrew: ‘Love is always a clean shirt’ is such a beautiful, yet thoroughly depressing phrase, isn’t it?

Bob: I made a note of that, too. There’s a real sadness to it, and to Peter Sallis’ immaculate delivery. He’s half-missing his late wife, but also half-mourning the fact that his marriage seems to have been barely more than a state of convenient domesticity for them both. It’s been fifteen years since she died, and Clegg is still only in his mid-fifties, but he’s never shown the slightest interest in finding another relationship.

Seymour, however, is positively pining. ‘If only I’d met Marjorie earlier…’ he muses. Is this the first time she’s been mentioned? Compo and Clegg don’t seem to be aware of her existence. In my fevered imagination, Marjorie is genuinely Seymour’s soulmate… a woman that he met and fell in love with only after she got married to some less-deserving pillock. But Seymour was married as well, wasn’t he? He’s moping about his ex-wife when we first meet him, in Uncle of the Bride. Having lost out on Marjorie, did he reluctantly marry another woman who, despite her best efforts, didn’t make his heart quicken in quite the same way? No wonder his wife left him. There’s such sadness in all of these backstories.

Andrew: Shop front update! The business at the end of Nora and Compo’s road is still G.W. Castle Ltd. As you were.

Bob: If you’re not careful, you’ll gain us a reputation as some kind of pathetic obsessives. And aw… just as Howard is imprisoned by Pearl, Wally is kept in captive domesticity by Nora. And she’s getting ready to wield her emulsion brush, too! What’s going on here? Have G.W. Castle Ltd been flogging off a job lot of cheap paint? Joe Gladwin is a deadpan delight, as ever. ‘It’s just one giddy sensation after another…’

And so Compo, Clegg and Seymour make it their mission to spring Howard and Wally from their domestic bondage. And I bet that’s something you can’t buy from G.W. Castle Ltd.

Andrew: The old pram wheel that our trio find in the river has endless possibilities. How did it get there? I bet Clarke could get an entire episode out of that back story.

Bob: Never mind that, what about Clegg’s description – ‘maybe it’s a primitive form of contraception’?! That’s the kind of ribald musing that we haven’t heard in Summer Wine for a little while! Very topical, though… 1987 was arguably the height of the media’s coverage of the dangers of AIDS, and it was suddenly perfectly commonplace to hear talk of ‘condoms’ in all kinds of unexpected places. I’d go as far to say that ‘Safe Sex’ was arguably the phrase of 1987, even amongst Huddersfield Town fans.

Andrew: Oh, no! There’s another one of those horrible video-mixer clock-wipe thingies – this time accompanied by a musical cue just to draw further attention to it. I hope this isn’t a lasting trend; this is Summer Wine not Star Wars!

Bob: Ha! Ha! I thought of Star Wars as well! In case nobody has a bleedin’ clue what we’re talking about, the changeover from one scene to another is achieved with the picture changing in a sweeping motion like the hands of a clock whistling around… George Lucas was absolutely obsessed with using them in his early films, but it does seem oddly incongrous here. Mind you, some of Harrison Ford’s recent aeroplane prangs have a hint of Last of the Summer Wine about them. Was that plane he crashed into a golf course designed to look like a giant ferret?

Andrew: Argh, I’ve jinxed it! Another one of those accursed clock wipes! I’d be fascinated to see if these are in the scripts or a result of having to trim material for time.

Bob: They were put there thirty years ago specifically to annoy YOU. Alan Bell plays a LONG GAME.

In a lovely bit of continuity, Seymour still has the ‘Codfanglers’ voice identification gizmo on his front door, but blimey… he’s now changed the password to ‘Marjorie’! He’s really got it bad! Again, in my fevered imagination, he’s done that in the hope that Marjorie will one day turn up at the house with a hastily-packed bag… and be able to guess that the password has been set in her honour. I absolutely love these little, unexplained titbits of backstory that we’re given, a tiny hint at a time.

Andrew: The cast are really playing to the audience this week, but I mean that in the best possible sense – particularly in this scene. Peter Sallis is the one who really stands out. He’s usually very restrained and subtle, but just look at the synchronized bits of physical business he’s got going on with Bill Owen here. There must have been something in the water.

Bob: Just pram wheels and contraceptives. But yes – they’re on fire this week! I’m thoroughly enjoying this… all of the regulars are playing it with gusto, and there’s some cracking dialogue, too. Sallis has got the lions’ share of it this week… I loved Clegg’s memories of living ‘in a hothouse of tension and damp carpets… it was like Tennessee Williams.’

Andrew: Another of the ways in which Seymour differs from Foggy is the lack of engagement on his part. He’s just as likely to ignore Compo and power ahead with a train of thought than to directly engage with him. Is it niceness or apathy (birthday)? Whatever the answer, he still gets his way.

Bob: In my capacity as this blog’s official CLASS WARRIOR, I’ll speculate that it’s a terrible sense of upper-middle-class entitlement. Seymour is a professional man, with breeding, don’t you know! He doesn’t need the permission of working class commoners like Compo before he forges ahead with his crackpot schemes. Although, funnily enough, I’ve also written ‘Is Seymour too nice?’ in my notes. Despite his railroading of the ‘lower orders’, he doesn’t have the brusqueness and impatience of Blamire and Foggy. I bet he’d actually be lovely, genial company over a few drinks.

Andrew: The trio head back to Clegg’s house and mull over Howard’s fate. There’s a lot of filmed material in this episode, isn’t there? And ambitiously filmed material too – not just workmanlike long-shot, mid-shot, close-up work, but thoughtfully constructed sequences. I can’t quite get my mind around the sheer number of setups that Bell appears to have been able to get through in what must have been a matter of hours for each location. The crew must have been really well drilled.

Bob: Again, you’re a born film director. My main observation at this stage was that Compo steals a bottle of milk from Clegg’s doorstep on the way into the house, suggesting that Clegg has the tardiest milkman in the West Riding! They’ve been out all day, so this must be late in the afternoon! Oooh, I bet it was on the turn…

Andrew: Pearl assaults Seymour with an emulsion brush – making this deadly implement a running theme of the episode. I wonder what horrible thing happened to Roy Clarke to give him this post-traumatic flash of inspiration? And Clegg uses a vignette between a husband and his ‘bossy’ wife in the pub as an example of the evolution of the Yorkshire housewife, but I can’t be the only one who feels her request that he not drink and drive isn’t completely unreasonable!

Bob: Oh, I love that scene. ‘He’ll have a small beer…’ she snaps, and there’s no arguing. It’s a little mini-rumination on the miseries of loveless marriage, and – yet again – Clegg has the killer lines. ‘Years of exposure to treacle pudding forges formidable wives…’ he muses, with a wince. Good grief, you can virtually taste the comfortable drudgery of Clegg’s married life from these tiny revelations. Treacle puddings, damp carpets, pent-up tension… and clean shirts. The combination of repressed, domestic duty with the reassurance of steady – but dreary – home life. Oh god, it’s brilliant. I bet they never went out.

Andrew: We’re treated to even more classy location work, as the trio travel to Pearl and Howard’s house in Wesley’s van. They’ve even gone to the trouble of mounting cameras down the sides of the vehicle to lend the stunt work a real bit of dynamism. This is definitely the most ambitiously directed-episode to date. And is the track playing on Wesley’s car radio the same one we’ve heard in previous episodes? I think it is. He must be a real admirer of BBC Stock Rock Music #446/H37.

Bob: That’s my favourite heavy rock song of all time. But yes! I think the same track was used every time a BBC sitcom featured a ‘punk rocker’. I haven’t checked, but I’d put money on the same track being used in the episode of Terry and June where June decides to ‘get with it’ and slouches into the front room in leathers, safety pins and spiked, peroxide hair. And no… I’m not making this up.

Andrew: I promise that I’ll stop banging on about the direction after this, but in the sequence where our trio attempt to jailbreak Wally from the clutches of Nora, I counted 32 distinct shot set-ups, some of which involve camera cranes, stuntmen, and handheld shots in a rubber dinghy. Between each of these setups the crew needs time to reset, check the gate, occasionally change the magazine, make sure the sound is fine, and ensure that Joe Gladwin hasn’t drowned. This is a BBC sitcom, for God’s sake – not The Great Escape! Then again, maybe that’s the allusion that got Alan Bell fired up this week. The only thing that slightly spoiled the sequence for me was the fact that Stuart Fell (I assume), doubling for Compo as he leads Nora away, stood out so much that I assumed the use of a doppelganger was part of the plot, and was left scratching my head a bit when it wasn’t followed up on!

Bob: Again, I didn’t notice! Honestly, I was absolutely swept up in the closing sequences of this episode… in attempting to spring Howard from the miseries of domestic slavery, our heroes are beaten back by Pearl (who lets loose with a ‘What the blood and stomach pills…?’ line stolen directly from Ivy! Does that phrase occur anywhere else but in the scripts to Last of the Summer Wine?); but they distract Nora Batty for long enough to coax Wally down their ladder and into the waiting dinghy that you mention. I remember watching this scene back in 1987, and feeling a wave of genuine love for Joe Gladwin even then, because he’s clearly rather frail in these location scenes… the bloke had turned eighty, and you can see it in his movements, being gently helped into the boat. Even as a teenager, I just wanted to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

And, 31 years later, all of those feelings have returned… and then some. We’re reaching the end of Joe’s fourteen years in Summer Wine, and I’m so saddened by that. He’s been such a highlight of the show, and when you see him acting on the small screen, you see 70 years of experience in Music Hall and variety theatre seeping out of every performance. And you also see a wonderful little man, who – over 100 years after he was born – is still thrilling the socks off two grotty little herberts like us. The final scene of this episode, with Joe laughing his head off in that rotating rubber dinghy, is just joyous. Glorious. I really want to do more to help celebrate his life and work. And I still want to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

Andrew: What a great episode. The ambition of a feature film within thirty minutes of sitcom, all underpinned by a fantastically tight script and some truly joyous performances. One of the best.

