Summer Winos»Archive for May 2018

Archive for May 2018

Series 9 Episode 3: Dried Dates and Codfanglers

In which Seymour invents the Amazon Echo…

Andrew: You know your characters are well-defined when you’re able to identify them by their footwear alone, and Alan Bell is happy to indulge us with one of his gorgeous, signature opening shots. And we’re immediately directed back towards our poorly-maintained Names Database by another mention of an old schoolfriend…

Compo: I see Alvin Butler’s got a new wife.
Seymour: I wouldn’t say new. Looks more like reconditioned.
Clegg: Well, he was like that at school. He needed two goes at everything.

Bob: Roy Clarke likes the name ‘Alvin’, doesn’t he? There are at least two of them in Last of the Summer Wine, which is a veritable surfeit of Alvins… the only other Alvin that I can think of anywhere is Mr Stardust. And I’m putting ‘Mr Stardust’ down on my ever-expanding list of potential autobiography titles. You’re right about Alan Bell’s direction of this opening sequence, though… it’s lovely. I actually got a bit wistful seeing the shadow of the cloud moving across the landscape in very first shot! What a gentle, evocative image.

Andrew: Seymour is doing a good job of defining the series for us with his musings on life’s full circle. Life has taken him up and away from his roots, but now he’s back “playing with the backward stream.” It also doesn’t hurt that he’s discussing this while racing down a hill on an overburdened, out of control bicycle – the two eras of the show thus far have been neatly summarised!

Bob: That little sequence is a lovely encapsulation of Seymour’s character, I think… and the class differences that still possibly rankle between the trio. “I was damn glad to get to grammar school,’ harrumphs Seymour, staking his claim amongst the intelligentsia. “Bedwetters!” sneers Compo. And yet. amidst this delicious bickering, Seymour is quite clearly having the time of his life… despite the fact that. as you say, he’s “playing with the backward stream”. Compo’s response to this is gleeful – “Ah, but tha’s enjoying it, Seymour” – and Seymour’s guilty “Keep your voice down!” is charming. He’d never admit it amongst Edie’s “polite company”, but Seymour is shaking off the shackles of upper middle-class fustiness. He’s been liberated by the power of arsing around!

Andrew: Although I think I might have put my finger on why Seymour still hasn’t really clicked for me. In the cafè, he muses that he always thought retirement would be more elegant. and that more awards and honours would have come his way by now. So whereas Foggy’s schemes generally came from a place of altruism and a sense of duty, Seymour is a fundamentally selfish character. His plans are much more self-serving in nature. Compo and Clegg see straight through this of course, but I wouldn’t be putting up with him!

S9E3bBob: Foggy wasn’t entirely selfless… he always dreamed of recognition for his good deeds, I think. But I know what you mean, and I think it’s that class difference again. Foggy was prepared to work for his rewards, and actually get his hands dirty, but Seymour feels a sense of entitlement. There are some fascinating glimpses into his character in this cafe sequence, too… including “those unfounded rumours that I used to drink”.  We’ve already seen Seymour absolutely throwing back the booze in Uncle of the Bride, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’d made a habit of demolishing rather too many large brandies after a difficult day at the Utterthwaite Academy. There are hints of a darker past, much moreso than we ever saw with Foggy.

I like the Crusher-inspired cake mix explosion, too. And the recurring references to Clegg’s elbow. The comic potential of elbows has been much underused in British comedy. Elbows are funny.

Andrew: Back when we embarked upon this… quest, we often remarked upon the fact that Holmfirth looked like a bit of a dump – that’s the reason it was chosen as a location, after all – but in this episode (and actually, when I think about it, this series in general) the town looks really lovely. That might have something to do with the time of year they were filming, but could it be that Holmfirth was flying in the face of the 1980s depression by actually being on the up at this point?

Bob: It was probably a result of the tourist trade! We’re at the peak of Winemania here, aren’t we? There were people pouring into Holmfirth to grab a cuppa at Sid’s Cafe! Only to discover it was actually a wallpaper shop. Although I bet even the wallpaper shop got enough passing trade to help it through any sticky patches.

Sticky patches! Wallpaper! Oh, I’m wasting my time here.

Andrew: I love the “friendship” that we far too infreqently get to see between Nora and Ivy. There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest they can’t actually can’t stand one another, but they are united over their mutual loathing of others! We also surely can’t let Nora’s description of Wally as “That little muffin I’m married to,” pass us by. Is this the true origin of the term “stud muffin”?

S9E3dBob: Well, come on… we get to see him in leather in this episode. Anyway, are you really going to get us started on the regional differences between the names of baked goods? If you ask for a teacake in Holmfirth, you get a breadbun. Then there’s the whole pikelets versus crumpets nest of vipers. Don’t start on muffins, for crying out loud. We’ll go viral. There’ll be a Twitstorm (amongst our 46 Twitter followers). A storm in a teacake… which is actually a decent Summer Wine episode title. Are we still in touch with Roy Clarke? He can have that one.

