Clegg

The Pilot: Of Funerals and Fish

In which our trio look for ways to while away their autumn years…

(NOTE: Our thoughts on Last of the Summer Wine’s first episode were first posted to this site way back in 2014. They were revised and expanded as part of the preparation for the first Summer Winos book in 2020)

Andrew: Here we go, then; Episode One! From the get-go I can tell you that this isn’t quite the series that I remember from growing up. Last of the Summer Wine, in my minds eye, is bathed in sunlight on a bright and clear Sunday afternoon, but the landscape we open upon is overcast, with the wind blasting the grass on the hillsides of Holmfirth. This is definitely not the slickly-produced sitcom that I remember, either. A lady in the studio audience coughs her way through the theme tune and nobody thought to bother taking it out!

Bob: Yes, it’s got a very different feel to the series of the 1980s and beyond. No sweeping vistas of rolling countryside here… we get claustrophobic back yards and alleyways, and the authentic grime of an early 1970s industrial Yorkshire town. I’ve wondered recently why the streets of my 1970s childhood, on TV and in photographs, look so different to their modern-day counterparts. And I think I’ve cracked it… it’s the soot! Holmfirth in 1973 is a riot of smoking chimneys, and the blackened buildings are testament to the days when central heating was considered an expensive luxury. In these early years, it gives the whole show a much grittier, grottier feel than the one we came to know. So this isn’t the Summer Wine of hillsides and child-like old men in bathtubs, it’s the Summer Wine of disillusionment and middle-aged, working class boredom. And we begin the episode with a penniless, wheezing Compo having his ancient, rented TV repossessed. In the words of the eye-rolling Nora Batty outside, “it must be Tuesday”.


Andrew:
How young does Bill Owen look?! And by young, I obviously mean middle-aged, greasy and knackered. Still, he’s very much not an old man, is he? The same goes for Kathy Staff. Mrs Batty might be a bit sour-faced, but she’s far from the intimidating battleaxe the country came to know and love. And did she just refer to her husband as “Harold”? Given that we later meet her fella and he’s called Wally, does this mean that the pilot isn’t canon? This is the sort of important thing we need to get to the bottom of, Bob!

Bob: She did! She definitely did! The entire 37-year-run is now invalidated in my eyes. Let’s call it quits right here. 

Andrew: I know I started this entry with a moan about somebody coughing during the theme tune, but the honesty of the way in which audience laughter was recorded at this point in television history is something I really like. You can hear real individuals on the laugh track; people like the woman who cackles madly when Nora and her friends make reference to the fact that Compo’s wife ran off with a Pole. Nobody else in the audience finds this fact as funny as this one woman and, though we’ll never know, why we can assume she must have felt some sort of personal connection to the gag!

Bob: Maybe she’d run off with a Pole herself? I like that personal touch too; there’s a woman in the studio audience of Monty Python’s Flying Circus who laughs riotously and very conspicuously through several consecutive episodes. I’ve since seen suggestions that it might have been John Cleese’s then-wife (and future Fawlty Towers star) Connie Booth! 

Andrew: I’m sure somebody will contact us and tell me I’m talking complete rubbish, but the use of handheld camerawork in these opening scenes strikes me as very peculiar. It lends the scene a slight – and I do mean slight – documentary feel that I wasn’t expecting!

Bob: Stanley Kubrick learned everything he knew from Jimmy Gilbert. The personalities of our three main characters is established very swiftly; we’ve already seen that Compo lives in a state of shambolic impoverishment, and – as he meets up with Blamire – we get a feeling of the latter’s haughty, detached air; a man whose pretensions to the the officer classes have not been diminished by his return to civilian life.

And then we meet Clegg, chatting on a freezing churchyard bench with a hangdog vicar, and describing how he has recently observed a man carefully carrying a tiny, quivering bird to his hungry cat… “Life’s like that,” he muses. “A complex texture of conflicting moralities.” It’s smalltown, Northern philosophy writ large. There’s a real whiff of Alan Bennett about so many of Clegg’s early musings.

We see him tending the grave of his wife, too… “Edith Clegg, 1900-1971”. So Clegg is a relatively recent widower, and – if we assume that Clegg and Peter Sallis are the same age here – he was 21 years younger than his late wife. That rings true, actually. I can imagine the wistful, idealistic Clegg being mothered by an older woman who was far more capable than him of dealing with the grim practicalities of everyday life.

The vicar, by the way, is played by Michael Stainton, who went on to be the dad in Metal Mickey. I felt it important to make that a matter of public record.

Andrew: Last of the Summer Wine always had a strong bond with the town and countryside in which it was filmed, and this is established from the very beginning – the pilot opens with a full eight-and-a-half minute location sequence before our trio head into a disused chapel and the production switches to the videotaped confines of Television Centre. That’s a hell of a lot of filmed material for a fledgling sitcom, isn’t it?

Bob: I could have been fooled by the disused chapel, to be honest! Even the specially-built sets reek of 1970s British grime. 

Andrew: This is all surprisingly topical, isn’t it? Not in a “news of the day” sense, but in how willing Clarke’s script is to grapple with politics and religion. In fact, on the religious front, it’s quite an interesting view of Britain as a Christian country.

Bob: Yes, Blamire in particular seems to have a leaning towards staunch Anglican traditions – but it isn’t especially presented as a prominent part of his character; it’s just there, in the background. Which I suspect is how large swathes of the population saw the Church of England in the 1970s; even if they weren’t devout church-goers, it was still part of the tapestry of everyday life. And if we want more vintage bleakness… Canon Jamieson, as commemorated on a plaque on the chapel wall, was – according to Clegg – “more than democratic in his ways with the choirboys”. Again, this is dark stuff.

I do love the “talky” nature of all this, though. Despite the frequent use of real-life locations, this would work perfectly as a theatre production. There’s no plot to speak of, it’s simply 27 minutes of perfectly observed character-building, and brilliantly-scripted conversation. 

Andrew: “Somebody’s got to think about these things, and who’s got more time than we have?” muses Clegg. I struggle to think of another pilot that lays out its premise as neatly as that. In just one sentence, Roy Clarke has set the template for 37 series of television!

