britcom

Jane Freeman – An Appreciation

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We were incredibly saddened to hear about the recent death of Jane Freeman. Throughout our Summer Winos quest, we have been constantly impressed by Jane’s deft and formidable portrayal of the redoubtable cafe owner Ivy, and the skilful manner in which she gave the character both a fearsome temper and a frequently-overlooked humanity and sensitivity. She proved a fearsome foil for the show’s ever-evolving main trio, as well as forging hugely impressive enjoyable double acts with both John Comer, as Ivy’s on-screen husband Sid, and Jonathan Linsley, as her wayward nephew Crusher.

Last of the Summer Wine entered Jane’s life with the series’ pilot episode, Of Funerals and Fish, in 1973. Both Freeman and Comer were cast after impressing producer-director James Gilbert in The Fishing Party, an instalment of the BBC’s Play For Today strand of one-off dramas. The pair had never met on this production, their scenes having been shot separately, and they worked together on Last of the Summer Wine for some time before realising they had both appeared in the same, earlier programme.

Lazy journalism might see Ivy classed as a shrill, somewhat sexist charicature of the Northern harridan, but to simply dismiss her as a battleaxe would be to do a disservice to the nuanced character that Roy Clarke and Jane Freeman created together. Not least because the model for the character of Ivy approved. “I was a very earnest young woman in those days,” recalled Freeman, “And I wasn’t sure whether it would be fitting to promote this myth about women. I can remember talking to Enid, Roy’s lovely wife, about how awful Ivy was, and she said, ‘Oh love, Ivy’s me.'”

However, in numerous episodes, the veil of aggression is peeled back to reveal the woman underneath. Take, for example, a sequence from the Series One episode, Patê and Chips. Compo’s extended family have turned up to shepherd our main trio on an outing to a National Trust home, and Ivy immediately makes a beeline for the youngest of the clan, a baby boy.

IVY: We’ve got none you know. All I can do is mother him.

(Gestures to Sid)

The baby’s father cracks a joke about donating one of their own offspring to the childless couple, but – as Ivy is wistfully waving goodbye – a very poignant musical cue suggests a deeper resonance to the absence of children from Ivy and Sid’s marriage. It’s a beautiful little moment, combining fine writing, acting and composing.

Another glimpse of humanity can be seen in an exhange between Ivy and Nora Batty in the 1988 Christmas special, Crumbs.

NORA: Funny, isn’t it? All this time, and still sometimes when I head that door open I keep expecting him to walk in like he always used to, daft as a brush, semi-plastered.

IVY: Oh, I know. It’s having all that bed to yourself that gets me.

NORA: I’ll say this for my Wally, he never did take up much room. It was like having a bed to yourself anyway.

IVY: Oh, mine used to spread himself all over the place. Every night it used to be like being trapped in the January sales. You never realise how much you’re going to miss things.

These typically unsentimental/sentimental scenes shed new light on relationships that we may originally have taken at surface value. Last of the Summer Wine didn’t connect with viewers for over three decades because of pratfalls and pretty location shooting; it rooted itself in the public consciousness thanks to important moments like this, and they’re easy to take for granted. This is the series at its best, and Freeman was a intergral part of its success.

Freeman particularly appreciated the latter scene. “We were both quite distressed that we couldn’t talk about our husbands who had died,” she told Andrew Vine, author of Last of the Summer Wine: The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series. “It was absolutely lovely when we were able to do it, and Kathy and I had scenes talking about the old days, and we did feel much better then. We hated the fact that Joe and John had dissapeared somehow. I was fond of John and Kathy was fond of Joe.”

Freeman and Kathy Staff maintained a close friendship for several decades, though it was a tentative friendship at first; during the early years of the series most of Staff’s scenes were shot on location, whilst Freeman recorded her Café sequences in the studio at a later date. As time passed, though, they bonded during rehearsals, taking in tea at the Ritz and shopping in London. During their Yorkshire location shoots, Jane would stay at the home of Kathy and her husband in Cheshire, a twenty minute drive across the Pennines. In later years, Freeman was the only member of the cast to know the true severity of Staff’s final battle with a brain tumour.


Ivy was second only to Peter Sallis’ Norman Clegg as Last of the Summer Wine‘s longest-running character, appearing in all but four of the series’ episodes. During its run, she outlived her husband Sid; mentored nephew Crusher; and was welcomed intoto the inner circle of Thora Hird’s formidable Edie.  Her unexplained absence from the series’ finale was one of the only downsides of a fittingly low-key conclusion. In every incarnation of the show, she was an anchor around whom chaos unfolded. Freeman, too, saw the series evolve across the decades from a darkly humerous comedy into a cosier, more family-friendly staple; and from a traditional studio-based sitcom recorded before live audience into a series that was shot predominantly on location and entirely on film. She even found time to appear in the sieres’ mid-1980s spin-off stage show. Of all her appearences, however, she singled out the 1983 feature length special, Getting Sam Home, as her personal favourite.

“You forget how long it’s been going,” she told Andrew VineIt’s a lifetime really. I’ve gone from being a young woman to a middle aged woman to an old woman, and yet in my mind’s eye I’m still doing the third episode.”

Jane was born in London. At the age of nine, she lost her father in an accident and, sometime later, moved with her mother and stepfather to Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. Here, she studied at the City of Cardiff (now Royal Welsh) College of Music and Drama, graduating in 1955. Throwing herself into a busy stage career, Jane joined the Gloucestershire-based all-female Osiris Repertory Theatre touring company, and – in 1958 – moved onto the Arena Theatre, Sutton Coldfield where she began to attract attention for her performances. During her 1968 to 1973 stint with Birmingham Rep, she married the company’s artistic director, Michael Simpson. They remained together until his death in 2007.

Although she maintained her passion for live performance throughout her career, Jane enjoyed a busy career in television and, to a lesser extent, film. After her TV debut in a Ken Loach directed episode of Diary of a Young Marriage (1964), notable roles included four appearances in the BBC’s Play For Today strand of single plays, including Peter Terson aforementioned The Fishing Party (1972) and Alan Bleasdale’s Scully’s New Year’s Eve (1978). Other notable roles included appearances in Crossroads (1964), Within These Walls (1975 & 1976), The Black Adder (1983), Androcles the Lion (1983), and Silas Marner (1985).

Despite these varied roles, her best-recognised role outside of Last of the Summer Wine may have been as Gordon Rollings’ wife, in a series of early 1980s advertisements for John Smith’s Yorkshire Bitter. After Rollings’ death, Jane continued to appear in ads with her Summer Wine co-star Jonathan Linsley.

Last of the Summer Wine provided Jane with regular employment, but she scheduled as much theatre work around its filming dates as possible. A fraction of her work in the theatre included Billy Liar (Nottingham Playhouse 1980), Sailor Beware! (The Lyric, Hammersmith, 1991), Deborah’s Daughter (Library Theatre, Manchester, 1994), Wuthering Heights (1995 & 1998) and touring productions of When We Are Married (1987), Noises Off (1987), and Situation Comedy (1989).

When we at Summer Winos learned of Jane Freeman’s passing, we reached out to several friends, colleagues and acquaintences, all of whom were kind enough to share their personal memories.

 

Jonathan Linsley – Actor, Crusher in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’

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“I first met Jane in the spring of 1983 when we started rehearsals for a stage play of Last of the Summer Wine. We didn’t have many scenes together and at that time my character, Crusher, was not related to Jane’s character, Ivy. We became friends, however, and I always enjoyed her wisdom, advice, and her stories of growing up and “learning the business” of acting through Rep in Birmingham, where she was great friends with Paul Henry who famously played Benny in Crossroads – she admired the skill he brought to a role that required him to play someone none too bright!

After two short tours and two summer seasons of the Summer Wine stage play, fate played a hand in bringing Jane and I together when John Comer, her long time co-star and husband in the TV show, passed away and Roy Clarke and Alan JW Bell invited me to play Ivy’s nephew Millburn; a none too bright lad who was “learning the business”. Jane was wonderful and helpful and I loved working with her. Her timing and skill made her a true joy to work with. She was also never starry or grand and over the next five years we struck up a professional relationship that had a certain chemistry, and I became part of the Summer Wine family.

When I left the show, fate played another hand and threw Jane and me together a second time. The untimely death of Gordon Rollings who played her long time screen husband Arkwright in the much loved John Smiths TV adverts, meant that they were looking for an actor to replace him. Mrs Arkwright wanted a “toy boy” and I was given that role and we worked together for another couple of years. I remember the last filming day at pinewood with Jane when she had another job later on that day and the production company flew her by helicopter so she could get to the other set on time. She was so excited about that experience and we all stood and waved her off . I never saw her again after that as we never worked together after that day, but she was always busy working, and I kept in touch and later caught up with all her news when I worked for her husband Michael Simpson who was the producer on The Bill.

