sitcom

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.

Series 5 Episode 5: Earnshaw Strikes Again

We get a slapstick-ridden cameo from David Ryall… here stranded beneath a car, but in 2012 appearing regularly as the Grandad in Outnumbered! Took me a while to recognize him as a forty-year-old rather than a bloke in his mid-seventies. Tempus fugit Robert, tempus fugit. Read more

Series 5 Episode 4: Deep in the Heart of Yorkshire

I should point out how well structured this episode has been, as well. We began with the disembodied voices of an off-screen trio and we reach our climax with the disembodied voices of Sid and Wally, who are reluctant to reveal their cowpoke attire. Very neat. Read more

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!

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.

What's in a Name?

The Database is a partial listing of the many unseen characters mentioned in passing throughout Last of the Summer Wine‘s history. Due to the proliferation of nicknames, characters are listed alphabetically by their first name, be that real or imagined. Read more

Series 5 Episode 2: The Flag and Its Snag

In which Foggy attempts to put the pole up… 

Bob: After a cracking opening episode to the series, things  go a bit wonky for me here. The opening scenes seem to lack the usual sparkle… the regulars are just bickering aimlessly, but without any of the witty rejoinders we’ve become accustomed to.

Andrew: I can see where you’re coming from, but there are some cracking exchanges in this scene. Take this quick burst from Clegg and Compo, for example:

Clegg: Then he retired and went in search of paradise.

Compo: Where’s that then?

Clegg: Clacton.

I also like the implication that our trio has embarked on many an unseen adventure, with Foggy alluding to an attempt to get Compo and Clegg interested in astronomy. Perhaps that adventure wasn’t exciting enough to be depicted on screen? Or maybe they’ve had a string of anti-climactic exploits that have gone untelevised, just prior to the beginning of this series. That would explain why everybody seems so down, and annoyed with each other.

Man O'The Dales...

Man O’The Dales…

Bob: Even the normally-genial Sid seems depressed. Although Compo nicely betrays his 1930s childhood, reading all manner of Boy’s Own comics, with his erotic jungle fantasies about Nora Batty. ‘White man come in Nora’s hut!’ Good grief.

I know Summer Wine is hardly noted for its high-octane pacing, but this really is a slow episode.

Andrew: Even the soundman seems to be nodding off. Five seasons in, and that’s the first time I’ve seen a boom microphone drop into shot.

Bob: We’re almost halfway through before Foggy unveils his latest half-baked scheme… to plant the Union Jack flag from the old Sea Cadets’ hut at the top of a nearby hill. Exactly why, we’re not exactly sure, although it does lead to an intriguing line from Clegg. ‘Ever since I read some Harold Robbins, I’ve had this nightmare about woodlice in the trousers…’ he shudders. I’m not hugely ashamed to reveal that I’ve never read a single line Harold Robbins has ever written. Can somebody explain this for me, please?

Andrew: Not me, I’m afraid. But surely, one of our three readers must have a clue? Get in touch…

Bob: And so we embark on, oddly, a kind of Summer Wine road movie, complete with textbook 1970s British Rail jokes and Gordon Gostelow’s horse-and-cart-owning Willis, possibly the most overtly comic persona we’ve seen in the series so far. Gostelow plays him as a classic comedy drunk, in a turn that wouldn’t look out of place on a Music Hall stage. Although he is the lucky recipient of one sensational line…

Foggy: I Have this vision.

Willis: Me too. Horrible little green things crawling all over the front of my Uncle Herbert’s scrapyard…

A sensational Roy Clarke non-sequitur, and one that made me laugh out loud.

Gordon Gostelow

Gordon Gostelow ‘swinging like a pendulum’?

Andrew: That Music Hall observation certainly squares with what little I know about Gordon Gostelow. He was born in Australia in 1925, but began his career after moving to the UK in the 1950s. He may have missed out on the Music Hall by a few decades, but he appears to have had a very interesting career; swinging like a pendulum between Shakespeare and the pantomime stage. You can here the Australian slipping through from time to time in this performance.

I need to write a another quick love-letter to Ronnie Hazlehurst here. The hop-along tune that accompanies our trio’s hayride is very evocative of Hollywood westerns. It’s completely at odds with what’s on screen, but somehow fits perfectly. To my mind, he’s really asserting himself as being as much a part of the show as Clarke’s scripts; the scenery; or any of the actors’ performances during this run.

Bob: We finish with the flag curiously unerected, and an outright slapstick finale in which two genuinely terrified-looking mules are chased around a paddock. I think this might be the first episode of our quest that I really haven’t enjoyed. Apart from the couple of killer lines that I’ve picked out, there wasn’t much here for me.

