Summer Winos»Archive for June 2018

Archive for June 2018

Series 9 Episode 5: Who's Feeling Ejected, Then?


In which Compo experiences some ups and downs…

Andrew: Here we go, then; the first episode of Last of the Summer Wine broadcast during my lifetime. Not that I expect the Summer Wine world to suddenly become a lot more recognisable… I think I described last week’s episode as ‘Edwardian’, and this is certainly not a show of 1987 in the same way that the first series was very definitely a show of 1973.

Bob: Ah, really? You think we’re entering the ‘timeless’ era of Summer Wine? That’s interesting, and a bit of a shame for you… the 1970s episodes were so redolent of my childhood, and I was hoping you’d get a similar frisson of nostalgia from the late 1980s and 1990s series. I think there are still elements of the show that reflect the feel of the 1980s (which were a lot more grim and grotty than a lot of TV retrospectives would have you believe… there was no power dressing or outsized mobile phones on Teesside, believe me) but I know what you mean. The 1970s episodes were often specifically about the issues of that decade; with the disctinctly post-industrialised landscape and issues of the Holme Valley sometimes combined with specific events like the Silver Jubilee.  There’s been a bit less of that kind of thing recently.

I laughed out loud at the opening sequence though, with Compo bouncing up and down on some unseen contraption, boinging away behind a dry stone wall. I just like the sight of old men boinging. I’m that shallow.

Andrew: Following… whatever was going on in that field, Compo staggers into the cafè. Bill Owen is clearly having a ball here, chewing the scenery with physical comedy. It’s nice to spend a little more time with Crusher here, as well. He feels a touch underused of late, but comes out with an intriguing line here:

Crusher: I never would have bothered having all them tattoos if I’d known I was going to end up in a frock.

What do we think Crusher’s tattoos are of, then?

Bob: Your baby face, all over his chest. The only appropriate way to mark your entry into the world. I thought that line was a very telling sign of the times, actually… back in 1987, big, butch bikers like Crusher were amongst the very few people that you’d ever expect to have a tattoo! The only people I remember having tattoos during my childhood were sailors and nutcases. They’re everywhere now, though. I bet Mary Berry has got one.

But you’re right, it’s lovely to have a bit of Crusher time, and yet again… there’s a lovely rapport between Bill Owen and Jonathan Linsley. ‘Howdo, little Crushy!’ cries Compo, chuckling away at Crusher’s cheek. There’s real warmth there, and it’s lovely. And hey, there you go! A bona fide 1980s reference! Ivy describes Crusher as the cafe’s ‘nuclear deterrent’. The terrifying Cold War years had only just started to thaw by early 1987… in fact, it looks like Mikhail Gorbachev started talking about ‘Glasnost’ only a matter of weeks before this episode was broadcast. You could imagine Crusher being deployed at Greenham Common.

Andrew: So why has Seymour invented this ejector seat? I’m starting to suspect we might not get an answer to that fundamental question! So far, there’s a slightly unpolished feel to this instalment. Even when Compo ponders Nora Batty – recently a frequent whimsical highlight – it all comes across as a little bit simplistic. Nora cleans, and Compo is dirty.

Bob: It’s a real departure from the format, isn’t it? There’s no big build-up to Seymour creating this invention, nor any explanation as to why he’s done so… the ejector seat is already fully formed and operational at the start of the episode. I do like this scene of it being left outside the cafe though, and drawing a curious crowd who think it’s ‘the electric chair’. There’s something that rings true about inexplicable behaviour or objects in public places causing instant consternation. My Mum says that. when she was a kid in the 1950s, she and her friends would stand in Middlesbrough town centre pointing at completely non-existent objects in the sky. Within seconds, a little crowd would gather around them, squinting at the clouds and trying to figure out the subject of their fascination.  

