Summer Winos»Archive for August 2016

Archive for August 2016

Uncle of the Bride

In which Seymour gets all inventive…

Andrew: So it’s an unceremonious goodbye to Foggy…

Bob: …and it’s a warm welcome to Seymour! Another feature-length special introduces the show’s third ‘Third Man’, and I remember this getting an awful lot of press coverage over Christmas 1985. It must have been a strange experience for Michael Aldridge, who’d spent his entire career as a very respected character actor, but wasn’t a huge household name… but suddenly, at the age of 65, he was all over the tabloids.

Andrew: Getting Sam Home was only ever called ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ during the onscreen titles, but here we are rather grandly welcomed to ‘Last of the Summer Wine: Uncle of the Bride’. It’s a tiny little touch to have a title and subtitle appear at the same time like this, but it really does mark out from the beginning that this is different to your average half-hour episode. There’s something grand about it – like seeing Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Nice location work aside, I think that’s where my comparison stops.

Bob: I don’t know, there’s a whiff of Gandalf about Seymour Utterthwaite! You’re right, though… this feels like a sumptuous feature film from the start. And those epic sweeps of Holmfirth, on gorgeous 16mm film, and the smoking chimneys – and the choral arrangement of the theme – transport me to more innocent times. I remember one Boxing Day, as a fresh-faced teenager, cycling down to the bridge over the railway at Aislaby, and looking out over the frost-coated vista of Yarm, the town where I grew up, with the North Yorkshire Moors in the distance. There was an old coal merchant’s yard behind me, a town full of smoking chimneys ahead of me, and barely any traffic on the roads. And I genuinely remember thinking… life won’t be like this for much longer. Everything is changing. But at that moment, it looked exactly like this episode: grey, misty, and with a stark but beautiful bleakness. And, in an odd piece of synchronicity, I’m pretty sure that was Boxing Day 1985. Six days before this episode was broadcast. Thirteen years old, and I was already taking stock of my life.

Andrew: Talking of stock, you’re right; 16mm really is the right film stock for Yorkshire. There’s an honesty to 16mm, which doesn’t wrap up the images it captures in the same false glamour that 35mm can. Technically, 35mm captures a spectrum of visual information that is more akin to what the human eye sees, but I’m convinced that my eyes process in 16mm.

The choral arrangement of the theme is indeed lovely, and I’ll put my cards on the table right now and say that I think the unsung hero of this film is Ronnie Hazlehurst. Let loose with a slightly bigger orchestra and obviously inspired by what he sees on screen, the maestro clearly had a whale of a time working on this. He’s rightfully acknowledged as one of the masters of television theme tunes, but listening to this film really makes me wish he had done more scoring for feature films. Saying that, he still can’t resist the comedy trope of a horn section as we cut to the fulsome posterior of the local post lady.

Bob: These opening scenes are a great statement of ‘Business As Usual’ intent, aren’t they? Soldering on regardless, in the absence of Brian Wilde. Howard is enslaved into domestic duty, Clegg is sarcastic to the post lady, and Nora is cleaning her steps. ‘I’ll show her clean steps,’ she mutters. ‘And not just when company’s coming…’ I wonder who’s upset her? Maybe it’s the same neighbour that was complaining about her having Jimmy Young on too loud a couple of episodes back. By the way, I still share this resolutely Northern attitude to domestic hygiene. I only clean up when I’ve got company coming. Which, luckily, is virtually never.

Andrew: Are you trying to tell me your house had actually been cleaned up the last time I was round? Blimey.

Bob: Everything just gets swept under the rug. Aw, I like Nora’s comment to Rosemary, the fearsome post lady, as they attempt to wake up the hungover Compo to deliver a parcel. ‘You can call all day when they’re in drink’, she complains. ‘In drink’! Roy Clarke’s ear for Northern dialogue – especially amongst ladies of a certain age – remains as sharp as ever.

Andrew: There’s a glimpse of Nora’s softer side coming out here, as well. If there’s one thing Nora would welcome, it would be for Compo to be tucked up in bed rather than outside pestering her, but she’ll put that to one side in order to wake him up because his post has arrived. He may be a scruffy beggar, but he’s her scruffy beggar and she can’t help herself from looking after him.

Bob: The mysterious parcels are finally explained… Compo and Clegg have received decorated eggs from Foggy, who has inherited a decorated egg business in Bridlington. Is the suggestion that they didn’t previously know this? I wonder where they thought he’d gone? Whatever, it’s a nice touch to see Foggy’s artistic bent being put to good use. He was a Corporal Signwriter, after all! And the eggs look genuinely lovely. I like this exchange as well…

Howard: What do you do with them?
Pearl: You don’t do anything with them. They’re for display.
Howard: Oh. Display.

I don’t know if it really exists any more, but – for my parents generation – that gap between the practical and the aesthetic was definitely a sharp cross-gender contrast! I can’t think of many of my dad’s household possessions that don’t have some practical application – tools, or books, or gardening gear. Whereas my mum is always one for a nice ‘ornament’. Do people still have ‘ornaments’ in their houses? Most of my friends have houses filled with action figures. Even the girls. In fact, especially the girls.

Andrew: Compo and Clegg don’t seem quite as lost as they were after Blamire left the scene, but it’s still very odd to see them pottering around as a duo. It left me rather sad, and pining for Foggy, when I saw them walking up to Wesley’s shed without having to be drafted into it!

Bob: Let’s get to the crux of the film… Wesley’s daughter Glenda is getting married to the as-yet unseen Barry, and his wife Edie is fussing over everything – including the means of transport. How has it taken this long to get Thora Hird into Last of the Summer Wine? She’s absolutely made for it, and gives a pitch-perfect performance as Edie. I love that contrast that between her ‘posh voice’ for ‘company’, and the common-as-muck Yorkshire brashness that she reserves for Wesley. Mollie Sugden was a past master at it, too!

Andrew: That’s definitely something that runs in my family. All of the women certainly have ‘telephone voices’ and I’ve seen my Uncle Graham adopt RP for the most lowly of McDonald’s Drive-Thru intercoms. I do it as well, apparently – though Emma tells me I’ve bypassed posh and headed straight into camp.

UOTBfBob: It comes to us all. And so a grumbling Wesley is pressed into service delivering freshly-ironed shirts to Edie’s feckless brother Seymour, with Compo and Clegg coming along for the ride. Wesley is really bitter, isn’t he? Seymour, as we discover, is a fellow tinkerer with engines and motors, so you think they’d have a lot in common… but their differences are clearly drawn along lines of class distinction. Wesley is the down-to-earth working class enthusiast, who clearly thinks his hobby has a practical application. He’s restoring the perfect car to transport his family around, something that will clearly be far better than any of your fancy-dan modern motors, and at half the price. Whereas Seymour is an idle dreamer with a garden full of Heath Robinson inventions, frittering away – we assume – some kind of independent wealth with gay abandon. It’s Roundheads versus Cavaliers all over again.

Andrew: Given how much we’ve already learned about Edie doting on her brother, I think we can read a lot into her relationship with Wesley here. She picked out a man who in some ways reminded her of him, but of course Wesley could never live up to her expectations. That’s bound to breed resentment.

