The great British sitcom: Last Of The Summer Wine

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

  1. Swami

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    It gets worse following the death of Bill Owen, unfortunately with new additions to the cast who didn’t fit in.

    Swami
     
  2. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    That's the general impression I'm getting. I have a growing feeling the final two series may be watched for completion rather than enjoyment, but I'm keeping an open mind.
     
  3. Swami

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    Frank Thornton was very good, but somehow they made a decision to bring in a group of hippies. It got very poor audience reaction at the time and they were quickly dropped.

    Swami
     
  4. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    The transition to 16:9 ratio for Series Twenty has really brought Holmfirth to life in a new way. Like 1999 all over again it took the best part of an episode to get used to. But it's proving a nice enhancement to the backdrop of the series.

    As I approach the end of the Twentieth (series and century), there are no major signs of the series losing any steam. It's repetitively formulaic, of course. Or at the very least extremely predictable. But that's part of the charm. One feels that if it weren't for the limitations of the older actors they could have kept this up for another couple of decades. As it is, there are now fewer risks for most of the older actors. It's been a while since there's been a close up of Compo sitting on a stone bridge somewhere high up, for instance - these kind of scenes are now mostly in long shot, presumably with stunt doubles. But then this year has seen all the men in the cast whizzing about on roller skates, osteoporosis be damned.

    Even sans Foggy, the wonderful ensemble continues to shine. Thora Hird has become noticeably frailer in the last couple of series, but no less sharp and funny. Edie remains a favourite of mine. Indeed, she's the one whose scenes I most look forward to at this point. All these larger than life characters are going to appeal in different ways, and some more than others. The only ones that don't really appeal to this viewer are Smiler and Eli. They're perhaps a bit too broad and cartoony for me, what with Smiler's gurning and Eli's Mr Magoo antics. Fortunately, both are used judiciously and invariably interact with very strong actors, which more than softens the blow.
     
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  5. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    I liked Eli, although producer Alan J W Bell said that he always had difficulty in actor Danny O'Dea getting scenes done in one take. His forte was primarily pantomime, and it took him a bit of adjustment for television. Sometimes twenty takes!

    Ever-increasing insurances costs for the ageing actors proved more and more troublesome as the years went on.

    Swami
     
  6. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    After watching the Millennium Special and the first three episodes of Series 21, it's sad to think I've now seen every episode with Bill Owen.

    Despite the placement on the discs, I chose to watch the episodes in the order they were screened. The three episodes that Bill had partially filmed were very cleverly done to keep Compo part of the landscape. I noticed he was present mostly in the location shots, but absent from the studio interiors.

    Seeing how it was edited gave a bit of a hint about what was meant to be on screen. The most notable example for me was the scene in Under The Rug where Clegg tried the wig on in his living room while Truly was laughing at him. As they were about to cut to the exterior "Compo" walked in, his face hidden (a double, presumably), only to be turned around and ordered back outside by Truly and Clegg who just about to go outside. This then cut perfectly away to show Compo, Truly and Clegg stepping outside the house in Holmfirth. It was clear Compo was meant to have been in the interior scene, having a good laugh at Clegg's syrup and it was cleverly re-written. Presumably they shot a block of exteriors at Holmfirth and then did the studio stuff later. I'm looking forward to reading the Andrew Vine book at some point to understand more about the shooting schedule for the series.

    I know that the special Last Post And Pigeon was the last episode Bill filmed, and there was much about it that felt beautifully fitting and showcased everything that made Compo such a lovely character. There was a nice bit of pathos when Compo's invitation to France was retracted. Practically the entire cast turning up to send Compo on his way as he left for France was rather moving, as was that final close-up of Compo with tears running down his face. He even got a final kiss from Nora.

    The next three episodes are the ones covering Compo's death and funeral. I'm sure Roy Clarke will give him a good sendoff. While other actors deaths - most notably John Comer and Joe Gladwin - weren't directly acknowledged at first, as the years have gone by the series has done a really nice job of keeping their characters alive through other characters' remembrances. This will certainly be the case for Bill Owen, and it will be interesting to see how the series approaches the funeral of a main character.
     
