Series Two (1975) Episode Reviews

David Piper

Dedicated Member
(S02 E01) Forked Lightning

Original Airdate: March 5, 1975


Clegg, having endured several mishaps, seeks to repair his bicycle as well as to master riding it.

“Oh Ivy, thee’s got a chest like a proud pigeon! If it wasn’t for Nora Batty, I could fancy thee!”

~Compo Simmonite

The slapstick for which Summer Wine is famous starts to take hold, but there’s still plenty of witty dialogue to complement it. In Forked Lightning, Norman Clegg suffers That Most Serious of Injuries…twice…while riding his bicycle. Both times, other townsfolk witness this most unfortunate event. The first group are waiting for a bus and mockingly give Clegg an ovation after his accident. Clegg tips his hat; he clearly has a proclivity to cope! One of the townies says, “Nice one, Cyril”, which is not a mistaken reference to Michael Bates’ character, but rather a popular expression of the day.

“In 1972, Wonderloaf Bread created a television advertising campaign written by Peter Mayle with the slogan "Nice one, Cyril", where the slogan was used to congratulate a baker named Cyril for baking a good loaf of bread. The slogan was picked by fans of the football club Tottenham Hotspur, who chanted "Nice one Cyril" to praise a Tottenham player named Cyril Knowles. Harold Spiro, a fan of the club, wrote the song with Helen Clarke based on the slogan.” [Wikipedia]

Fascinating!

It’s unusual for the traditionally vacant streets of Holmfirth to “suddenly” become filled with onlookers. A few of these actors even get multiple lines of dialogue, such as the two ladies who are seen after Clegg’s second, off-camera accident. I hope the ladies got their equity card for their effort.

At the library, Cyril and Compo wonder where Clegg has gone. They also talk about Compo’s lucky rabbit’s foot. It’s not a particularly funny scene, but it demonstrates what superb actors Owen and Bates are, as they can make almost anything sound interesting. This scene proves it.

Clegg finally does show up and is still in pain. Peter Sallis makes hilarious sounds to express this. The mere motion of moving his leg elicits in him groans of agony. This is only surpassed by the joyful sounds he makes when he’s able to walk without misery again! Brilliantly played by Sallis.

Physical and visual comedy galore: The bike is crushed by a passing truck; The Trio ride in the back of a horse trailer with a horse, of course; the boys falling over in the bike while triple towing…I love the look of pure joy on Compo’s face while Cyril and Clegg’s initial amusement quickly turns to stark terror; Bill Owen conveys a “child at play” visage to perfection here.

The mechanic at the garage where Clegg bought the bike (in 1946) is played by Kenneth MacDonald, the future Only Fools and Horses barman. His character might have been a severe annoyance, but MacDonald is such an engaging performer that he’s actually charming. His mechanic character clearly loves life and his job. In between shouting at Gordon, his offscreen colleague, he sings a medley of classic songs:

By the Time I Get to Phoenix
Secret Love
Everybody’s Talkin’
Baby Love
Hound Dog
Try a Little Tenderness

Cyril tells Clegg that 1946 was a terrible year for him, because he spent his military leave that summer at Bridlington.

The two bus (coach) conductresses (Doreen Sloane, Cynthia Michaelis) are tough but lovely. The camera is inside the coach as the doors close to the trio, who are not permitted to bring the bike aboard.

Ivy gets some wonderful character moments. First, after Compo admires her physical form, she chases him out of the cafe and afterward pauses to admire herself in the mirror. Ivy was either clearly taken with Compo’s attention or by his remark about her bosom.

Another great Ivy moment is her look of obvious concern and total love for her dear Sid, who suffered the same very painful injury as Clegg did at the episode’s start. Sid has his best effort yet in being the unofficial “fourth” member of the trio. He tries to repair Clegg’s bike and is later the recipient of the boys’ “pit crew”-style assistance after Sid’s “Butch Cassidy on a bike” moment reaches its ignominious conclusion. The trio simultaneously looking after Sid is a nice bit of affection from the lads, who no doubt appreciated Sid’s attempts to repair Norman’s bicycle, but it’s also a fine character moment for Norman, Cyril, and Compo to attend to their pal.

