Summer Winos»Series 9»Series 9 Episode 8: Go With The Flow

Series 9 Episode 8: Go With The Flow


In which Seymour lets it all hang out…

Andrew: We open with a slow track in on Nora brushing her front steps. Now, after I previously claimed that you don’t see people doing this any more, Emma set to our front yard with a brush just the other day. I followed her around with a dustpan and everything!

Anyway, here comes a simply adorable Joe Gladwin and friend…

Bob: Wally with his whippet! Straight in, no messing! Cut to the chase, that’s what I say. Regular readers (both of you) will know how much we love Wally  – and his whippet – and I got a genuine frisson of excitement from such an early appearance. Do we ever find out whether Wally’s whippet has a name, though? It’s bad enough that Sid and Ivy went for decades without a surname, but Wally’s poor pooch doesn’t have a single syllable to his moniker. It’s an unwritten Law of Comedy that any docile sitcom dog must be called ‘Gripper’ or ‘Fang’, so I’m going with the latter.  Anyway, my friend Garry now owns a beautiful black whippet called Mr Alfred, so when we take Howdo! The Joe Gladwin Story to Edinburgh next year, we’re sorted for the photo shoot. He’d make a great substitute Fang.

Seriously, this is a lovely start to the episode… I like TV shows that start with the regular characters waking up and getting out of bed; there’s a lovely “just another day” atmosphere to this that makes me feel cosy.

Andrew: It seems that Compo has the better time of it, as Clegg’s morning begins with some door-stepping God-botherers. One presumes that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Bob: Is this a comedy staple that has less of a resonance these days? Although the only time I can ever recall this happening to me was almost thirty years ago, at university, when I came back to my shared student house to find my housemate Raf in the front room, deep in conversation with two earnest-looking chaps in suits, shuffling uncomfortably on the sofa. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses who had knocked on our door and – clearly stunned to be invited into a house for surely the first time ever – had seized the opportunity to set up camp for a serious conversation about faith. What they hadn’t reckoned on was Raf being a devout Catholic who had equally seized the opportunity to wax lyrical to them about his own devotions. They couldn’t get a word in edgeways, and had been there for over an hour. They looked like beaten men.

Andrew: Yes, I wondered if this was a dying practice. We’ve had a few such knocks on the door since we moved in six years ago – though I seem to recall they were Mormons – but you’re far more likely to receive a flyer through the door or be accosted by somebody with a pamphlet on the high street. Perhaps this speaks of the hyper-capitalist digital age in which we live.

Bob: These two don’t look like they belong to the hyper-capitalist digital age. Although this line made me laugh out loud:

Doorsteppers: There are wars… and rumours of wars…
Clegg: Not here. You probably want to be in Arnold Street.

Andrew: Clegg is left reeling in the café after this unexpected religious experience, but I’m a little distracted by the soundtrack. What is going on in the background of this, our first studio scene of the episode? It sounds like somebody has left a particularly noisy air conditioning unit switched on! The noise clearly isn’t meant to be part of the café atmosphere, as there’s no chance Ivy would consider leaving Crusher in charge if the tea urn was making such a suspicious racket. There’s something rather sweet about the way she fusses over her nephew as she prepares to head off to the bank. We always got the impression that Ivy didn’t trust Sid when left to his own devices, but with Crusher I think it’s more the case that she worries what might happen to him.

And can we get technical for moment?At the start of the scene after our trio leaves the café, Compo is precariously tiptoeing his way along the top of a dry stone wall.  He’s not being played by Bill Owen, though – the role is being essayed by a stuntman. He quickly overtakes Seymour and Clegg, disappears out of frame and when the camera catches up with the character he’s once again being played by Owen, acting with a little hop as though he’s just hopped off the wall himself. This little cinematic trick – where the transition from stunt performer to actor is disguised by a camera move or piece of scenery – is called a Texas Switch and you see countless examples cropping up during Last of the Summer Wine. Alan Bell was masterful at finding interesting ways to pull these off, many of which have been spotted by writer Simon Dunn and compiled here. Walking along a wall isn’t much of a stunt to pull off, but little moments like these, executed without risking one of the series’ lead actors, really do sell the idea of Compo and friends enjoying their second childhood.

Bob: Ronnie Hazlehurst is on fire, yet again. As our trio convene in the cafe to discuss religion, is the incidental music swelling into a chorus of Nearer, My God, To Thee? You’re a young person of upstanding morals, Drew. You tell us…

Andrew: I thought it was Abide With Me, but then again I am a heathen. Actually, the last time I went to a church service all the hymns were backed by pre-recorded music on a CD. That didn’t sit right with me, a person who hadn’t bothered joining in with God’s chorus for well over a decade. Now, if Ronnie Hazlehurst provided the arrangements for all of the hymns I don’t think you’ll be able to pull me away from the pews!