Bob: Nail on head. That was wonderful.

Series 9 Episode 6: The Ice-Cream Man Cometh

   
In which Compo’s little wiggly thing lets loose…

Andrew: They seem to have had a stretch of good luck weather wise this series, haven’t they? This could be false memory syndrome, but my recollection is that earlier series were often rather grey and overcast, whereas the reservoir we open with here looks positively Mediterranean. There’s something very alien about the landscape, actually – I could see Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant walking around this location!

Bob: That’s a Doctor Who reference, everyone – and I distance myself from it. It does look idyllic, though… and I like Clegg’s use of the phrase ‘creepy crawly’! Nobody ever says ‘creepy crawly’ any more. I also like Compo’s skilled approach to the noble art of sucking your ice-cream through the bottom of the cone. That’s impressive. I once knew a girl who could drink an entire cup of tea by sucking it through a Twix with the ends bitten off. We had some interesting evenings in.

Andrew: My God – we’ve only just reached the second scene of this episode and we’ve already been presented with two beautifully directed sequences. Once again, Alan Bell is a master of camera movement and blocking. Instead of using editing to introduce our trio in close-up, the camera instead performs a sweeping ballet around them. It’s a lovely contrast to the sound of Compo slurping at the bottom of his ice cream cone, and is the absolute lifeblood of a long-running series.

Bob: Funny thing was, she didn’t really like Twixes. I used to eat what was left of it once she’d finished.

Andrew: I take back what I said about the weather – it’s clearly been pissing down outside of the cafe!

Bob: Sorry, were we meant to be watching something? Oh, yes! We’re in the cafe! Aw, a classic Roy Clarke exchange here, with Ivy and Clegg discussing Compo’s laissez-faire approach to personal finance…

Ivy: You almost have to admire him, the way he’s led such a worthless life with so little income.

Clegg: Properly handled, poverty can be within the reach of everybody…

No other sitcom writer would ever write a line so dropping with pathos and social comment. None at all.

This little scene also features a sensational ‘only from Roy Clarke’ reference to the childhood indulgences of our main characters. When Pearl and Nora arrive in the cafe together, Compo exclaims excitedly ‘Heyup, it’s the Dolly Sisters!’ It had to a be a reference to something, and a little digging reveals… the Dolly Sisters were identical twins Rose and Jenny Dolly; vaudeville dancers and silent movie stars whose heyday on Broadway barely extended beyond the mid-1920s.  It’s easy to imagine that Compo would have fostered a crush on them during his very early childhood; and doubtless the 1945 film of their lives, with June Haver and Betty Grable as Rose and Jenny respectively, would have had a run-out at the local Holmfirth fleapit… possibly just as Compo was returning from wartime service? It’s wonderful that Roy Clarke was keeping their legacy alive, almost 60 years after the sisters themselves had faded into obscurity.


Andrew: Seymour pines for the days when ice-cream men peddled their wares around on bicycles. Again, this feels like a callback to a bygone Edwardian age. He’s the Peter Davison of Summer Wine!

Bob: Is that another Doctor Who reference? That’s it, you’ve filled your quota. I know what you mean… there was definitely an Edwardian ambience around in British pop culture in the early-mid 1980s; not just Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor in his cricketing flannels, but also Chariots of Fire and Brideshead Revisited and no shortage of pop stars sporting floppy fringes and plus-fours. Seymour seems to tap into that; there’s a feeling of ‘faded Empire’ about him. Much moreso than Foggy, he lives in the past. Foggy never felt like a man out of time, just a deluded fantasist. Whereas I think Seymour would happily flip a switch and return to his presumably idyllic ‘between the wars’ childhood.

With regards to ice cream, I like Compo’s little throwaway line here, too… ‘I could never afford one. What with the beer and the fags, there was nowt left for non-essentials.’  

Andrew: I’m not quite sure what sets her off – Seymour producing an inflated rubber ring for Compo’s bad back, or Compo and Clegg’s reaction to it – but one woman in the studio audience lets off a magnificently donkey-esque laugh at this point. You don’t really get idiosyncratic laughs like this in modern sit-coms, do you? I suppose sound recording and mixing technology is at a stage where one can probably pick and choose exactly which sections of the audience you want to hear at any given moment, but I miss the days of being able to zero in on the odd eccentric.

Bob: There’s a run of episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus where a woman with an absolutely howling laugh is really noticeable throughout… I’ve since seen suggestions that it was actually a pre-Fawlty Towers Connie Booth!

Andrew: Pearl’s difficulty in engaging with Ivy and Nora’s questions about ‘relations’ is delightful, as is the revelation that, on their honeymoon, Howard showed her a picture from a book… of a jam roly-poly. I’m definitely not one of these people who pines for a bygone era of television where sex wasn’t on everybody’s minds (because I don’t think that age ever really existed!) but this frank, honest, and utterly disinterested exchange does mark Clarke’s writing out as unique. I also really like the idea that Ivy, Nora, and Pearl are a trio having separate adventures of their own!

Bob: Oh, I absolutely love this scene. Not only does it have Nora Batty using the phrase ‘a man of powerful appetites’, but it has some sensational silent acting from Jonathan Linsley in the background, slowly wiping the window behind our gossipping trio, and becoming utterly engrossed in their conversation, with his jaw literally dropping. Do we imagine that Crusher is, essentially, an innocent? In theory, a 25-year-old biker shouldn’t really be outdone in the bedroom talk department by Nora Batty, but it’s part of Summer Wine’s eternal charm that he’s clearly shocked to the very bottom of his turn-ups.

Andrew: In complete contrast to the other ladies in the episode, Glenda is clearly desperate for a bit of excitement in the country with Barry, who isn’t really designed for the task – bless him. Sarah Thomas does an excellent line in sexually frustrated bread-buttering, too.

Bob: Sexually frustrated bread-buttering! That’s the most erotic thing you’ve ever said on this blog. If you’d said that when we’d been outside Sid’s Cafe, I’d have been polishing the windows behind you with my face on the floor. I honestly couldn’t work out if that whole scene was just laden with filth! Barry wants to go for a ‘nice, long ride in the country’ so he can ‘listen for that valve slapping’. I’ve never heard it called that before.

And I’m sorry, but from Clegg delving into Compo’s trousers to look for a ‘little wiggly thing’ to Compo’s rubber ring letting out a series of sensational comedy farts… I am in bits. Absolutely creased up laughing, with tears rolling down my face. There is nothing as funny as flamboyant, squeaky, rasping flatulence in a sitcom. Especially in a car. Next to a woman sniffily attempting to ignore it and look in the opposite direction. I know, I know. I am eternally eight years old.

Andrew: Arriving at Edie’s house, Seymour is pleased to see that Wesley has done as asked and prepared a pedal-powered ice-cream cart. Bloody quick, isn’t he? I did wonder if the title of this episode was every going to actually pay off.

Bob: Oh, that’s just men of a certain age, and a certain era. My Dad was the same when I was a kid… he’d decide over breakfast that he was going to knock through the kitchen wall, and by teatime that night he’d be finished, with soggy wallpaper hanging over the new bits. On more than one occasion I’d go to school on a morning, and when I returned at 3.30pm the house would have a different layout.

Compo also sarcastically suggets that Seymour ties a ‘bag of coal round my neck, and I can flog a few Sun-Brite nuts…’ which took me back. We were still going strong with a coal fire in the front room in 1986, and a local coalman who came round with a delivery of nuts (of the anthracite variety, not salted or roasted) every fortnight.

Andrew: Seymour’s line ‘That’s it, go on and throw away all that commission’ is very odd indeed. It seems to have been dubbed in post-production, but sounds to me more like somebody doing an impression of Michael Aldridge than Aldridge himself. Either that, or he had a bad throat. And Ronnie Hazlehurst can’t resist a few bursts of O Sole Mio as part of his score for Compo setting off on the ice-cream cart. The man’s a daft genius!

Bob: That was a lovely touch! I laughed at Compo’s wild duck call, too. Essentially, I just like funny noises. And I like Compo’s attempt to sell ice-creams resulting, essentially, in him losing control of his bike and ploughing into Howard and Marina. Amidst more duck calls. And probably a comedy fart in there somewhere. And mention of Raspberry Ripples. I’m in heaven!

Andrew: Here’s a thought. If Howard ever did get up the courage to leave Pearl and shack up with Marina, would his relentless inane conversation and cowardice inevitably turn her into Pearl as well?

Bob: Inane conversation? Howard? I’ve just spent a week cooped up in a tiny Edinburgh apartment with you. Believe me, Howard is David Niven by comparison. There wouldn’t be time for conversation if Howard and Marina ever actually got it together, anyway. They’d be too busy slapping valves.

