Series One (1973) Episode Reviews

David Piper

Dedicated Member
(S01 E01) Short Back and Palais Glide

Original Airdate: November 12, 1973

At the library, Blamire and Clegg turn Compo upside down to rid him of "evil spirits" and are thrown out by Mr. Wainright.

“These days my main complaint is against the world in general; I do not like the way it’s going.”

~Cyril Blamire

Frank “Rocky Hardcastle” Middlemass makes his only appearance here as Judd the barber. Judd and the trio have the episode’s best scene. Judd’s barbershop requires a 2-mile bus ride, so the shop is too far away for the trio to regularly see him, though the men all know one another and many others (unseen). Besides, it is 1973, and the lads comment on how everyone except Cyril wears their hair long. Blamire is the one getting his hair cut, but it’s really Clegg and Compo who need a trim!

The funniest exchange involves whether the vikings savaged forefathers or “foremothers.” The thought of the former is reacted to brilliantly by Middlemass, Bates, Sallis, and Owen, with Compo’s “bloody hell” perfectly punctuating the hilarious (and disgusting) moment.

The barbershop scene and all interior scenes are shot on video, so the grubby 1970s realness of the era’s Britcoms is fully realized here and in the outdoor scenes, which are shot on film. I’ve always loved that British programs did this throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s; it adds to the time and place, which makes viewing so many BBC Britcoms of that era so enjoyable.

The banter conveys the typical men’s barbershop I remember from childhood. Everyone smokes, including Judd, Compo peruses through and lusts over one of the models in the girlie magazines laying around. There’s also a nude pinup plainly visible on the wall. World War II is referenced, as Judd was in an armored division stationed in Berlin during the war.

Nora Batty is mentioned but not seen.

Head librarian Mr. Wainright is a real creep. A pushy know-it-all (and a reader of Marxist tomes) who tries everything he can think of to act the octopus with his assistant, Mrs. Partridge.

Just outside of town, Mrs. Partridge lives in a small, red-door house. I get an odd sense of nostalgia in some of these outdoor scenes. It could be the lighting, the memory of my having watched too many British shows growing up, or just plain madness.

Mrs. Partridge is adorable when she runs back into the house when she sees the trio coming to ask her about Compo’s missing key. Mrs. Partridge has a red-headed son about 12 years old who looks like he could have been cast as the young Alvy Singer in Annie Hall.

Cafe owners Sid and Ivy have a funny scene together at the “Biweekly Formal Function of the Old-Time Dancing Fellowship” (15p admittance fee). I like Sid already. His response to Ivy's "You never even hold me" is the episode's funniest moment. Sid's got it all wrong though, as his Ivy is a lovely vision in her light blue dress. Sid joins our heroes in a side storage room where they eat fried chicken and drink bottles of beer while playing cards.

My Rating: 9/10
(S01 E02) Inventor of the Forty Foot Ferret

Original Airdate: November 19, 1973

Cyril challenges Compo to sit in a church for 5 minutes without speaking.

“His family always seemed devout in National Assistance.”

~Norman Clegg

It’s only the second episode, but The Inventor of the Forty Foot Ferret is the most interestingly directed (Jimmy Gilbert) episode to date. There’s an especially beautiful shot of the trio walking along a path with the cemetery behind them and St. John’s church off in the distance.

I like the transition from film to video when the trio walk along the exterior of the abandoned barn to the interior. The lads hanging around in abandoned buildings takes me back to my childhood days. I can’t say that there are many 50-year-old men aside from vagabonds spending time in such places these days.

The “fetching-a-kite” and subsequent flying of it are my favorite parts of this episode. The overcast, windswept hill also brings to mind a specific occasion, once again from my childhood. The scene is visually worlds apart from the perpetual sunshine of the last several series. The cafe scene has the best dialogue, with Clegg’s “Camaraderie of the redundants cuts across all social lines” the standout line.

Mr. Wainwright contemptuously describes Holmfirth as a “petit bourgeois town.” I can’t wait to see Mr. Wainwright round the corner out of town.

At the cafe, Cyril speaks the episode title.

There’s some outstanding camerawork of the lads walking through an abandoned mill or factory. The high street area also appears gloriously sooty and blighted. I’m curious to know how many future episodes will feature the busier parts of town.

Bill Owen performs some brilliant physical comedy. He walks around the tomb under the floor of the church. He strikes an eagle-like pose, too.

Cyril puts a donation in the box as the boys leave the church, an apology, no doubt, for Compo's sacrilege.

