Summer Winos»Uncategorized»Series 9 Episode 1: Why Does Norman Clegg Buy Ladies' Elastic Stockings?

Series 9 Episode 1: Why Does Norman Clegg Buy Ladies' Elastic Stockings?

S9E1d
In which Norman Clegg… buys ladies’ elastic stockings…

Bob: Oh, this is an unusual opening shot! We start with a static shot of dried ferns in a jar, and we pan across to Compo’s bedside table. And what a fascinating insight into his character; there’s a GNER mug, clearly half-inched from some long-forgotten railway journey, an ashtray from the Huddersfield Hotel, a copy of The Ferret Fancier magazine (does this actually exist?) and – tantalisingly – what looks like a vintage Betty Grable record. It’s a throwaway shot, but these half-glimpsed objects are immaculately chosen. Does Compo strike you as the kind of man who would pinch ashtrays from a posh hotel, and harbour forty-year old fantasies about the leggy, ‘Forces Sweetheart’ film star of his youth? Of course he does.

I’m now fascinated as to exactly which Betty Grable record is propped up at Compo’s bedside. It looks like the title is something along the lines of ‘Loving Tonight’, but I can’t find any evidence of her having recorded anything with a title that’s even similar to that. Are my ageing eyes letting me down here? Is it even Betty Grable on the sleeve? Can anyone help?

Andrew: I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one, but I can sadly confirm the demise of The Ferret Fancier, if indeed it was ever an actual periodical and not just a comic invention. It pleases me, however, that one can subscribe to Ferrets Magazine. Surely that’s the sort of publication in which we should be taking out an advertisement?

Bob: Good to get our regulation Wally and Nora scene in early! Nora is ‘swilling’… which takes me back. For the first twenty-odd years of my life, I was frequently woken up by the sound of my Mum throwing buckets of water over the back patio, and swilling it around with a good, stiff broom. It’s a very reassuring sound. Although I’m now filled with an overwhelming feeling that I’ve still got geography homework to finish off.

Andrew: I love the rare bit of courage we glimpse from Wally at the end of this scene.

Nora: What are you; a husband or a parrot?

Wally: (with glee) Who’s a clever boy then!

Cue a good thwacking from Nora!

S9E1bBob: Clegg has proper teacups! I want some. I like his world-weary grumbling to Howard, as well… ‘At a time when little southern girls are playing with their dolls, the girls around here are practicing lie recognition and unmarked wedlock’. Peter Sallis and Robert Fyfe make a good double act, actually…two incredibly meek characters who, together, find refuge from an intimidating world.

Andrew: They do make a nice pair. What I especially like is Clegg’s confidence around Howard. As you say, Clegg has grown into a particularly meek character over the course of the series, but even he can’t help coming across as an alpha dog when confronted with the pathetic Howard. There’s the sense of a friendship there, but also an undercurrent of contempt on Clegg’s part. See, for example, his reaction to Howard’s attempt at a guilt-free smile – ‘You look like a little Nazi surrendering at the end of the war.’

Bob: Is it me, or does Pearl not really trust Edie? Our new regulars are pairing off into odd combinations in this episode, and there’s definitely a bit of spikiness between these two. ‘Where’s the virtue in looking like you’ve just come back from a serious operation?’ asks Edie, clearly a dig at poor Pearl’s dowdy appearance. It’s curious how, for the first twelve years of the series, the scripts were very male-dominated… we generally just had Nora and Ivy on the sidelines, acting as foils for the main, male trio. But Roy Clarke seems to have suddenly discovered the delights of writing female dialogue, and he’s an absolute master at it. The show has never had such a feminine feel; there are huge chunks devoted to various combinations of Edie, Pearl and Marina.

Andrew: I don’t think Pearl trusts any other woman. The addition of Pearl and Howard also strengthens the series’ suggestion that all men of a certain age regress regress back to childhood, while women remain maternal.You’re bang on; there’s absolutely a sense of Clarke playing with his new characters. Pearl and Ivy are both newcomers, but he’s obviously keen to see if they can carry a scene on their own. It’s ages into the episode before our trio unite and I wonder if that’s partly due to the fact that, despite having been part of the series for over a year, Seymour has yet to appear in a non-special episode of the show – for the benefit of casual viewers, he has to be eased in to the narrative.

Bob: Clegg is shopping in a very 1980s-looking supermarket! It’s on film, so do we assume this is a genuine location? I’m sure some sort of Supermarket Reform Act must have come into play sometime around 1990, because they suddenly became very spacious, airy places, filled with the fresh smell of baking bread. Before that, they looked like this… narrow aisles, low ceilings, and groaning shelves overladen with stacked-up tins and packets. And they smelled FUNNY. They bloody did… there was one in my hometown that absolutely stank of cats. Good to see an advert for ‘beefburgers’ as well. Not just ‘burgers’, but ‘beefburgers’. Is the ‘beefburger’ actually different to the ‘hamburger’? And when did they all just become ‘burgers’?