I really like the way in which Seymour is introduced to us as part of the wider ensemble cast. His being the brother-in-law of the pre-established Wesley makes the character instantly feel like part of the landscape. He hasn’t just dropped in from nowhere. It also marks him out as different from both Foggy and Blamire in that he is resolutely not a loner. Even before the characters cross paths, however, Compo hones in on the one character trait that unites all of our ‘third men’ – Seymour is pompous.

Bob: These first scenes with Michael Aldridge just make me dream of an alternate universe early 1970s, where he would have made a great old-school Doctor Who. Tall, wild-haired, and full of plummy-voiced eccentricity and condescention. ‘Who are these… people?’ he splutters, on first sight of Compo and Clegg, and it’s pure Jon Pertwee, battling it out with some faceless Man from the Ministry over a bubbling test tube in UNIT HQ.

I like Clegg’s retort, too. ‘They talk like that in Harrogate,’ he mutters, cementing the resort’s reputation as a Yorkshire town with ideas above its station. Compo, hilariously, has never been there. How far is Holmfirth from Harrogate? 52 miles, according to AA Route Planner. And he’s never been. It’s a lovely evocation of a) Compo’s smalltown attitude, and b) his nose-thumbing attitude to middle-class pretensions. Why would he want to go to Harrogate, and spend time amongst those toffee-nosed twerps?

(NB Disclaimer: Harrogate is actually lovely)

There’s a lovely romantic quality to Seymour; he gets misty-eyed about the school he once commanded, and his army of ‘little men’. How long ago do you think this was? Thirty years? Forty? Like Foggy, he’s stuck in an idealised version of his own past, but – unlike Foggy – he seems to have all but retreated from the modern world. Foggy wanted to impose his archaic values on 1980s Britain, and build it in his own image, but Seymour has just vanished into his own misty-eyed nostalgia. You suspect he doesn’t leave that cottage very often.

Andrew: Ah, but unlike Foggy one gets the impression that Seymour has actually done the things he claims to have done. The character actually has a non-fantasised history, even if he does apply rose-tinted spectacles and overestimates his achievements.

Bob: Great line from Clegg here, too – ‘The trouble with human nature is, it’s in the hands of so many people’. That’s existential philosophy, that is. Jean-Paul Sartre in a flat cap and tweeds.

Andrew: It’s rather odd to see Barry and Glenda introduced here as the young couple about to embark on matrimony. They’ll stick with the show (with one blip) for over thirty years and by the end of it they still feel like the young couple!

Bob: Barry is played with great ponderous drippiness by Mike Grady… who, back in 1985, the whole country knew as Ken from Citizen Smith. He puts in a cracking performance here, lost in a world of his own, where – on the EVE OF HIS WEDDING – his primary concern is: ‘I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve a wheel bearing gone…’ You suspect he’ll get on better with his bride’s father than her mother.

Anyway, this is a lovely ensemble scene between Hird, Grady and Sarah Thomas as Glenda, all bouncing lines off each other with impeccable comic timing.

Andrew: Is there a finer visual than Wally and Nora travelling along through the countryside in a motorbike and sidecar? Oh, yes there is – add a stray whippet into the mix and you have perfection!

Bob: Yes, amidst all the wedding business, there’s a nice sub-plot evolving, with Wally and Nora being followed home by a beautiful black whippet, and Wally – not surprisingly – wanting to keep it! ‘Maybe it’s a wild whippet’, barks Nora. ‘It’s friendlier than you are,’ comes the retort. This has been an episode for warm smiles rather than laugh-out-loud one-liners so far, but that one had me chuckling. As did the resulting clout. I keep saying it, but even just a single two-hander episode, with Staff and Gladwin going hammer and tongs, would have been worth the entrance money alone.

Andrew: Seymour muses about his intellectual heroes James Watt, George Stephenson and… Porky Earnshaw? Is that one for the Names Database? All that we learn about him is that Seymour admires him for some reason. Another local oddball? I love Wesley’s morose and lon- suffering reply to Compo’s assumption that these are the names of Seymour’s mates; ‘They’re not his mates. They’re dead.’

Bob: We’ve talked before about how a running Summer Wine theme is the passage of the years, and the frittering away of our salad days, and yegods – even the ‘young blood’ of Barry has this melancholy attitude in spades! ‘I haven’t got any mates,’ he grumbles, reluctantly contemplating his stag night. ‘We’ve been courting so long, I’ve lost touch with them all’. How old do you think they’re meant to be, Drew? Mike Grady was 39 and Sarah Thomas was 33 when this was filmed, so should we treat ourselves to an extra dose of misery, and assume that Barry and Glenda have been aimlessly courting for a decade or more? The poor sods.

Andrew: I would never have guessed that Mike Grady was pushing 40! I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest they’re both supposed to be around thirty. And what’s wrong with an aimless, decade-long courtship? Actually, it might be worth my asking Emma that…

Bob: It was interesting to read in Alan Bell’s book that Gordon Wharmby was so intimidated by the prospect of acting opposite Thora Hird that he actually made himself ill with nerves. Because they’re fabulous together! ‘You tell me what you think the trouble is with Barry,’ she sneers, seating him gingerly on newspaper at the kitchen table. ‘The lad’s right,’ he sniffs, with perfect timing. ‘It probably is a wheel bearing’. They’re a great double act.

Andrew: And so, with Compo and Clegg commandeered into carrying Wesley’s greasy socket set back to Seymour’s house (Seymour himself, we learn, won’t even drink from a china cup without closely inspecting it for blemishes), we finally to get to see the new trio in full action together.

Something that I like about Seymour’s introduction is that it feels incredibly organic, and I think that’s partly the luxury of having an entire feature film in which to tell the story. Compo and Clegg are subtly drawn into his orbit rather than simply jumping into a guest-character’s scheme, in search of a hurried, slapstick finale. There’s also the fact that this has very clearly been written as a vehicle for Aldridge. Unlike some of Foggy’s early episodes, where one could quite easily have dropped Blamire into his place without issue, the plot of this instalment simply couldn’t exist with Seymour.

Bob: It’s a curious dynamic at first, and I’m not sure that Michael Aldridge quite hits the ground running in the same way that Brian Wilde did. Foggy was a fully-formed and believable character from the very first second we saw him onscreen. But then again, Compo and Clegg were much more established characters in 1985 than they were in 1976, and it would be hard for any actor/character to come into the show and dominate them in the way that the script demands. As such, it’s Compo and Clegg that steal the limelight here. Compo, in particular, treats us to a song that is clearly about to descend into filth…

‘My Auntie Nellie’s got a wooden leg, she caught it in the mangle…’

Andrew: Bill Owen has lots of lovely little bits of comedy business throughout the film. There’s his preparation for a boxing match, his mock swordsman routine, and his pratfall at Seymour’s front door. I wonder how much of this was in the script and how much of it was ‘expanded’ on set by Owen and Alan Bell? It’s all very effortless.

Bob: And Clegg gets a lovely monologue about his own brother-in-law, who ‘smelled of musty hymn books. He was superbly adapted to that decaying chapel. He had the kind of face that really summed up the decline of Christianity’. While Ronnie Hazelhurst’s rendition of Abide With Me swells up behind him. It’s a beautiful, bitter-sweet moment, and it’s interesting to note that a substantial portion of ‘the decline of Christianity’ has happened during the lifetime of this series! Blamire was staunchly Christian, wasn’t he? And even Foggy, in the early years, was seen to have leanings towards church-going. It’s hard to imagine such a character would be introduced in 1985, though.

