Summer Winos»Uncategorized»Series 8 Episode 4: Catching Digby's Donkey

Series 8 Episode 4: Catching Digby's Donkey


In which Howard pines for fishnet tights…

Bob: Our first glimpse of Howard! Blimey, the new characters are coming thick and fast now. Am I right in thinking that Robert Fyfe, Jean Fergusson and Juliette Kaplan were all drafted into the TV show after impressing in the Summer Wine stage production?

Andrew: Yes, that’s right. The play had actually debuted in Hillingdon in 1982 and then transferred to Eastbourne, but Alan Bell had only been mildly impressed. It wasn’t until he saw the show in Bournemouth, by which time it had been largely recast, that he saw some potential for characters crossing over into the television series. Roy Clarke obviously agreed, and so we ended up with not only Howard, Marina, and Pearl, but also Crusher. And this is par for the course here, but don’t they all look young?!

We also came very close to seeing Fulton Mackay join the cast at this point, as a replacement for Foggy! After reading the scripts for this series, Brian Wilde had insisted that he wouldn’t appear unless they were rewritten, but Alan Bell was very confident that there was nothing wrong with what Clarke had written. Cannily, he got in touch with Mackay, Wilde’s Porridge co-star, to see if he would be interested and available to join the series, and within half an hour Wilde was on the phone to confirm his own availability!

Bob: The wily old goat! Howard is great here, and instantly the dialogue and characterisation is back to its sparkling best. He’s up a ladder, washing the windows for Pearl (who we catch a first glimpse of, glowering from inside the house) and rueing the missed opportunities in his life… the lack of ‘glossiness’ and the older, exotic woman he failed to elope with as a teenager. ‘I was keen… idealistic… ready to devote my life to 30-year-old showgirls,’ he muses. ‘She had fishnet tights…’ He’s such a sad character, and suddenly his forlorn pursuit of Marina makes perfect sense. He’s spent his entire life trying to compensate for what he sees as a life-changing lack of teenage gumption.

‘You weren’t ready for a woman who played the mouth organ like that,’ Clegg ponders, which might just be the most erotically-charged statement he’s ever made. Clearly Clegg knew her as well, then! Do we assume this happened in the pre-war period, and said showgirl was part of a travelling circus that came to Holmfirth?

S8E4dAndrew: It’s very interesting to discover some of the characters’ backstories here and how tragic they are, in a way. As the years go by, Howard and Marina are definitely rounded off into cuddlier, more innocent, creatures. Howard certainly doesn’t possess the slight edge that he has here.

Bob: Oh, this is right back on form. Our trio are on the hills, discussing Howard… ‘His adolescence has gone on so long, it’s spilled over into his mid-life crisis’, claims Clegg. A phenomenon that I think is now the default setting for most modern British men! We don’t grow up and then regress, we just stay as overgrown children for our entire lives. I’m 43 years old and still live like a student. I have Star Wars figures on a shelf in the front room.

Some more sensational revelations about Foggy’s youthful exploits too… he ‘worked as an office boy in a ladies stocking factory’ – an occupation where I imagine he spent his entire working day in a state of perpetual embarrassment – and then, once again, he goes on to justify his wartime signwriting career. ‘After Dunkirk there was a critical shortage of frontline signwriters,’ he muses. ‘I’ve seen men’s curlicues and serifs go completely to pieces…’

Magnificent. And the truth is too hard for Foggy to face, isn’t it? He’s an elderly, unmarried man, without any of the compensations of old age… the comforting wife; the proud, successful children, the wide-eyed grandchildren listening to his stories of wartime endeavour. He HAS to invent this façade of lifelong military service to justify his painfully solitary lifestyle… ‘the way of the warrior’, and all that. Otherwise, he’d have to face the truth – that he’s just old, and lonely. It’s really bitter-sweet.

Andrew: This is a very character-heavy episode, and all the better for it. I love the depth that is revealed in episodes like this, even when it’s at the expense of the plot. Six minutes go by before Digby’s titular donkey arrives on the scene, and at this point one might be forgiven for expecting some slapstick chaos to kick off, but instead we take a diversion into the pub for some pint-side meditations.