And, as we shift into Wesley’s garage to find a car capable of housing said ejector seat, we gain an interesting insight into Seymour’s character. ‘I’ve always known life was unfair,’ he muses, ‘ever since that terrible Christmas Day when it broke my train set’. You surely have to suspect that Seymour broke his own train set with some infernal tinkering, but like every good egomaniac, he can’t see that. As far as he’s concerned, the universe is conspiring against him… because, clearly, he’s at the centre of it.

Andrew: Here’s an oddity. As Compo prepares to be strapped to the top of the car, a video-mixed clock wipe ushers us from one filmed scene to another. Very unusual to see in Summer Wine, and I can’t help but wonder if this is because the episode is once again a little undercooked. or perhaps just rushed into production. I certainly can’t imagine that transition having been planned at the scripting stage.

Bob: A video-wiped mixed what? I had to wind that back and watch that again, you bugger. We’re not all Stanley Kubricks, you know. I see what you mean, though… the way the scene changes like a clock’s hands moving around? It’s very George Lucas!

Andrew: As soon as the car speeds off, some decent yet still very obvious CSO work rears its head whenever the camera needs to see Compo close up. That’s understandable given how dangerous the stunt looks, and I suppose the technique has a charm of its own, but I’ll never understand how nobody at the BBC ever seemed to figure out that a bumpy and jostling background plate of driving film needs the studio camera to be equally unsteady in order to look anything less than phoney!

Bob: That’s right… you distract them with the dodgy camera effects, and I’ll get down to the real business of stalking the Last of the Summer Wine cars on the DVLA website. Barry’s red Ford has a registration number of HFH 315N, first registered in April 1975, but the road tax has been due since Sunday 1st June 1986. So was this episode filmed before then, or was it an already off-the-road prop requisitioned by the BBC? I hope Alan J.W Bell had filled in a Statutory Off-Road Notification form.

Andrew: There really is nothing sexual to Howard and Marina’s relationship, despite what Marina may crave. I think Howard just genuinely longs for companionship – the kind he clearly doesn’t get from Pearl, who over the years has essentially become his mother. Rather than carnal pleasure, he has a genuine interest in the pastimes the pair use as a cover story… in this instance tracking down ‘the caterpillar of the wood moth.’ Basically, his affair with Marina is an excuse for him to indulge the hobbies that they use as an excuse to be seen together!

Bob: Get away, nobody has ever said ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to show you the caterpillar of the wood moth’ with as much sexual frustration as Howard. It was a commonly-used euphemism amongst the pre-Viagra generation.  There’s a real wistfulness to Marina’s response, too… ‘You look at me, you look at the wet grass, and all you think about is rheumatism.’ They’re lonely people, aren’t they? There’s a genuine sadness behind their slapstick. I think Ronnie Hazlehurst sees this too, and provides some lovely, melancholy music as they cycle away. 

Andrew: I definitely side with Compo in this episode, moreso than usual. There is literally no reason for any of this business with the ejector seat. I think it comes back to what I’ve said before about Seymour’s fundamental selfishness. This time round, he doesn’t even come up with an excuse for the batty invention, or a decent justification for Compo’s safety being put at risk. Apart, of course, from the dangling carrot of impressing Nora Batty.

Bob: It’ll take more than a dangling carrot to impress Nora Batty. But yes, I’ve written ‘WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS?’ in my notes… in big letters too, to show I mean business. To be fair, I think there are hints that Seymour just sees a big commercial market for car-based ejector seats, and thinks he can claim both fortune and glory as a result of this episode. I empathise more with Clegg though, setting up a makeshift crash mat for Compo’s trail run. ‘At my age,’ he ponders, ‘there’s something deeply uninteresting about a mattress…’ I’m actually starting to wonder if there’s a big metaphor at work here. Everyone appears to be especially world-weary. and feeling their age, in this episode.  Is the ejector seat an allegory for Seymour’s attempts to spring them all out of their torpor? Life is a trundling, untaxed, red Ford, and he’s desperate to boing them all out of it… even though we all know that, ultimately, the attempt will be futile. It’s possible I’m overthinking all this.