Forked Lightning has an assured, confident quality, both in the performances by the principal actors as well as the handful of one-off characters who appear in this episode. While not a perfect 10, Forked Lightning is a highly-enjoyable entry and one that will no doubt rise in rating through repeat viewings.

My Rating: 9/10
 

David Piper

Dedicated Member
(S02 E02) Who's That Dancing with Nora Batty Then?

Original Airdate: March 12, 1975


Compo's neighbor Gloria is moving to Australia, so he decides to throw her a farewell party at Sid's Café.

“Come fly with me, Nora! You and me, we could make magic together, and I’d lay me ferrets at your feet!”

~Compo Simmonite

Two new librarians are introduced, as the Library Mob concept hangs on. Miss Probert (Judith Watson; who’s had a prolific career, just nothing I’ve seen) and Miss Jones (Janet Davies; best-known as Mavis Pike in Dad’s Army). Neither one is a patch on Mrs. Partridge from series one. Miss Probert is a sexually-repressed man-hater who routinely censors the “filthy” library books; Miss Probert is Mr. Wainwright in reverse. Probert has a pretty funny scene when she’s shouting at the boys and starts to hyperventilate, so Compo puts a cigarette in her mouth to calm her down!

Nora Batty and her wrinkled stockings are the focus of the opening scene. She even makes an attempt to straighten them! Nora greets the sweet young lady neighbor, Gloria (Angela Crow), with “Hello, Gloria luv.” It’s refreshing to see Nora Batty being nice, as she’s usually in an anti-Compo state of mind. Gloria and Compo get on well.

Bill Owen looks quite gaunt in the face, particularly in the shot when he’s speaking through the stair rail. Maybe he’d been ill. Bill’s performance is still packed with its usual high energy, though.

Compo considers emigrating to Australia, just so he can forget about Nora Batty.

Clegg mentions power cuts, which were commonplace during the winter of 1973-74, of which everyone watching this episode in 1975 would have been aware:

“The Three-Day Week was one of several measures introduced in the United Kingdom in 1973-1974 by Edward Heath's Conservative government to conserve electricity, the generation of which was severely restricted owing to industrial action by coal miners and railway workers.

“From 1 January 1974, commercial users of electricity were limited to three specified consecutive days' consumption each week and prohibited from working longer hours on those days. Services deemed essential (e.g. hospitals, supermarkets and newspaper printing presses) were exempt. Television companies were required to cease broadcasting at 22:30 to conserve electricity, although this restriction was dropped after a general election was called. The Three-Day Week restrictions were lifted on 7 March 1974.”
[Wikipedia]

There’s an interesting-looking set for the abandoned building where the trio meet Gloria and later, Shep.

Compo’s whistle sounds like it’s someone else doing it for Bill Owen.

The trio runs into Shep (Jack Woolgar), a most unusual lollipop man in that he cannot stand children. It’s not a classic scene, but it’s well acted with high energy and includes good material of the quartet reminiscing about days gone by. Prolific character actor Woolgar has a fine rapport with the trio.

Gloria cries to the trio about how her leaving England is causing her mother to lose sleep. Gloria’s pending emigration might be a last vestige of the “White Australia Policy”:

“The White Australia policy is a term encapsulating a set of historical policies that aimed to forbid people of non-European ethnic origin, especially Asians (primarily Chinese) and Pacific Islanders, from immigrating to Australia, starting in 1901. Governments progressively dismantled such policies between 1949 and 1973.” [Wikipedia]

Cyril is quite gentlemanly with Gloria, and there’s almost a tenderness in how he treats her; well done from Michael Bates. When Gloria begins to pour on the waterworks, Cyril silently gestures for the trio to make their exit. This might have been done out of courtesy for Gloria’s privacy, but there’s also the view that, like many men from the World War II generation, the lads are simply uncomfortable with deep expressions of sadness.

At the end of the scene in which Compo is stuck on a branch of a tree, a fly lands on his nose and remains there for about 2 seconds just before the camera cuts away.

