BBC

Series 4 Episode 2: Getting On Sidney's Wire

In which Compo shows a tender side, and Foggy sleeps with the fishes…

Bob: The opening scenes to this episode are my idea of heaven… idling away a sunny afternoon beneath rustling tree branches and – splendidly – neither Compo, Clegg nor Foggy have any idea which day of the week it is. Foggy – of course – bristles at this (‘We ought not to be just sitting here in the sunlight’) but it feels to me like a pretty damn fine way to live. Again, we see the closeness between Clegg and Compo, and I can’t help but see them as a kind of senior, Yorkshire version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn… substitute the River Holme for the Mississippi and you’re just about there. Although I’m not sure where Foggy comes into proceedings. Joe Harper, perhaps? Or even Injun Joe?

Andrew: The way in which they struggle to remember what day it is takes me back to those long summer holidays during primary school. They seemed to stretch on forever and, just like Foggy, we were lost at sea without a timetable. In fact, since I still work in a school and still get most of the summer holidays off, I continue to find myself in the same predicament!

Anyone know which college Foggy’s scarf belongs to? We need to know!

Bob: Meanwhile, back at the café, there’s a pepper spillage and suddenly Compo, with tears streaming down his face, finds himself being comforted within the ample bosom of Nora Batty. I’m sure I’ve read that Kathy Staff used to repeatedly request that Roy Clarke write more tender scenes for Nora, as she didn’t want the character to come over as a complete battleaxe… there had to be some compassion there to make the character believable. And here we see it in droves… it’s a lovely performance from Kathy, as Nora takes Compo into her front parlour (the very thought!) and continues to console the conniving little twerp.

Andrew: It’s clear to me now that Roy Clarke must have something of an attraction towards a comforting bosom (don’t we all?). Nora’s particular brand of sympathy foreshadows the similarly – ahem – ample comforts that Nurse Gladys Emmanuel would offer Granville in Open All Hours.

Bob: It’s nice to see that Nora clearly does have a certain tenderness towards Compo. If she genuinely hated him, as seems to be the case on the surface, then the relationship just wouldn’t work onscreen. Nora would long since have moved away, or taken out a court order, or had him battered by some intimidating nephew or other. We need occasional respites like this just to justify the fact that they tolerate each others’ existence for so many decades. And, just for a few seconds, Compo is clearly transported right back to that mysterious VE Night encounter!

I’ve just noticed in this episode that the café has been decorated as well! In the first series the filthy walls are clearly visible… the one behind the counter, in particular, is absolutely black with mould and long-ingrained damp. It’s a really grotty little place. Now, though, it’s covered in clean, fresh wallpaper! Clearly done by Sid under duress while Ivy bellowed from the kitchen. And now she she’s got him installing a temperamental buzzer on the café door… hence the ‘Sidney’s Wire’ of the title. A strange thought struck me when I saw that title… do Sid and Ivy ever reveal their surname?

Those football fixtures in full

Those football fixtures in full

Andrew: You know, I don’t think they do! That’s quite strange when you consider how often the characters are referred to by their second names; whether it’s Mrs Batty as opposed to Nora, or the derogatory ‘’Symonite!, levelled at Compo.

Bob: I actually spent far too much of this episode trying to decipher the posters on the café wall. There’s an advert for ‘Underbank RLFC vs Mayfield’ – both still functioning Rugby League sides, with Underbank being based in Holmfirth itself. And, next to it, advance notice of ‘Meltham AFC vs Rawthorpe’. Proper football this time, and although Meltham AFC are still going strong (they’re a non-league side, also based in Holmfirth), I can’t find any trace of a Rawthorpe FC still existing. Anyone else want to have a go?

Underbank RLFC

Mayfield RLFC

Meltham AFC

A nice touch, though – especially as, I assume, the café scenes were filmed in a studio at TV Centre? So presumably someone brought a load of local nick-nacks down from the location filming in Holmfirth, and used them to decorate the studio set? That’s attention to detail, that is. Some would call it love.

