Summer Winos»Archive for May 2017

Archive for May 2017

Series 9 Episode 2: The Heavily Reinforced Bottom

S9E2a
In which Wesley works on Compo’s bottom… 

Bob: Compo is smoking! We haven’t seen that for ages, have we? You can measure out so many changes in British social attitudes by their depiction in Last of the Summer Wine over the decades. In 1973, Compo, Clegg and Blamire were all happily chuffing away without anyone batting an eyelid. Everyone was.

Andrew: It’s very much smoking for the sake of a gag, isn’t it? In fact, we never actually see Compo with a fag in his gob; only plumes of second-hand smoke emerging from behind a lovely bit of dry stone wall.

Bob: Seymour clearly disapproves, though. He can’t stop rolling his eyes. Even Clegg seems to have whimsical reservations…

Clegg: Gordon Ackroyd had this terrible smokers’ cough, but it went overnight.
Compo: How?
Clegg: He dropped dead.

I saw it coming a mile off, like a slow train on a branch line, but I still laughed when it arrived.

Andrew: I love the way in which this conversation plays out, with the characters hidden from view, but also the way in which it continues – seemingly uninterrupted – when the location shifts to the next scene. I wonder if dividing quite a long scene up into two distinct sections is Alan Bell’s work, rather than something stated in Clarke’s script? We get the sight gag and then move on to something more conventionally staged. It suggests that either our trio’s conversations go round in circles, or that there are long lulls during which Compo mulls things over. Love it.

Bob: You can tell you’re a proper film-maker, I just look at the pretty colours. Anyway, all of this seems to spark Seymour off into a determination to get Compo fit… and does this make him the third Third Man in a row to initiate a fitness campaign? Go on Drew, do the hard work and dig out Blamire and Foggy’s attempts…

Andrew: Let’s see… Blamire had his bicycle and canoe schemes, in Forked Lightning and Ballad For Wind Instruments and Canoe respectively, and I think it would take too long to list Foggy’s attempts!

Bob: There’s an interesting moment here too, when Seymour casually mentions enduring ‘North Yorkshire winters’ at his long-abandoned school. I’d always assumed it just sat proudly atop of the hilltops of the Holme Valley, but that’s very firmly in West Yorkshire! Where do we think it actually was?

Andrew: You’re the expert. I’m enjoying the little titbits of information we keep being fed about the school, though. Perhaps by the end of Seymour’s tenure we’ll be able to assemble a complete history? Here, we get some insight into the school catering, and a description of their underpaid Ukrainian chef, who would present a Ukrainian Duff tasting like a railway station with a ‘bland Ukrainian smile’ – whatever that is!

S9E2bBob: Yes, his memories of Helga are a delight (‘You couldn’t understand a word she cooked’), and I don’t doubt for a second that they’re true. I think Seymour has led a genuinely colourful life. For all the ‘Third Man’ has become a stock Summer Wine character, and there are definitely character traits shared by Blamire, Foggy and Seymour, I think the latter really comes into his own as a unique character when he drifts off into wistful nostalgia for his teaching days. His misty-eyed reminiscences absolutely ring true, and they’re a world apart from both Blamire’s bluff, unsentimental boasts, and Foggy’s ludicrous flights of fancy.

Andrew: Isn’t it nice to see some warmth from Ivy? Or at least what passes for warmth with Ivy, as she briefly eyes up a flower that Compo presents to her, and describes her nephew as ‘a great big St. Bernard.’ There’s even a tenderness in the way that she dresses him down, perhaps due to the fact that Ivy knows that Crusher will struggle to understand any point she makes.

Crusher: Auntie Ivy! Is it OK if I go, then?
Ivy: Were you ever here, Milburn?

I did worry that the departure of Sid would lead to Ivy being rendered redundant, but the character has really found her feet as a caregiver to Crusher.

Bob: Yes, despite Compo’s ribbing (‘Can’t tha swap him for three little Italians?’), Crusher is becoming a vital part of the trio’s schemes, isn’t he? He spent a lot of his early episodes marooned in the café, but now – just as Sid did – he’s becoming almost a ‘Fourth Man’, inspiring and abetting their escapades. It’s an oddly touching message… regardless of any age gaps, all men are children at heart. The co-opting of Crusher is like a beacon of fecklessness being passed down through the generations! I remember that nice Mr Linsley telling us that was especially friendly with Bill Owen, and I think you can see that onscreen here.

Andrew: Yes, Crusher’s own excited search for white water (‘It’s great, is white water’) prompts Seymour to concoct a canoe-based scheme of his own… Another canoe episode? Already? We’ve been through this with Blamire, back in Series Two!