The trio brings a piano into the cafe. A fun musical cue is heard as the boys ride the wheeled palette down the road.

In a series rarity, the cafe has other customers. It’s a good thing they’re there, as Sid and Ivy could use the business, but Blamire’s piano playing quickly motivates the now-annoyed couple to leave the cafe.

Cyril, fresh from his musical "triumph", orders his tea “stirred allegro.”

In two delightful scenes that border on the surreal, Cyril (or Ronnie Hazlehurst) plays piano with a percussive approach which calls to mind Cecil Taylor, the avant-garde jazz musician; it’s actually pretty good! Clegg’s hand clapping is far worse (but funny nonetheless) than Blamire’s piano playing. Plus, Compo dances a twisted sort of tango with Nora Batty! This last scene is a bit of inspired Summer Wine madness, so much that the viewer might be surprised when the end credits come up on screen.

My Rating: 10/10
 

David Piper

Dedicated Member
(S02 E03) The Changing Face of Rural Blamire

Original Airdate: March 19, 1975


Cyril decides the trio should seek out an occupation.

"Depression could be a sort of major art form. There’s so much raw material going for it.”

~Norman Clegg

The rendition of the Summer Wine theme sounds faster than normal.

The opening scene–with the trio bantering while draped on a fence on an overcast, windy day–demonstrates how comfortable this first trio have become with one another. The chemistry is set. I’m dreading Cyril’s departure.

When Cyril asks Compo what he wanted to be at age 11, Compo replies, “A heavy smoker.” Compo’s lifelong ambition is to have no ambition. Compo is one of the great, self-actualized characters of British TV.

There’s something unsettling–even depressing–about the trio looking for work. It takes our heroes out of their “comfort zone.” Anyone watching has no doubt felt the same unease applying for a job. This might be especially unnerving at the lads’ age, with the spectre of redundancy still hanging over their heads.

Jacquie-Ann Carr (Receptionist) plays rude very well. She was a similarly-unpleasant character in the episode Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (S01 E08) episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?

Clegg has a good line directed at the receptionist: “I think you’re a bit wasted here. You ought to be out tending the dying with a whip.”

The plot just doesn’t ring true. It’s highly unlikely that our heroes would be so gullible as to fall for such an obvious, transparent scheme such as Mr. Green’s. Clegg and Compo tag along more as amused observers than as willing participants. They already seem to know how badly Cyril’s plan will turn out.

The scene with Mr. Green (Gerald James) doesn’t seem like Last of the Summer Wine. The setup and subsequent “Shinyglow” spray paint schtick is more reminiscent of a Three Stooges short film, when that hapless trio would fall for a con artist’s scheme. There is something “off” about Gerald James’ performance, as it comes across as obvious “acting.”

Cyril’s leading the way and taking charge sets the template for the kind of madcap ideas that the Foggy and Seymour would later attempt.

The famous scene in the van with Cyril accidentally spraying himself in the face is superbly played. Michael Bates doesn’t overdo it and despite the silliness of the comedy, Bates–and therefore Cyril–never loses his dignity. It’s a brilliant balancing act by Michael Bates, who could have easily descended into slapstick silliness. It brings to mind Arthur Lowe of Dad’s Army, who never lost his poise during even the most humiliating pratfalls.

In the episode’s first cafe scene, Sid and Ivy do not appear. In the second scene and the episode’s best scene, Ivy mentions how she consulted with a Mrs. Brockelsby about the concept of “eternal peace”, which is a hodgepodge of spiritual mumbo jumbo including meditation, deep breathing, an absence of the fear of death, and an angel named Kathleen! Sid asks if Ivy will give him some of that eternal peace! John Comer, as always, can make the most out of even the most limited screen time. All of Ivy’s newfound spiritual calm vanishes the instant she sees Cyril’s green spray-painted face.

In town, the street--it's more of an alley--where the Shinyglow office is located looks to have steep, treacherous footing.

The trio are once again at the pub. Compo always has a liter of beer, whereas Cyril and Clegg look to be swift half devotees. The pub scenes are always a welcome part of the show, though one wonders if such scenes will continue after Cyril’s departure.