Bob: Into the library, and I guess lots of hardcore fans will be aware of the fact that Last of the Summer Wine’s early working title was The Library Mob, with this location providing the hub for our main trio’s daily loafing… even more so than the legendary café in these early years. And, whereas in later episodes they would face the wrath of Ivy and her buns of iron, in these initial episodes it’s the head librarian, the avowed communist Mr Wainwright, who is their nemesis. And good grief, what an introduction we get to him… his opening appearance sees him emerging from below the library’s main desk, where the clear implication is that he’s been – ahem – thumbing through the lower portions of his married assistant, Mrs Partridge! “I have to touch you… it’s a need…” 

Andrew: I love Blake Butler’s performance as Mr. Wainwright. The repressed sexual energy of the character is bursting from the tip of his Trotsky-esque beard. Although for all his bluster about middle-class morality and lefty politics, his choice of D.H. Lawrence as Mrs Partridge’s gateway to erotica is charmingly middle-of-the-road!

Bob: It is by modern standards, but Penguin Books were prosecuted and taken to court for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover only thirteen years before this episode was broadcast. It had been untouched by a mainstream publisher for 32 years until then, and the 1959 Obscene Publications Act had a field day with a book riddled with language fit only for the confines of the billiard parlour. It’s right mucky, it is. They should put that on the cover.

Mrs Partridge is nicely played by Rosemary Martin too, who was a regular face on TV in the 1970s and 1980s. She conveys just the right blend of timidity and sexual frustration. “My husband likes to watch The High Chaparral, then I have to get his Ovaltine.”

And this is the strangest erotic moment I’ve ever seen: Mr Wainwright is below the desk, clearly – ahem – “attending” to Mrs Partridge, but reaches up to grab a little green book from the counter, which he then… does something with. Something that drives her to even further heights of desire. As someone who occasionally collects vintage books, I’m going to guess that one would now be described as having “light foxing.”

Andrew: Clegg isn’t the timid character we’ll grow to love is he? Just look at the swagger he displays as he flagrantly lights up a cigarette beside the library’s “No Smoking” sign, and his defiance as he stubs it out into an inkpot under Mr Wainwright’s nose. It’s only right that he be thrown out of the library!

Bob: And when he was nine, he was intimate with Muriel Fairfax in a sandpit. The man has hidden shallows. Compo too is a darker character than in later years; he’s still incredibly bitter about the “scabby Pole” that ran off with his wife – it makes him genuinely angry, although I’m assuming it happened decades ago… possibly even during the war?

Andrew: There’s a stock question that actors in long-running series always get asked on chat shows – “When you first started working on Insert Long-Running Show Here, did you have any idea you’d still be talking about it so many years later?” Almost all of them answer that they had no idea what kind of success the series would enjoy, but this must be especially true for Jane Freeman. Her role as Ivy in this pilot is incredibly small, but she ended up playing the part for almost four decades!

Bob: I know… it’s literally seconds, but she sets her stall out. She’s in a foul temper from the very start. Nice to get an early glimpse of John Comer too, as her dry-witted husband Sid. He’d been a hugely prolific TV and film actor from the late 1950s onwards – he starred alongside Peter Sellers in I’m Alright Jack and Heavens Above!, and he’d made regular appearances in Coronation Street and Z-Cars, amongst many others. But, as with so many actors, it was Last of the Summer Wine that really cemented him as a household favourite, at a comparatively late age. He was nearly fifty when the series started, but to our generation he’ll always be “Sid from the café”.  

Andrew: Cast away from the library and then the café, our trio very much feel like schoolkids turfed out of the house, bored during the last days of the summer holidays – just wandering aimlessly in search of something interesting. The honesty with which Holmfirth is depicted continues too, as Cyril treads in dog muck (probably white), and the trio make their way to a stream that’s absolutely infested with midges. This isn’t a plot point at all, the location is genuinely swarming with them.

Bob: Midges were everywhere in the 1970s! Gardens were always full of them, for no discernable reason, and my arms and legs were permanently covered in bites from the vicious little buggers! They were the hoodlums of the insect world, just hanging around on street corners looking to cause bother. Where did they all go? Is there now a Midge Retirement Home where they all recline in tiny bath chairs, swapping stories of the famous people they’ve bitten? “Did I ever tell you, Ethel, I once took a lump out of Alvin Stardust’s ankle…”

Despite the infestation, our trio catch a tiny, tiddler fish and keep it in a jar. I’d be outraged if modern kids inflicted such an indignity on a poor creature like this, but in 1973 this was an integral part of any kids’ summertime jolly. Again, it’s that school holiday feeling, isn’t it? They’re absolutely regressing to activities they would have previously enjoyed five decades years earlier.


And feel free to put Compo’s pub conversation about the heavenly genitalia of angels on our “That Would Never Have Happened In The Later Series” list, too. This really feels like late-night comedy, and yet it was broadcast on BBC1 at 8pm on a Thursday evening. We’d come a long way since the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. 

Andrew: Outside the pub, who should our trip spot emerging from Lover’s Lane but the Mr Wainwright and Mrs Partridge? Clegg reckons that’ll provide enough leverage to allow our trio back into the library the following day.

Bob: I laughed out loud at Compo’s musings once they return to their spiritual home amongst the bookshelves. “Do you think I’m in love with Nora Batty? Or is it just sex?” The thought of the pair of them actually doing it… good grief, I think even Mr Wainwright’s ardour would be dampened. And then a line that took us both by surprise! “Cyril,” says Clegg to an aghast Blamire, “Your idea of orgasm is a quick flick through Burke’s Peerage!” 

Andrew: The use of the word “orgasm” really shook me, as it seems completely out-of-step with the Summer Wine that I grew up with as a kid in the 1990s. The sort of people who now praise the series for its “family values” and gentle comedy must surely have forgotten all the political, religious and sexual debate going on in these early years! Thinking about it, I quite like the fact that the BBC celebrated the end of the series with a Songs of Praise special – when it actually began with two of the principle characters questioning the nature of faith!

Bob: Can I just point out that I’m glad the episode ends with that poor captured fish being returned to its native stream? 