It was with great sadness then, that I heard that Jane had passed away. She was a fine, talented, and much-loved actress with many devoted fans. I will never forget the happy times and the wonderful laughs we shared over the years. She was, and always will be, a star. RIP Aunty Ivy.”

 

Morris Bright – Chairman, Elstree Studios

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Morris Bright (foreground), in his cameo in Just A Small Funeral…

“It is easy to fall in to the trap – even for those of us who should know better, having been around the industry for a while – of thinking that the character you see on screen is also that person in real life. And so it was in the late 1990s, when I was visiting the location of Last of the Summer Wine for the first time for a book about the show for the BBC, that I got to meet a host of actors who, in most cases (although not all) were totally different from the characters they portrayed on screen.

One such actress was Jane Freeman, who has sadly passed away in recent weeks. It’s easy to watch someone week in and week out playing a battleaxe, a demanding wife – who is really more of a mother to her husband than a spouse, because the men need keeping in check like children in a playground – believing that the person you will meet will be equally as formidable. But that was the strength of the acting in Summer Wine, for Jane Freeman was nothing like the harridan Ivy, the character she played for almost four decades.

I recall sitting in a humble caravan, waiting for the weather to settle before filming could resume, one morning in the Yorkshire hills. I was having a cup of tea with Jane Freeman, Kathy Staff and my late, dear friend Thora Hird. It was slightly surreal as I was chatting with the actresses but they were all dressed up and made up as their characters. They couldn’t have been more lovely. Tea with some favourite aunts. What I loved the most about Jane and Kathy was how they would fuss over Thora who was somewhat older and quite infirm by this stage. I admired Jane’s humility. She was an ensemble player and did not regard herself any more important than anyone else, despite appearing in more episodes of the show than anyone else except Peter Sallis.

Jane was kind, friendly and polite and was surprised that someone would be interested enough in her as a person and not just as a character, to write about her in a book on Summer Wine.

We met several times after that. I recall a cameo role with her when Edie was driving a car towards me. And of course who could ever forget Compo’s funeral where we all spent a long day in church filming scenes for the show, and then the same evening together at a memorial for the actor Bill Owen.

And I was delighted to welcome Jane, along with most of the cast, to a special tribute to Summer Wine at Pinewood Studios that I organised, back in 1998.

I only have happy memories of Jane Freeman. I am sad at her passing but recognise the legacy of onscreen laughter she has left behind. God bless you Jane.”

 

Laura Booth – Proprieter, Sid’s Café, Holmfirth

Roped in by the Summer Winos, Laura Booth offers her best Jane Freeman homage for our 'Getting Sam Home' location tour.

Roped in by the Summer Winos, Laura Booth offers her best Jane Freeman homage for our Getting Sam Home Again location tour…


“We’re sorry to hear the sad news about the passing of Jane Freeman, the actress who played Ivy in Last of the Summer Wine. Jane portrayed the character of Ivy perfectly, a northern battle-axe with little time for the mischief-making of the cafe regulars. Ivy ran the cafe with a formidable style and her customer service skills were renowned! The old adage “the customer is always right” certainly didn’t apply back then! These days we appreciate our customers more, but I suspect some of them would relish the opportunity to be hit over the head with a tray or chased out of the cafe with a broom…”

We end this tribute with a trip to the real life Sid’s Café in Holmfirth. Visit today, and you’ll discover that – and alongside Nora and Compo –  you will be greeted by a cardboard effigy of the formidable Ivy. Jane Freeman’s career was long, varied, and thanks to her suberb, decades-long performance in Last of the Summer Wine, will be remembered fondly for many years to come.

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Series 7 Episode 2: The White Man's Grave

In which Foggy’s grass is greener…

Andrew: We open with our trio in extreme long shot as the reach the summit of one of the many hills surrounding Holmfirth. I love this kind of scene; there are no cuts and you obviously can’t read anyone’s expression, and yet, thanks to the script, it remains funny and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Also, I can’t think of any other sitcom where you could reduce your main characters down to about a centimetre tall on the TV screen and still have them be perfectly recognisable. Sallis, Owen and Wilde aren’t just gifted when it comes to delivering dialogue; each has brought a distinct physicality to their character.

Bob: This is a really curious episode. It seems to be quite a serious rumination on the nature of matrimony, both from the viewpoint of those who are married and – equally – those who aren’t. Am I reading too much into this? Have we gone off our rockers and started looking for profound subtexts in a cheery, half-hour sitcom? But from the moment that Foggy gets touchy about ‘why he never married’, it’s a running theme for the rest of the episode.

Andrew: No, I absolutely agree. Marriage has always been in the background of the series, but I think this is the first episode dedicated to the institution. It’s Roy Clarke’s version of a concept album.

Bob: Yes! I demand a 20-minute Wally Batty bass solo before the end of the episode.

'Plumb duff and custard'

‘Plumb duff and custard’

And blimey, the era when men ‘who never married’ were the subject of gossip and conjecture! Roy Clarke captures this perfectly, it really was seen as something of a curious lifestyle statement well into the 1980s. I guess the unspoken subtext was that such men were possibly gay, a subject hinted about with much nudging of ribs and whispering. But little malice… at least from my memories. It’s funny, Russell T Davies talks about this in his book The Writer’s Tale… ‘There’s always been funny old Uncle Douglas, who never got married; those two stern women who live together in that old house; someone’s camp little son who doesn’t like football. It’s there, and it’s accepted, quietly, tacitly’. And those are my memories too. Looking back, I can think of a few people who featured in my 1970s childhood who were clearly gay… and it was fine. It’s far too easy to demonise the past these days. It was sometimes much gentler than modern revisionism would have you believe.

Although I should add the disclaimer that I’m speaking from the perspective of a straight man who was seven years old at the end of the 1970s! Maybe anyone who was actually gay on Teesside during that decade could relate some much more harrowing tales.

Andrew: Hmmm… you never married though, did you?

Bob: Confirmed bachelor, that’s me. Hey, there’s a lovely exchange between Sid and Ivy here. Sid clearly has had an affair with some point, but Ivy still loves him. She goes gooey whenever he has a spanner in his hand! ‘Big dollop you may be, but you’re my big dollop’. Lovely. We’ve said it before, but it really is crucial that we have these moments. Otherwise there’d be no reason at all for them still to be together.

Andrew: True, but I’d still argue that the thrashing she gives Sid at the end of the episode strays uncomfortably into domestic violence territory! This scene really is a gem. My personal highlight is Ivy’s critique of Sid’s ‘performance’. Is that one of the naughtiest jokes we’ve heard thus far?

Bob: It’s just a reflection on your filthy mind. And here’s yet another exchange on the nature of marriage! Foggy’s getting quite wistful here, seemingly dreaming of a life of female companionship that’s always somehow evaded him. ‘All those lonely evenings in the barrack room…’ he whispers, looking misty-eyed. And yet Sid is clearly envious of the single mans’ lifestyle! It’s a great ‘grass is always greener’ scene, and I love the notion of Foggy standing to attention whenever he feels under pressure. A great – and absolutely real – character touch.

Is Wally in an outside toilet? Ha! Drew, this will only confirm your belief that I grew up in Clement Attlee’s Britain, but when we moved into my first proper childhood home in 1977, it only had an outside water closet. No inside toilet at all, just a hole in a plank in a shed near the coal bunker. Isn’t it staggering how much British life has changed in the last 35 years?

Holmfirth Stone-Skimming Champion 1983!

Holmfirth Stone-Skimming Champion 1983!

Andrew: That is absolutely true. My Dad, who grew up during the sixties, lived in a pit village and only knew a tin bath for pretty much the first decade of his life. Can I also just backtrack a little to marvel at Joe Gladwin’s exit from that outside loo? I laughed heartily because I could see something of myself in his semi-satisfied limbering up after climbing off the pot.

Bob: I love looking at the signage in these episodes. I have a signage fetish. The blackboard in the café features ‘plumb duff and custard’ (spelt wrong!) as one of the specials on offer. When was the last time plum duff was served in a British café? Answers on the back of a tin of Birds Custard, please.

Andrew: I’ve never had a plumb duff…

Bob: Or a plum duff either, I’ll wager. And now Clegg joins in the marriage discussion! And Wally! ‘It’s like a posting to the Gold Coast, being married to our Nora’, he grumbles. And that’s ‘The White Man’s Grave’… a phrase that absolutely was used as a nickname for that part of the world (now Ghana) during Wally’s childhood years – due to the tropical diseases, mainly Malaria, that killed hundreds of luckless Europeans there. Do we know much about Wally’s exploits in the services, then? This scene suggests he served there himself.