Chril says, “Farewell, unemployment and former friends”, as he exits the pub, redoubling his effort to work for Mr. Green, but in the very next scene, the trio are together at the library reading room. Their friendship is indomitable.

When the trio return to see Mr. Green, he is giving yet another poor fellow the Shinyglow routine, but Cyril is no fool, and his desire to work comes to an abrupt end.

The episode ends with a beautiful shot of the town from just above the footpath along the ridge.

My Rating: 8/10
 

David Piper

Dedicated Member
(S02 E04) Some Enchanted Evening

Original Airdate: March 26, 1975


Compo pursues Nora Batty after her husband, Wally, seeks to escape her.

“Don’t chat to him, *terrify* him!”

~Nora Batty

Cyril, Clegg, and Compo wait outside Compo’s hovel for Compo’s TV set–repossessed in Of Funerals and Fish–to be brought back. It’s cold and wet enough outside to see the actors’ breath.

Joe Gladwin makes his debut as Nora Batty’s beleaguered husband, Wally. Gladwin (b. 1906) was 22 years older than Kathy Staff, but to these aging eyes the two appear well matched.

Wally shows no interest nor jealousy at Compo’s obsession with Nora.

Man-hating librarian Miss Probert is even more unlikable than her predecessor, Mr. Wainwright. Probert attempts to “recruit” her colleague, Miss Jones, into her way of thinking, and is shocked to learn that Miss Jones actually likes men. Roy Clarke earns a point for satirizing Miss Probert’s views. This is the final episode with this set of librarians, who are neither funny nor interesting. The library scenes–that is, those without the trio–could have been a welcome, regularly-occurring feature of its own had the characters been engaging; Mrs. Partridge being the lone exception, as she had comparatively more depth and backstory than her colleagues.

Compo, lovestruck over Nora Batty, listens to easy listening-style music over his transistor radio in the reading room. Clegg and Cyril deny knowing Compo as he is ejected from the library by Miss Probert. Compo, looking through the window, gives Clegg and Cyril the two-finger salute. Clegg takes a marker from the library desk and he and Cyril draw a mustache and “googly” eyes over Compo’s face on the window. This amusing bit of Summer Wine bit tomfoolery brings to mind Michael Bates’ memorable performance in Patton (1970), when his pompous Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery fogs (because he was "full of hot air"?) up a mirror and draws his battle plan in it.

Clegg and Cyril are amused by Compo’s antics. It’s especially nice to see Michael Bates adding a lighter touch to his portrayal of Cyril, as he is bemused by Compo’s antics in what reveals to be true affection for the scruffy herbert.

Michael Bates and Peter Sallis knew one another decades before Summer Wine began, and they demonstrate their crackling rapport in the reading room banter after Compo has been kicked out of the library.

At the cafe, Ivy tears into Sid, who had been–metaphorically speaking–brushing the coffee off of a bus conductress’ uniform. Maybe it was one of the tough-but-pretty conductresses from Forked Lightning. Does Sid “play around”? In just two episodes in two series, Roy Clarke has already added considerable backstory to Sid’s and Ivy’s marriage. In Pâté and Chips (S01 E03) Ivy lamented not having any children (note that Sid quietly stalked off at the sight of Ivy holding Chip and Connie’s baby). The Sid and Ivy story, with their staying together despite the endless fights, could be the story of many married couples from the World War II generation who stayed together for better or worse.

Ivy to Sid, who's sitting at a table with Clegg and Cyril: "What do you think you are, the spirit of passive resistance?" Not only is Ivy's remark cuttingly funny, it shows her keen intelligence (and Roy Clarke's).

Compo has taken “unsanctioned” snapshots of Nora Batty, which he mournfully and longfully leaves through (Nora scowling at Compo, Nora bent over straightening her stockings, Nora hanging clothes on the line). There is simultaneous humor and pathos here. Did Compo use Cyril’s camera? It’s nice to see Roy Clarke hadn’t forgotten the photography episode (S01 E06: Hail Smiling Mourn or Thereabouts).

