Summer Winos»Archive for September 2018

Archive for September 2018

Series 9 Episode 7: Set The People Free


In which our trio attempt not one, but two great escapes…

Andrew: We’ve talked a little about how Holmfirth is gradually becoming less of a grim place than it was in the show’s early episodes, but the panoramic opening shot that kicks off this episode still offers us a town that is black with soot and capped with a misty haze. Don’t get me wrong, though – I think it looks gorgeous like this. There’s something about those soot-blackened walls that lends Howard’s constant window-washing an air of melancholy. They could be absolutely gleaming, but that house is never going to look ‘clean’. He and Pearl are fighting for house proudness, in a era where that meant something. Also, I don’t want to know what Pearl’s ‘terrible plans’ with an emulsion brush are…

Bob: Is ‘house-proudness’ an actual word? I’ve been staring at it for ten minutes now, and I can’t decide. The only alternative is ‘house-pride’ though, and that just makes me think of Homepride flour. Sorry, am I getting distracted here? You’re right though, Holmfith looks fabulously melancholy and autumnal. I always get a little frisson when the opening shot of an episode is something other than the main trio pottering the countryside; it feels like all bets are off! And I’ve got a bonus frisson from knowing that we’ve actually been on Clegg and Howard’s balcony ourselves! Oh, and whatever Pearl is planning to emulsion, I hope she’s primed it first.

Andrew: You’d better get used to Howard asking for help in getting out of the house – we’ve got over twenty years of it to come!

Bob: It won’t take us twenty years to watch it all, though. No way! At our current rate of progress, it’ll be more like thirty. There’s a tremendous bit of textbook Roy Clarke here, too:

Clegg: What are you using on your windows, Howard?
Howard: The best years of my life…

I also like Howard’s claim that he’s practising his ‘double handed death grip’ on Clegg. ‘Death grips’ were everywhere when I was a kid! I spent most of my 1980s lunchtimes try to perfect (or avoid) them in the school playground. They normally involved a nasty pinch on the side of the neck, and were often accompanied by some kind of mystical Eastern mumbo-jumbo, shouted at a volume not quite loud enough to attract the attention of Mrs Gallon, our most feared, yellow-overalled dinnernanny. I blame The Karate Kid. Or possibly Mr Spock.

Andrew: I think we’ve mentioned this before, but Jonathan Linsley is a very good background actor. Just look at the concentration on Crusher’s face as he carefully dries one fork with a dishcloth.

Bob: He’s terrific! It’s the sequel to his open-mouthed window-wiping in the previous episode. And good grief, our heroes are eating BEANS-ON-TOAST in the cafe! When did that ever happen before? Ivy is normally lucky to flog them three cups of tea, so an actual hot meal is the Summer Wine equivalent of dining at the Savoy! Are we seeing Seymour’s influence here? Although he always strikes me as the kind of penniless toff who would happily tuck into a table laden with slap-up posh nosh before tapping his pockets in mock surprise and saying ‘I’m terribly sorry, old boy… I seem to have left my wallet at the Garrick…’

I can’t help but notice that the cafe has a list of Huddersfield Town fixtures on the wall, too. If we’re assuming they’re for the 1986/87 season, then it wasn’t a vintage campaign for the Terriers. They spent the entire season at the bottom of the old Division 2, and their manager Mick Buxton was sacked about six weeks before this episode was broadcast. They only escaped relegation by three points, and ultimately went down the following season. I know some people have no interest in such sporting frivoloties, and prefer to concentrate on the important implications of Pearl’s ambitions with an emulsion brush, but this nonsense genuinely gives these episodes a social and historical context for me! Although, on the downside, I’ve had to think about Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: There’s an odd directorial quirk that crops up when Crusher foolishly asks Seymour about ‘man’s superior intellect’. Last of the Summer Wine, at this stage, is still predominantly a studio-based sitcom, shot in front of a live audience. Traditionally, this means that each scene is shot in quite a theatrical style. There are three walls to each set, with the fourth wall removed to allow both the cameras and the live audience to see what’s going on. When Seymour turns to Crusher, however, that fourth wall is either back in, or they have cheated in such a way as to make it look like it is. Either way, Seymour’s closeup has to have been filmed separately and edited in later, or else we would have seen a hulking great BBC video camera in the middle of the previous shot. This wouldn’t be at all unusual for a film-based series, but for an old-school sitcom it is rather jarring – to me at least. Once again, I think Bell is showing his true colours.

Bob: As a film director, you mean? This is why I need you here… I honestly wouldn’t have noticed that in a million years. Although thankyou for distracting me from thoughts of Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: ‘Apathy Birthday To You’ might be my favourite Compo moment in a long while. It’s so silly and fun and underlines that fact that Bill Owen has now brought the character into full-on pixie mode. Compo at the start of the series might be someone you’d cross the street to avoid, but he’s such a delight not you’d run to him.