Andrew: I find it hard to imagine Wally at any point B.N. (Before Nora), although according the First of the Summer Wine they did begin courting before World War II. We’ll have to remember to keep our eyes peeled.

Bob: Some SENSATIONAL stone-skimming from Bill Owen under the bridge here! Absolutely effortless! Now THERE’S a man who spent his childhood wisely. I’ve never been able to do it, at best I can sometimes muster one pathetic bounce before I plummet into the depths. And there’s a metaphor for life if ever there was one.

Andrew: It’s not just you. I’ve consulted with many an expert, but have never managed to keep it up.

Bob: That’s the story of my life, too. And why I’ll remain a confirmed bachelor.

Andrew: As we approach Nora’s steps, a sign in the background has leapt to my attention in a way it has never done before. At the end of the street, across the main road, there is a shop called ‘Castles Autopart’. I’m going to try keeping tabs on that. It’s not there today, but when did it disappear? Given that this is such a frequently used location, we could probably trace the complete ownership history of that building between 1973 and 2010!

Who's a little cheeky face, then?

Who’s a little cheeky face, then?

Bob: Brilliant! Is it worth a seperate drop-down menu on the website? We’ve paid for the bloody things, we might as well get our money’s worth.

And, just to get a perspective on marriage from the woman’s perspective, we have a bit of textbook battleaxing from Nora. But you know what? It’s episodes like this make me appreciate their points of view. She’s not grumpy for no reason… the men she knows ARE weird! She’s right! Can you seriously imagine being a beleaguered housewife, trying your best to keep your house in order, and your elderly husband’s pensionable friends disguise one of their number as your other half and smuggle him into the house to do his chores? You’d think they were ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THEIR MINDS. You’d go off your rocker, and wonder where the hell you’d gone wrong. I’m starting to really empathise with Nora. It’s probably Stockholm Syndrome.

Although I’m glad I can go to my grave saying that I’ve seen Joe Gladwin in a baby’s pram. It’s moments like this that make our quest worthwhile. But Nora’s concern when she thinks a real baby has trundled down the steps is really touching. ‘I’m coming, precious… Nana’s coming…’ That grabbed my heartstrings for some reason.

Andrew: It’s hilarious, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense does it? For starters, Nora must have seen Wally running off with the trio when Clegg was exposed as a faux-Batty. Why do they feel the need to sneak him back? Also, if they want to get him around the back of the house, why do they need to pass the front door at all? This episode has already demonstrated that the house is accessible from either end of the street. I know it’s anal, but this is a pigeon-costume level of illogical plotting.

Bob: I never notice these things. I’m just a simple-minded confirmed bachelor. I thought that was another oddly wistful episode with some great lines, and I’m really enjoying this series so far.

Andrew: Absolutely. Despite my problems with the conclusion, this episode has had an above average level of laugh out loud moments for me.

Series 7 Episode 1: The Frozen Turkey Man


In which Foggy becomes an object of lust…

Bob: 1983! The first episode of the tenth anniversary series, and you can tell that the show has gained national treasure status by this stage… there’s an extraordinary confidence to the writing, assuming that we already know all about Compo and Nora and their relationship. And, indeed, that we already know all about Dorothy Lamour!

For the benefit of our younger readers…

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

Andrew: There’s also a visual confidence to this episode that I really like. I know we often praise Alan J.W. Bell for injecting a bit of visual panache to the series, but Sydney Lotterby does an equally wonderful job here. The beautiful and long-sustained opening shot, in which our trio are gradually revealed from behind a grass verge, is very playful with the depth of field throughout the scene: Compo dips in and out of frame, popping up in unexpected places in a way that really complements Clarke’s lines. I’d be very interested to know if this physical business was written into the script or invented by the director.

Bob: I like Compo’s line, ‘She washes on Mondays’. When I was a kid, the idea of ‘washday’ was still firmly entrenched… a designated day of the week when the lady of the house did the entire family’s laundry in one fell swoop. And, in terraced streets, the whole street would often agree on the day; so that drying could be done in unison, with lines strung across the back alley from window to window. Can you imagine that, these days? I don’t even know what half the people in my street look like.

Andrew: And they’ve told me that they’d like to keep it that way.

Bob: Their fantasies about Dorothy Lamour living with Compo, and doing his washing, are almost entering Pete and Dud territory! ‘Tap tap tap, on the bloody window…’ But it’s beautifully done.

Andrew: There’s something charmingly sweet about it, though. All Compo would ask for, in return for taking Lamour into his home, is that she do a bit of washing and changes the flower in her teeth every now and again. There’s an innocence to that desire that I think is key to keeping Compo away from Dirty Old Man territory. It’s a little boy’s desire, if anything.

Bob: I like the old battleaxe cycling past too, a timely nod to the gap between their everyday and their fantasy lives, and a little nudge to remind us that – for all the fun – these are three men who are actually bored to tears by the mundanity of their existence.

This is a hoary old one-liner, but it never fails to make me laugh…

Compo: Quadrants, Norm.

Clegg: And the same to you.

Let’s get to the crux (and the same to you). Compo (and his friend ‘Thunder’ – NAMES DATABASE!) buried a tin of ‘Yorkshire remains’ (their equivalent of Roman remains) somewhere on the moors in 1932. And now he wants them back. And there are far too many brackets in this paragraph, but I’m not backing down. I’m with Foggy, and a line that made me absolutely laugh like a drain… ‘Marriage was never an option for me. I knew from an early age I was dedicated to the life of a Samurai’.

Brian Wilde’s delivery is just magnificent. If he’d overplayed by even a fraction, and gone for the laugh, it wouldn’t work. We have to believe that even Foggy believes this stuff. Peter Sellers used to say that Inspector Clouseau, despite the fact that we laugh at him, is actually a sombre and serious man. And so is Foggy, at moments like this. Wilde is so deadpan, and so understated, that lines liked this are both hilarious and poignant. Brilliant.

Andrew: It’s also revealed here that Foggy actually worked for Northern Dairies. It’ll be interesting to see if this is ever mentioned again, as I believe Clarke must like the incongruity of a man who sees himself as an action hero, but actually works with milk. Years later, Russ Abbott’s similarly delusional character, Hobbo, will be introduced in an episode entitled I Was a Hitman For Primrose Dairies.

'Gobble, gobble...'

‘Gobble, gobble…’

Bob: Drew, I know you were fond of a scene back in the early days, when Michael Bates heard church bells ringing, and improvised a little glance at his watch to check the time. There’s an equally nice bit here where Bill Owen, as they leave the café, just swings gleefully on a bollard. There’s no way that was in the script!

Andrew: By this stage, they’re all in tune not only with their parts, but the location of Holmfirth itself. I really do think the series is unique in that respect.

Bob: Fifteen minutes in here, and there’s not a hint of a plot! It’s brave, but lovely, and the dialogue here is as good as anything Clarke has ever written – with Brian Wilde once again benefiting the most. ‘High spirits?’ he snorts at Compo. ‘You were barely tall enough for low spirits’. And ‘that’s how the Black Death got underway’, as Compo plants a kiss on Foggy’s forehead. Wilde has got some great material to work with here.

Andrew: You’re not wrong about the plot, although there are a deceptive number of threads being woven. This episode feels like a welcome throwback to the Blamire years. There’s a listless quality to it. It isn’t that it feels disjointed or that it drags at all, just that it’s simply content to ramble towards its conclusion at its own charming pace.

Bob: Compo has a mark ‘where Eileen Watkins got me’. She was mentioned in Series 5 Episode 6, Here We Go Into the Wild Blue Younger. She was in love with Chunky Rumbelow and looked like King Farouk of Egypt!

Andrew: I know, I know!

Bob: This is a glorious glimpse into the world of the early 1980s boozer. Look how grotty the pub is! The walls are absolutely filthy, and the whole place just reeks of nicotine and stale, split beer. And there’s a bloke at the bar doing a Rubik’s Cube! Good grief. That’s absolutely spot on – the bloody things were everywhere. I love the look of utter disdain that Foggy gives him, that combination of ‘Oh, you facile idiot, giving your time over to such pointless fads’ and ‘actually, I bet I could solve that thing in five minutes flat’. It’s exactly the look that my dad gave me back in 1982 when I first brought my own cube into the house!

Andrew: Ah, but did you ever manage to master it? Mine always ended up being chucked across the room.

Bob: I bought a book in the end. You Can Do The Cube, by Patrick Bossert. And even then my Uncle Trevor had to do it for me.