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  7. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    Yes, the three episodes covering Compo's passing and his funeral are amongst the finest of Roy Clarke's writing. And an excellent guest appearance from Liz Fraser, a former colleague of Bill Owen's in the Carry Ons.

    Swami
     
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  8. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Series Twenty One really has seen the best and the worst of times so far. Compo's final four episodes, as mentioned above, were very well done. It was very moving seeing Bill Owen looking so frail. I've now read that filming finished on Last Post And Pigeon just days before he died of pancreatic cancer. No wonder everyone seemed so emotional as they waved Compo off.

    The three episodes covering Compo's death and funeral were just beautiful. Written and performed with real feeling and very moving indeed. The look on Peter Sallis's face as Cleggy received the news in the hospital waiting room broke my heart. The balance of humour and pathos was just pitch perfect. Kathy Staff's dramatic background, too, shone through. What really got me was the montage where the camera visited many of the different places where Compo had stood with his friends, now empty as his funeral service took place. The hearse driving through the Holme valley was also very touching - not even the raucous laughter of some of the audience could take the power away from that moment.

    The opening credits of that first Compo-less episode softened the blow of Bill Owen's absence by bumping Kathy Staff and Jane Freeman's credits up to sit directly under those for Sallis and Thornton, which I liked. There seems to have been a bit of experimentation with the credits since then, culminating with Mike Grady bizarrely getting "third man" credit in the final episode of the series. I suppose it made a kind of sense here since Barry's role in latter part of the episode - freewheeling on an escaped trailer while sitting at a spangly piano in a bright white suit - was very much the kind of situation Compo would get himself into. But I really couldn't cope with Barry as a lead on a more full time basis.

    With Compo's absence, the rest of the Twenty First year has felt in some ways like a series struggling to find itself. And the irony is that it really didn't need to. With the ensemble so large now, Clegg and Truly would have been fine as a twosome for a while. They need a mischief-maker, certainly, but there are enough of those in the village. Howard lives right next door to Cleggy, after all.

    Tom Owen's stint playing Tom, the son of his late father's character, is certainly a very brave move on behalf of the actor, and I can imagine it was a little strange for everyone involved who presumably knew him (Sallis's friendship with Bill Owen aside, Tom had appeared in an episode some years earlier). Beyond the initial episode, Tom (the character, but also to a lesser degree the actor) isn't really working for me. Which really has to do with how he is being used. Rather than integrate the newcomer into the established cast, he's operating in a vacuum, living in a mobile home with Julie T. Wallace and a generic goth/punk/emo girl, coming up with tedious moneymaking schemes. This has been a huge misstep on the part of Clarke. Tom and co have only appeared in four episodes but it feels like ten. And not in a good way.

    There's just so much wrong with this situation. We're taken away from the village proper. All the characters are new, so it's very jarring. But most of all, the characters aren't likeable. None of them. Which would be fine if they were funny, but they aren't. I get the feeling that we're supposed to like them, but it's just not happening. Gothy Babs is the worst offender. She's a token young person being written by a seventy year old man whose strength is writing for older character actors. The end result is cringeworthy. They feel forced - almost like they're meant to be Summer Wine's equivalent of Daisy, Onslow and Rose, but without any real ties to the rest of the cast. The end result is that I feel no connection to them and even less interest in what they're saying or doing. There's something very wrong with a scenario in which, rather than following the story, I spend all of their scenes trying (and failing) not to look at Julie T. Wallace's nipples.

    It's not all bad news, though. It was good to see Liz Fraser in her brief role as Reggie Unsworth. And Dora Bryan (yet another of Bill Owen's Carry On compatriots) had a promising introduction as Edie's long-lost sister, Ros. All the same, I don't feel Ros is meeting her full potential at the moment and I'm hoping for some more verbal sparring and snide comments between Edie and Ros in the episodes to come.
     
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  9. Swami

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    Yes, there were a lot of complaints sent to the BBC about the characters who were introduced along with Tom (Compo's son). They just didn't fit in.