Andrew: There were some nice moments here, but little to really to get ones teeth in to. I’d rather they’d skipped the business with Compo’s farting truss in order to devote more time to Nora and Ivy’s advice on conjugal relations. I suppose it’s a sign of a rich cast and developed characters that I suspect that what, say, Wally and Nora are getting up to is more interesting than what’s actually happening on screen!

Bob: SKIP THE FARTING TRUSS?!?!?! What madness is this?! Honestly, I genuinely loved all of that. That episode provided my biggest source of belly laughs for quite a while. Great fun, and just a lovely, silly romp.

Series 9 Episode 5: Who's Feeling Ejected, Then?


In which Compo experiences some ups and downs…

Andrew: Here we go, then; the first episode of Last of the Summer Wine broadcast during my lifetime. Not that I expect the Summer Wine world to suddenly become a lot more recognisable… I think I described last week’s episode as ‘Edwardian’, and this is certainly not a show of 1987 in the same way that the first series was very definitely a show of 1973.

Bob: Ah, really? You think we’re entering the ‘timeless’ era of Summer Wine? That’s interesting, and a bit of a shame for you… the 1970s episodes were so redolent of my childhood, and I was hoping you’d get a similar frisson of nostalgia from the late 1980s and 1990s series. I think there are still elements of the show that reflect the feel of the 1980s (which were a lot more grim and grotty than a lot of TV retrospectives would have you believe… there was no power dressing or outsized mobile phones on Teesside, believe me) but I know what you mean. The 1970s episodes were often specifically about the issues of that decade; with the disctinctly post-industrialised landscape and issues of the Holme Valley sometimes combined with specific events like the Silver Jubilee.  There’s been a bit less of that kind of thing recently.

I laughed out loud at the opening sequence though, with Compo bouncing up and down on some unseen contraption, boinging away behind a dry stone wall. I just like the sight of old men boinging. I’m that shallow.

Andrew: Following… whatever was going on in that field, Compo staggers into the cafè. Bill Owen is clearly having a ball here, chewing the scenery with physical comedy. It’s nice to spend a little more time with Crusher here, as well. He feels a touch underused of late, but comes out with an intriguing line here:

Crusher: I never would have bothered having all them tattoos if I’d known I was going to end up in a frock.

What do we think Crusher’s tattoos are of, then?

Bob: Your baby face, all over his chest. The only appropriate way to mark your entry into the world. I thought that line was a very telling sign of the times, actually… back in 1987, big, butch bikers like Crusher were amongst the very few people that you’d ever expect to have a tattoo! The only people I remember having tattoos during my childhood were sailors and nutcases. They’re everywhere now, though. I bet Mary Berry has got one.

But you’re right, it’s lovely to have a bit of Crusher time, and yet again… there’s a lovely rapport between Bill Owen and Jonathan Linsley. ‘Howdo, little Crushy!’ cries Compo, chuckling away at Crusher’s cheek. There’s real warmth there, and it’s lovely. And hey, there you go! A bona fide 1980s reference! Ivy describes Crusher as the cafe’s ‘nuclear deterrent’. The terrifying Cold War years had only just started to thaw by early 1987… in fact, it looks like Mikhail Gorbachev started talking about ‘Glasnost’ only a matter of weeks before this episode was broadcast. You could imagine Crusher being deployed at Greenham Common.

Andrew: So why has Seymour invented this ejector seat? I’m starting to suspect we might not get an answer to that fundamental question! So far, there’s a slightly unpolished feel to this instalment. Even when Compo ponders Nora Batty – recently a frequent whimsical highlight – it all comes across as a little bit simplistic. Nora cleans, and Compo is dirty.

Bob: It’s a real departure from the format, isn’t it? There’s no big build-up to Seymour creating this invention, nor any explanation as to why he’s done so… the ejector seat is already fully formed and operational at the start of the episode. I do like this scene of it being left outside the cafe though, and drawing a curious crowd who think it’s ‘the electric chair’. There’s something that rings true about inexplicable behaviour or objects in public places causing instant consternation. My Mum says that. when she was a kid in the 1950s, she and her friends would stand in Middlesbrough town centre pointing at completely non-existent objects in the sky. Within seconds, a little crowd would gather around them, squinting at the clouds and trying to figure out the subject of their fascination.  

And, as we shift into Wesley’s garage to find a car capable of housing said ejector seat, we gain an interesting insight into Seymour’s character. ‘I’ve always known life was unfair,’ he muses, ‘ever since that terrible Christmas Day when it broke my train set’. You surely have to suspect that Seymour broke his own train set with some infernal tinkering, but like every good egomaniac, he can’t see that. As far as he’s concerned, the universe is conspiring against him… because, clearly, he’s at the centre of it.

Andrew: Here’s an oddity. As Compo prepares to be strapped to the top of the car, a video-mixed clock wipe ushers us from one filmed scene to another. Very unusual to see in Summer Wine, and I can’t help but wonder if this is because the episode is once again a little undercooked. or perhaps just rushed into production. I certainly can’t imagine that transition having been planned at the scripting stage.

Bob: A video-wiped mixed what? I had to wind that back and watch that again, you bugger. We’re not all Stanley Kubricks, you know. I see what you mean, though… the way the scene changes like a clock’s hands moving around? It’s very George Lucas!

Andrew: As soon as the car speeds off, some decent yet still very obvious CSO work rears its head whenever the camera needs to see Compo close up. That’s understandable given how dangerous the stunt looks, and I suppose the technique has a charm of its own, but I’ll never understand how nobody at the BBC ever seemed to figure out that a bumpy and jostling background plate of driving film needs the studio camera to be equally unsteady in order to look anything less than phoney!

Bob: That’s right… you distract them with the dodgy camera effects, and I’ll get down to the real business of stalking the Last of the Summer Wine cars on the DVLA website. Barry’s red Ford has a registration number of HFH 315N, first registered in April 1975, but the road tax has been due since Sunday 1st June 1986. So was this episode filmed before then, or was it an already off-the-road prop requisitioned by the BBC? I hope Alan J.W Bell had filled in a Statutory Off-Road Notification form.

Andrew: There really is nothing sexual to Howard and Marina’s relationship, despite what Marina may crave. I think Howard just genuinely longs for companionship – the kind he clearly doesn’t get from Pearl, who over the years has essentially become his mother. Rather than carnal pleasure, he has a genuine interest in the pastimes the pair use as a cover story… in this instance tracking down ‘the caterpillar of the wood moth.’ Basically, his affair with Marina is an excuse for him to indulge the hobbies that they use as an excuse to be seen together!

Bob: Get away, nobody has ever said ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to show you the caterpillar of the wood moth’ with as much sexual frustration as Howard. It was a commonly-used euphemism amongst the pre-Viagra generation.  There’s a real wistfulness to Marina’s response, too… ‘You look at me, you look at the wet grass, and all you think about is rheumatism.’ They’re lonely people, aren’t they? There’s a genuine sadness behind their slapstick. I think Ronnie Hazlehurst sees this too, and provides some lovely, melancholy music as they cycle away. 

Andrew: I definitely side with Compo in this episode, moreso than usual. There is literally no reason for any of this business with the ejector seat. I think it comes back to what I’ve said before about Seymour’s fundamental selfishness. This time round, he doesn’t even come up with an excuse for the batty invention, or a decent justification for Compo’s safety being put at risk. Apart, of course, from the dangling carrot of impressing Nora Batty.

Bob: It’ll take more than a dangling carrot to impress Nora Batty. But yes, I’ve written ‘WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS?’ in my notes… in big letters too, to show I mean business. To be fair, I think there are hints that Seymour just sees a big commercial market for car-based ejector seats, and thinks he can claim both fortune and glory as a result of this episode. I empathise more with Clegg though, setting up a makeshift crash mat for Compo’s trail run. ‘At my age,’ he ponders, ‘there’s something deeply uninteresting about a mattress…’ I’m actually starting to wonder if there’s a big metaphor at work here. Everyone appears to be especially world-weary. and feeling their age, in this episode.  Is the ejector seat an allegory for Seymour’s attempts to spring them all out of their torpor? Life is a trundling, untaxed, red Ford, and he’s desperate to boing them all out of it… even though we all know that, ultimately, the attempt will be futile. It’s possible I’m overthinking all this.

Andrew: OK, I’ve been disappointed with this episode so far, but I think the entire thing was worth it for Ivy’s clairvoyance! Desperate to sneak out and view Seymour’s test, Crusher tries to fool Ivy into thinking he is doing some work by leaving the vacuum cleaner on as he sneaks to the front door. As if by magic, however, she has disappeared from the kitchen and reappeared outside, ready to catch him!

Bob: That made me laugh, too… although is this the first hint that we’ve had that the cafe has a back door? I like Ivy’s line, as well: ‘Loonies of the calibre of those three will still be available long after closing time…’ There’s something terribly reassuring about that. Oh, and… Compo mentions ‘screaming his clacker off’! I’d never heard of the word ‘clacker’ until very recently, when my radio cohort Uncle Harry used it to describe the little dangly organ at the back of his throat, and I – shamefully – disputed its use in this context. But Compo is clearly using it in the same way, so I officially retract all of my doubts. Medical opinion describes it as the ‘uvula’, but where’s the fun in that?

