yorkshire

Series 3 Episode 2: Mending Stuart's Leg

In which our new trio click into action, and scale the dizzy heights of the café roof…

Andrew: Whereas Blamire was seemingly happy to do anything, provided he was doing something, Foggy definitely seems to require a mission in life. Instead of aimlessly roaming the hills, our trio now head out on expeditions; and instead of loitering in the café, the greasy spoon is used as their base of operations, be they inspecting Sid’s roof or mending Stuart’s eponymous leg. The tone has already shifted from those early, meandering installments.

Bob: Ha! How odd, I was actually going to say that after a couple of tightly-focused episodes, we’re back to a bit of old school meandering! This episode is filled with delightful non-sequiteurs, many of which are provided by Foggy. ‘I made a good contact yesterday if you ever want any offcuts of polystyrene,’ he muses, a propos of nothing, in the opening scenes. ‘I see there’s been another failure in Soviet agriculture,’ he ponders later, during a gap in the conversation. I laughed out loud, as I did ten minutes later at the following exchange:

Compo: What’s wrong with me trousers?
Foggy: I realise you’re a socialist, but you could invest in another pair. You don’t have to wait for the council to pull the old pair down.

Contrasting political viewpoints, social and sartorial comment and a genuine, stunning laugh-out-loud gag in the space of two lines. Even if you knew nothing whatsoever about Compo or Foggy, you could still infer so much about their characters just by reading those two lines. Now THAT’s writing.

Insert your own Freemasonry joke here...

Insert your own Freemasonry joke here…

Andrew: And here we have it, the first instance of Clegg chickening out of something; in this case he sheepishly declines the opportunity to climb a rickety ladder and inspect some slates.

Bob: Yes! Foggy has instantly become the instigator and director of their activities, and Clegg now seems firmly entrenched as the reluctant non-participant that he remains for the next three and a half decades.

There are a few little character moments that intrigued me in this episode… I think, Drew, you mentioned that an earlier episode very subtly alluded to the fact that Sid and Ivy were childless, and I missed it completely. This time, following a classic argument, we get Ivy wistfully musing ‘Oooh, if I’d had kids…’  and the sentence is left for us to finish ourselves. There’s a definite sense of regret and melancholy that hangs over this fleeting scene.

And good to see Mr Wainwright back at the library! With another doe-eyed young acolyte – Miss Moody – now in tow.

Wainwright: I used to dream of leading the people into a better society…
Miss Moody: Maybe you still can?
Wainwright: (respectfully) There’s so much paperwork.

Fabulous.

‘There’s so much paperwork…’

And is it me, or does Compo’s shouted riposte to Nora as she rebuffs his advances yet again (‘It wasn’t like this on VE Night!’) suggest that they had a brief romantic tryst thirty years earlier, presumably before she married Wally? It’s an absolute revelation to think that his feelings towards her aren’t just the unrequited lust of an old letch, but an attempt to recapture a sensational night of passion from their long-lost salad days, on an occasion of unparalleled emotional release for the whole country. If that’s true, it must have been one of the most glorious nights of Compo’s life, and brings a whole new perspective to his character and motivations. He wants to feel young and happy and virile again, and rekindling a fleeting encounter with Nora has become fixed in his mind as the only way to do so… even though her appearance and personality have – we assume – been completely transformed since then. He just doesn’t see that, though! One of our constant sources of comedy so far as been exactly why Compo lusts after this sour-faced battleaxe – it just seemed inexplicable. But at last we have an answer! To Compo, Nora will always be the vibrant 20-year-old lass that gave herself to him at the ultimate national celebration. I actually feel like 37 years of Summer Wine suddenly makes a lot more sense!

Series 3 Episode 6: Going to Gordon's Wedding

In which Compo, for once, is best man…

Andrew: Amazingly, we’ve jumped from arguably the series’ weakest episode thus far, to one of the strongest. Clarke really has put his all into this finely observed, half-hour farce. To say that he’s back on form really doesn’t do this episode justice.

Bob: Yep, I enjoyed this too. It’s nice to see Compo’s nephew Gordon back in the series, although you wonder how long is meant to have passed between instalments, given that that Gordon is now marrying Josie, the elegant redhead he met in Scarborough only two episodes earlier! It’s a very 1970s wedding – all giant buttonholes, disapproving mothers and good-natured punch-ups over Tetley’s Best Bitter. And Gordon’s not the only returning character here… we get another cameo from Paul Luty as Big Malcolm, Compo’s towering relative, last spotted duffing up Foggy in the first episode of this series.

Is this Compo's sister? We're not sure!

Is this Compo’s sister? We’re not sure!

It all reinforces the feeling of Summer Wine being a running story taking place in a small, close-knit community, and it struck me that Foggy’s arrival seems to have heralded a slight stylistic change… in Blamire’s two series, our three heroes are very much portrayed as outsiders, literally spending their days around the peripheries of town life, sitting in disused barns and abandoned factories. In Series 3, we’ve seen MUCH less of the countryside… the show has been far more grounded in sitting rooms, pubs, cafes and boarding houses, and Compo has been shown to be pretty close to several members of his extended family. It has to be a deliberate move.

