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Series 7 Episode 6: The Arts of Concealment

In which Compo’s trousers go west…

Bob: Oh, now HERE’s a throwback… I think! Compo reveals he once gave ‘twenty fags’ to a child, in exchange for a football rattle. Tell me Drew, when you were a small boy around the turn of the millennium, did you and your peers still think it was cool and ineffably ‘adult’ to puff away on a crafty Rothman’s King Size? Because at the time this episode aired, approaching my eleventh birthday, that was undoubtedly the case! It wasn’t ubiquitous, but there were eleven and twelve-year-olds of my acquaintance who were not averse to a sneaky toke around the back of the bike sheds. And my school toilets frequently had an unmistakeable whiff of cigarette smoke about them. Although admittedly it paled in comparison to the billowing clouds of smog that rolled out of the staff room windows throughout the school day.

Andrew: I wouldn’t say it was ‘cool’ across the board, but there was definitely a smoking subset at school and it was kind of expected that you would at least try a ciggy at some point before leaving. I never did – I’m a good boy, I am. It was also completely accepted that, even if they claimed otherwise, certain teachers would disappear for a crafty cigarette break during the course of the lesson. Thinking about it, the last time I saw a school kid smoking a tab was probably over five years ago. Take that, lung cancer!

Bob: I’ve not always hugely taken with the more slapstick elements of the show, but Foggy disguised as a giant walking bush – attempting to demonstrate ‘the art of concealment’ to his friends – is genuinely hilarious. Great physical comedy… even moreso when the cyclists arrive!

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Andrew: Beautifully directed, as well. The edited chaos of bicycles tumbling around him is almost reminiscent of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin… What? I said, almost!

Bob: CAFEWATCH UPDATE! Cottage pie, mushy peas and jam rolly poly on the blackboards. Yes, ‘Rolly poly’! Terrible spelling again. I’m disappointed Foggy didn’t correct that with a piece of chalk and a disapproving tut. And a tray of ketchup in squeezy tomato-shaped bottles! When was the last time anyone saw one of those? The mid-1990s for me, I think… during my ‘greasy spoon for breakfast’ phase at the height of my hangover years. Hipster hang-outs in Camden probably still have them.

Andrew: We should be scouring eBay for all of this stuff, you know. Can you imagine how glorious your kitchen would look with the simple addition of a checked tablecloth, a squeezy plastic tomato and a matador poster?

Bob: I’ve already got a checked tablecloth in the kitchen. Although admittedly it’s usually invisible beneath our rising mutual collection of Getting Sam Home paperbacks. Hey, is this the last bona fide Sid and Ivy scene that we get? I know they’re both actually in Getting Sam Home, the following episode, but I don’t think I’m spoiling things too much to reveal that poor John Comer was so unwell by that stage that his voice had to be dubbed by a soundalike actor. So I think this might be our final glimpse of full-blooded Sid and Ivy. We’ll doubtless write more about John Comer’s extraordinary contribution to the series in the next instalment, but in the meantime this is a poignant moment to savour.

Why’s he hitting me with that stick, Norm?
Because he hasn’t got anything heavier…

Vintage Roy Clarke. There’s always something.

Andrew: Yep. I’ll save my full comments for Getting Sam Home, but this is indeed our last taste of their back-and-forth banter at full volume. The dissolution of this partnership is going to leave a massive vacuum.

Bob: Oooooh… check out Harold and Phoebe in their broken-door car, on their way to visit the Lord Lieutenant. We’re seven years away from Keeping Up Appearances here, but this feels like a prototype Hyacinth and Richard! Bucket v0.1. And it’s fascinating to see how Foggy, who obviously has pretensions to this lifestyle of semi-nobility, gets genuinely flustered in their presence. He can pretend to Compo and Clegg that he’s part of a plummy-voiced ruling elite, but there’s no fooling a couple who genuinely are part of that social set. And that threatens to undermine his perceived superiority over his friends, and he bloody well knows it. Oh, you can’t whack the British class system as a goldmine for the comedy of embarrassment!

Andrew: Actually, I’d say Phoebe was Bucket v0.2 – don’t forget to count Ivy’s sister as another prototype. The character is obviously one that rattled around in Clarke’s mind for years before he had the chance to perfect her with Keeping Up Appearances. I love the idea that we’re seeing his redrafting actually go out on broadcast television, so here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the type!