Bob: That made me laugh out loud, too! I know Roy Clarke told us (CLANG!) that he saw the main trio as elderly children from the very start of the series, but Compo has certainly become more childish as the years have rolled by. I guess, in the early years, he was a like lazy, sulky teenager with an air of danger… whereas now he’s an absolutely loveable eight-year-old.

Andrew: ‘Love is always a clean shirt’ is such a beautiful, yet thoroughly depressing phrase, isn’t it?

Bob: I made a note of that, too. There’s a real sadness to it, and to Peter Sallis’ immaculate delivery. He’s half-missing his late wife, but also half-mourning the fact that his marriage seems to have been barely more than a state of convenient domesticity for them both. It’s been fifteen years since she died, and Clegg is still only in his mid-fifties, but he’s never shown the slightest interest in finding another relationship.

Seymour, however, is positively pining. ‘If only I’d met Marjorie earlier…’ he muses. Is this the first time she’s been mentioned? Compo and Clegg don’t seem to be aware of her existence. In my fevered imagination, Marjorie is genuinely Seymour’s soulmate… a woman that he met and fell in love with only after she got married to some less-deserving pillock. But Seymour was married as well, wasn’t he? He’s moping about his ex-wife when we first meet him, in Uncle of the Bride. Having lost out on Marjorie, did he reluctantly marry another woman who, despite her best efforts, didn’t make his heart quicken in quite the same way? No wonder his wife left him. There’s such sadness in all of these backstories.

Andrew: Shop front update! The business at the end of Nora and Compo’s road is still G.W. Castle Ltd. As you were.

Bob: If you’re not careful, you’ll gain us a reputation as some kind of pathetic obsessives. And aw… just as Howard is imprisoned by Pearl, Wally is kept in captive domesticity by Nora. And she’s getting ready to wield her emulsion brush, too! What’s going on here? Have G.W. Castle Ltd been flogging off a job lot of cheap paint? Joe Gladwin is a deadpan delight, as ever. ‘It’s just one giddy sensation after another…’

And so Compo, Clegg and Seymour make it their mission to spring Howard and Wally from their domestic bondage. And I bet that’s something you can’t buy from G.W. Castle Ltd.

Andrew: The old pram wheel that our trio find in the river has endless possibilities. How did it get there? I bet Clarke could get an entire episode out of that back story.

Bob: Never mind that, what about Clegg’s description – ‘maybe it’s a primitive form of contraception’?! That’s the kind of ribald musing that we haven’t heard in Summer Wine for a little while! Very topical, though… 1987 was arguably the height of the media’s coverage of the dangers of AIDS, and it was suddenly perfectly commonplace to hear talk of ‘condoms’ in all kinds of unexpected places. I’d go as far to say that ‘Safe Sex’ was arguably the phrase of 1987, even amongst Huddersfield Town fans.

Andrew: Oh, no! There’s another one of those horrible video-mixer clock-wipe thingies – this time accompanied by a musical cue just to draw further attention to it. I hope this isn’t a lasting trend; this is Summer Wine not Star Wars!

Bob: Ha! Ha! I thought of Star Wars as well! In case nobody has a bleedin’ clue what we’re talking about, the changeover from one scene to another is achieved with the picture changing in a sweeping motion like the hands of a clock whistling around… George Lucas was absolutely obsessed with using them in his early films, but it does seem oddly incongrous here. Mind you, some of Harrison Ford’s recent aeroplane prangs have a hint of Last of the Summer Wine about them. Was that plane he crashed into a golf course designed to look like a giant ferret?

Andrew: Argh, I’ve jinxed it! Another one of those accursed clock wipes! I’d be fascinated to see if these are in the scripts or a result of having to trim material for time.

Bob: They were put there thirty years ago specifically to annoy YOU. Alan Bell plays a LONG GAME.

In a lovely bit of continuity, Seymour still has the ‘Codfanglers’ voice identification gizmo on his front door, but blimey… he’s now changed the password to ‘Marjorie’! He’s really got it bad! Again, in my fevered imagination, he’s done that in the hope that Marjorie will one day turn up at the house with a hastily-packed bag… and be able to guess that the password has been set in her honour. I absolutely love these little, unexplained titbits of backstory that we’re given, a tiny hint at a time.

Andrew: The cast are really playing to the audience this week, but I mean that in the best possible sense – particularly in this scene. Peter Sallis is the one who really stands out. He’s usually very restrained and subtle, but just look at the synchronized bits of physical business he’s got going on with Bill Owen here. There must have been something in the water.

Bob: Just pram wheels and contraceptives. But yes – they’re on fire this week! I’m thoroughly enjoying this… all of the regulars are playing it with gusto, and there’s some cracking dialogue, too. Sallis has got the lions’ share of it this week… I loved Clegg’s memories of living ‘in a hothouse of tension and damp carpets… it was like Tennessee Williams.’