Andrew: There have been a handful of stand-out moments for me, but I agree that this episode just doesn’t really hang together. A minor bump in the road, I hope.

Series 5 Episode 1: Full Steam Behind

In which our trio take a tank engine for a walk…

Bob: September 1979, and Summer Wine returns for its first full series in two years. I’m assuming the gap year was down to Roy Clarke’s writing commitments… in 1978, his series Rosie – the police sitcom with Paul Greenwood – was broadcast, and earlier in 1979 Potter – with Arthur Lowe as the titular retired busybody – made its TV debut. On first impressions, the break from Summer Wine has done him a power of good, as this episode is one of my favourites of the entire run.

Andrew: I’ll admit from the start that the odds have been HEAVILY stacked in favour of me loving this episode. I haven’t seen it for a loooong time and I can’t recall any plot details, but I’m predisposed towards liking it, simply because it features a steam engine. The Lady Vanishers, The Titfield Thunderbolt, Thomas the Tank Engine, the episode The Royal Train from Dad’s Army, and instalment 308 of The Muppet Show have all won me over with steam power.

I’ve no idea what it is about steam trains that appeal to me. I’m not one to amass trivia about their manufacturers, or their model numbers, and I was born far too late to hold any nostalgic attachments to that era. There’s just something about the sight of an iron beast puffing through the English countryside and the smell of coal and oil and water forcing tonnes of machinery forward along the rails that really does it for me. If Emma was here, she’d be rolling her eyes at me now, as I do tend to get a little carried away. Take, for example, my twenty-fifth birthday…

Drew Birthday Train

This getup is disturbingly close to that seen upon Foggy’s entrance in this episode, railway memorabilia clasped excitedly in hand.

Bob: I’m with you all the way, which explains why this episode is a bit of a watershed episode for me. Previously, Foggy has been portrayed as a well-meaning idiot… all of his strange schemes and ambitions are decidedly hare-brained, and Clegg and Compo’s objections to them are generally entirely justified. However, in this episode… brace yourself… sit down… put one hand on the sideboard and breathe deeply… FOGGY IS RIGHT! On a glorious summers day, a vintage steam train is travelling from Keighley to Oxenhope, and all he wants to do is take Compo and Clegg to greet it along the route.

And they don’t want to go! And I can’t, for the life of me, work out why. The sun is shining through sun-dappled leaves, the railway is a gorgeous, bumbling branch line meandering through countless sleepy villages, and I absolutely share Foggy’s enthusiasm for the whole, beautiful venture. ‘Have you no regard for the poetry of steam?’ he blusters. His wild-eyed joy, for once, is both justified and infectious.

Andrew: Yes, this may be the first time I’ve ever sided with Foggy against Compo and Clegg! There’s nothing wrong in a healthy interest in railway preservation, I tell you!

On my aforementioned birthday, I too had to lure certain friends along with the promise of a pub at the end of the line. I hardly complained as we knocked back pints, but secretly I would have been happy to chuff up and down the line all day, pushing children out of the way to get a better view of the engine driver.

'There's something tremendously nostalgic about places like this...'

‘There’s something tremendously nostalgic about places like this…’

By the way, as our trio make their way to the railway, there’s a lovely sound gag – the first of two in this episode. Just as Compo challenges anybody to tell him what is wrong with his trousers and Foggy and Clegg stop dead in their tracks, so does Ronnie Hazlehurst’s music. That had me giggling like a loon. The second sound gag is a sitcom staple… a well-timed steam engine’s whistle drowning out an expletive from Compo.

Bob: I adore the scene in the railwayman’s shed… a part-abandoned refuge, in the middle of sleepy nowhere. My mother will kill me if she reads this, but my friends and I used to regularly seek out similarly remote rail sheds back in our distant childhoods, and use them as makeshift HQs for our assaults upon the adult world. ‘There’s something tremendously nostalgic about places like this,’ sighs Foggy, leaning back with a distant look in his eyes. ‘I’d like to come here for a few hours every week, just lie on this sofa with a railway timetable and listen to the trains go by…’

‘Tat!’ spits a genuinely disgruntled Compo, and I want to dangle him off a bridge by his wellies. Compo and Clegg really are unpleasant company in this episode… the pair of them never stop whining throughout, about something that’s a genuinely lovely idea! Oh dear, can you tell I’m actually getting angry about this?