Andrew: Clegg departs in search of sausage for his tea, and we end exactly as we began, with the credits rolling over the same view of the Holme Valley. It’s only just dawned on me that there’s been a beautifully subtle theme running through the entirety of this episode. When we’re introduced to Compo, his neighbours know the day of the week because his television is being taken away. When we meet Clegg, he enters proceedings just as a coffin in a hearse makes its exit. The trio are thrown out of the library, and then regain access to it. They catch a tiddler and let it go again. They part at the end, knowing that they’re going to go through the same routine the very next day.  This isn’t presented a something tragic – it’s just a fact of life (and death), and in a way it comes across as a reassuring comfort for three characters who’ve been left behind by society. 

The episode has achieved what some of my very favourite sitcom episodes manage – it’s a perfectly self-sufficient piece of television. If this pilot was as far as Last of the Summer Wine ever got, it would still hold up as a beautiful piece of work, and we’d feel like we really got to know these characters well.

Bob: Absolutely. It’s a superb-written and performed piece of TV. And the premise is absolutely explicit and perfectly encapsulated… it’s about three fifty-something men whose working and family lives are effectively over, reverting to childhood because they have no other way of passing the time. It’s both funny and dark, and it positively drips with melancholy. And it’s obvious from the start that the three main protagonists are perfectly cast… Bates, Sallis and Owen make their characters utterly believable and three-dimensional from their very first lines. The lengthy, rambling, perfectly-performed dialogue takes us completely into their world – their whimsical, filth-filled childhoods, their frustrating, slightly shop-soiled adult lives. It owes more to Alan Bennett and Ken Loach than anything we ever saw over the ensuing 37 years.

Andrew: Oh, and the waste ground on which the trio bid their farewells is now the site of a Co-op car park. How’s that for progress?

Bob: Get off your high horse, Smith. We always park there. 

Andrew: One down, two-hundred-and-ninety-four to go…

Series 6 Episode 6: Serenade for Tight Jeans and Metal Detector


In which Compo has a change of scenery…

Bob: As you know, there’s very little in life makes me happier than a good non-sequitur, so the opening lines to this episode put a huge smile all over my beardy, middle-aged chops.

Foggy: I understand the Co-Op has some big reductions in winceyette pyjamas.

Compo: Nigel Hinchcliffe’s nose has turned septic.

Clegg: Two thirds of the human nose could be below the surface.

Alright, let me witlessly dissect these little moments of genius. Foggy’s line is magnificent. He doesn’t start with ‘I’ve heard…’ or ‘Did you know…’, he says ‘I understand’. ‘I UNDERSTAND’!!! Implying that his knowledge of winceyette pyjama reductions has been imparted via a series of clandestine espionage raids conducted by special forces at dawn. In the flaming Co-Op. Two words that speak volumes about his delusions of military grandeur.

And ‘winceyette’! Does anyone ever say ‘winceyette’ any more? Foggy is so precise about every aspect of his mundane existence that he even has to specify the pyjama material in question, lest anyone assume he was sullying his insider nightwear knowledge with references to clearly inferior nylon products. Although such pyjamas were definitely called ‘flannelette’ when I were a lad. Still, the principle of raised-nap cotton fabric is the same. 

Upside Down… Clegg, you turn me…

Andrew: I must admit that I had to take to Google in order to find out what ‘winceyette’ actually means. It’s not just raised-nap, it’s a cotton flannelette with a nap on both sides, apparently. You know, it’s been ages since I’ve had a nice pair of pyjamas. Do you think one of our readers might send some in if I put the call out?

Bob: Only if you put Nigel Hinchcliffe in the names database. Owner of a septic nose. Which was nearly the title of a Top 40 hit for Yes in November 1983. 

Andrew: When Foggy asks, ‘Is that a view or is that a view?’ I thought to myself, ‘Yes, Foggy, it is.’ Alan Bell really knows how to make the most of the natural beauty of his locations, even during his earliest episodes.

Bob: Yes, there’s definitely been a deliberate decision to show off the locations a lot more.

Andrew: Outside Dougie’s Second Hand Shop, Foggy and Clegg shake Compo down for some cash. Literally. Nothing tumbles from our scruffy hero’s pockets as he is hoisted upside-down, though. Where else would he keep his betting money but in his wellies?

Compo: That don’t half make your eyeballs heavy. Suppose they dropped out?

Foggy: It wasn’t THEM dropping out that we were worried about.

Is that our first ball-gag since Forked Lightning? Also, how many extra site visitors will be sent our way via Google thanks to our use of the phrase ball-gag?

Bob: I think we’ll double our usual traffic. So possibly as many as seven.

Andrew: Foggy arrives at the café some time before Compo and Clegg, who we are told are lagging behind. We don’t often get to observe Foggy on his own, do we? Nothing particularly significant happens during this scene, but it’s odd to see him have a one-on-one with Sid.

Foggy reveals he has installed a new set of trousers on Compo, and Sid is shocked enough to send the items he is holding clattering to the floor. This prompts Ivy to emerge and, when told that Sid has received some startling news, presumes that her husband has been ‘seen with’ Mrs. Jessop! What do we think then? Is Ivy paranoid or does Sid play away from time to time?

Those new trousers in full

Bob: I reckon he has – years ago – and Ivy has never let it go. She’s deeply insecure, and desperate to hang onto him by any means necessary. ‘I’ve been expecting something like this ever since you started reading Harold Robbins’ she sniffs, the second Summer Wine reference I can remember to the grandaddy of the bonkbuster novel. Was Mrs Clarke a fan, do we think? The Carpetbaggers was the Fifty Shades of Grey of its time.

Nice scene in the café too, with a classic Clarke trope – the quickfire repeating of an unusual word of phrase by several characters, to almost surreal comic effect. Here, Nora accuses Sid of startling her by ‘rearing up’… the springboard for a delightful mini-sketch in which the phrase ‘rearing up’ is used over and over with increasingly exaggerated delivery. Clarke does this a lot – I have fond memories of an episode of Open All Hours in which Granville’s ‘dangler’ (calm down at the back there, it’s a medallion) gets similar treatment. The word becomes funny in itself, simply by dint of the repetition – but it’s important not to overstay your welcome with these things. It’s artfully done here, though. 