Bob: I’ll offer up a defence that Series Two was over ten years ago at this stage, and I’ve no recollection of these Blamire episodes being repeated at any point during my childhood! Anyway, have we got any readers that work for the DVLA? Is Crusher’s yellow Volkswagon – STO 182R – still on the road anywhere?

The previous episode felt almost like an experiment in avant-garde Summer Wine, with the main trio not even meeting up until the final ten minutes, but this is much more traditional, isn’t it? It’s absolutely textbook Summer Wine! Third man gets a wild idea for a new pastime in the first five minutes of the episode, co-opts their café cohort to help out, and uses Compo as a guinea pig. This is the first episode for a while that I can absolutely imagine working with Compo, Clegg, Foggy and Sid, without too many changes.

S9E2cAndrew: It’s possibly the result of it following a very strong series opener, but I’m not optimistic about the direction in which this episode is heading. But, on the plus side, we’re subjected to some fabulous gurning from Bill Owen, as Compo struggles with his new exercise regime, and some of the scenery on display here is stunning. Can we rent some bikes next time we’re in Holmfirth? ‘We’re just two perfectly innocent strangers with a healthy interest in twentieth century sitcom locations…’

Bob: Ha! Ha! Do I have to wear skimpy shorts and jump over a dry stone wall every time a car goes past? I’m in. And… yay! Compo is meant to be exercising, but has hitched a lift on the back of a passing trailer! This is a scene that EVERY long-running sitcom has to include at some point in its lifespan. With bonus points available if – as in this case – the trailer is filled with bales of hay. Can anyone name other examples of this? It definitely happens with both Bob and Terry in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.

I’ve also been trying to identify the celebratory song that Compo sings on the haywagon – ‘my horse is always willing, and I am never sad’ and it seems to be called ‘Jim The Carter Lad’. At first, I thought it had a whiff of the American West about it, but it’s actually a traditional English folk song… it seems to be linked to the West Country, to Dorset and Wiltshire, but also appears to have been a popular Music Hall song.

It survived into the rock and roll era, too… here’s the mighty Joe Brown with a nice version!

Andrew: I see your Joe Brown and raise you this charmingly booze fuelled traditional take!

This is another instance where I have to wonder if it was featured in the script, or if it was something introduced as a result of conversations between Alan Bell and Bill Owen? Owen looks like he’s having a great time, so perhaps it was his idea!

Bob: The look on Marina’s face when Howard solemnly declares ‘you’re the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in my life’ is heartbreaking. Huge credit to Jean Fergusson for expressing the most devastating combination of desperate longing and panting lust that I’ve ever seen played out on anyone’s features. And I’ve spent a weekend in Holmfirth with you, Drew.

Andrew: It cuts right through, doesn’t it? The series might be moving in a broader direction, but its moments like this that continue to make Clarke’s work rise above.

S9E2fBob: Edie is cutting Barry’s hair in the kitchen! Is the home-cutting of hair (not home-shaving with a razor… that’s different!) still a commonplace thing? Do kids still turn up at school with their fringes clearly cut along the outline of a pudding bowl? I don’t think my Dad has had a professional haircut since the day he got married, in 1966. My Mum just does it in the front room, with newspaper on the floor around his feet, and a towel on his shoulders. And she did mine too, until I cracked as a teenager and decided her skills just weren’t good enough to manage the cantilevered Morrissey quiff that I was demanding!

Andrew: It’s not just your parents; I’ve many a time been bemused by the sight of my Mam setting up a salon for my Dad, in the conservatory. It’s rather sweet in a way, but I could do without seeing his back being shaved!

Bob: I like Edie’s disgusted dismissal of the ‘Unisex Hair Parlour’, too. I imagine, in her fevered mind, it’s on a par with the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. Or – even worse – our weekend in Holmfirth in 2009.

Andrew: I have a major fear of getting my hair cut which borders on phobia, so I share Edie’s concern over Unisex joints. Perhaps the ultimate cure would be for me to let my mother loose with the clippers?

Bob: Blimey, this has to be the British sitcom with the most mentions of Dr Crippen since records began. Clegg can’t stop referencing him, as Compo is lowered into Wesley’s home-made canoe. I wonder where all that came from? Dr Crippen, of course, was the US doctor executed in London for the murder of his wife in 1910, for reasons that have never been clear. She was a Music Hall singer, so maybe he just got tired of her singing ‘Jim, The Carter Lad’.

