Having grown out of an episode of the BBC’s legendary Comedy Playhouse series and written by the well respected Roy Clarke Last of the Summer Wine started off in a quiet low key fashion and continued in the same vein until 2010 and 31 seasons, making it the BBC’s longest running sitcom and one of the longest running shows in the world, all this from a gentle comedy about the pleasures of growing old.
The situation is basically the shenanigans of three elderly men looking to spice up their retirement in an idyllic Yorkshire village (Holmfirth in real life); Initially the three were Blamire who tended to get the ideas, Clegg who was generally unwilling to get too involved whilst the slovenly Compo wass usually the one who sent the plan awry.
The trio changed over the years but Peter Sallis as Clegg was a constant as was Bill Owen as Compo for 26 years until his death. Clegg seemed permanently worried and Compo spent most of his time lusting after the wrinkled stockinged Goddess (at least in Compo’s eyes) Nora Batty. After the departure of Blamire (Michael Bates who retired due to illness and sadly died soon after, around the same time he was also a main character in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum), Foggy Dewhurst joined and then later when he left the village Seymour Utterthwaite became the third member and after his departure he was replaced by ex-policeman Herbert “Truly of The Yard” Truelovel, finally Foggy Dewhurst returned as the third member.
By the time the series was heading towards the late 2000’s Compo was long gone (Bill Owen died in 1999 and was replaced for a time by his real life son Tom Owen) and the rest of the cast were truly ready for retirement age. For the final two seasons creator Roy Clarke brought in some new characters who would take the bulk of the action but still leave room for the main players. These were Luther “Hobbo” Hobdyke (Russ Abbot), and “Electrical” Entwhistle (Burt Kwouk) whilst Alvin Smedley (Brian Murphy) who had been a semi regular for a while also joined this trio.
By this stage though it was clear to all that it was time for the show to be retired gracefully. It still is held in huge affection by audiences around the world.
There was a prequel called First of the Summer Wine that aired between 1988-1989. This was a cute period piece that followed the gang as youngsters with the added bonus of Peter Sallis playing his own character’s father.
Trivia: The harmonica on the distinctive theme tune is played by Harry Pitch who also played harmonica on fab 1970 instrumental pop hit “Groovin’ With Mr Bloe.”
Cast: BILL OWEN as Compo; PETER SALLIS as Norman Clegg; MICHAEL BATES as Blamire; BRIAN WILDE as Foggy Dewhurst; MICHAEL ALDRIDGE as Seymour Utterthwaite; KATHY STAFF as Nora Batty; JOE GLADWIN as Wally Batty; JOHN COMER as Sid; JANE FREEMAN as Ivy; THORA HIRD as Edie Pegden; GORDON WHARMBY as Wesley Pegden; STEPHEN LEWIS as Smiler; JEAN ALEXANDER as Auntie Wainwright; TOM OWEN as Tom; FRANK THORNTON as Herbert “Truly” Truelove; RUSS ABBOT as Luther “Hobbo” Hobdyke; BURT KWOUK as “Electrical” Entwhistle; BRIAN MURPHY as Alvin Smedley
Writer: Roy Clarke / Theme Music: Ronnie Hazlehurst
UK / BBC One / 240+ x30 minute episodes / 4 January 1973 – 29 August 2010