Andrew: Given that Bill Owen has to be blue or yellow-screened onto the top of a car, I’m amazed that frail old Joe Gladwin continues to mount Wally’s motorbike and sidecar out on location. The cast often spoke of how frail he was in his later years. What a trooper.

Bob: I genuinely have nothing but admiration for Joe Gladwin and his achievements on this series; and, indeed, everything else he did in his extraordinary life and career. One day, when all of our other nonsense is out of the way, we need to work on a biography of him. There you go, it’s in print now.  We’ll have to do it.

Andrew: Barry puts his foot on the accelerator, and the contraption is off. Seymour gives the signal for the ejector seat to be engaged, and… BANG. This is the first bit of slapstick in this episode that has really made me laugh. The cloud of smoke, accompanied by Compo tumbling forward, seems so unexpectedly violent that it really caught me by surprise! It’s a great moment, but then the episode just sort of stops, without a resolution. Do we really believe Seymour would give up at this stage? There’s no particular sense of an ending.

Bob: It’s an odd episode, and it does feel like it might have been written quite quickly. I tell you what, though… you have to hand it to the Summer Wine continuity machine. There’s a credit here for Maxton Beesley, who I’m guessing might have been one of the gathered throng watching the ejector seat test-run? Whatever, the same actor has a previous credit for Getting Sam Home, where he played ‘Colin’s Mate’, one of the toolbox vultures keen to raid the late Sam’s shed for ratchet screwdrivers and socket sets. We discussed him a little in the comments below our episode review! Three years later, was ‘Colin’s Mate’ drawn up to the moors on the promise of seeing Compo flying over a hedge? Of course he was. Like me, he just can’t resist the sight of old men boinging.

Andrew: I’m convinced that something went awry during the production of this episode, and I think it’s worth pointing out that it has the shortest running time of any episode of the series. That’s what happens when you forget to include subtext! I hope my birth hasn’t jinxed the series, because that was a bit of a duffer!

Bob: It’s all your fault. We were doing fine until you came along.

Series 9 Episode 4: The Really Masculine Purse

 

S9E4gIn which Crusher fears he’s developed a squeak…

Bob: What an incredible view across the hills at the opening of this episode! I think this might be most we’ve ever seen of the Holme Valley in a single shot. There’s a reservoir just visible on the right-hand of the screen, too. Where we can we find that? We need to go there. I love a good reservoir.

Andrew: I think that now he knows how much Alan Bell is up for shooting on location, we’re going to see more of Roy Clarke’s love of the Yorkshire landscape coming across – a love that probably reaches its peak with the publication of 1989’s Summer Wine Country book. This scene also has a fantastic transition… from Seymour contemplating a Power behind the Universe to him immediately discounting it, due to his own lack of success in life.

We next see the trio travelling through the countryside via tractor, and a subtle bit of visual trickery. I’m 99% sure that stuntman Stuart Fell, rather than Bill Owen, is sitting on top of the tractor’s cab and that the reason the vehicle stops next to a gap in a dry stone wall is to allow the two performers to covertly switch positions. That’s some daredevil stunting right there!

Bob: I like the continuing character trait of Compo’s friends reminding him of Hollywood film stars, in increasingly unlikely fashions. Nora has previously reminded him of Dorothy Lamour, and now it’s Seymour that makes him think of the 1930s and 1940s Western movie legend Randolph Scott. Only from the back, though! It’s lovely that all of the celebrities in his head are from that golden age of Hollywood, too – all dating from around the time of the Second World War, when the young Compo was more than likely down the local flicks every other night. Like everyone, he’ll have a ‘cut-off point’ when it comes to popular culture… I bet he hasn’t seen a film made later than about 1965. It’s also the cue for a superb little Ronnie Hazlehurst ‘Cowboys and Injuns’ sting; it’s pure ‘get off your horse and drink your milk…’

I like this exchange, too:

Seymour: Would you know a cowslip if you saw one?
Compo: I didn’t know cows wore them….

What a long-lost item of lingerie is the humble ‘slip’! Do any women even wear them any more? I bet this confuses our American readers…

Andrew: In the cafè, our trio are charged 60p for three cups of tea. This is your department, Bob; how does that rate compare to what we’ve seen on the blackboard in previous series?

S9E4hBob: What do you think I am, some kind of insane obsessive? Anyway, it transpires that Seymour keeps his loose change in a small purse, something that Compo fears will fatally compromise the collective masculinity of all three of them! ‘Another tulip…’ he mutters. Although how can a man who looks like Randolph Scott from behind ever be considered effeminate? Nevertheless, we’re thrown into an episode that I’m going to pretentiously claim is an examination of traditional masculinity in the mid-1980s, and whether it even needs to be maintained in modern-day Britain. In the age of equality, is fair to consider a man a tulip for keeping his small change in a purse?

Andrew: Ivy’s reaction to Seymour’s counting out his change – much like her reaction to anything he does at this stage – isn’t a positive one, but Compo still suggests that Seymour ‘could be lucky there’. Is this a rare acknowledgement that Sid has passed on, as opposed to him just hiding upstairs somewhere?

Bob: Gosh, really? A suggestion of impending romance between Seymour and Ivy? The mind boggles. She’d never let a man like Seymour finger her buns.

Clegg is often referred to as the ‘philosophical’ member of the trio, so I’m delighted to point out that the following musing…

Clegg: How fortunate it is that your lips are at the front… if they were at the back, you’d never know what you were eating.

…is remarkably similar to a philosophy lecture that I once enjoyed at university. Yes, you read that right – I ENJOYED it! It was the final lecture of the autumn term in my first year, and the man at the lectern was the extraordinary Colin Lyas, a very respected philosophical writer, and a man who would illustrate complicated academic points by showing clips from Laurel and Hardy films in his bachelor flat on campus, while dishing out coffee and brandy to little gatherings of us pasty, wide-eyed students. He was utterly fabulous, and – in his final lecture before Christmas that year, a study of the theories of evolution vs intelligent design – said ‘I’ll leave you to mull this over during the festive season… is it any coincidence that the fur on a dog’s face stops in exactly the right places for its eyes?’

Pure Clegg, that. We should put together a Tao of Clegg compilation of his most profound utterings.

Andrew: Is the world ready for such a publication? Just look at the bother Mao’s Little Red Book got everybody in to.

From the philosophical to the physical, I’d like to draw everybody’s attention to the lovely little ballet that Compo dances, as he stands behind – and mimics – Seymour. We really must track down some of the original shooting scripts at some point, as I’d love to see how much of this kind of material was outlined by Clarke and how much was workshopped on location.

Bob: He’s a lovely little mover, Bill Owen. Anyway, back to the main theme of today’s lecture: gender stereotyping. Seymour makes it his mission to ‘rid the purse of all feminine associations’ so I guess the answer to my previous hypothesis is this: yes, in the age of equality, it IS fair to consider a man a tulip for keeping his small change in a purse. I like Clegg’s musing on Seymour ‘s diligence, too… ‘If people didn’t persevere, we’d never have such things as the Sinclair Electric Vehicle, or the Titanic!’

What a timely but unexpected reference to the Sinclair C5! Launched in 1985, it was computer magnate Sir Clive Sinclair’s ill-fated attempt to revolutionise the British transport system with a white, plastic buggy that was half-pedalled, half-electrified. For the benefit of our younger (and American) readers:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_C5

Only 5,000 were ever sold, and – by the time this episode aired in 1987 – they were already seen as something of a laughing stock. And there were plenty of them in stock.

S9E4fAndrew: There’s a rare burst of continuity here, as Seymour once again attempts to perfect his voice-activated front door lock. This time, ‘Codfanglers’ is out and ‘Marjorie’ is in, but our trio unfortunately aren’t – meaning Compo has to be stuffed through the pantry window. Once inside, we get to take in the faded Edwardian pomp of Seymour’s living room, adorned as it is with mementos of his old days as the headmaster of a boy’s school. The aesthetic is suddenly very All Creatures Great and Small, isn’t it?

Bob:  I’ve said it before, but Michael Aldridge would have made a brilliant 1970s Doctor Who. That front room is exactly how I’d imagine his TARDIS. Ronnie Hazlehurst is on sensational form here. too… as Seymour clatters away, unseen, in his workshop, his rhythmic hammering and sawing is turned into an almost-experimental little musical motif. It pretty much anticipates the entire 1990s output of Tom Waits.

Andrew: It’s an interestingly Radiophonic turn from Hazlehurst. Isn’t it also unusual to have this prominent a musical cue over a studio-bound scene? I may be wrong here, but I always associate the series’ score with its location work. It jarred me, anyway.

Bob: And ooh, another mid-1980s pop culture reference! ‘Right, little tatty Rambo…’ says Seymour to Compo, and indeed – in 1987 – Sylvester Stallone’s mumbling lunk was one of the best-known film characters on the planet. I even had a Rambo computer game for my Sinclair ZX Spectrum, so that ties everything together neatly, doesn’t it? This exchange also suggests that Seymour has a slightly more up-to-date knowledge of popular modern cinema than Compo, with his Randolph Scott and Dorothy Lamour obsessions.

