Wally Batty

Series 9 Episode 7: Set The People Free


In which our trio attempt not one, but two great escapes…

Andrew: We’ve talked a little about how Holmfirth is gradually becoming less of a grim place than it was in the show’s early episodes, but the panoramic opening shot that kicks off this episode still offers us a town that is black with soot and capped with a misty haze. Don’t get me wrong, though – I think it looks gorgeous like this. There’s something about those soot-blackened walls that lends Howard’s constant window-washing an air of melancholy. They could be absolutely gleaming, but that house is never going to look ‘clean’. He and Pearl are fighting for house proudness, in a era where that meant something. Also, I don’t want to know what Pearl’s ‘terrible plans’ with an emulsion brush are…

Bob: Is ‘house-proudness’ an actual word? I’ve been staring at it for ten minutes now, and I can’t decide. The only alternative is ‘house-pride’ though, and that just makes me think of Homepride flour. Sorry, am I getting distracted here? You’re right though, Holmfith looks fabulously melancholy and autumnal. I always get a little frisson when the opening shot of an episode is something other than the main trio pottering the countryside; it feels like all bets are off! And I’ve got a bonus frisson from knowing that we’ve actually been on Clegg and Howard’s balcony ourselves! Oh, and whatever Pearl is planning to emulsion, I hope she’s primed it first.

Andrew: You’d better get used to Howard asking for help in getting out of the house – we’ve got over twenty years of it to come!

Bob: It won’t take us twenty years to watch it all, though. No way! At our current rate of progress, it’ll be more like thirty. There’s a tremendous bit of textbook Roy Clarke here, too:

Clegg: What are you using on your windows, Howard?
Howard: The best years of my life…

I also like Howard’s claim that he’s practising his ‘double handed death grip’ on Clegg. ‘Death grips’ were everywhere when I was a kid! I spent most of my 1980s lunchtimes try to perfect (or avoid) them in the school playground. They normally involved a nasty pinch on the side of the neck, and were often accompanied by some kind of mystical Eastern mumbo-jumbo, shouted at a volume not quite loud enough to attract the attention of Mrs Gallon, our most feared, yellow-overalled dinnernanny. I blame The Karate Kid. Or possibly Mr Spock.

Andrew: I think we’ve mentioned this before, but Jonathan Linsley is a very good background actor. Just look at the concentration on Crusher’s face as he carefully dries one fork with a dishcloth.

Bob: He’s terrific! It’s the sequel to his open-mouthed window-wiping in the previous episode. And good grief, our heroes are eating BEANS-ON-TOAST in the cafe! When did that ever happen before? Ivy is normally lucky to flog them three cups of tea, so an actual hot meal is the Summer Wine equivalent of dining at the Savoy! Are we seeing Seymour’s influence here? Although he always strikes me as the kind of penniless toff who would happily tuck into a table laden with slap-up posh nosh before tapping his pockets in mock surprise and saying ‘I’m terribly sorry, old boy… I seem to have left my wallet at the Garrick…’

I can’t help but notice that the cafe has a list of Huddersfield Town fixtures on the wall, too. If we’re assuming they’re for the 1986/87 season, then it wasn’t a vintage campaign for the Terriers. They spent the entire season at the bottom of the old Division 2, and their manager Mick Buxton was sacked about six weeks before this episode was broadcast. They only escaped relegation by three points, and ultimately went down the following season. I know some people have no interest in such sporting frivoloties, and prefer to concentrate on the important implications of Pearl’s ambitions with an emulsion brush, but this nonsense genuinely gives these episodes a social and historical context for me! Although, on the downside, I’ve had to think about Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: There’s an odd directorial quirk that crops up when Crusher foolishly asks Seymour about ‘man’s superior intellect’. Last of the Summer Wine, at this stage, is still predominantly a studio-based sitcom, shot in front of a live audience. Traditionally, this means that each scene is shot in quite a theatrical style. There are three walls to each set, with the fourth wall removed to allow both the cameras and the live audience to see what’s going on. When Seymour turns to Crusher, however, that fourth wall is either back in, or they have cheated in such a way as to make it look like it is. Either way, Seymour’s closeup has to have been filmed separately and edited in later, or else we would have seen a hulking great BBC video camera in the middle of the previous shot. This wouldn’t be at all unusual for a film-based series, but for an old-school sitcom it is rather jarring – to me at least. Once again, I think Bell is showing his true colours.