Andrew: Yeah, but would you rather go to the Music Hall with Dr Crippen, or clothes shopping with Nora Batty? Wally’s fate in this episode is to be asked what he thinks about one of Nora’s potential outfit choices, and even his whippet looks bored. Emma will kill me for saying this, but I’m pretty sure this exact conversation once played out between us in a branch of Topshop. I barely have an opinion about what I wear, let alone anybody else!

S9E2gBob: Just as with the opening lines, I saw the ending of this episode coming a mile off, like a slow train on a branch line, but I still laughed when it arrived. Having crashed straight through the bottom of Wesley’s prototype canoe and plummeted feet-first into the murky canal water, Compo tries again with the ‘heavily reinforced bottom’ augmented model… and, this time, the whole kaboosh sinks into the drink. This is absolute textbook Summer Wine! It’s virtually a platonic ideal for the whole show.

Andrew: If you’d like to attempt a re-enactment, the canal location remains virtually unchanged, save for the addition of a pleasant looking visitor’s centre.

Bob: I’m currently reading JB Priestley’s book Delight, about finding joy in the little things in life, and there’s one in this episode that we should try. Three men wandering into a quiet daytime pub and ordering three large scotches to keep out the chill. Can you, me and Andrew Orton do this, the next time we’re filming in Holmfirth on a cold day?

Andrew: Only if you want me flat on me back by mid-afternoon…

Bob: Promises, promises…

Jane Freeman – An Appreciation

Ivy 3

We were incredibly saddened to hear about the recent death of Jane Freeman. Throughout our Summer Winos quest, we have been constantly impressed by Jane’s deft and formidable portrayal of the redoubtable cafe owner Ivy, and the skilful manner in which she gave the character both a fearsome temper and a frequently-overlooked humanity and sensitivity. She proved a fearsome foil for the show’s ever-evolving main trio, as well as forging hugely impressive enjoyable double acts with both John Comer, as Ivy’s on-screen husband Sid, and Jonathan Linsley, as her wayward nephew Crusher.

Last of the Summer Wine entered Jane’s life with the series’ pilot episode, Of Funerals and Fish, in 1973. Both Freeman and Comer were cast after impressing producer-director James Gilbert in The Fishing Party, an instalment of the BBC’s Play For Today strand of one-off dramas. The pair had never met on this production, their scenes having been shot separately, and they worked together on Last of the Summer Wine for some time before realising they had both appeared in the same, earlier programme.

Lazy journalism might see Ivy classed as a shrill, somewhat sexist charicature of the Northern harridan, but to simply dismiss her as a battleaxe would be to do a disservice to the nuanced character that Roy Clarke and Jane Freeman created together. Not least because the model for the character of Ivy approved. “I was a very earnest young woman in those days,” recalled Freeman, “And I wasn’t sure whether it would be fitting to promote this myth about women. I can remember talking to Enid, Roy’s lovely wife, about how awful Ivy was, and she said, ‘Oh love, Ivy’s me.'”

However, in numerous episodes, the veil of aggression is peeled back to reveal the woman underneath. Take, for example, a sequence from the Series One episode, Patê and Chips. Compo’s extended family have turned up to shepherd our main trio on an outing to a National Trust home, and Ivy immediately makes a beeline for the youngest of the clan, a baby boy.

IVY: We’ve got none you know. All I can do is mother him.

(Gestures to Sid)

The baby’s father cracks a joke about donating one of their own offspring to the childless couple, but – as Ivy is wistfully waving goodbye – a very poignant musical cue suggests a deeper resonance to the absence of children from Ivy and Sid’s marriage. It’s a beautiful little moment, combining fine writing, acting and composing.

Another glimpse of humanity can be seen in an exhange between Ivy and Nora Batty in the 1988 Christmas special, Crumbs.

NORA: Funny, isn’t it? All this time, and still sometimes when I head that door open I keep expecting him to walk in like he always used to, daft as a brush, semi-plastered.

IVY: Oh, I know. It’s having all that bed to yourself that gets me.

NORA: I’ll say this for my Wally, he never did take up much room. It was like having a bed to yourself anyway.

IVY: Oh, mine used to spread himself all over the place. Every night it used to be like being trapped in the January sales. You never realise how much you’re going to miss things.

These typically unsentimental/sentimental scenes shed new light on relationships that we may originally have taken at surface value. Last of the Summer Wine didn’t connect with viewers for over three decades because of pratfalls and pretty location shooting; it rooted itself in the public consciousness thanks to important moments like this, and they’re easy to take for granted. This is the series at its best, and Freeman was a intergral part of its success.