Andrew: Speaking of cultural milestones I should probably point out that this is the final episode of Last of the Summer Wine to have premiered prior to me appearing on the scene. That is to say, this first screened on January 25th 1987, and I was forcefully brought screaming into the world with a pair of forceps, three days later! Obviously this makes little difference to us right now, but it will be interesting to see how my perceptions of the series change once we reach the episodes that I watched first time around.

Bob: Seymour’s solution to the problem of the non-masculine purse is to strap it to the ankle. I’ve got to say, if he launched that in 2018, it would likely become a hipster sensation. It’s a really good look.

S9E4dAnd… Wally Klaxon! WALLY! WALLY! WALLY! Oh, always a pleasure. Wally lends Compo his new boots to accommodate the ankle-strapped purse, grumbling in his own inimitable fashion that he needs ‘a bit of help breaking them in, anyway’. Do you still need to break in new shoes and boots, or do they come pre-broken in now? I can’t remember having done it since my late 1980s winklepicker phase. I just put new shoes straight on now, and they’re fine. Has there been a big footwear breakthrough at some point in the last thirty years?

Anyway…

Clegg: He’s not only married to Nora Batty, his boots are too tight.
Compo: Looks like real tough leather.
Clegg: She does to me…

Poetry.

Andrew: I know I keep saying this, but the knowledge that our time with Joe Gladwin in the series is coming to an end really does make each new scene with him feel extra special. This one really is a belter, though. At first he seems to be on a shorter leash than usual; barely making it past the front step. There’s a beautiful wistfulness to his dialogue too, amplified by a gorgeously sentimental and Chaplinesque musical cue.

Wally: I never get a chance to do things like that. You don’t when you’re married. She gives me security and full employment, but they’ve no idea how a bloke misses sheer stupidity.

Nora appears to escort him inside, of course, but she seems to do that with an extra air of tendernesss this time – at least by her own standards. I wonder if this is a slight acknowledgement of Gladwin’s waning health. This scene is so pitch perfect, in fact, that I almost wish it was the last time we got to see him.

This being Last of the Summe Wine, the air of melancholy is soon punctured by the sights of Compo’s trousers falling to his ankles. In something of a running theme, this trouser malfunction has been caused by the removal of another treasured memento of Nora – a purloined section of her clothes line. Spoken of in only the loftiest terms by Compo, he remembers her looking strikingly like Joan Crawford on that day. ‘Do you not mean Broderick Crawford?’ asks Clegg. For the sake of comparison…

Broderick Crawford Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford
Broderick Crawford

Bob: Our trio road-test the purse (and Wally’s squeaky boots, now sported by Compo) by catching the 356 bus from Blackmoorfoot to Dean Bottom. Was this a real bus route? I’m guessing so, and I’ve actually inadvertently answered my earlier questions in trying to look this up… Blackmoorfoot is clearly the home of the picturesque reservoir that I mentioned earlier!

Blackmoorfoot Reservoir

Andrew: It’s less the bus route and more the passengers themselves that fascinate me. Who are/were these people? I suspect they’re locals drafted into a bit of extra work. Are many of them still around to watch repeats of their starring moment on cable? Are their children and grandchildren thrilled to spot them? If you’re out there, get in touch!

Bob: There’s actually a bloke in the bus queue that’s a dead ringer for you! Glasses, beard, flat cap and blue cagoul. Have you time-travelled in Seymour’s TARDIS?

S9E4c
Anyway, Jane Freeman’s shriek when Compo dramatically lifts his leg to access the ankle-bound purse made me laugh out loud. This is a really funny climax, actually… just a marvellous bit of silly, physical comedy as Compo’s squeaky boots (in the background) coincide perfectly with Crusher’s dainty stroll around the front of the café. And Jonathan Linsley is SUPERB! ‘I’m only a lad, and I’ve been struck down with squeaky boots…’ he gasps, his face a mask of terror. What a fine piece of smalltown nonsense. There’s something truly heart-warming about the silliness of all this.

Andrew: Fantastic direction, too. For the second time in this review I’m going to invoke Charlie Chaplin. If I was to sum up Bell’s visual style in one word then that word would have to be ‘depth’. The way in which the action is framed, with Crusher bouncing in the foreground and Compo pacing in the background. conveys the gag in such a visual manner that you would still get the joke if the sound was turned off. That’s good storytelling!

S9E4aI also feel the need to note that we get to see Wally and his whippet again. I know this goes against what I was saying earlier about being content for the previous scene to be his farewell, but this is a joy.

Bob: And we end, as we began, with a glorious bit of direction from Alan Bell! A lovely final shot of Compo’s wellies teetering along a dry stone wall, with Seymour and Clegg frame in the background. Combine it with Seymour’s musings on mechanical trousers…

Seymour: You press a button, and out comes your small change.
Compo: I had a pair of trousers like that…

… and you’ve got the perfect combination of smut and beautiful scenery. That was a nice, gentle little episode that meandered along in a rather lovely, understated fashion. It’s been a very enjoyable series so far.

Andrew: That, I think, is about as good an episode as Clarke has written to date. A perfect blend of silliness, whimsy, and the oh-so-subtle grit that makes the series what it is. I much prefer the more grounded, yet equally ludicrous invention from Seymour this time around. I bet the series’ budget did, too!

Series 9 Episode 3: Dried Dates and Codfanglers


S9E3a
In which Seymour invents the Amazon Echo…

Andrew: You know your characters are well-defined when you’re able to identify them by their footwear alone, and Alan Bell is happy to indulge us with one of his gorgeous, signature opening shots. And we’re immediately directed back towards our poorly-maintained Names Database by another mention of an old schoolfriend…

Compo: I see Alvin Butler’s got a new wife.
Seymour: I wouldn’t say new. Looks more like reconditioned.
Clegg: Well, he was like that at school. He needed two goes at everything.

Bob: Roy Clarke likes the name ‘Alvin’, doesn’t he? There are at least two of them in Last of the Summer Wine, which is a veritable surfeit of Alvins… the only other Alvin that I can think of anywhere is Mr Stardust. And I’m putting ‘Mr Stardust’ down on my ever-expanding list of potential autobiography titles. You’re right about Alan Bell’s direction of this opening sequence, though… it’s lovely. I actually got a bit wistful seeing the shadow of the cloud moving across the landscape in very first shot! What a gentle, evocative image.

Andrew: Seymour is doing a good job of defining the series for us with his musings on life’s full circle. Life has taken him up and away from his roots, but now he’s back “playing with the backward stream.” It also doesn’t hurt that he’s discussing this while racing down a hill on an overburdened, out of control bicycle – the two eras of the show thus far have been neatly summarised!

Bob: That little sequence is a lovely encapsulation of Seymour’s character, I think… and the class differences that still possibly rankle between the trio. “I was damn glad to get to grammar school,’ harrumphs Seymour, staking his claim amongst the intelligentsia. “Bedwetters!” sneers Compo. And yet. amidst this delicious bickering, Seymour is quite clearly having the time of his life… despite the fact that. as you say, he’s “playing with the backward stream”. Compo’s response to this is gleeful – “Ah, but tha’s enjoying it, Seymour” – and Seymour’s guilty “Keep your voice down!” is charming. He’d never admit it amongst Edie’s “polite company”, but Seymour is shaking off the shackles of upper middle-class fustiness. He’s been liberated by the power of arsing around!

Andrew: Although I think I might have put my finger on why Seymour still hasn’t really clicked for me. In the cafè, he muses that he always thought retirement would be more elegant. and that more awards and honours would have come his way by now. So whereas Foggy’s schemes generally came from a place of altruism and a sense of duty, Seymour is a fundamentally selfish character. His plans are much more self-serving in nature. Compo and Clegg see straight through this of course, but I wouldn’t be putting up with him!

S9E3bBob: Foggy wasn’t entirely selfless… he always dreamed of recognition for his good deeds, I think. But I know what you mean, and I think it’s that class difference again. Foggy was prepared to work for his rewards, and actually get his hands dirty, but Seymour feels a sense of entitlement. There are some fascinating glimpses into his character in this cafe sequence, too… including “those unfounded rumours that I used to drink”.  We’ve already seen Seymour absolutely throwing back the booze in Uncle of the Bride, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’d made a habit of demolishing rather too many large brandies after a difficult day at the Utterthwaite Academy. There are hints of a darker past, much moreso than we ever saw with Foggy.

I like the Crusher-inspired cake mix explosion, too. And the recurring references to Clegg’s elbow. The comic potential of elbows has been much underused in British comedy. Elbows are funny.

Andrew: Back when we embarked upon this… quest, we often remarked upon the fact that Holmfirth looked like a bit of a dump – that’s the reason it was chosen as a location, after all – but in this episode (and actually, when I think about it, this series in general) the town looks really lovely. That might have something to do with the time of year they were filming, but could it be that Holmfirth was flying in the face of the 1980s depression by actually being on the up at this point?

Bob: It was probably a result of the tourist trade! We’re at the peak of Winemania here, aren’t we? There were people pouring into Holmfirth to grab a cuppa at Sid’s Cafe! Only to discover it was actually a wallpaper shop. Although I bet even the wallpaper shop got enough passing trade to help it through any sticky patches.

Sticky patches! Wallpaper! Oh, I’m wasting my time here.

Andrew: I love the “friendship” that we far too infreqently get to see between Nora and Ivy. There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest they can’t actually can’t stand one another, but they are united over their mutual loathing of others! We also surely can’t let Nora’s description of Wally as “That little muffin I’m married to,” pass us by. Is this the true origin of the term “stud muffin”?