Bob: As a film director, you mean? This is why I need you here… I honestly wouldn’t have noticed that in a million years. Although thankyou for distracting me from thoughts of Duncan Shearer.

Andrew: ‘Apathy Birthday To You’ might be my favourite Compo moment in a long while. It’s so silly and fun and underlines that fact that Bill Owen has now brought the character into full-on pixie mode. Compo at the start of the series might be someone you’d cross the street to avoid, but he’s such a delight not you’d run to him.

Bob: That made me laugh out loud, too! I know Roy Clarke told us (CLANG!) that he saw the main trio as elderly children from the very start of the series, but Compo has certainly become more childish as the years have rolled by. I guess, in the early years, he was a like lazy, sulky teenager with an air of danger… whereas now he’s an absolutely loveable eight-year-old.

Andrew: ‘Love is always a clean shirt’ is such a beautiful, yet thoroughly depressing phrase, isn’t it?

Bob: I made a note of that, too. There’s a real sadness to it, and to Peter Sallis’ immaculate delivery. He’s half-missing his late wife, but also half-mourning the fact that his marriage seems to have been barely more than a state of convenient domesticity for them both. It’s been fifteen years since she died, and Clegg is still only in his mid-fifties, but he’s never shown the slightest interest in finding another relationship.

Seymour, however, is positively pining. ‘If only I’d met Marjorie earlier…’ he muses. Is this the first time she’s been mentioned? Compo and Clegg don’t seem to be aware of her existence. In my fevered imagination, Marjorie is genuinely Seymour’s soulmate… a woman that he met and fell in love with only after she got married to some less-deserving pillock. But Seymour was married as well, wasn’t he? He’s moping about his ex-wife when we first meet him, in Uncle of the Bride. Having lost out on Marjorie, did he reluctantly marry another woman who, despite her best efforts, didn’t make his heart quicken in quite the same way? No wonder his wife left him. There’s such sadness in all of these backstories.

Andrew: Shop front update! The business at the end of Nora and Compo’s road is still G.W. Castle Ltd. As you were.

Bob: If you’re not careful, you’ll gain us a reputation as some kind of pathetic obsessives. And aw… just as Howard is imprisoned by Pearl, Wally is kept in captive domesticity by Nora. And she’s getting ready to wield her emulsion brush, too! What’s going on here? Have G.W. Castle Ltd been flogging off a job lot of cheap paint? Joe Gladwin is a deadpan delight, as ever. ‘It’s just one giddy sensation after another…’

And so Compo, Clegg and Seymour make it their mission to spring Howard and Wally from their domestic bondage. And I bet that’s something you can’t buy from G.W. Castle Ltd.

Andrew: The old pram wheel that our trio find in the river has endless possibilities. How did it get there? I bet Clarke could get an entire episode out of that back story.

Bob: Never mind that, what about Clegg’s description – ‘maybe it’s a primitive form of contraception’?! That’s the kind of ribald musing that we haven’t heard in Summer Wine for a little while! Very topical, though… 1987 was arguably the height of the media’s coverage of the dangers of AIDS, and it was suddenly perfectly commonplace to hear talk of ‘condoms’ in all kinds of unexpected places. I’d go as far to say that ‘Safe Sex’ was arguably the phrase of 1987, even amongst Huddersfield Town fans.

Andrew: Oh, no! There’s another one of those horrible video-mixer clock-wipe thingies – this time accompanied by a musical cue just to draw further attention to it. I hope this isn’t a lasting trend; this is Summer Wine not Star Wars!

Bob: Ha! Ha! I thought of Star Wars as well! In case nobody has a bleedin’ clue what we’re talking about, the changeover from one scene to another is achieved with the picture changing in a sweeping motion like the hands of a clock whistling around… George Lucas was absolutely obsessed with using them in his early films, but it does seem oddly incongrous here. Mind you, some of Harrison Ford’s recent aeroplane prangs have a hint of Last of the Summer Wine about them. Was that plane he crashed into a golf course designed to look like a giant ferret?

