Monday, 30 May 2016
403 Last of the Summer Wine
First viewed : 25 September 1979
This is another one where Genome has corrected my memory banks. I'd have put it down as early 1981 when I first caught this but no it was eighteen months earlier.
Last of the Summer Wine had already been running for six years and ironically, given the reputation it latterly enjoyed, it had quite a cult cachet at school in the late seventies. I think this was because it was always on quite late , after the 9pm watershed , so lads were misled into thinking there was something edgy about it. In truth of course , for all of Compo's sexual assaults on Nora Batty ( as they would now be viewed ) , Last of the Summer Wine was actually as family-friendly as TV comedy got, a gentle look at the adventures of three bachelors trying to fill their post-retirement lives purposefully in a Pennine village not a million miles away from where we lived.
I recall some of my school mates talking about it , in what I now realise must have been the summer of 1979 when it followed The Nine O Clock News , for one particular reason.
They were all agreed ( repeatedly so ) that the character of Foggy was a dead ringer for me.
Foggy ( played by Brian Wilde from Porridge ) had joined the cast after the sudden death of Michael Bates in 1976. He was a tall, pompous, self-regarding, ex-Army control freak , continually frustrated at his friends' lack of interest in his grandiose projects which were usually attempts to pass self-promotion off as doing something for the community .
Because of this, when, in September 1979, it was switched to 8.30 pm , I had to have a gander. As you would expect I didn't quite see the resemblance at the time though I concede now that they may have had a point. Nevertheless I was quite taken with the series particularly given its proximity to home and the fact that I was knocking about in a trio at the time.
I watched the series fairly regularly until Wilde left in 1985. I didn't like his replacement Seymour ( Michael Aldridge ) at all and checked out soon after his appearance. However all the people I walked with in the Littleborough Civic Trust Footpaths Group , most of whom were much older than me , were huge fans of the series and their chatter sort of kept me in touch with what was happening. In the summer of 1982 I led a Sunday walk for them from neighbouring Marsden and found that an episode was actually being filmed there ( the usual location Holmfirth was becoming over-run with tourists, making shooting there difficult ). It was actually quite difficult to get the group moving as they wanted to spectate. I did get a couple of shots of Bill Owen although it was notable that he had a stand-in for all the set-up work.
By that time, Foggy had rejoined the cast and I did start seeing some episodes after I got married in 1997 although Wilde left the cast for good shortly afterwards. By that time the show was firmly ensconced in its Sunday teatime slot and , I felt, becoming too much like a retirement home for veteran comic actors. Wilde and Owen were reasonably familiar faces before joining the series but when Captain Peacock , Blakey , Ken Smith and most of all Hilda Ogden arrived and the cast expanded , I felt their previous associations overpowered the storylines and robbed the series of its charm.
The death of Owen in 1999 and his replacement by his real-life son Tom made me switch off for good ( although Owen Junior was relegated to a minor character after one series as part of the trio ) . By that time there was something of a movement against the show continuing, much as there had been against Terry and June a decade or so earlier. In 2001 the Queen told Thora Hird that it was her favourite TV show ( and why wouldn't it be ? ) which probably extended its lifetime by some years. Two years later , an incredibly mean-spirited poll conducted by Radio Times asked readers to nominate which show they would most like to see cancelled and Last of the Summer Wine won. Although the 4,000 votes it got were paltry compared to the millions still watching, the result incensed series writer Roy Clarke and you suspect the poll was deliberately commissioned to bolster the case against the series.
Eventually it was the insurance companies that brought the curtain down as they refused to sanction the most elderly cast members, Peter Sallis and Frank Thornton, doing any outdoor scenes in 2008 . This necessitated the formation of a new core trio headed by Russ Abbott which failed to command the same affection. The final episode ( not written as such ) was broadcast in August 2010 and by chance I caught a small part of it. I felt some sadness that something which stretched back to my school days had come to an end but what was on screen that day evoked nothing at all and there was little argument that the show had finally run its course.