Andrew: Is this the first mention we’ve had of Clegg’s sister? My memory isn’t what it never was. And, more importantly, look at that bus stop! Set into the ruins of a decrepit stone building – that’s a proper bus stop! Anybody fancy tracking down that location for us? Come on Bob, I know how to show you a good time.

Bob: Am I sensing another Summer Winos locations film in the offing here? Thora Hird’s ‘posh voice’ continues to make me laugh. ‘The raight payple’ indeed. And hey, DEREK WARE KLAXON! Another appearance for the former Doctor Who stuntman, this time as a hapless painter and decorator whose scaffolding tower trundles down the hill at the hands of Seymour. We need to start keeping our eyes open for our mate Stuart Fell here!

Compo, Clegg and Seymour hop on the 325 ‘Metrobus’ to Huddersfield, and – after 45 minutes of being treated like children by Seymour, Clegg pointedly requests ‘One and two halves please’ from the driver. He already knows full well how their relationship is shaping up.

Andrew: And, of course, it’s at this moment that the reason for Derek Ware’s casting is revealed. Having had his scaffolding fiddled with by Seymour, he now comes hurtling past the top deck of the bus before being flung into a river. The advantage of a casting a stuntman in this part, of course, is that you can clearly show his face throughout and Ware does an excellent line in comedy facial expressions. Actually, comedy facial expressions are a running theme with this film; see also Wally’s rare and toothy smile at Nora as he tries to hide the whippet in his jacket, and also be on the lookout for a real humdinger of an expression when Edie finds out that Barry has gone missing.

Bob: Wesley in a suit! Looking awkward! This scene rings incredibly true to me… I am 43 years old, and I have never seen my Dad in a suit. He definitely doesn’t own one. In the incredibly unlikely event of me ever getting married, I’ll frogmarch him off to get fitted up. Bloody hell, though… I really like Compo’s jacket! The green chequered affair that he puts on for the stag night! Drew, you will let me know if I start dressing like Compo, won’t you…?

Andrew: This is one of those moments where you can tell that Ronnie Hazlehurst is enjoying himself. There’s a lovely 1920s ballroom-inspired track that he uses for Seymour getting dressed for the stag do, and it transforms into an equally lovely tramps’ ball-inspired track, for Compo getting ready.

Bob: Don’t tell me you’ve been hanging around tramps’ balls again. Hey, have we been in the White Horse pub, Drew? And did it look like it does in this?

It’s still there…

The White Horse, Holmfirth

Andrew: Alan Bell’s book suggests that the sequence was filmed in the studio rather than on location. If this is the case then they’ve done an excellent job of capturing the layout and spirit of the place. We visited The White Horse on our very first trip to Holmfirth together, when this project was but a glint in our eyes. It was the pub where the only other occupant was a dog. From memory, the layout was pretty much the same, but looking at the website it would appear that they’ve since had a quite radical overhaul…

White Horse 2016I wonder if the owners of the establishment took offence after seeing the final episode? The script isn’t exactly complementary about the place!

Bob: This still has funny lines, but it actually feels more like a proper drama than the show has ever managed before. We see Nora adjusting Glenda’s wedding dress, and reminiscing about her own wartime ceremony, and then Compo and Seymour in the pub, commiserating each other over their absent wives. And suddenly Seymour sparks into life as a believable and sympathetic character! There’s a real sadness to him, much moreso than we got with Blamire or Foggy. He misses his wife and his job so much.

Andrew: Actually, this scene doesn’t work for me at all. Seymour’s story about his ex-wife and the electric oven highlights one of the problems I’ve had with the character on previous viewings. The events he describes have clearly happened to him, but they are very… cartoonish when compared to the existential failings of Blamire and Foggy’s pasts. That is to say, I don’t observe any of the finely-observed human tragedy that I so love from Clarke’s best work. There’s little grounding in reality with his backstory.

Bob: Oh, I think he’s just a florid – and rather drunk – storyteller. I’m warming to Seymour hugely, now. And these later sections in particular really drive home how much the format of the show has now changed… throughout the Blamire and Foggy years, the show was absolutely about the adventures of the main trio, and any supporting characters were met by them in the course of their wanderings. There were rarely any cutaways to scenes that didn’t feature the central threesome. But now… well, they’re everywhere! I’d dare to say that Compo and Clegg aren’t even the main characters in this – we’re cutting frantically between the pub scenes, Edie and Glenda, Wally and his dog, Howard and Marina… it’s all a bit dizzying.

A couple of cracking lines in the midst of all this…

Marina: There’s no substitute for marriage.
Ivy: And believe me, she’s tried…

…made me laugh, as did….

Pearl (to Howard): You should have no problem remembering the name Marina. Just think of it as a place frequented by sailors.

You don’t get sailors used as a signifier for all manner of naughtiness these days, do you? Oh, for the days when you average Jolly Jack Tar had one in every port.

Andrew: I really like the odd way that Ivy treats Crusher during the scene at Edie’s house. She treats him as both a child and as a substitute Sid!

Bob: This is a proper old-school stag night, isn’t it? Half-a-dozen maudlin blokes, sitting in their usual pub, getting increasingly melancholy as the night progresses. On – and this is crucial – THE NIGHT BEFORE THE ACTUAL WEDDING! This doesn’t happen any more, does it? Your modern ‘stag night’ is essentially a foreign holiday that takes place weeks before the ceremony. With no chance whatsoever of the groom regaining consciousness tied, half naked, to a lamppost and screaming ‘But I’m getting married in four hours!’ to bemused passers-by. Did that sort of thing EVER actually happen, outside of British sitcoms? Readers, over to you.

Andrew: Mike Grady as a drunken Barry, with his gormless smile, tucked in chin and blank blinking eyes, really reminds me of Stan Laurel. So much so, that I wonder if he had specifically recently been watching the 1930 short, Blotto. He’s great.

Bob: Michael Aldridge plays a brilliant drunk, too. At first maudlin, and now fired with enthusiasm. ‘I’ve always wanted to run barefoot across the moors by moonlight,’ mumbles the drunken Barry. ‘You shall, you shall!’ proclaims Seymour, with a flourish. He’s like a benevolent Uncle Monty.

Andrew: And, outside the pub, we are treated to a momentous moment; Howard and Marina decide that the best way to hide the true intentions of their meetings is to purchase a pair of bicycles. For better and worse, their cycling is going to become perhaps the longest-running gag in the series.

Bob: Another big laugh from me at Howard’s excuse for skulking in the car park with Marina… ‘I was just showing this lady the difference between Crossply and Radial tyres’. A line clearly inspired by this vintage Public Information Film, ubiquitous on TV in the 1970s and 80s…

And Barry’s gone missing! He’s stuck down a hole in the hills. But I’m more thrilled by the prospect of a lovely Joe Gladwin monologue as Wally walks his new-found dog along a deserted moorland road. And we get a fascinating insight into how he views his life with Nora, which I don’t think we’ve really had before. It’s a life of security for him really, isn’t it? ‘I’ve always felt safe at nights,’ he tells the happy-go-lucky whippet. ‘If we can get you in, she’ll look after you. Once you’re on the staff…’

It’s a lovely scene, and a charming little window into Wally’s soul. Wally’s not just there for downbeat comic relief, he’s a fully-rounded character, and – I think – one of the most underrated British TV characters of all time. Joe Gladwin deserved a leading role in his own sitcom. He’s SO good.

