norman clegg

Series 5 Episode 3: The Flag and Further Snags

In which Foggy’s plan finally comes to fruition!  

Bob: Good grief, it’s a sequel! I hadn’t looked too closely at the episode titles, so I really wasn’t expecting that, and really… the previous episode had nothing about it that suggested a second part was essential to conclude the story. I just assumed Foggy’s plan to erect the flag had come to nothing, like pretty much all of his ideas so far. Here’s hoping things pick up in this episode. I’m desperately in need of an Empire Strikes Back!

Andrew: Maybe the BBC ordered one more episode than Roy Clarke was expecting? That might explain why The Flag and Its Snag felt a bit padded.

Bob: And crikey, we start with an incest joke. ‘Billy Butterwick had a cousin on the railway once,’ giggles Compo. ‘She said she wouldn’t tell her mum, but she did’. Hear that scribbling? That’s Mary Whitehouse taking notes. 

Nice to see Stan Richards in this episode, bumbling around the Railway Parcels Office when Foggy goes to collect his flag. Later to become hugely famous as Seth Armstrong in Emmerdale Farm, although he only made his Emmerdale debut in 1978, so probably hadn’t quite achieved national treasure status when this aired!

Seth Armstrong is watching you...

Seth Armstrong is watching you…

Andrew: He’s gently sinister here. I bet his house is full of unclaimed goods from the Sorting Office. I love Compo’s method of breaking into Foggy’s parcel. There’s something primitively satisfying about opening a package without having to turn to a cutting implement. Don’t laugh, I’m afforded very few opportunities to feel manly.

Bob: There’s a nice bit of physical comedy here as well, with Compo’s trousers being pulled asunder by the snagged string on Foggy’s parcel. I laughed out loud. Trousers ARE funny.

Andrew: And it’s executed much more effectively than last week’s messing about with donkeys and dry stone walls. Perhaps that’s the luxury of sitcom rehearsal time at work.

Our trio venture back to base in order to solve Compo’s predicament, said base being the café, of course. This just a sign of my unobservant nature, but this is the first time I’ve noticed that Sid and Ivy have their prices written up on a chalk board behind the counter. Egg and Chips for 55p and a cup of tea for just 5p – lovely.

Bob: There’s an unexpected but rather lovely bit of character development in this episode… Wally Batty is a member of the Old and Ancient Order of Bullocks! It’s obviously Roy Clarke’s gentle spoof on Freemasonry, although there’s a distinctly smalltown feel to all of this… they meet in the café, and Wally – we learn – has become a Bullock to advance his standing in racing pigeon circles. And, you have to assume, to get out of the house.

Something we rarely see in Summer Wine here as well… proper, hammering, filthy torrential rain. Foggy even has a brolly! There’s a real ‘end of summer’ feel to this episode, and already I like it much more than the previous installment.

Andrew: Certain sitcoms seem to have been blessed when it comes to location shooting. Dad’s Army is another example of a series where nary a drop of rain is glimpsed. Red Dwarf, on the other hand, always seems to have the worst of weather for their trips outside of the studio.

So our trio head off to find ‘The Commodore’. and we’re treated to two 1970s staples; a scantily-clad, shrieking  woman and some ghastly, brown, flower-patterned curtains. The way in which Clarke has the Commodore bastardize Kenneth Grahame is also very cheeky.

Bob: Alright, can I introduce an element of actor geekery here?

Andrew: Can I stop you?

Robert Lang, up to no good below decks

Robert Lang, up to no good below decks

Bob: Robert Lang, who plays the ex-sea cadets Commodore ‘entertaining’ a young lady on his houseboat, was something of a theatrical powerhouse. He was talent-spotted by Laurence Olivier in the early 1960s, who’d seen him playing Theseus in the RSC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Olivier tapped him up and encouraged him to jump ship to his newly-formed National Theatre Company! The famous critic Caryl Brahms once described him as having ‘quiet grandeur, cogency and gravity’, all essential qualities for a guest role in Last of the Summer Wine.  

And his young lady is a tiny role for Maggie Ollerenshaw, one of my favourite actresses. And clearly one of Roy Clarke’s too, as she’s also Wavy Mavis in Open All Hours, and went on to play Clegg’s mother in First of the Summer Wine! I love her, she’s got brilliant comic timing.

Andrew: I knew that I recognized that voice from somewhere!

Bob: The final stages of the episode are quite odd, in that our heroes are actually separated in a way that I don’t think has really happened before. Foggy steams ahead on his flag quest, while Clegg and Compo stay behind.

Andrew: Well, it is raining.

Bob: I like Compo’s remark about Wally’s pigeon – ‘That’d go well wi’ a few tatties’, which reminds me SO much of the stuff my Dad would say around this time… I had a pet rabbit, which he would (JOKINGLY!!!) remark would make for a cracking pie with a few carrots and peas. The legacy of a wartime childhood, I guess.

Andrew: My dad wasn’t so lucky. He was unknowingly fed his rabbit after my grandad’s weekly pay was delayed. Perhaps that’s why I was only ever allowed a hamster. Who wants to eat a hamster?

Wally really reminds me of one of my uncles here. I think it’s his pride in his racing pigeon photos. With my uncle, it was whippets, but it’s still very familiar. And I mean this as a compliment should you ever read this, Lar! (It’s actually my Auntie Sue who might knack me should she believe I’m comparing her to Nora by proxy).

Bob: And so – amazingly – Foggy’s plan comes to fruition! He DOES raise his flag on the top of the hillside! Until it falls over, obviously. But is this the first of Foggy’s harebrained schemes that’s actually reached a successful conclusion? It’s a watershed episode!

Foggy's flag goes up!

Foggy’s flag goes up!

Andrew: Dare we attempt to restage his attempt on our next trip to Holmfirth? It’ll have to be on a smaller scale, of course, but the idea of a Brian Wilde memorial flagpole strikes me a rather beautiful thing.

Bob: I enjoyed that, anyway. A huge improvement on the previous instalment with some great guest appearances and funny moments.

Andrew: And a fantastic punchline. All in all, I think that just about redeemed the last episode. Still a very strange two-parter, though.

Summer Winos on Tour

Hello folks! Sorry that it has been so long since we last updated the site, but we’ve both been a little run off our feet. In the meantime I have finished editing a video that should have been ready for the launch of this blog. It’s slight, but we hope you enjoy. Click the little HD symbol for a higher quality version.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/43100197]

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.