Andrew: Then in walks a post ‘trouser transplant’ Compo. Now, have I missed something or is there absolutely no explanation as to why Foggy chooses to do this now? Whatever the reason, Compo looks distinctly uncomfortable in his new skinny jeans. As a man who has been forced into a pair by his far more stylish partner, I have all the sympathy in the world for him. I believe they were first developed by the Spanish Inquisition.

Bob: You what??! No-one over the age of 19 should be wearing skinny-fit ANYTHING. Hey, a reference to ‘Bickerdyke’s dog’! That’s from Series 4 Episode 6, Greenfingers. Summer Wine is finally eating itself!

Andrew: We also get to learn a little more about Dougie from the Second Hand Shop, who has somehow managed to talk Clegg into purchasing a metal detector. Knowing what is to come down the line, it’s very easy to see the unseen second hand shop proprieter as a proto-Auntie Wainwright, another character who, in Sid’s words, ‘can sell owt’.

Foggy finds a Roman beer can

Foggy finds a Roman beer can

Bob: Foggy is mocked by his colleagues for getting excited about ‘buried treasure’, but metal detecting was a big hobby for men of a certain age in the 1970s! Seismic events like the discovery of the Mildenhall Treasure would have made a big impression on men of Foggy’s age.

It was an era when all kinds of oddities could be found with only the bare minimum of digging. Even in built-up towns, much of the ground remained undeveloped, and many deeply-buried treasures had been unsettled by wartime bombing and lay undiscovered on sites that had stayed largely untouched for decades. As a kid, I remember discovering centuries-old coins and the fractured remains of Victorian pottery while scrabbling around in our own back garden.

Andrew: I once found a copy of Readers’ Wives strewn along a hedgerow.

Bob: You were clearly from the posh end of town. It were all Razzle under our hedgerows. Hey, what a great Radiophonic noise when Foggy finally gets the metal detector working! I can imagine Malcolm Clarke slaving away for hours on that. Inbetween putting the finishing touches to the Earthshock soundtrack.

Andrew: Back on the hillside, Foggy thinks he’s stumbled across something Roman. It isn’t, of course. Instead, he’s found a beer can – Julius Tetley – and it’s off to the pub.

Bob: My dad would doubtless have called that an ‘ancient Roman beercan’! A nice, warm episode, anyway.

Andrew: I had some fun with this episode, particularly the scenes with the whole gang in the café, but it pales in comparison to the last two. You’re spoiling us, Mr. Clarke.

Last of the Summer Wine: On Stage

We’re looking for memories from anybody who saw the Last of the Summer Wine stage show during its 1984 and 1985 runs, or even in its modified Compo Plays Cupid form, which toured Britain in 1987. What were your impressions? Where and when did you see it? What scenes stick in your mind? Was the television series able to make the difficult transition to stage? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment or get in touch at drewsmith@hotmail.co.uk Read more

Series 6 Episode 4: A Bicycle Made for Three

In which our trio ‘get it continental style’…

Andrew: Have we reached another milestone? Does this qualify as our first truly iconic episode of Last of the Summer Wine? I think that clip from the climax of this episode, in which our trio tumble headfirst over the handlebars of their bicycles, is probably one of the most often used to represent the series in documentaries or highlights packages.

Bob: Yes, that clip has come to embody ‘three silly old sods plummeting downhill’ public perception of the series, hasn’t it? Whenever I mention our ongoing quest to non-Summer Wine fans, they always make reference to this kind of escapade. Which is a shame, as the absolute bedrock of the series for me is the dialogue and characterisation. All the rest is largely window dressing. Here you go, from the opening sequence…

Compo: I tried for a reserved occupation.

Foggy: There was no-one more reserved about taking an occupation than you.

A laugh-out loud joke with a wealth of information about both characters attitudes, backgrounds and personalities, all within the space of two lines. Perfect.

Andrew: There’s a lot of location work in this episode and it’s all beautifully shot, but doesn’t the transfer look manky? Doctor Who fans have been spoilt rotten with the amount of care and attention that’s been exercised in restoring that series’ many episodes, and the thought that the original film elements of many of these Summer Wine episodes could just be lying in a vault gathering dust is almost too much to take.

Bob: This probably makes me some sort of heathen, but I rather like a bit of grit and grain on vintage 16mm film sequences. Gives them a bit of character and period charm. I can spend hours watching a trapped hair fizzing away in the corner of the screen.

Andrew: I’d have to check the novel again to see whether it originates there, but the gag with the trio careening down a hill upon one bicycle is used again, in almost identical fashion, in the Getting Sam Home feature-length special the following year.

Bob: Spoilers!

Andrew: And who would have thought that a thirty-year-old episode of Last of the Summer Wine would become so topical in hindsight? Not too long ago, a video in which former American sitcom star Kirk Cameron and Christian minister Ray Comfort displayed support for the ‘Banana Theory’ went viral. The Banana Theory, in case you’re wondering, posits almost exactly what Clegg states in this episode, ‘If there’s no guiding hand behind the universe, how come bananas are just the right shape for your mouth’. Have a look!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z-OLG0KyR4]

I wonder if they were fans (joke)? Within the context of Summer Wine, Clegg gets away with it, but as an argument for intelligent design it just doesn’t hold up at all.  Who would have thought that the battle of Darwinism and fundamental Christianity would intrude upon our little oasis of tranquillity?

Bob: Wait until we get round to Open All Hours. There’s a full episode in which Granville and Mrs Featherstone discuss the implications of Sartre’s theory of Bad Faith and the direct contradictions it posits to Freud’s theories of the unconscious.

Andrew: Another couple of names for the database; Lily Matthews – With his scruffy khakis, Compo never had a chance with this RAF-mad girl. Lily was ugly, but only from the front. Then we get Mildred, a loud welder, apparently.

'I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple'

‘I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple’

Bob: And then we meet a new character – Junk-shop owner Percy Westerfield, or ‘Dirk’ as he now insists on being called. As soon as he appeared, I shouted ‘JOE MELIA!’ with unseemly abandon, making both dogs scatter in panic across the front room. A fine character actor, Joe Melia… beloved of us science fiction geeks for playing Mr Prosser in The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, but he’s also the delightfully amoral journalist Ron Rust in A Very Peculiar Practice, the viewing of which – like archery practice on a Sunday – should be on the statute books as a compulsory weekly activity for all adults.