I was wondering when the title of this episode was going to come into play, and it’s barely a passing reference… our heroes try to set up Foggy with the buxom barmaid, telling her that he’s an eccentric millionaire in the frozen turkey business. Amazingly, she’s interested! ‘Gobble gobble’, indeed. The barmaid, incidentally, is played by Gaye Brown, who has a fine film pedigree – she was in A Clockwork Orange, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd! Does this make her the only actor to have worked with both Brian Wilde and Johnny Depp? (Actually, I’m guessing not… but we’ll come to that in later series)

And, like all great sitcom characters, Foggy is absolutely terrified of sex. Just as Basil Fawlty slept in a separate bed to Sybil, each with their airport paperbacks, and George Roper broke out in a cold sweat whenever Mildred puckered her lips, Foggy reverts to a being a tongue-tied schoolboy at the slightest hint of female attention. And yet… we’ve seen him enjoy an ACTUAL romance before, haven’t we? Maybe it’s just the highly-sexed vamp type that puts him off. He needs to be courted by a demure old maid who likes a bit of crochet on the side.

Maaaarching on together...

Maaaarching on together…

Andrew: Once Foggy has been suitably terrified, it’s back to the hills we go in search of Compo’s ‘Yorkshire Remains’. Keen to apply logical thinking to the search, Foggy comes up with the idea of recreating the scene when the remains were actually buried. Now, this really got my mathematically-challenged brain straining – it is said that Compo was twelve years old when he squirrelled them away in 1932. This means that he was born in 1920 and thus was only fifty-three years old when Last of the Summer Wine started in 1973! Does this sound right to you?

Bob:  It’s curious, as it means Compo is six years YOUNGER than Bill Owen, who was born in 1914! And I always thought that, if anything, the main actors were playing characters slightly older than them. Oh, I don’t know. My brain hurts as well. I suppose it’s possible that Compo was only 53 when the show started.

And hey, right at the end, we get a stunt! On a scooter! Do kiddies’ scooters like that even exist any more? I had one in the late 1970s, but I haven’t seen one for years. They were the natural middle ground between walking in a straight line (which I still haven’t fully mastered) and cycling. But it’s a nice idea to have Compo use them to emulate his 1932 roller skates, and try to find his missing tin from the perspective he’d have had back then. It reminds me of a lovely bit in Oliver Postgate’s autobiography, when – as an old man – he revisits his childhood home and is shocked to discover it holds no sentimental feelings for him whatsoever. But then he realises he’s simply seeing it from the wrong height! When he gets down on all fours, and sees the front door from the perspective of his five-year-old self, he’s overcome with a powerful rush of nostalgia.

Andrew: As far as slapstick finales go, this works very nicely for me. Unlike certain previous episodes, there is a sense of logical progression here. It makes a crazy sort of sense that Compo ends up strapped to two children’s scooters. Basically, I’m just happy he’s not dressed up like a sodding pigeon.

Bob: Is Compo wearing a Leeds Utd scarf? I’ve gone off him.

Andrew: Inevitably, Compo’s trip down the hillside sees him come to crashing halt where he discovers… Yorkshire Remains!

Bob: Compo’s landing in the cowpat reminds me of an odd riddle that swept my school at the time… ‘What would you rather do – run a mile, jump a style, or eat a fresh country pancake?’ With much derision following if you unwittingly plumped for the latter option. Because it’s a cowpat. See? Hur, hur. You said you’d eat a cowpat. Urrrrgh.

Andrew: I think you’re showing your bumpkin roots, there. Now, sniff my cheese…

Bob: By the standards of much that we’ve seen recently, that was an oddly aimless episode… but for that reason, I loved it! A cracking series opener.

Andrew: I couldn’t agree more, but I’m amazed we’ve yet to touch on the fact that this episode features yet another pitch pefect Wally Batty scene! I love the idea that his sole weapon against Nora is to annoy her with a well-timed sulk. How on Earth is one meant to tell when Wally Batty is sulking?

Christmas Special 1982: All Mod Conned

In which Christmas is cancelled.. again!

Andrew: It’s time, once again, for a not-quite festive Christmas Special and, this year, Foggy has decided the best thing the trio can do is whisk themselves away for a quiet holiday by the sea. Have you ever been away for Christmas, Bob? I know a few people who have, but the idea has always been completely unappealing to me.

Bob: I don’t like going away even when it’s NOT Christmas! I’m with Clegg all the way… ‘Don’t you think the only thing worse than Christmas,’ he muses, ‘is going away for Christmas?’ Roy Clarke is really not a fan of the season at all, is he? Still, I’ll forsake a few baubles and a bit of tinsel for black exchanges like this…

Foggy: We’re going to have to cover him up with something.

Clegg: Like what?

Foggy: Six feet of earth springs to mind…

Andrew: When Compo whips out his mistletoe, Nora demonstrates that, deep down, she quite enjoys his attention. And when these little cracks in her battleaxe exterior are shown, you can see why people really took to her character. And of course Wally’s blank stare is a perfectly played reaction – Joe Gladwin was a genius.

Wally seethes with festive jealousy...

Wally seethes with festive jealousy…

Bob: Yeah, there’s a kind-hearted woman lurking in there somewhere, isn’t there? And it’s played beautifully, with just a hint of warmth. Kathy Staff wanted more of this, didn’t she? She was right, but it needs to be used sparingly… we need to like Nora, but still be rather fearful of her.

Which seems to be Wally’s attitude, at least! ‘He’ll be staying indoors to enjoy himself with his family,’ barks Nora, when asked about Wally’s plans for Christmas. ‘I’ll be staying indoors to enjoy meself with me family’, repeats Wally, with a lifetime of glum acceptance dripping from every sarcastic syllable. You’re right – Joe Gladwin is untouchable for this kind of put-upon resignation. He really is. Such an underrated actor, and very sorely missed.

Andrew: And it  wouldn’t have been a very special Christmas Special without an appearance from Sid and Ivy, so I’m glad our favourite café owner is the man tasked with driving our trio out to the railway station. We’re also treated to another hint of Compo’s unexpected sexual prowess, as he pounces on Ivy and puts some colour into her cheeks.

Bob: The scene in the station waiting room is a charming insight into Foggy’s character. ‘Thankyou, driver,’ he says to Sid, desperate to (ahem) keep up appearances in front of his fellow travellers. ‘We take a little cottage,’ he continues, with the stiff, hoity-toity vagueness of Dad’s Army-era John Le Mesurier. Do people still put on a ‘posh voice’ when keen to impress? I’m slightly (but only slightly) embarrassed to admit that I actually do. It’s a legacy passed down from my mother, who would speak in a full blooded Teesside accent around the house… until the phone rang, and she’d answer in a voice that was part Dame Edith Evans with just a hint of Cicely Courtneidge. ‘H’aim terribly sorry, he’s not hair at the mow-ment…’

'I wonder if Argentina's claiming this lot...'

‘I wonder if Argentina’s claiming this lot…’

Anyway, the holiday begins! With the trio being dropped into the bleakest-looking countryside imaginable, beside a dark and desolate-looking beach. ‘I wonder if Argentina’s claiming this lot…’ ponders Clegg, starkly reminding us that this was broadcast on Christmas Day 1982, when the Falklands conflict was still fresh and raw in the nation’s consciousness. Last of the Summer Wine is often said to exist in a kind of timeless limbo, but I’ve actually been surprised at how many topical references it contains in this first decade. At this stage at least, it’s not at all divorced from the concerns of contemporary Britain.

Andrew: Absolutely. You only have to look at Holmfirth in these early episodes to realise that these shows come from a very particular time and place. It’s run down, grubby and very, very working class during the early years – a complete reflection of 1970s economic hardship and later Thatcherite abandonment. It’ll be interesting to see when this ‘timeless’ quality kicks in though, because that’s certainly how I remember the series being when I was a child.

Bob: ‘Beachview Holiday Cottage’ transpires to be a derelict caravan on the beach, and becomes the setting for some very broad slapstick, as Compo topples over the WC. The dialogue doesn’t seem up to the usual standard in this episode, but these scenes at least work as a nice character study of Foggy; surviving and relishing the challenges of a pretty desolate adventure.

Andrew: As with Full Steam Behind, I find myself feeling rather sorry for Foggy during the course of this episode. Yes, he’s being a prat, but his heart is in the right place. He’s genuinely trying to give Compo and Clegg a nice Christmas and all they do is throw it back in his face.

Bob: What a lovely scene between Sid and Wally! We cut back to the pub, and have a rare chance to see John Comer and Joe Gladwin working together; and both are acting their proverbial socks off. ‘If I had my time over again, I’d be a hippy’, muses Sid… and I half-expect a Reggie Perrin-style cutaway to John Comer in beads and long hair, dancing around a totem pole to the strains of Jefferson Airplane. It’s a beautiful scene, full of wistfulness and regret… probably the stand-out moment of the episode.