Sid and Ivy bicker while riding bicycles together. They pass unnoticed by the trio, who take the episode to its conclusion, with Compo still resolutely unconvinced as to God’s existence.

Does Clegg imply that London is Hell in the last line of the episode, or that Holmfirth is too far north?

Blamire: It's an open question, life. Anything's possible. I mean, what do we really know about anything?
Clegg: Maybe we're already dead.
Compo: Then what?
Clegg: Maybe we had to die to get here, from some other place.
Compo: Ah, give us a fag afore I get headache.
Blamire: So this is Heaven then. Or the other place.
Clegg: Well, it can't be the other place.
Blamire: Why not?
Clegg: In Yorkshire? Be further south, wouldn't it?

My Rating: 9/10
(S01 E03) Pâté and Chips

Original Airdate: November 26, 1973

The trio, along with Compo’s nephew and family, take a day trip to Upperdyke Hall.

"Here's to the lady that managed the NAAFI in Oswestry during the war. The one with the glasses.”

~Cyril Blamire

The opening shot shows the front of Compo’s hovel amid the cold and damp weather. It’s lovely in its own sort of way.

Is this the first time Compo’s domicile is shown on the inside? It's a studio-based set, but it matches up to the outside well enough.

Compo’s ferrets threaten to steal the scene away from the trio! The furry critters spin and are stimulated by anyone approaching their cage. It’s surprising that Compo doesn’t let them freely roam in his place.

Cyril checks his watch when the watchtower bell sounds. What a nice touch from Michael Bates to do that, or for Roy Clarke to have written it.

This episode has a ton of dialogue, even by Summer Wine standards, much of which is alternately delightful, hilarious, poignant, and utterly quotable.

Cyril admonishes Compo for his dietary habits: “Would you believe it? 1973. The age of the computer and he’s still eatin’ drippin’.” Clegg replies with “Gravy’s a dying art.”

Cyril’s mentioning the year is such a 1970s thing. So many programs made a point to say it was the 1970s or a year in the 1970s. I don’t know of any other decade that was name dropped while it was ongoing.

Sid immediately splits the scene after Ivy mentions to Connie how she herself wanted children but would have to be satisfied mothering one of Connie’s children. Ivy’s smile ever-so-slightly leaves her face as the gang drives off for the day; it’s a fine bit of acting from Jane Freeman.

The cramped van scene with the cameraman presumably inside with the actors is brilliant. I love that the puppy goes after the lollipop! Clegg’s face leaning into his hand and eyes closed as the van bounces over every bump and pothole in Holmfirth is a slice of comedy gold. Composer Ronnie Hazlehurst contributes a lively musical cue for the journey.

Notice how one of the younger children looks at the camera as they walk by the lake.

Chip has a funny line about his children: “I have them playing on the roof and everything! You can’t get rid of them!” Tony Haygarth, while best known as a dramatic actor, also has a gift for light comedy. His Chip is an upbeat and likable character; I wish we’d seen more of him in Summer Wine.

Much of the amusement at Upperdyke Hall is of Compo sneaking off to smoke a cigarette–right next to the No Smoking sign, a trope of comedy shows from time immemorial. Hazlehurst’s music once again shines, as there is a sweet and delicate rendition of the theme in this brief, wordless scene.

Our lads are still shouting the dialogue as they continue to play up to the studio audience, whereas the filmed scenes are so much more natural. I can only surmise that the actors were unsure as to whether the unique Summer Wine dialogue would take off and that the performers needed to hammer it all home.

The grouchy waitress in the outdoor lunch scene resembles a young Nora Batty in appearance and in words (“Well take your mucky mess with you!”)

The part with the trio looking after the kids while Chip and Connie spend some quiet time away is dialogue heavy, but the light and summer warmth is yet another of those filmed moments which remind me of my childhood days. It’s strange how a place one has never been to can evoke memories of a different place but of the same time.
Margaret Nolan, the James Bond and Persuaders! dolly bird of a more glamorous era, plays Chip’s wife, Connie. By 1973 the youthful “Swinging London” was as dead as the dinosaur. Connie, though still lovely, has messy, unkempt hair and not a smear of makeup. No doubt raising her children has taken its toll, though she and husband Chip have an affectionate relationship, as they banter back and forth; it’s clear that the two have a great love for one another.

Chip and Connie’s great relationship is perfectly framed in the pub scene toward episode’s end when the trio are reminiscing about their past loves. Connie and Chip, seated at a table behind the lads, only have eyes for one another and serve to remind the trio–and the viewer– what our redundant heroes don’t have or have lost with the women in their lives.