Andrew: Absolutely. This scene is one of a couple coming up that really pulls at my heartstrings. They’re so gentle, and melancholic, and just plain lovely. We’ve mentioned before that Christmas might bring out Clarke’s crankier side, so I wonder if weddings encourage his softer side to emerge. On the way to the wedding, Nora realises that she quite misses Wally now that she has bullied him out of sight, and in turn, this prompts an unexpected aside from Ivy that reduces me to jelly.

Bob: Blimey, yes… Ivy’s talking to Nora about how much she misses Sid. It’s the first time that Sid’s death has been acknowledged in the show, and it’s a lovely piece of writing and performance. ‘It’s the things that irritate that you miss the most,’ she ponders. ‘I miss mine every day. I go to that cemetery twice a week. You daren’t talk above a whisper. He never will feel at home if I’m not there raising my voice’.

It’s totally unexpected, but you’re right, Drew… I tend to find that big family occasions like that really do bring out the wistfulness in people. At every wedding I’ve ever been to, there’s a trace of sadness because ‘Your grandma would have loved this…’, or something similar. Glasses are raised, and lumps are in throats. And this is no different.

Andrew: I’ll confess now that I didn’t pick up on any of this upon first viewing, and I think that’s largely down to my dipping in and out of the series at random. Watching the series in order has really connected me to the characters in a way that I never expected, and I can only assume this was also the case for a proportion of the audience viewing at home, at the time. I feel like I know these people, and I miss them when they leave.

Bob: Everyone is going to the wedding, aren’t they? It’s a real gathering of the Summer Wine clans. This has been a very clean, and family-friendly episode, but this exchange made me laugh out loud…

Howard: You’ve just crushed a whole packet of cigarettes!
Pearl: I know what I will crush, one of these days.
Howard: My favourite filter tip.
Pearl: That’s the one…

Andrew: Having been told by Ivy to look for a girl who has had a hard time in life, Crusher comes to the rescue when Marina snaps a heel. They make a great visual double act, and I hope this little frisson of attraction is investigated further, but my continuity alarm is now sounding. Previously we had assumed that Marina and Clegg’s hinted-at back story was a reference to the popular Last of the Summer Wine stage play, but in said play wasn’t Marina introduced as Crusher’s girlfriend? As they appear to be locking lustful eyes for the first time here, that’s that theory out of the window!

Bob: Is this the church where Sam – of Getting Sam Home fame – was buried too? Yes, it clearly is. The Holy Trinity Church, in Hepworth. That’s a nice touch.

Hepworth Church

With Clegg having reversed Seymour’s car into the pond, and Barry brought to the church in a motorised wheelbarrow, Compo and Clegg are officially recruited to ‘The Utterthwaite Team’. They’re clearly thrilled to be part of a trio again, and there’s a lovely little cheesy grin from Clegg. I remember, back in Foggy’s first episode, us speculating that a little of their delight at Foggy’s appearance had seeped in from real life too, from genuine relief that Blamire’s disappearance didn’t mark the end of the show, and that Brian Wilde was clearly going to be a hugely successful new recruit. I get the same impression here… the feeling probably helped enormously by the fact that Michael Aldridge was, so everyone seems to say, one of the nicest men you’d ever hope to meet.

Andrew: In another moment of unexpected heart, Nora agrees to let Wally keep his whippet. And when Seymour offers to escort her into into the church, there’s also a lovely line in which she asserts her ownership of Wally…

Nora: Take your unwanted arm away before me husband sees you. He may be covered in whippet hairs, but he is mine, and it is his arm I shall be entering on.

Wally, of course, has obliviously wandered off, leaving Compo with the opportunity to cop a feel.

Bob: Oh, we should have had a cheeky ‘You Have Been Watching’ over these end credits! Every character gets a little chance to shine once again as the theme tune swells – it’s almost like a curtain call, reinforcing the fact that this is a reinvented show, and the new ensemble cast are all now firmly in place, and they mean business. Previous changes in the show have felt gradual, and part of a natural evolution, but this really does now feel like a clean sweep, and a fresh start.

Andrew: Upon first viewing, I didn’t particularly care for this film, but I think that was because I’d watched it back-to-back with Getting Sam Home and expected it to be more of the same. Instead, what we have is a beautiful piece of ensemble writing in which absolutely every character has a chance to shine, and one in which there is an unexpected amount of sheer warmth.

Bob: Yes, it’s a lovely, warm-hearted film. It doesn’t have the gritty, black humour of Getting Sam Home, but I enjoyed the gentle eccentricity of it. And Michael Aldridge did very well, easing himself unobtrusively into the role rather than storming in and stealing scenes. Such a generous and likeable actor. It’s like a Yorkshire Ealing Comedy.

EXCLUSIVE: An Interview with Bobby Ball

Bobby Ball
When the Summer Winos got wind of the fact that legendary British comedy duo Cannon and Ball were touring in a fascinating-looking new stage production called The Dressing Room, we couldn’t resist going along… and cheekily asking for an interview for the website! The duo appeared in three episodes of Last of the Summer Wine; The Swan Man of Ilkley (2005), Who’s That Talking to Lenny? (2006) and Get Out of That, Then (2008).

On Wednesday 27th July 2016, The Dressing Room came to Middlesbrough Theatre, and Bobby Ball very kindly agreed to meet us for a chat a few hours before the curtains went up; so we found a quite corner of the foyer, and settled down for a chinwag. Tommy was still stuck in transit on his way to the theatre at this stage, but Bobby was more than happy to natter away!

Here’s how the conversation went…

So how did you end up in Last of the Summer Wine? Can you remember the approach?

Last of the Summer Wine came to me for a small part – Lenny, he was called – and it’s such an iconic programme that I got a bit nervous about it. But I said yeah, I’ll do it… and I loved every minute of it. They really made me welcome. And then they asked me back a few times!  It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say ‘I’ve done Last of the Summer Wine.

There’s a bit in Alan Bell’s book, where he says that – before casting you – he came to see you and Tommy playing live in concert, to check you out…

It’s a funny thing… we went to sign merchandise at the end of the night, and there was this feller just stood there looking at me. I thought ‘He’s a bit weird, him!’ He never bought a book or anything, he was just looking at me. So me and Tommy went over afterwards and Tommy said ‘Are you alright, pal?’ And the feller said; ‘I don’t want to talk to you, it’s him I want to talk to. I’m Alan Bell, the director and producer of Last of the Summer Wine, and we’d like you to be in it!’

I thought, ‘Oh wow, he’s come all this way to tell me that, in front of a theatre’…  but it was great. It was smashing.

Was Tommy always going to be in it as well? He has a cameo right at the end of The Swan Man of Ilkley (Bobby’s giant, inflatable water-bound swan gets caught on the back of a barge, the driver of which is revealed to be Tommy…) 

They wanted him in it, so yes… and I said ‘They’ve got you in it, Tommy’. He said ‘Have you seen my part? I’m just sat in a boat, and I look at you!’ I said ‘Well, we’re together, aren’t we?’ and he said ‘Yeah… you’re right!’