Wally and Sid share a joke

Wally and Sid share a joke

Andrew: It’s very strange isn’t it? We should be wanting to get back to the exciting, location-based adventure story, but these scenes with the series’ secondary characters are the ones that save this years festive outing from being a bit of a downer. They’re absolutely lovely. The only problem is that I now have no interest in returning to our trio.

Bob: This exchange between Nora and Ivy is oddly melancholic, too. ‘He’s no trouble… scarf and gloves’, says Nora, of Wally. Which makes me sad in so many ways – because again, there’s such a ring of truth about it. Nora and Wally have been married for… what? Forty years? Fifty? And still, the only thing she can think to buy him every single Christmas is a scarf and a new pair of gloves. It’s not just the penny-scrimping modesty of it, it’s her total lack of appreciation for all of the things that Wally enjoys. Could she not buy something for his pigeons? Or a few bottles of beer? Or anything that would make them both laugh and enjoy a little moment together? But no… scarf and gloves. It’s so depressingly impersonal, and yet you know she buys them love in her heart, and that Wally accepts them every year with good grace. And life – and their marriage – trundles on, regardless.

Meanwhile, Ivy claims she gets tired of skimpy nighties – not last year, she didn’t… she was clearly very thrilled and excited!

Andrew: You know it’s all just a front. And what a front!

Bob: Cheeky! All of this is so well-written and thoughtful, and multi-layered that, like you, I’m a bit disappointed when we head back to the slapstick on the beach, with Compo falling through the roof and the caravan going up in smoke. And finally, our threesome attempt to paddle home along the coast in the outhouse. Come on! They’d die!

Andrew: I found this one to be a bit of a damp squib. I’m all for a comedy of disasters, but the whole thing started started to seem a little mean-spirited and contrived around the mid-point. The last visual gag just leaves me cold, I’m afraid. Right, that’s it – Christmas ruined!

Bob: That had its moments, but I honestly don’t think Roy Clarke enjoys writing ‘Christmas’ at all.

Andrew: I wonder if this is the true curse of Last of the Summer Wine’s popularity; Roy Clarke being forced to put the effort into a festive special… over and over and over again.

Bob: Happy Christmas, readers!

All Mod Conned For Web

 

Series 6 Episode 7: From Wellies to Wet Suit

In which Compo gets into (not very) deep water…

Bob: And so we reach an episode that was famously Bill Owen’s favourite, and it starts with a question that nails Compo’s ‘child in an old man’s body’ persona beautifully. ‘What makes water wet?’ he muses, lying flat on the grass and waggling his fingers in the stream. ‘Why does it feel different to dry?’ Lines like this make me wonder if Roy Clarke took some of Compo’s dialogue from his own children, as it captures so perfectly a child’s sense of fascinated bafflement at the way the world works.

Andrew: You know, I was sort of dreading reaching this episode. Am I right in saying that this is the first one we have watched that is always guaranteed to be used in clip shows, documentaries and tributes? I know we’ve already had episodes that are big on slapstick, but this pratfall-heavy episode has always marked the end of the low-key, dialogue driven era of the show to me. That’s why it’s so nice to find that its opening is so dialogue driven. And what dialogue it is!

There’s also a really nice directorial touch, as the first shot pans across to reveal our trio’s feet – including Compo’s wellies. We literally do go from wellies to wetsuit, then!

Bob: Oh, well spotted! This exchange made me laugh out loud as well…

Foggy: Let’s look for bubbles…

Clegg: That’s a hell of a name for a big, fat angry bloke…

And lo, Sid rises from the water in a rather saggy-looking wetsuit. It seems to be a running theme in Summer Wine that men are desperate to keep their harmless hobbies as guilty secrets from their wives… ‘Wives never understand’, grumbles Sid. Why was that, then? Was it a financial thing, do we reckon? When early 1980s household budgets were tight, was it seen as an unnecessary frivolity to splash the cash on pastimes that needed expensive gear? It’s hard to imagine a man like Sid in 2014 managing to keep a time-consuming hobby like scuba-diving a complete secret from his missus. He’d be Tweeting about it all the time, for a start… #ivymustneverknow

Sid rises from the depths…

Anyway, good to see our first abandoned farm building for quite some time!

Andrew: Here’s a rarity… we have Compo giving the call to adventure! Usually it’s Foggy having to talk his mates into outlandish schemes, but Compo is all for getting into the water. Not just up to his ankles, either; he plans to go in ‘all over’.

Bob: There’s a lovely, summery feel to this. On the seven-minute mark, a white butterfly flies right into the camera! And Compo singing ‘You Are My Honeysuckle’ while clumping about in flippers only compounds the feeling of an idyllic, sun-soaked afternoon. This must have been filmed in the summer of 1981, which pretty much reflects my memories of a long, sun-baked school holiday that year. Much of it spent messing about in remote barns and riverbanks on Paul Frank’s farm! I was Compo.

Andrew: A nod to Ronnie Hazlehurst, as well, who quickly drops in a further refrain from ‘You Are My Honeysuckle’ as Compo tussles with a farmer’s dog. There are some really great musical moments in this episode. You know, if these music cues still exist, I want them. You must know at least one record producer who would jump at the chance to release a deluxe ten disc box-set of Last of the Summer Wine music cues.

Bob: I’d give Phil Spector a call, but I believe he’s busy. Hey, what a great scene between Foggy and Clegg, as they reminisce about their 1930s schooldays in Compo’s absence! ‘Him and Cloggy Hopwood (NAMES DATABASE!!) must have stuffed hundreds of beetles down my trousers’, muses Foggy, affectionately. The dynamic of the trio is such that Clegg and Compo usually seem like the more natural double act, effectively stepping into line as Foggy’s reluctant footsoldiers, so this is a nice reminder of the fact that Foggy and Clegg are close, lifelong friends too. And genuinely enjoy each others company.

Andrew: It’s a lovely scene. We get a nice glimpse into Foggy’s background, too. His mother struggled to come to terms with the way he was turning out as an adolescent and used to look at him with a deeply disappointed expression every time she passed him his Horlicks before bedtime. No wonder he feels the need to overcompensate all the time.

And his commending of Compo with ‘That’s my boy!’ a short time later takes on somewhat of a Freudian overtone as a result.

Bob: Foggy as Compo’s surrogate Dad? I can see something in that!

And so Compo is the new owner of Sid’s wetsuit, and predictably wreaks havoc in it, clumping around the town and country. As he enters the café, Jane Freeman gives a scream worthy of any Doctor Who companion! She should have joined Peter Davison’s TARDIS team in Arc of Infinity. Come on, imagine that! She’d be great. John Nathan-Turner would have snapped your hand off for that.

Andrew: Then, for what I think is the first and only time ever in the show, we are carried into the next scene via an optical wipe. What is this, Star Wars? Very odd.

Is it the rubber? The machismo?

Is it the rubber? The machismo?

Bob: Just thank your lucky stars George Lucas was never asked to direct Last of the Summer Wine. We’d have had a CGI Wally. Instead, we cut to two middle-aged women in the corner shop, and a completely unexplained exchange about ‘this wooden thing, it’s a replica of what they used in the old days’.

‘That gentleman friend of our Edna’s would know’, comes the reply. ‘He’s very well-travelled in the paper towel industry’.

Oh, Roy Clarke is the KING of the non-sequitur! Just magnificently funny and – more importantly – it feels real. I’m a bit of a nosy parker myself, and gain immense pleasure from overhearing snippets of out-of-context conversation in supermarkets. I once saw one smiling, elderly lady reach up for a packet of fishcakes and gleefully say to her friend ‘…and the next thing she knew, he had his shirt off and his camera out…’, which made me laugh all the way down to spices and condiments (aisle 5).

If you see me coming in Tesco, it’s best to shut your trap.

Andrew: We don’t make enough time for passing oddballs in today’s society, let alone today’s sitcoms. I’m as guilty as the next man, mind you; with my headphones in and my iPhone on, I’m never going to be able to effectively eavesdrop on little old ladies.

Bob: I was a little bemused by the following scene, in which the wetsuit-clad Compo inadvertently destroys the shop, knocking over the magazine racks in a cascading domino effect as the place falls apart around him.

Andrew: As soon as I saw those shelves, I thought to myself, ‘those are going to fall over, collapse or be otherwise disturbed’. There’s something about the whole set-up that just screams BBC Special Effects and Scenic Department.

