The great British sitcom: Last Of The Summer Wine

Discussion in 'TV Central' started by Mel O'Drama, Sep 17, 2016.

  1. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    That's an excellent point. The more serious elements of the series bring depth to it and also make it feel evenly weighted. There's no sense of swinging wildly between funny and serious moments as may have been the tendency. Moments are allowed to be both at the same time. While I enjoyed some of the US Dramedy fad in the mid-Noughties (shows like Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty), they could feel a little bipolar at times, and tended to tell the viewer through use of quirky music and extreme situations when we were supposed to laugh and when we were supposed to be hooked on the drama.

    I think Carla Lane's writing was complemented by the subtler elements of the production, too. I'm watching Butterflies with someone and during a conversation about it the other day he observed that there was no laughter on it. I'd thought there was (and it turns out there was) but I couldn't be certain and had to listen out for it because it's that inconspicuous, has lots of huge pauses and allows for the silence of more serious moments. Last night I watched one of the new Will & Grace episodes back-to-back with Butterflies and during a scene of an unpleasant revelation the audience made a loud, collective booing kind of sound which made the moment far less impactive for me.

    In the huge gap between the third and fourth series of Butterflies, I remember watching her playing lead in a period drama called Nanny. It's only recently that I discovered she also created the series. Apparently she used a pseudonym when pitching it to the BBC because she thought they may not take her seriously otherwise. I know more recently she's had a long - and presumably successful - run in another period drama The Royal.

    The only other series I remember watching her in is one I'd rather forget. She played Annie - the Rose equivalent - in Brighton Belles which was a short-lived British remake of The Golden Girls. I haven't seen the series since it first aired some twenty five years ago, but I do remember it felt very much like karaoke TV and had none of the charm and vibrant energy of the original.

    Two of Wendy's pre-Butterflies vehicles are on my Britcom bucket list: ...And Mother Makes Three and its sequel series ...And Mother Makes Five. Whenever I get round to watching, both will be completely new to me.


    Thanks - I suspect it will be a fairly short trip as I'm already midway through Series Two. I'm really trying to pace myself a little though.
     
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  2. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Yeah, I had heard she was Brighton Belles but made no effort to seek it out because your opinion on it pretty much matches everyone else's. In cases like that, I just hope she got paid really well for it.
     
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  3. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    There's a very outdoorsy feel to Butterflies, isn't there? A great deal of location filming in parks and high streets which really opens things up.

    Even having given it some thought, I can't think of another series or film that is set in Cheltenham. With all the Regency architecture it's a very photogenic town. I visit it fairly regularly and so recognise places like Hatherley Park and the town centre. It seems to have changed very little, though the time capsule comes from seeing both chains and little independent shops that are now long gone.

    The cars continue to be fun to watch. That Mini, of course, being the most memorable. Leonard being driven round in a lime green Ford Granada makes me smile no end. It seems such an ordinary car for such pretentiousness - particularly with Michael Ripper in his full chauffeur clobber. Seeing Austin Allegros parked outside rather grand houses fits the same category.
     
  4. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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  5. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Series Two of Butterflies has been even more engaging than the first. There's a sense that all involved know what is working and are utilising it to the benefit of the series. Everything is working perfectly at this point.

    The fox hunting episode encapsulated Lane's penchant for animal welfare without sacrificing the credibility of the series. Certainly, it's one of the bigger moments for Ria. As I said i an earlier post, I'm very appreciative of the small moments, but I've grown to love the bigger, slightly more surreal scenes. They illustrate a duality to Ria's world - and Ria herself. Which is exactly the point.

    I'm also appreciating the continued segregation that's grown out of Ria's two lives. It feels very organic. I hadn't even really considered that Ben and Leonard hadn't had a scene together… until they had the briefest of encounters in the park when running, as Ria watched on with horror.

    There's also the question of collusion. Even for those characters who are partly aware of Ria and Leonard's relationship, there's a question not only about how much they know, but also about how much they care. Russell and Adam kind of, sort of know but are fairly disinterested. Ria's guest, the pushy, narcissistic Suzanne knew what was going on and has been the one opportunity for Ria to have a relatively straightforward conversation about the situation (not that she said too much). So Suzanne briefly became to Ria what Thomas is to Leonard. But it was right that Suzanne would immediately hop on the train after the conversation. Ria needs to be on her own with things. It's kind of her raison d'être.