In the episode’s best scene, Compo, dressed in his long johns, is in bed reading a True Romances magazine and listening to his transistor radio. He has, using the nom de plume “Lonely Brown Eyes”, requested “Some Enchanted Evening” be played on the local radio station for Nora. The DJ’s dedication monologue is especially funny, as are Compo’s reactions to the same. The DJ–voice of the BBC’s John Dunn–closes with: “...and before you embark on any of several of your ‘secret wishes’, as outlined here, our advice to you would be to get a good solicitor.”

Compo, while enraptured in the song, accidentally pours a large bottle of stout over his groin. Bill Owen excels at performing comedy without dialogue. He also puts on his wellies, knit cap, and jacket–but no trousers–over his long johns before answering his door for whom he thinks is Nora Batty.

Composer Ronnie Hazlehurst scores the Compo-and-Nora-getting -ready-for-their-date scene to perfection, using fragments of “Some Enchanted Evening” and then employing the full melody as the hair-fixed, dressed-up Nora makes her way to Compo’s place; Kathy Staff is transformed and even walks differently in this scene. Well done! Hazlehurst also scores Clegg and Cyril reacting to the cleaned-up Compo on his way to his date with Nora. There’s next to no dialogue, but Hazlehurst’s music carries the scene; in addition to being a wonderful melodist, he is also a great story embellisher.

Naturally, Wally returns to the fold and Compo-Nora doesn’t happen. Their subplot could have ended with this episode, but Roy Clarke knew he had one of his most-famous storylines with the Compo and Nora saga.

Compo, angry at Clegg and Cyril’s scheming to have him “break up” with Nora, is once again ejected from the library. The two once again doodle over Compo’s face on the window. Compo breaks into his trademark laugh, his anger at his mates clearly gone; it speaks volumes about the trio’s deep friendship.

My Rating: 10/10
 

David Piper

Dedicated Member
(S02 E05) A Quiet Drink

Original Airdate: April 2, 1975


At the Clothiers Arms pub, the trio scheme to get a notorious cheapskate to buy a round of drinks.

“Happiness is the sum total of the small things.”

~Norman Clegg

Sid, Ivy, and Nora Batty do not appear in this episode.

The trio have walked a fair distance from Holmfirth to the Clothiers Arms, a pub apparently located well out of town. Clegg and company seem to know innkeeper Harry and the tightwad Mouse, so the trio must drink there on occasion during their longer wanderings.

Cyril mentions Streaking (running naked in a public place), which would have been all the rage in 1974, when this episode was filmed. Such was the popularity of Streaking that it included major sporting events and the Academy Awards.

A Quiet Drink is a deeper immersion into Yorkshire and its pub culture, at least as it exists in Summer Wine Land. Had I watched this as a child, it would have been quite foreign to me. The dialect, the countryside; even the buying of rounds of drinks would have been a revelation!

There are several pub regulars whom the trio know by name, which makes me wonder how often the lads get out this way for a drink, as the Clothiers Arms is quite a distance away from their usual wanderings.

Harry (George Malpas) is the loud, obnoxious landlord. He bullies his customers and yells at them whenever their drinks reach the halfway point. Notice how he’s nice to Tina (Jean Burgess), who shows up every few months for her drunken blow out. Tina is accompanied by her Boycie-from Only Fools and Horses-like husband, Danny (Alan Curtis) who’s always hustling.

Another regular is Ted (Brian Grellis), a rough truck driver who’s been impatiently teaching his wife Marion (Diana Berriman) to drive. Grellis is another Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? performer (the episode “Birthday Boy”). Ted’s wife Marion sports a huge “Sideshow Bob” hairdo which is dyed a distracting “deep into the abyss” shade of black.

There are also four card players to whom Harry is especially rude. One of the card players has the episode’s funniest line when the quartet emerge from the toilet, (“That’s the first time he’s known what he’s had in his hand all flamin’ night!”). Even the trio laughs at that one!

The worst of the lot is “Mouse” (Larry Noble), a skinflint who is infamous for never having bought a round of drinks. The trio scheme to con the cheapskate Mouse into buying them a round.

