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Series 7 Episode 5: The Three Astaires

In which Compo treads the boards…

Andrew: We open in a churchyard, as Foggy pesters Compo and Clegg into volunteering for the church show. It’s a nice opening that plays up to what we already know about the characters. Compo’s fear of the church raises its head again, and the increasingly insecure Clegg reveals a fear of being observed while attempting to ‘perform’. It’s fun stuff, but is it just me or are the studio audience oddly unresponsive?

Bob: It was 1983. They were probably on strike. Was Clegg’s marriage really ‘a bad dream’? I certainly like the fact that it’s shrouded in mystery… we never really hear much at all about the late Mrs Clegg, other than the fact that she seems to have made poor Norman’s life a misery. But then Clegg likes wallowing in self-pity, doesn’t he? Maybe it wasn’t all bad. She doesn’t seem to have been actively unpleasant to him, I just get the impression that he wasn’t particularly suited to married life. But like many man (and women) of his generation, he put up with it for the sake of a quiet life. Poor sod.

Andrew: I always imagine him as having agreed to a marriage simply because doing so was exactly what was expected of him. His head may always have been in the clouds, but he wouldn’t have wanted to upset anybody by deviating from the norm.

Bob: Normal Clegg. I’m also intrigued by Foggy’s Christian leanings. This is probably the last gasp of an era of British life when you could have a religious sitcom character without it being a defining part of their personality. In 2014, it’s likely that anyone you meet who claims to be a Christian REALLY means it, and modern sitcoms reflect that. In 1983, it could just be a part of your everyday make-up without being worthy of much comment. Even my family – who stepped into church for weddings, funerals, christenings and not much else – would still have claimed to be ‘Church of England’ on the census forms. It was a default setting.

‘Are you feeling chesty, Joan?’

Andrew: Absolutely. My mother, when asked, would always reply that we were ‘Church of England’ despite the fact we went to church maybe once a year at most. Interestingly, that pretence seems to have slipped away as she, or maybe her children, have gotten older. I don’t think he beliefs have particularly changed – it’s just that there’s not really an obligation to maintain any more.

Bob: The late, great John Horsley! He got a tiny cameo as the vicar in Series 4 Episode 3, Jubilee… and amazingly, six years on, Roy Clarke brings him back to flesh the part out further. He’s fondly remembered, of course, as Doc Morrissey from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, but he was a prolific film and TV actor from the late 1940s onwards. He’s in The Runaway Bus with Frankie Howerd and Margaret Rutherford; and the 1950s Father Brown adaptation with Alec Guinness. Amongst dozens and dozens of other great things. He only died last year, at the grand old age of 93. One of that great breed of character actors who popped up doing loveable turns in everything; constantly in demand throughout several different eons of British culture.

Andrew: He’s absolutely fantastic almost anywhere he turns up, but… I don’t like him here. It’s not that he turns in a duff performance – I think he does exactly what the script asks him to – but from the moment he, his wife, and his assistant show up, they feel totally out of place. There’s nothing particularly Summer-Winey about them at all.

Bob: Compo says ‘mouse crap’! That’s quite rare for this era of the show, isn’t it? Won’t somebody think of the children, etc…

Andrew: That initially struck me as a hangover from the series’ earlier days, but moving forward I suspect that it’s actually a hint as to how broad this episode is to become.

Bob: And so to the crux… Horsley’s vicar is keenly seeking new blood for his local amateur dramatics production. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for us to hit an AmDram plotline, actually! It was – and still is – a big part of rural life. I spend half of my days walking the dog around quiet stretches of North Yorkshire, and a remarkable number of the villages seem to have a local society, putting on Private Lives and Run For Your Wife at the local church hall. I’ve dallied with it, it’s a good laugh. They’re ALWAYS sold out as well, packed full of friends and relatives and general nosey parkers. Like me.

Andrew: I’ve seen you in Pinter, no less! Here’s a bit of trivia, dear reader – Bob was directly responsible for me learning what gefilte fish is. The first commenter to guess the play wins nothing of consequence.

Bob: Oooh, hasn’t Brian Wilde got a lovely singing voice? He sings a couple of lilting lines from On the Road to Mandalay… and again, it’s a measure of the thought that Roy Clarke puts into his characters, because this is a perfect song for Foggy. It was popularly covered in the 1950s by Frankie Laine and Frank Sinatra, at a time when Foggy was – I think – serving in the Far East himself? And that’s exactly what it’s about… a soldier returning home from Burma and missing the Burmese sweetheart that he’s had to leave behind. That, and all its implied romanticising of a time when the sun never set upon the British Empire, is pure Foggy Dewhurst.