Bob: A pub with dimpled pint glasses! When I was a kid, nothing was a more potent symbol of adulthood than the dimpled pint glass. I’ve just bought a load for the kitchen cupboard.

Andrew: I don’t think a dimpled glass is going to transform your drinking Nesquick in your pyjamas into a shortcut to adulthood. Have you considered getting a proper job?

Bob: No. I’ve seen what they do to other people. Hey, I love Ormeroyd, the swivel-eyed lunatic at the bar. ‘I’ll fight anyone for a quid!’ he rages. When I first started hanging around public houses in the late 1980s, men like this absolutely existed. I remember walking down Stockton high street late one night with a couple of mates, when a bloke just like Ormeroyd approached us from a pub doorway with the classic opening gambit ‘Howay lads, fancy a scrap? You and me?’ He followed us for five minutes, desperate for us to have a friendly ruck. And he was really polite about it! He had nothing personal against us, he just fancied a bloody good barney down a back alley! We had to jump into a taxi to get rid of him.

S8E4bActually, there’s a bit of Yosser Hughes about Omeroryd. I bet Roy Clarke loved Boys from the Blackstuff. And he’s played by David Hatton, who was a sitcom regular in the 1970s and 80s… and is still going strong! He’s in Sky Atlantic’s This Is Jinsy, which I’ve never seen – but it looks great…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_is_Jinsy

And so poor old Digby, clapped out from chasing his own donkey around the paddock, enters the pub… and takes Ormeroyd up on his offer! They head outside for a friendly fight. I swear this genuinely happened in my teenage years… there were middle-aged men around who just liked fighting. No tempers involved, they just got a lot of pleasure from hitting people. As Clegg says in this very episode, ‘It’s turning into a really good day for idiots’.

Andrew: That’s part of the delicate balancing act one enters into down the pub. You really want an entertaining idiot to turn up, but you’ve got to be careful not to cross over into becoming one yourself.

Bob: While Foggy heads off – carrot in hand – to bring Digby’s donkey under control, we get our first real glimpse of Pearl, in the café. And blimey, if there was ever any doubt that Summer Wine is now an ensemble sitcom… here’s Pearl, Nora, Wally, Ivy and Crusher all in the same scene! It’s like David Croft has suddenly taken control.

Andrew: The flavour of this series is quite different as a result. We’re definitely in a new era of the show and we touched upon the reasons for this when we chatted with the lovely Juliette Kaplan. To quote from her interview:

“I became very friendly with Jane Freeman – I still am – and I asked her once how everyone had felt about us all coming in, like usurpers. And she said that they’d had to expand the cast to give Roy Clarke more material to work with. It was fine with them. I wonder if I might have been a bit snotty in the same situation… although no, I don’t think so”

I really like the fact that this episode, which serves to introduce three key new characters, doesn’t actually focus on them. The temptation may have been to mine the stage play for its best material and put Pearl, Howard, and Marina at centre stage during their screen debut, but there’s something about the fact that our trio are off having an almost completely separate adventure that makes this feel a little more true to life. Howard’s disappearance is mainly played out amongst the supporting cast and, as such, the new characters are instantly aligned with the existing players in the audiences mind, rather than feeling like one-shot guests. It’s a very neat trick.

Bob: Pearl’s quite a sympathetic character here, too… ‘I left him cleaning windows,’ she says. ‘Turned me back, and he’s gone…’. Like all the Summer Wine women, despite everything, she loves her husband and wants him by her side.

And is it me, or for the first time ever, as our heroes lie back in the heather, does Peter Sallis let his accent slip, just for one line? ‘It seems to me we’re going to a lot of trouble,’ he says, and that’s not Clegg’s voice! Ha! First time I’ve ever noticed that. I think we can forgive him, eh? He’s pure Yorkshire again by the end of the sentence!

Andrew: It is rare! Actually, it has only just dawned on me how infrequently we talk about Peter Sallis as a performer. We’re far more inclined to comment upon something that Wilde or Owen is doing and I think that’s probably down to the fact that I can’t think of a better example of an actor merging with his character. At this stage in the show, Sallis just is Clegg – it’s effortless.