Andrew: Another of the ways in which Seymour differs from Foggy is the lack of engagement on his part. He’s just as likely to ignore Compo and power ahead with a train of thought than to directly engage with him. Is it niceness or apathy (birthday)? Whatever the answer, he still gets his way.

Bob: In my capacity as this blog’s official CLASS WARRIOR, I’ll speculate that it’s a terrible sense of upper-middle-class entitlement. Seymour is a professional man, with breeding, don’t you know! He doesn’t need the permission of working class commoners like Compo before he forges ahead with his crackpot schemes. Although, funnily enough, I’ve also written ‘Is Seymour too nice?’ in my notes. Despite his railroading of the ‘lower orders’, he doesn’t have the brusqueness and impatience of Blamire and Foggy. I bet he’d actually be lovely, genial company over a few drinks.

Andrew: The trio head back to Clegg’s house and mull over Howard’s fate. There’s a lot of filmed material in this episode, isn’t there? And ambitiously filmed material too – not just workmanlike long-shot, mid-shot, close-up work, but thoughtfully constructed sequences. I can’t quite get my mind around the sheer number of setups that Bell appears to have been able to get through in what must have been a matter of hours for each location. The crew must have been really well drilled.

Bob: Again, you’re a born film director. My main observation at this stage was that Compo steals a bottle of milk from Clegg’s doorstep on the way into the house, suggesting that Clegg has the tardiest milkman in the West Riding! They’ve been out all day, so this must be late in the afternoon! Oooh, I bet it was on the turn…

Andrew: Pearl assaults Seymour with an emulsion brush – making this deadly implement a running theme of the episode. I wonder what horrible thing happened to Roy Clarke to give him this post-traumatic flash of inspiration? And Clegg uses a vignette between a husband and his ‘bossy’ wife in the pub as an example of the evolution of the Yorkshire housewife, but I can’t be the only one who feels her request that he not drink and drive isn’t completely unreasonable!

Bob: Oh, I love that scene. ‘He’ll have a small beer…’ she snaps, and there’s no arguing. It’s a little mini-rumination on the miseries of loveless marriage, and – yet again – Clegg has the killer lines. ‘Years of exposure to treacle pudding forges formidable wives…’ he muses, with a wince. Good grief, you can virtually taste the comfortable drudgery of Clegg’s married life from these tiny revelations. Treacle puddings, damp carpets, pent-up tension… and clean shirts. The combination of repressed, domestic duty with the reassurance of steady – but dreary – home life. Oh god, it’s brilliant. I bet they never went out.

Andrew: We’re treated to even more classy location work, as the trio travel to Pearl and Howard’s house in Wesley’s van. They’ve even gone to the trouble of mounting cameras down the sides of the vehicle to lend the stunt work a real bit of dynamism. This is definitely the most ambitiously directed-episode to date. And is the track playing on Wesley’s car radio the same one we’ve heard in previous episodes? I think it is. He must be a real admirer of BBC Stock Rock Music #446/H37.

Bob: That’s my favourite heavy rock song of all time. But yes! I think the same track was used every time a BBC sitcom featured a ‘punk rocker’. I haven’t checked, but I’d put money on the same track being used in the episode of Terry and June where June decides to ‘get with it’ and slouches into the front room in leathers, safety pins and spiked, peroxide hair. And no… I’m not making this up.

Andrew: I promise that I’ll stop banging on about the direction after this, but in the sequence where our trio attempt to jailbreak Wally from the clutches of Nora, I counted 32 distinct shot set-ups, some of which involve camera cranes, stuntmen, and handheld shots in a rubber dinghy. Between each of these setups the crew needs time to reset, check the gate, occasionally change the magazine, make sure the sound is fine, and ensure that Joe Gladwin hasn’t drowned. This is a BBC sitcom, for God’s sake – not The Great Escape! Then again, maybe that’s the allusion that got Alan Bell fired up this week. The only thing that slightly spoiled the sequence for me was the fact that Stuart Fell (I assume), doubling for Compo as he leads Nora away, stood out so much that I assumed the use of a doppelganger was part of the plot, and was left scratching my head a bit when it wasn’t followed up on!