    Swami
     
  10. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    With Series Twenty Two commencing it seems there's been some real effort to rectify things. Punky Babs is gone forever, while Tom and Mrs Avery have moved into Compo's old house. So my previous concerns about the characters operating in a vacuum and Babs being wrong for the show have been completely addressed. There's a bit of competition going on between Mrs Avery and Nora to look after Tom with cups of tea and the like.

    Tom's money making schemes see him introducing Mrs Avery in whatever capacity she's needed, so Julie T. Wallace is getting to interact more with the others. I'm reserving judgement on whether this is going to work. So far, there's just been a tedious plot in which she was personal trainer to Barry, so it hasn't endeared me. Barry is a character that works ok as a secondary character giving Edie feed lines to put him down and looking awkward while Glenda swoons over him. And I'm still of the opinion that he worked best in the six years when he was offscreen, his name invoked frequently by Glenda to much eyerolling from the coffee circle. He's certainly not a character that needs any plots of his own, something that unfortunately seems to be increasing. I hope it's not a trend.

    The main triad in Series Twenty Two seems to be Clegg, Truly and Billy Hardcastle, though Tom is also frequently seen with them. Neither Billy nor Tom have the charisma and presence of any lead character seen so far in the series, so I'm quite happy with the energy being split between them. In the circumstances I'm finding the current group more interesting as a tedrad than a triad.
     
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  11. Swami

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    From this point on the series' longevity starts to tell as gradually one by one several of the actors are no longer able to continue. In a fairly short space of Thora Hird, Gordon Wharmby and Danny O'Dea die between series.

    Gradually more and more use of digital wizardry to film location shots featuring Peter Sallis and Frank Thornton become the norm. Peter Sallis' eyesight was starting to fail and there was one worrying incident where he stumbled into a hole that he did not see.

    Swami
     
  12. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Despite the feeling of autumnal change happening by the latter half of Series Twenty Three, I'm still enjoying Summer Wine far more than expected.

    Nora has departed - albeit temporarily for the time being. Gone for good are Mrs Avery and Eli. Wesley will be off in a few episodes' time.

    Mrs Avery had grown on me as a character in the previous series. Or at least she was better used in competition with Nora as they battled one another to look after Tom and to do the better job of keeping house. I can't say I've missed the scams and random careers though.

    Nora's absence hasn't had as much impact as I feared it might. Perhaps knowing it's only temporary has helped, but I think it's also because the ensemble is quite huge by now and there are still many familiar faces and scenarios going on. Her exit was finally acknowledged several episodes into Twenty Three. The dialogue around it was well done, becoming as it did an opportunity for Clegg to philosophise about aeroplanes and Australia.

    Using a stand-in playing Nora in long shot as she walked down the steps was a little curious. It's the only time the location of Nora's house has been seen this year. For many years it was one of the key locations and there was the Compo connection too. In a way it's perhaps better to remember it as it was, but I still miss it. I suspect it will be back along with Kathy Staff in a few episodes' time.

    I've noticed an increase in green screen or back projection for scenes in which characters are having conversations inside vehicles or close ups of characters whizzing round on scooters or whatever. Presumably it's quicker, easier, safer and cheaper than setups where cars are towed in outdoor locations or whatever. But it doesn't look good and it makes the series feel less outdoorsy and quaint.

    Billy and Tom have endeared themselves to me. I'm enjoying the regular triad of Clegg, Truly and Billy, but it's also refreshing when they become a foursome with the addition of Tom or a duo with just Clegg and Truly chatting.

    The supporting ensemble continues to feel strong, with Edie, Ivy, Glenda, Pearl, Howard and Marina consistently great.
     
  13. Swami

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    I was never quite sure about the character of Billy, I didn't think he fitted in that well.

    Swami
     
  14. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    It's a difficult task that he had, effectively replacing Bill Owen. It's taken me a while to click with the character, but I think he does a nice job of being of a similar temperament and energy without being an ersatz clone of Compo. As time's gone on, I've noticed Billy using the same more traditional Yorkshire way of speaking as Compo ("thee" or "thy" instead of "you" for instance"). It's not jarring, but just a little reminder that the lines could just as easily be written for Compo.
     