Bob: The changing depiction of faith in Summer Wine has been interesting to observe over the years. Blamire was absolutely a devout Christian, and would castigate Compo for his slack morals, and that seemed very much part of 1970s British society and an era when, I suspect, many people would have ticked “Church of England” on their census forms even if their church visits were limited to the occasional wedding and funeral. I’m sure Foggy would have counted himself as an upright Christian of stout moral values, too… but, by the time we reach the mid-1980s, Seymour seems considerably less convinced. He’s easily the most bohemian Third Man, isn’t he? He’s positively louche.

Anyway, I love this cricketing scene, with our heroes rattling through an innings with an oil drum wicket at the canalside. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the “pensioners returning to childhood” ethos that she how has made its trademark. Seymour’s magnificently elaborate run-up made me laugh, as did his embarrassed reaction when he realises that a small, motley crowd has assembled to watch them. “The click of willow on a summer’s evening,” he muses, “and tea in the school pavilion…”.  I think Michael Aldridge is the best Third Man for pulling off this wistful sense of “Faded Empire” nostalgia, too.

Andrew: Compo brings Seymour back down to Earth with a reminder that said school pavilion was falling to bits and probably being kept up by the tallest boys at the school, but despite the dilapidated nature of his former surroundings, I still get the impression that his current antics feel like a genuine comedown for him. He’s slumming it back in Holmfirth after having made his way out of his childhood home. 

Bob: Is this turning into Seymour’s quest to discover spiritual enlightenment, and the meaning of life? Every now and again we get an episode that has a subtle but genuine sense of the profound, and this is shaping up to be one of them. In an attempt to find inner meaning, he drags Compo and Clegg to the local vicarage; and it rapidly, simultaneously, becomes another rare but always interesting type of Summer Wine episode; one where we almost seem to enter a different sitcom altogether! The fusty, model-train obsessed vicar and his snobby wife (“A man has brought us some poor people, dear”) could easily have been the lead characters in their own gentle 1980s BBC comedy; especially when played by the wonderful Richard Vernon – who looks magnificent with huge sidechoppers – and Ann Way, who made a career of playing dotty old ladies for decades on end. She puts in a great shift in the ‘Gourmet Night’ episode of Fawlty Towers, but also seems to pop up in pretty much every long-running British TV show of the 1970s and 80s. They’re genuinely terrific characters. 

‘And now, on BBC1, Richard Vernon plays a priest with a penchant for miniature railways, in our new comedy for Tuesday nights… On The Right Track

Andrew: Vernon’s voice is so magnificent that I almost wish that the vicar had remained an unseen character. I say “almost” because, if that were the case, we’d have been deprived of the sight of his wonderful model railway. I’m rather jealous of this miniature world – which appears to be an HO scale Hornby layout, in case you were wondering. My favourite odd touch is that, amongst the serious replicas of real world locomotives and rolling stock, one can spot either Annie or Clarabel from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends! I wonder, actually, whether this character was inspired by the creator of Thomas, the Reverend W. Awdry. A Church of England cleric with a passion for railways, he was also known not to suffer fools gladly and at this point in time was enjoying a rather high profile, the television adaptation of his Railway Series books having been adapted for television in 1984.

Bob: Compo’s musical interjections are becoming more and more frequent, aren’t they? It was interesting when Roy Clarke told us (CLANG!) that they were all Bill Owen’s own, unscripted contributions. Here he sings A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, a song written by Irving Berlin in 1919, when Compo was a child, although I wonder if he’d have come across it more as a teenager in the 1930s, when he’d have heard it used as the theme tune to the Ziegfeld Follies films that doubtless played regularly in the Holmfirth fleapits. Either way, the line about Pontefract is more Bill Owen than Irving Berlin. I don’t think Irving Berlin ever made it to Pontefract. More of a Wakefield man, I imagine.

Andrew: Back in the vicar’s study, the old git refuses to take any responsibility for greeting his visitors. I think there’s something telling about Clarke’s view on organised religion when the vicar justifies shouting at his wife’s mistakes as being part of “the pursuits of that ideal of excellence that marks us as Christians.” Roy’s scripts are frequently full of wonder and philosophical musings that indicate a spiritual side to the man, but officially sanctioned representatives of organised religion rarely come off well in his work.