Andrew: OK, I’ve been disappointed with this episode so far, but I think the entire thing was worth it for Ivy’s clairvoyance! Desperate to sneak out and view Seymour’s test, Crusher tries to fool Ivy into thinking he is doing some work by leaving the vacuum cleaner on as he sneaks to the front door. As if by magic, however, she has disappeared from the kitchen and reappeared outside, ready to catch him!

Bob: That made me laugh, too… although is this the first hint that we’ve had that the cafe has a back door? I like Ivy’s line, as well: ‘Loonies of the calibre of those three will still be available long after closing time…’ There’s something terribly reassuring about that. Oh, and… Compo mentions ‘screaming his clacker off’! I’d never heard of the word ‘clacker’ until very recently, when my radio cohort Uncle Harry used it to describe the little dangly organ at the back of his throat, and I – shamefully – disputed its use in this context. But Compo is clearly using it in the same way, so I officially retract all of my doubts. Medical opinion describes it as the ‘uvula’, but where’s the fun in that?

Andrew: Given that Bill Owen has to be blue or yellow-screened onto the top of a car, I’m amazed that frail old Joe Gladwin continues to mount Wally’s motorbike and sidecar out on location. The cast often spoke of how frail he was in his later years. What a trooper.

Bob: I genuinely have nothing but admiration for Joe Gladwin and his achievements on this series; and, indeed, everything else he did in his extraordinary life and career. One day, when all of our other nonsense is out of the way, we need to work on a biography of him. There you go, it’s in print now.  We’ll have to do it.

Andrew: Barry puts his foot on the accelerator, and the contraption is off. Seymour gives the signal for the ejector seat to be engaged, and… BANG. This is the first bit of slapstick in this episode that has really made me laugh. The cloud of smoke, accompanied by Compo tumbling forward, seems so unexpectedly violent that it really caught me by surprise! It’s a great moment, but then the episode just sort of stops, without a resolution. Do we really believe Seymour would give up at this stage? There’s no particular sense of an ending.

Bob: It’s an odd episode, and it does feel like it might have been written quite quickly. I tell you what, though… you have to hand it to the Summer Wine continuity machine. There’s a credit here for Maxton Beesley, who I’m guessing might have been one of the gathered throng watching the ejector seat test-run? Whatever, the same actor has a previous credit for Getting Sam Home, where he played ‘Colin’s Mate’, one of the toolbox vultures keen to raid the late Sam’s shed for ratchet screwdrivers and socket sets. We discussed him a little in the comments below our episode review! Three years later, was ‘Colin’s Mate’ drawn up to the moors on the promise of seeing Compo flying over a hedge? Of course he was. Like me, he just can’t resist the sight of old men boinging.

Andrew: I’m convinced that something went awry during the production of this episode, and I think it’s worth pointing out that it has the shortest running time of any episode of the series. That’s what happens when you forget to include subtext! I hope my birth hasn’t jinxed the series, because that was a bit of a duffer!

Bob: It’s all your fault. We were doing fine until you came along.

Series 9 Episode 4: The Really Masculine Purse

 

S9E4gIn which Crusher fears he’s developed a squeak…

Bob: What an incredible view across the hills at the opening of this episode! I think this might be most we’ve ever seen of the Holme Valley in a single shot. There’s a reservoir just visible on the right-hand of the screen, too. Where we can we find that? We need to go there. I love a good reservoir.

Andrew: I think that now he knows how much Alan Bell is up for shooting on location, we’re going to see more of Roy Clarke’s love of the Yorkshire landscape coming across – a love that probably reaches its peak with the publication of 1989’s Summer Wine Country book. This scene also has a fantastic transition… from Seymour contemplating a Power behind the Universe to him immediately discounting it, due to his own lack of success in life.