Bob: It’s brilliantly done, but it feels more like a scene from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em than Last of the Summer Wine. So I was intrigued to read in Alan JW Bell’s book From the Director’s Chair that it was actually Bill Owen’s suggestion! It looks great, but I’d have been interested to see the original scripted version, in which – apparently – Compo just stands there in his diving gear while the two ladies continue gossiping, oblivious. I like a bit of silent underplaying.

Andrew: You can absolutely see why this was one of Bill Owen’s favourites – it’s so Compo-centric! He gets to do pratfalls, wear a silly costume, has some fantastic lines, and then there’s ‘You Are My Honeysuckle’!  I wonder if Sallis and Wilde felt a bit put out at all during this one?

Bob: And so we reach the climactic stunt sequences… soundtracked by Ronnie Hazlehurst’s immaculate pastiche of the Jaws soundtrack, as Compo’s flippers slap their way down the steps! ‘Have you gone berserk???’ screeches Nora, and it’s hard to argue with her sentiments. And ‘berserk’ is a word that you don’t hear enough of these days. People were always going ‘berserk’ when I were a lad. Dogs, too. Dogs went ‘beserk’ a lot. Bring back the berserkers, that what I say. Let’s all go berserk!

Andrew: Steady on, that man. Would you settle for going wild? How about potty?

It’s not a particularly clever or outstanding line, but for some reason I’ve falled utterly in love with the way Staff delivers, ‘Keep your fishy fingers away from my body!’

‘Keep your fishy fingers away from my body!’

Bob: Two wellies glued to waterskis made by Wally, and the whole shebang pulled by Sid’s motorbike… it’s ridiculous, but it works. A nice bit of overcranked film sees Compo being dragged wildly across the countryside and landing in a gentle country picnic. It’s very well done.

Andrew: It is, but again it highlights the ever changing nature of the show. Blamire wouldn’t be down for this. I’m sure I’ll get used to it and I’m sure I’ll get used to the increased physical comedy, but for now it just feels odd.

Bob: What a beautiful coda! Our heroes walk home, bathed in evening sunlight, looking forward to fish and chips. It really does remind me of those endless, childhood summer holiday afternoons, messing about with mates and scrapes, getting wet and grazed and sunburnt and tired, but filled with a sense of freedom and fun. And yeah, bugger it… it’s me and Paul Frank, on his farm, in that summer. I can see why this is Bill Owen’s favourite episode. He gets plenty to do, with some great physical business, but – more than that – it’s one of the best encapsulations yet of the show as the embodiment of the ‘second childhood’. Lovely.

Andrew: Sorry, but that ending didn’t do it for me at all. The whole thing seemed to just peter out with no surprises. Compo prats about in the water which is funny in and of itself, but nothing pays off. Maybe it’s my fault. I never did like summer evenings.

Series 4 Episode 3: Jubilee

In which Compo yearns for Leningrad, and Foggy tussles with bunting…

Bob: A refreshingly untypical episode for two reasons… firstly, it’s date specific! It’s set during Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations, which took place in the first week of June 1977. Despite the 1970s trappings of all the episodes we’ve seen so far, Summer Wine somehow still seems to exist in an almost timeless bubble, so it feels rather incongruous to be able to pin this episode down to an actual date. And, although it wasn’t broadcast until November 1977, the events of the Jubilee would still have been fresh in viewers’ minds. I never think of Summer Wine as being remotely topical, and I can’t think of any other episode that ties in so closely with specific historical events.

Andrew: I can only think of one. Last Pigeon and Post was broadcast at the turn of the millennium and similarly features a bunch of the characters involved in a church-run pageant/home movie. You’re right though, it is strange.

Bob: Secondly, there are LOT of politics in this episode! OK, so Blamire always had an implied air of conservatism (small ‘c’), and you’d surely have Compo down as an old-school Labour man, but – prior to this episode – this stuff has always just been inferred character background, and has never dominated the dialogue. Here, in the opening scenes, we get a full-on political argument between Foggy and Compo, after the latter reveals that he yearns to visit Leningrad!

John Horsley alert!

John Horsley alert!

‘You mean these last few weeks I’ve been passing my humbugs onto a communist?’ splutters an aghast Foggy – bearing in mind that, in 1977, Russia was still very much depicted as the Evil Empire in British popular culture. There are mentions of Arthur Scargill too, and – when Foggy accuses Compo of having ‘true blue English legs’, he receives the indignant retort ‘There is nothing about my anatomy that belongs to Maggie Thatcher’!

Thatcher was still leader of the opposition to James Callaghan’s Labour government in 1977, but had already gained her ‘Iron Lady’ nickname, bestowed upon her by the Soviet Defence Ministry after she delivered a scathing anti-Russian speech in the unlikely setting of Kensington Town Hall in January 1976. It’s intriguing to see Roy Clarke using the background of the Silver Jubilee to draw up distinct political battle lines between Foggy and Compo, and the episode as a whole feels like an acknowledgement of the idealogical schism in Britain at the time… we were a country decking out our streets in bunting, fairground rides and jam tart-laden trestle tables while simultaneously sending The Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen to the top of the singles charts.

Andrew: It’s an odd coincidence that we’ve revisited this episode so close to a couple of contemporary royal events, Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton and the Queen’s upcoming Diamond Jubilee. I was quite comforted by the fact that little has changed in terms of our conflicting attitudes to royalty. It’s clear that Compo and Clegg aren’t really fussed about the Jubilee, certainly not in comparison to Foggy’s loyalty to the crown. Thousands of people lined the route for the most recent royal procession, but to me they didn’t seem as visually impressive as the student demos we saw a few months beforehand. The more things change…

Bob: And so our heroes – including a sulky, reluctant, nose-thumbing Compo who has clearly firmly sided with Johnny Rotten and the boys, are roped into the Jubilee celebrations by the local vicar… John ‘Doc Morrissey’ Horsley, taking a day off from vital Reggie Perrin duties to make a charming little cameo. And, again, I’m transported back to my 1970s childhood… my earliest summers were filled with church fetes and school jumble sales, and barely a weekend seemed to pass without a procession of ‘floats’ sliding past the windows of my Gran’s bungalow – motorized displays of national pride with local personages and their snotty-faced kids dressed up as traditional characters from the British history books, waving plastic flags on sticks as they whizzed through the estates. And, true to form, we get Sid as Jolly Jack Tar and Compo as Admiral Nelson. Does anyone bother with ‘floats’ any more? I can’t remember the last time I saw one.

Float like a butterfly...

Float like a butterfly…

Andrew: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a float outside of Disneyland, and fetes are definitely a dying art. I popped down to the Mayday funfair at our local community farm, which used to be a big event when I was younger, with bouncy castles, falconry displays, arts and crafts, a car boot sale, army vehicles, and kids dressing up in firemens’ outfits. This year, the field in which the fair took place was half empty. The bouncy castles were still there, but the ‘Hook-a-Duck’ had been usurped by a ‘Catch-a-Pokemon’ stand and the arts and crafts seemed to be represented by one stall with a computer-printed banner offering ‘Dog Confectionary.’ I suppose it’s a shame, but I also suppose it’s also just one of those things.

Bob: In the midst of the searing political debate, there’s a really nice moment of tenderness between Sid and Ivy, as the latter reminisces about their youthful dancing exploits. ‘You used to do the most lovely Fallita…’ she muses, and you can absolutely see the love in her eyes. As we discussed during the Boarding House episodes of the previous series, Ivy – despite everything – still adores Sid, and won’t stop believing that – someday – he’ll be the gallant, square-jawed lothario that she breathlessly reads about in her womens’ magazines. And Sid has, clearly, sometimes come close enough to that ideal for Ivy to keep the faith. Just as with Nora and Compo’s tender moments in the previous episode, there’s enough here in this relationship to make you appreciate why they’re still together.

Andrew: At the moment, I’d have to say they’re my favorite characters. Over the past couple of series they appear to have really surprised Roy Clarke. They’re not at the forefront of the episodes, but he clearly enjoys writing for the duo, and keeps finding these little moments for them. I can’t help but think of the spin-off that never was, with Sid and Ivy travelling the Dales in their mobile chip van!

Bob: Two classic Roy Clarke one-liners in this episode as well…

Ivy: When are you going to look at me sink?
Sid: Any time you can arrange to sink, I’ll gladly have a look.

Compo: I wonder what they’ll put on my gravestone?
Foggy: Something very heavy, I hope.

Both of these made me laugh out loud, in bed, by myself. Thanks, Roy. 

Series 4 Episode 5: Who Made a Bit Of a Splash In Wales, Then?

In which Foggy finds romance!

