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The Labours of Erica to L For LesterThe Labours of Erica to L For Lester


Classic TV Revisited: Last of the Summer Wine



Last of the Summer Wine saw a trio of pensioners behaving badly proving that you don’t need your own teeth to be a delinquent.

Who were the star turns?
Of the three central characters, two were with the show from the very start — wry widower Clegg (Peter Sallis), the former manager of a Co-op furniture department, and the fearless, shameless, brainless Compo (Bill Owen). The original third man was Blamire (Michael Bates), a retired Royal Signals sergeant, but when Michael Bates was taken ill in 1976 (he died shortly afterwards), a new character was introduced in the form of ex-army signwriter Foggy Dewhurst (Brian Wilde). With his attention to military detail, Foggy planned their adventures over the next nine years until, when Brian Wilde wanted to leave, Foggy departed for the sunnier climes of Bridlington, having inherited his uncle’s painted-egg business. Retired teacher Seymour Utterthwaite (Michael Aldridge) arrived to complete the trio, only to leave in 1990 when Brian Wilde returned to the fold. In 1997, Foggy was replaced again, this time by the gang’s old school pal, Truly (Frank Thornton).

What about the supporting cast?
Enough to fill a volume of Spotlight. Principals have included the inimitable Nora Batty (Kathy Staff), she of the curlers, pinny and wrinkled stockings who is forever fighting off Compo’s lusty advances — proof that beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder; her hen-packed husband Wally (Joe Gladwin) who wished she’d take Compo up on his offers; formidable cafe owner Ivy (Jane Freeman), a woman blessed with an expression which could curdle milk; her mild-mannered husband Sid (the late John Comer); Wesley Pegden (Gordon Wharmby) and his sister Edie (Thora Hird), the local Mary Whitehouse; Auntie Wainwright (Jean Alexander) who runs an antiques emporium; and the love triangle of Howard (Robert Fyfe), wife Pearl (Juliette Kaplan) and his bit on the side Marina (Jean Fergusson).

Any guest stars?
Ron Moody, Norman Wisdom and John Cleese (using the pseudonym Kim Bread) all made guest appearances.

How did it come about?
Yorkshire-based writer Roy Clarke was asked to come up with something about three old men. He had met women like Nora Batty in his previous incarnations as household goods salesman and policeman and decided to set his series (working title: The Library Mob) in back-to-back terraced houses in Rotherham. But then comedy guru Barry Took suggested switching the action to the Pennines.

Where was it set?
Among the cobbled streets of Holmfirth, near Huddersfield. A mecca for fans of the series, the town even has an eaterie called the Wrinkled Stocking Cafe.

What are the running gags?
Compo gleefully accosting Nora Batty on her front steps, only to be fended off with her broom; Edie inviting Ivy, Nora and Pearl round for afternoon tea (which they drink in unison) so that they can pull men apart; Howard constantly thinking up new disguises for his clandestine meetings with Marina, including dressing up as a hippy, a spy, a fisherman and half of a pantomime horse.

Who watched it?
18.8 million viewers in 1985, some of whom used to send Bill Owen woolly hats to wear as Compo. It is another show which the boasts the title of being the Queen’s favourite programme — she was said to video it when she went abroad.

Any complaints?
Few and far between although in 1991 Nora Batty was accused of giving elderly people a bad name. She didn’t do a lot for stockings either.

Any off-screen friction?
It was rumoured that Brian Wilde and Bill Owen didn’t get on too well at first.

Did the cast do their own stunts?
Younger actors doubled up for bike-riding stunts.

Have there been any spin-offs?
In 1988, there was a prequel series, First of the Summer Wine, featuring Clegg, Compo and Seymour as teenagers in 1939. David Fenwick played Clegg, Paul Wyett was Compo and Paul McLain was Seymour. Peter Sallis appeared as Mr. Clegg, the father.


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