Freeman particularly appreciated the latter scene. “We were both quite distressed that we couldn’t talk about our husbands who had died,” she told Andrew Vine, author of Last of the Summer Wine: The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series. “It was absolutely lovely when we were able to do it, and Kathy and I had scenes talking about the old days, and we did feel much better then. We hated the fact that Joe and John had dissapeared somehow. I was fond of John and Kathy was fond of Joe.”

Freeman and Kathy Staff maintained a close friendship for several decades, though it was a tentative friendship at first; during the early years of the series most of Staff’s scenes were shot on location, whilst Freeman recorded her Café sequences in the studio at a later date. As time passed, though, they bonded during rehearsals, taking in tea at the Ritz and shopping in London. During their Yorkshire location shoots, Jane would stay at the home of Kathy and her husband in Cheshire, a twenty minute drive across the Pennines. In later years, Freeman was the only member of the cast to know the true severity of Staff’s final battle with a brain tumour.


Ivy was second only to Peter Sallis’ Norman Clegg as Last of the Summer Wine‘s longest-running character, appearing in all but four of the series’ episodes. During its run, she outlived her husband Sid; mentored nephew Crusher; and was welcomed intoto the inner circle of Thora Hird’s formidable Edie.  Her unexplained absence from the series’ finale was one of the only downsides of a fittingly low-key conclusion. In every incarnation of the show, she was an anchor around whom chaos unfolded. Freeman, too, saw the series evolve across the decades from a darkly humerous comedy into a cosier, more family-friendly staple; and from a traditional studio-based sitcom recorded before live audience into a series that was shot predominantly on location and entirely on film. She even found time to appear in the sieres’ mid-1980s spin-off stage show. Of all her appearences, however, she singled out the 1983 feature length special, Getting Sam Home, as her personal favourite.

“You forget how long it’s been going,” she told Andrew VineIt’s a lifetime really. I’ve gone from being a young woman to a middle aged woman to an old woman, and yet in my mind’s eye I’m still doing the third episode.”

Jane was born in London. At the age of nine, she lost her father in an accident and, sometime later, moved with her mother and stepfather to Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. Here, she studied at the City of Cardiff (now Royal Welsh) College of Music and Drama, graduating in 1955. Throwing herself into a busy stage career, Jane joined the Gloucestershire-based all-female Osiris Repertory Theatre touring company, and – in 1958 – moved onto the Arena Theatre, Sutton Coldfield where she began to attract attention for her performances. During her 1968 to 1973 stint with Birmingham Rep, she married the company’s artistic director, Michael Simpson. They remained together until his death in 2007.

Although she maintained her passion for live performance throughout her career, Jane enjoyed a busy career in television and, to a lesser extent, film. After her TV debut in a Ken Loach directed episode of Diary of a Young Marriage (1964), notable roles included four appearances in the BBC’s Play For Today strand of single plays, including Peter Terson aforementioned The Fishing Party (1972) and Alan Bleasdale’s Scully’s New Year’s Eve (1978). Other notable roles included appearances in Crossroads (1964), Within These Walls (1975 & 1976), The Black Adder (1983), Androcles the Lion (1983), and Silas Marner (1985).

Despite these varied roles, her best-recognised role outside of Last of the Summer Wine may have been as Gordon Rollings’ wife, in a series of early 1980s advertisements for John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter. After Rollings’ death, Jane continued to appear in ads with her Summer Wine co-star Jonathan Linsley.

Last of the Summer Wine provided Jane with regular employment, but she scheduled as much theatre work around its filming dates as possible. A fraction of her work in the theatre included Billy Liar (Nottingham Playhouse 1980), Sailor Beware! (The Lyric, Hammersmith, 1991), Deborah’s Daughter (Library Theatre, Manchester, 1994), Wuthering Heights (1995 & 1998) and touring productions of When We Are Married (1987), Noises Off (1987), and Situation Comedy (1989).

When we at Summer Winos learned of Jane Freeman’s passing, we reached out to several friends, colleagues and acquaintences, all of whom were kind enough to share their personal memories.

 

Jonathan Linsley – Actor, Crusher in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’

FM28

“I first met Jane in the spring of 1983 when we started rehearsals for a stage play of Last of the Summer Wine. We didn’t have many scenes together and at that time my character, Crusher, was not related to Jane’s character, Ivy. We became friends, however, and I always enjoyed her wisdom, advice, and her stories of growing up and “learning the business” of acting through Rep in Birmingham, where she was great friends with Paul Henry who famously played Benny in Crossroads – she admired the skill he brought to a role that required him to play someone none too bright!