Good to see Dirk wearing a classic comedy slogan T-Shirt as well… ‘I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple’ is emblazoned unashamedly across his chest. The comedy T-shirt is a quintessentially 1980s phenomenon, and a couple of years before this episode aired you could barely move in Britain’s High Streets for ‘I Shot JR’ T-shirts hanging from shop windows. And wobbling beer guts. The practice still exists in the minds of weird 50-year-old men who proudly strut around in public wearing hilarious ‘If Found, Please Return To The Pub’ T-shirts, but the rest of the world – thankfully – seems to have moved on.

Andrew: I actually quite like Dirk nee Percy as a character and wonder whether we’re going to see him again?

Bob: He’s certainly a great ‘deluded’ character in the classic sitcom style. Despite being the owner of a rather run-down second-hand shop, he still considers himself to be a future millionaire, without ever stooping to being ‘your flash-in-the-pan overnight whizzkid’. Anyway, he allows Compo, Clegg and Foggy to rummage for spare bike parts in the shed, in order to construct a bicycle each to continue their two-wheeled adventures…

Andrew: One thing that really strikes me about this episode, particularly the scenes where the trio are putting their bicycles together, is just how much fun they’re having. There’s little in the way of moaning or complaining, and just look at the glee that Foggy and Compo exhibit when gently ribbing one another for their efforts. It’s a little bit special and reminds us why these characters continue to knock about together, despite their many setbacks and fallings-out.

Clegg, officially having fun

Clegg, officially having fun

Bob: Roy Clarke’s very good at that. Amidst all the friction between Summer Wine’s main characters, there’s always something that reminds you that – beneath it all – they’re actually very fond of each other. It can be a single line, or even just a warm glance between the barbs, but it’s always there. Very important.

Andrew: In a move that I expect will upset you, Sid’s Café has undergone some extensive renovations, doing away, as Clegg puts it, with ‘the homely air of neglect’. This doesn’t bother me at all, however, as the set now looks exactly as it did when I was growing up with the show. I think this was my first burst of nostalgia. I wonder if this move to brighten the place up is part of Alan J.W. Bell’s influence on the series.

Bob: Ha! I’ve written exactly that in my notes.‘They’ve redecorated – I don’t like it’. I suspect that, if we watched one of the Blamire episodes again, we’d be surprised at how filthy and run-down all of the sets and locations look in comparison to this brave new era. There was a real grimy, soot-stained bleakness to life in 1973 that was beginning to fade from sight in the spruced-up, computerized 1980s.

I’m glad you’ve got a nostalgia blast, though! You’ll be going all fuzzy on me from here.

Anyway, nice to see Nora and especially Wally making much more regular appearances in this series. Some funny lines for Nora in particular in this scene, including her musings on men. ‘I blame television,’ she grumbles. ‘They see all these funny ideas. People enjoying themselves…’

Andrew: Wally in whites almost doesn’t look like Wally.

Bob: I’m sorry, but you could dress Wally Batty up as Carmen Miranda and he’d still look like Wally Batty. There’s no getting away from THAT FACE.

Andrew: If Gladwin had stuck around for a few more years I’m sure  Roy Clarke would have had him dressed up as Carmen Miranda.

One thing this episode does– probably better than any episode so far – is to skilfully blend Clarke’s verbal humour with the slapstick elements of the series. I didn’t feel short-changed on either front and the episode’s comic climax, in which our trio tumble head first from Foggy’s new take on the tandem bicycle, is rooted within the series logic. Unlike Wally’s pigeon-shaped hang glider, I can totally believe that this is something Foggy would come up with and have the ability to construct.

They've redecorated. We don't like it.

They’ve redecorated. We don’t like it.

Bob: Yes, Foggy joins three bikes together by the handlebars to make a treble-seated monster, and it’s absolutely believable. The scenes in which they road-test the bike look lovely as well… freewheeling fun on a bright summers day.

Andrew: I also really enjoyed the scene with our trio attempted to eat ‘continental style’ outside the café. Ronnie Hazlehurst’s Parisian take on the series’ theme tune is beautiful, and the action is taken straight out of a Laurel and Hardy or Chaplin short from the silent era.

Bob: Absolutely! ‘They’re going to get it continental style’, deadpans Jane Freeman, refusing to allow our scruffy trio to slurp their tea in her newly-refurbished café. It’s such a well-worn 70s double entendre that I heartily applaud Roy Clarke for having the audacity to use it! There’s a whole scene in Are You Being Served – The Movie in which Captain Peacock and Mrs Slocombe debate whether they’d prefer it ‘English or continental style’. Their breakfast, of course. What else?

And you say Chaplin, I’ve written Jacques Tati in my notes! Same difference. Yeah, a lovely little homage to silent cinema, with our heroes’ attempts to eat in the yard being disturbed by unruly schoolkids, careless car-washers and funeral processions alike, all with barely a word spoken. All, as you say, accompanied by Ronnie Hazlehurst’s beautifully Gallic-sounding accordion music. We should probably talk more about Ronnie Hazelhurst on this blog sometime… he’s the unsung hero of Summer Wine. Didn’t he compose completely unique scores for every episode? I can’t think of many other TV shows in which the incidental music is such an integral and recognisable part of the atmosphere.

Andrew: All in all, probably one of my favourites so far.

Bob: Me too. Series 6 has been a joy so far, and I can absolutely understand why this was the year in which the show really began to elevate to national treasure status.

Series 6 Episode 2: Car and Garter

BOB: What strikes me most about this episode is that Alan Bell was spot on with regards to Gordon Wharmby – he is indeed “absolutely real”. It’s a fine performance, and a great encapsulation of that breed of middle-aged Northern men who spend all of their spare time in overalls beneath a car and need a garage (or a shed, or just some private space to retreat to, unencumbered by female tutting and clucking) to retreat to. I see a lot of my Dad in Wesley. Read more

Series 6 Episode 1: In The Service of Humanity

This is a great, character-driven plotline and actually quite touching, really. Foggy’s desire to, “answer the call whenever it comes” is what drives him from one episode to the next. This week he’s a medic, the next he’ll walk dogs. The activity does’t matter, so long as he’s doing something for somebody. Read more

Series 5 Episode 7: Here We Go Again Into the Wild Blue Yonder

In which Compo plans to take to the air… again!