You spend a lot of time in the water in that episode… did you do all your own stunts?

I did really… there was nowt to do, just walk in the water! ‘Lenny, the Swan Man of Ilkley’… I loved it. With that big swan! I’m a bit sick me, really, because when it comes on TV, I look to see how I am in it…

You can watch yourself on TV, then? Lots of actors can’t!

Oh, aye! Ego like you can’t believe!

Last of the Summer Wine always had a superb main cast, and we wondered about your memories of working with them. Peter Sallis, of course, was in every single episode of the show… how was he to work with?

Absolute legend. I know people say this, but it’s true…  there wasn’t one person on that programme that had an ego. They were just nice people, they helped you along and they made you feel right. Wonderful people, every one of them.

There’s a really nice bit in Alan Bell’s book where he says that – in the middle of filming your first episode – Peter Sallis took him aside, slapped him on the back and said ‘Good casting, Alan…’. Talking about you!

Did he really? Oh, that’s nice! I didn’t know that. That’s lovely. I’m a bit big-headed now, that’s fantastic!

How was Frank Thornton to work with, too?

I loved him. Off camera we’d have these little sneaky laughs… I can’t explain it, but he’d say ‘How are you, Bobby?’ and his little eyes used to glint! He was fantastic, I loved him.

And Brian Murphy as well?

Oh, aye! What did he used to call me? ‘The turn!’ ‘Here he is, the turn!’. I’d say ‘I’m an actor now’, and he’d say ‘No you’re not, Bobby… you’re a turn!’ (laughs)

When you did that first episode, did you expect to be asked back for further episodes?

No… that was one of the earliest acting jobs I ever did. So no, I thought it was a one-off, but then they asked me back a couple of times, which was fantastic. And then I would have gone into it regularly, but I had another job come up, and someone else had to take my place. So that was it.

So there was the offer for you to be a regular?

There was the offer, but I couldn’t do it… I was doing Mount Pleasant (for Sky 1), something like that.

Is acting onscreen a very different discipline to performing onstage, then?

Yeah, it’s a lot different. Onstage, you can do what you want. But with acting, you’ve got to stick to the words, and give your feed line to the next person… it’s a different kettle of fish. I like them both, but I prefer live.

BobbyBallGrab3We watched your second episode today, Who’s That Talking To Lenny?… in which you hear the voice of God, with a Barnsley accent!

I do! Looking up into the sky! Why do we always think God is in the sky? I don’t get that! We do that, don’t we?

Yes, ‘Him up There!’ We were fascinated by that, with you being a Christian yourself… do you know if that was written especially for you, and whether Roy Clarke knew about your experiences with your faith?

I really don’t know… but I am a Christian, and I enjoy it. And the thing with ‘that’ (looking up)… there would have been some religious people saying ‘Oh, he’s taking the mickey’, but I would never do that.

It’s very respectfully done.

Course it is… and if it hadn’t have been, I wouldn’t have done it. I enjoyed that one… well, I enjoyed them all.

You worked with Stephen Lewis in that one, who we’re kind of fascinated by…

Gggggghhhhhghghghhghghghg! (At this point all three of us descend into Stephen Lewis impressions, with a few inevitable ‘I ‘ate you Butler’s thrown in! It takes a while to compose ourselves)

What was he like in real life?

He was that! That’s him! I’m serious! ‘Ghghghgngngngngn, Bobby…’ (laughs)

Your third episode, Get Out Of That, Then has you spending quite a lot of time in a strait jacket.

Oh, I remember that! Tommy’s in it as well, so I was pleased about that. He’s a bit late today! He’ll be on his way somewhere. I really enjoyed them all, and it’s nice of you to do this, and keep it going.

Well, we grew up with it!

They should bring it back, but I’m not sure whether – if it was a different cast – it would work the same.

It evolved a lot over the years, but yeah… would it work without – say – Peter Sallis in it? He was the core of the show.

I think they should have a go, because they’re bringing all the others back! I’m old enough to be in it now, properly!

Who else would go in it, then?

Tommy! Tommy would be the corpse! (laughs)

Tommy gets a lot to do in Get Out Of That, Then… you become a double act again in that episode, but it’s a different double act to your normal stage personas…

That’s the only trouble with putting me and Tommy together in something, the minute you put us together, we cease to become the characters, and we become Cannon and Ball. In peoples’ minds. We can play the two separate characters, but they associate us with ‘Oh, it’s Cannon and Ball…’ so that’s what’s difficult for writers to do. Really difficult. And that’s why we don’t do a lot together, acting-wise. Lee Mack wanted us in Not Going Out, and put Tommy in as the vicar, but it still comes over as Cannon and Ball.

Is that something you’d like to try and overcome, then?

Sure, I’d like me and Tommy to work together on something on TV that was serious. Together. But I doubt it’ll ever happen, because they just see Cannon and Ball.

You should do The Sunshine Boys together!

Oh, I’d love to.

All of your Summer Wine filming was done on location, so you must have spent a lot of time around Holmfirth… it’s a beautiful town, did you enjoy being around the place?

Yeah! I think, you know… I lived for a while in a place called Todmorden, so I’m not sure if I was doing Summer Wine then. So I wasn’t so far away!

So you knew the area pretty well already?

Yeah, and I knew what the people were like, because when I first bought the farm, I went into the pub and one of the local guys kept staring at me… and he came over, and said ‘What are you doing here?’ I said ‘I’ve just bought the farm up the hill…’ He said ‘Yeah, but what are you doing here?’ I said ‘I’ve… just.. bought… the… farm… up… the… hill…’ He said ‘No, you don’t understand… I’ve just seen you on television, how have you got here?’ (laughs)

True story, that!

And we’re all here today because you and Tommy are onstage in a show called The Dressing Room… which sounds fascinating. Tell us a bit about it…

I had the idea of doing a play with my mates, so everyone who’s in this… we’re all very close friends. And it’s about what goes on in a dressing room, and I’ve called it a ‘playriety’… so it’s a play, and a variety show. So we go into the dressing room, then the compere goes out and does a ten-minute spot, then back into the dressing room, and the play goes on. It’s been very successful!

The Dressing Room is indeed great fun; and stars Cannon and Ball alongside Stu Francis, Jonnie Casson and Ann-Marie. It’s on tour throughout the rest of 2016, and the full dates are here…

Thanks so much to Bobby and to everyone at Middlesbrough Theatre for being so kind to us; it’s a lovely theatre and it’s always worth keeping an eye on their events…

Series 8 Episode 6: Who's Looking After the Café, Then?

In which Foggy bids his farewells… (except he doesn’t)

Bob: What a beautiful sight to start the show… I know the show’s title isn’t to be taken especially literally, but I always feel like its soul truly resides in these drowsy, melancholy days of late summer… when the brambles are starting to ripen and the first mists appear in the meadows. And here we are, amidst tumbledown haystacks and a grumbling sky! It’s a time of year that I’ve always loved, tinged with melancholy for the end of the holidays, and secret excitement about the start of the new school year. I grew up in an old farming cottage next to an expanse of wheat fields, and climbing on the haystacks during the final weeks of August was an evocative annual ritual for me and my friends.

