First Broadcast – BBC1, 9.25pm, Monday 3rd December 1973 In which Compo’s sap rises…
NOTE: The following text was first published in 2014. It has since been revised, corrected, and expanded for Volume One of the Summer Winos book series. To read the new version, click HERE.
Andrew: Even by this fourth episode, Compo’s character is so well-defined that the fact that he would start feeling romantic and choose to clean up his act sets up a real sense of mystery. As a viewer, you want to find out what’s going on just as much as his friends do.
And crikey, even when Liz Smith was young, she was old!
Bob: Liz Smith is startling in this… for those not joining us in this marathon Wineathon (come on in, the water’s lovely), she plays a classic ‘mutton-dressed-as-lamb’ old girl, resplendent in knee-length boots, red PVC coat and gigantic blonde beehive. My initial reaction was, oddly, that I could fully imagine this character being Denise Royle’s grandmother! Liz will have been in her early fifties when this was shot.
I was slightly baffled by the sexual politics here… Liz’s character responds to Compo’s advertisement for a ‘housekeeper’, but there seems to be a tacit acceptance by both parties that a bit of – ahem – hanky panky will be a small but crucial aspect of the job. Was that accepted practice back in the early 1970s? Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised, this is, after all, an episode in which a clothes shop in a small West Yorkshire town has the bold slogan ‘IMPRESS THE CHICKS!’ proudly emblazoned in the window.
Interesting that we see Compo quite readily buying new clothes in this episode, and that it isn’t especially played for laughs. I’m sure there are scenes in future episodes where he’s shown to be virtually surgically attached to his moth-ridden jacket and woolly hat, and any new get-up is inevitably outlandish and inappropriate, but not here. He looks fairly smart in his new suit.
Ivy seems to be a little softer in these early episodes as well, and even compliments Compo on his new look.
Andrew: Compo’s advances don’t seem as affectionate or as innocent as they would later, at least not during the opening scene in which he pressures Nora to leave her husband… and especially so when he mentions wanting to get his date drunk and have his way with her! Then again, as his ‘sap rises’ (as Clegg so delightfully puts it), you sense that he has a real appreciation for what his love rival takes for granted. It’s not so much the companionship of a woman, it’s more just the being looked after.
We also see Compo polishing a bugle as he cleans the house! Amazingly, Clarke pays this off years later in the Millennium special, when the character takes it back to the scene of his wartime service in France.
Bob: I think Compo just wants his leg over, far more than you’re prepared to admit! And his washing done as well, admittedly. Take a look at the scene in which he’s lying in bed polishing that bugle… it’s riddled with unbridled sexual symbolism. I bet Mary Whitehouse was straight on the phone to Sir Charles Curran.
Andrew: I think I’ve figured out why these early episodes feel so strange. This might seem a bit weird, but although it was always broadcast on the BBC, these first samples of Summer Wine feel like ITV productions. There’s something of an emptiness to the studio scenes and the exteriors seem really roughly done… grotty, even. There certainly aren’t any of the production values that were bestowed upon the production later on, and that are seen as the hallmarks of prestigious BBC productions. I’m not sure any of the above would make sense to the kind of normal person who doesn’t feel the urge to subject themselves to things like Kinvig and Don’t Drink the Water.
Bob: Yes, you’re right… it’s the whole soot-stained streets thing again. It’s absolutely not an advert for Holmfirth, the place is portrayed as a rather rough, shabby Yorkshire town. I have a theory the ITV sitcoms of the 1970s are always a more authentic glimpse into British society than their BBC equivalents, particularly when it comes to the working classes… and I wonder if that’s due in part to the regional nature of ITV? A sitcom like Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt! – set in working class Yorkshire – was made entirely in the county itself (even the studio scenes were filmed in Leeds) by authentic Yorkshire writers, cast and crew. It couldn’t NOT be reflective of its setting and social make-up.
Whereas the BBC might make the occasional foray into the provinces for location filming, but their production team and studio work would all have been London-centric. I think it’s testament to the early Summer Wine team that they managed to transcend that so successfully.
Some nice 1970s touches in this episode as well… Compo idly leaves his door unlocked while he’s out, there’s a tantalising glimpse of the TV’s famous Test Card F, and the references to Home Help and Milk Stout both warmed the cockles of my heart. And Kathy Staff looks so young! Just checked, and she was only a few years older than me when she made these episodes. Amazing. Or maybe not, I probably seem just as ancient to your youthful eyes, Mr Smith.