Bob: It’s a sign of my appalling pettiness that I felt duty bound to investigate the following exchange…

Vicar’s Wife: I’m afraid I’m not very good with electricity…
Clegg: You could say the same about the electricity board.

Clegg’s electricity provider in 1987 would have been Yorkshire Electric, but there were constant rumblings in the air about privatisation (British Gas had gone in 1986… and if you see Sid, tell him) and public ownership of the Holmfirth electricity supply ended in 1990 when shares were sold in the newly-formed Yorkshire Electricity Group PLC. I don’t know whether Clegg’s cynicism about his local leccy company was justified, but they seem to have now metamorphosed into nPower, who I’ve had all kinds of bloody trouble with, so I’m feeling a little solidarity with him regardless. Sorry, were we watching the telly?

Andrew: We were, but the meter’s just run out. Have you got 20p?

Bob: So, despite looking for spiritual guidance, Seymour has instead been pressed into selling tickets for the vicar’s wife’s am-dram Beatrix Potter production. And, ironically, the failure of this leads to a spiritual awakening in its own right… Seymour doesn’t care! He’s embracing failure! Again, I think this absolutely marks him out from Blamire and Foggy. There’s no way that either of our previous Third Men would have accepted defeat in this way; but – as I mentioned – there’s a bohemian quality to Seymour that makes him yearn for a few dry sherries and a decadent afternoon on a chaise longue. He’s not a worker, is he? Even his inventions are cobbled together hastily. Blamire and Foggy had a working class work ethic, but Seymour doesn’t. Clegg sums up his and Compo’s ethos perfectly – “when it comes to failure, you’re in the hands of two of the finest natural players in the country” – and Seymour is quick to adopt that attitude in a way that would have been anathema to his two predecessors. After a half-hearted sales campaign down the boozer, he even returns the unsold tickets to the vicar and his wife!

Andrew: I think he’s a bit resigned to it. He made his way through the education system; an “intellectual” who coasted into a cushy job as a headmaster. Now that’s been taken away, he’s rudderless and lacking the talent, enthusiasm, or work ethic to try and get it back!

Bob: Ivy and Nora are at the vicarage now, having been roped into sewing Beatrix Potter costumes together, and it’s heartwarming to note that, when Clegg has a mild dig at Crusher, Ivy is quick to defend him! “He’s a good lad… underneath”. We’ve commented on this before, but beneath Ivy’s bluster beats a heart of pure gold.

Andrew: When Compo first crosses paths with Nora and Ivy at the sewing machines, he greets them with “It’s the sew-sew sisters!” – a line that gets the type of laugh from the studio audience that would suggest to me that they recognised the phrase. Now, I had a quick search around online and couldn’t spy anything that seemed to fit the bill. There were a team of seamstresses who worked for NASA in the late 1960s and came to be known as the Sew Sisters, but that strikes me as too American and too modern a reference for both Compo and Roy Clarke to have at hand. I put the question to Twitter and some folks suggested that the line was merely a play on the phrase “so-so”, but I think the audience’s reaction discounts that. Far more likely, given the general frame of reference we’ve seen across the series, is the suggestion that it harkens back to a WW2 campaign featuring the characters Mrs Sew-and-Sew urging housewives to make do and mend. I’m content with this explanation!

Anyway, we’re nearing the end of this episode and with such impressive guest sets – we see four or five rather large rooms inside the vicarage grounds – and a lot of build-up to the Beatrix Potter play, you might expect it to be heading for quite a climax… but where it does actually end up is just downright bizarre. As the credits roll, Compo dresses up as a mouse to sell tickets for the show and races around the streets of Holmfirth, accosting women and getting chucked out of shops. Even the studio audience doesn’t quite seem to know what to make of it!

Bob: That was an interesting episode… it’s sometimes easy to see view Summer Wine‘s Third Men as being almost interchangeable, but that storyline could only have worked with Seymour. His realisation that not everything in life has to be a hard-fought success, and that it’s rewarding to “go with the flow” is almost Taoist! He’s revelling in non-action, and allowing the universe to unfold around him as he sits back with a wry smile. The idea of Blamire or Foggy reaching such a conclusion is unthinkable. And I’m kind of with Seymour, really… one of my favourite quotes of all time is from the great radio broadcaster John Peel, who – when asked towards the end of his life whether he had any regrets – apparently replied “I wish I’d spent more time staring out of windows”. I’m with him all the way. And  yeah – the fact that Compo ends the episode dressed as a mouse, pestering what appear to be genuine passers-by in the streets of Holmfirth, doesn’t undermine my philosophy one jot. He’s only doing it to impress Nora and Ivy.  Like the best of us, he’s still a lazy bugger deep down.