Andrew: I know I keep banging on about Alan Bell’s staging and direction, but this opening scene really is something special. In one take, we track back from the landscape to reveal two sets of feet, then we track back even further to reveal who those feet belong to, and to reveal Compo in the foreground. Then, as Compo continues to speak, the camera pushes forwards and rotates 180°, all the while remaining focused on Bill Owen. All of this in one continuous shot that lasts over three minutes and that’s captured on film during a dialogue heavy scene, on location, up a hill in the Holme Valley… in a BBC sitcom. I can’t stress how technically difficult this would potentially have been to pull off, and I can’t quite figure out how it was actually done. I can only imagine they used a crane. Alan Bell, if you’re out there, please get in touch!

Bob: Names Database Alert! Compo has seen Charlie Parblow in town. Foggy remembers him as a ‘tall lad… wore glasses… use to give the pencils out in 3C. Seemed to have a permanent discharge from his ear. Kept poking about at it with 3C’s pencils’. How many of these unseen schoolmates were based on characters from Roy Clarke’s own childhood, do we reckon?

Andrew: Oh, there has to be a grain of truth to most of them… and what a memory he must have!

Bob:  There’s a nice bit of class war here, too! Charlie Parblow is clearly – as my Mum would say – ‘a bit up himself’ and, Compo reveals in a Lord Snooty voice, has ‘just retired from office management’.

‘Peace at last,’ sniffs Clegg. ‘He’s no longer giving the pencils out’. Oh, I love their disdain for the self-regarding mores of the lofty executive world! Yes, when it comes to the crunch, it’s ALL just giving the pencils out. ‘He’s got a bit tucked away in a eunuch’s truss,’ deadpans Compo, which made me laugh so loud I scared the dog from his armchair. And these were the days when the humble truss (and its accompanying ruptures) was the very lifeblood of TV comedy! When was the last time anyone got a laugh out of a truss? Do they even exist any more, or is hernia technology now 4G downloadable? You can probably get an App to keep your unmentionables in place.

Andrew: Wesley appears from over the hill to the sound of deafening rock music and the trio are, of course, keen to bum a lift. I love how relaxed the interactions between Compo and Wesley are. Despite Compo’s disapproval of the music, they’re clearly kindred spirits. On a performance level, I find their relationship really interesting, because on the one hand you have the experienced and actually quite refined Bill Owen acting his socks off to convince as a scruffy oik; and on the other you have the relatively inexperienced yet brilliant Gordon Wharmby feeling like he was just simply born into the part.

Bob: That defeaning rock music is clearly taken from a ‘ROCK STARS RIFFAGE’ BBC library music album, too – I don’t recognise it, and I know my way around a screaming axe solo. I like the fact that Wesley is a devout heavy rock fan, it’s a nicely unexpected little character touch.

Andrew: And one that I don’t think will ever come up again!

Bob: Oh, there are OTHER PEOPLE in the café! That actually looks a bit weird. Although I had started to wonder how Ivy kept the business alive, seeing as Compo, Clegg and Foggy seemed to be her only customers. And they only ever bought three teas.

Andrew: Ivy is preparing to head off somewhere, but where? It’s hard to imagine what would be important or alluring enough to tempt her away from her natural habitat behind the counter.

Bob: Is the Names Database cooling down? Crank it up again! Clegg reckons Ivy looks ‘just like my missus used to look on the days that the Rev Garth Winstanley BA was due to call. He’d chat confidently about the Lord and eat fruitcake’. Oh, this is worthy of Alan Bennett. I absolutely believe in these people, in a man so proud of his degree (I hope it was a 2:2 in Theology from some minor university) that he continued to use it as a title for his entire adult life. I’m going to start being Bob Fischer BA. I want it at the start of all my entries on this website.

Andrew: I always feel that BPBW (Blue Peter Badge Winner) is just as valid an addendum to any respectable name. I really enjoy Crusher’s interactions with the customers during this sequence. Jonathan Linsley is on brilliant form, walking the fine line between intimidating and cuddly.

Bob Fischer BA: Yes, he’s  great… he has a fabulous rapport with Jane Freeman, they work so well together.  So Ivy is going away for the day, she doesn’t trust Crusher to run the café, and she’s delegating to… Mr Crabtree! I’m fascinated by Mr Crabtree, who is he? Up until this point, Ivy seems to have had utter disdain for the entire male population of the planet… but it doesn’t apply to Mr Crabtree! He’s a dapper, prissy-looking little man, and she clearly respects him enormously. Let the speculation commence! Drew, who IS Mr Crabtree, and what does he mean to Ivy? Come on! Come on! You’re talking to a man with a 2:2 in… etc.

Andrew: OK, my guess is that Sid and Ivy went on a daytrip decades ago and popped into an establishment operated by Mr. Crabtree. Ivy was dubious at first, but was won over by his charm and organisational skills. Sid, of course, thought Crabtree was a bit of a ponce and grew to resent the man as the years went by, with Ivy bringing his name up every time she needed an example of the kind of man Sid should aspire to be. There. How’s that for fan fiction?

Bob: We definitely need a section on the website. By the way, I’m bored with my degree now. I’m going back to being ‘umble.

I’d also like to point out that Mr Crabtree is played by Gil Morris, who was Zaphod Beeblebrox’s private braincare specialist Gag Halfrunt in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where he delivers the immortal line ‘Vell… Zaphod’s just zis guy, you know?’ A series also directed by Alan Bell! Which, I assume, is how he ended up in this. These were the days when TV directors hired their own casts, and often went for trusted actors that they’d worked with previously.

Andrew: Mr Crabtree is put out action by a stray piece of luggage that topples from the car roof of Ivy’s dissatisfied customers. By the way, do we think they count as another prototype for Keeping Up Appearances’ Hyacynth and Richard?

Bob: Oh yes, indeed! There have been a few now, haven’t they? Roy Clarke loves his ‘ladies with pretentions’ married to grounded, downtrodden husbands. I suppose Edie and Wesley aren’t a million miles away, either.

And awww… another Wally and Nora cutaway. The Battys almost seem to have their own sitcom within a sitcom now, and these little inserts are never unwelcome.

Andrew: Do we have any musically inclined readers out there? If so, I want to make a commission. Surely the world needs to hear the hypothetical theme tunes for both the non-existant ‘Sid and Ivy’ and the ‘Nora and Wally’ sitcoms. Also, what would they have been called? I’m on a speculative roll now!

Bob: Wally is being reluctantly fitted for a new suit, and – in a marvellous bit of continuity – the man breathing warmly on the end of the tape measure is Mr Fairburn, the Co-op tailor from Getting Sam Home! Lesser sitcoms wouldn’t have bothered getting the same actor back for such a short scene (David Williams barely has a line), and I’m sure 99% of the audience won’t even have noticed. But, watching these shows in order, it creates a real sense of verisimilitude, and a feeling that this town and these people truly exist. In real life, you don’t see the people you know all the time, you might just bump into them once every couple of years. And Summer Wine is exactly like that.

Andrew: Both Clarke and Bell must have liked Williams, because I’m thrilled to tease you with the fact that this isn’t the last time we will encounter him on our journey through the series.