S9E1cAndrew: Pre-1990s supermarkets basically looked like large corner shops, didn’t they? Actually, what’s that one around the back of Stockton High Street called? That looks like it was caught in a time bubble at some point during the 1980s.

Bob: Boyes! It’s part of its ineffable charm. Anyway, I’m going to advance a daring theory here, and brace yourselves – because some of you aren’t going to like it. Here goes… Clegg actually DOES fancy Marina. When he spots her working on the supermarket check-out, he freezes on the spot, blushes, and then fills his basket with all kinds of unnecessary tat (including the ladies’ stockings of the title) in an attempt to ward off the suspicions of the store detective. These aren’t the actions of a man who just wants to avoid an undesirable acquaintance… they’re the actions of a man who’s IN LOVE, and is too embarrassed to admit it – even to himself. He’s like the infatuated schoolboy who turns into a beetroot-red, stammering simpleton every time the object of his desire comes within twenty yards. I’m running with this. CLEGG FANCIES MARINA.

Andrew: I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s in love, but I think there’s certainly something to your theory! In the world of Summer Wine, there haven’t been any female characters for Clegg to show an interest in, have there? Marina occupies a previously vacant space between battleaxe and some bloke’s niece. She isn’t there to mother, and she’s not looking for a father figure.

Bob: The last few episodes have had some lovely material for Jonathan Linsley to work with, and I like the way that Crusher is slowly growing into his role as a café assistant. In his earliest episodes, he clearly didn’t really want to be there, and was only doing it to placate either Ivy or some unseen mother, desperate to get him out of the house… but look at him now! He’s got a steak and kidney pie in the oven, and he’s pacing around like an expectant father! It’s a very subtle and nicely-done character progression.

Andrew: Compo (and Bill Owen) makes up for his limited screen time with a high-octane entrance to the cafè. While we’re on the subject of the series entering a new era, the Compo we see here has now completely transitioned into the persona of a harmless imp. He may accost a female customer of the café and make a grab for Ivy, but there isn’t the slightest suggestion that he’s leering, or really out of bounds in any way. He’s just a hyperactive child. I also don’t get the impression he’s supposed to be half as physically horrifying as he was in the series’ earliest episodes – he’s scruffy, but he’s not fag-ash-in-a-doorstop-sandwich revolting.

S9e1eI love Edie’s banning of Wesley from the kitchen. It’s a running gag that will go on for years and years, and it certainly made me cackle when I was a kid watching in the 1990s. Again, although they are taken to their extremes, there is something very recognisable and identifiable about this pairing. My Dad is in the process of building himself a new shed – his justification being that if he doesn’t do it now he never will, as ‘this’ll be me last shed’ – and my Mam and sister just look on, both confused as to why he wants it, but relieved that he’s got something to do outside of the living room.

Bob: ‘This’ll be me last shed!’ That’s worthy of Roy Clarke! I can imagine Stephen Lewis saying that, with a screwdriver in his hand.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the home-made warning signs on the approach road to Seymour’s house are in any way exaggerated for comic effect… if anything, they’re toned down. I’ve done a lot of moorland walking past remote farmsteads, and seen some terrifying sights; from ‘TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT – I MEAN IT’ to rows of rotting, dead moles pegged out on electric fences, presumably as a warning to similarly wayward members of the local mole community. Away from the cities, towns and villages, there still are some truly odd and eccentric loners living very insular and unconventional lives up on the hills; even in 2017. I think Seymour’s house and lifestyle, plotting insane schemes in ramshackle outbuildings, are a nod to those people. At heart, he’s a loner; and it’s hard to imagine scenes like these – with him aggressively turning away a Yorkshire Electricity Board meter-reader from his country house – being played out with either Blamire or Foggy.

Andrew: Thinking I recognised him from somewhere, I looked up the actor who plays the ‘Meter Reader’ on IMDB. It turns out he also played ‘Our Kid’ Colin in Getting Sam Home and will appear as other characters in further episodes to come, but far odder than that is that his last credited role was in a 2007 episode of Life on Mars… where he played the character of ‘Meter Man’. Think of the possibilities! Are they the same character? Does this mean Life on Mars and Last of the Summer Wine are part of the same fictional universe? Is Norman Clegg mad, in a coma, or back in time? And if he can work out the reason, can he get home?

Bob: Amazingly, we’re twenty minutes into the episode before we see our main trio together.

Andrew: The structure of this one is rather strange. The point at which Clegg and Compo arrive at Seymour’s place very much feels like the opening of a new episode.  Are we actually being treated to two mini-episodes here?

Bob: I can’t shake the suspicion that Seymour’s string of insane inventions exist purely for the purposes of getting Bill Owen into some bizarre contraption every week! This week it’s a mobile drilling unit, powered by a rather roughly-converted bicycle, and intended to search the Holme Valley oilfields for Black Gold, Texas Tea, etc. Although what would be the West Yorkshire version of Texas Tea? Tadcaster Tea? That actually sounds like genuine tea, though.

Anyway, this exchange made me laugh a lot:

Seymour: It’s not an important bit…
Clegg: That’s what Melvyn Carcroft said when the swelling started.