S9E3dBob: Well, come on… we get to see him in leather in this episode. Anyway, are you really going to get us started on the regional differences between the names of baked goods? If you ask for a teacake in Holmfirth, you get a breadbun. Then there’s the whole pikelets versus crumpets nest of vipers. Don’t start on muffins, for crying out loud. We’ll go viral. There’ll be a Twitstorm (amongst our 46 Twitter followers). A storm in a teacake… which is actually a decent Summer Wine episode title. Are we still in touch with Roy Clarke? He can have that one.

Andrew: This episode is very heavy on detailed descriptions of events past, isn’t it? Alvin Butler’s school days, Clegg’s trouble in a ladies’ outfitters. Seymour’s dalliance with a barmaid and a home-built ice creamer (on separate occasions), Clegg’s trouble in a ladies’ dress shop, Compo’s short-lived marital problems, his flirtations with a hefty barmaid, and now sweet summer memories of Nora Batty’s dried dates. It could completely stall the episode’s plot, but for me at least this kind of diversion just draws me closer to Clarke’s characters. Their pasts help them live and breath. In Seymour’s own words, “Where does he get detail like that?”

Bob: The older you get, the more you live in the past. It’s absolutely true, and it’s nicely captured in all of this. I also like the fact that we can pin some of Compo’s reminsences down to an actual date… “that long hot summer a few years back… it just went on and on…”. He’s clearly referring to the summer of 1976, which is the first that I can remember. There were 45 consecutive days without rain, average temperatures of over 30 degrees, and we appointed a Minister for Drought! There was a plague of ladybirds as well. I bet Nora’s stockings were covered in them.

I love Compo’s references to Nora’s “Days”, too. “Monday is wash day… this was a Tuesday, she was baking”. Good grief, mow there is a lost little corner of British culture. From memory, wash days in particular were synchronised; because washing lines were strung across back alleyways, and hanging out washing made said snickets and ginnells impassable. So if the women of the street all agreed to do their washing on the same day, then at least their husbands’ drying undercrackers only held up any passing traffic for a single day each week.

S9E3eIt’s a lovely, and rare, monologue for Bill Owen anyway, and he handles it superbly. Roy Clarke’s dialogue often reminds me of Alan Bennett, and this is like a mini-Talking Heads. And the summer of 1976 was the gap between Blamire’s departure and Foggy’s arrival, so it’s interesting to imagine Compo’s passions for Nora running wild in the simmering heat, without the calming influence of a Third Man to dampen his ardour.

Andrew: And just when it seems the episode is in danger of having nothing actually happen, Howard and Marina turn up with a pair of defective bicycles for Seymour to be let loose upon. There’s a pantomimic quality to their appearances in this series so far that reveals their seaside stage show origins, I think. Compo even has a “Ay up, it’s Howard and Marina!” catchphrase that smacks of “he’s behind you!”

Bob: There’s something deeply Freudian and sexually charged about Howard and Marina’s bikes being tangled together. I bet his pump is touching her spokes.

Andrew: Now this kind of contraption I can get behind. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had an affinity for Heath Robinson–esque home improvements. and Seymour’s gate and front door security system certainly qualify. Maybe I’m still traumatised by that giant pigeon, but I appreciate a more grounded bit of prop comedy!

Bob: Seymour’s voice recognition contraption is decades ahead of its time! Isn’t this how the Amazon Echo works? That Alexa thing? I’ve no idea, I haven’t got one. But if I did, I would program it to refuse to co-operate unless I shouted ‘Codfanglers’ in its electronic lughole. Does the Amazon Echo have electronic lugholes? There you go, there’s another potential episode title.

Andrew: We’re rapidly approaching the conclusion of this episode and I’ve just realised that the only TV Centre-bound set we’ve crossed paths with is the interior of the cafè. Keep trying Alan, they’ll let you completely ditch the videotape soon enough! I think we have a new Alan Bell trademark to watch out for as well, the tight two-shot – two characters in close up, one head hovering over the shoulder of the other. It’s all over this instalment!

S9E3gjpgAnyway, Crusher and Wally arrive with their respective mistresses’ demands for the return of their appliances. and in order to get back into town everybody piles into Crusher’s comically small  Citroen 2CV. All except Compo, that is, who is dragged behind while precariously perched on top of Howard and Marina’s fused bicycles. There’s a lovely community feel to this oh-so-silly ending that seems entirely fitting for an episode that has been so focused on personal histories. Top marks!

Bob: I just can’t stop imagining the conversation that Wally and Crusher had, cramped together in that car on their way over to Seymour’s house! Especially now we know that Jonathan Linsley and Joe Gladwin were good friends, and often sat together on the coach to filming locations. You know what, Jonathan’s memories of Joe’s stories is one of the loveliest rewards that we’ve had for embarking on this bizarre quest. I’m so glad we got to hear those. And you’re right, all of this is tied up with a delightul feelgood ending with a genuine ‘team Summmer Wine’ feeling to it.

And the lamb at the end is a perfect punchline! A very nice episode indeed.

Series 9 Episode 2: The Heavily Reinforced Bottom

S9E2a
In which Wesley works on Compo’s bottom… 

Bob: Compo is smoking! We haven’t seen that for ages, have we? You can measure out so many changes in British social attitudes by their depiction in Last of the Summer Wine over the decades. In 1973, Compo, Clegg and Blamire were all happily chuffing away without anyone batting an eyelid. Everyone was.

Andrew: It’s very much smoking for the sake of a gag, isn’t it? In fact, we never actually see Compo with a fag in his gob; only plumes of second-hand smoke emerging from behind a lovely bit of dry stone wall.

Bob: Seymour clearly disapproves, though. He can’t stop rolling his eyes. Even Clegg seems to have whimsical reservations…

Clegg: Gordon Ackroyd had this terrible smokers’ cough, but it went overnight.
Compo: How?
Clegg: He dropped dead.

I saw it coming a mile off, like a slow train on a branch line, but I still laughed when it arrived.

Andrew: I love the way in which this conversation plays out, with the characters hidden from view, but also the way in which it continues – seemingly uninterrupted – when the location shifts to the next scene. I wonder if dividing quite a long scene up into two distinct sections is Alan Bell’s work, rather than something stated in Clarke’s script? We get the sight gag and then move on to something more conventionally staged. It suggests that either our trio’s conversations go round in circles, or that there are long lulls during which Compo mulls things over. Love it.

Bob: You can tell you’re a proper film-maker, I just look at the pretty colours. Anyway, all of this seems to spark Seymour off into a determination to get Compo fit… and does this make him the third Third Man in a row to initiate a fitness campaign? Go on Drew, do the hard work and dig out Blamire and Foggy’s attempts…

Andrew: Let’s see… Blamire had his bicycle and canoe schemes, in Forked Lightning and Ballad For Wind Instruments and Canoe respectively, and I think it would take too long to list Foggy’s attempts!

Bob: There’s an interesting moment here too, when Seymour casually mentions enduring ‘North Yorkshire winters’ at his long-abandoned school. I’d always assumed it just sat proudly atop of the hilltops of the Holme Valley, but that’s very firmly in West Yorkshire! Where do we think it actually was?

Andrew: You’re the expert. I’m enjoying the little titbits of information we keep being fed about the school, though. Perhaps by the end of Seymour’s tenure we’ll be able to assemble a complete history? Here, we get some insight into the school catering, and a description of their underpaid Ukrainian chef, who would present a Ukrainian Duff tasting like a railway station with a ‘bland Ukrainian smile’ – whatever that is!

S9E2bBob: Yes, his memories of Helga are a delight (‘You couldn’t understand a word she cooked’), and I don’t doubt for a second that they’re true. I think Seymour has led a genuinely colourful life. For all the ‘Third Man’ has become a stock Summer Wine character, and there are definitely character traits shared by Blamire, Foggy and Seymour, I think the latter really comes into his own as a unique character when he drifts off into wistful nostalgia for his teaching days. His misty-eyed reminiscences absolutely ring true, and they’re a world apart from both Blamire’s bluff, unsentimental boasts, and Foggy’s ludicrous flights of fancy.

Andrew: Isn’t it nice to see some warmth from Ivy? Or at least what passes for warmth with Ivy, as she briefly eyes up a flower that Compo presents to her, and describes her nephew as ‘a great big St. Bernard.’ There’s even a tenderness in the way that she dresses him down, perhaps due to the fact that Ivy knows that Crusher will struggle to understand any point she makes.

Crusher: Auntie Ivy! Is it OK if I go, then?
Ivy: Were you ever here, Milburn?

I did worry that the departure of Sid would lead to Ivy being rendered redundant, but the character has really found her feet as a caregiver to Crusher.

Bob: Yes, despite Compo’s ribbing (‘Can’t tha swap him for three little Italians?’), Crusher is becoming a vital part of the trio’s schemes, isn’t he? He spent a lot of his early episodes marooned in the café, but now – just as Sid did – he’s becoming almost a ‘Fourth Man’, inspiring and abetting their escapades. It’s an oddly touching message… regardless of any age gaps, all men are children at heart. The co-opting of Crusher is like a beacon of fecklessness being passed down through the generations! I remember that nice Mr Linsley telling us that was especially friendly with Bill Owen, and I think you can see that onscreen here.