Andrew: Maybe we should return the favour, design a huge Summer Wine banner, and go cheer on the next Underbank home game? I’m sure we could turn Ronnie Hazlehurst’s theme into a chant.

Bob: The tender scenes with Nora have clearly put Compo in a romantic mood, as there’s a nice wistful scene towards the end of this episode, where Compo reclines against a back alley and ruminates upon his former romantic glories. ‘I used to do a bit of courting round here, with Mary Daggles. Forty years ago… I wonder if she still thinks about me?’ he ponders.

Bogwatch!

Bogwatch!

Andrew: Yep, this is the sort of scene that makes the series for me, so far. Clarke’s little character moments act as a nice contrast to his increasingly knockabout plotlines, but they’re not overly sentimental. They’re very grounded and personal and… well, Yorkshire, I guess.

Bob: It’s beautifully played by Bill Owen, and – again – it’s Clegg alone that is the recipient of this more thoughtful side of Compo. He never seems to open up like this in Foggy’s presence. I occasionally find myself thinking about youthful scrapes that happened – to my horror – over thirty years ago, and the depiction of similarly melancholy angst in this scene is pitched perfectly.

Andrew: I have to highlight the closing scene as well. Just one sustained shot of a public convenience, with our heroes chatting away from the inside in voiceover. It’s also nice to know that toilet wall graffiti hasn’t changed a bit in the forty years since this was made.

Series 4 Episode 1: Ferret Come Home

In which Compo loses a little something, and Clegg gets uptight about beefburgers…

Bob: And so we arrive in 1977, the year I started school!

Andrew: And ten years before I was born!

Bob: Oh, shush. I thought it was worth pointing out that, although the series later became synonymous with early Sunday evening entertainment, for the first ten years of Summer Wine it was very much a late-night midweek show! These earlier episodes tended to be broadcast on a Monday or Wednesday evening, and I’ve a feeling that the first few series even went out in a surprisingly adult 9.30pm slot. Which possibly explains the grittier, more robust feel of these early years – it was very much intended for a different kind of audience to the latter series.

Foggy puts his life on the line...

Foggy puts his life on the line…

Having said that, this episode is rather gentle and whimsical… the crux of the plot being Compo’s lost ferret, and the possibility that said rodent has taken up uninvited residence in the Batty household. The plot, in the main, plays second fiddle to some top-notch Roy Clarke musings, though. ‘Funny things, feet,’ ponders Clegg, at one stage. ‘If they were turned the other way round, we’d be able to stand much closer to walls’. These are men with LOTS of time on their hands.

Andrew: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but from the offset there is something very different about the opening of this new series. There aren’t any major changes; just a lot of little things that add up to alter the tone.

The first thing that struck me is that everything, both outdoor and indoor, is brighter – especially the Café – pulling us away from the grim atmosphere of the earlier shows and pushing us towards something a little lighter in tone. A little more picturesque, maybe. I should restate that this isn’t a pronounced difference, just a subtle shift, but it took a while for my eyes to get used to everything. Even Compo’s hat is a lighter shade of Green!

Ronnie Hazlehurst also seems to have been encouraged to provide more incidental music than before. Compared to the early series, this episode is drenched in his lilting melodies… in a good way! I particularly loved his adaptation of Singin’ in the Rain, during the scene in which our trio enjoy ice-creams while hiding under their umbrellas.

There’s also the look of our leads. Is it just me, or does everybody suddenly look a bit older? Foggy’s hair is longer and wispier, Clegg is greyer and even Compo’s stubble has turned white. This ageing, however, might be attributed to make-up artist Janis Gould, who wasn’t credited last series. Then again, they might genuinely be growing into the parts… it’s been a year since the last series, and John Comer in particular looks a bit worse for wear.