Bob: These café scenes, with Pearl desperately concerned about Howard, are really nicely done. And it’s interesting that, although she suspects he has another woman, she clearly doesn’t know about Marina at this point! ‘He won’t wear the same shirt for more than two days…’ she cries, unnecessary hygiene being a dead giveaway of extra-marital activity. It sounds hilarious now, but I think the idea of ‘bath night’ still extended well into the 1980s… many families only had one bath a week! Any advance on that was seen as unseemly decadence, and would spark off all kinds of suspicions.

‘They always want more than their share of everything… including original sin’, grumbles Nora. I always forget she’s really religious, but it’s good to have the odd reminder. I can’t imagine Wally has ever had much original sin in his life, though. Werthers Original Sin, possibly.

And so we end with our donkey-chasing trio catching Howard and – yes – Marina dancing the tango in a remote field! Good grief, how young does Jean Fergusson look? Marina is clearly a substitute for the exotic showgirl that Howard has spent his whole life mooning over, and the whole thing makes perfect sense now. Is there a hint that she has a bit of history with Clegg as well? Blimey! I’ve never picked up on this before! ‘Norman Clegg that was…’ she breathes, clearly overcome with dormant lust. ‘That once dallied with my affections…’

Oh please, let’s NEVER have this explained. I love the intrigue and ambiguity of it all. ‘Norman Clegg that was…’ is a real phrase from my childhood too, along with using ‘as I live and breathe’ as a formal greeting. ‘As I live and breathe! Drew Smith that was…’. It’s all very Yorkshire, and I think Middlesbrough in the 1970s had more of its culture in common with the White Rose County than anyone in the modern town would ever care to admit.

Andrew: Interestingly, when our trio first spy Howard and Marina in the distance and realise who it is they have caught out, Clegg also exclaims ‘Not that Marina he once got us mixed up with?!’ Given that we’ve never seen these characters before, this must be a reference to the events of the stage play – and I’m sure that must be against some sort of BBC guideline! If anybody can point me in the right direction I’d love to get my hands on a copy of the script to said play, because – based on this little quirk of continuity – I’m guessing that there’s a lot of material contained within it that wasn’t actually recycled for the series.

Bob: That was a great episode. Quite old school in many ways, with the donkey and the pub fighting, but also forward-looking, as the new ensemble cast begins to quickly take shape.

Andrew: In quite an achievement for a half hour comedy, we learn something new about almost every single character on screen. Not in a direct way either, but through little hints at their back-story and the ways in which they choose to present themselves to the world. It’s a master class of world-building.

24 comments

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    July 28, 2016 2:56 pmPosted 1 year ago
    David Brunt

    “Norman Clegg that was…” comes from the play. I forget the context, but I think it had Compo pretending to be Cleggy at one point to deter Marina. Or was it the other way around? It was 30-odd years ago.

    P.S.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/curlicues

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      July 28, 2016 3:11 pmPosted 1 year ago
      Bob Fischer

      Ha! Ha! You are a fount of knowledge, as ever. Thankyou, Mr B.

      I will now swiftly edit ‘Curly Qs’, to save my blushes. But we’ll always have this post here, as a testiment to my stupidity.

      Reply
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    July 28, 2016 4:13 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Jonathan Linsley

    Clegg had to pretend to be “seeing” Marina in order to throw Pearl and Ivy off the scent in the stage play. Crusher thought Clegg was “seeing” his girlfriend, so they had to hide her in a man eating sofa. I hope this makes everything clearer.

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      July 28, 2016 4:20 pmPosted 1 year ago
      Bob Fischer

      Ah, thanks Mr L! A man-eating sofa, though? Tell us more!

      (PS Don’t suppose you’ve still got a copy of the script?) 🙂

      Reply
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    July 28, 2016 5:50 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Ray Flood

    There are numerous references in later episodes to Clegg and Marina having been trapped in a lift together once, but I did read, as ‘Crusher’ says, that the ‘Norman Clegg That Was’ is a reference to the play events.

    Maybe they later concocted the ‘lift’ story because it did indeed contravene some BBC guideline?!