After two short tours and two summer seasons of the Summer Wine stage play, fate played a hand in bringing Jane and I together when John Comer, her long time co-star and husband in the TV show, passed away and Roy Clarke and Alan JW Bell invited me to play Ivy’s nephew Millburn; a none too bright lad who was “learning the business”. Jane was wonderful and helpful and I loved working with her. Her timing and skill made her a true joy to work with. She was also never starry or grand and over the next five years we struck up a professional relationship that had a certain chemistry, and I became part of the Summer Wine family.

When I left the show, fate played another hand and threw Jane and me together a second time. The untimely death of Gordon Rollings who played her long time screen husband Arkwright in the much loved John Smiths TV adverts, meant that they were looking for an actor to replace him. Mrs Arkwright wanted a “toy boy” and I was given that role and we worked together for another couple of years. I remember the last filming day at pinewood with Jane when she had another job later on that day and the production company flew her by helicopter so she could get to the other set on time. She was so excited about that experience and we all stood and waved her off . I never saw her again after that as we never worked together after that day, but she was always busy working, and I kept in touch and later caught up with all her news when I worked for her husband Michael Simpson who was the producer on The Bill.

It was with great sadness then, that I heard that Jane had passed away. She was a fine, talented, and much-loved actress with many devoted fans. I will never forget the happy times and the wonderful laughs we shared over the years. She was, and always will be, a star. RIP Aunty Ivy.”

 

Morris Bright – Chairman, Elstree Studios

morris

Morris Bright (foreground), in his cameo in Just A Small Funeral…

“It is easy to fall in to the trap – even for those of us who should know better, having been around the industry for a while – of thinking that the character you see on screen is also that person in real life. And so it was in the late 1990s, when I was visiting the location of Last of the Summer Wine for the first time for a book about the show for the BBC, that I got to meet a host of actors who, in most cases (although not all) were totally different from the characters they portrayed on screen.

One such actress was Jane Freeman, who has sadly passed away in recent weeks. It’s easy to watch someone week in and week out playing a battleaxe, a demanding wife – who is really more of a mother to her husband than a spouse, because the men need keeping in check like children in a playground – believing that the person you will meet will be equally as formidable. But that was the strength of the acting in Summer Wine, for Jane Freeman was nothing like the harridan Ivy, the character she played for almost four decades.

I recall sitting in a humble caravan, waiting for the weather to settle before filming could resume, one morning in the Yorkshire hills. I was having a cup of tea with Jane Freeman, Kathy Staff and my late, dear friend Thora Hird. It was slightly surreal as I was chatting with the actresses but they were all dressed up and made up as their characters. They couldn’t have been more lovely. Tea with some favourite aunts. What I loved the most about Jane and Kathy was how they would fuss over Thora who was somewhat older and quite infirm by this stage. I admired Jane’s humility. She was an ensemble player and did not regard herself any more important than anyone else, despite appearing in more episodes of the show than anyone else except Peter Sallis.

Jane was kind, friendly and polite and was surprised that someone would be interested enough in her as a person and not just as a character, to write about her in a book on Summer Wine.

We met several times after that. I recall a cameo role with her when Edie was driving a car towards me. And of course who could ever forget Compo’s funeral where we all spent a long day in church filming scenes for the show, and then the same evening together at a memorial for the actor Bill Owen.

And I was delighted to welcome Jane, along with most of the cast, to a special tribute to Summer Wine at Pinewood Studios that I organised, back in 1998.

I only have happy memories of Jane Freeman. I am sad at her passing but recognise the legacy of onscreen laughter she has left behind. God bless you Jane.”

 

Laura Booth – Proprieter, Sid’s Café, Holmfirth

Roped in by the Summer Winos, Laura Booth offers her best Jane Freeman homage for our 'Getting Sam Home' location tour.

Roped in by the Summer Winos, Laura Booth offers her best Jane Freeman homage for our Getting Sam Home Again location tour…


“We’re sorry to hear the sad news about the passing of Jane Freeman, the actress who played Ivy in Last of the Summer Wine. Jane portrayed the character of Ivy perfectly, a northern battle-axe with little time for the mischief-making of the cafe regulars. Ivy ran the cafe with a formidable style and her customer service skills were renowned! The old adage “the customer is always right” certainly didn’t apply back then! These days we appreciate our customers more, but I suspect some of them would relish the opportunity to be hit over the head with a tray or chased out of the cafe with a broom…”

We end this tribute with a trip to the real life Sid’s Café in Holmfirth. Visit today, and you’ll discover that – and alongside Nora and Compo –  you will be greeted by a cardboard effigy of the formidable Ivy. Jane Freeman’s career was long, varied, and thanks to her suberb, decades-long performance in Last of the Summer Wine, will be remembered fondly for many years to come.

856845_398909516872177_936566468_o