The last ever series of Last Of The Summer Wine began the other week. Or did it? The Beeb simply says it’s the 30th, but producer Alan “one line on my CV” JW Bell seems to think that’s it. Or rather, that’s it for him, because he’s quit claiming the Beeb has said the 30th series is the last one even though it hasn’t while writer Roy “two lines on my CV” Clarke hasn’t said anything either way and the cast are all too old to be insured to appear in the bloody thing anyway. Or are they?
Hmm, the future of this vintage (ho fucking ho) institution is as hard to unravel as its history. But TV Cream has given the latter a go. It seems to have gone something like this:
1) A DIFFICULT BIRTH
An episode of Comedy Playhouse in 1973 called The Last Of The Summer Wine and starring three mac-wearing malingerers is deemed a hit by the BBC suits. A series is commissioned but it is a flop. A second series is commissioned but it is also a flop. Both series are shown post-watershed and star Michael Bates as shifty ne’er-do-well Cyril Blamire with whiskery perv Compo Simonite (Bill Owen) and simpering wimp Norman Clegg (Peter Sallis). Bates leaves because of ill-health and BRIAN WILDE agrees to replace him so long as he gets top billing.
2) A TROUBLED ADOLESCENCE
BRIAN WILDE is unhappy about not getting top billing. The show moves from Monday to Wednesday to Tuesday night. The 1978 Christmas special is aired at 10.40pm due to its explicit content. Someone decides to bung it in the doing-the-pots Sunday teatime slot. Ratio of pastoral pontificating to falling off dry stone walls: earthy. The perv pervs at old woman’s pants. The wimp simpers about not eating enough iron. BRIAN WILDE quits because nobody likes him and he doesn’t like anybody.
3) THE UTTERTHWAITE INTERREGNUM
Percy Alleline off Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy invents himself a part in the series. Second eleven of archetypes introduced: hen-pecked husband who isn’t getting any, hen-pecked husband who doesn’t want any, hen-pecked lollygagger who’s had too much. Millions of old women sit about discussing “thems that have, thems that have not” in high-backed chairs. A cafe has no customers. Perv tumbles off ladders, through roofs, down drains and through windows. Thora Hird sucks her teeth in and whistles. Lousy spin-off, First Of The Summer Wine, has Sallis playing his own father. Ratio of pastoral pontificating to falling off dry stone walls: salty.
4) THE WILDE RESTORATION
BRIAN WILDE discovers he likes everyone again and comes back. Eight years pass. BRIAN WILDE leaves because he’s not top billing and he doesn’t like anybody. Ratio of pastoral pontificating to falling off dry stone walls: perspicacious.
5) THE LET’S-PRETEND-NOTHING’S-CHANGED GAMBIT
Bill Owen lookalike and son of Bill Owen joins to play son of Bill Owen. Captain Peacock replaces BRIAN WILDE. Same scripts recycled (for 14th time) in hope of appearance-of-freshness-yet-still-reassuringly-familiar appeal. It works. Programme wins 1999 National Television Award for Best Sunday Teatime Yorkshire-Based Yomping.
6) THE LET’S-NOT-BOTHER-PRETENDING-EVERYTHING’S-CHANGED ENDGAME
Dozens of Variety Club sitcommers move into town. Original cast now not allowed on location and film all scenes on a sofa with back projection. Archetypes now include dopey black policeman, conniving Oriental, befuddled swashbuckler, prickly spinster, Rene Artois, Nurse G-G-Gladys Emmanuel, whatshername off Bread and Norman Wisdom. Oh, and Blakey, who does this every five seconds:
Altogether, for the billionth time: “The last of the summer wine/The la-ast of the summer wine/The la-ast of the summer wine/er…”