Andrew: Argh, I’ve jinxed it! Another one of those accursed clock wipes! I’d be fascinated to see if these are in the scripts or a result of having to trim material for time.

Bob: They were put there thirty years ago specifically to annoy YOU. Alan Bell plays a LONG GAME.

In a lovely bit of continuity, Seymour still has the ‘Codfanglers’ voice identification gizmo on his front door, but blimey… he’s now changed the password to ‘Marjorie’! He’s really got it bad! Again, in my fevered imagination, he’s done that in the hope that Marjorie will one day turn up at the house with a hastily-packed bag… and be able to guess that the password has been set in her honour. I absolutely love these little, unexplained titbits of backstory that we’re given, a tiny hint at a time.

Andrew: The cast are really playing to the audience this week, but I mean that in the best possible sense – particularly in this scene. Peter Sallis is the one who really stands out. He’s usually very restrained and subtle, but just look at the synchronized bits of physical business he’s got going on with Bill Owen here. There must have been something in the water.

Bob: Just pram wheels and contraceptives. But yes – they’re on fire this week! I’m thoroughly enjoying this… all of the regulars are playing it with gusto, and there’s some cracking dialogue, too. Sallis has got the lions’ share of it this week… I loved Clegg’s memories of living ‘in a hothouse of tension and damp carpets… it was like Tennessee Williams.’

Andrew: Another of the ways in which Seymour differs from Foggy is the lack of engagement on his part. He’s just as likely to ignore Compo and power ahead with a train of thought than to directly engage with him. Is it niceness or apathy (birthday)? Whatever the answer, he still gets his way.

Bob: In my capacity as this blog’s official CLASS WARRIOR, I’ll speculate that it’s a terrible sense of upper-middle-class entitlement. Seymour is a professional man, with breeding, don’t you know! He doesn’t need the permission of working class commoners like Compo before he forges ahead with his crackpot schemes. Although, funnily enough, I’ve also written ‘Is Seymour too nice?’ in my notes. Despite his railroading of the ‘lower orders’, he doesn’t have the brusqueness and impatience of Blamire and Foggy. I bet he’d actually be lovely, genial company over a few drinks.

Andrew: The trio head back to Clegg’s house and mull over Howard’s fate. There’s a lot of filmed material in this episode, isn’t there? And ambitiously filmed material too – not just workmanlike long-shot, mid-shot, close-up work, but thoughtfully constructed sequences. I can’t quite get my mind around the sheer number of setups that Bell appears to have been able to get through in what must have been a matter of hours for each location. The crew must have been really well drilled.

Bob: Again, you’re a born film director. My main observation at this stage was that Compo steals a bottle of milk from Clegg’s doorstep on the way into the house, suggesting that Clegg has the tardiest milkman in the West Riding! They’ve been out all day, so this must be late in the afternoon! Oooh, I bet it was on the turn…

Andrew: Pearl assaults Seymour with an emulsion brush – making this deadly implement a running theme of the episode. I wonder what horrible thing happened to Roy Clarke to give him this post-traumatic flash of inspiration? And Clegg uses a vignette between a husband and his ‘bossy’ wife in the pub as an example of the evolution of the Yorkshire housewife, but I can’t be the only one who feels her request that he not drink and drive isn’t completely unreasonable!

Bob: Oh, I love that scene. ‘He’ll have a small beer…’ she snaps, and there’s no arguing. It’s a little mini-rumination on the miseries of loveless marriage, and – yet again – Clegg has the killer lines. ‘Years of exposure to treacle pudding forges formidable wives…’ he muses, with a wince. Good grief, you can virtually taste the comfortable drudgery of Clegg’s married life from these tiny revelations. Treacle puddings, damp carpets, pent-up tension… and clean shirts. The combination of repressed, domestic duty with the reassurance of steady – but dreary – home life. Oh god, it’s brilliant. I bet they never went out.

Andrew: We’re treated to even more classy location work, as the trio travel to Pearl and Howard’s house in Wesley’s van. They’ve even gone to the trouble of mounting cameras down the sides of the vehicle to lend the stunt work a real bit of dynamism. This is definitely the most ambitiously directed-episode to date. And is the track playing on Wesley’s car radio the same one we’ve heard in previous episodes? I think it is. He must be a real admirer of BBC Stock Rock Music #446/H37.

