Holmfirth

Series 4 Episode 6: Green Fingers


In which Foggy yearns for a satisfactory carrot…

Bob: So with no explanation or elaboration on last week’s romantic detour, Foggy is back in Holmfirth. Firstly – I assume – in the town’s hitherto-unseen marketplace, and then onto Clegg’s kitchen, complaining characteristically about ‘the deterioration of the British vegetable’. The perceived passing of an era of British life and the transition of our society into the modern world is a theme that subtly underpins the whole series at this stage. Foggy and Clegg in particular simply cannot let go of the past, often to great comic effect. ‘How long is it since you last had a satisfactory carrot?’ spits Foggy. I laughed.

As I did with the constant references to Compo’s ‘shriveller’. A bizarre archaic expression that gains lovely comic weight due to the sheer repetition of the word. The dialogue in those scenes has a lovely poetry and rhythm. And so our heroes set off to attain some ‘proper’ vegetables from Compo’s nemesis, the objectionable (but green-fingered) Lewis Bickerdyke.

Lewis Bickerdyke. Green fingers not pictured.

Andrew:  That’s such a fantastic name. They all are, really. Do these kinds of names still exist in the real world any more, or have they been phased out of our society by way of natural selection? The art of the sitcom name seems to have been lost over the years.

Bob: I think the art of the comedy name has died a little, yeah. The Two Ronnies is a goldmine of them! Even ‘Charlie Smethers’ in their Mastermind spoof makes me laugh out loud. Anyway, blimey… feast your eyes on a surprisingly vicious garden cane swordfight between Compo and Clegg (‘Enough Monsieur… I am Le Shagged’) that took me back decades! Garden cane swordfights were an essential part of my 1970s childhood, and I still have tiny scars on my fingers from endless after-school duels on top of the coal bunker. Nice to see Peter Sallis indulging in the textbook 1970s comedy device of suggesting groinal injuries in a high voice… ‘Just checking for damage!’

Andrew: I sustained an injury to the hand while partaking in a lightsabre battle with Emma a couple of years ago. To this day I don’t think I can pass a sizable set of sticks and not attempt to engage somebody or something is a spot of sword fighting. I must have been an underprivileged child if I still spy dead bits of tree and think to myself, ‘Oooh, free toy!’

Bob: We’re very much moving into the second phase of Summer Wine now… the show has pretty much dispensed with the gritty edge of the Blamire years, but we haven’t yet fully entered into the era of showcase stunts and physical comedy. Instead, we have some delightful whimsy. ‘I don’t believe in infinity,’ assures Compo. ‘It means the sky’s got no lid on it’. We then enter a charming philosophical debate about the implications of having two mirrors opposite each other on the walls of the local chippy. ‘Some clever twonk might think he’s in infinity when he looks into that mirror, when all the time he’s in some tatty little chip shop’. It’s glorious stuff.

Andrew: That actually got me thinking! One doesn’t expect a sitcom to provide points for philosophical mulling and if you consider his point, he does have one! The only character I can really think of who might come out with something similar would be Hancock.

A truly satisfactory carrot...

A truly satisfactory carrot…

Bob: All this philosophy, and still room for a giant plastic carrot at the end of the episode – used, naturally, to make the legendary vegetable-grower Bickerdyke feel inadequate. The plan – amazingly – works a treat, and we’re left with a strange and beautiful sight… Foggy actually laughing along with Clegg and Compo! Until now, he’s almost uniformly been the butt of their hilarity, and it’s actually quite a jolt to see them all giggling together! Especially as Wilde’s laugh is such a weird, gasping chortle.

Andrew: Then they’re brought crashing back down to earth when their unattended carrot starts to hurtle away down the road. We’ve probably missed a few already, but is now the time to start a ‘Thing Rolls Down a Hill’ counter? The audience certainly seem clued in; as soon as the carrot-cart’s wheels begin to turn they shriek with delight! We’ve had a few examples before now, but I’ll be damned if I can recall them all. Perhaps a reader can help us out? Comments below please!

This is also the second instance of the juxtaposition of a large object and a double-decker bus being used for comic effect. Will this be a new trope as well?

Bob: And a great bit of ‘legless’ acting from Joe Gladwin at the very death! Some fine physical comedy, that.

Series 4 Episode 4: Flower Power Cut



In which the Grim Reaper looms large…

Bob: Drew, I remember one of the first conversations we ever had about Summer Wine, and you said it was ‘essentially three old men talking about death’. I think this episode is pretty much the epitome of that! We start with our heroes being almost mown down by a speeding hearse containing their late friend Murdoch (‘the first time he’s ever passed us without raising two fingers’ – Compo) and from here onwards we get 28 minutes of vaguely surreal musings on the nature of mortality.

It’s a very blunt, Northern, 1970s attitude to death as well. Unsentimental, almost, which rings true for me… ‘Eeee well, when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go,’ was one of my Gran’s catchphrases whenever a friend or a neighbour sloped off this mortal coil, and my parents now are equally stoic. Us pampered youngsters are cosseted and grew up in an age of gigantic medical advances, but for their generation, death was far more commonplace. Part and parcel of everyday life, if that’s not too perverse a turn of phrase. They’d lived through World Wars, lost young and old friends and relatives to all manner of illness and disaster, and still maintained that stiff upper lip.