    And then there's Ben himself. What I've found interesting watching this as an adult is that he's not the enemy. Far from it. He's thoughtless at times, reluctant to partake in any kind of housework and very set in his ways, certainly. But he has mostly met even the wackiest of Ria's outbursts with very little judgement. And he can be very thoughtful, from spontaneously wanting to take Ria out to dinner to perceiving and indulging Ria's wants at a particular moment in time - whether it's going to see a saucy French film or hanging round the living room in warm towels. For all his shortcomings it's Ria who is not taking the time to consider her partner's needs.

    This time round, what's occurred to me is that even though the premise seems to hinge very much on the will she/won't she around betraying her husband and consummating her relationship with Leonard, Ria has actually already done both. The emotional infidelity has already taken place and continues to do so. And the web gets more tangled with each encounter between Ria and Leonard. If things came out into the open even at this stage, Ria's up the creek. And it's a credit to Lane's writing that I care about that.
     
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  6. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Oh - Ria preparing the strawberry jelly!! It's been a while since I laughed quite so heartily. Wonderful scene. So simple, but quite hilarious.

    From 7.10...



    She could have served it as an Eton mess.

    Notice how the audience starts tittering when the TV cook flips his jelly upside down and takes the bowl away. This is before Ria even attempted it, but I too was already laughing at this point because I knew what was coming. With her cooking, the anticipation adds to the joy. Every time she even mentions cooking or going into the kitchen there's that knowledge that something disastrous can - and will - happen.

    My favourite line of the episode came in the scene immediately following the jelly debacle. On learning that Russell has got Jean pregnant and plans to marry her even though he can't afford either of these luxuries, Ria - trying her hardest to smile through her shock- says:

    The structure of this arc was perfect. I really appreciated that Russell was entirely on his own with the ultimate knowledge that Jean wanted to keep the baby but didn't want marriage. While Ria and Leonard - who had jumped to the conclusion that she wasn't pregnant after all - were living in blissful ignorance. Drama somehow means more when there's a solitary aspect.
     
  7. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    There's a definite feeling of building excitement as we near the end of Series Three. Each of the three series so far has been better than the one before. Series Three has been perfection, with a wonderful mix of comedy and poignancy.

    With the huge gap between Series Three and Four, I can only imagine that there was the possibility of this being the final couple of episodes. The writing certainly suggests things are coming to a head. First there was Ria confiding in her old schoolfriend about Leonard. In scenes where said friend came into Ria's home discussing it blatantly there was a degree of suspense, knowing that there were others in the house. It was interesting to see Ria going to anger and ordering the woman from her home. And just when I thought Ria was going to be alone with her secret again, Adam heard everything.

    Adam's response to the situation was interesting. It felt a little strange to see a son quite so laid back about his mother's affair, even before she justified it by saying that "nothing" had happened. But it was right in character for him to be laid back about it, especially given his attitude towards sex, and showed a depth to the character that we haven't seen much of before, particularly when he revealed he'd had a relationship with an older, married woman. Between this and Russell's brush with fatherhood I feel the characters have been so rich this year.

    And now Leonard has asked to see Ria before he goes away. I can't remember how I felt when watching this when I was young, but I can imagine the audience giving much brain time to the upcoming meeting in the week that passed between the penultimate episode and the final one of the series. Even now, I can see this was a daring move for a sitcom of the era.

    I'm a little excited about seeing what happens next.
     
  8. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The end of Butterflies approaches, with just two episodes of the entire series to watch.

    Ben has become the most interesting character on the show. His British, middle class reserve and old-fashioned values could have turned him into a caricature. Instead, as the series has progressed, Carla Lane has peeled back the layers, revealing sides of him to the viewer that nobody else on the show is aware of.

    Ria has her soliloquies, certainly. But we've spent a great deal of time getting to know her and she's gained more and more support and has people to confide in and collude with: Leonard, of course, but also Thomas, her sons, Ruby and the occasional friend.

    Ben seems to be very much alone with his concerns. There's no confidant. He doesn't even voice his fears out loud to himself as Ria does. Ben internalises it all. This leaves the viewer in the position of trying to work him out: to wonder how much he knows, and what he is thinking. We've seen him being given pieces of the puzzle and are left to decide for ourselves what that might mean for him. The last episode saw him answer the phone to Leonard - the first time, I believe, they've heard each other's voices. There have been other moments like this. Rather than Ria's forte of full on meltdowns, Ben shows just the occasional flicker of concern, unseen by anyone else. There was a beautifully poignant scene in the second series (or perhaps the third) where Ria spoke to Ben as he slept, bewailing the fact that he could sleep contentedly while she was awake and worrying. The camera then panned to Ben's bedside table where a bottle of sleeping tablets stood (earlier in the episode he'd commented in passing that he wasn't sleeping well because his mind was racing). It's moments like this that make Ben one of the most fascinating "sitcom" characters I've encountered.