Bob: Well, Roy Clarke has certainly decided to tinker with the format here… we’re suddenly pitched into an opening sequence in which Foggy appears to be on the verge of abruptly leaving the series! Amazingly, he’s found romance with an attractively mature lady in Wales. I’ll admit I was expecting some kind of pay-off in which it transpires that the relationship isn’t all that it seems (‘It gives them both the illusion of romance’ muses Clegg)… but no, Foggy and his lady seem to be genuinely in love, and his friends are left pottering around Holmfirth, miserable, lost and bereft of his company.

Until, of course, they decide to hire a car and pay him a visit… with Sid and Ivy in tow, under the pretext of visiting Ivy’s sister en route. And so we get some more curiously frank 1970s attitudes to sex… as Ivy clambers into the car, Compo brazenly attempts to look up her skirt – his childlike persona veering dangerously into bona fide sex pest territory. And then Sid openly admits he was ‘hoping to get round a few of those Welsh barmaids’! Is this idle male banter, or were unreconstructed 1970s husbands generally accepted to like ‘a bit on the side’, and their long-suffering wives just stood back and… well, suffered?

Andrew: Don’t ask me; I was but a glint in some café owner’s eye back then!

The Oncoming Storm

The Oncoming Storm

Bob: We see Clegg driving again, becoming increasingly nervous and incompetent behind the wheel of the car. There’s a lovely scene where our heroes are lost in the Welsh countryside, and there’s clearly a hell of a summer storm brewing in the distance! The skies are absolutely black, and full of thunder. Clearly just a happy accident, but it creates a gorgeous late-summer atmosphere.

It nicely foreshadows the tense scenes with Foggy as well, as Compo and Clegg finally arrive at his Welsh retreat, finding him holed up with his charming lady-friend and her seemingly frosty mother. The relationship between Foggy and Compo is nicely played by Wilde and Owen here… he’s genuinely mortified by Compo’s very presence in the house, clearly desperate not to offend his new, middle-class companions. He’s like a teenage boy, ushering his first girlfriend away from his embarrassing parents. It actually feels very odd to see such familiar Summer Wine characters in very well-to-do suburban 1970s settings… the house, the street and the cars on the drives are right out of Butterflies or Terry and June. It’s a stark contrast to the soot-stained terraces of Holmfirth.

Andrew: I get the impression that, had Clarke thought of this idea a few years later, this scenario would have warranted a feature-length episode. The idea of Compo and Clegg being sooo lonely without Foggy that they’ll drive across the country to hassle him is a lovely idea, but thirty minutes isn’t really enough time to do the story justice. I could quite happily have spent that amount of time watching Compo kick the back of Ivy’s seat as they potter along the M56. According to Google Maps, it would have taken them an hour and nineteen minutes to make it to the Welsh border. That’s a long time to be stuck in the car with Compo, even if he does claim to have washed that morning.

When Jean Boht comes in...

When Jean Boht comes in…

Bob: And, in a nice side-story, we actually meet Ivy’s sister, with Jean Boht putting in a fine snooty turn, well-served by some prime Roy Clarke dialogue. ‘I don’t think I’ve seen you since I papered the lounge,’ she trills, ‘I hope you like pale mustard’. You can almost smell the simmering social tension between the two sisters.

Andrew: She seems a bit wasted here. As you say, it’s a wonderful scene and performance. Even if the character doesn’t make her way back into the series, her spiritual sisters will continue in Clarke’s writing – see Edie Pegden and Hyacinth Bucket for a couple of examples of one of the writer’s favorite archetypes.

Bob: The episode ends, predictably, with Compo and the aforementioned frosty mother-in-law getting on like a house on fire (‘I want to see a pair of corsets hanging over the end of me bed’, he muses, longingly) and – even more predictably – with the injured Foggy rolling down a hill towards a shimmering lake.

Andrew: I actually rolled my eyes a bit when it was first hinted that Foggy would end up in the lake! Even the studio audience seemed to cluck at the fact that twist was coming. Then, just at the last minute, it was all saved by some good old-fashioned retribution.

Bob: All in all, it’s a very un-Summer Wine episode, and it never quite feels like it belongs to the rest of the series. An odd experiment.

And how did Foggy and his lady friend actually meet? Perhaps it’s best we never know…

Series 3 Episode 4: Cheering Up Gordon

S3E4a

In which the boarding house bathroom caper continues…

Bob: I’d forgotten this was a two-parter, and was surprised to find us still in Scarborough at the start of this episode! And – wahey – this is the first episode I can remember actually seeing on TV back in the day, because I distinctly recall an earnest school morning discussion between me and my friend Doug Simpson about the nature of the ‘popsicle’ scene…

Foggy: Lots of people swim in the North Sea.
Clegg: Only if they fall off a boat…
Compo: It’ll turn your popsicle blue!

It must have been a repeat, as I didn’t know Doug until 1983, but I clearly remember us debating whether Compo, when referring to a ‘popsicle’ was actually referring to… well… you know… he couldn’t be, could he? But now, 28 years on, I think I can safely say that – yes! He is! Filth, from Roy Clarke! Whatever next? Well… a semi-naked Brian Wilde, that’s what…

Andrew: When Foggy decides to strip off (PHWOAR) and venture into the sea, he’s really not that old-looking is he? In fact, Brian Wilde was only around fifty at the time. This struck me with Clegg in the first series as well. Summer Wine has this reputation for being ‘that show about old people’, but for the first half of its run, it isn’t anything of the sort.

Keep behind the barriers, ladies...

Keep behind the barriers, ladies…

Bob: Wilde was 48/49 during the filming of this series, so no – by today’s standards he’d barely be considered middle-aged. He’s only a decade older than me! Do we assume that the character of Foggy is meant to be considerably older than Wilde, given that all three of the main characters were clearly schoolfriends, and that Clegg and Compo are obviously closer to sixty than fifty?

Great scene anyway – there’s a studio audience member who’s absolutely howling with laughter as Foggy runs into the sea, and I love that kind of thing. It’s probably just me, but studio audience laughter these days seems much more smooth and generic than it used to be! There are lots of 70s sitcoms where you can pick out individual audience members laughing, with lots of coughing and little outbreaks of applause as well. It’s very charming.

Andrew: Absolutely. There’s one chap who yaks his way through a good chunk of Dad’s Army  and one particularly hysterical woman during Are You Being Served. And, for me, they’re pretty much  series regulars!

Bob: And in terms of dialogue, I think Roy Clarke is absolutely on fire at this stage. I laughed heartily, by myself, all the way through this episode – it’s just full of little gems. His writing for Wally Batty in particular is magnificent…

Nora: Are you going to sit there while he insults me?
Wally: No, I thought I’d go and have a look at the lifeboats.

Nora: You talk yourself into being miserable.
Wally: No I don’t, I just have to listen.

Nora: I don’t know what people must think. You’re on holiday.

Wally: Not really. If you’d come by yourself, then I’d have been on holiday. Remember that smashing fortnight when you had to go and nurse your mother?

I could listen to this all day. Joe Gladwin is just extraordinary – nobody has ever made twisted, hangdog misery so sensationally funny.

Andrew: Compo’s nephew Gordon is a pleasant addition as well. As our representative from the younger generation he’s clearly fond of his ‘Uncle Bill’ but has no interest at all in the trio’s time-wasting activities. In fact, he’s not really interested in any silliness at all.

Bob: We’ve seen a few of Compo’s family in these early episodes, haven’t we? Surprising, as he always seemed to be much more of a loner in later series. Gordon’s another lovely, world-weary character – very nicely played by Philip Jackson, who’ll forever be the Abbot Hugo in Robin Of Sherwood to me! He still pops up regularly on TV, but this is one of his earliest roles.

I have to mention that extraordinary scene on the beach as well, where Sid and Ivy – and there’s no easy way of putting this – discuss their sex life!

Ivy: You never talk to me, not even when me make love…
Sid: Not much to talk about is there, the rate we go at it? You still do it as if your mother’s watching.
Ivy: You should try and rouse me more…

Given that they spend most of the programme at violent loggerheads, you’d be forgiven for being amazed that Sid and Ivy have a sex life at all… and, in broader sitcoms, great comic play would undoubtedly be made of them being trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage. But their relationship is nothing of the sort – at the beginning of this scene, Ivy is wistfully lost in a romantic magazine, dreaming of the lithe-limbed lotharios that inhabit its pages. She absolutely wants to be loved and to be seduced, and still dreams that Sid can be that dream-like hunk in real life.

'You should try and rouse me more...'