S9e1gHe also makes Compo and Clegg swear to secrecy on two books: The Principles of Financial Management and Biggles In Africa. Yet again, I can’t find any sign of the former being a real book… but the latter is very definitely the genuine article, published in 1936. My faith is restored!

Andrew: Before the possibility of striking oil is raised, Seymour is certain that people need holes, and that his is the device to provide them. That’s an insane idea that I can get behind, and I love the fact that it’s actually a familiar-sounding music cue from Ronnie Hazlehurst that suggests the direction the story is about to take, before anybody in the episode catches on.

When Compo finally gets around to testing Seymour’s drilling machine, it isn’t long before something goes amiss. Spying a film of oil on the top of his duck pond, Seymour theorises that there is a vast untapped source somewhere nearby.

Bob: Yes, Ronnie Hazlehurst is on FIRE at the moment! As Compo and Clegg half-heartedly drill for oil in Seymour’s front yard, we are treated to a sensational hybrid of the Summer Wine and Dallas themes. It’s absolutely masterful, and there’s something magnificently strange about hearing those bombastic tones swelling as we watch two pensionable gentlemen pedalling furiously outside a Yorkshire country house. It’s almost subversive. I wonder if Roy Clarke ever gave suggestions for musical cues in any of his scripts, or whether Hazlehurst just had a wild, musical imagination, and was given free reign to use it? I guess the latter is more likely; any man who can create a TV theme tune by tapping out the title of the show in Morse code is up there with Mozart as far as I’m concerned. Don’t believe me? It’s Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Seriously. It’s extraordinary.

Andrew: On the other side of town, Howard and Marina seize what little time they can get together. The sexual longing that Robert Fyfe somehow manages to squeeze into the phrase, ‘I’ve been sent to fetch two prawn curries… and a sweet and sour pork’ is a wonder to behold.

Of course, it isn’t long before our trio’s dream of striking oil is dashed by a water main, and the episode comes to a moist conclusion. Bell has a great eye for silent comedy direction, with the entirety of the gang’s realisation being played out in a series of shocked close-ups, contrasted with widescale angles of destruction.

That was a lovely episode. My only qualm is that we don’t get to hear nearly enough of that magnificent Dallas take–off. They should have used it over the closing titles. I also wonder if this is the point at which the series began to develop its reputation as being almost entirely about physical comedy. There are some absolutely perfect character comedy exchanges throughout this instalment, but the drilling for oil sequence is the only one I’ve ever seen made use of as a clip in a documentary or a chat show. Drilling for oil is what I bet people remember this one being about, despite the fact doing so takes up about two minutes of the episode’s duration!

Bob: That was our most whimsical episode for a little while, and it passed by very pleasantly, like a light daydream on a summers afternoon. Now… Betty Grable, anyone?

9 comments

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    January 16, 2017 8:26 pmPosted 9 months ago
    Chris Orton

    Mention of old supermarkets makes me think of the branch of Liptons that we had in my home town (now long gone, along with the likes of Fine Fare and Presto). My Mam was assistant manager there in her youth, and I can remember it being very much old style. There were none of your modern conveniences – only basic, honest grub. Fruit and veg was limited to very bland stuff – you’d never encounter anything as exotic as even a kiwi fruit, never mind a kumquat. Amazing to think how far we’ve come in terms of shopping – only arose bad thirty years ago each and every town would have a supermarket squeezed into an existing building on the high street, rather than these soulless out-of-town warehouse type affairs that we have now.

    Boyes are still going strong, but are very old fashioned. But the one that really feels out of time is Barkers in Northallerton- that place is like Grace Brothers!

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      January 16, 2017 9:46 pmPosted 9 months ago
      Bob Fischer

      Woah! I’m REALLY going to have to go to Barkers.

      Liptons brings back a few memories… we certainly had them on Teesside, along with Hintons, which I think might have been a more localised chain. Like you say, they were very basic… generally tins, packets and frozen goods, all piled high. I can’t even remember fresh fruit and veg from a supermarket… you’d have to go to the greengrocers next door, surely?

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    January 16, 2017 11:19 pmPosted 9 months ago
    David Roberts

    This was the first Summer Wine episode that really caught my imagination, and, as a musician, I’ve never forgotten the effect that Dallas pastiche had on me as a 10 year old. Now I’ve watched pretty much every episode many times, and the credit all belongs to this episode. It’s also the reason why Seymour is my favourite 3rd man!

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      January 17, 2017 9:02 amPosted 9 months ago
      Bob Fischer

      Aw, you never forget your first! (Except I have)

      Reply
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    January 16, 2017 11:26 pmPosted 9 months ago
    Jane Burbidge

    Tadcaster is in North Yorkshire 😮 (I love reading your interpretation of the episodes – I miss so much sometimes I wonder if I’ve been watching the same thing or not)
    Jane
    x

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      January 17, 2017 9:01 amPosted 9 months ago
      Bob Fischer

      ‘The Summer Winos would like to issue a formal statement of regret…’

      I always get a bit confused by Tadcaster. I’m probably not the first.

      Reply

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