Summer Winos»Archive for March 2015

Archive for March 2015

Series 7 Episode 2: The White Man's Grave

In which Foggy’s grass is greener…

Andrew: We open with our trio in extreme long shot as the reach the summit of one of the many hills surrounding Holmfirth. I love this kind of scene; there are no cuts and you obviously can’t read anyone’s expression, and yet, thanks to the script, it remains funny and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Also, I can’t think of any other sitcom where you could reduce your main characters down to about a centimetre tall on the TV screen and still have them be perfectly recognisable. Sallis, Owen and Wilde aren’t just gifted when it comes to delivering dialogue; each has brought a distinct physicality to their character.

Bob: This is a really curious episode. It seems to be quite a serious rumination on the nature of matrimony, both from the viewpoint of those who are married and – equally – those who aren’t. Am I reading too much into this? Have we gone off our rockers and started looking for profound subtexts in a cheery, half-hour sitcom? But from the moment that Foggy gets touchy about ‘why he never married’, it’s a running theme for the rest of the episode.

Andrew: No, I absolutely agree. Marriage has always been in the background of the series, but I think this is the first episode dedicated to the institution. It’s Roy Clarke’s version of a concept album.

Bob: Yes! I demand a 20-minute Wally Batty bass solo before the end of the episode.

'Plumb duff and custard'

‘Plumb duff and custard’

And blimey, the era when men ‘who never married’ were the subject of gossip and conjecture! Roy Clarke captures this perfectly, it really was seen as something of a curious lifestyle statement well into the 1980s. I guess the unspoken subtext was that such men were possibly gay, a subject hinted about with much nudging of ribs and whispering. But little malice… at least from my memories. It’s funny, Russell T Davies talks about this in his book The Writer’s Tale… ‘There’s always been funny old Uncle Douglas, who never got married; those two stern women who live together in that old house; someone’s camp little son who doesn’t like football. It’s there, and it’s accepted, quietly, tacitly’. And those are my memories too. Looking back, I can think of a few people who featured in my 1970s childhood who were clearly gay… and it was fine. It’s far too easy to demonise the past these days. It was sometimes much gentler than modern revisionism would have you believe.

Although I should add the disclaimer that I’m speaking from the perspective of a straight man who was seven years old at the end of the 1970s! Maybe anyone who was actually gay on Teesside during that decade could relate some much more harrowing tales.

Andrew: Hmmm… you never married though, did you?

Bob: Confirmed bachelor, that’s me. Hey, there’s a lovely exchange between Sid and Ivy here. Sid clearly has had an affair with some point, but Ivy still loves him. She goes gooey whenever he has a spanner in his hand! ‘Big dollop you may be, but you’re my big dollop’. Lovely. We’ve said it before, but it really is crucial that we have these moments. Otherwise there’d be no reason at all for them still to be together.

Andrew: True, but I’d still argue that the thrashing she gives Sid at the end of the episode strays uncomfortably into domestic violence territory! This scene really is a gem. My personal highlight is Ivy’s critique of Sid’s ‘performance’. Is that one of the naughtiest jokes we’ve heard thus far?

Bob: It’s just a reflection on your filthy mind. And here’s yet another exchange on the nature of marriage! Foggy’s getting quite wistful here, seemingly dreaming of a life of female companionship that’s always somehow evaded him. ‘All those lonely evenings in the barrack room…’ he whispers, looking misty-eyed. And yet Sid is clearly envious of the single mans’ lifestyle! It’s a great ‘grass is always greener’ scene, and I love the notion of Foggy standing to attention whenever he feels under pressure. A great – and absolutely real – character touch.

Is Wally in an outside toilet? Ha! Drew, this will only confirm your belief that I grew up in Clement Attlee’s Britain, but when we moved into my first proper childhood home in 1977, it only had an outside water closet. No inside toilet at all, just a hole in a plank in a shed near the coal bunker. Isn’t it staggering how much British life has changed in the last 35 years?

Holmfirth Stone-Skimming Champion 1983!

Holmfirth Stone-Skimming Champion 1983!

Andrew: That is absolutely true. My Dad, who grew up during the sixties, lived in a pit village and only knew a tin bath for pretty much the first decade of his life. Can I also just backtrack a little to marvel at Joe Gladwin’s exit from that outside loo? I laughed heartily because I could see something of myself in his semi-satisfied limbering up after climbing off the pot.