I’m really missing the regulars here. No Sid or Ivy; or Nora and Wally. And you’re right…  John Horsley – although I love him – seems a bit at odds. He’s playing this in a very traditional sitcom style; it’s a ‘big’ performance.

Andrew: He sort of comes and goes with little bearing on the plot, as well.

'Ground Floor: Perfumery, stationary and leather goods...'

‘Ground Floor: Perfumery, stationary and leather goods…’

Bob: Foggy’s enthusiasm for all things song and dance is a nice touch, though, and very reminiscent of my dad, who seems to pop up with alarming regularity in this blog! My dad is a bluff, no-nonsense kind of chap, who grew up in a rough part of Teesside and spent most of his early adult life serving with the RAF in Singapore and the Middle East before coming home and breaking his back on rainswept building sites for years on end. And yet, curiously, he has an abiding passion for the golden age of the Hollywood musical! And it seems quite common for men of his generation… I’m not sure if the easygoing glamour and Technicolor vibrancy of those films were just the perfect antidote to what must have been a pretty grey and austere life in the North-East in the 1940s and 50s.

Andrew: I think that’s definitely part of it, and it’s something I’ve seen Victoria Wood tap into on a number of occasions. I’d heartily recommend seeking out The Giddy Kipper and That Day We Sang, both of which contrast the dreary, quintessentially ‘Northern’ lives of their protagonists with song and dance numbers straight out of Tinsel Town. There’s something very poignant about that kind of longing for greener pastures, whilst simultaneously accepting one’s lot in life. You can tell your dad that next time you see him – ‘My mate Drew reckons you’re dead poignant, you are’.

Bob: He’ll give me a clout. You’re right, this doesn’t feel like Summer Wine as we know it, does it? There’s a hell of a lot of dressing up and dancing around… we see Compo in no less than five different silly costumes, from knight’s armour to feather boa to all-over bandages! It reminds me of those episodes of Are You Being Served, when the finale would consist of the entire cast dressing up and taking part in a Gang Show-style singalong. Except we don’t actually get the show itself here! I wasn’t sure if this was building up to be a two-parter, with the live performance still to come, but apparently not. Shame.

Andrew: Are You Being Served is exactly what sprang to mind for me as well. Not just the costumes, but also the way in which both Foggy and Clegg get entangled with collapsing scenery. You can tell that the BBC effects department were put to work here.

Bob: And at last, at the very last moment, we get a bit of Nora and Wally! It’s worth it for Wally’s hangdog grumbling alone. ‘Marriage is so unequal. You’re only married to me, but look how much I’m married to…’

Perfect. Not one of my favourite episodes, but it’s all worthwhile for a line like that.

Andrew: Indeed, a fantastic Wally and Nora appearance, but it isn’t enough to redeem the episode. After a strong run this series, it’s odd to see such a misfire. The studio audience seem to agree as well. Listen up after Clegg’s final line of the episode, and you’ll notice that they aren’t entirely sure when to begin applauding for the credits. There’s a faint whiff of, ‘Is that it?’ about their response!


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    May 13, 2015 9:15 amPosted 7 years ago
    Chris Orton

    I like to think that Clegg eventually married the girl who lived next door to him when he was growing up. She was quite forthright and always pursued him, and whilst Clegg wasn’t really that interested, he married her in the end to keep her quiet. His parents were probably very keen on her too, and kept on at him to make a move. So he probably also married her to keep his mam and dad suited too.

    His life with her wouldn’t have been unpleasant I don’t think, more that it would have been relentless. She would have wanted to have been doing things all of the time, going out and going on holiday when Clegg probably just wanted to read his paper or go for a walk.

    Clegg really is the very essence of wanting to have a quiet life isn’t he?

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    May 13, 2015 3:00 pmPosted 7 years ago
    Bob Fischer

    You’ve thought about this FAR too much… 😉

    But yeah, that all sounds about right. In fact, it possibly sums up married life for a sizeable proportion of Clegg’s generation. Do men still moan about married life any more, in the way that they did until… what, the 1970s? ‘At least it keeps ‘er indoors happy…’

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    June 23, 2015 9:48 amPosted 7 years ago
    Darren Stephens

    Maybe I’m pushing this one a bit far, and getting a bit heavy, but it all sort of changes after the rise of the equality movement. In the working north, the pattern was very clear in the past : find a girl who didn’t think you were awful, get wed and settle down to a life of wedded bliss/misery (delete as appropriate). And if you were really lucky you might have had yer teeth out for your 18th or 21st.