Bob: Again, I didn’t notice! Honestly, I was absolutely swept up in the closing sequences of this episode… in attempting to spring Howard from the miseries of domestic slavery, our heroes are beaten back by Pearl (who lets loose with a ‘What the blood and stomach pills…?’ line stolen directly from Ivy! Does that phrase occur anywhere else but in the scripts to Last of the Summer Wine?); but they distract Nora Batty for long enough to coax Wally down their ladder and into the waiting dinghy that you mention. I remember watching this scene back in 1987, and feeling a wave of genuine love for Joe Gladwin even then, because he’s clearly rather frail in these location scenes… the bloke had turned eighty, and you can see it in his movements, being gently helped into the boat. Even as a teenager, I just wanted to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

And, 31 years later, all of those feelings have returned… and then some. We’re reaching the end of Joe’s fourteen years in Summer Wine, and I’m so saddened by that. He’s been such a highlight of the show, and when you see him acting on the small screen, you see 70 years of experience in Music Hall and variety theatre seeping out of every performance. And you also see a wonderful little man, who – over 100 years after he was born – is still thrilling the socks off two grotty little herberts like us. The final scene of this episode, with Joe laughing his head off in that rotating rubber dinghy, is just joyous. Glorious. I really want to do more to help celebrate his life and work. And I still want to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

Andrew: What a great episode. The ambition of a feature film within thirty minutes of sitcom, all underpinned by a fantastically tight script and some truly joyous performances. One of the best.

Bob: Nail on head. That was wonderful.

An Interview With Roy Clarke


A little while ago, we Summer Winos – to our amazement – were given Roy Clarke’s home address. The Roy Clarke… the writer of all 295 episodes of Last of the Summer Wine, and the prolific and extraordinary scripwriting genius behind Open (and Still Open) All Hours, Keeping Up Appearances, and countless other TV shows all defined by his wry, witty and lyrical dialogue and immaculately-observed characters. We’ll be honest… we stared at Roy’s address and twiddled our thumbs for a long time. Months, even. Should we write him a letter, telling him all about the Summer Winos website and our obsession with his work, or should we leave well alone? In the end… we bit the bullet, sent Roy a heartfelt missive expressing our adoration of these iconic shows, and asking – nervously – if he would ever agree to an interview for the website.

And then we chewed our fingernails. For two days solid.

And then… an e-mail arrived. An e-mail from Roy. He was intrigued and flattered by our devotion to all things Summer Wine, and invited us – unbelievably – to join him for dinner. And so it came to pass that, one balmy September day, we caught the train to Doncaster and emerged nervously onto the platform. And there waiting for us was a tall, silver-haired figure with a warm smile and a friendly handshake. It’s hard to describe how surreal it felt to be whisked away to a luxurious Yorkshire hotel by our TV hero, but as the afternoon progressed, and Roy treated us to a slap-up, four-course meal (and drinks… oh my word, the drinks…) we all settled into our chairs, and embarked on a long, fascinating and very frank conversation about Roy’s long unparalleled career… a conversation that he has been generous enough to allow us to record and reproduce here.

It went like this…

Summer Winos: Let’s start at the start…  we were fascinated by the fact that, when you started writing Last of the Summer Wine, a series about older people looking to fill their days, you were a fairly young man yourself. Weren’t you only in your early forties?

Roy Clarke: Yes. I started in drama, so I never thought about a sitcom; never, ever.  Way before that I was thinking that I wanted to write, but I thought it would be novels. But of course I’d start one every Tuesday, and that was no good. And I never thought of dialogue. I never thought of performance. So it clicked for me when I did think of those things, through [writing for] Radio Leeds. I started in drama, as I said, but everything I do has an element of comedy because I’m scared to death of boring people. My chickening-out is to do humour. And the BBC’s head of comedy at that time had seen The Misfit (Roy’s 1970 series for ATV, in which Ronald Fraser’s bemused old soldier struggles with life in Swinging Britain) and invited me in for a chat. He said, ‘Would you like to try a sitcom?’ and I thought… ‘Sounds nice’. It was short story length… I was still thinking in printed terms in those days. And he said – and I promise you this was the entire brief – ‘we want something for three old men.’ And I thought, ‘What a terrible idea! What are you looking at me for? What do I know about old men?’ I really toyed with it a lot because I wanted to try a sitcom – why not? – but this idea was a real non-starter.

So I played about with it for about a fortnight. I couldn’t get anywhere, and I was really on the point of turning it down, when it occurred to me that if I could get them all unattached and free, then they were in the same position as adolescents – kids! As soon as I saw them as kids it clicked, and it worked for me from there. I couldn’t do it as old people. They were always kids for me.

Were those three central characters based on anyone that you knew at all? Older family members?

Compo probably was, insofar as I used to hear stories from my in-laws in Thorne [in South Yorkshire] about some notorious character that used to go out on the bin lorries – thick as a brick, but very strong. There were all sorts of stories about this guy and I think I sort of pulled Compo from him, really. And then when you’ve got a Compo you want the opposite, so you get Michael Bates as Blamire… but those two would never have been in contact unless you had somebody in the middle that can pull them together, so I finished the trio with Clegg.

Lots of people seem unware that the name Compo doesn’t evoke compost, but compensation. It’s how he made his money to live on.

No, a lot of people don’t spot that, but it was a common saying in my area. ‘Oh, he’s on the Compo.’