Andrew: It isn’t long, of course, before Compo sets things in motion and our trio are faced with the prospect catching a runaway train. All of the action is still conducted at a very leisurely Summer Wine pace, however.

Bob: And Compo IS actually dangled off a bridge – dropping onto a speeding carriage to attempt a rescue mission. ‘What’s life without a slice of danger?’ snaps Foggy. ‘Longer,’ replies Compo. Nice stuff, but I’m not sure I need Summer Wine attempting to pre-empt Speed!

Anyway… how geeky do you want to get with all this train stuff? An insane shiver of excitement ran through the very fibre of my being when I realized that, in one scene, it was possible to see the number on the train itself. It’s KWVR (Keighley and Worth Valley Railway) L89. It didn’t take much Googling at all to bring me here…

KWVR Wikipedia Entry

 …and if you scroll down to locomotive No 5775, that’s the chap. And although ‘in need of overhaul’, it’s currently on display at Oxenhope Railway Station! Surely a day out is on the cards…

Andrew: You filthy temptress. The climax of the  episode sees our trio attempting to stop the engine at the station where the local mayor, assembled dignitaries and a brass band are waiting. And once again it’s the Dodworth Colliery Miner’s Welfare Brass Band, led by musical director Graham O’Connor!

KWVR L89!

KWVR L89!

But what is they are playing? A diagetic rendition of Ronnie Hazlehurst’s Summer Wine theme. I’m not sure how I feel about that, actually. It’s very jarring for me to have the real-world trappings of the show invade the fantasy land of Roy Clarke’s creation. In the context of this episode, what is the name of the song that the band are playing? Is it The Last of the Summer Wine? Does this make Ronnie Hazlehurst an on-screen character? My brain hurts!

Bob: Yes, are we starting to see hints of post-modernism creeping into Summer Wine country? That struck me as being a bit odd, too!

Andrew: So, did I love this episode above all others? Surprisingly, not really! I did like the episode, but it doesn’t tap into my tank engine obsession in the same way the aforementioned examples do. I think it all comes down to the fact that Foggy’s passion for steam is tempered by Clegg and Compo not giving a fig – just as it should be in Summer Wine land, I guess. This world of Clarke’s creation is no place for one-dimensional rose-tinted nostalgia.

Bob: I’m surprised! It really is one of my favourites, but I agree that Clegg and Compo do come over as unnecessarily curmudgeonly.

Christmas Special 1978: Small Tune On a Penny Wassail

In which our three wise men attempt a Merry Christmas…

Bob: At last, a proper Christmas episode! No sleight of hand, no fake festivities at the height of summer, this is Summer Wine on Christmas Day… and it’s slightly incongruous seeing a wintry, tinsel-festooned Holmfirth. We’re so accustomed to that gentle, early autumnal feel.

Mind you, I say Christmas Day… this was actually broadcast at 10.40pm on Boxing Day! Is that the latest timeslot the show has ever had? Surely it is!

Andrew: Is it that time of year again already? Clegg seems to be wondering the same thing during this, our second festive offering from the series. His mild annoyance at how early Christmas rears its head and for how long it hangs around just goes to show that things never change. Every year I seem to do battle in the pub with someone whinging about the same thing, as though it were a new development.

Clegg can't contain his excitment

Clegg can’t contain his excitement

Bob: I’m sorry to keep banging on about how evocative these episodes are of my own childhood, but really… this just IS the Christmas Day of my very early childhood. Dark, deserted streets, teenage lads with flares and new skateboards, and a real air of resolute jollity amidst the all-pervading austerity. Just to put things in context, the winter of 1978/79 was James Callaghan’s ‘Winter of Discontent’, in which the country was brought almost to its knees by an epidemic of industrial action… binmen, train drivers, lorry drivers, even – famously – gravediggers went on strike, amidst the most ferocious snowfalls since 1962. It really was an extraordinarily bleak hour, and my memories of that Christmas are of threadbare tinsel and the cheapest of entertainments… my Gran raising a thimble glass of sherry in front of Larry Grayson’s Generation Game. And yet, weirdly, watching this, I want it back. All of it, in a big bundle of misty-eyed cosiness.

Andrew: I know that this is just a bi-product of the show’s unseasonal production, but one thing I find really refreshing here is the complete lack of snow or references to it. I can’t think of another more accurate depiction of the typical British Christmas than the dull weather and quiet streets on display here. Every other Christmas television special seems to either have to import some of the white stuff or have the characters pining for it.

And just as a side note, I think this is the first time anybody has mentioned the fact that cigarettes have all but vanished from the series since the grittier Blamire period. Clegg references the fact that he’s given them up in order to live longer. It certainly worked!