The beer garden is in either a separate room from the main bar or outside. With the BBC set it's difficult to tell. And what is that floor? Carpet? Rock? Whatever the case, the beer garden is a better place to drink since it keeps the trio away from the blustery landlord, Harry.

Compo offers his beer–he even adds some grass to it–to a goat which loiters out in front of the Clothiers Arms pub. The goat backs away from Compo and refuses the beer. Finally, a goat that doesn’t consume everything put in front of it!

Compo has an Aunt Beth, who, according to Cyril, started a rumor that the ironways superintendent was born out of wedlock. Compo insists that was a misunderstanding and that she said he was actually born out of Matlock. Clegg finds this to be doubly unfortunate: illegitimate and born in Derbyshire. Many of Compo’s relatives have either been mentioned or seen (Pâté and Chips), which flies in the face of Summer Wine’s “no family” trope. Will there be many more references to Compo’s family? Time will tell.

Compo puts on Tina’s blonde wig, which startles Cyril to near death. Cyril says “You look like Jimmy Savile’s grandad!” This scene would no doubt be hacked from present-day repeats, given Savile’s posthumous reputation. Blamire shakes as he attempts to light a cigarette. This bit shows off Bill Owen’s gift for wordless comedy and Michael Bates’ ability to react to the same. It’s amusing to see that women’s hairpieces (or “falls”) were still popular as late as 1974-75; they went the way of the dinosaur by the late 1970s.

Tina does “drunk” extremely well. Hats off to Jean Burgess for her excellent performance; she also sings a slurred, drunken rendition of “Over the Rainbow'' in her best Yorkshire accent.

The trio load the drunken Tina into the driver’s seat of Mouse's car and buckle her in with the seat belt. After Tina is strapped in, Compo pats her gut! When “Tina” is later seen driving around the parking lot, the car is clearly being driven by a tall, thin male stunt driver, whereas Tina looks to be 5’1”. This is the event that leads to Mouse leaving the table and therefore losing the bet, which guarantees Mouse must buy the next round of drinks.

The extensive guest cast and the fact that the trio has travelled a bit of a distance to this area makes A Quiet Drink feel like a “backdoor pilot.” The colorful characters look as though they were auditioning for a new BBC comedy. Still, there’s enough trio involvement to make it an entertaining episode.

My Rating: 8/10
 

David Piper

Dedicated Member
(S02 E06) Ballad for Wind Instruments and Canoe

Original Airdate: April 8, 1975


The trio purchase a canoe off of an eccentric, would-be explorer and have their own waterway journey.

“The world’s going crackers on wheels, and here we are with the key to thousands of tranquil miles of British pollution.”

~Norman Clegg

A publicity still of the trio lounging around looks to be from the opening of this episode.

Such is its whimsy, the canoe followed by Arnpepper floating downstream is a distinctively “British” take on comedy. It can’t really be explained better than that.

Arnpepper is a charming, offbeat character. John F. Landry makes the most of his brief screen time and contributes a likeable performance. Landry has the same appealing awkwardness as Ronald Lacey and even the future Barry himself, Mike Grady; it would be easy to picture those actors in the Arnpepper role.

There’s a picturesque shot of the trio and Arnpepper carrying the canoe to an abandoned two-story brick building, which is sandwiched between by a deep blue sky and vividly green grass.

In the abandoned building scene, Compo’s reactions run the gamut from a child’s wide-eyed, unfiltered sense of wonder and enthusiasm to honest bewilderment to Arnpepper’s dreams of being famous.

Bill Owen’s acting is sometimes dismissed as being over the top, but I see it as an actor playing a part to perfection. Even by Series 2, Compo is a fully-fleshed out character. No matter the situation, Compo reacts with total honesty: good or bad, happy or sad. One could write a thesis on the dimensions Roy Clarke and Bill Owen put into the scruffy herbert.

In town, the “Huddersfield Building Society” building is seen. The trio shatter a plate-glass window (offscreen; sound effects are cheaper than glaziers) as they drag the unwieldy canoe to Compo’s place.