Andrew: There’s some lovely domestic material here, from the competitive mothers and the forced jollity of family gatherings to Clegg’s brilliant comparison of weddings and flying… ‘When you consider how many weddings there are, it makes you realize what a safe way it is to go. It’s just that, in regard to weddings, if there is an accident then it’s usually rather a nasty one’.

Bob: Yes, I love the scene in Gordon’s mother’s sitting room… the sheer awkwardness of making polite conversation with distant family members, suffocated by floral wallpaper and that ominous, ticking clock. The desperate, nervous laughter and the young, randy couple snogging obliviously on the sofa.

Do we assume, then, that Gordon’s flighty and giggly mother, clearly three sheets to the wind by the middle of the morning, is actually Compo’s sister? It’s never specified, but the way she greets him at the door (‘Lovely to see you love, I knew you wouldn’t let me down,’ she beams, proudly, stroking the shoulder of his suit) is every inch the actions of a proud sister rather than a more distant relative.

Andrew: I guess we’ll find out for sure in First of the Summer Wine, if Roy Clarke remembers she exists by then.

Bob: If so, it’s intriguing to note that Foggy seems to take something of a shine to her, repeatedly vying for her attention and attempting to take photos of her! Can you imagine the comic potential if that relationship had developed? Oh, the shame he’d have brought upon the proud Dewhurst name… 

Josie. She's a pussycat.

Josie. She’s a pussycat.

Andrew: There’s also a nice line in physical comedy, and unlike The Kink In Foggy’s Niblick, it doesn’t seem forced. Compo’s buttonhole, the noisy wedding present, the damaged best man and Foggy’s ongoing feud with Big Malcolm are all nicely signposted and extend naturally from the characters and situation.

Bob: Indeed, and I loved Josie’s line to her father outside the church, flicking up her bridal veil and hissing ‘You see it so many times on wedding photos… embarrassed fathers pining for their overalls…’ Never a truer word spoken, and – again – a fine, pithy and beautifully concise bit of writing. We learn so much about both Josie and her fathers’ characters – and the relationship between them – from that single line.

Andrew: What strikes me most of all is how big and confident it seems. A lot is packed into twenty-nine minutes… not only the situation itself, but also the sheer number of characters involved. The world of Summer Wine suddenly opens out to include extended families and old friends like Gordon and Malcolm.

Bob: And all drenched in that glorious 1970s sunshine, on washed-out 16mm film. All is right with the world, and I want to carry on… 

Series 3 Episode 7: Isometrics and After

In which Foggy yearns for physical jerks and Compo puts something nasty in a matchbox…

Bob: After everything I said about Series 3 having a distinctly different tone, we’re suddenly back to a very traditional Summer Wine episode – in fact, I’m even tempted to wonder if this instalment might have started life as a Blamire episode, it’s so reminiscent of that earlier style. There’s a lot of meandering and musing in the countryside, a typically lusty Wainwright diatribe in an extended library sequence, and more than a few gritty political references. 

Andrew: I get the impression that Roy Clarke is a hoarder of ideas and gags, stockpiling material that could come in handy later on. As you say, this does feel a little like an episode from the first or second series, but there are examples from much later on as well… the first feature length episode being based upon an older novel, or the characters of Howard, Pearl and Marina being extracted from a touring stage show. That’s the benefit of everything being written by one man, I suppose; nothing goes to waste!

Operation Swordblade won't help you now...

Operation Swordblade won’t help you now…

Bob: And to cap it all, we begin with a marvelously morbid speech from Compo… ‘When tha’s dead, tha’s dead,’ he ponders, ‘I saw our Walter when that safe landed on him, and if he was having any sort of afterlife, he wasn’t enjoying it’. Again, just beautifully economic writing – from a single line we learn about Compo’s atheism, his dubious family background, the grisly death of his relative and his gruesomely black sense of humour. When Roy Clarke is on form, his dialogue is just unbeatable.

Having described this episode as being evocative of the earlier style, there is one major difference – Clegg’s character. We were frequently surprised in Series 1 by Clegg’s swearing and his use of some surprisingly fruity (and grumpy) turns-of-phrase, but in this episode he deliberately swerves to avoid even the most minor of cussing… ‘People who want to be nice are a pain in the ar-r-r-m…’ he stammers. And, having been the main instigator of adventures during the Blamire years, he now steadfastly refuses to join in with Foggy’s exercise regime. The gentrification of Clegg is complete!