When you watch the early years of Last of the Summer Wine it’s very much a depiction of post-industrial Yorkshire. The mills have closed down and the area is in decline, and the series really captures that.

And then when a thing begins to go on, it seems to me that the audience determine its direction in many ways. Of course, you pick up on what they like, and you’re going to give it to them – why not? So it lost any abrasiveness and you got the ‘gentle’ thing. There was an interesting critical response that supports a prejudice of mine: they loved it for starters, until it got popular! The minute it got popular they all backed out like hell! I never, ever afterwards got a good critical review, it seems.

Maybe the show had to change as well, being so bound to Holmfirth and with Holmfirth changing so much… by the 1980s it wasn’t the same town it had been in the early 1970s – so you couldn’t set the same kind of show there.

No, true.

Interesting that you mention Clegg being the central ground between Compo and Blamire… we’re always fascinated by his philosophical flights of fancy. How much of yourself is there in Clegg?

I think Clegg’s closer to me than any of the others. I used him as a bit of a sounding board.

Did you have any input into any of the casting?

I picked Peter Sallis. I wanted him. I’d done a TV play that he starred in… I was very impressed with Peter.


Was that Spyder’s Web? (1972 spy thriller, produced by ATV, for which Roy wrote several episodes)

No… we’ll not talk about that! It was a thing called… it’s another weird title to be honest… a thriller (we all draw a blank here, but a bit of later digging reveals it must have the BBC’s 1970 anthology series Menace, in which Peter Sallis starred in Roy’s magnificently-titled episode The Millicent Sisters, Edward De Bruno and Ruth – Where Are They Now?). The thing is that Peter can do comedy and Peter can do sinister, and he was quite sinister in this. I was so impressed with him, and when Summer Wine was starting, I asked for him as Norman Clegg. The others were down to [producer] Jimmy Gilbert. When he rang me and said ‘How about Bill Owen for Compo’ I thought ‘Bad idea…’

Well, he was the opposite of Compo… he was a really dapper Londoner!

Exactly! All I’d ever seen Bill play were Cockney airmen and all that…

He was in The Way To The Stars, with Michael Redgrave…

Yes, yes! That’s the one! So I thought it was a terrible idea. What I didn’t know was that apparently he’d been doing some theatre in London where he was playing the Northern guy and Jimmy Gilbert had seen him do it. Bill brought a lot to it. He was a good clown. A good, physical clown. It was a good move. And Foggy, I always thought was brilliant. Awkward, but brilliant!

And we guess Foggy only appeared because Michael Bates had to leave after two series… was that because of his illness?

He got cancer very quickly. He was in pantomime, and I think he got a knock and it turned bad, and he didn’t last very long at all. He’d just had a massive success in a Joe Orton play at the theatre, and was sort of peaking at the top of his career. It was a great shame.

Was that a difficult point for you and for the series, then? To lose one of your three leading men after two series?

This kept happening for forty years…

And often the same character… the ‘Third Man’.

Yeah. And every time that you think ‘Oh, this is it’, someone comes up with an idea and you try it… and thank God, it tended to work. But when Bill died, it was in the middle of a series, so we had to find something. Had he died between series, I think that might have been the end of it.

They were horrible circumstances for it to happen, but we think the three episodes you wrote – depicting Compo’s death and funeral – were phenomenal. Some of the best material you’ve ever written.

They were. That’s the thing about pressure. They had to be written very quickly, and for a while you can do that. Only for a while, but the pressure seems to help somehow.

Where did the character of Foggy come from? He’s such a well-rounded character, and we think the key to him is that he is a fantasist… but you’re kind of sympathetic to his fantasies because they’re what keep him going.

It’s a mysterious thing, this likability… which is so necessary in comedy, and this is why I have less admiration for a lot of modern comedy, because it’s got no likeability at all. It’s hard, it’s vicious, it’s funny, but it’s not nice in many ways. And I think the great comics have niceness – Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, George Formby, Will Hay….

Norman Wisdom…

Yeah, Norman Wisdom. They might be playing quite hard characters, but they’ve got this likeability that comes through. I mean Ronnie Barker (in Open All Hours)… if you take him line for line, he’s an appalling character, but somehow it shines through. That element of niceness is very important.

Can the actor surprise you  too, and bring things to the part that you didn’t expect to see?

Oh, yeah! And I like to know who the actor is. When you’re doing a pilot and they’re your characters entirely – there’s no flesh and blood in them at all – you’re alright to a point, but once I hear their voices, then I can hear them when I’m at home writing, and that helps a lot.

Have there been moments where you’ve watched an actor perform something you wrote and you thought ‘Oh, I didn’t expect that at all!’

Yeah, and sometimes that happens with a very tiny part and you think… ‘I’ll use that more.’