Nora in a lighter mood

Nora in a lighter mood

Bob: For all Clegg has become more whimsical over the course of three series, he’s still capable of some splendid rants about the ravages of modernity, and what he sees as the passing of ‘his’ beloved England. ‘There are generations growing up who think that meat really tastes like that!’ he grouches, in a rather unprovoked tirade about the ubiquity of the frozen beefburger. Later, he has a grumble about the reasonably recent implications of decimalization… ‘With the will of politicians to get rid of everything British, even the humble guinea pig will have to become 105p…’ he ponders, brilliantly.

This stuff is never out of character, and I absolutely buy into Clegg as a man mourning the loss of the comfortable, significantly smaller world that he enjoyed during his younger days, but I’m also beginning to wonder if Clegg is sometimes a mouthpiece for Roy Clarke… a lot of these grumbles seem very heartfelt and passionate, and it’s hard not to imagine Clarke taking great joy in pouring his own personal middle-aged grumbles and grouches into Clegg’s extended dialogue. Foggy and Compo are great characters, but clearly not an extension of Clarke’s personality at all. With Clegg, I’m not so sure.

There’s a glorious moment in this episode when Foggy, creeping around on the Batty doorstep in search of the missing ferret, is unaware of a furious-looking Nora opening the door behind him. And – in hilarious unison – the studio audience gasp in horror. It’s a fabulous reaction, and what a testament to the impact these characters have had on the public consciousness in just a few short years. In an era of three TV channels that – in the pre-home video era – absolutely HAD to be watched live, shows like Summer Wine became a huge part of our collective cultural experience, and there’s your proof, right there. The audience KNOW these characters intimately, and absolutely buy into the fiction of Summer Wine. They know how Nora’s going to react before Roy Clarke has even put pen to paper, because Nora – as with all of these characters – has become real to them. That gasp is the sound of TV viewers completely inhabiting this little fictional world, and it’s beautiful. Brought a little rosy glow to my heart, that did.

Andrew: You’re spot on. Every essential element of the series is firmly in place now, and it’s great to actually hear the audience anticipate certain actions. It’s also a little strange to me, though, how much the studio audience itself becomes part of the show. We’ll never know their names, and in all probability many of them are now dead, but in every sitcom of this era the studio audience is a character in and of itself.

The Dance of the Lost Contact Lens!

The Dance of the Lost Contact Lens!

Bob: There’s a nice little scene in Compo’s house towards the end of this episode, and a timely 1970s reference as Compo spills milk over himself… ‘Are you getting enough?’ grins Foggy, the tagline to a late 70s advertisement from the Milk Marketing Board. We get a good look at Compo’s décor in this scene, and a lot of effort and attention to detail has been poured into it by some inventive set-dresser or other. The nick-nacks on his walls are charmingly reflective of his character… we see naked Pirelli Calendar girls and beach bombshells snipped out of newspapers (probably during the baking summer of 1976, the quintessential ‘Phew, What A Scorcher!’ year). There’s an ancient photo of a shaggy black dog, clearly once loved by Compo but now presumably long-deceased, and – on the opposite wall – the spoils of decades worth of mild kleptomania… a sign offering the stern instruction to ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS’ has clearly been pilfered from some pub or boarding house during a long-lost drunken escapade, and there are others that I couldn’t quite decipher. It’s absolutely the home of the light-fingered, single layabout that we’ve come to know and love.

Andrew: Very much like the ‘museum’ we ended up visiting at the location of Compo’s house when we went to Holmfirth some thirty years later. In effect, a room full of tat, but very easy to get sentimental about.

Bob: And so we finish with a bizarre and oddly beautiful ballet of passers-by tiptoeing around Nora Batty’s doorstep, fruitlessly searching for a non-existent contact lens as Compo’s lost ferret gazes down from the window above. It’s marvellously choreographed and effortlessly strange, and the perfect coda to a charming, warm-hearted episode.