8 comments

  • Visit site
    July 31, 2020 3:15 pmPosted 9 days ago
    Nick Griffiths

    This is a rather interesting episode because it appears to have stepped back into the more thoughtful approach of Cyril’s era, which had it been there no doubt Cleggy would have been doing Seymour’s bit I imagine, but has one foot on the more slapstick future. Compo seems to harking back to the early days in the way people perceive him as well.

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    July 31, 2020 3:43 pmPosted 9 days ago
    Clive Harris

    I love this episode – it is a favourite of mine. As you say in your review, it has many of our favourite ingredients – such as Wally and his wippet. Great review and analysis of this episode … thank you. It reminds me how good LOTSW was, and you provide lots of food for thought about the programme and the series !!

    Reply
  • Visit site
    July 31, 2020 5:05 pmPosted 9 days ago
    Sean

    I very much love this episode, and it’s one of the reasons why Seymour is my favorite Third Man. The quiet chat near the end in the shrubs where Clegg gently tells him it’s okay to fail really resonates with me, a fellow friend of failure. I also love the look of delighted surprise on Clegg’s face when Seymour declares, “I’ll do it!” Like, after years of Blamire and Foggy, he didn’t actually expect Seymour to do it!

    Also — Annie/Clarabel cameo! Big Thomas the Tank Engine fan, and I love the idea of the Vicar being an allegory for the late Rev W Awdry. I should like a train set like that.

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  • Visit site
    August 1, 2020 5:08 amPosted 9 days ago
    Purupuss

    The one line that I love (I think it’s this episode and not another “third man trying to get Compo to love the church one) is when Compo sees a picture of Saint Sebastian(?) tied to a pole with arrows piercing him. So in awe is he of the picture, and the meaning of the martyrdom behind it, Compo stands up straight and utters the memorable line…

    “One hundred and eigh-ty!”

    Now I can’t see a similar picture, or even the number 180, without saying it (or at least hearing Bill Owen’s voice saying it) in exactly the same way.

    But then I probably agree with Compo’s views on organised religion.

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    • Visit site
      August 1, 2020 8:18 amPosted 8 days ago
      Andrew T. Smith

      Yes, that got a big laugh from me too. Totally unexpected!

      Reply
  • Visit site
    August 2, 2020 1:01 amPosted 8 days ago
    Jakob1978

    Welcome back 🙂 I love this episode, and for many of the reasons you point out, it shows the difference between Seymour and the other third men up to this point. It may be the more friendly atmosphere behind the scenes but I think the friendship between the three is much warmer. I couldn’t imagine the cricket scene playing out the same way with Foggy. It’d have been all about fitness or self improvement, whereas here it’s clearly just a bit of fun.

    Incidentally, to go back 5 years (I’ve just checked :|) we had a conversation in the comments for “the mysterious feet of Nora Batty” about a newspaper article in the Mirror around the broadcast of Getting Sam Home, regarding bad language. I didn’t have access to post 1980 Mirror articles at the time, but this week they added them to the british newspaper archive. I don’t know if you tracked down a copy since then, but if not, here is the article in question

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bkRhys5xsiuTJJXkD__512v7ZXA3S4SM/view

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    • Visit site
      August 2, 2020 8:07 amPosted 7 days ago
      Andrew T. Smith

      Good to have you back as well. Jokob! Thanks for the article find. Alan Bell milking the press for all the publicity they are worth there!

      Reply
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    August 2, 2020 2:12 pmPosted 7 days ago
    Gavin Lloyd Wilson

    Of all the third men, Seymour was definitely the closest in disposition to Compo and Clegg, although of course he would never have admitted it. At the start of their acquaintanceship he had pretensions towards being leader of the three, and of being their benevolent educator along the way, but he actually fitted right in with their bumbling lazy lifestyle.

    During the whole of the “Compo” years it felt like Compo and Clegg were much of a unit with a shared aimlessness and demeanour despite Compo being a scruff living in a tip and Clegg being a bit prissy even. And then there was the third man, who they tagged along with, who was more of an outsider and often the butt of their jokes.

    Rarely did we see that dynamic changed, other than perhaps in “The Black Widow” episode of Series 15 in which we see Compo and Foggy paired up as they try to rescue Clegg from the clutches of the widow Mrs Jack Attercliffe. Foggy and Compo even seem to get on quite well in that episode without their usual bickering although maybe each feeling delicate following the previous evening’s “funeral tea” may have something to do with that.

    I know I’m getting ahead of myself now talking about series 15, but it was interesting to see a different dynamic between the main characters.

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