Towards the end of the 1970s, the series suddenly became an extraordinary mainstream success. Did that take you aback a bit?

Yeah. I was surprised that the thing ever worked from Day One. I really thought it was a bad idea. And it didn’t get huge ratings when it started… It was a slow starter. But the BBC in those days would persevere. Dad’s Army was another example. Today it would have been junked, I think.

It’s often the little things that made the the show so perfect. We love things like Bill Owen singing little showtunes and we were wondering if that kind of thing would have come from you? ‘My Aunt Nellie had a wooden leg…’ all that stuff!

No, that would have come from Bill, but through Alan [Bell, director] who’d let him do his musical things.

On a similar tack, actually, we actually have a little section of the website called the ‘Names Database’, which is for any name that is mentioned in the series , but we don’t actually see the character…

Right! Interesting…

They’re mainly old school friends, because the main trio talk about their school friends a lot, often in quite colourful terms. Were any of those based on your own school days?

No, but I have a thing about names. Names are very important. They’ve got to fit a character or there’s something wrong. They don’t feel right. So I pore through telephone books and God knows what, sometimes. There’s a rhythm to them.

Which reminds us, where does the name ‘Foggy Dewhurst’ come from?

I don’t know, really! Just The Foggy Foggy Dew, I guess… (we’d never considered this possibility, but The Foggy, Foggy Dew is indeed an traditional English folk song famous performed by Burl Ives, amongst many others. It’s hard to listen to this now without thinking about Brian Wilde!)

Joe Gladwin is also a man that fascinates us…

All that experience and all of that old school… I don’t know, he was just a one off. The shape, the size, the look, the voice – everything was right.

Were you writing Wally before Joe came along? Was he the type you had in mind?

It was a perfect fit; let’s say, but I just had some generic, hen-pecked, small, opposite to Nora Batty in mind.

Jonathan Linsley told us that in Joe’s days as a Music Hall performer, he’d be built up as ‘the World’s Strongest Man’ coming out on stage… and then Joe would appear in a loin cloth! He’d collapse while lifting the weights and when the audience left the theatre at the end of the night, there would be an ambulance taking him away…

(Laughs) Yes, when telly first began all those old Music Hall acts were still available, and ready and willing. You couldn’t kill ’em. They’d got the energy somehow, however old they were.

Was that a godsend to you; knowing that these guys were out there and that you could use them?

I never really thought about casting like that. But Alan Bell was always very inventive with casting… and cheeky, really. He’d come in and say ‘How about so-and-so?’… and I would never have dared to ask them.

There’s a great episode (Crums, 1988) where the Music Hall and variety double act Eli Woods and Jimmy Casey make a cameo appearance as two drunks… it’s lovely. Was that an Alan Bell brainwave?

It was, yeah. And Alan used to get all of those really big names in to do a bit. Warren Mitchell said it’s like National Service! ‘You’ve got to do Last of the Summer Wine…’

Did the change of directors, from Sydney Lotterby to Alan Bell, influence a change in your writing? Did you tailor your approach to suit the different directors?

Not originally, because change takes place and you’re unaware. But yeah, I think afterwards you realise that Alan was very filmic.

He does an extraordinary job on Getting Sam Home. Both of us just adore that film. Was it a proud achievement for you to do what is effectively a Last of the Summer Wine feature film?

Yeah I liked it very much. I was very pleased with it. And again, it was Alan pushing it – wanting the film.

And when Brian Wilde left in 1985, you had to find another new regular actor in Seymour Utterthwaite – played by Michael Aldridge. Was that a big challenge?

Yes, because if you don’t get it right that’s the end of the series.

And the series was absolutely huge at that point. We were looking at the audience figures and it had twenty million viewers at that stage. Say that to a television executive now and they’d faint.

A different ballgame then, though. But you do your best. Again, nobody knows what’s going to work. There’ll always inevitably be some disappointments; people who liked the one before would always complain. Some would be disappointed in what was to follow while others latch on to it and you’d be all right. But, yeah, nice guy.


Your career in the 1980s suddenly seemed to explode into this absolutely prolific period… you were writing Summer Wine, Open All Hours, Flickers [ATV comedy-drama, starring Bob Hoskins] Mann’s Best Friend [Channel 4 sitcom, starring Fulton Mackay]… what was the workload like? You must have been working sixteen-hour days!

No, no, no. I couldn’t do that. I’m an idle bugger, actually! For instance, I need a peaceful evening, I really do. I wanna read, you know. So I’m not a workaholic. The secret is that if you keep doing it regularly you get through a lot of work. It’s not usually a trauma for time and pressure, it’s just a steady thing.

Do you treat it as a day job then – starting in the morning and then clocking off at a certain time?