Andrew: We should have been taking detailed notes each time we see the trio lurking around an abandoned barn or farm building. These are the kind of places I’d like to track down! Not that we’d have much chance. You saw the mess we made of finding railway stations, and those had their bloody names written on them. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this kind of location vanished from the show by the turn of the 1990s.

Bob: All the barns have been converted into luxury apartments. I think we’re firmly into the second era of Summer Wine here, aren’t we? Obviously the show was dabbling with stuntwork and slapstick as far back as the Blamire era, but I think this is the first episode we’ve seen in which the whole episode is geared around – and works up to – a spectacular, climactic stunt. Yep… Compo is about to embark on his hang-gliding expedition. When I’ve mentioned this blog to my friends, they’ve all said that their overriding memories of Summer Wine are of Bill Owen falling off something, rolling down something, or flying over something, with the rest of the gang flailing helplessly behind. And here we are with an episode that’s the Platonic Ideal of that!

'That's what ah knows best, is pigeons'

‘That’s what ah knows best, is pigeons’

I guess it’s the show moving into another gear, really… it’s always been about older people operating outside society, and finding ways to kill the time and boredom that has suddenly descended upon them. Whereas in the earlier series, this took the form of rueful, frequently sardonic conversations in libraries or disused barns, our heroes have now become decidedly more pro-active. You can argue that this dispenses with the grim realism of the early years, but it’s undoubtedly the era that transformed the show from a respected sitcom into a national treasure.

Andrew: I have a feeling that we’ll soon be longing for the moribund tone of those early years, but it’s undoubtedly true that the series couldn’t have survived without this shift in format. It’s a bit like Doctor Who in that sense; it’s very easy to pick and choose favourites from the different eras and just as easy to get into heated arguments over them. 

Bob: Roy Clarke likes the word ‘dangler’, doesn’t he? Clegg uses it in the makeshift gym they’ve constructed in a barn for Compo (‘He was always one of the all-time great danglers’) but also recycles it in a fabulous 1982 episode of Open All Hours – in which Granville decides to ‘get cool’, with a shirt boldly slashed to the waist and a medallion that he repeatedly refers to as his ‘dangler’. I seem to recall he gets his dangler caught in the till! Quite right, too. It’s a great comedy word.

And there it is, Wally’s hang-glider itself! Essentially a giant racing pigeon outfit, complete with beak and feathers. And it clearly owes far more the BBC props department than to Wally Batty’s shed! Fair to say we’ve moved a long way from the Waiting for Godot realism of Series 1 here. Would five 60-year-old men really attempt to build a hang-glider from scratch, and force one of their number to jump from a barn roof? Am I just taking this too seriously, Drew? Am I? Really?

Andrew: Yes, but so am I and somebody has to! Actually, I wouldn’t have so much of a problem if it was just a hang-glider. It’s just that, well, look at the bloody thing.

It’s incredibly silly, but if you’re looking for a glimmer of realism then you have to ask… what else would you expect Wally to model a hang-glider on? As the man himself says, ‘That’s what ah knows best, is pigeons’.

It’s good, but it’s no Satan Meets Venus

Bob: There’s a deliciously macabre scene in the middle of this episode, with an innocent bystander idling away the hours in his car, reading a book called The Hanging Tree. Looking up, he sees the silhouettes of our heroes on top of the moors, marching Compo to a suspiciously similar-looking tree with a coiled length of rope in his hand. It’s really funny – you can’t beat a ‘horrified stranger’ routine when it’s done well.

Andrew: I know it doesn’t matter, but I really want to know more about that book. I cant make out an author on the cover, and a Google search doesn’t turn up anything that looks the part. A closer inspection of the jacket appears to indicate that this is another example of the BBC Props department at work. The tree depicted on the back is very reminiscent of the one featured on location. And then there’s this lovely detail on the back…

Other Titles By This Author: Murder After Dark, The Black Revenge, Satan Meets Venus

It can’t be real. Can it? Answers on a postcard…

Bob: There’s a funny scene with Ivy and Nora as well, now clearly becoming friends and pondering on the whereabouts of their missing husbands.

Andrew: Ivy’s reference to Wally having slipped his leash is spot on. He’d be a whippet, of course.

Bob: We even get Nora alluding to Wally’s sexual exploits! ‘I’ve never found him excessively demanding,’ she states, with a certain degree of relief. One in the eye for those previously convinced that Wally Batty was a carnal titan with an insatiable sexual appetite.

Andrew: I’m still not convinced.

Bob: And here we go… the classic stunt finish. Compo thirty feet up on a barn roof, Clegg on his wobbly bike, and Wally and Sid forming a rescue party in a tiny boat. The tone has very much shifted from a 9.30pm adult sitcom to a 7.30pm family show over the course of a couple of series, which – instinctively – disappoints me a bit. And yet… these are the shows that I fell in love with! I would have laughed uproariously at all of this when I was seven years old, and alongside the funny stuntwork there was still the crackling dialogue and downright Yorkshire oddness sinking into my psyche by osmosis. So I became a fan during this era, and the show essentially did its job.

I’ve struggled to find out, but I’d be fascinated to know – when did Summer Wine move from a late-night slot to primetime family scheduling? And did the change in tone happen afterwards, with Roy Clarke adjusting it accordingly?

Sid and Wally brace themselves for Andrew's info-dump...

Sid and Wally brace themselves for Andrew’s info-dump…

Andrew: Brace yourself for an info-dump. At the start of this series, which commenced on the 18th of September 1979, the show had been brought forward from 9.25pm to 8.30pm on Tuesdays. This was the first time the show had been screened in a slot where families could collectively view it and, incredibly significantly, this period also happened to coincide with the ITV strike. An industrial dispute had seen the ITV network shut down transmissions on the 10th of August and they wouldn’t resume until the 24th of October; great news for the BBC, who offered the only other viewing alternatives! 