Clegg is the one who pushes the idea of taking the canoe on “a little expedition.” Perhaps it’s excitement like this which led to the timid, retiring Clegg of future series.

At the cafe, Cyril says about Compo, “He’s got a mouth bigger than a splitting Labour party!” Cyril was a prophet, or just an astute observer of the political scene, as then-recent and subsequent events reveal:

“The Labour Party won the 1974 elections again by a narrow margin, returning Harold Wilson as prime minister. But splits in the party over membership in the European Economic Community (which Wilson favored, but more radical members of his party and powerful unions opposed) and a failing economy led to Wilson's resignation in March of 1976, to be succeeded by James Callaghan. During his term in office (April 1976 to May 1979), Callaghan had to negotiate agreements of support from the small Liberal Party (that by then had thirteen seats in Parliament) and even from the Welsh and Scottish separatist members of Parliament."

Clegg holds a contest as to who among Compo, Cyril, and Sid has the biggest mouth. This is to be determined by inserting half of one of Sid’s meat pies into their mouths (no mustard allowed). The winner will receive “The ‘Norman Clegg ‘Alloy Spoon for Mouth Maneuvers’ and will be entitled, for the period of one calendar year, to the ornery form of address, namely: Hey you, big mouth!” Ivy wins the contest by virtue of her coming out of the kitchen screaming at the assembled tomfoolery. It’s not a particularly funny scene, but it’s still worth watching for the “compelling” set up and to follow it through to its less-than-side-splitting conclusion. Plus, it’s always a treat to watch Sid join in on the trio’s antics.

There’s yet another, larger, even more impressive abandoned building–perhaps an old mansion–as the trio bring the canoe down a rolling green hill. There’s a stone fence around the building and a gate that opens out to the road which appears to lead (probably a jump cut) to the stream where the trio’s adventure takes place. Regardless, it's an impressive-looking and beautiful sight to behold. The weather looks sunny, though Blamire is still wearing his overcoat. Further downstream, there is the mist and haze and overcast skies I’ve come to associate with –and prefer–with Series 1 and 2.

In the episode’s best setpiece, Clegg and Cyril hold Compo from a foot bridge to lower him down onto their escaped canoe. Every line of dialogue from the trio makes this Summer Wine misadventure one that keeps up a smile on the face. Compo’s dialogue and reactions are hilarious and Clegg or Cyril responses to his terror with their respective in-character replies make for a classic scene. Clegg(?) lets out an especially funny cackle after he and Cyril drop Compo into what ends up being about a foot of water.

The trio dry off in an abandoned building (an interior set). It looks like the one in which they camped out in Hail Smiling Morn or Thereabouts (S01 E06).

The second outdoor scene on the stream has our heroes being heckled by some fishermen acquaintances. The trio sport 1920s-era bathing suits, with Cyril’s purple-and-green ensemble garnering the biggest laughs from this viewer, which is quite an achievement, since Clegg wears his long johns under his suit!

Once again, a filmed sequence, by virtue of the light and photography, has Last of the Summer Wine evoking a personal childhood memory of how things looked, or at least how I remember things looking. Whatever the case, the olde nostalgia has been duly and pleasantly stirred in this great episode.

My Rating: 10/10
 

David Piper

Dedicated Member
(S02 E07) Northern Flying Circus

Original Airdate: April 16, 1975


Clegg decides that the trio should expand their travel horizons and buy a motorbike.

“Haven’t you seen it? It’s not your ‘gleaming speed bird.’ It’s more your ‘ruptured duck.‘ “

~Norman Clegg

At the library reading room, a different librarian is seen off in the background. The trio discuss Compo’s gambling. There is another discussion of the women from the trio’s past as well as a couple of people who recently died. The spectre of death is never far from these characters’ thoughts. Death is what leads Cyril to cling to his religious beliefs, and for Clegg to be as philosophical as he is. No doubt the war still looms in their thoughts. This time, it's the recent demise of Little Billy Aubrey, a fellow they knew. Billy Aubrey's demise has Norman wondering what will happen to the late man’s motorbike. Clegg is once again the catalyst for the trio’s adventures.