Andrew: And he’s clearly been scarred by Blamire’s canoeing scheme. Having been forced to walk through the town in a swimming costume, Clegg has no desire to go through a similar experience. I love the lines, ‘I should be reluctant to start anything that might involve taking me vest off,’ and ‘This latest plot of yours has the squeak of plimsolls and the flash of nipples about it. Or is it the flash of plimsolls and the squeak of nipples?’ That pretty much sums up the reason I’ve stayed away from the swimming baths for the past ten years…

Bob: There’s a lovely scene in this episode where Clegg and Compo wander to a babbling brook without the isometrics-obsessed Foggy, and we get a real impression of just how close a friendship they’ve forged over the decades. ‘There’s some good rabbit droppings here!’ exclaims a gleeful Compo. ‘Fill your pockets kid, there’s nobody looking,’ grins Clegg and the warmth between the two characters is a joy to behold… two very disparate characters on the face of it, but Compo’s enthusiasm for the base and grotty aspects of life seems to bring out a childlike glow in Clegg as well.

You wonder what their relationship was like during the decades when Clegg was married? I can only picture a classic Bob and Terry relationship, with Mrs Clegg surely disapproving of Compo’s presence in ‘her’ Norman’s life. And yet, in these latter years, they’ve absolutely rekindled what was surely a close childhood bond. And utterly regressed to those halcyon days. It’s great to watch, and Sallis and Owen make a fine double act.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Andrew: I can imagine the two barely seeing each other while Clegg was married, and don’t forget that Compo was married for a bit as well. It all contributed to the impression we have of them making up for lost time by spending so much of their retirement messing around in the countryside.

Bob: And brace yourself, but we have another historic Summer Wine ‘first’ to report… this is our inaugural sighting of Compo’s legendary matchbox! And it’s the mild-mannered librarian Miss Moody who has the honour of being his first female victim… screaming in horror as Compo shows her the terrors within. What a fabulous running joke, and how gloriously evocative of that bygone generation of Northern men – my childhood was filled with strange neighbours and elderly relatives who kept all manner of gruesome souvenirs for posterity… owl pellets, teeth, and full menageries of stuffed and pickled beasties.

Andrew: The tradition still continues. I’ve told you about my Mam and her box of loose teeth, haven’t I?

Bob: No. And you must feel absolutely at liberty to keep that information entirely to yourself.

Andrew: I genuinely have no idea of what Compo could have in that matchbox, though. I wonder if Clarke ever knew?

Bob: Interesting to see that Nora is now working in the café! There were suggestions in an earlier episode that she didn’t have much time for Ivy, but Sid (in a nice piece of continuity) now seems to have acquired the mobile chip van that he was saving for, and so Nora provides an extra pair of hands in the café – ‘because she doesn’t have recognisable boobs’, according to Ivy. I like to think the thawing of their relationship began during that idyllic weekend in Scarborough earlier in the series, but then it’s possible I think too much about these things.

Farewell, Mr Wainwright

Farewell, Mr Wainwright

Andrew: No, I think you’re on the money there. There was a nice sense of community in those episodes and, given that Ivy was on her best behavior at the Bed and Breakfast, I’d like to think she and Nora were brought together by forced civility. I think those two episodes actually kickstarted what later develops into the extended Summer Wine family, clearly marking out characters like Sid, Ivy, Nora and Wally as continuing regulars rather than guest artists.

Speaking of guest characters, we say goodbye to Mr. Wainwright once again, this time for good. It makes sense really, as the library isn’t used much now that the series has found its feet in the countryside and café, but I’ll miss his political spin on… well, pulling. It’s actually quite nice to leave him at this point. When first introduced, Wainwright was the intellectual dreamer with his eyes on a Eliza Doolittle protégé, but in this episode it’s clear that Miss Moody is more on the ball than he is.

Miss Moody: Elliot’s Wasteland is depressingly real, Mr Wainwright.

Wainwright: Absolutely. I can’t understand why the council doesn’t slap him with a compulsory purchase.

Bob: And, in a charming finish to a hugely enjoyable third series, our three heroes actually ride into the sunset on horseback. Surely Roy Clarke’s little homage to the golden age of the Hollywood Western? It’s amazing to contemplate that it’s barely half-a-dozen episodes since we were first introduced to Foggy Dewhurst, and yet the series now seems unthinkable without him – what a huge testament to Brian Wilde’s skills as a comic actor. We’re about to enter, arguably, the golden age of Summer Wine

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


In which Compo has a change of scenery…

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

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

Compo: Nigel Hinchcliffe’s nose has turned septic.

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

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

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

Upside Down… Clegg, you turn me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those new trousers in full

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

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

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

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

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

Foggy finds a Roman beer can

Foggy finds a Roman beer can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series 6 Episode 4: A Bicycle Made for Three

In which our trio ‘get it continental style’…

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

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

Compo: I tried for a reserved occupation.

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

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

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

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

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

Bob: Spoilers!

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

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

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

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

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

'I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple'

‘I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple’

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

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

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

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

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

Clegg, officially having fun

Clegg, officially having fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series 6 Episode 2: Car and Garter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew: I’m still not convinced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.

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