Bob: That’s my favourite heavy rock song of all time. But yes! I think the same track was used every time a BBC sitcom featured a ‘punk rocker’. I haven’t checked, but I’d put money on the same track being used in the episode of Terry and June where June decides to ‘get with it’ and slouches into the front room in leathers, safety pins and spiked, peroxide hair. And no… I’m not making this up.

Andrew: I promise that I’ll stop banging on about the direction after this, but in the sequence where our trio attempt to jailbreak Wally from the clutches of Nora, I counted 32 distinct shot set-ups, some of which involve camera cranes, stuntmen, and handheld shots in a rubber dinghy. Between each of these setups the crew needs time to reset, check the gate, occasionally change the magazine, make sure the sound is fine, and ensure that Joe Gladwin hasn’t drowned. This is a BBC sitcom, for God’s sake – not The Great Escape! Then again, maybe that’s the allusion that got Alan Bell fired up this week. The only thing that slightly spoiled the sequence for me was the fact that Stuart Fell (I assume), doubling for Compo as he leads Nora away, stood out so much that I assumed the use of a doppelganger was part of the plot, and was left scratching my head a bit when it wasn’t followed up on!

Bob: Again, I didn’t notice! Honestly, I was absolutely swept up in the closing sequences of this episode… in attempting to spring Howard from the miseries of domestic slavery, our heroes are beaten back by Pearl (who lets loose with a ‘What the blood and stomach pills…?’ line stolen directly from Ivy! Does that phrase occur anywhere else but in the scripts to Last of the Summer Wine?); but they distract Nora Batty for long enough to coax Wally down their ladder and into the waiting dinghy that you mention. I remember watching this scene back in 1987, and feeling a wave of genuine love for Joe Gladwin even then, because he’s clearly rather frail in these location scenes… the bloke had turned eighty, and you can see it in his movements, being gently helped into the boat. Even as a teenager, I just wanted to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

And, 31 years later, all of those feelings have returned… and then some. We’re reaching the end of Joe’s fourteen years in Summer Wine, and I’m so saddened by that. He’s been such a highlight of the show, and when you see him acting on the small screen, you see 70 years of experience in Music Hall and variety theatre seeping out of every performance. And you also see a wonderful little man, who – over 100 years after he was born – is still thrilling the socks off two grotty little herberts like us. The final scene of this episode, with Joe laughing his head off in that rotating rubber dinghy, is just joyous. Glorious. I really want to do more to help celebrate his life and work. And I still want to give him a huge (but careful) hug.

Andrew: What a great episode. The ambition of a feature film within thirty minutes of sitcom, all underpinned by a fantastically tight script and some truly joyous performances. One of the best.

Bob: Nail on head. That was wonderful.

Series 7 Episode 2: The White Man's Grave

In which Foggy’s grass is greener…

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

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

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

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

'Plumb duff and custard'

‘Plumb duff and custard’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holmfirth Stone-Skimming Champion 1983!

Holmfirth Stone-Skimming Champion 1983!

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

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

Andrew: I’ve never had a plumb duff…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who's a little cheeky face, then?

Who’s a little cheeky face, then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series 2 Episode 4: Some Enchanted Evening

In which Wally Batty makes his entrance… and beats a hasty retreat…

Andrew: For this episode, I’ve decided to take a risk. Ever since moving in with me, my partner Emma has been exposed to far more wrinkled stockings that she ever signed up for. Still, she’ll happily accommodate Ronnie Hazlehurst blaring through the living room, and even professed to enjoy our trip to Holmfirth in 2009 (although I’m still not 100% convinced of that). Would asking her to review an episode alongside us be a step too far? There’s only one way to find out… say hello, Emma.

Emma: Hello. And I did enjoy Holmfirth, even if your Stephen Lewis impressions nearly sent me mad. Oh, and it was funny watching you and Bob wee in a school field.

Bob: I remember being caught short under a tree on a long walk back from the pub, but it wasn’t a school field was it? We were in the woods! Compo would have been proud of us.