Clegg leads the trio to Billy Aubrey’s house, where his widow, Annie (wonderfully played by Marjorie Sudell), has just kicked her insurance agent out of the house. Annie is a hard, tough woman, and it sounds as though she uses an epithet when she yells: “Call yourself an insurance man?!? Now don’t come here, you silly f_ggot! And don’t come back until you’ve got a fistful of brass!” Annie has apparently forgotten that her husband has just died, but then she offers a most perfunctory statement of “grief”, presumably for the trio’s benefit!

As the trio make their way to Annie Aubrey’s house, Michael Bates stumbles on a cobblestone step.

It’s beyond the scope of these reviews to keep track of all the referenced, never-seen characters. Doing so would require the hard work of a dedicated historian! Roy Clarke created a rich, imaginative backstory for the trio and for the town. These characters could provide any obsessive viewer with a lifetime of material for their Summer Wine Land fanfiction! This begs the question: Did Roy Clarke ever use the characters the trio discuss in the pre-1988 episodes for First of the Summer Wine?

The pub in town where the trio drink is not the same one we’ve seen in previous episodes.

At the cafe, the group of girls at the counter and later, the background patrons at the pub are strictly extras, so they don’t get to speak. One of the girls at the cafe appears to mouth “Cheeky!” to Sid as he leers at her on her way out the door. Ivy has a predictably loud, volcanic reaction to Sid’s flirting, but their bickering in this scene doesn’t produce the usual comedic fireworks we’ve come to expect (and enjoy).

Robert Vahey (credited as "Traffic Warden") makes the most of his role as Dave O'Compton(?). He starts off as a real toughie until Clegg and Cyril talk their way out of a parking violation by appealing to how well they know him. Compo asks after Dave’s mother, Clegg mentions a series of Western Philosophy lectures and a wine tasting the two attended last winter, and Cyril brings up a battle in Mandalay and Davie’s war heroism (“Covered in Japanese blood, but still smiling!”). This buys them enough time to move the motorbike they’ve left out on the high street. The superb interaction provides nice character backstory not only for the trio, but also for Dave, a character who’s been fleshed out in a mere 30 seconds! Davey saves face by shouting after them to do just move the motorbike; it’s a little gem of a scene.

Compo’s whimpering after receiving That Most Serious of Injuries outside of the pub is perfectly matched by his whimpering on the inside of it. A point goes to Bill Owen for consistent continuity.

Northern Flying Circus occasionally has a fatigued, warmed-over quality. The story has some static moments and the direction is a bit ordinary, with most of the episode consisting of the trio stepping out of the pub exterior (film) and back inside to the pub interior (video) and pretty much nowhere else. There are some beautifully wet and dreary streets in the background, but since the motorcycle storyline really doesn’t go anywhere, the motorbike scenes lack the typically strong energy of the other episodes.

The episode is not without its virtues. The trio’s meeting with Billy’s widow, Annie, Cyril’s mishap with the motorbike, and the trio’s charming traffic warden Davey are delightful scenes. Compo is (mostly) amusing in the motorbike preparation scenes. There are also some all-too-brief shots of the wet-and-gloomy cityscape, but the episode could have been even better had it been taken in a bolder direction.

Despite these criticisms, Northern Flying Circus is a worthwhile episode and it is, of course, Cyril Blamire’s swan song. The character may not be popular with many fans, but I will most definitely miss him. Even Compo and Clegg have to grudgingly admit that old soldier Cyril isn’t all bad:

Compo: I hate him.
Clegg: No, you don't.
Compo: Are you sure?
Clegg: Well, pretty sure.
Compo: That's funny. I thought I hated him.
Clegg: Puts your head in glass buckets, doesn't he?
Compo: Gives me fags.
Clegg: And it was only a short while ago he was giving you a ‘V’ sign.
Compo: True.
Clegg: Well, there you are, you see. Nobody's all bad.
Cyril: [shouting from pub doorway] Come on!

My Rating: 8/10
 
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