The final scene between our boys is the most poignant. The drinking and revelry now past, the trio, sitting on Compo’s outside stairway, toast and express themselves without the bravado of their earlier drinking.

Compo: Here's wishing me every success with my daily treble and Mrs Batty.
Cyril: In that order?
Compo: Not... not necessarily.
[Compo passes the can to Clegg]
Clegg: Here's to me brother-in-law who shows deep tact and understanding by keeping out of me way.
Clegg: [Clegg passes the can to Cyril]
Cyril: Aah. Well, here's to the lady that managed the NAAFI in Oswestry during the war. The one with the glasses.

So much can be read into that final exchange. Mrs. Batty is obviously on the forefront of Compo’s mind, Clegg either dislikes his brother-in-law or the man serves as a reminder of the wife Clegg has lost. Cyril now mentions the rather plain woman instead of the glamorous singer Anne Shelton he went on about at the pub. The melancholy of this scene cemented Pâté and Chips as my favorite Series 1 episode.

My Rating: 10/10
I apologize for the increasing-length of my reviews. It's just that there is so much dialogue and wonderful detail in these episodes that I enjoy pointing out. I don't want this thread to solely consist of my opinions and observations, so I encourage everyone to chime in with their views on the episodes. Onward...

(S01 E04) Spring Fever

Original Airdate: December 3, 1973

Compo starts acting strangely, including cleaning his house and attending to his personal hygiene.

“If there’s one thing I thought we could rely on, it’s you being grimy and repulsive! And here you are, behind our backs, being furtively hygienic!”

~Norman Clegg

Nora Batty has a larger presence in this episode than she has had previously. It’s early days yet, but part of me fears that the Nora-Compo dynamic won’t be something I will look forward to with any enthusiasm, as Nora Batty seems to be a wearisome, one-note character.

Clegg has a watch which belonged to his father, who presumably worked for a railroad. This is something which will be forgotten by the time of Full Steam Behind, when it’s Foggy who has an interest in trains.

There’s a sun shower when Clegg and Cyril surprise Compo, who’s cleaning his windows.

The ferrets are at their scene-stealing best, running in circles in their cage and also paying close attention to Compo. That old showbiz saying, “Never work with children or animals” definitely applies here. The ferrets earn a camera closeup as the scene in Compo’s place ends.

Clegg is enthusiastic about Compo’s spring fever. He even briefly sweeps Compo’s floor.

Nora Batty silently yanks Wally out of the pub, with Wally’s pint splashing onto the sidewalk. Funny!

Compo drinks a bottle of beer and smokes a cigarette in bed to an Irish tenor rendition of “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”, which he punctuates with a gigantic belch.

Cyril, however, remains the cigarette-smoking champion, as he is rarely, if ever, seen without a fag dangling off of his lip. Ah, the ‘70s.

Cyril says that on a clear day, if one stands on the top of the old factory chimney one can see Manchester, which, if my dodgy geography holds true, would be clear across England. That’s a nice shot of the factory framed amid the pond and the trees.

I liked the lengthy scene between Clegg and Cyril at the pond. I’m not sure the two will get many scenes like this together, and they don’t even talk about Compo until the scene’s conclusion. They do cover a multitude of subjects, the most amusingly being the everyday perils that await the average fly!

Cyril addresses Nora Batty as “madam.” Do they not know one another very well? Norman behaves in a much more familiar manner toward her. Nora doesn’t appear to be all that kind to Clegg, whom she appears to know all too well.

Compo’s loneliness cannot be attributed to a mid-life crisis, though his buying his new “Andy Capp”-esque suit at the high street tailor still raises Sid’s eyebrow. Ivy literally blends into the cafe’s background, as her turquoise dress matches the walls! She thinks enough of Compo to worry about him, which I liked. I adore Ivy (who resembles my paternal grandmother)

Liz Smith’s unnamed character arrives wearing a “Swinging London”-style get up consisting of a red PVC raincoat and white Go-Go boots. Liz’s character looks like someone long past their prime while wearing the fashions of five years before. I’d feel sorry for her if the character weren’t so dire (“It’s your town, swinger! Lead the way,”). Liz is instantly unimpressed with everything about Compo, thus defining their nonexistent relationship. The pathos in these scenes is balanced by Sid’s effervescent presence; he’s already a favorite character of mine.

The episode ends with Clegg and Cyril on an oil-drum barge. When I was 12 years old, my friends and I happened upon a similarly-built barge and spent every afternoon after school on it, as our neighborhood was interlaced with a canal. I can’t imagine suburban kids of the past 30 years ever being allowed to spend so much time alone and unattended. I’m glad I grew up when I did, for better or worse.