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      July 28, 2016 10:08 pmPosted 1 year ago
      Bob Fischer

      Until Andrew mentioned the play, I genuinely assumed that Clegg and Marina must have had some kind of ding-dong way back in the mists of time, before the programme started. Although it would probably have to have been an extra-marital ding-dong for Clegg, which admittedly seems unlikely!

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        July 28, 2016 10:15 pmPosted 1 year ago
        Ray Flood

        I think any kind of ding-dong would be unlikely for Cleggy. Even with his wife 🙂

        Reply
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          July 29, 2016 8:07 pmPosted 1 year ago
          Bob Fischer

          They’re doesn’t ever appear to be a Clegg Jnr, so you might be right…

          Reply
  • July 28, 2016 6:29 pmPosted 1 year ago
    George White

    Hatton was also an annoying posh twit professor in the bizarre 1981 Spanish sci-fi movie Mystery on Monster Island, directed by Juan Piquer Simon with Peter Cushing, Terence Stamp, Eurohorror icon Paul Naschy and Ian Sera, star of Spanish slasher Pieces from the same director.

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      July 28, 2016 10:09 pmPosted 1 year ago
      Bob Fischer

      Ha! Ha! Cheers, George. Just reading up on it. It looks… truly terrible!

      Reply
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    July 28, 2016 11:30 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Nick Griffiths

    Omeroroyd looks and acts like a demented Chuckle Brother!

    You are right, Pearl seems very naive about Howard.

    Interestingly I always took Marina’s flirting with Clegg akin to the sexy girls in school pretending to try it on with the social awkward geeks. This was from an external view of course, I was obviously one of the jocks…. honest.

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      July 29, 2016 8:48 amPosted 1 year ago
      Bob Fischer

      Like a MORE demented Chuckle Brother, surely? And that’s a good thing, obviously.

      And yeah, Marina is definitely just doing it just to make Clegg uncomfortable. And succeeding spectacularly…

      Reply
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        July 29, 2016 9:02 amPosted 1 year ago
        Nick Griffiths

        While it is a much less innocent Howard and Marina at this stage it is quite evident it is still early days for them, also it is worth comparing them to Wainwright and Mrs Partridge and how the roles are somewhat reversed.

        Reply
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    July 29, 2016 9:51 amPosted 1 year ago
    Jakob1978

    Every time I watch this episode, I’m amazed at how different Marina looks. Howard and Pearl are pretty much as they are for the next 25 years (though Juliette Kaplan does soften her portrayal over the next few years, as well as shaving off the slight naivety on display here).

    But Jean Fergusson looks so different..a year later in “Uncle of the Bride”, the Marina look is as you would recognise from that point on, but here she looks so much younger. I think it’s the hair.

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      July 29, 2016 8:09 pmPosted 1 year ago
      Bob Fischer

      She was really young… if Wikipedia is to be believed, she was 40 when this episode was filmed. And I now feel terribly ungallant for even discussing the matter.

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        July 29, 2016 9:55 pmPosted 1 year ago
        Jakob1978

        Yeah, but as I say, even a year later they’ve refined the look to the way she appears for the rest of the show. Having just checked, the costume designer and make up artist on series 8, only worked on that series, so presumably the ones who worked on the next series made the change. I wonder if it was a conscious decision to make her look a little older. She’s 20 years younger than Robert Fyfe who plays Howard, so it makes it less seedy and more innocent if they seem nearer in age. All pure speculation on my part, but it’s interesting to speculate.

        Also, as I understand it, the play in question that they appeared in was the second run. The first run the previous year had different actors playing Howard, Pearl and Marina. The actor playing Howard the first year was Kenneth Waller, previously Old Mr Grace in Are You Being Served, but later quite brilliant as the Grandad in Bread. Can’t picture him as Howard (though it’s always hard to imagine others playing roles that actors make their own).

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          July 29, 2016 11:24 pmPosted 1 year ago
          Bob Fischer

          I didn’t realise Kenneth Waller had done it! As you say, very good in Bread. An actor who seemed to spend his entire career playing doddery old men, in the Clive Dunn style.

          I remember him for Big Deal, a hugely underrated mid-80s series.