We next see the trio travelling through the countryside via tractor, and a subtle bit of visual trickery. I’m 99% sure that stuntman Stuart Fell, rather than Bill Owen, is sitting on top of the tractor’s cab and that the reason the vehicle stops next to a gap in a dry stone wall is to allow the two performers to covertly switch positions. That’s some daredevil stunting right there!

Bob: I like the continuing character trait of Compo’s friends reminding him of Hollywood film stars, in increasingly unlikely fashions. Nora has previously reminded him of Dorothy Lamour, and now it’s Seymour that makes him think of the 1930s and 1940s Western movie legend Randolph Scott. Only from the back, though! It’s lovely that all of the celebrities in his head are from that golden age of Hollywood, too – all dating from around the time of the Second World War, when the young Compo was more than likely down the local flicks every other night. Like everyone, he’ll have a ‘cut-off point’ when it comes to popular culture… I bet he hasn’t seen a film made later than about 1965. It’s also the cue for a superb little Ronnie Hazlehurst ‘Cowboys and Injuns’ sting; it’s pure ‘get off your horse and drink your milk…’

I like this exchange, too:

Seymour: Would you know a cowslip if you saw one?
Compo: I didn’t know cows wore them….

What a long-lost item of lingerie is the humble ‘slip’! Do any women even wear them any more? I bet this confuses our American readers…

Andrew: In the cafè, our trio are charged 60p for three cups of tea. This is your department, Bob; how does that rate compare to what we’ve seen on the blackboard in previous series?

S9E4hBob: What do you think I am, some kind of insane obsessive? Anyway, it transpires that Seymour keeps his loose change in a small purse, something that Compo fears will fatally compromise the collective masculinity of all three of them! ‘Another tulip…’ he mutters. Although how can a man who looks like Randolph Scott from behind ever be considered effeminate? Nevertheless, we’re thrown into an episode that I’m going to pretentiously claim is an examination of traditional masculinity in the mid-1980s, and whether it even needs to be maintained in modern-day Britain. In the age of equality, is fair to consider a man a tulip for keeping his small change in a purse?

Andrew: Ivy’s reaction to Seymour’s counting out his change – much like her reaction to anything he does at this stage – isn’t a positive one, but Compo still suggests that Seymour ‘could be lucky there’. Is this a rare acknowledgement that Sid has passed on, as opposed to him just hiding upstairs somewhere?

Bob: Gosh, really? A suggestion of impending romance between Seymour and Ivy? The mind boggles. She’d never let a man like Seymour finger her buns.

Clegg is often referred to as the ‘philosophical’ member of the trio, so I’m delighted to point out that the following musing…

Clegg: How fortunate it is that your lips are at the front… if they were at the back, you’d never know what you were eating.

…is remarkably similar to a philosophy lecture that I once enjoyed at university. Yes, you read that right – I ENJOYED it! It was the final lecture of the autumn term in my first year, and the man at the lectern was the extraordinary Colin Lyas, a very respected philosophical writer, and a man who would illustrate complicated academic points by showing clips from Laurel and Hardy films in his bachelor flat on campus, while dishing out coffee and brandy to little gatherings of us pasty, wide-eyed students. He was utterly fabulous, and – in his final lecture before Christmas that year, a study of the theories of evolution vs intelligent design – said ‘I’ll leave you to mull this over during the festive season… is it any coincidence that the fur on a dog’s face stops in exactly the right places for its eyes?’

Pure Clegg, that. We should put together a Tao of Clegg compilation of his most profound utterings.

Andrew: Is the world ready for such a publication? Just look at the bother Mao’s Little Red Book got everybody in to.

From the philosophical to the physical, I’d like to draw everybody’s attention to the lovely little ballet that Compo dances, as he stands behind – and mimics – Seymour. We really must track down some of the original shooting scripts at some point, as I’d love to see how much of this kind of material was outlined by Clarke and how much was workshopped on location.