Bob: I love looking at the signage in these episodes. I have a signage fetish. The blackboard in the café features ‘plumb duff and custard’ (spelt wrong!) as one of the specials on offer. When was the last time plum duff was served in a British café? Answers on the back of a tin of Birds Custard, please.

Andrew: I’ve never had a plumb duff…

Bob: Or a plum duff either, I’ll wager. And now Clegg joins in the marriage discussion! And Wally! ‘It’s like a posting to the Gold Coast, being married to our Nora’, he grumbles. And that’s ‘The White Man’s Grave’… a phrase that absolutely was used as a nickname for that part of the world (now Ghana) during Wally’s childhood years – due to the tropical diseases, mainly Malaria, that killed hundreds of luckless Europeans there. Do we know much about Wally’s exploits in the services, then? This scene suggests he served there himself.

Andrew: I find it hard to imagine Wally at any point B.N. (Before Nora), although according the First of the Summer Wine they did begin courting before World War II. We’ll have to remember to keep our eyes peeled.

Bob: Some SENSATIONAL stone-skimming from Bill Owen under the bridge here! Absolutely effortless! Now THERE’S a man who spent his childhood wisely. I’ve never been able to do it, at best I can sometimes muster one pathetic bounce before I plummet into the depths. And there’s a metaphor for life if ever there was one.

Andrew: It’s not just you. I’ve consulted with many an expert, but have never managed to keep it up.

Bob: That’s the story of my life, too. And why I’ll remain a confirmed bachelor.

Andrew: As we approach Nora’s steps, a sign in the background has leapt to my attention in a way it has never done before. At the end of the street, across the main road, there is a shop called ‘Castles Autopart’. I’m going to try keeping tabs on that. It’s not there today, but when did it disappear? Given that this is such a frequently used location, we could probably trace the complete ownership history of that building between 1973 and 2010!

Who's a little cheeky face, then?

Who’s a little cheeky face, then?

Bob: Brilliant! Is it worth a seperate drop-down menu on the website? We’ve paid for the bloody things, we might as well get our money’s worth.

And, just to get a perspective on marriage from the woman’s perspective, we have a bit of textbook battleaxing from Nora. But you know what? It’s episodes like this make me appreciate their points of view. She’s not grumpy for no reason… the men she knows ARE weird! She’s right! Can you seriously imagine being a beleaguered housewife, trying your best to keep your house in order, and your elderly husband’s pensionable friends disguise one of their number as your other half and smuggle him into the house to do his chores? You’d think they were ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THEIR MINDS. You’d go off your rocker, and wonder where the hell you’d gone wrong. I’m starting to really empathise with Nora. It’s probably Stockholm Syndrome.

Although I’m glad I can go to my grave saying that I’ve seen Joe Gladwin in a baby’s pram. It’s moments like this that make our quest worthwhile. But Nora’s concern when she thinks a real baby has trundled down the steps is really touching. ‘I’m coming, precious… Nana’s coming…’ That grabbed my heartstrings for some reason.

Andrew: It’s hilarious, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense does it? For starters, Nora must have seen Wally running off with the trio when Clegg was exposed as a faux-Batty. Why do they feel the need to sneak him back? Also, if they want to get him around the back of the house, why do they need to pass the front door at all? This episode has already demonstrated that the house is accessible from either end of the street. I know it’s anal, but this is a pigeon-costume level of illogical plotting.

Bob: I never notice these things. I’m just a simple-minded confirmed bachelor. I thought that was another oddly wistful episode with some great lines, and I’m really enjoying this series so far.

Andrew: Absolutely. Despite my problems with the conclusion, this episode has had an above average level of laugh out loud moments for me.

Series 7 Episode 1: The Frozen Turkey Man


In which Foggy becomes an object of lust…

Bob: 1983! The first episode of the tenth anniversary series, and you can tell that the show has gained national treasure status by this stage… there’s an extraordinary confidence to the writing, assuming that we already know all about Compo and Nora and their relationship. And, indeed, that we already know all about Dorothy Lamour!

For the benefit of our younger readers…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Lamour

Andrew: There’s also a visual confidence to this episode that I really like. I know we often praise Alan J.W. Bell for injecting a bit of visual panache to the series, but Sydney Lotterby does an equally wonderful job here. The beautiful and long-sustained opening shot, in which our trio are gradually revealed from behind a grass verge, is very playful with the depth of field throughout the scene: Compo dips in and out of frame, popping up in unexpected places in a way that really complements Clarke’s lines. I’d be very interested to know if this physical business was written into the script or invented by the director.