Series 3 Episode 5: The Kink in Foggy's Niblick


In which Foggy becomes a seasoned swinger…


Bob:  Given that it’s a series centered around working class Yorkshiremen, it’s surprising how tiny a part football plays in Summer Wine… I can’t remember any characters expressing much interest in the sport at all. I’m assuming that it’s a reflection of Roy Clarke’s lack of footballing enthusiasm, so it feels slightly incongruous in this episode to see Foggy, Compo and Clegg bundling their jackets into goalposts and attempting a kickabout… even if it’s a matter of moments before Foggy sprains his back and professes that, actually, he’s more of a golfing man instead.

I remember roaring with laughter at this episode as a kid, but – oddly – watching it now, I think it’s probably the weakest we’ve seen so far. Still enjoyable, but it feels like a bit of an anti-climax following the superb Scarborough two-parter.

A rare glimpse inside Foggy's attic!

A rare glimpse inside Foggy’s attic!

Andrew: Yeah, it’s OK, but there’s something just a little bit forced about it. Sallis and Owen in particular seem to be playing it much broader than usual. Perhaps they noticed that the dialogue wasn’t quite up to the usual standard and felt the need to compensate.

Bob: Still some interesting bits, though… is this one of very few occasions on which we see inside Foggy’s house? Albeit only his attic, where Clegg gives us a lovely, surreal monologue about ‘the den of the great wardrobe spider’… take note, Steven Moffat.

I did wonder about Foggy’s domestic situation here… it’s mentioned in his first episode that he’s returning to ‘an empty house in Arnold Crescent’, which I assumed he’d inherited. But now he appears to have an unseen landlady living on the premises! I know I shouldn’t get too wrapped up Summer Wine continuity, but this is the stuff that keeps me awake at nights…

Once Foggy’s decidedly wonky golf clubs have been retrieved, we head to the posh clubhouse and – ultimately –  the local green itself, where predictable antics ensue. Again, we get a line that seems very un-Summer Wine with the benefit of hindsight… Compo, on spying a troupe of stern-looking lady golfers, says ‘Fancy being up for municipal rape and finding that lot on the jury’. I wonder what Mary Whitehouse thought? 

Relaxing at the 19th hole

Relaxing at the 19th hole

Andrew: The plot itself is also a bit broad, and not particularly tailored to the series. One could just as easily drop Del Boy, Rodney and Boycie or Bob and Terry into this situation without having to change the lines too much. That indefinable Summer Wine-ness isn’t to be found, though it’s hard to pinpoint why.

Bob: When Compo was making a nuisance of himself in the clubhouse, demanding beer and peanuts to Foggy’s embarrassment, I thought of Bob and Terry too! And you’re right… Compo’s rampaging around the golf course, swiping wayward balls to sell back to their owners, is pure Del Boy. 

It does have one great line, though – Foggy’s description of Compo as ‘what you’d get if you tried to summon up a small evil spirit at midnight in an Oxfam shop’ had me chuckling.

Andrew: You do have to give Clarke credit for that title, though – it’s possibly his finest so far! The perfect blend of whimsy and archaic oddball terminology … or a knob joke, take your pick.

Bob: A lovely mixture of all three, I think. It IS a great title, and one I remember causing much hilarity at school when this was repeated back in the early 1980s.

Series 2 Episode 5: A Quiet Drink

ANDREW: This has to be the most sitcom-like of the episodes so far. The plot is much less free-wheeling, for the most part we remain within the confines of the studio-bound pub, and there are a set of stock comedy characters; the miser, the con-man, the woman driver, the drunk. Read more

Series 2 Episode 3: The Changing Face of Rural Blamire

Well they’re all lesbians or husband abusers. Read more

Series 2 Episode 1: Forked Lightning

Three fifty-year-old men know full well there’s nothing they can say to a crying thirty-year-old woman, so they gently leave her alone and wander off to find something else to do. It’s a very different era. Read more

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