Bob: He’s a lovely little mover, Bill Owen. Anyway, back to the main theme of today’s lecture: gender stereotyping. Seymour makes it his mission to ‘rid the purse of all feminine associations’ so I guess the answer to my previous hypothesis is this: yes, in the age of equality, it IS fair to consider a man a tulip for keeping his small change in a purse. I like Clegg’s musing on Seymour ‘s diligence, too… ‘If people didn’t persevere, we’d never have such things as the Sinclair Electric Vehicle, or the Titanic!’

What a timely but unexpected reference to the Sinclair C5! Launched in 1985, it was computer magnate Sir Clive Sinclair’s ill-fated attempt to revolutionise the British transport system with a white, plastic buggy that was half-pedalled, half-electrified. For the benefit of our younger (and American) readers:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_C5

Only 5,000 were ever sold, and – by the time this episode aired in 1987 – they were already seen as something of a laughing stock. And there were plenty of them in stock.

S9E4fAndrew: There’s a rare burst of continuity here, as Seymour once again attempts to perfect his voice-activated front door lock. This time, ‘Codfanglers’ is out and ‘Marjorie’ is in, but our trio unfortunately aren’t – meaning Compo has to be stuffed through the pantry window. Once inside, we get to take in the faded Edwardian pomp of Seymour’s living room, adorned as it is with mementos of his old days as the headmaster of a boy’s school. The aesthetic is suddenly very All Creatures Great and Small, isn’t it?

Bob:  I’ve said it before, but Michael Aldridge would have made a brilliant 1970s Doctor Who. That front room is exactly how I’d imagine his TARDIS. Ronnie Hazlehurst is on sensational form here. too… as Seymour clatters away, unseen, in his workshop, his rhythmic hammering and sawing is turned into an almost-experimental little musical motif. It pretty much anticipates the entire 1990s output of Tom Waits.

Andrew: It’s an interestingly Radiophonic turn from Hazlehurst. Isn’t it also unusual to have this prominent a musical cue over a studio-bound scene? I may be wrong here, but I always associate the series’ score with its location work. It jarred me, anyway.

Bob: And ooh, another mid-1980s pop culture reference! ‘Right, little tatty Rambo…’ says Seymour to Compo, and indeed – in 1987 – Sylvester Stallone’s mumbling lunk was one of the best-known film characters on the planet. I even had a Rambo computer game for my Sinclair ZX Spectrum, so that ties everything together neatly, doesn’t it? This exchange also suggests that Seymour has a slightly more up-to-date knowledge of popular modern cinema than Compo, with his Randolph Scott and Dorothy Lamour obsessions.

Andrew: Speaking of cultural milestones I should probably point out that this is the final episode of Last of the Summer Wine to have premiered prior to me appearing on the scene. That is to say, this first screened on January 25th 1987, and I was forcefully brought screaming into the world with a pair of forceps, three days later! Obviously this makes little difference to us right now, but it will be interesting to see how my perceptions of the series change once we reach the episodes that I watched first time around.

Bob: Seymour’s solution to the problem of the non-masculine purse is to strap it to the ankle. I’ve got to say, if he launched that in 2018, it would likely become a hipster sensation. It’s a really good look.

S9E4dAnd… Wally Klaxon! WALLY! WALLY! WALLY! Oh, always a pleasure. Wally lends Compo his new boots to accommodate the ankle-strapped purse, grumbling in his own inimitable fashion that he needs ‘a bit of help breaking them in, anyway’. Do you still need to break in new shoes and boots, or do they come pre-broken in now? I can’t remember having done it since my late 1980s winklepicker phase. I just put new shoes straight on now, and they’re fine. Has there been a big footwear breakthrough at some point in the last thirty years?

Anyway…

Clegg: He’s not only married to Nora Batty, his boots are too tight.
Compo: Looks like real tough leather.
Clegg: She does to me…

Poetry.