Andrew: This episode is very heavy on detailed descriptions of events past, isn’t it? Alvin Butler’s school days, Clegg’s trouble in a ladies’ outfitters. Seymour’s dalliance with a barmaid and a home-built ice creamer (on separate occasions), Clegg’s trouble in a ladies’ dress shop, Compo’s short-lived marital problems, his flirtations with a hefty barmaid, and now sweet summer memories of Nora Batty’s dried dates. It could completely stall the episode’s plot, but for me at least this kind of diversion just draws me closer to Clarke’s characters. Their pasts help them live and breath. In Seymour’s own words, “Where does he get detail like that?”

Bob: The older you get, the more you live in the past. It’s absolutely true, and it’s nicely captured in all of this. I also like the fact that we can pin some of Compo’s reminsences down to an actual date… “that long hot summer a few years back… it just went on and on…”. He’s clearly referring to the summer of 1976, which is the first that I can remember. There were 45 consecutive days without rain, average temperatures of over 30 degrees, and we appointed a Minister for Drought! There was a plague of ladybirds as well. I bet Nora’s stockings were covered in them.

I love Compo’s references to Nora’s “Days”, too. “Monday is wash day… this was a Tuesday, she was baking”. Good grief, mow there is a lost little corner of British culture. From memory, wash days in particular were synchronised; because washing lines were strung across back alleyways, and hanging out washing made said snickets and ginnells impassable. So if the women of the street all agreed to do their washing on the same day, then at least their husbands’ drying undercrackers only held up any passing traffic for a single day each week.

S9E3eIt’s a lovely, and rare, monologue for Bill Owen anyway, and he handles it superbly. Roy Clarke’s dialogue often reminds me of Alan Bennett, and this is like a mini-Talking Heads. And the summer of 1976 was the gap between Blamire’s departure and Foggy’s arrival, so it’s interesting to imagine Compo’s passions for Nora running wild in the simmering heat, without the calming influence of a Third Man to dampen his ardour.

Andrew: And just when it seems the episode is in danger of having nothing actually happen, Howard and Marina turn up with a pair of defective bicycles for Seymour to be let loose upon. There’s a pantomimic quality to their appearances in this series so far that reveals their seaside stage show origins, I think. Compo even has a “Ay up, it’s Howard and Marina!” catchphrase that smacks of “he’s behind you!”

Bob: There’s something deeply Freudian and sexually charged about Howard and Marina’s bikes being tangled together. I bet his pump is touching her spokes.

Andrew: Now this kind of contraption I can get behind. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had an affinity for Heath Robinson–esque home improvements. and Seymour’s gate and front door security system certainly qualify. Maybe I’m still traumatised by that giant pigeon, but I appreciate a more grounded bit of prop comedy!

Bob: Seymour’s voice recognition contraption is decades ahead of its time! Isn’t this how the Amazon Echo works? That Alexa thing? I’ve no idea, I haven’t got one. But if I did, I would program it to refuse to co-operate unless I shouted ‘Codfanglers’ in its electronic lughole. Does the Amazon Echo have electronic lugholes? There you go, there’s another potential episode title.

Andrew: We’re rapidly approaching the conclusion of this episode and I’ve just realised that the only TV Centre-bound set we’ve crossed paths with is the interior of the cafè. Keep trying Alan, they’ll let you completely ditch the videotape soon enough! I think we have a new Alan Bell trademark to watch out for as well, the tight two-shot – two characters in close up, one head hovering over the shoulder of the other. It’s all over this instalment!

S9E3gjpgAnyway, Crusher and Wally arrive with their respective mistresses’ demands for the return of their appliances. and in order to get back into town everybody piles into Crusher’s comically small  Citroen 2CV. All except Compo, that is, who is dragged behind while precariously perched on top of Howard and Marina’s fused bicycles. There’s a lovely community feel to this oh-so-silly ending that seems entirely fitting for an episode that has been so focused on personal histories. Top marks!

Bob: I just can’t stop imagining the conversation that Wally and Crusher had, cramped together in that car on their way over to Seymour’s house! Especially now we know that Jonathan Linsley and Joe Gladwin were good friends, and often sat together on the coach to filming locations. You know what, Jonathan’s memories of Joe’s stories is one of the loveliest rewards that we’ve had for embarking on this bizarre quest. I’m so glad we got to hear those. And you’re right, all of this is tied up with a delightul feelgood ending with a genuine ‘team Summmer Wine’ feeling to it.

And the lamb at the end is a perfect punchline! A very nice episode indeed.