Bob: Peter Hughes, playing Harold, was a golfer in the Series 3 episode The Kink in Foggy’s Niblick. And Phyllida Hewat, who plays Phoebe, went on to appear in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles! Over to you, Drew…

Andrew: In an episode written by my friend Rosemary Anne Sisson, no less! It’s a funny old world.

Bob: You and your showbiz lifestyle! While you globetrot, I just stand in the kitchen, staring at my checked tablecloth. Hey, Harold’s car has a manual choke! That takes me back. My first car had one too, and was an absolute bugger to start on a frosty morning. Starting a car was virtually an artform in those days, you had to gently coax the engine into life while easing out the choke, but too much of said easing would flood the engine completely. Computers take all of this out of hands in your average modern automobile, but it has cost us OUR SOULS. And robbed us of priceless exhanges like this:

Harold: I think I might have flooded her.
Compo: (Glancing at Phoebe) Never mind, it doesn’t show…

Filth.

Andrew: Is it shameful to admit that I have no idea what a choke actually does, or rather did? I’m not sure if this is because I’ve never driven a car or because I’m – ahem – slightly younger than you.

Bob: It was basically a manual way of ‘choking’ the flow of air from the carburettor into the engine, so that more petrol would get through – it made the car easier to start when it was cold, and was all controlled by pulling out a little knob under the dashboard. Insert your own jokes here.

Bucket v0.2

Bucket v0.2

Oh, this class war stuff – as our heroes attempt to get the car started – has sparked into life an episode that was ambling a little bit. Clegg grumbles that he feels that the upper classes always take advantage of the lower, and Foggy’s conscience is split asunder when Harold and Phoebe offer him a crisp pound note as a gesture of thanks! It’s been firmly established over the years that he’s extremely tight-fisted, and turns pale at the prospect of buying a round of drinks – but if he accepts a financial reward from the posh knobs then he’s absolutely conceding that he’s NOT on their social footing! This is class-consciousness comedy worthy of Sgt Wilson and Captain Mainwaring. It’s sparkling.

Andrew: You just couldn’t have this scene in a sitcom today, could you? I’m in no way suggesting that we’ve suddenly become a classless society, but the principle doesn’t preoccupy the nation anywhere near as much as it seemed to in the 1970s and earlier.

Bob: I know my place. Oh, forget what I said about Captain Mainwaring – suddenly there are trousers flying off! Arthur Lowe would NEVER stand for trouser comedy… I believe he even had it written into his contract. I love trousers, though. Trousers ARE funny. You can get a lot of laughs from the humble trouser. I’ll NEVER stop laughing at a bit of trouser business.

Andrew: Absolutely – in the Gerry Anderson documentary I worked on last year, we received a big and unexpected giggle at the premiere when an HD scan of some behind the scenes footage revealed a rather unfortunate tear in the seat of the pants of the Four Feather Falls cameraman … it’s what he would have wanted.

Bob: A slightly mean-spirited end though, with everyone being rather nasty to each other – would our heroes really remove Wally’s trousers by force, so that Compo could wear them? Trousers AREN’T funny any more. Only an idiot would ever claim otherwise. Anyone laughing at trousers after this needs to take a good, hard look at themselves. Trousers? Pffffffft.

Andrew: Then, for no real reason, our trio are soaked by a farm’s irrigation system. It’s an odd one, this episode. Lots of lovely moments, but none of them really hang together to form a coherent whole. It would have made a lot more sense, plot wise, to have had Foggy wandering in to a café full of irate cyclists at the end of the episode. It would have neatly tied things together.

Bob: That was a curious episode of two halves… a gentle, ambling first half about the benefits of moorland camouflage; and then it turned on a sixpence and became a gripping little exercise in class conflict. I’m tempted to wonder if Roy Clarke had the opening of one episode, the climax to another and just decided to cut his losses and bung them both together? I’m not averse to that approach at all. It gave us the B-side of Abbey Road.