Andrew: Yes, Crusher’s own excited search for white water (‘It’s great, is white water’) prompts Seymour to concoct a canoe-based scheme of his own… Another canoe episode? Already? We’ve been through this with Blamire, back in Series Two!

Bob: I’ll offer up a defence that Series Two was over ten years ago at this stage, and I’ve no recollection of these Blamire episodes being repeated at any point during my childhood! Anyway, have we got any readers that work for the DVLA? Is Crusher’s yellow Volkswagon – STO 182R – still on the road anywhere?

The previous episode felt almost like an experiment in avant-garde Summer Wine, with the main trio not even meeting up until the final ten minutes, but this is much more traditional, isn’t it? It’s absolutely textbook Summer Wine! Third man gets a wild idea for a new pastime in the first five minutes of the episode, co-opts their café cohort to help out, and uses Compo as a guinea pig. This is the first episode for a while that I can absolutely imagine working with Compo, Clegg, Foggy and Sid, without too many changes.

S9E2cAndrew: It’s possibly the result of it following a very strong series opener, but I’m not optimistic about the direction in which this episode is heading. But, on the plus side, we’re subjected to some fabulous gurning from Bill Owen, as Compo struggles with his new exercise regime, and some of the scenery on display here is stunning. Can we rent some bikes next time we’re in Holmfirth? ‘We’re just two perfectly innocent strangers with a healthy interest in twentieth century sitcom locations…’

Bob: Ha! Ha! Do I have to wear skimpy shorts and jump over a dry stone wall every time a car goes past? I’m in. And… yay! Compo is meant to be exercising, but has hitched a lift on the back of a passing trailer! This is a scene that EVERY long-running sitcom has to include at some point in its lifespan. With bonus points available if – as in this case – the trailer is filled with bales of hay. Can anyone name other examples of this? It definitely happens with both Bob and Terry in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.

I’ve also been trying to identify the celebratory song that Compo sings on the haywagon – ‘my horse is always willing, and I am never sad’ and it seems to be called ‘Jim The Carter Lad’. At first, I thought it had a whiff of the American West about it, but it’s actually a traditional English folk song… it seems to be linked to the West Country, to Dorset and Wiltshire, but also appears to have been a popular Music Hall song.

It survived into the rock and roll era, too… here’s the mighty Joe Brown with a nice version!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dueUWlalAKk]

Andrew: I see your Joe Brown and raise you this charmingly booze fuelled traditional take!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N36kiusurv4]

This is another instance where I have to wonder if it was featured in the script, or if it was something introduced as a result of conversations between Alan Bell and Bill Owen? Owen looks like he’s having a great time, so perhaps it was his idea!

Bob: The look on Marina’s face when Howard solemnly declares ‘you’re the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in my life’ is heartbreaking. Huge credit to Jean Fergusson for expressing the most devastating combination of desperate longing and panting lust that I’ve ever seen played out on anyone’s features. And I’ve spent a weekend in Holmfirth with you, Drew.

Andrew: It cuts right through, doesn’t it? The series might be moving in a broader direction, but its moments like this that continue to make Clarke’s work rise above.

S9E2fBob: Edie is cutting Barry’s hair in the kitchen! Is the home-cutting of hair (not home-shaving with a razor… that’s different!) still a commonplace thing? Do kids still turn up at school with their fringes clearly cut along the outline of a pudding bowl? I don’t think my Dad has had a professional haircut since the day he got married, in 1966. My Mum just does it in the front room, with newspaper on the floor around his feet, and a towel on his shoulders. And she did mine too, until I cracked as a teenager and decided her skills just weren’t good enough to manage the cantilevered Morrissey quiff that I was demanding!

Andrew: It’s not just your parents; I’ve many a time been bemused by the sight of my Mam setting up a salon for my Dad, in the conservatory. It’s rather sweet in a way, but I could do without seeing his back being shaved!

Bob: I like Edie’s disgusted dismissal of the ‘Unisex Hair Parlour’, too. I imagine, in her fevered mind, it’s on a par with the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. Or – even worse – our weekend in Holmfirth in 2009.

Andrew: I have a major fear of getting my hair cut which borders on phobia, so I share Edie’s concern over Unisex joints. Perhaps the ultimate cure would be for me to let my mother loose with the clippers?

Bob: Blimey, this has to be the British sitcom with the most mentions of Dr Crippen since records began. Clegg can’t stop referencing him, as Compo is lowered into Wesley’s home-made canoe. I wonder where all that came from? Dr Crippen, of course, was the US doctor executed in London for the murder of his wife in 1910, for reasons that have never been clear. She was a Music Hall singer, so maybe he just got tired of her singing ‘Jim, The Carter Lad’.

Andrew: Yeah, but would you rather go to the Music Hall with Dr Crippen, or clothes shopping with Nora Batty? Wally’s fate in this episode is to be asked what he thinks about one of Nora’s potential outfit choices, and even his whippet looks bored. Emma will kill me for saying this, but I’m pretty sure this exact conversation once played out between us in a branch of Topshop. I barely have an opinion about what I wear, let alone anybody else!

S9E2gBob: Just as with the opening lines, I saw the ending of this episode coming a mile off, like a slow train on a branch line, but I still laughed when it arrived. Having crashed straight through the bottom of Wesley’s prototype canoe and plummeted feet-first into the murky canal water, Compo tries again with the ‘heavily reinforced bottom’ augmented model… and, this time, the whole kaboosh sinks into the drink. This is absolute textbook Summer Wine! It’s virtually a platonic ideal for the whole show.

Andrew: If you’d like to attempt a re-enactment, the canal location remains virtually unchanged, save for the addition of a pleasant looking visitor’s centre.

Bob: I’m currently reading JB Priestley’s book Delight, about finding joy in the little things in life, and there’s one in this episode that we should try. Three men wandering into a quiet daytime pub and ordering three large scotches to keep out the chill. Can you, me and Andrew Orton do this, the next time we’re filming in Holmfirth on a cold day?

Andrew: Only if you want me flat on me back by mid-afternoon…

Bob: Promises, promises…

Series 9 Episode 1: Why Does Norman Clegg Buy Ladies' Elastic Stockings?

S9E1d
In which Norman Clegg… buys ladies’ elastic stockings…

Bob: Oh, this is an unusual opening shot! We start with a static shot of dried ferns in a jar, and we pan across to Compo’s bedside table. And what a fascinating insight into his character; there’s a GNER mug, clearly half-inched from some long-forgotten railway journey, an ashtray from the Huddersfield Hotel, a copy of The Ferret Fancier magazine (does this actually exist?) and – tantalisingly – what looks like a vintage Betty Grable record. It’s a throwaway shot, but these half-glimpsed objects are immaculately chosen. Does Compo strike you as the kind of man who would pinch ashtrays from a posh hotel, and harbour forty-year old fantasies about the leggy, ‘Forces Sweetheart’ film star of his youth? Of course he does.

I’m now fascinated as to exactly which Betty Grable record is propped up at Compo’s bedside. It looks like the title is something along the lines of ‘Loving Tonight’, but I can’t find any evidence of her having recorded anything with a title that’s even similar to that. Are my ageing eyes letting me down here? Is it even Betty Grable on the sleeve? Can anyone help?

Andrew: I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one, but I can sadly confirm the demise of The Ferret Fancier, if indeed it was ever an actual periodical and not just a comic invention. It pleases me, however, that one can subscribe to Ferrets Magazine. Surely that’s the sort of publication in which we should be taking out an advertisement?

Bob: Good to get our regulation Wally and Nora scene in early! Nora is ‘swilling’… which takes me back. For the first twenty-odd years of my life, I was frequently woken up by the sound of my Mum throwing buckets of water over the back patio, and swilling it around with a good, stiff broom. It’s a very reassuring sound. Although I’m now filled with an overwhelming feeling that I’ve still got geography homework to finish off.

Andrew: I love the rare bit of courage we glimpse from Wally at the end of this scene.

Nora: What are you; a husband or a parrot?

Wally: (with glee) Who’s a clever boy then!

Cue a good thwacking from Nora!

S9E1bBob: Clegg has proper teacups! I want some. I like his world-weary grumbling to Howard, as well… ‘At a time when little southern girls are playing with their dolls, the girls around here are practicing lie recognition and unmarked wedlock’. Peter Sallis and Robert Fyfe make a good double act, actually…two incredibly meek characters who, together, find refuge from an intimidating world.

Andrew: They do make a nice pair. What I especially like is Clegg’s confidence around Howard. As you say, Clegg has grown into a particularly meek character over the course of the series, but even he can’t help coming across as an alpha dog when confronted with the pathetic Howard. There’s the sense of a friendship there, but also an undercurrent of contempt on Clegg’s part. See, for example, his reaction to Howard’s attempt at a guilt-free smile – ‘You look like a little Nazi surrendering at the end of the war.’

Bob: Is it me, or does Pearl not really trust Edie? Our new regulars are pairing off into odd combinations in this episode, and there’s definitely a bit of spikiness between these two. ‘Where’s the virtue in looking like you’ve just come back from a serious operation?’ asks Edie, clearly a dig at poor Pearl’s dowdy appearance. It’s curious how, for the first twelve years of the series, the scripts were very male-dominated… we generally just had Nora and Ivy on the sidelines, acting as foils for the main, male trio. But Roy Clarke seems to have suddenly discovered the delights of writing female dialogue, and he’s an absolute master at it. The show has never had such a feminine feel; there are huge chunks devoted to various combinations of Edie, Pearl and Marina.

