Did we like it?
National institution prancing along The Mall for Trooping of the Colour or emaciated old nag in the yard that needs putting out of her misery with a double-barrelled shotgun to save on the vet’s fees? The opinion is as polarising as the Ross/ Brand tedium, and probably just as riven along the generational fault lines.
What was good about it?
• There remains a charming affiliation with the stalwarts of the show from what was perhaps its peak in the mid-80s when the hare-brained schemes of the ‘third man’ whether it was Foggy or Seymour hadn’t become as stale and wizened as the cast.
• Of the ‘classic’ protagonists only the wonderful Peter Sallis remains, and his appearance here was abbreviated to some wistful aphorisms in the prologue and epilogue alongside Truly (Frank Thornton, another who evokes nostalgic memories but more for Are You Being Served?).
• No programme, other than perhaps the news, is broadcast more often each week than Last of the Summer Wine; there appear to be about four episodes each day on GOLD. And because of this, it illuminates what has changed and what has changed the same.
• And one element that has thankfully persisted is the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside. During a pallid scene involving two coppers stopping Tom and Aunty’s milk float on a premise too whimsically contrived to colour in, you could peer past dreary dialogue at the verdant hills in the background, broken up by the sketchy hedgerow.
• But being a comedy, there is a need for humour. This was pretty sparsely strewn about, and most of the funny lines seem to come from hen-pecked Howard who, when confronted by the paranoid Hobbo (Russ Abbot) who claimed he was a target for forces unknown, Howard meekly retorted: “How much do you owe?”
• Later on the downtrodden Howard forlornly attempted to flatter the ever grimacing Pearl, unconvincingly claiming he must have walked into the wrong house after seeing his wife dressed up in her glad rags.
• Another part of the formula that still impresses is the use of incidental music. Quaint little melodies are used to illustrate the mood of characters as they walk about the town, smothered in their own little scenarios – so Howard might scuttle off to an assignation with Marina to a conspiratorial ditty – while each scene ends on a burst of jauntiness.
• And it’s the way in which the music marries with the narrative that prompts you to remember the way in which children’s programmes work, as if completing the TV viewing circle at the beginning and end of life. And this is probably no coincidence as the protagonists essentially waste their time in the same carefree manner as children, only with the lack of time remaining to them cast out of mind rather than something they are ignorant of, like children.
What was bad about it?
• Despite all its boons and buffoonery, there is precious little humour in Last of the Summer Wine. Whether there ever was beyond the first few times you watched it is a moot point as the familiarity soon reeks in the same way the absurdity and calamity of Takeshi’s Castle quickly recedes.
• Each episode follows the structure in which the ‘third man’ – now Hobbo – devises a stupid scheme for which he needs the aid of his two stooges – formerly Compo and Clegg, now Entwhistle and Alvin (the venerable Burt Kwouk and Brian Murphy) – who assist him partly because of his insufferable insistence and partly to see the look on his face when he fails. Perhaps some find this endless repetition funny, we don’t – at least not at our stage of life.
• This episode was made more annoying by the necessity to bed Hobbo into his role as the ‘third man’ as his incessant paranoia really began to grate. And it was this gratuitous focus on him that enabled the other sub-plots to be cut adrift of any coherent narratives into little more than worm-ridden vignettes.
• But for all of that, we hope Last of the Summer Wine endures as we’ll need something to while away the hours when we reach our 60s, and given that TV is forever drowning in an effluence of lobotomised MTV-driven drivel we need it now more than ever.