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  15. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    Oh absolutely, there's no doubt he was far superior to Mrs Avery and her gang, much closer to the sort of character the script required.

    Swami
     
  16. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Series Twenty Five is underway in the O'Drama household.

    Gone, sad to say, are Wesley and Edie. They were two characters whose scenes I invariably enjoyed. Edie, in fact, would probably be included in a Top Three favourite characters for the whole series. Thora Hird's ability to steal a scene is especially missed in The Ladies scenes.

    The newcomers to the series, many as they are, aren't quite making up for the losses. In fact, so low key are they that Entwistle, Alvin and Miss Davenport had two introductions each. Miss Davenport's in particular was very strange as she and Bernard Cribbins had interacted with the key cast but none of them seemed to recognise her in their second encounter (her second introduction).

    The actors for all three newcomers are known to me, mostly for what I'd say are their signature roles (respectively Cato, George Roper and shaky Elizabeth). And for some there's little change here. Murphy's primary arc, for instance, is to irritate his neighbours with his uncouth ways and clash with a battleaxe. It's great to see Nora back, though I'm less sure about the dynamic with Alvin as it's so identical to Nora and Compo's scenes. To be fair, they were an iconic part of the series and Clarke has waited several years before trying to reinvent that particular wheel. Murphy, too, has fallen comfortably into the scenario. The chemistry is good with the rest of the cast and Alvin is funny and likeable. But during many of his scenes I find myself mentally recasting him with Bill Owen as it feels explicitly like Compo material.

    What's interesting is that the other two Compo replacements are still present, so the energy is getting spread around. Tom is still scheming, being all kinds of lazy and avoiding the repo man. Billy is doing the childlike frankness and cheeky playfulness in many of the contemplative scenes with Truly and Clegg. So it's fair to say that the Compo heritage is somewhat diluted in the absence of Owen. But that leaves room for each of the three to find their own characteristics and voice, which seems to be happening.

    It hadn't really occurred to me that Entwistle was something of a Wesley replacement until I saw him reach out of the window of his van to open the door using the outside handle - a quirk that was a Wesley trademark. Since then, I've realised that Entwistle's role as a bad tradesman who is frequently used as a signpost character - driving up to the lead characters on the hills and telling them so and so is looking for them - is pretty much how Wesley was used outside of his interactions with Edie. As an aside, I'm uncomfortable with the "exotic" music that's frequently played over Entwistle's scenes - all stereotypically East Asian.

    Miss Davenport has been a slow starter for me. I'm still working out how she fits into the whole scenario as it feels a little forced at times. The disgusted looks she's got from Nora and Ivy during their coffee mornings - during her flights of fancy and after she remarked about quaint Northern customs - has been enjoyable. But like the ladies themselves, I'm still not quite sure what she's actually doing there. But unwelcome outsiders can make for interesting viewing, so there's hope.

    The series as a whole does feel like it's past its best but, at the moment, there's still enough of the longtime familiar to keep it comforting. And Roy Clarke continues to put some wonderfully funny lines into his characters' mouths (Pearl saying Marina's "eyelashes are longer than her skirts" springs to mind as a recent example). And that's an incredible feat after over thirty years.




    In related news, I've dived into Andrew Vine's book, as recommended to me a few pages ago.


    [​IMG]


    It's an engrossing read. Far meatier than I was expecting but incredibly easy to fly through those chapters. The behind the scenes story and the schisms within the cast are even more gripping than the series itself. I'm currently up to the first Seymour year, with lots of new arrivals and Gordon Wharmby's nervous breakdown and hospitalisation brought on by his awe at working with Thora Hird. Each titbit I read fills me with even more wonder at and admiration for the on-screen magic that gave nothing away.
     
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  17. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    Yes, it would have been very easy to write an overview of the series without exploring the more contentious issues.

    It does underline the professionalism involved that the disputes did not spill over onto the screen performances.

    Swami
     
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  18. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    And it's on to Series Twenty Six.