Absolutely. I always thought I was the most disorganised guy available, but when it comes to work I suppose I’m fairly well-organised. In terms of the amount of writing, anyway. Filing it – forget it! I don’t suppose I could find any of these scripts. I don’t know where they’ve gone. And keeping abreast of stuff for the Inland Revenue – forget it! But I can do the work.

It’s curious watching the episodes that we’ve reached now, from the mid-1980s… you widened out the cast to bring in lots of new characters. What was the thinking there?

They came about because we did a pier-ender in Eastbourne… and [it was] absolutely nothing to do with me, but in that cast were Howard, Marina, Crusher – that’s where I picked those from and they were a great bonus for the show. I thought ‘I’m not losing these’. It became a big ensemble piece, and I could hear them saying “Where’s my bit? Where am I this week?”

Is that a problem when you’ve got a big group of actors?

It is a bit.

We’re not far off watching First of the Summer Wine. Was that your pitch to the BBC, or did they come to you?

No, that was mine, because I could visualise what a nice combination it would be if – during the same week – you saw a First of the Summer Wine, and then you saw a Last of the Summer Wine. I thought that would have been a most intriguing thing for me to do, as a writer. Whether it would have been intriguing for the audience is more controversial, but I think it might have gone down. When you get solid, substantial characters that you’ve had for a while, you get fond of them and they are basically – for you – real people. And a natural interest arises in what they were like years ago… and why not? So, yeah, I was quite keen on that, and I was sorry when it didn’t work out as planned.

When you set about writing First Of, did you already have the characters’ history and backgrounds in mind, or did you concoct it for the show?

No, I think apart from the general idea that you’d have some curiosity about it,  it’s getting the commission that forces you to get the detail! (Laughs)

Are you a nostalgic person, as a rule?

Aren’t we all?

We’ve met some that aren’t. Drew’s mother will throw away anything at the drop of a hat. Getting very anoracky here, we’ll pose a question of continuity… in Last of the Summer Wine, when Clegg and Compo meet Seymour for the first time, they’ve no idea who he is. But in First of the Summer Wine they’re growing up together. Did you care, or did you just say, ‘This is what works for this particular series’?

You rely on the fact that nobody’s going to notice!


The main show, especially in its later years, has been compared to Ealing comedies. Were they an influence?

If so, it would be unconscious… but it’s quite reasonable to think so, because I watched all of those films. That was one of the big kicks for me about getting into the profession… it’s unlike most fields in that you don’t need any qualifications; once you’ve got in, you’re immediately accepted. So it was an enormous kick for me to be working with people like Thora Hird, who I used to sit in cinemas and watch and idolise. You know… it was lovely.

Is there a Yorkshire voice? We watched your pilot for Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt! last night. You wrote the pilot and Alan Plater wrote the rest of the series, and there are similarities between your work and his. Watching your stuff, we’re sometimes reminded of Alan Bennett as well. Is there almost a Yorkshire vernacular that you fall into?

Certainly the vernacular is there, so maybe so. If you spot these things, then I guess it’s there.

You strike us as someone who doesn’t want to analyse your own work too much…

I think it’s fatal. I wouldn’t want to know. I think you wing it. If you thought too much about it, I think you’d be in trouble.

You mentioned that, if Bill Owen had died between series, that you would have probably called it a day with Last of the Summer Wine. Were there any other occasions when it crossed your mind to stop?

Yeah, every time a major character goes, you wonder about it. One of the things about Summer Wine that I’ve always been grateful for was that somehow, for many years, we were left alone. ‘Oh, they’re going to do Summer Wine next year; it’s on the schedule…’ and nobody interfered… except for cutting the budget every year. We were left alone to the point that I began to think that the new management within the BBC thought it was an ITV programme! So we were doing alright, and we just used to get on with it every year. But finallly there was a pressure to end, and I can’t grumble. I mean who the hell else would support you for thirty-seven years?

Do you miss it? Do you miss writing it?

Yeah. I mean it’s been my career, basically. It was there all the time and… yeah, I do.

Do you miss the characters? It must get to a point where…

…they’re almost real.

Are there ever moments when you think, ‘that’s a good idea for a Summer Wine script’… and then there is no Summer Wine script to write?

Right! (Laughs) That can happen, yeah.

When it did come to the end, was there any temptation – or even the opportunity on your part – to a write a definitive end? The ending has a nice air of finality for that particular series, but possibly not for the whole shebang.

No, but that was me. For several years there was the possibility that it might be the finish, so I always deliberately didn’t do a big splash – ‘This is it, this is the end.’ And it was the same for the final one. I knew by that time that it likely was, but I still didn’t make a huge splash about it. Just in case, you know?

One of the things we like about the final series is that there’s a thread running through the six episodes about Pearl throwing Howard out of the house… it’s a loose story arc.

It was a kind of farewell. It wasn’t blatant, but it was there, I think.