My Rating: 8/10
(S01 E05) The New Mobile Trio

Original Airdate: December 10, 1973

The trio visits a road safety exhibition, inspiring Clegg to purchase a used car.

“The way you drive, we’d spend half the time in people’s back kitchens!”

~Cyril Blamire

The Trio runs through a lot of dialogue in the road safety exhibit, the library reading room, and Compo’s place. They tell a bunch of stories and reminisce a great deal. They mention a Mrs. Lucas and go on about the war. A script book would be handy as my tin American ears cannot always pick up the accent. I appreciate that Roy Clarke packed so many previous adventures in our lads’ lives, though!

Clegg scaring the hapless lad out of the “driver’s seat” at the exhibition was amusing. I think Cyril would have done well in Clegg’s place in that scene.

The boys still meet at the library, but Mr. Wainwright and Mrs. Partridge (Be still my heart!) are nowhere to be seen.

Ronald Lacey (Walter) has outstanding onscreen chemistry with the trio. Not only that, but he is a superb actor. When Lacey speaks his lines, it sounds natural; his dialogue in the “Spaghetti Hoops storage room” comes to mind. Good acting is excelling at performing natural, unselfconscious acts and speaking without sounding like it's acting; Ronald Lacey achieves both in this episode.

There’s a sadness about the scruffy, unkempt Walter. His eyes always look like he’s carrying around some great hurt, and he wears the expression of a man who’s trying but failing to find his way through this life.

Clegg and Cyril see Walter’s tenuous condition: and remark, almost with cruelty:

Clegg: “He’s got so much to live for, has Walter.”
Cyril: “Aye, all that stuff in [the] front room.”

Walter is embarrassed by the state of his storage room and makes feeble excuses for the hopeless state of it. Walter hoards expired foodstuffs and all kinds of random junk that he hopes to sell but rarely succeeds in doing so. He is an eccentric outsider, even by Summer Wine standards. In the “scruffy” department, he gives Compo a run for his money. Walter would have made for a great recurring character. It’s a pity that Ronald Lacey didn’t return for future appearances.

Tiny Mollie Maureen plays Walter’s mother. She looks after a ferocious-sounding dog that Walter brought home, but it’s never seen. Walter has a weakness for stray dogs. He tried to teach this one how to ride a bicycle but it kept falling off!

The New Mobile Trio has me craving Heinz Spaghetti Hoops (or Spaghetti Rings, as Clegg calls them). I actually have a can in the house...

There’s a brief comedic bit at the cafe in which Compo “goes after” Ivy, tickling her until she’s out the cafe door, much to Sid’s amusement.

The physical comedy has begun! The farmer and his tractor get run into by Clegg’s 1950s(?) car, which is so destitute that it has torn, jagged metal from it sticking out to the side, among its many other “charms”. The farmer’s legs are seen kicking about while his profanity-laced tirade is cleverly edited by the continual sounding of the car horn!

The final shot of Compo, Clegg, and Cyril once again running up that dusty road is a fine finish to what is in some ways a bittersweet episode. However, the humor of the boys and that jalopy is a dry run for the slapstick to come.

The New Mobile Trio is almost a perfect “10”, but I wish there had been more scenes devoted to Walter, a character I really liked, as well as more time devoted to the car hijinks. It would have been great fun watching the trio out on the road more–it would have made for a nice extended-length episode!

The opening scenes in which our heroes talk about the people they knew and the war are quite interesting, and I will concentrate more on those in future viewings; I did have some difficulty understanding some of the rapidfire dialogue and heavy accent. I also seriously need to get a Summer Wine script book!

My Rating: 9/10
(S01 E06) Hail Smiling Morn or Thereabouts

Original Airdate: December 17, 1973

The trio are inspired by a local photography exhibit to make a day of taking their own photographs.

“I bet there’s Boris Karloff around here somewhere plugging into all this free electricity!”

~Cyril Blamire

Blamire is once again seen exiting his boarding house and walks about in his quiet neighborhood. Cyril meets up with Compo by the industrial mill area on their way to the library, all to Ronnie Hazlehurst’s timeless Summer Wine theme.

Cyril’s cultural interests appear genuine and not an affectation of placing himself above his fellow Yorkshiremen.

Compo has another of his massive sandwiches…does anyone know what’s in it?

Mr. Wainwright and Mrs. Partridge appear together for the last time in this episode. The two have a snogging session in a duck blind. It’s Mrs. Partridge’s final appearance; the weather seems especially warm in their scene together.