Bob: I like Compo’s line, ‘She washes on Mondays’. When I was a kid, the idea of ‘washday’ was still firmly entrenched… a designated day of the week when the lady of the house did the entire family’s laundry in one fell swoop. And, in terraced streets, the whole street would often agree on the day; so that drying could be done in unison, with lines strung across the back alley from window to window. Can you imagine that, these days? I don’t even know what half the people in my street look like.

Andrew: And they’ve told me that they’d like to keep it that way.

Bob: Their fantasies about Dorothy Lamour living with Compo, and doing his washing, are almost entering Pete and Dud territory! ‘Tap tap tap, on the bloody window…’ But it’s beautifully done.

Andrew: There’s something charmingly sweet about it, though. All Compo would ask for, in return for taking Lamour into his home, is that she do a bit of washing and changes the flower in her teeth every now and again. There’s an innocence to that desire that I think is key to keeping Compo away from Dirty Old Man territory. It’s a little boy’s desire, if anything.

Bob: I like the old battleaxe cycling past too, a timely nod to the gap between their everyday and their fantasy lives, and a little nudge to remind us that – for all the fun – these are three men who are actually bored to tears by the mundanity of their existence.

This is a hoary old one-liner, but it never fails to make me laugh…

Compo: Quadrants, Norm.

Clegg: And the same to you.

Let’s get to the crux (and the same to you). Compo (and his friend ‘Thunder’ – NAMES DATABASE!) buried a tin of ‘Yorkshire remains’ (their equivalent of Roman remains) somewhere on the moors in 1932. And now he wants them back. And there are far too many brackets in this paragraph, but I’m not backing down. I’m with Foggy, and a line that made me absolutely laugh like a drain… ‘Marriage was never an option for me. I knew from an early age I was dedicated to the life of a Samurai’.

Brian Wilde’s delivery is just magnificent. If he’d overplayed by even a fraction, and gone for the laugh, it wouldn’t work. We have to believe that even Foggy believes this stuff. Peter Sellers used to say that Inspector Clouseau, despite the fact that we laugh at him, is actually a sombre and serious man. And so is Foggy, at moments like this. Wilde is so deadpan, and so understated, that lines liked this are both hilarious and poignant. Brilliant.

Andrew: It’s also revealed here that Foggy actually worked for Northern Dairies. It’ll be interesting to see if this is ever mentioned again, as I believe Clarke must like the incongruity of a man who sees himself as an action hero, but actually works with milk. Years later, Russ Abbott’s similarly delusional character, Hobbo, will be introduced in an episode entitled I Was a Hitman For Primrose Dairies.

'Gobble, gobble...'

‘Gobble, gobble…’

Bob: Drew, I know you were fond of a scene back in the early days, when Michael Bates heard church bells ringing, and improvised a little glance at his watch to check the time. There’s an equally nice bit here where Bill Owen, as they leave the café, just swings gleefully on a bollard. There’s no way that was in the script!

Andrew: By this stage, they’re all in tune not only with their parts, but the location of Holmfirth itself. I really do think the series is unique in that respect.

Bob: Fifteen minutes in here, and there’s not a hint of a plot! It’s brave, but lovely, and the dialogue here is as good as anything Clarke has ever written – with Brian Wilde once again benefiting the most. ‘High spirits?’ he snorts at Compo. ‘You were barely tall enough for low spirits’. And ‘that’s how the Black Death got underway’, as Compo plants a kiss on Foggy’s forehead. Wilde has got some great material to work with here.

Andrew: You’re not wrong about the plot, although there are a deceptive number of threads being woven. This episode feels like a welcome throwback to the Blamire years. There’s a listless quality to it. It isn’t that it feels disjointed or that it drags at all, just that it’s simply content to ramble towards its conclusion at its own charming pace.

Bob: Compo has a mark ‘where Eileen Watkins got me’. She was mentioned in Series 5 Episode 6, Here We Go Into the Wild Blue Younger. She was in love with Chunky Rumbelow and looked like King Farouk of Egypt!

Andrew: I know, I know!

Bob: This is a glorious glimpse into the world of the early 1980s boozer. Look how grotty the pub is! The walls are absolutely filthy, and the whole place just reeks of nicotine and stale, split beer. And there’s a bloke at the bar doing a Rubik’s Cube! Good grief. That’s absolutely spot on – the bloody things were everywhere. I love the look of utter disdain that Foggy gives him, that combination of ‘Oh, you facile idiot, giving your time over to such pointless fads’ and ‘actually, I bet I could solve that thing in five minutes flat’. It’s exactly the look that my dad gave me back in 1982 when I first brought my own cube into the house!