    It's a strange relationship I have with Summer Wine at the moment. There's been a definite decline in the Noughties episodes, but it's mostly so gradual that it doesn't jar. And I have such a fondness for the characters and their locale that it's easy to overlook whatever shortcomings there may be and enjoy my continued visits to Holmfirth.

    The series does seem like it has struggled to find itself post-Compo. And I don't think it has. Alvin's scenes are so Compo-esque that they really serve to remind one that Bill Owen isn't there. Which is a shame, because Brian Murphy is wonderful in the role. Funny, endearing and very sporting (in an episode I watched last night Alvin fell backwards from an inflatable swan into a filthy river, and Murphy can clearly be seen throwing himself into the stunt wholeheartedly). I'm very much enjoying Alvin, but I can't help wishing he was written just a little differently.

    The triad has officially become the tetrad of Clegg, Truly, Billy and Alvin. Tom is now tagging along with Auntie Wainwright and Smiler and has actually come into his own. He's improving those scenes, seeming somehow to mitigate Auntie's coldness and Smiler's gurning.

    The Ladies' scenes seem sparser now. Perhaps recognising that in the absence of Thora Hird an important ingredient has been lost. In one of the scenes where the ladies visited Auntie's shop, Nora chose an appropriate moment to remind Glenda that Edie would have told Glenda to drink her coffee. It's the only reference to Edie since she's been gone, and even then it was a vague, passing comment. Edie wasn't mentioned by name, nor was it clear where she was supposed to be even though she was spoken off in past tense.

    Too frequently, these days, Glenda is used as part of the background of Barry's latest wacky antic. Barry seems to become more overwrought with each passing episode, and it's mostly down to how he's being played. Mike Grady is going broad and cartoony these days to the point where one almost feels the character knows he is in a sitcom and is acting accordingly, with lots of physical jolts and facial mugging. He makes interesting choices in his reactions to others which draw attention to him even when he's in the background. Which on the one hand shows he knows a thing or two about keeping the audiences attention, while on the other hand doesn't seem in the spirit of the ensemble. Gone is any sense of subtlety, and what's left is someone who is very clearly a character being played by an actor who is giving it everything he's got. It detracts from the reality of the series, and that's quite a feat in a world inhabited by so many eccentrics.

    Louis Emerick has returned as the second policeman, alongside Ken Kitson. It's a nice callback, with him having last appeared some fifteen years earlier. I'm already sorely missing the wonderful chemistry between Kitson and Tony Capstick. A particularly enjoyable element of their magic was their physical counterpoint with Kitson's tall, broad character - always in the driving seat - contrasting wonderfully with Capstick's slight, wide-eyed naïf looking permanently bewildered.

    I think I'm going to miss Capstick's Policeman #2 more than some of the main departed characters. It's sad to think that his departure was necessitated by Capstick's alcohol related death. What a talent he was - and responsible for some of key northern iconography with a wonderful monologue:

     
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  19. Swami

    Swami Soap Chat Warrior

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    I agree, Brian Murphy was an excellent addition to the cast in the later years, a much better fit than Keith Clifford, I thought.

    Swami
     
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  20. Mel O'Drama

    Mel O'Drama Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I have to hand it to Summer Wine. There's almost a tedium to watching at the moment. A resignation that storylines are now being recycled on a regular basis in addition to the already tried and tested formula.

    And then along comes a scene that feels as fresh and funny as anything put out during the programme's heyday.

    A great example of the latter came along in an episode I watched a night or two ago, in which Clegg was in an upstairs room typing his memoirs when Howard climbed a ladder to get his attention. There was some silence as Clegg - his back to the window - sat thinking about what to write next while Howard observed the scene. Then Howard drew back his hand to knock on the window only for Clegg to start typing, his taps on the keyboard obscuring Howard's taps on the window. The synchronisation of the taps was just hilarious, with pauses in all the right places. It was simple but performed to perfection.

    Peter Sallis's role is dwindling noticeably, but when he's used this well for his few scenes - and he always is - I don't mind. It's quality over quantity.
     

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