Bob and Drew in Holmfirth, 2009. Gahaha, I 'ate you Butler, etc

Bob and Drew in Holmfirth, 2009. Gahaha, I ‘ate you Butler, etc


Andrew:
Anyway, what’s your background with Summer Wine?

Emma: I used to watch it with my Grandad on Sunday afternoons. We’d have tea, pickled onions, egg and salad. I’ve got mixed emotions, I suppose… happy memories, but it makes me miss my Grandad.

Andrew: This is our first, full-on taste of the Compo/Nora dynamic that will dominate much of the series from now on. He’s truly in heat!

Emma: He’s really seedy, isn’t he? And the thought of him and Nora? Urgh! I’m actually struggling to understand his accent as well. Does it soften as the series go on?

Andrew: It softens as the episode goes on!

Bob: Does it? I always thought Compo’s accent was really consistent – especially considering that Bill Owen was a rather well-spoken Londoner. I remember being fascinated as a kid by his archaic Yorkshire vocabulary… all those ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. I’ve always been intrigued by language and the way it varies through the generations. When I was a kid, I had an elderly next-door neighbour called Jim Cogan, who had been a coal miner in his working days and spoke with a very thick County Durham accent, and used vernacular that clearly dated from his youth… which, amazingly, was probably around the time of the First World War. I struggled to understand him sometimes when I was very small, and that both baffled and fascinated me. It’s a different accent, but the way that Compo speaks always reminds me a little of Jim.

Andrew: I definitely think there’s a slight difference between his accent during the location filming and during the studio sequences. Perhaps his accent naturally softened a little when performing in front of a London studio audience? As you say, though, he’s completely convincing throughout.

Bob's pin-up!

Bob’s pin-up!

Bob: There are couple of nice 1970s references in these early scenes as well. Compo’s TV delivery man ‘caught the manager adjusting the horizontal hold on her from the record counter’, and Blamire mentions whooping cough! I don’t suppose anyone encounters horizontal holds or whooping cough much these days, but it’s nice to know their legacy has been immortalised in this episode.

Emma: My mam had whooping cough just the other month! I didn’t hear her whoop that much, just cough. She’s fine now.

Bob: I feel terrible now.

Andrew: And here he is… Wally Batty. Bob’s idol.

Emma: Why? He’s a bit boring, isn’t he? Just ‘muh muh muh’ (Emma is attempting her own Stephen Lewis impersonation). He reminds me of Drew. No, not really!

Andrew: I don’t think I’d mind! Besides, I should remind you that – in our first six months of living together – both of us ran home to our mams’ houses for a bit of respite. Admittedly, we didn’t sneak out during the night, pants in hand, but the principle is the same.

Bob: Wally is brilliant! It’s a fabulous performance from Joe Gladwin – so downtrodden and gloomy, and yet with a fabulous rapier wit. He’s Eeyore in a flat cap and britches.

Nora: (Pointing to Compo) Are you going to let him do what he likes to me?

Wally: What’s there to like about it?

Brilliant. Again, I see a lot of Jim Cogan in him. Men who had married young, worked like a bastard every single day for fifty years, and now just wanted to eke out their remaining days with pipe, pigeons and ale. Bodies absolutely knackered by decades of back-breaking graft… I don’t know if it’s ever specified what Wally did for a living, but it was clearly bloody hard going and you can see every second of it etched into that face, and piled on top of those hunched shoulders.

When I see Wally Batty, I realise that I really did grow up in a very different era, even to you two fine people. I saw men like Wally all over the place in the 1970s… they were there, I absolutely knew them. But I don’t see them anymore.

Bob shows Emma the benefit of his experience, Holmfirth 2009

Bob shows Emma the benefit of his experience, Holmfirth 2009


Andrew:
Joe Gladwin is fantastic. I’d like to believe that he just was Wally Batty as I can’t imagine him playing anyone else. Character isn’t just written onto his face, it’s chiselled.

I find this whole episode a bit strange, overall. Again, there’s a bit of a nasty streak that one wouldn’t expect of the show’s later years. I guess it also proves that Roy Clarke never had a master plan, as the whole Nora/Compo plotline is played out in it’s entirety in the space of a single half hour. This is as close as they come to getting together, but both will be going through the motions for years to come.

