Summer Winos»Archive for September 2012

Archive for September 2012

Series 5 Episode 2: The Flag and Its Snag

In which Foggy attempts to put the pole up… 

Bob: After a cracking opening episode to the series, things  go a bit wonky for me here. The opening scenes seem to lack the usual sparkle… the regulars are just bickering aimlessly, but without any of the witty rejoinders we’ve become accustomed to.

Andrew: I can see where you’re coming from, but there are some cracking exchanges in this scene. Take this quick burst from Clegg and Compo, for example:

Clegg: Then he retired and went in search of paradise.

Compo: Where’s that then?

Clegg: Clacton.

I also like the implication that our trio has embarked on many an unseen adventure, with Foggy alluding to an attempt to get Compo and Clegg interested in astronomy. Perhaps that adventure wasn’t exciting enough to be depicted on screen? Or maybe they’ve had a string of anti-climactic exploits that have gone untelevised, just prior to the beginning of this series. That would explain why everybody seems so down, and annoyed with each other.

Man O'The Dales...

Man O’The Dales…

Bob: Even the normally-genial Sid seems depressed. Although Compo nicely betrays his 1930s childhood, reading all manner of Boy’s Own comics, with his erotic jungle fantasies about Nora Batty. ‘White man come in Nora’s hut!’ Good grief.

I know Summer Wine is hardly noted for its high-octane pacing, but this really is a slow episode.

Andrew: Even the soundman seems to be nodding off. Five seasons in, and that’s the first time I’ve seen a boom microphone drop into shot.

Bob: We’re almost halfway through before Foggy unveils his latest half-baked scheme… to plant the Union Jack flag from the old Sea Cadets’ hut at the top of a nearby hill. Exactly why, we’re not exactly sure, although it does lead to an intriguing line from Clegg. ‘Ever since I read some Harold Robbins, I’ve had this nightmare about woodlice in the trousers…’ he shudders. I’m not hugely ashamed to reveal that I’ve never read a single line Harold Robbins has ever written. Can somebody explain this for me, please?

Andrew: Not me, I’m afraid. But surely, one of our three readers must have a clue? Get in touch…

Bob: And so we embark on, oddly, a kind of Summer Wine road movie, complete with textbook 1970s British Rail jokes and Gordon Gostelow’s horse-and-cart-owning Willis, possibly the most overtly comic persona we’ve seen in the series so far. Gostelow plays him as a classic comedy drunk, in a turn that wouldn’t look out of place on a Music Hall stage. Although he is the lucky recipient of one sensational line…

Foggy: I Have this vision.

Willis: Me too. Horrible little green things crawling all over the front of my Uncle Herbert’s scrapyard…

A sensational Roy Clarke non-sequitur, and one that made me laugh out loud.

Gordon Gostelow

Gordon Gostelow ‘swinging like a pendulum’?

Andrew: That Music Hall observation certainly squares with what little I know about Gordon Gostelow. He was born in Australia in 1925, but began his career after moving to the UK in the 1950s. He may have missed out on the Music Hall by a few decades, but he appears to have had a very interesting career; swinging like a pendulum between Shakespeare and the pantomime stage. You can here the Australian slipping through from time to time in this performance.

I need to write a another quick love-letter to Ronnie Hazlehurst here. The hop-along tune that accompanies our trio’s hayride is very evocative of Hollywood westerns. It’s completely at odds with what’s on screen, but somehow fits perfectly. To my mind, he’s really asserting himself as being as much a part of the show as Clarke’s scripts; the scenery; or any of the actors’ performances during this run.

Bob: We finish with the flag curiously unerected, and an outright slapstick finale in which two genuinely terrified-looking mules are chased around a paddock. I think this might be the first episode of our quest that I really haven’t enjoyed. Apart from the couple of killer lines that I’ve picked out, there wasn’t much here for me.

Andrew: There have been a handful of stand-out moments for me, but I agree that this episode just doesn’t really hang together. A minor bump in the road, I hope.

Series 5 Episode 1: Full Steam Behind

In which our trio take a tank engine for a walk…

Bob: September 1979, and Summer Wine returns for its first full series in two years. I’m assuming the gap year was down to Roy Clarke’s writing commitments… in 1978, his series Rosie – the police sitcom with Paul Greenwood – was broadcast, and earlier in 1979 Potter – with Arthur Lowe as the titular retired busybody – made its TV debut. On first impressions, the break from Summer Wine has done him a power of good, as this episode is one of my favourites of the entire run.

Andrew: I’ll admit from the start that the odds have been HEAVILY stacked in favour of me loving this episode. I haven’t seen it for a loooong time and I can’t recall any plot details, but I’m predisposed towards liking it, simply because it features a steam engine. The Lady Vanishers, The Titfield Thunderbolt, Thomas the Tank Engine, the episode The Royal Train from Dad’s Army, and instalment 308 of The Muppet Show have all won me over with steam power.

I’ve no idea what it is about steam trains that appeal to me. I’m not one to amass trivia about their manufacturers, or their model numbers, and I was born far too late to hold any nostalgic attachments to that era. There’s just something about the sight of an iron beast puffing through the English countryside and the smell of coal and oil and water forcing tonnes of machinery forward along the rails that really does it for me. If Emma was here, she’d be rolling her eyes at me now, as I do tend to get a little carried away. Take, for example, my twenty-fifth birthday…

Drew Birthday Train

This getup is disturbingly close to that seen upon Foggy’s entrance in this episode, railway memorabilia clasped excitedly in hand.