Bob: It never snowed at Christmas in the 1970s! Good to see farce supremo Brian Rix in this… quite a big name for 1978, they’d pulled out all the stops. And the scene in Clegg’s house has a nice line in typical Summer Wine humbuggery. ‘Christmas comes but once a year,’ muses Clegg. ‘It just seems longer’. Meanwhile, Foggy is pondering the possibility of the Russians attacking on Christmas Day, when Britain’s defences are clearly off their guard. Yes, add impending nuclear apocalypse to your growing list of 1978 wondrousness!

Compo, at least, finds room for some sentiment. ‘Christmas is magic when you’re a kid,’ he ponders. ‘Grown-ups never get any fun presents’. And, of course, he’s right. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I can put my childhood festivities into the context of such bleakness. At the time, aged six, it was simply the brightest, sparkliest day of the year – a riot of 75p Star Wars figures and, hey… I loved Larry Grayson. Still do. When the surely-inevitable Generation Game boxset finally earns a release, can we blog our way through that as well? Is anyone at Acorn DVD reading this?!?!?

Foggy, interestingly, points that that Compo has no children of his own! Ah, if only he knew…

Teddy Turner receives instrudctions from Mrs Pumphrey...

Teddy Turner receives instructions from Mrs Pumphrey…

Andrew: As ever, our trio is left to their own devices. Alone for Christmas, they make do with each other’s company. It’s a bit sad, really, but Clarke doesn’t dwell upon it. Today, the idea of the disenfranchised elderly spending time alone over the holidays is, depressingly, more relevant than ever.

And so, in order to alleviate the boredom, Foggy suggests they take a trip to the hospital to visit their ailing friend Edgar. Edgar, however, is quite happy without visitors, given that  ‘He has colour television and all the nurses he can eat ’.

Meanwhile, Sid and Ivy and Nora and Wally provide a family-centric counterpoint to our trio’s lonely yuletide. Not that they are exactly thrilled about having the relatives around! Sid and Wally, in particular.

Bob: Can I just keep harping drearily about 1970s Christmases, please? Matching jumpers! Cracking walnuts! ‘Cousin Dudley, all the way from Garstang’! It’s perfect. Lovely scenes with Wally and Nora in the kitchen as well.

Andrew: Wally comes out with one of my favourite lines so far, the Freudian slip, ‘Why don’t you go sit down, Nora? You’ve been on your mouth all day!’ It’s Sid and Ivy, however, who once again inject a bit of heart into the show. There’s a genuinely tender moment between the pair and a black nightie, with Ivy finally getting a taste of the kind of relationship she was pining for, back during her Series 3 trip to the seaside.

Bob: Yes! Sid has, incredibly, bought Ivy a saucy black nightie for Christmas and she is, incredibly, utterly thrilled. Despite all appearances to the contrary, there are still little frissons of excitement to found in the darkest depths of that marriage.

Andrew: Our climax sees Compo joining in with some skateboarding frolics. The must-have present of 1978 appears to have been a skateboard – at least it Roy Clarke’s mind.  And it’s good to see kids using them for what they were meant for; none of this Tony Hawk rubbish, just bombing down hills at dangerously insane speeds.

Look out for the Dodworth Colliery Band!

Bob: The must-have present of Christmas 1978 was undoubtedly ANYTHING with a Star Wars logo on it! The film been rolled out across the country in early 1978, and British kids had gone mental for it. Skateboards were definitely pretty hot at the same time, though.

Andrew: And, crucially, weren’t copyrighted up to the hilt! It isn’t long before we are witness to a head-on collision with the town’s brass band and I’m all for this kind of stunt. Compo’s turn of the board is not only perfectly in keeping with his character, but also totally fitted to the situation. Sydney Lotterby’s direction is superb during this sequence as well. He turns a minor kafuffle into a Hollywood style suspense sequence with careful cutting and well-orchestrated camera setups.

Bob: I’m not as keen on the stunts as you, but yep – it’s nicely done. And indeed, it’s the Dodworth Colliery Brass Band marching cheerily through the freezing streets. They’re still going strong if you want to book them?

Dodworth Colliery Band

Maybe we should get them to play at the after-blog party when we’ve finally finished this insane quest, sometime in early 2045.

Andrew: I’m working on it….

All in all, I think this episode really justifies ‘special’ label.

Bob: Did I miss something here, though? What’s the title all about, the ‘small tune on a penny wassail’? Is it mentioned anywhere?

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