Peter Sallis slips as he makes his way into the newly-abandoned duck blind

Norman Clegg's house makes its debut. Clegg appears to live in a different house in a different part of town than what we later see. The door is different and opens in a different direction than the one in future episodes.

The interior of Clegg’s place isn’t nearly as nice as the one later seen. The sofa looks like a car’s back seat. There are some books on a case under the stairs and in front of the closed kitchen door.

A boom microphone is seen above Clegg’s head after the cut away from Cyril’s “I never went near Francine Jessup’s sand pit!”, which is a funny double entendre that dies with the studio audience.

A wedding portrait of what looks to be Mrs. Clegg in her wedding gown is a subject of discussion, though Clegg goes on about her having worn a navy coat and chapel hat. Compo says “She were always ugly then.” Clegg agrees! I don’t buy Clegg’s comments about his late wife. Norman and Mrs. Clegg most likely had a “Sid and Ivy”-style relationship. I suppose future episodes might shed more light on this.

The viewer gets to see Cyril’s photos (in sepia or monochrome) as they appear after he’s taken them. Some are awful in an amusing way, but a few are delightful. Let’s hope Cyril kept them and looked back fondly at his time with his lifelong chums Clegg and Compo.

The trio once again take refuge in the abandoned building. Cyril says “What a place to go to bed in!” Odd, since The Trio had been here before. Cyril the ex-military man is much more afraid than either Compo or Clegg.

Cyril mentions “Indo meditation.” A nod to Michael Bates' birthplace, perhaps?

At the pub, the boys have beer for breakfast. Compo looks to have eaten 6 or 7 packets of crisps, which Cyril calls “chips.” Compo downs a liter of ale, a quarter of which he chugs down just before leaving the pub. The barman looks perturbed at having to keep Clegg’s camping gear behind the bar (more like a window than a bar), and he gives Clegg a withering stare as Clegg turns his back to him!

The episode ends with a beautiful shot of the lads traversing a somewhat treacherous hill.

Where did this 30 minutes go? Hail Smiling Morn or Thereabouts is a delightful episode which focuses mainly on The Trio and their adventure. This episode is worlds away and above most episodes featuring the heavily-populated cast list in the show’s later years.

The photography idea was especially inspired and well rendered. Showing the results of Blamire’s photography was a nice touch and a great way to add laughs to the proceedings.

With the end of Series One, it appears as though Sallis, Owen, and Bates have already solidified their dynamic with one another, as their onscreen chemistry is brilliant.

My Rating: 10/10
Of Funerals and Fish goes here (for completion's sake). I'll no doubt add a lot more detail on a rewatch! This review's practically blank!

(S00 E00) Of Funerals and Fish

Original Airdate: January 4, 1973

Compo, Clegg, and Blamire go around town, discussing life and death and watch their fellow townspeople with their problems.

"If God's omnipotent, with all that choice available, what could he possibly want with my old woman? No, it implied blind chance working there, not selection.”

~Norman Clegg

On 4 January 1973, Last of the Summer Wine began as Of Funerals and Fish, a pilot episode for the BBC Comedy Playhouse series.

Everything about the pilot sets up all of the Summer Wine tropes. The original trio and their personal characteristics, how they know one another, and their connection to Yorkshire are all present in this, the introduction to Summer Wine Land. The trio are already developed, although Norman Clegg is a lot more cynical and conniving than he would later become. Clegg smokes cigarettes and even does so in the library!

The trio drink pints of best bitter in a local pub, which is something that would disappear in the show's later years. I prefer this early take on our heroes. I also appreciate that the trio are not old-age pensioners, but rather workers in their 50s--my age now--who have been made redundant for one reason or another.

Compo is already himself and has attained self actualization from the very start, making his iconic character all the more endearing.

Cyril Blamire (Michael Bates) is also outstanding. Had he remained with the show, Summer Wine would still have been the hit it became.

There is also a glimpse of the show’s supporting characters: Nora Batty, the cafe owners Sid and Ivy, and the short-lived library staff.

Summer Wine began with a gritty edge that would have long since disappeared by the time of the post-Compo era (2000-2010). The show is dialogue driven, and the indoor-video/outdoor-film concept would continue until the early 1990s. The slapstick comedy of future series is nowhere to be found. I appreciate both approaches, but being a 1970s obsessive, I wish that the show had continued with the more caustic, cerebral, and philosophical directive it began with initially. I still find much to enjoy about Last of the Summer Wine.

My Rating: 10/10