Bob: I’m with you all the way, which explains why this episode is a bit of a watershed episode for me. Previously, Foggy has been portrayed as a well-meaning idiot… all of his strange schemes and ambitions are decidedly hare-brained, and Clegg and Compo’s objections to them are generally entirely justified. However, in this episode… brace yourself… sit down… put one hand on the sideboard and breathe deeply… FOGGY IS RIGHT! On a glorious summers day, a vintage steam train is travelling from Keighley to Oxenhope, and all he wants to do is take Compo and Clegg to greet it along the route.

And they don’t want to go! And I can’t, for the life of me, work out why. The sun is shining through sun-dappled leaves, the railway is a gorgeous, bumbling branch line meandering through countless sleepy villages, and I absolutely share Foggy’s enthusiasm for the whole, beautiful venture. ‘Have you no regard for the poetry of steam?’ he blusters. His wild-eyed joy, for once, is both justified and infectious.

Andrew: Yes, this may be the first time I’ve ever sided with Foggy against Compo and Clegg! There’s nothing wrong in a healthy interest in railway preservation, I tell you!

On my aforementioned birthday, I too had to lure certain friends along with the promise of a pub at the end of the line. I hardly complained as we knocked back pints, but secretly I would have been happy to chuff up and down the line all day, pushing children out of the way to get a better view of the engine driver.

'There's something tremendously nostalgic about places like this...'

‘There’s something tremendously nostalgic about places like this…’

By the way, as our trio make their way to the railway, there’s a lovely sound gag – the first of two in this episode. Just as Compo challenges anybody to tell him what is wrong with his trousers and Foggy and Clegg stop dead in their tracks, so does Ronnie Hazlehurst’s music. That had me giggling like a loon. The second sound gag is a sitcom staple… a well-timed steam engine’s whistle drowning out an expletive from Compo.

Bob: I adore the scene in the railwayman’s shed… a part-abandoned refuge, in the middle of sleepy nowhere. My mother will kill me if she reads this, but my friends and I used to regularly seek out similarly remote rail sheds back in our distant childhoods, and use them as makeshift HQs for our assaults upon the adult world. ‘There’s something tremendously nostalgic about places like this,’ sighs Foggy, leaning back with a distant look in his eyes. ‘I’d like to come here for a few hours every week, just lie on this sofa with a railway timetable and listen to the trains go by…’

‘Tat!’ spits a genuinely disgruntled Compo, and I want to dangle him off a bridge by his wellies. Compo and Clegg really are unpleasant company in this episode… the pair of them never stop whining throughout, about something that’s a genuinely lovely idea! Oh dear, can you tell I’m actually getting angry about this?

Andrew: It isn’t long, of course, before Compo sets things in motion and our trio are faced with the prospect catching a runaway train. All of the action is still conducted at a very leisurely Summer Wine pace, however.

Bob: And Compo IS actually dangled off a bridge – dropping onto a speeding carriage to attempt a rescue mission. ‘What’s life without a slice of danger?’ snaps Foggy. ‘Longer,’ replies Compo. Nice stuff, but I’m not sure I need Summer Wine attempting to pre-empt Speed!

Anyway… how geeky do you want to get with all this train stuff? An insane shiver of excitement ran through the very fibre of my being when I realized that, in one scene, it was possible to see the number on the train itself. It’s KWVR (Keighley and Worth Valley Railway) L89. It didn’t take much Googling at all to bring me here…

KWVR Wikipedia Entry

 …and if you scroll down to locomotive No 5775, that’s the chap. And although ‘in need of overhaul’, it’s currently on display at Oxenhope Railway Station! Surely a day out is on the cards…

Andrew: You filthy temptress. The climax of the  episode sees our trio attempting to stop the engine at the station where the local mayor, assembled dignitaries and a brass band are waiting. And once again it’s the Dodworth Colliery Miner’s Welfare Brass Band, led by musical director Graham O’Connor!

KWVR L89!

KWVR L89!

But what is they are playing? A diagetic rendition of Ronnie Hazlehurst’s Summer Wine theme. I’m not sure how I feel about that, actually. It’s very jarring for me to have the real-world trappings of the show invade the fantasy land of Roy Clarke’s creation. In the context of this episode, what is the name of the song that the band are playing? Is it The Last of the Summer Wine? Does this make Ronnie Hazlehurst an on-screen character? My brain hurts!

Bob: Yes, are we starting to see hints of post-modernism creeping into Summer Wine country? That struck me as being a bit odd, too!

Andrew: So, did I love this episode above all others? Surprisingly, not really! I did like the episode, but it doesn’t tap into my tank engine obsession in the same way the aforementioned examples do. I think it all comes down to the fact that Foggy’s passion for steam is tempered by Clegg and Compo not giving a fig – just as it should be in Summer Wine land, I guess. This world of Clarke’s creation is no place for one-dimensional rose-tinted nostalgia.

Bob: I’m surprised! It really is one of my favourites, but I agree that Clegg and Compo do come over as unnecessarily curmudgeonly.

Christmas Special 1978: Small Tune On a Penny Wassail

In which our three wise men attempt a Merry Christmas…

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

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

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

Clegg can't contain his excitment

Clegg can’t contain his excitement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teddy Turner receives instrudctions from Mrs Pumphrey...

Teddy Turner receives instructions from Mrs Pumphrey…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look out for the Dodworth Colliery Band!

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

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

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

Dodworth Colliery Band

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

Andrew: I’m working on it….

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

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