Andrew: I don’t think Pearl trusts any other woman. The addition of Pearl and Howard also strengthens the series’ suggestion that all men of a certain age regress regress back to childhood, while women remain maternal.You’re bang on; there’s absolutely a sense of Clarke playing with his new characters. Pearl and Ivy are both newcomers, but he’s obviously keen to see if they can carry a scene on their own. It’s ages into the episode before our trio unite and I wonder if that’s partly due to the fact that, despite having been part of the series for over a year, Seymour has yet to appear in a non-special episode of the show – for the benefit of casual viewers, he has to be eased in to the narrative.

Bob: Clegg is shopping in a very 1980s-looking supermarket! It’s on film, so do we assume this is a genuine location? I’m sure some sort of Supermarket Reform Act must have come into play sometime around 1990, because they suddenly became very spacious, airy places, filled with the fresh smell of baking bread. Before that, they looked like this… narrow aisles, low ceilings, and groaning shelves overladen with stacked-up tins and packets. And they smelled FUNNY. They bloody did… there was one in my hometown that absolutely stank of cats. Good to see an advert for ‘beefburgers’ as well. Not just ‘burgers’, but ‘beefburgers’. Is the ‘beefburger’ actually different to the ‘hamburger’? And when did they all just become ‘burgers’?

S9E1cAndrew: Pre-1990s supermarkets basically looked like large corner shops, didn’t they? Actually, what’s that one around the back of Stockton High Street called? That looks like it was caught in a time bubble at some point during the 1980s.

Bob: Boyes! It’s part of its ineffable charm. Anyway, I’m going to advance a daring theory here, and brace yourselves – because some of you aren’t going to like it. Here goes… Clegg actually DOES fancy Marina. When he spots her working on the supermarket check-out, he freezes on the spot, blushes, and then fills his basket with all kinds of unnecessary tat (including the ladies’ stockings of the title) in an attempt to ward off the suspicions of the store detective. These aren’t the actions of a man who just wants to avoid an undesirable acquaintance… they’re the actions of a man who’s IN LOVE, and is too embarrassed to admit it – even to himself. He’s like the infatuated schoolboy who turns into a beetroot-red, stammering simpleton every time the object of his desire comes within twenty yards. I’m running with this. CLEGG FANCIES MARINA.

Andrew: I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s in love, but I think there’s certainly something to your theory! In the world of Summer Wine, there haven’t been any female characters for Clegg to show an interest in, have there? Marina occupies a previously vacant space between battleaxe and some bloke’s niece. She isn’t there to mother, and she’s not looking for a father figure.

Bob: The last few episodes have had some lovely material for Jonathan Linsley to work with, and I like the way that Crusher is slowly growing into his role as a café assistant. In his earliest episodes, he clearly didn’t really want to be there, and was only doing it to placate either Ivy or some unseen mother, desperate to get him out of the house… but look at him now! He’s got a steak and kidney pie in the oven, and he’s pacing around like an expectant father! It’s a very subtle and nicely-done character progression.

Andrew: Compo (and Bill Owen) makes up for his limited screen time with a high-octane entrance to the cafè. While we’re on the subject of the series entering a new era, the Compo we see here has now completely transitioned into the persona of a harmless imp. He may accost a female customer of the café and make a grab for Ivy, but there isn’t the slightest suggestion that he’s leering, or really out of bounds in any way. He’s just a hyperactive child. I also don’t get the impression he’s supposed to be half as physically horrifying as he was in the series’ earliest episodes – he’s scruffy, but he’s not fag-ash-in-a-doorstop-sandwich revolting.

S9e1eI love Edie’s banning of Wesley from the kitchen. It’s a running gag that will go on for years and years, and it certainly made me cackle when I was a kid watching in the 1990s. Again, although they are taken to their extremes, there is something very recognisable and identifiable about this pairing. My Dad is in the process of building himself a new shed – his justification being that if he doesn’t do it now he never will, as ‘this’ll be me last shed’ – and my Mam and sister just look on, both confused as to why he wants it, but relieved that he’s got something to do outside of the living room.

Bob: ‘This’ll be me last shed!’ That’s worthy of Roy Clarke! I can imagine Stephen Lewis saying that, with a screwdriver in his hand.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the home-made warning signs on the approach road to Seymour’s house are in any way exaggerated for comic effect… if anything, they’re toned down. I’ve done a lot of moorland walking past remote farmsteads, and seen some terrifying sights; from ‘TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT – I MEAN IT’ to rows of rotting, dead moles pegged out on electric fences, presumably as a warning to similarly wayward members of the local mole community. Away from the cities, towns and villages, there still are some truly odd and eccentric loners living very insular and unconventional lives up on the hills; even in 2017. I think Seymour’s house and lifestyle, plotting insane schemes in ramshackle outbuildings, are a nod to those people. At heart, he’s a loner; and it’s hard to imagine scenes like these – with him aggressively turning away a Yorkshire Electricity Board meter-reader from his country house – being played out with either Blamire or Foggy.

Andrew: Thinking I recognised him from somewhere, I looked up the actor who plays the ‘Meter Reader’ on IMDB. It turns out he also played ‘Our Kid’ Colin in Getting Sam Home and will appear as other characters in further episodes to come, but far odder than that is that his last credited role was in a 2007 episode of Life on Mars… where he played the character of ‘Meter Man’. Think of the possibilities! Are they the same character? Does this mean Life on Mars and Last of the Summer Wine are part of the same fictional universe? Is Norman Clegg mad, in a coma, or back in time? And if he can work out the reason, can he get home?

Bob: Amazingly, we’re twenty minutes into the episode before we see our main trio together.

Andrew: The structure of this one is rather strange. The point at which Clegg and Compo arrive at Seymour’s place very much feels like the opening of a new episode.  Are we actually being treated to two mini-episodes here?

Bob: I can’t shake the suspicion that Seymour’s string of insane inventions exist purely for the purposes of getting Bill Owen into some bizarre contraption every week! This week it’s a mobile drilling unit, powered by a rather roughly-converted bicycle, and intended to search the Holme Valley oilfields for Black Gold, Texas Tea, etc. Although what would be the West Yorkshire version of Texas Tea? Tadcaster Tea? That actually sounds like genuine tea, though.

Anyway, this exchange made me laugh a lot:

Seymour: It’s not an important bit…
Clegg: That’s what Melvyn Carcroft said when the swelling started.

S9e1gHe also makes Compo and Clegg swear to secrecy on two books: The Principles of Financial Management and Biggles In Africa. Yet again, I can’t find any sign of the former being a real book… but the latter is very definitely the genuine article, published in 1936. My faith is restored!

Andrew: Before the possibility of striking oil is raised, Seymour is certain that people need holes, and that his is the device to provide them. That’s an insane idea that I can get behind, and I love the fact that it’s actually a familiar-sounding music cue from Ronnie Hazlehurst that suggests the direction the story is about to take, before anybody in the episode catches on.

When Compo finally gets around to testing Seymour’s drilling machine, it isn’t long before something goes amiss. Spying a film of oil on the top of his duck pond, Seymour theorises that there is a vast untapped source somewhere nearby.

Bob: Yes, Ronnie Hazlehurst is on FIRE at the moment! As Compo and Clegg half-heartedly drill for oil in Seymour’s front yard, we are treated to a sensational hybrid of the Summer Wine and Dallas themes. It’s absolutely masterful, and there’s something magnificently strange about hearing those bombastic tones swelling as we watch two pensionable gentlemen pedalling furiously outside a Yorkshire country house. It’s almost subversive. I wonder if Roy Clarke ever gave suggestions for musical cues in any of his scripts, or whether Hazlehurst just had a wild, musical imagination, and was given free reign to use it? I guess the latter is more likely; any man who can create a TV theme tune by tapping out the title of the show in Morse code is up there with Mozart as far as I’m concerned. Don’t believe me? It’s Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Seriously. It’s extraordinary.

Andrew: On the other side of town, Howard and Marina seize what little time they can get together. The sexual longing that Robert Fyfe somehow manages to squeeze into the phrase, ‘I’ve been sent to fetch two prawn curries… and a sweet and sour pork’ is a wonder to behold.

Of course, it isn’t long before our trio’s dream of striking oil is dashed by a water main, and the episode comes to a moist conclusion. Bell has a great eye for silent comedy direction, with the entirety of the gang’s realisation being played out in a series of shocked close-ups, contrasted with widescale angles of destruction.

That was a lovely episode. My only qualm is that we don’t get to hear nearly enough of that magnificent Dallas take–off. They should have used it over the closing titles. I also wonder if this is the point at which the series began to develop its reputation as being almost entirely about physical comedy. There are some absolutely perfect character comedy exchanges throughout this instalment, but the drilling for oil sequence is the only one I’ve ever seen made use of as a clip in a documentary or a chat show. Drilling for oil is what I bet people remember this one being about, despite the fact doing so takes up about two minutes of the episode’s duration!

Bob: That was our most whimsical episode for a little while, and it passed by very pleasantly, like a light daydream on a summers afternoon. Now… Betty Grable, anyone?