The tailor’s shop, however, isn’t the same Co-op location that we saw in Getting Sam Home. Can anybody with a better head for geography figure out where we are in relation to Holmfirth? There’s a nice clear view out of the window if we’re looking for clues.

Bob: Joe Gladwin has one line in every episode that pretty much steals the show. Here’s this weeks…

Nora: I’m fed up with me taking you out in your old suit.
Wally: We could go out less…

The dog had only just settled back on his armchair.

Andrew: Every line that Wally utters in relation to his new suit is golden. The way in which Gladwin can mine a a phrase like, ‘It’s a very popular material’ for such world-weary resignation is a wonder to behold.

Bob: So, with the dapper Mr Crabtree run over by departing customers, our main trio – and Crusher – take over the running of the café themselves, against Ivy’s will. Compo has a large box of Walker’s Crisps, which is disappointing, as Walkers are by far the inferior brand to the prominent Seabrooks varieties we saw in Series 7.

Andrew: You’re not still hoping for that sponsorship deal, are you?

Bob: At least I’m honest about my proclivities. A mere five episodes after Foggy steals a foot measure from a shoe-shop, we’re now faced with Compo surreptitiously pocketing the payment for a rather nasty-looking ham salad! This lot aren’t safe to be let out onto the streets! Ivy was right not to trust them, and would never have had this trouble with Mr Crabtree. He looked like a nice man. But it is nice to have a reminder that Compo’s not always a harmless pest… back in 1973, he could quite a selfish, vindictive little character, and a bit of that unpleasantness still lingers on.

Andrew: There are few more reliable staples of slapstick comedy than a set of step ladders and a plank of wood. Obviously things don’t go as Foggy has planned, so he has to commandeer Wesley’s van, as Compo and Cleff take to the roof in order to clean the café’s sign. Can I sense the payoff to Wesley’s sudden liking for deafening rock music approaching?

Bob: Yes, of course! And, as Doctor Who fans, I think we’re within our rights to point out a slightly dodgy bit of Colour Sepration Overlay as Compo finds himself stranded on top of Wesley’s van, surfing his way through the streets of Holmfirth as ROCK GUITAR RIFF #27 pounds out of the car stereo. Chased by Crusher and the gang… oh, it’s like Bullitt. Except Steve McQueen didn’t end up in a haystrack with Howard and Marina.

Andrew: It’s a well earned slapstick payoff, but surely the highlight has to be Compo sneaking a peek at a disrobing Nora Batty. I also feel it is my pedantic duty to point out that Wesley’s route through the town once again adheres to real world geography. Even the CSO background plate matches up! Oh, and is that our friend Stuart Fell standing in for Bill Owen?

Bob: Surely! Well, that was good fun, with more cracking dialogue. And no indication at all that it was Brian Wilde’s swansong, so I assume at the time of filming that he was still undecided on doing the following series? Of course, we both know that, in reality, he was only away for a handful of years, but – as far as we knew at the time – Foggy had left the show for good, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get a proper goodbye here.

Andrew: It’s not a proper farewell, but at least his character is on top form here. Rather than seriously attempt to run the café, it’s more like he, Compo, and – to a lesser extent – Clegg, are playing at shop. Foggy is only interested in the situation because he gets to wear a nice striped apron and boss people around.

Bob: I think we have to give a big mention to Brian Wilde here, who came into an already-established show and played a huge part in transforming it from respected sitcom to national sensation. Foggy is a brilliant character, perfectly written by Roy Clarke, but – in the hands of a lesser actor – could have seemed little more than a figure of fun. But Wilde made Foggy feel absolutely real… I believe totally in this forlorn, deluded man; clinging onto his fantasies of military glory because his real day-to-day life has been too mundane and meaningless for him to accept as reality. He’s a sad, unmarried old man, and he has to invent justification for that… and it’s a testament to Wilde that, sitting in the middle of this Wilter Mitty-style web of self-deceit, Foggy is so damn likeable as well. He’s one of the sitcom greats.

Andrew: He had a lousy taste in scripts, though, didn’t he? I just can’t get over the fact that he considered the scripts for this series were below par. I think this has easily been the most consistently excellent run of the series so far, with a far more satisfying blend of character and physical comedy than we have seen previously.


Series 8 Episode 5: The Woollenmills Of Your Mind

In which Compo gives up his knees for Nora Batty…

Andrew: I think we’ve been spoiled by Alan Bell’s episode openings for this series, because the static, wide shot of Nora’s steps that greets us here suddenly feels out of place – just by virtue of not being the rolling hills of the Holme Valley.

Bob: We don’t get many episodes starting first thing in the morning though, do we? But a toast-nibbling Compo is being chased from those steps, and – for the second episode running – Howard is cleaning the windows, so all feels right with the world to me.

Andrew: Intentional or not, I love the fact that even Compo’s toast is a bit scruffy!

Bob: Holmfirth is being overrun by joggers in training for ‘The Yorkshire Marathon’ – which, in 1985, was a Roy Clarke joke, as no such thing existed… but now it does! The inaugural Yorkshire Marathon took place in 2013…

Andrew: If those parentheses represent the suggestion that we should get involved, then I’m afraid that’s just one hare-brained scheme too many for my liking! I’m with the clearly fearful Clegg on this one; the sight of runners in training is a shortcut to indicating guilt and self-loathing. Actually, I might be projecting, there.

Bob: You milksop! I’m with Howard here… ‘I’ve got this urge to push myself to the frontiers of human experience’. I like his style. I remember, as a student, once boldly proclaiming to my housemates that I intended to bring myself up to an Olympian level of physical fitness. Running was free, swimming was cheap, and I had the loan of a rather rickety bike and time on my hands, so what could possibly go wrong? Six months wasn’t a long time to follow a punishing daily regime of triathlon training, and I was genuinely convinced that – by the summer – I would have a physique that would put Daley Thompson to shame. The fact that I was expounding this theory while sitting in the Wagon and Horses eating Scampi fries, drinking Robinson’s Best Bitter and smoking my way frantically through a packet of twenty Silk Cut was neither here nor there.

And a lovely bit of physical comedy here, too – in one seamless take, Foggy takes an old lady’s arm to help her across the road, gets lost in a deluge of joggers, and emerges on the side with a baffled-looking adolescent fitness freak on his arm. It’s fantastic, and I had to wind the DVD back to see how it was done!

Andrew: In the café, Ivy is keen that her clean floors remain unsullied until they have dried. She’s at full volume here, but something occurs to me that I’ve never really registered before – Ivy and Clegg rarely interact, do they? If Ivy yells at Foggy, he’ll jump out of his skin and try to fight back with some wartime nonsense that winds her up even further, but Clegg doesn’t really acknowledge Ivy’s barked orders, and she acts as though she can’t hear his airy musings. They barely even make eye contact here!

I quite like that. The two longest running characters, when positioned alongside one another, seem to operate on completely different planes of existence. Does that make sense, or am I having another funny turn?