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            August 10, 2016 9:57 pmPosted 1 year ago
            George White

            He was his own age in Doctor Who the Invisible Enemy, as one of the Bi-Al doctors who gets infected.

            Reply
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    July 29, 2016 8:36 pmPosted 1 year ago
    Nina Simpson Moyer

    I really wish Crusher would have been on the show longer, I’ve read the book and know what happened, but I still think he could have been a really valuable character for much longer.

    Reply
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      July 29, 2016 11:22 pmPosted 1 year ago
      Bob Fischer

      Yeah, absolutely. We’ve been really enjoying watching him in Series 8.

      Oh, and welcome to the blog, Nina! Nice to see you round these parts.

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      July 30, 2016 7:03 amPosted 1 year ago
      Jonathan Linsley

      It was lots of fun doing Crusher Nina and yet i decided that living a few years longer was better for me in the long run. Losing weight at that point in my life was a decision i took for health reasons and not a career choice. Maybe the reason i am still around typing this was because of that choice. I think the saddest thing for me was falling out with Alan Bell over it. We talked in his office at the BBC and he clearly felt I had let him and the show down in some way but i want to remind everyone that at that time I was not contracted to the BBC or indeed hadn’t been told that i would be in the next series otherwise I would have kept them informed of my change in appearance and discussed the choice with him. My point at the time was that IVY could have put Crusher on a diet and at least the “frock” would fit now, Sadly they didn’t see it that way.

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        July 30, 2016 7:18 amPosted 1 year ago
        Nick Griffiths

        That is a shame that Alan Bell couldn’t or wouldn’t it into the show, surely it could have been the theme for an episode where Ivy tries to get the trio into shape.

        Very glad you did make the decision and it worked out fine, I read stories of how Patrick Newell (Mother in the Avengers) and Paul Whitsun-Johns (Fullalove in the Quatermass Experiment) struggled to find work after losing weight and as a result Newell put the weight back on and… well you can guess.

        Reply
        • August 10, 2016 9:58 pmPosted 1 year ago
          George White

          And both died in their early fifties IIRC.

          Reply
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    September 10, 2017 2:45 pmPosted 1 month ago
    Simon S

    As a pivotal episode, I’ve mixed feelings on this one. It’s weird that the opening immediately gives us Howard as Clegg’s almost-neighbour (sure there’s another house between their front doors, but maybe that’s just direction). In one short scene his life is set up, a failed 16 year old who wanted a 30 year old showgirl, and dreamt of Monte Carlo. No Australia or the South Seas for him.

    Foggy comparing himself to Napoleon. When he falls off the gate, he lands on his left arm and almost his neck, which would have been painful, if not dangerous, stunt double or no. But he calls himself “the Hawk” now.

    And then we have the “famous pub fighter” sketch, easily one of the best scenes in the entire series, and our heroes are mostly just reactors as Ormeroyd and latterly Digby carry the load.

    COMPO: Did tha catch it, Digby?
    DIGBY: Catch it? Catch it?! I couldn’t even reach the chuff by letter..!

    And then we have the (off-screen) fight of the century, which happily comes out honours even. If anyone had to become regulars after this episode, I wish it had been these two, Ormeroyd has a magnificently expressive face. And there’s even time for a short discussion on Compo’s dressing table:

    COMPO: It’s the veneer.
    FOGGY: Well, you’re in trouble there.
    COMPO: There’s always summat.
    (I love Compo’s insistence on it being the veneer, and the defeated view of the world, which not even a nice boiled egg can cure.)

    DIGBY: Stuff the flaming donkey!
    COMPO: You’ve got to catch it first! 🙂

    And a good scene for Crusher, playing air guitar and ready for Pearl wanting coffee, plus an acute description of his Auntie Ivy…
    CRUSHER: She goes rhino if I listen to music when she’s in!
    PEARL: When will she be in?
    CRUSHER: She’ll be in when I’m not listening to music!
    (Shades of the famous “what time is it, Eccles?” bit that.)

    Odd that Howard still claims to love and respect Pearl, and have turned to Marina for tango fun.

    And the finale: three men on a bike yet again, and a successful lasso!

    A pivotal episode, and on balance, probably a classic one.

    Reply

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