You mentioned at the start of our chat that, in your early days, you thought were going to be a novelist. We seem to remember that when Last of the Summer Wine ended, you said that you might finally finish your novel. Was it about the police? Do you think you ever will?

I don’t think it was policemen. I’ve had a  fantasy novel I’ve been working on for about thirty years. I suspect it’ll never happen but it’s kept me sane, all through the television. I’ve got about forty-five versions and about a million words! It’s an organisational job rather than a writing job.

When we say fantasy are we talking Tolkien and C.S. Lewis kind of territory?

No, we’re talking Merlin, but he’s now in a psychiatric ward.

Wow… is British mythology and folklore something that appeals to you? We’ve heard your 1968 Radio 4 play, Events at Black Tor, and that has an element of  folklore to it…

Yeah, it does. I think life’s so weird that who needs fantasy? You’re almost there anyway!

We actually stumbled across a 1990s fantasy TV series that you wrote for Sky…

Oh…. The Wanderer. A friend of mine, actually, was trying to get into films and he talked me into it.

It sounds like you weren’t too keen… 

Mmmm… not wise to leave your roots.

Is that the key, do you think? To write about what you know?

Well, there’s no question about it; that helps enormously. I suppose at my age I’m cheating a bit, because what do I know about the modern age? I can never do anything now. I’m still pulling stuff from my experience of life. I don’t know this modern world at all. I’ve got an iPad, but all I use it for is if I’m in the car and I get a breakdown. I don’t know what the hell it does otherwise.

While we’re on the subject of technology you wrote a piece for BBC iPlayer a few years ago, starring Russ Abbott… and it was fantastic. (Final Message, from 2015… in which Abbott plays a man recording his last message to the world before committing suicide). How did that come about?

Shane Allen is head of Comedy Commissioning, and he’s good news. If you hear him give a speech, he’s funny… and that’s a happy coincidence these days in management, I find. So I’ve got a lot of time for Shane, and for some reason he wanted several things like that… so that was one of them. An odd one, but I enjoyed doing it. Russ Abbot’s a very good actor.

Is there a difference between comedians and actors? We always think that with older sitcoms it often wasn’t comedians that were cast, it was actors that could do comedy. With modern sitcoms, you tend to get stand-up comedians cast in lead roles. And it’s a tough ask for them.

It’s a different ballgame, isn’t it? The only link being comedy. The assumption that they’re going to be able to do both is not valid really. But maybe some do.

With great sitcoms you need some poignant acting, too.

Yeah, you need a bit of heart in it. Sure. Especially these days because they tend to be rather hard… stand-ups.

You said to us you’d considered yourself basically retired… and then Still Open All Hours came Along. Was that David Jason’s doing?

Absolutely, yeah. I owe it to David, no question. They were looking for a series for David. They couldn’t find anything that seemed to work for him and he mentioned in a meeting sometime, ‘Well, what about Roy Clarke? What’s he doing?’ I told you they said, ‘Is he still alive?’ but it worked out from there! They approached me and said, first of all, to try a new series entirely – nothing to do with Open All Hours, just find some new idea for David.

Did you have any?

No, not immediately, but when someone rings up you find one pretty quick! So we did this idea and I met David several times with this detailed idea in mind and it changed rapidly… because we went for a meal and were talking over this idea, and the waiter came over and he was so fantastically gay! He was lovely. We’d say ‘Can we have ten minutes?’ and he’d say ‘I’ll give you five!’ We loved him and so we changed the idea – ‘Why don’t we do it with him?’ So we figured out a programme with him, and I did a script, but we didn’t get anywhere.

During the course of another meeting, I think it was Mark Freeland, Head of Comedy at the time, who said ‘What about doing more of Open All Hours?’ David was keen, and I was keen, and that’s how it began.

Did you expect anything like the audience figures you got for that first episode? (The first episode of Still Open All Hours, broadcast on Boxing Day 2013, gained an extraordinary 12.23 million viewers, making it the most-watched TV programme of Christmas week)

No, that’s too much to hope for, really. I hoped it would work, but that was a real lift.

And it’s carrying on?

Yes. I’ve been lucky. I mean, everybody needs to have a lot of luck in whatever they do… and I’ve been lucky.

As you can gather, Roy is an incredibly modest and self-effacing chap… and tended to brush aside all of our compliments about his work! But he’s also absolutely terrific company, and we can’t thank him enough for an afternoon that neither of us will ever forget. He was kind, patient, funny and incredibly welcoming… and wouldn’t let us throw a single penny into the pot for the slap-up meal and constant supply of beer, wine and brandy that arrived at the table all afternoon. In his own words – ‘I’m determined to send you two buggers home pissed!’. And good grief, he succeeded… neither us can remember a great deal about the journey home, and we’re proud to have been drank under the table by the most resilient octogenarian we’ve ever met. Thanks so much to Roy Clarke for his time and generosity, and for… oh, everything.