    The seeds for Lane's later project Bread, too, seem to have been sown in Butterflies, particularly with the various crises of the sons and their lack of employment. Butterflies takes a more subtle approach to commentary on Thatcher's Britain than Bread, but they're both very much on the same page.
     
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  9. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Lest I forget to post a final thought:

    The third series of Butterflies ended on what felt like a very final note. It left me wondering if the fourth would be as fitting. In terms of the Ria/Leonard/Ben story, I'm torn. Leonard leaving for New York at the end of Series Three should in all probability have ended the story. In many ways, Series Four didn't tread any new ground other than building on Ben's suspicions.

    After a point, there was a cyclical undercurrent to the whole show that made the viewer question why Ria kept going back. A bit like JR and Sue Ellen. Though Ria and Leonard made more sense when it was considered that there was a kind of unfinished business. It was emotional infidelity and both seemed to feel it wasn't an affair because there wasn't a physical aspect. In every conversation Ria had about Leonard, the phrase "nothing's happened" or some variation thereof came up.

    But then when this is considered - that Ria felt her affair of the mind with Leonard was harmless - her journey through the final series did bring something new. By the end of it, she'd kind of, sort of recognised that she had a very real choice to make. And this was satisfactory enough, although by series' end, with Ria having done a Deirdre by walking out briefly before deciding to return to the comforting safety of her familiar home and husband, there was still a sense that she was still not quite truly conscious of the consequences of her actions other than the effect they had on her. Overall, I found Ria both endearingly ditzy and self deprecating while at the same time frustratingly self-centred (and the very worst kind of self-centred - the martyred type who feels they give too much). A very curious combination that made her a very interesting, very real lead.

    The soap watcher in me wanted a scene between Ben and Leonard. Not necessarily a confrontation, but perhaps a scene of mutual understanding. A scene where they found common ground or a degree of empathy for the other. Still, I can live with what we were given. The final line of the series was perfect and resonated with me for some time after watching.

    So the main story didn't have a degree of finality. Or at least, it was no more final than the end of the series before. There's a sense that we could easily have returned for a Series Five and the story would have gone on. Or perhaps the story went on anyway, regardless of screen time.

    Where the series scores is in giving a satisfying end to subplots of previous years - particularly those of Russell and Adam. Both had a form of closure and their respective reunions were just enough for this viewer to be left wanting more.
     
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  10. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    It will be a couple of weeks before my viewing schedule allows, but my next Britcom boxset has arrived. And they don't come any bigger.

    [​IMG]

    I'm very much looking forward to this rather huge viewing commitment this summer.
     
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  11. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm two evenings and just over one series into my next Britcom, which also happens to be the longest-running sitcom in the world.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It's taken this long to get the main characters' names straight. I'm sure I'll get Blamire's name right just in time for him to leave. A bit of a botched start. I began with the first regular episode on Series One, Disc One, but it appears the Pilot is actually an extra on the Series Thirty One final disc. I'll squeeze that one in soon - perhaps between Series Two and Three.

    I was expecting gentle comedy and an unhurried pace, and it gives both. But there's an unexpected edge to the apparent gentility, which seems to come at the most unexpected times and from the least expected characters. Speaking reflectively of his late wife, the gentle Clegg throws in a "God rest the silly old bitch". There's a rather surprising amount of language that seems quite fruity for the early Seventies. Lots of casual "bloody"s and the like. Somewhat less surprising, given the era is the casual homophobia that's rife. So far pretty much every episode has contained a "poof" somewhere. Some of them have had several. And extramarital seems to be the done thing. Everyone everywhere seems to be (or have been) at it. From the cafe to the library.

    The lack of anything but the loosest plot is unique. There's a stream of consciousness that puts a series of thoughts out to the viewer. Some questions, some philosophy and some bizarre randomness. It's quite different to anything else I can think of, and yet Roy Clarke's familiar style occasionally conjures up some of his later work. There'll be a bit of Arkwright here, a flash of our Rose there. With some Wind In The Willows thrown in for good measure.

    Familiar faces so far have been Liz Smith as Compo's mushy pea loving date, Carry On's Margaret Nolan as a relative (or in law) of Compo and Doreen Sloane (Brookside's posh Annabelle) as a clippie with a broad Yorkshire accent.
     
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  12. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    I currently only have seasons 13 to 20 of Last Of The Summer Wine but hope to complete the set soon.

    You will find the early series are more earthy in terms of language, as the show hit bigger audiences, they tempered that a bit.

    Swami
     
  13. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    In Belfast today - for the first time - I saw the entire LOTSW boxset in HMV for sale - £99.99.