‘You should try and rouse me more…’

I think we learn a lot about Ivy in this sequence… the fact that he falls so short of her ideals again and again is clearly the source of her constant anger and frustration at Sid. And, maybe, against the male gender as a whole? None of the idle, child-like men in Summer Wine are a match for the perfect, silky-voiced lovers in her books and magazines, and yet she can’t give up on the hopeless dream that, one day, Sid just MIGHT be. She really can’t. She has to keep dreaming… and just taking what she can from Sid in the hope that, some day, things WILL be perfect. 

An unexpected bit of sauciness at the end of the episode as well, when Compo heads out on the pull, and succeeds in bringing four women back from a local nightclub – one each for himself, Foggy, Clegg and Gordon! We only ever hear their screeching voices outside the boarding house door, but by crikey… you can just smell the gin-soaked breath and stale Benson and Hedges, and see the smudged lipstick and laddered fishnet stockings. And all in vain, because Gordon – bless him – is already enjoying a quiet game of chess with a charming redhead called Josie.

Clegg, predictably, runs upstairs. ‘Supposing they’d raped us…’ he trembles, later, reminding us that Summer Wine isn’t ready to settle into cosy teatime whimsy just yet.

Anyway, I loved these episodes. Can you tell? Absolutely my favourite of anything we’ve seen so far, and I think the series has hit an extraordinary peak at this stage. I genuinely can’t wait to carry on. 

Series 3 Episode 2: Mending Stuart's Leg

In which our new trio click into action, and scale the dizzy heights of the café roof…

Andrew: Whereas Blamire was seemingly happy to do anything, provided he was doing something, Foggy definitely seems to require a mission in life. Instead of aimlessly roaming the hills, our trio now head out on expeditions; and instead of loitering in the café, the greasy spoon is used as their base of operations, be they inspecting Sid’s roof or mending Stuart’s eponymous leg. The tone has already shifted from those early, meandering installments.

Bob: Ha! How odd, I was actually going to say that after a couple of tightly-focused episodes, we’re back to a bit of old school meandering! This episode is filled with delightful non-sequiteurs, many of which are provided by Foggy. ‘I made a good contact yesterday if you ever want any offcuts of polystyrene,’ he muses, a propos of nothing, in the opening scenes. ‘I see there’s been another failure in Soviet agriculture,’ he ponders later, during a gap in the conversation. I laughed out loud, as I did ten minutes later at the following exchange:

Compo: What’s wrong with me trousers?
Foggy: I realise you’re a socialist, but you could invest in another pair. You don’t have to wait for the council to pull the old pair down.

Contrasting political viewpoints, social and sartorial comment and a genuine, stunning laugh-out-loud gag in the space of two lines. Even if you knew nothing whatsoever about Compo or Foggy, you could still infer so much about their characters just by reading those two lines. Now THAT’s writing.

Insert your own Freemasonry joke here...

Insert your own Freemasonry joke here…

Andrew: And here we have it, the first instance of Clegg chickening out of something; in this case he sheepishly declines the opportunity to climb a rickety ladder and inspect some slates.

Bob: Yes! Foggy has instantly become the instigator and director of their activities, and Clegg now seems firmly entrenched as the reluctant non-participant that he remains for the next three and a half decades.

There are a few little character moments that intrigued me in this episode… I think, Drew, you mentioned that an earlier episode very subtly alluded to the fact that Sid and Ivy were childless, and I missed it completely. This time, following a classic argument, we get Ivy wistfully musing ‘Oooh, if I’d had kids…’  and the sentence is left for us to finish ourselves. There’s a definite sense of regret and melancholy that hangs over this fleeting scene.

And good to see Mr Wainwright back at the library! With another doe-eyed young acolyte – Miss Moody – now in tow.

Wainwright: I used to dream of leading the people into a better society…
Miss Moody: Maybe you still can?
Wainwright: (respectfully) There’s so much paperwork.

Fabulous.

‘There’s so much paperwork…’

And is it me, or does Compo’s shouted riposte to Nora as she rebuffs his advances yet again (‘It wasn’t like this on VE Night!’) suggest that they had a brief romantic tryst thirty years earlier, presumably before she married Wally? It’s an absolute revelation to think that his feelings towards her aren’t just the unrequited lust of an old letch, but an attempt to recapture a sensational night of passion from their long-lost salad days, on an occasion of unparalleled emotional release for the whole country. If that’s true, it must have been one of the most glorious nights of Compo’s life, and brings a whole new perspective to his character and motivations. He wants to feel young and happy and virile again, and rekindling a fleeting encounter with Nora has become fixed in his mind as the only way to do so… even though her appearance and personality have – we assume – been completely transformed since then. He just doesn’t see that, though! One of our constant sources of comedy so far as been exactly why Compo lusts after this sour-faced battleaxe – it just seemed inexplicable. But at last we have an answer! To Compo, Nora will always be the vibrant 20-year-old lass that gave herself to him at the ultimate national celebration. I actually feel like 37 years of Summer Wine suddenly makes a lot more sense!

Series 3 Episode 6: Going to Gordon's Wedding

In which Compo, for once, is best man…

Andrew: Amazingly, we’ve jumped from arguably the series’ weakest episode thus far, to one of the strongest. Clarke really has put his all into this finely observed, half-hour farce. To say that he’s back on form really doesn’t do this episode justice.

Bob: Yep, I enjoyed this too. It’s nice to see Compo’s nephew Gordon back in the series, although you wonder how long is meant to have passed between instalments, given that that Gordon is now marrying Josie, the elegant redhead he met in Scarborough only two episodes earlier! It’s a very 1970s wedding – all giant buttonholes, disapproving mothers and good-natured punch-ups over Tetley’s Best Bitter. And Gordon’s not the only returning character here… we get another cameo from Paul Luty as Big Malcolm, Compo’s towering relative, last spotted duffing up Foggy in the first episode of this series.

Is this Compo's sister? We're not sure!

Is this Compo’s sister? We’re not sure!

It all reinforces the feeling of Summer Wine being a running story taking place in a small, close-knit community, and it struck me that Foggy’s arrival seems to have heralded a slight stylistic change… in Blamire’s two series, our three heroes are very much portrayed as outsiders, literally spending their days around the peripheries of town life, sitting in disused barns and abandoned factories. In Series 3, we’ve seen MUCH less of the countryside… the show has been far more grounded in sitting rooms, pubs, cafes and boarding houses, and Compo has been shown to be pretty close to several members of his extended family. It has to be a deliberate move.

Andrew: There’s some lovely domestic material here, from the competitive mothers and the forced jollity of family gatherings to Clegg’s brilliant comparison of weddings and flying… ‘When you consider how many weddings there are, it makes you realize what a safe way it is to go. It’s just that, in regard to weddings, if there is an accident then it’s usually rather a nasty one’.

Bob: Yes, I love the scene in Gordon’s mother’s sitting room… the sheer awkwardness of making polite conversation with distant family members, suffocated by floral wallpaper and that ominous, ticking clock. The desperate, nervous laughter and the young, randy couple snogging obliviously on the sofa.

Do we assume, then, that Gordon’s flighty and giggly mother, clearly three sheets to the wind by the middle of the morning, is actually Compo’s sister? It’s never specified, but the way she greets him at the door (‘Lovely to see you love, I knew you wouldn’t let me down,’ she beams, proudly, stroking the shoulder of his suit) is every inch the actions of a proud sister rather than a more distant relative.

Andrew: I guess we’ll find out for sure in First of the Summer Wine, if Roy Clarke remembers she exists by then.

Bob: If so, it’s intriguing to note that Foggy seems to take something of a shine to her, repeatedly vying for her attention and attempting to take photos of her! Can you imagine the comic potential if that relationship had developed? Oh, the shame he’d have brought upon the proud Dewhurst name… 

Josie. She's a pussycat.

Josie. She’s a pussycat.

Andrew: There’s also a nice line in physical comedy, and unlike The Kink In Foggy’s Niblick, it doesn’t seem forced. Compo’s buttonhole, the noisy wedding present, the damaged best man and Foggy’s ongoing feud with Big Malcolm are all nicely signposted and extend naturally from the characters and situation.

Bob: Indeed, and I loved Josie’s line to her father outside the church, flicking up her bridal veil and hissing ‘You see it so many times on wedding photos… embarrassed fathers pining for their overalls…’ Never a truer word spoken, and – again – a fine, pithy and beautifully concise bit of writing. We learn so much about both Josie and her fathers’ characters – and the relationship between them – from that single line.

Andrew: What strikes me most of all is how big and confident it seems. A lot is packed into twenty-nine minutes… not only the situation itself, but also the sheer number of characters involved. The world of Summer Wine suddenly opens out to include extended families and old friends like Gordon and Malcolm.

Bob: And all drenched in that glorious 1970s sunshine, on washed-out 16mm film. All is right with the world, and I want to carry on… 

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