And so we get that most staple of 70s sitcom scenarios… an open coffin in the parlour, with Compo even straightening the corpse’s wonky tie. ‘He knew he were dying, I telled him…’ muses Murdoch’s widow Annie, almost proud of the accuracy of her prognosis.

'He knew he were dying, I telled him...'

‘He knew he were dying, I telled him…’

Andrew: I found the entirety of this episode quite awkward (not in a bad way, though) and I think the coffin scene is the height of this. The curtains are drawn, and the front room set is tiny and absolutely dominated by the casket. Just look at how hunched up our trio seem to be; their movements are just as restricted as those of their friend in the coffin… they’re forced back into a scene of domesticity that they’ve long since moved beyond themselves. The look that Clegg gives Murdoch’s wife as she talks about she and her sister foretelling the man’s death is at once hateful and terrified; we know what really killed the poor sod.

I also love Compo’s request that no scruffy buggers like himself should be allowed into his own funeral. It gets back to what you said about unsentimentality; Compo can make throwaway comments about his own mortality over the body of a dead man because he knows and accepts that his own passing will be along sooner rather than later.

Bob: From the funeral onwards, we enter into a world of almost-surreally morbid whimsy. Clegg asserts that flowers are alive and have feelings, and I can’t decide whether he’s genuine, or just trying to wind up Foggy. Compo, meanwhile, decides to attack life with fresh vigour. ‘I want to feel the blood rushing through me wellies…’ he proclaims. Using Murdoch’s funeral as inspiration, every line of Roy Clarke’s script then urges us to celebrate life, and vitality, in every shape and form. It’s one of the most overt and positive messages from the writer I can ever recall seeing in Summer Wine.

That Incredible String Band Reunion not going to plan

That Incredible String Band reunion not going to plan

And it culminates in the splendidly surreal sight of Compo, Clegg and Foggy sitting cross-legged in a sun-dappled dingly dell, playing ‘Greensleeves’ to the plants on three discordant recorders. It’s bizarre and beautiful – like a scene from some wigged-out 1960s Summer of Love documentary. Summer Wine on acid, and a nice climax to one of the strangest and most atypical episodes we’ve seen so far. And the closing credits roll over a shot of Murdoch’s flower-strewn grave, just to ram the message home further. That’s where we’re all heading, so we should make the most of things while we still can.

Andrew: Although he does turn things on their head at the end of the episode, I reckon that Clegg was really jarred by Murdoch’s funeral and his own near-death experience at the start of the episode. The moment where they are discovered by the birdwatchers is probably the point at which he snaps out of it!

Listen to the studio audience, though. They really don’t know what to make of Clegg during this episode. Actually, this is something I’ve picked up upon in quite a few of the episodes so far – Clegg at his most existential and whimsical seems to be an incredibly difficult character for the audience to get their head around. Compo will swear a bit and the audience will roar with laughter, but when Clegg goes off on a tangent there’s an almost reverential hush. In any other sitcom this might be grounds to scale back on this aspect of Clegg’s character in order to make room for more jokes, but Clarke is clearly in love with him. Of all the characters, Clegg is Clarke’s alter-ego and I love the fact that he’s using a mainstream, flagship sitcom to set the world to rights in such a unique way.

Bob:  I thought Foggy’s comment about Compo looking like ‘an ancient Sex Pistol’ was funny, if surprisingly jarring for a Last of the Summer Wine script.  I always had Foggy down as more of a Buzzcocks man, myself…

Series 4 Episode 2: Getting On Sidney's Wire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those football fixtures in full

Those football fixtures in full

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

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

Underbank RLFC

Mayfield RLFC

Meltham AFC

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

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

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

Bogwatch!

Bogwatch!

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

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

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

Series 4 Episode 1: Ferret Come Home

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

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

Andrew: And ten years before I was born!

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

Foggy puts his life on the line...

Foggy puts his life on the line…

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

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

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

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

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

Nora in a lighter mood

Nora in a lighter mood

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

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

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

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

The Dance of the Lost Contact Lens!

The Dance of the Lost Contact Lens!

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

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

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

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


In which Foggy becomes a seasoned swinger…


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

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

A rare glimpse inside Foggy's attic!

A rare glimpse inside Foggy’s attic!

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

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

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

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

Relaxing at the 19th hole

Relaxing at the 19th hole

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

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

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

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

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

Compo-tition Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered (Bob even thought number 3 may have been me!), but David made the grade with his thoughtful and nostalgia tinged overview of several eras. We’ll be in touch, David! Read more

COMPO-tition Time!

To celebrate the fact that we’ve made it through the first ‘era’ of Last of the Summer Wine, From The Get-Go is offering one lucky reader the chance to win a copy of Roy Clarke’s first Last of the Summer Wine novel. Later adapted into the classic television-film Getting Sam Home, this book sees Compo, Clegg and Blamire involved in a scheme to show their ailing friend Sam one last night of pleasure before he succumbs to a weak heart. Read more

Series 2 Episode 7: Northern Flying Circus

BOB: These first two series have a gritty, rough and ready atmosphere that I think slowly begins to lessen from hereon, and lots of that feel is down to Michael Bates who brings a real edge to proceedings. Whereas future ‘third men’ tend to be buffoons, Blamire really isn’t to be messed with Read more

Series 2 Episode 5: A Quiet Drink

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

Series 2 Episode 3: The Changing Face of Rural Blamire

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

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