Therefore it totally makes sense that the show would continue to move in the direction that series five embodies; for better or worse, this was how the vast majority of the viewing public came to know Last of the Summer Wine.

Most of this info, by the way, was cribbed from Andrew Vine’s book,  Last of the Summer Wine: The Story of the World’s Longest-Running Comedy Series. I highly recommend it.

Bob: I can’t shake the feeling that Foggy actually wants to kill Compo during the final stages of this episode. He’s going to fall from a thirty-foot barn and be dragged to his death, man! Is that really what you want, Dewhurst? Is it? IS IT???

Andrew: Well he knows he can get away with tormenting him, for once. Compo’s hardly gonna catch him while in that get-up. He absolutely delights in tormenting him, doesn’t he? I like to think this is his revenge for Full Steam Behind. It’ll be Clegg’s turn next. Actually, I’d watch a Friday the 13th style take on Last of the Summer Wine.  Clarke missed a trick not writing a non-canon Halloween special.

Speaking of canon, Clegg’s previously established fear of driving is suspiciously absent. I’ll let Clarke off, though, as he does struggle to get the van going. Still, I’m not happy.

Bob:  We’re thinking about this stuff FAR too much. I need a long lie down, Drew. Good job this is the series finale.

An Interview With Juliette Kaplan

Being the onscreen partner of Robert Fyfe for so long, what kind of relationship does that bring about? Are there times when it feels like you’re a real married couple? Just good mates. I never wanted to shag him! (laughs) Read more

Series 5 Episode 6: Here We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder

In which Compo plans to take to the air…

Bob: Increasingly, these opening scenes are my favourite parts of the episodes… the conversations between our three heroes are always fabulously funny and well-observed.

Compo: We used to roll Eileen Watkins down this hill.
Foggy: What did she look like?
Clegg: Very dusty, and covered in bits of grass.
 

Cracking stuff, as is the traditional childhood reminiscing, complete with typically florid names and descriptions for unseen characters. Eileen Watkins, it transpires, was in love with Chunky Rumbelow, and was actually a dead ringer for the late King Farouk of Egypt. Complete with twirly moustache, do we assume?

Eileen Watkins


Andrew: It’s quite stylishly directed as well, with each character literally as well as figuratively having their own perspective; Clegg standing, Foggy sitting, and Compo lying. It just seems a little more carefully composed than recent episodes. Maybe the director had a little bit of extra time.

Bob: Should I be surprised that Sid and Ivy have a microwave oven in 1979? I always think of them as a quintessentially 1980s invention, and am taken aback that someone as – ahem – traditionally-minded as Ivy would have one anywhere near her precious kitchen! I’m pretty damn sure I’d never even HEARD of a microwave in 1979. It were all pressure cookers and deep-fat fryers when I were a lad.

Andrew: It’s never been mentioned before, but if they don’t know how to use it then this might explain why our trio are so often unimpressed by their grub.

The scene in the café is great though, with a rare chance to see the dynamic between Ivy/Sid and Nora/Wally. There’s still something quite antagonistic between Nora and Ivy here, but I love how quickly they bond in their natural habitat – the kitchen. I love how, even on her day out, Nora isn’t content until she resumes domestic duties.

And just what is the expression of a man who knows what he’s doing with a microwave?

Bob: This is, of course, Wally’s idea of taking Nora out for a meal, the old smoothie. ‘Your pastry’s not light enough,’ she snaps, stony-faced, reducing Ivy to tears! At which point Nora softens too, and offers gentle advice. It’s interesting how we’ve seen the relationship between these two women develop over the years, am I right in thinking that they barely seem to know each other in the early series? Here, there’s clearly at least a grudging respect between, and then – in later years – they become firmer friends.

Andrew: Yes, I think the first sign we saw of a developing relationship was during the seaside episodes. This is a pleasant continuation.

Sid and Ivy share a joke…

Bob: It’s interesting to see friction between Sid and Wally as well, when it comes to repairing the microwave! Women are competitive about baking, men are competitive about fixing things. Them’s the rules in Summer Wine world.

Andrew: People whose sauce bottle tops looked like they had ‘bunches of raisins on ‘em’ were the bane of my childhood existence. I loved and still love red sauce (I’d even fill my Yorkshire puddings up with the stuff), but I equally hated the muck that would build up. Just the thought of one dropping off into my food… ugh. May Earnshaw bless the inventor of the squeezy plastic bottle!

Odd to see a bit of casual racism directed towards the Japanese, too… although there’s not a hateful bone in the script’s body, and I like this line from Wally…

Wally: They do say the Japanese are very gifted in the trickier aspects of the marriage bed.

Bob: And so, after some nice character work, we get to the crux of what is clearly shaping up to be a stunt episode… Compo wants to go hang-gliding. And Wally volunteers to build the craft in question. Should I be ashamed of saying that I find Compo a bit annoying in this episode? I prefer his darker-edged persona of the early series, when he was almost a drop-out from normal society. Here, he’s essentially a child in an old man’s body, pulling faces and putting on comedy voices.

Although, again, there’s some lovely dialogue floating around. ‘He’s got a throat like a flush lavatory’ comments Foggy, deliciously, as Compo throws another pint down his neck. Compo, meanwhile, points out that he learnt his boozing skills from Slack Edna, a woman he accompanied on bat-hunting expeditions! Another one for the database, Drew…

Anywhere know where this actually IS? We need to visit it!

Anywhere know where this actually IS? We need to visit it!

Andrew: Done and done.

Bob: And so we finish with a tree-climbing competition between Foggy and Compo, and – hooray! – a credit for Stuart Fell, the former Parachute Regiment stuntman beloved of Doctor Who fans. It’s a rare CV that includes spells doubling for both Bill Owen and Katy Manning, but Stuart’s pulled it off with aplomb! Is he also the only performer to have appeared in both Last of the Summer Wine and The Empire Strikes Back? Or do we have a Michael Sheard guest appearance to look forward to?

Andrew: That sounds like a challenge to me. So I’ve done the leg-work and discovered that stuntman Peter Diamond, a Snowtrooper Guard and Stunt Arranger for Empire played the role of  ‘Motorist’ in the 1990 episode Barry’s Christmas. Now, I am the master.

