Summer Winos»Archive for May 2015

Archive for May 2015

Series 7 Episode 5: The Three Astaires


In which Compo treads the boards…

Andrew: We open in a churchyard, as Foggy pesters Compo and Clegg into volunteering for the church show. It’s a nice opening that plays up to what we already know about the characters. Compo’s fear of the church raises its head again, and the increasingly insecure Clegg reveals a fear of being observed while attempting to ‘perform’. It’s fun stuff, but is it just me or are the studio audience oddly unresponsive?

Bob: It was 1983. They were probably on strike. Was Clegg’s marriage really ‘a bad dream’? I certainly like the fact that it’s shrouded in mystery… we never really hear much at all about the late Mrs Clegg, other than the fact that she seems to have made poor Norman’s life a misery. But then Clegg likes wallowing in self-pity, doesn’t he? Maybe it wasn’t all bad. She doesn’t seem to have been actively unpleasant to him, I just get the impression that he wasn’t particularly suited to married life. But like many man (and women) of his generation, he put up with it for the sake of a quiet life. Poor sod.

Andrew: I always imagine him as having agreed to a marriage simply because doing so was exactly what was expected of him. His head may always have been in the clouds, but he wouldn’t have wanted to upset anybody by deviating from the norm.

Bob: Normal Clegg. I’m also intrigued by Foggy’s Christian leanings. This is probably the last gasp of an era of British life when you could have a religious sitcom character without it being a defining part of their personality. In 2014, it’s likely that anyone you meet who claims to be a Christian REALLY means it, and modern sitcoms reflect that. In 1983, it could just be a part of your everyday make-up without being worthy of much comment. Even my family – who stepped into church for weddings, funerals, christenings and not much else – would still have claimed to be ‘Church of England’ on the census forms. It was a default setting.

‘Are you feeling chesty, Joan?’

Andrew: Absolutely. My mother, when asked, would always reply that we were ‘Church of England’ despite the fact we went to church maybe once a year at most. Interestingly, that pretence seems to have slipped away as she, or maybe her children, have gotten older. I don’t think he beliefs have particularly changed – it’s just that there’s not really an obligation to maintain any more.

Bob: The late, great John Horsley! He got a tiny cameo as the vicar in Series 4 Episode 3, Jubilee… and amazingly, six years on, Roy Clarke brings him back to flesh the part out further. He’s fondly remembered, of course, as Doc Morrissey from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, but he was a prolific film and TV actor from the late 1940s onwards. He’s in The Runaway Bus with Frankie Howerd and Margaret Rutherford; and the 1950s Father Brown adaptation with Alec Guinness. Amongst dozens and dozens of other great things. He only died last year, at the grand old age of 93. One of that great breed of character actors who popped up doing loveable turns in everything; constantly in demand throughout several different eons of British culture.

Andrew: He’s absolutely fantastic almost anywhere he turns up, but… I don’t like him here. It’s not that he turns in a duff performance – I think he does exactly what the script asks him to – but from the moment he, his wife, and his assistant show up, they feel totally out of place. There’s nothing particularly Summer-Winey about them at all.

Bob: Compo says ‘mouse crap’! That’s quite rare for this era of the show, isn’t it? Won’t somebody think of the children, etc…

Andrew: That initially struck me as a hangover from the series’ earlier days, but moving forward I suspect that it’s actually a hint as to how broad this episode is to become.

Bob: And so to the crux… Horsley’s vicar is keenly seeking new blood for his local amateur dramatics production. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for us to hit an AmDram plotline, actually! It was – and still is – a big part of rural life. I spend half of my days walking the dog around quiet stretches of North Yorkshire, and a remarkable number of the villages seem to have a local society, putting on Private Lives and Run For Your Wife at the local church hall. I’ve dallied with it, it’s a good laugh. They’re ALWAYS sold out as well, packed full of friends and relatives and general nosey parkers. Like me.

Andrew: I’ve seen you in Pinter, no less! Here’s a bit of trivia, dear reader – Bob was directly responsible for me learning what gefilte fish is. The first commenter to guess the play wins nothing of consequence.

Bob: Oooh, hasn’t Brian Wilde got a lovely singing voice? He sings a couple of lilting lines from On the Road to Mandalay… and again, it’s a measure of the thought that Roy Clarke puts into his characters, because this is a perfect song for Foggy. It was popularly covered in the 1950s by Frankie Laine and Frank Sinatra, at a time when Foggy was – I think – serving in the Far East himself? And that’s exactly what it’s about… a soldier returning home from Burma and missing the Burmese sweetheart that he’s had to leave behind. That, and all its implied romanticising of a time when the sun never set upon the British Empire, is pure Foggy Dewhurst.

I’m really missing the regulars here. No Sid or Ivy; or Nora and Wally. And you’re right…  John Horsley – although I love him – seems a bit at odds. He’s playing this in a very traditional sitcom style; it’s a ‘big’ performance.

Andrew: He sort of comes and goes with little bearing on the plot, as well.

'Ground Floor: Perfumery, stationary and leather goods...'

‘Ground Floor: Perfumery, stationary and leather goods…’

Bob: Foggy’s enthusiasm for all things song and dance is a nice touch, though, and very reminiscent of my dad, who seems to pop up with alarming regularity in this blog! My dad is a bluff, no-nonsense kind of chap, who grew up in a rough part of Teesside and spent most of his early adult life serving with the RAF in Singapore and the Middle East before coming home and breaking his back on rainswept building sites for years on end. And yet, curiously, he has an abiding passion for the golden age of the Hollywood musical! And it seems quite common for men of his generation… I’m not sure if the easygoing glamour and Technicolor vibrancy of those films were just the perfect antidote to what must have been a pretty grey and austere life in the North-East in the 1940s and 50s.

Andrew: I think that’s definitely part of it, and it’s something I’ve seen Victoria Wood tap into on a number of occasions. I’d heartily recommend seeking out The Giddy Kipper and That Day We Sang, both of which contrast the dreary, quintessentially ‘Northern’ lives of their protagonists with song and dance numbers straight out of Tinsel Town. There’s something very poignant about that kind of longing for greener pastures, whilst simultaneously accepting one’s lot in life. You can tell your dad that next time you see him – ‘My mate Drew reckons you’re dead poignant, you are’.

Bob: He’ll give me a clout. You’re right, this doesn’t feel like Summer Wine as we know it, does it? There’s a hell of a lot of dressing up and dancing around… we see Compo in no less than five different silly costumes, from knight’s armour to feather boa to all-over bandages! It reminds me of those episodes of Are You Being Served, when the finale would consist of the entire cast dressing up and taking part in a Gang Show-style singalong. Except we don’t actually get the show itself here! I wasn’t sure if this was building up to be a two-parter, with the live performance still to come, but apparently not. Shame.

Andrew: Are You Being Served is exactly what sprang to mind for me as well. Not just the costumes, but also the way in which both Foggy and Clegg get entangled with collapsing scenery. You can tell that the BBC effects department were put to work here.

Bob: And at last, at the very last moment, we get a bit of Nora and Wally! It’s worth it for Wally’s hangdog grumbling alone. ‘Marriage is so unequal. You’re only married to me, but look how much I’m married to…’

Perfect. Not one of my favourite episodes, but it’s all worthwhile for a line like that.

Andrew: Indeed, a fantastic Wally and Nora appearance, but it isn’t enough to redeem the episode. After a strong run this series, it’s odd to see such a misfire. The studio audience seem to agree as well. Listen up after Clegg’s final line of the episode, and you’ll notice that they aren’t entirely sure when to begin applauding for the credits. There’s a faint whiff of, ‘Is that it?’ about their response!