Summer Winos»Archive for April 2012

Archive for April 2012

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

In which our heroes mingle with the criminal classes…

Bob: Timothy Bateson! Timothy Bateson! Timothy Bateson!

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

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

Attention Griffin Savers!

Attention Griffin Savers!

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

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

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

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

'...an illustrated sex manual'.

‘…an illustrated sex manual’.

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

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

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

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


Series 4 Episode 7: A Merry Heatwave


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

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

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

Love's young dream!

Love’s young dream!

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

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

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

Flora Batty...

Flora Batty…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series 4 Episode 6: Green Fingers


In which Foggy yearns for a satisfactory carrot…

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

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

Lewis Bickerdyke. Green fingers not pictured.

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

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

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

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

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

A truly satisfactory carrot...

A truly satisfactory carrot…

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

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

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

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

Series 4 Episode 4: Flower Power Cut



In which the Grim Reaper looms large…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Incredible String Band Reunion not going to plan

That Incredible String Band reunion not going to plan

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

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

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

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