Bob: I’ve never noticed that! Maybe Clegg just isn’t offensive enough to truly get on Ivy’s wick? Compo, meanwhile, is concerned that Nora is unhappy. ‘The world’s leading expert on rice pudding?’ stammers Foggy, splendidly. ‘What do you want to make her happy for, she’ll only be miserable…’ What a delightfully Northern attitude… I’ve known generations of grumpy Teessiders over the years who have positively revelled in their own misery, and seem to draw their entire life’s purpose from it. I was once walking away from a 3-0 Middlesbrough win, a fortnight before Christmas, a result that had sent us to an unprecedented fifth place in the Premiership… and got locked into a conversation with hangdog old timer who solemnly told me it was ‘the worst bloody Boro side I’ve ever seen in my life’.

I like Foggy’s declaration that Nora takes great pleasure in ‘sudden deaths’, too. My Mum is exactly the same! She only buys the Evening Gazette for the Deaths column. ‘Ooooh, let’s see who we know…’

Andrew: Is Compo off his trolley here, or is he actually able to perceive the subtle changes in Nora’s behaviour that would suggest she is feeling neglected? It isn’t just lust on his part any more, is it? He really cares for her. With Wally such a passive figure who can’t wait to escape from her, is Compo actually her soul mate?

Bob: We’re definitely entering very poignant territory here… Compo gets sentimental thinking about the death of Marilyn Monroe, and upset that she passed on thinking that nobody cared about her. And declares that Nora should never have to suffer the same fate. This has to be Roy Clarke’s own sentiment, surely? It’s really touching and heartfelt.

Can we put ‘Fragrance’ into the Names Database? A girl that Compo claims to have once dated, she was a dab hand with a shovel, and ran away to work on an oil rig. Is this nonsense, do you reckon? Compo isn’t really known for his tall tales, but usually – when he reminisces like this – Clegg or Foggy will chip in with memories that back up his story. But this time, even Clegg clearly doubts the veracity of it all! Is Compo showing off to make himself look tough in the eyes of Crusher?

Andrew: Compo’s exclamation that Crusher has been ‘blackberrying with a coloured bird’ really dates the series here, not just for the indelicate racial descriptor, but also his judgement of her punk attire. He makes her sound less like a real person and more like Molly Sugden dolled up for Are You Being Served! By the way, I’m pretty sure that this has been cut for the series’ recent satellite and cable broadcasts.

Bob: Oooooh, a comedy vicar! You don’t see many of those these days.

Andrew: The one thing that can still strike fear into the heart of the formidable Ivy. Don’t worry; we’ll be having plenty more of those before the series has finished.

Bob: And more poignancy here, as our trio ponder on their respective romantic lives. Compo describes Foggy as ‘sexless’, which Foggy denies… actually, is he claiming to have a secret lady friend here? Let’s not forget, Foggy is the only member of the trio that we’ve actually seen enjoying any kind of active love life – back in Series 4, he went to stay with a charming lady in Wales! And Clegg chips in with his heartbreaking observation that ‘my marriage worked reasonably well… and then she died, which I always took as a form of criticism’. This is really good stuff, and the show hasn’t been this emotionally raw for quite some time.

Andrew: It’s beautifully written, which makes me feel all the more guilty for observing the following piece of pointless trivia: as our trio travel between the café and Nora’s house, they follow the correct geographical route through the town – a rarity for film and television! Oh, and I can’t remember where we last left this, but the shop at the end of Compo and Nora’s road is now G.W. Castle Ltd. I’m determined to keep track of it changing hands through the years, so please let me know if I miss a sudden change!

Bob: It’s sad to see Joe Gladwin looking a little slow on his feet, but these scenes between Nora and Wally really bring these episodes to life. He’s checking to see if her ‘wireless’ is too loud, as they’ve clearly had a complaint from a neighbour! What a delightfully dated scene in two ways, 1) nobody says the word ‘wireless’ any more… apart from me, when I’m on the wireless. I use it all the time, just to confuse any passing teenagers. And I undoubtedly got it from my Gran, who used to refer to a tiny, battered transistor on the kitchen top as a ‘wireless’, and the merest mention of the word is enough to transport me back to those days, cleaning out a bowl of pudding mix while Terry Wogan burbled in the background. Oh, and 2) Nobody cares about upsetting their neighbours with loud music any more. I once lived next door to two girls who seemed to run a boutique nightclub in their front room from 6pm onwards every night.

‘Don’t you come here complaining about me and Jimmy Young,’ snaps Nora. In 1985, Jimmy Young was doing his ‘JY Prog’ on Radio 2 from 10.30am – 1pm every weekday, in the days when Radio 2 still had the spirit of ‘The Light Programme’ lingering on, long before the days of Chris Evans and Jeremy Vine. Nora would have lapped it up. I can’t find anything from 1985, but here’s a compilation of Radio 2 clips from 1989 that sweeps me back. Jimmy Young starts at 8 mins 30 secs…

Bob: Another really sweet scene, as Compo gives Nora a tiny flower that he’s clearly half-inched from somewhere, and she looks secretly thrilled… until she sniffs it. ‘He lets them damn ferrets get everywhere’, she barks. I LOLed, as any passing teenagers might say. There you go, a tentative olive branch from me to the younger generation.

Andrew: I’d stick to the wireless if I were you.

Bob: And another little moment where we should celebrate the genius of Ronnie Hazlehurst, as Compo attempts to go running to impress Nora, and a Summer Wine-esque take on the Chariots of Fire theme sparks up! Beautifully done. I like this little exchange as well, as Compo wheezes past…

Foggy: Do you know the way to Chesterfield?
Clegg: It’s no use asking me about foreign travel.

This really has the feel of an early episode! I was expecting a grand stunt at the end, but no… they just quickly sack off the fitness campaign and head to the pub to get pissed! Which is startlingly reminiscent of my own experiences.

Andrew: The pub they’ve visited this week is The White Horse at Jackson Bridge, should anybody be keeping track of these things. It’s one of the most frequently-used locations from the series and nestles just below Clegg, Howard, and Pearl’s street. Not the street used in this series, mind you. But that’s a story for another day…

Bob: And as they emerge from The White Horse into the night, Compo is singing a song that begins ‘There was a man, he had a wife…’ and is clearly about to descend into filth. Does anyone know the rest of it? Knowing Roy Clarke, it’ll almost certainly be real.

Another laugh out loud moment for me, meanwhile, at their discovery of Howard teaching Marina ‘the rudiments of jogging by night’! Oh, there’s a euphemism to relish. And we end with a drunken Compo hobbling to Nora’s window to tell her he’ll always care for her. Oh, what a lovely, sweet, romantic episode. I really wasn’t expecting that at all. It’s almost a rumination on the nature of (platonic?) love, and the importance of… well, just being there for the people that you care about. And how easy it is to forget that. I loved that.

Andrew: There is a very strange moment during this sequence that I’d love to get to the bottom of. As it’s set outside of Nora’s house, the scene was obviously filmed on location. But for just one shot of Compo being doused with water, we cut to what is clearly studio videotape. I wonder if something went wrong on location? Was there a hair in the gate? Did the camera get splashed? I suppose that’s the one shot that, if it was technically deficient, couldn’t just be cut around in the editing – you want to see Compo getting drenched! I bet the answer to that one lurks in the BBC Written Archives Centre somewhere. Fancy another romantic weekend away, Bob?

Bob:  Me, you and a warehouse full of internal BBC memos? You know how to show a middle-aged man a good time. I’d love to! We might even find out why this episode is called The Woollenmills Of Your Mind. Does anyone have any idea? Did we miss something?