Andrew: I know I keep saying this, but the knowledge that our time with Joe Gladwin in the series is coming to an end really does make each new scene with him feel extra special. This one really is a belter, though. At first he seems to be on a shorter leash than usual; barely making it past the front step. There’s a beautiful wistfulness to his dialogue too, amplified by a gorgeously sentimental and Chaplinesque musical cue.

Wally: I never get a chance to do things like that. You don’t when you’re married. She gives me security and full employment, but they’ve no idea how a bloke misses sheer stupidity.

Nora appears to escort him inside, of course, but she seems to do that with an extra air of tendernesss this time – at least by her own standards. I wonder if this is a slight acknowledgement of Gladwin’s waning health. This scene is so pitch perfect, in fact, that I almost wish it was the last time we got to see him.

This being Last of the Summe Wine, the air of melancholy is soon punctured by the sights of Compo’s trousers falling to his ankles. In something of a running theme, this trouser malfunction has been caused by the removal of another treasured memento of Nora – a purloined section of her clothes line. Spoken of in only the loftiest terms by Compo, he remembers her looking strikingly like Joan Crawford on that day. ‘Do you not mean Broderick Crawford?’ asks Clegg. For the sake of comparison…

Broderick Crawford Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford
Broderick Crawford

Bob: Our trio road-test the purse (and Wally’s squeaky boots, now sported by Compo) by catching the 356 bus from Blackmoorfoot to Dean Bottom. Was this a real bus route? I’m guessing so, and I’ve actually inadvertently answered my earlier questions in trying to look this up… Blackmoorfoot is clearly the home of the picturesque reservoir that I mentioned earlier!

Blackmoorfoot Reservoir

Andrew: It’s less the bus route and more the passengers themselves that fascinate me. Who are/were these people? I suspect they’re locals drafted into a bit of extra work. Are many of them still around to watch repeats of their starring moment on cable? Are their children and grandchildren thrilled to spot them? If you’re out there, get in touch!

Bob: There’s actually a bloke in the bus queue that’s a dead ringer for you! Glasses, beard, flat cap and blue cagoul. Have you time-travelled in Seymour’s TARDIS?

S9E4c
Anyway, Jane Freeman’s shriek when Compo dramatically lifts his leg to access the ankle-bound purse made me laugh out loud. This is a really funny climax, actually… just a marvellous bit of silly, physical comedy as Compo’s squeaky boots (in the background) coincide perfectly with Crusher’s dainty stroll around the front of the café. And Jonathan Linsley is SUPERB! ‘I’m only a lad, and I’ve been struck down with squeaky boots…’ he gasps, his face a mask of terror. What a fine piece of smalltown nonsense. There’s something truly heart-warming about the silliness of all this.

Andrew: Fantastic direction, too. For the second time in this review I’m going to invoke Charlie Chaplin. If I was to sum up Bell’s visual style in one word then that word would have to be ‘depth’. The way in which the action is framed, with Crusher bouncing in the foreground and Compo pacing in the background. conveys the gag in such a visual manner that you would still get the joke if the sound was turned off. That’s good storytelling!

S9E4aI also feel the need to note that we get to see Wally and his whippet again. I know this goes against what I was saying earlier about being content for the previous scene to be his farewell, but this is a joy.

Bob: And we end, as we began, with a glorious bit of direction from Alan Bell! A lovely final shot of Compo’s wellies teetering along a dry stone wall, with Seymour and Clegg frame in the background. Combine it with Seymour’s musings on mechanical trousers…

Seymour: You press a button, and out comes your small change.
Compo: I had a pair of trousers like that…

… and you’ve got the perfect combination of smut and beautiful scenery. That was a nice, gentle little episode that meandered along in a rather lovely, understated fashion. It’s been a very enjoyable series so far.

Andrew: That, I think, is about as good an episode as Clarke has written to date. A perfect blend of silliness, whimsy, and the oh-so-subtle grit that makes the series what it is. I much prefer the more grounded, yet equally ludicrous invention from Seymour this time around. I bet the series’ budget did, too!