    Swami
     
  14. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Foggy's arrival in Series Three has brought change. And yet it hasn't. By which I mean there's a tonal shift, but the dynamic between the three leads is comfortingly familiar to anyone who has watched the first two series.

    Some episodes were written with Blamire in mind and that's quite apparent on screen. But only enough to give reassurance. Foggy's arrival was given a nice build up in 3.1 - it was some ten minutes before he was mentioned and perhaps a further five before he arrived. All of which gave the viewer time to adjust. Summer Wine has a rich sense of history to the characters and that's been brought into the new triad, with them knowing Foggy from schooldays. And while Foggy is not short of Blamirisms, he's quite a different character thanks to Brian Wilde's performance. There are fewer subtleties to the character, and some of his quirks have helped move the series in general towards more traditional sitcom, but he's not short on charm and presence. More than any other character I find my eyes on Wilde to see what he's going to do next (I particularly enjoy his righteous nose wrinkling, like he's really getting stuck into a particular point he's making).

    As a character actor, Wilde feels very familiar. I've probably seen him in numerous shows, but don't strongly associate him with any one (though I'm sure Foggy is somewhere in my subconsciousness, having no doubt seen many of his episodes during the Eighties). His most familiar role to me is perhaps one of his smallest - the scene in Carry On Doctor where he walked into the bedlam, attempted to measure Frankie Howerd's bed and left marvelling at what a madhouse the ward was. Most recently I watched his episode of The Ghosts Of Motley Hall in which he played opposite Peter Sallis. As Foggy, I've taken to him right away

    The writing has changed a little. It feels a little less ambling, and more like it's going somewhere. Which isn't necessarily a good thing, though neither has it hampered my enjoyment. Anyway, it may be going somewhere, but it never feels like it actually gets there, and I hope it never does.

    Series Three has seen us leave Holmfirth for the first time, travelling to Scarborough for a seaside holiday two-parter. This gives it something in common with two of its Northern compatriots - Nearest And Dearest and In Loving Memory, both of which I've recently watched. As in the Nearest And Dearest B&B episodes, Joe Gladwin was along with the Summer Wine gang for the ride. His portrayal of Wally Batty is very similar to his N&D character Stan and while he's not on screen much he brings the same scene-stealing quality to each appearance.



    I did just this, and it was well worth a peek. It set the scene for the series very well indeed.



    I think I got a bargain, as I paid exactly half that for the set online last month. It seems to have shot back up in price again now.
     
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  15. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    That was the first time I ever saw an entire box-set, up until recently the series were either released in batches of two, or a few weeks ago they released a box-set entitled "The Early Years", covering series 1 to 11.

    Swami
     
  16. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Foggy has become a firm favourite of mine. Brian Wilde's attention to detail - all the little mannerisms and tics - mean I find my eyes on him in each scene wondering what he's going to throw in. Paired with Foggy's snobbery and need to come up with purposeful activities for the people around him, I keep seeing him as the prototype for a later Clarke creation. The one with a white slimline telephone and a penchant for hand-painted periwinkles.

    Actually, I enjoy all three leads in very different ways. Bill Owen's Compo with his gurning, outspokenness and lack of any kind of filter is pure caricature in some ways. But he also reminds me of people I've met - perhaps even a toned down version. Peter Sallis's Clegg is the everyman of the three. Likeable enough. Less in your face than the other two and (most of the time) a skater rather than a diver. But I've particularly enjoyed his more acidic, cynical moments. He's had some great lines that nobody else could get away with because he remains endearing even while making observations that put the world to rights and other characters in their place. Even as I begin Series Four, there's a sense that Clegg has softened, becoming the gentle, avuncular character I remember seeing on the screen on Sunday evenings. But I really hope he gets to keep his edge and his cynicism.

    The supporting cast are all wonderful. So many great characters. Sid and Ivy from the café are a couple I really look forward to seeing on the screen. Roy Clarke certainly likes his harridans and, the way he writes them, so do I.
     
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  17. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    In many ways when Thora Hird joins the series as Edie Pegden, she is an early prototype for Hyacinth Bucket with her mock poshness, when calling Wesley in from the shed and such like.

    It is hard to believe when you watch the definitive trio - Brian Wilde, Bill Owen and Peter Sallis - that behind the scenes things were far from sweetness and light. Wilde himself blew the myth to bits in an interview when he confirmed friction between himself and Bill Owen. Yet Wilde was possibly the one who created the difficulties, for the 1982 series he refused to take part unless Alan J W Bell was replaced as director by Syd Lotterby. The irony was Bell returned the following year, and Wilde was content with his return.