Bob: He’s the Tusken Raider who attacks Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars film, too! Anyway… an enjoyable enough episode with some nice moments, but I have a curious feeling we’re being set up for another sequel.

Andrew: That’s just ‘cos you’ve seen the back of the box. Based solely upon viewing this episode, I would never have suspected another instalment was coming.

Full Steam Ahead for "Full Steam Behind"

Bob: Well, who’d have thought it? Our first Summer Winos expedition, and it all started because we spotted that, in one scene of Series 5 Episode 1, Full Steam Behind, the number of the steam train boarded by Compo, Clegg and Foggy was clearly visible on camera… KWVR L89. Literally ten seconds of exhaustive research later, we discovered that said engine was still on display at Oxenhope station on the Keighley Worth Valley Railway line – a heritage branch line in West Yorkshire dedicated to re-creating the golden age of steam. We had to go in search of it, surely? 

Andrew: I didn’t need much convincing to join Bob on this jaunt. Even without the Summer Wine connection, I love steam railways. I think that, somewhere down the line, this is in my blood. My Grandad hauled coal up from the ground for just this kind of use. I’m sure he was bloody sick of the sight and smell of coal and steam after working his entire life down the pit, but the sensation of being enveloped in the cloud created by a working steam engine does something to me. It turns me back into a little five-year-old with his Thomas the Tank Engine flag and plastic whistle…. oh, hang on, that was only a few months ago.

Bob: I can’t claim any kind of industrial ancestry (I come from a long, proud line of shirkers) but absolutely – there’s something about steam railways that’s just inherently romantic. A beautiful way to travel from a far more leisurely age.

Andrew: Well, the day didn’t get off to the best of starts after I managed to jump on the wrong train to meet Bob, delaying my arrival by half an hour and several miles. Fortunately, my co-conspirator drives and was able to rescue me from the clutches of Billingham railway station. Then the journey could really begin.

Bob: You’re a loveable buffoon. Yes, readers, I bundled him into the passenger seat of my car and we set off for West Yorkshire…

Andrew: Our seventy-five mile journey remained relatively uneventful until we reached Harrogate. Leaving the town, Bob shouted two words that seemed to make time itself stand still…

Bob: ELECTRIC AVENUE! And here we see Mr Drew Smith having successfully ‘rocked down’ to said thoroughfare, and now – clearly – preparing to ‘take it higher’…

Andrew: Finally, we reached Keighley and, after searching for a parking space, bought our ticket for a return trip to Oxenhope. Keighley Station itself is a beautiful place where past meets present; one can either hop onto the heritage line or take a thirty second wander to the mainline station. I was even impressed by the retro toilets at the two stations we visited. I don’t think I’ve ever had a sanctioned piddle in an uncovered space before.

Bob: I’ve rarely seen a man emerge from a public urinal looking so pleased with himself. But I can confirm that both KWVR stations were home to a selection of beautiful vintage thunderboxes. We’d barely washed our hands when our train puffed into Keighley Station amidst a gorgeous, wafting cloud of steam, and we piled excitedly into the nearest carriage. A gentle, thirty-minute ride to Oxenhope awaited us, in beautiful autumnal weather. Russet-coloured leaves and syrupy, golden sunshine abounded as we chuffed slowly through the restored splendour of Ingrow West, Damems, Haworth and Oakworth.  I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed! It seemed like we’d actually entered into an episode of Last of the Summer Wine ourselves. 

Andrew: And there was a pub on the train. A PUB ON THE TRAIN!

Bob: Quiet, little scruffy person. And get your wellies off the windowpane.

Andrew: Once we reached Oxenhope, we expected to go on a quest to locate our screen-used engine. Knowing that it was no longer in running order, we thought that we might perhaps find it covered in moss or inside a boarded up cave round the back.  Amazingly, however, we found it within two seconds of walking into the engine shed. There she was in all her glory, and although she had been given a new coat of paint and a brand spanking new number, she was still recognisably the vehicle used all the way back in 1979.

Bob: Absolutely! Built in 1929, so it’s rather staggering to realise that she was already fifty years old when she appeared in Full Steam Behind. She’s still in beautiful condition.

Andrew: The one thing I wasn’t expecting was to feel a bit emotional when getting up close and personal with the engine. I know I’ve gone on record as saying that Full Steam Behind leaves me a little underwhelmed, but there was just something about the unchanged nature of the cab,  some thirty-odd years after it was used in the series. Brian Wilde and Bill Owen are no longer with us and Last of the Summer Wine has retired from our screens, but this small cabin, where our heroes once stood, lives on. Preserved through the ages, all thanks to the dedication of a legion of volunteers. I desperately wanted to climb inside, but there was a little laminated sign that put me in my place.

Bob: There was nobody else at all in the exhibition shed at one point, and we wrestled with our consciences for about a minute, didn’t we? I mean, really… what harm could it possibly do if we clambered into the drivers cabin and pulled a few levers? Then we had visions of the train slowly chuffing through the shed wall and onto the branch line, with the pair of us trapped behind the wheel and hollering desperately for help. Good idea for a sitcom episode, that…   

Andrew: On returning to the car, we then thought we’d try to locate the bridge from which Compo is unceremoniously dangled in this episode. Unfortunately, we kept losing the railway line while trying to navigate by the A-Z. Some say that two heads are better than one. They clearly haven’t ridden in a car with you and me.

We did find a bridge to settle on in the end, but – on reflection – it really doesn’t look like the right one when compared side by side with the original episode. What do you think? Here’s the Summer Wine screengrab…

Here’s the one we located by car…

And here’s one that we only saw while passing underneath it on the train…

Any thoughts?

Bob: I think we ballsed it up. But at least it gives us an excuse to go back and try again!

Andrew: Looking at it with hindsight, the bridge with the hut beside it is probably the one we wanted. Damn you, Confusingly Erected Inanimate Red Hut!

We managed to miss some key locations, but you know what? I don’t really mind. We got to see the actual engine our trio abducted and we rode the line they completely failed to buy a ticket for. A definitely got a feel for the place, if not a great handle on the locations used. Next time, however, we’re taking a map and some screenshots!

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