    The roles were much more rigid: man goes out to work in some backbreaking repetitive job, hands over housekeeping to the wife. He keeps enough for some beer and cigs, while she complains about how what she gets never quite stretches far enough, and how she’s always dodging the rent man/man from the provvy/etc. Continue until retirement or death

    [ basically, we’re talking The Bradshaws here, aren’t we? 😉 ]

    A life of quiet desperation as the song says: stultifying routine. But of course, for some (including Clegg), it’s a life of relative safety. No alarms & no surprises. In many ways times have changed for the better now, but part of me rather wistfully thinks about that George v Dragon (another one for the teenagers, there) dynamic that was such as rich mine for so many writers and comedians. Maybe that’s why sitcom is not what it used to be mostly, because the bleed of gender roles has made it more difficult to carve strong characters to hang the “sits” around.

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      June 23, 2015 3:24 pmPosted 7 years ago
      Bob Fischer

      I think that’s all fair dos! The best sitcoms should aways be a reflection of their times, I think… one of the great joys for me in watching vintage sitoms from (particularly) the 1970s is the insight they give into the era. Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads tells us more about social mobility and class resentment than any number of Panoramas.

      There’s probably a fascinating book to be written about sitcoms that wouldn’t work, because the ‘sit’s just don’t exist any more.

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    July 28, 2016 8:33 pmPosted 6 years ago

    From an ancient whose mother was one of those who did indeed
    have all of her perfectly good teeth removed to save problems/suffering
    later. (it didn’t!).
    I seem to recall an early doco on lasw telling of no studio audience
    but instead the finished film was screened in a cinema, the invited audience laughter from there being recorded and dubbed onto the soundtrack afterwards.

    Could be an age thing tho !

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      July 28, 2016 10:04 pmPosted 6 years ago
      Bob Fischer

      Ah, really? I think the already-recorded location scenes would have been screened in front of an audience sometime afterwards, and their laughter recorded, but I’m pretty sure the ‘indoors’ scenes would have been performed live in front of of a studio audience, on studio sets. Happy to be proved wrong though! I always am. 🙂

      And good grief, your poor mother! You’re dead right, though… wholescale teeth removal was definitely a common occurence. As my Dad would say ‘It’s a busy day on Monday… I’m having all my teeth taken out, and a new fireplace put in’.

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    July 30, 2016 1:11 pmPosted 6 years ago

    Belated occurations he excllaimed!
    lf Crusher still visits the site he must surely know?

    Oh the enlightenment..

    How good is that…….. To have such a direct link is quite wonderful for me.

    I do agree with the sentiment expressed elsewhere here Crushers character could have better been developed, l had a sense of loss at his unexplained disappearance. It feels like he has popped back in here, Just me mebbe!

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    August 22, 2017 1:06 pmPosted 4 years ago
    Simon S

    The opening shows them headed to the same church as in series 1, and Foggy is as pro-Christian as Blamire was.

    CLEGG: It’s funny how they only recognise you’re a Christian when they need volunteers.

    It fits Foggy’s air of tragedy that he should have been “secretly rehearsing” for the concert party – a more open motive than mere Christian charity. His sudden inappropriate throttling of Compo seems a bit OTT, though.

    The reluctant vicar’s wife driven mad by tea & buns is again straight from Jubilee (though he’s clearly remarried). John Horsley is just as nasty as before, surely one of the most unpleasant characters in the whole series. There’s no lighter side at all! His dismissive attitude to names is as close as he gets, and even then he bosses Clegg with an unjust force. At least Clegg has a rare chance on his own to try and hold off the demands.

    I spot the Pennine Show poster on the wall in the hall. The maritime backdrop also echoes back to Jubilee!

    When Foggy gleefully sets up the premise of the Three Astaires, the denouement seems obvious, so it’s a shame the script veers off into Compo dressing up. Foggy’s sensitivity about his nose, and random delusion of kinship with Fred Astaire is soon overdone when he’s trying to shut Compo’s head in a door. There’s a nice line that if Compo’s neck stretches like a giraffe he won’t wash it any better. The interlude with Wally and Nora only works for his line about marital inequality as you mention. How a distant battering ram should work for a finish, I don’t know, it seems like being written into a corner.


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