Andrew: Ah, but did you ever manage to master it? Mine always ended up being chucked across the room.

Bob: I bought a book in the end. You Can Do The Cube, by Patrick Bossert. And even then my Uncle Trevor had to do it for me.

I was wondering when the title of this episode was going to come into play, and it’s barely a passing reference… our heroes try to set up Foggy with the buxom barmaid, telling her that he’s an eccentric millionaire in the frozen turkey business. Amazingly, she’s interested! ‘Gobble gobble’, indeed. The barmaid, incidentally, is played by Gaye Brown, who has a fine film pedigree – she was in A Clockwork Orange, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd! Does this make her the only actor to have worked with both Brian Wilde and Johnny Depp? (Actually, I’m guessing not… but we’ll come to that in later series)

And, like all great sitcom characters, Foggy is absolutely terrified of sex. Just as Basil Fawlty slept in a separate bed to Sybil, each with their airport paperbacks, and George Roper broke out in a cold sweat whenever Mildred puckered her lips, Foggy reverts to a being a tongue-tied schoolboy at the slightest hint of female attention. And yet… we’ve seen him enjoy an ACTUAL romance before, haven’t we? Maybe it’s just the highly-sexed vamp type that puts him off. He needs to be courted by a demure old maid who likes a bit of crochet on the side.

Maaaarching on together...

Maaaarching on together…

Andrew: Once Foggy has been suitably terrified, it’s back to the hills we go in search of Compo’s ‘Yorkshire Remains’. Keen to apply logical thinking to the search, Foggy comes up with the idea of recreating the scene when the remains were actually buried. Now, this really got my mathematically-challenged brain straining – it is said that Compo was twelve years old when he squirrelled them away in 1932. This means that he was born in 1920 and thus was only fifty-three years old when Last of the Summer Wine started in 1973! Does this sound right to you?

Bob:  It’s curious, as it means Compo is six years YOUNGER than Bill Owen, who was born in 1914! And I always thought that, if anything, the main actors were playing characters slightly older than them. Oh, I don’t know. My brain hurts as well. I suppose it’s possible that Compo was only 53 when the show started.

And hey, right at the end, we get a stunt! On a scooter! Do kiddies’ scooters like that even exist any more? I had one in the late 1970s, but I haven’t seen one for years. They were the natural middle ground between walking in a straight line (which I still haven’t fully mastered) and cycling. But it’s a nice idea to have Compo use them to emulate his 1932 roller skates, and try to find his missing tin from the perspective he’d have had back then. It reminds me of a lovely bit in Oliver Postgate’s autobiography, when – as an old man – he revisits his childhood home and is shocked to discover it holds no sentimental feelings for him whatsoever. But then he realises he’s simply seeing it from the wrong height! When he gets down on all fours, and sees the front door from the perspective of his five-year-old self, he’s overcome with a powerful rush of nostalgia.

Andrew: As far as slapstick finales go, this works very nicely for me. Unlike certain previous episodes, there is a sense of logical progression here. It makes a crazy sort of sense that Compo ends up strapped to two children’s scooters. Basically, I’m just happy he’s not dressed up like a sodding pigeon.

Bob: Is Compo wearing a Leeds Utd scarf? I’ve gone off him.

Andrew: Inevitably, Compo’s trip down the hillside sees him come to crashing halt where he discovers… Yorkshire Remains!

Bob: Compo’s landing in the cowpat reminds me of an odd riddle that swept my school at the time… ‘What would you rather do – run a mile, jump a style, or eat a fresh country pancake?’ With much derision following if you unwittingly plumped for the latter option. Because it’s a cowpat. See? Hur, hur. You said you’d eat a cowpat. Urrrrgh.

Andrew: I think you’re showing your bumpkin roots, there. Now, sniff my cheese…

Bob: By the standards of much that we’ve seen recently, that was an oddly aimless episode… but for that reason, I loved it! A cracking series opener.

Andrew: I couldn’t agree more, but I’m amazed we’ve yet to touch on the fact that this episode features yet another pitch pefect Wally Batty scene! I love the idea that his sole weapon against Nora is to annoy her with a well-timed sulk. How on Earth is one meant to tell when Wally Batty is sulking?