6 comments

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    June 20, 2015 10:06 amPosted 2 years ago
    Chris Orton

    Yes, Lowe had it in his contract that he wouldn’t drop his trousers. Not sure if he was behind that or it was down to his wife. There’s an entire series of scenes in the Dad’s Army film where the platoon are shown marching along as they gradually get kitted out with more and more pieces of kit. They start off in their underwear and Lowe is conspicuously absent.

    Wasn’t John Comer dubbed by Tony Melody?

    And manual chokes were a pain. You had to be very careful not to flood the engine or you were knackered. Manual chokes, ice on the inside of you bedroom window, candle wick bedspreads – Drew, you don’t know what we used to hVe to put up with!

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    June 20, 2015 11:20 amPosted 2 years ago
    Bob Fischer

    Cheers Chris! I’ve just dug out Graham McCann’s Dad’s Army book, which goes into the trouserless thing in a bit of detail… it seems to have been Lowe’s decision. From the book:

    ‘Anything to do with dropping, losing or doing without the full set of conventional nether garments was deemed by Lowe to be far too suggestive, and therefore completely unacceptable’.

    And David Croft is quoted: ‘He actually had it put into his contract… why he was so sensitive, I don’t know’.

    Great book, and well worth a read.

    And yeah, Tony Melody dubbed John Comer’s voice in Getting Sam Home. Something I never noticed during repeated viewings, so he did a good job!

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    June 23, 2015 9:55 amPosted 2 years ago
    Darren Stephens

    [for some reason, I tried posting here a while back, but clearly my browser threw it away, so here goes again…]

    I don’t mind the idea of that ending. It’s more…real. If Foggy had walked in on them all in the cafe, it would have been too, for want of a better word, convenient, for the sake of the drama. Real life doesn’t necessarily have coherence or closure of a narrative. And that’s a good thing to write: sometimes stuff just happens and theres no pay-off. It just feels more natural. In the end, it probably is lots of stuff just cobbled together, but like Alan Bennet’s (beautiful) line in the History Boys says: “History? It’s just one f-ing thing after another.”

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      June 23, 2015 10:06 amPosted 2 years ago
      Andrew T. Smith (Author)

      That’s a good point, but for some reason the structure of this episode still irks me. Thee Blamire years certainly had the quality you bring up here, but for whatever reason I never had an issue with those episodes ambling about.

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    June 23, 2015 1:52 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Bob Fischer

    It’s a sign of my wasted youth that this all reminds me of an interview I read with Jarvis Cocker, at least twenty years ago. He basically said that, for a long time, he absolutely believed that real life WAS like that… so ‘If Pauline Fowler looks out of the kitchen window at the start of EastEnders and sees a strange man in Albert Square, you know that that man is going to play a significant part in her day, later in the episode’.

    Yes, I even remember the exact quote. I know, I know.

    I’m sure he said that he was about 25 before he realised that real life was nothing like that… and that our lives are generally just random unconnected stuff, with nothing necessarily having any great ‘significance’. I can’t help but think that he should have watched more Last of the Summer Wine as a young man, and he’d have been far better adjusted!

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    August 23, 2017 2:30 pmPosted 2 months ago
    Simon S

    It starts with Monty Python’s “How Not to Be Seen” sketch, but didn’t they do much the same gag at the start of this series? Why Foggy feels the need to use, let alone teach, such arcane arts in early 80s Yorkshire is anyone’s guess. But when Compo produces the rattle it feels like sending up the premise, even though he makes further complaint about the difficulty of hiding it.

    Why did the Foggy cross the road? To upset the fore-runners of the Tour de Yorkshire?! Another Huddersfield reference.

    Ivy’s stonewalling to get shot of our heroes in advance of the coach party turns out to be for their own good (something Sid almost certainly knows). Nice to see that stone folly thing reappearing briefly, as seen in series 2 (and hopefully still in Holmfirth). A pity Foggy’s master-plan should backfire when his tactics are sound for once.

    Harold & Phoebe feel a very random inclusion (though I didn’t spot it was the irate golfer from S3), just there to set up the pay-off for Compo losing his thread, and more concealment comedy. I expected them to take Wally’s coat. Compo used to be a similar size to Wally before, so has Wally shrunk? (or been cut down to size ho ho etc)

    The final allotment dousing fits the need for concealment but it’s too little too late (nice to see Clegg runs back to give Compo his coat, though).

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