    Swami
     
  18. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Knowing very little about LOTSW, is quite refreshing. I can't remember specific episodes or scenes that I will no doubt have watched during childhood. At the time I found it rather underwhelming and viewed is as nothing more than a time-filler (not that even that is necessarily a bad thing in itself. It serves a function, after all).

    This means I'm approaching it with no preconceptions about which years, characters and stories are the best. With my viewing experience over the last weeks being overwhelmingly positive I'm only looking forward to discovering more, even though I know very little about what I'm looking forward to other than a couple of cast additions (there are, it has to be said, a couple I'm not particularly looking forward to during the last year or two, but I'm trying to keep an open mind).

    For what this relative layman's point of view is worth at this point, I've found myself chuckling more and more with each passing series, perhaps plateauing out post-Series Four. But I'm only midway though Series Five, so perfectly prepared to change my view on that. It's possible this has to do with writing or casting, but it's equally possible that I'm settling into the rhythm of the series and able to relax and enjoy it more. Perhaps it's a combination of all of the above. Post-Blamire, the tone seems to have shifted a little, but the first two series were pure gold in terms of establishing character and for being brave enough to allow the inhabitants to simply be, without shoehorning them into situations. There is a little more shoehorning going on each year with the characters thrust into a situation that builds, usually involving a scenario or stunt that makes each episode individually memorable as "the one where "x" does "y"". But it's all done in a perfectly charming way that comes from character, so that even the three leads hijacking a runaway steam engine fits into the fabric of the world Roy Clarke has created and even enhances it (the steam engine episode proved one of the funniest). I'm a little concerned that things may get bigger as the series progresses, but not too concerned. I feel Clarke will keep bringing things back to exhanges between and observations from the characters, which is the series' strength.




    These titbits can be fascinating, but the problem with them is that once attention is drawn to apparent schisms within a cast it can be quite difficult not to look for signs of them based on the characters' interactions onscreen, and even to take sides an apportion blame. Since the humour here comes from the characters' opposing personalities I dare say a lot could be read into their body language.

    It must be difficult to work alongside someone with whom you genuinely struggle to get along, but I do wonder if there are many times when these things get blown out of proportion. Working closely and intensely with the same couple of people day in day out for years - decades in some of these cases - it's understandable there would be differences of opinion (creative or personal) or simply times when one would get a bit weary of the company of someone. These are colleagues after all, people who work ten, twelve hours a day or more together by circumstance rather than choice.

    To have friction with a colleague happening under the watchful eye of the media must be a nightmare: For an occasional sharp exhale of breath to be picked up on and discussed. And to be in fora where one is encouraged to discuss difficulties for the entertainment of people who may actually find the reality quite humdrum.

    Not that I'm saying there's no truth to the rumour. But the important thing is that what happens onscreen is magic - whether it's because of difficulties, in spite of them or because there aren't actually any.
     
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  19. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    Oh absolutely, I think there is no doubt everyone involved was far too professional to allow any differences of opinion affect production.

    I have an excellent book written by Andrew Vine "The Last Of The Summer Wine", I thoroughly recommend you get a copy, because it gives a tremendous background on all aspects of the show, how they settled on Holmfirth as the location; how the show had to deal with apparent indifference on the part of the BBC in terms of its continued existence and the constant need to manage the actors as they aged or were no longer able to continue.

    In terms of Bill Owen's apparent clashes with initially Michael Bates and then Brian Wilde, politics was usually the flashpoint.

    Swami
     
  20. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    My Summer Wine viewing bobs happily along. It's quite consistently enjoyable with little variation, so there's little to write about. And I suspect that will be the same for many years to come.

    I've now reached the end of Series Six and up to '82. Series Seven will be pretty much exactly a decade on from the first. Time flies in Holmfirth. And yet not.

    The Christmas specials, annoyingly, aren't placed correctly on the discs, so at the end of Series Six we bounced back a couple of years to watch the specials going back to Series Four. Of course, this being Summer Wine, it wasn't too noticeable. The only jarring aspect was seeing Sid's cafe which had a makeover and then suddenly was back to dinge.

    With the show having all male leads, scenes between women are a rarity. There was one notable scene between Ivy and Nora in one of the Christmas specials in which the writing seemed particularly sharp and the energy great. It did stand out as different - almost like cutting to a different series - but was very enjoyable indeed.




    Thanks. I enjoy behind-the-scenes books, so I'll look out for this one.


    Ah - that sounds familar. I think I'd read something about Bates and Owen beforehand, with Bates an ardent Conservative supporter and Owen affiliated with Labour.
     
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