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.                    


1 comment:

  1. That's a lovely write up. It's a somewhat unfairly maligned series but in the last decade or so you really did feel that it required little writing on Roy Clarke's part (much the same as his revival of Open Al Hours feels now) with each episode following a set structure of 1) opening scene with trio on the hills 2) Trip arrive in the town, go to caff and come up with crazy scheme 3) Trio move off to Thora Hird's hubby's place with ideas of crazy scheme 4) Thora Hird and the ladies in the cast sit in front room eating cake etc etc ad infinitum.

    The first series with Michael Bates still stands up remarkably well though and you forget just how earthy the humour was at the time before it became something of a quaint panto around Michael Aldridge's arrival