Bob: Compo occasionally seems rueful about his bachelor status here… there are a couple of moments when it’s clear his longing isn’t just about the pleasures of the flesh. He’s envious of Wally having a woman to care for him, and look after him. We see him in bed, in his long johns, drinking brown ale and reading True Romances magazine as the radio plays out his request for Nora! Sent in under the pseudonym ‘Lonely Brown Eyes…’ its rather touching.

Andrew: But brilliantly undermined when the DJ refuses to read out Compo’s list of things he’d like to do with Nora and advises him to seek out a solicitor before attempting any of them. It’s a list you don’t want to spend too much time contemplating!

Bob: There’s a nice bit of sleight-of-hand from Roy Clarke in this episode as well… for a while we’re genuinely led to believe that Wally HAS left home for good, and that Compo is sparking up a fully-blown relationship with Nora. At this stage of the series we haven’t seen that much of their cat-and-mouse games, so we’ve no reason to believe that it couldn’t actually happen.

That swinging bachelor lifestyle in full

That swinging bachelor lifestyle in full

I love the scene in the café, where Blamire and Clegg contemplate life without Compo as part of their regular routine… Blamire has a rant about the unions, Clegg muses about the possibility of God returning to Earth as an insect, and the conversation just doesn’t work at all. They both as much as admit that they don’t actually have that much in common… they need the common factor of Compo to bounce off, to unite them as a trio. It’s very tight and disciplined characterisation from both writer and actors.  And a neat twist on the time-worn cliché of the teenage boy getting his first girlfriend and abandoning his mates at the drop of a hat. Here the ‘teenagers’ are all pushing sixty, but the same principle applies.

Andrew: Emma, as a lady of the female persuasion, what did you make of the representation of women here?

Emma: Well, they’re all lesbians or husband abusers. There are no desirable women, at least not by normal standards. Then again, going back to when I first saw Summer Wine, I can recognise a bit of my Grandma and Grandad in the relationships depicted here. A bit less abusive, but with a lack of love on the surface and something more underneath. My Grandad wasn’t a Wally, though, and gave more back in return!

Andrew: What did you think overall then?

Emma: It was fine. A bit slow, though… not much seems to happen.

Andrew: That’s kind of why we like it.

Emma: Yeah, but you’re both weird.

Bob: I’ve been trying to shoehorn this in for a while, but you’re right… Summer Wine works very differently from most other sitcoms of the era. You watch most 1970s sitcoms and they’re very formulaic. You have a small bunch of regular characters in a recognisable place, and every week there’s a plot device that’s set up in the first five minutes, spirals out of control to comedy effect with hilarious consequences, and is resolved in the last five minutes. Often with some kind of grand finale… a stunt, or a special routine, or some other way of hammering home a grand punchline. Then the reset switch is pressed so we can do the whole thing again next week.

Early Summer Wine isn’t like that at all. Lots of episodes have no real plot at all, they just… drift. Especially in these early series, our three heroes usually aren’t facing any particular problem or pursuing the kind of quest that would normally drive the plot along, they’re just wandering idly through town and countryside, and we follow them. Guest characters drift back and forth through the episodes, often contributing nothing whatsoever in traditional plot terms, but simply adding colour and depth to the world we’re being presented with. There’s often no natural end to the episodes, they just fade out with a gentle fizzle. It’s all about character and atmosphere at this stage, and it’s a breath of fresh air. It feels real, like we’re eavesdropping on randomly-selected thirty minute segments of these characters’ lives and daydreams. It’s absolutely why I like it.

Andrew: Summer Wine land definitely feels like it has existed long before the cameras start rolling, and I think it’s mainly the multitude of acquaintances and passers-by who drift in and out the episodes that contribute to this. It’s just a lovely place to spend some time, even if it can be grim. Will you come back for more, later?

Emma: I guess I wouldn’t object too much. I’ll go back to Holmfirth if we can stay at the same place, with the nice breakfasts and mad dogs.

Bob: I’d forgotten about the dogs! I’d love to go back. We need to stay somewhere with a TV and DVD player so we can watch a couple of episodes while we’re there!

Series 6 Episode 3: The Odd Dog Men

Congratulations on being the first person ever to equate Last of the Summer Wine with Twin Peaks! Read more